Log in

Review: Dozen Bake Shop, Lawrenceville

Last year I had a not-so-great cupcake experience at Dozen in Squirrel Hill.   A few months ago the Dozen folks opened the new Dozen Bake Shop in Lawrenceville, about five blocks from my house.  It's outstanding.

It's not just a cupcake joint; this is a full-service bakery with a big open kitchen and a busy, happy-looking crew.  You see them swanning around behind a pretty half-glass enclosure carrying huge metal pans of gorgeous food.  Local suppliers, organic ingredients, all the socially-conscious slow-food stuff you can usually only do for yourself at home.  Somehow, it's not expensive.  Given the quality of the experience, I think it's fair to say Dozen Bake Shop is cheap.

There are mind-blowing vegan chocolate chip cookies.  They are the best chocolate chip cookies ever.  Not the best vegan chocolate chip cookies -- the best cookies, period.  Heavy on the vanilla, with unheard-of extremes of tiny chocolate chips and a texture that  preserves the decadence of raw dough.

There are also the best scones of all time.  Scones: why do we even bother?  Usually it's a dry triangle of sugar-flavored dough with maybe some "chips" or "crumbles" or "bursts" of "flavor."   Yet Dozen serves sweet and savory scones that redefined the genre for me.   I had a cheddar-bacon-apple scone that was so good I had to stop eating it.  I had to pause and actually savor the scone.

Really good stuff.


It doesn't feel right this year.   Maybe it's because we live on a street where we can't put out pumpkins (urchins will smash them; they already left an orange smear in the middle of the road that used to be the pumpkin of a lady across the street).  Maybe it's because Gwen is 15, and we have to admit she's too old to go trick-or-treating (neither of us was prepared for the Pang of Sadness).  The weather was too warm for most of the month -- it only just started feeling like October.  

It's not that we're not trying.  We've got two spooky new kittens -- one of them with only one eye, the other solid back (the coworker who rescued them claims they were "ninety percent dead" when she found them and took them to the vet.  The black one is tiny and has a breathing disorder and is the sweetest animal I've ever met; her one-eyed sister is really mean).  We dressed up for a Halloween hafla at Your Inner Vagabond (a new Turkish coffeehouse on Butler street).   We took a posse of teenagers to Hundred Acres Manor, where we were menaced by chainsaw-wielding horror-film cliches and anemic Corn Princesses, and where I got yelled at for trying to use my cell-phone when I thought I'd lost My People in the maze.  We're trying to learn the choreography to Michael Jackson's Thriller by Wednesday.  I do feel like a zombie...going through the motions. 

Work has been a buzzkill.  A few weeks ago I went over to the Dark Side, where things are so pointless you want to cry.  How to encapsulate the pointlessness without damaging myself or others?  Perhaps that's a worthwhile subject of satire for Nanowrimo.  (Is anybody else planning to feel bad about not finishing Nanowrimo this year?)

Dream Breakfasts

I've started meeting with some people every couple of weeks for a dream breakfast.   Literally: we go to breakfast and talk about our dreams.  There are five of us.  I've known two of my co-dreamers for years (we're friends, but not as close as you might think, given the context). I met the other two for the first time at our first dream breakfast.  There are no couples or family members. 

It turns out there's nothing strange at all about hearing the dreams of adults you don't know all that well.  But there is some pressure to report a "good" dream. 

There's a sequence of operations.  We prepare titles for our dreams before we meet.  We start by going around the table and saying the title of the dream we've picked to share.  It turns out you can learn a lot about a stranger by the kind of title he gives his dream.  Titles from last time:

* Revealing the Dragon
* The Sheet of Ice
* A Nice Surprise
* I Decide Not To Go To The Party With Vickie
* Untitled

Next we pick a person to tell his or her dream, and a person to question the dreamer. There's a standard format for the questions:

* How did you feel when you woke up?
* Did you recognize any of the people or situations, or is this dream totally figurative?
* What more do you want to know about this dream?  If you could go back to it, what would you try to find out?
* What will you do about this dream now? How will you honor it?

Then the questioner (and everyone else at the table) says some variation on: "If this were my dream, here's what I'd think, or do, or wonder about it."

The whole thing brings an interesting literalness to the cliche of "following your dream."  

Things get kind of free-form in the process of questioning the dreamer.  People other than the questioner break in with burning issues.  "Did you recognize any of the furniture?"  "Was it a long climb to the top?"  "What was the shape of the weapon?"  "What was the color of the wall you walked through?"  "What was the mood of the people in the part of the house that was sliding into the sea?" 

In any group of people you find all these different styles of interpretation -- in combination these differences in style give you a more complete picture of your dream than you can get on your own. 

There are some surpassingly lovely things about Dream Breakfast.  Two of us almost cried last time.  It's by far the best meeting I have. 

Et in arcadia ego...

I'm moving to the ugliest block in Lawrenceville on or around August 1st.  Goodbye, pretty apartment on idyllic Highland Park street!  Goodbye to my house-mate situation, a model of friendship and mutual synergy so perfect it can't be real.  Hello, weird drunk neighbors with mean, shit-everywhere dogs...and greetings also to the packed-together row-houses on my new street, some of them so rotten you can smell the black mold from the sidewalk.  Goodbye to the more-money-than-I'm-paying-now that it will cost us to live there. 

A midlife crisis is like giving birth -- no one can explain what it's really like, and you can't stop it once it's started.  People joke about it, but they just don't know what happens to a person's mind...the craving to mess up the picture you made and start over.

To be fair, the house I'm moving to is a real house, not an apartment or a duplex.  It was completely gutted and remodeled from the attic to the basement this year -- there's nothing inside but gleaming wood floors, white paint and new Berber (and a brand-new stainless-steel kitchen, central air, a new first-floor laundry room...).  Immediately outside the kitchen door is an untouched concrete "back yard" that is begging to be turned into a kick-ass garden. I can ride my bike to a hundred good places without going up any hills (bonus: a flat 35-minute bike ride on trails to work, a ten-minute ride to school for Gwen).  The Strip District will be my grocery store, the river is right around the corner, there are funky shops all along the block.  That sounds not-bad, right?  It sounds actually good, doesn't it?

Mostly I have to move because the East End is turning into an ordinary shopping-mall of a city that might as well not be part of Pittsburgh.  Between working on Cheesecake Square and living in the encroaching Stepford shadow of Shadyside, I feel laminated in corporate lifestyle gloss everywhere I go.  I've got to get away from all of this control.  Lawrenceville still has the mysterious rotten romance I came here for in the first place -- it's one of the few places left in Pittsburgh where ugly things are allowed to sit around until they're beautiful.  It might not last long -- people like me are already moving in -- but my block is still gross enough that I could get years of urban grit out of it. 

Anyway, if you know anyone who's looking for cheap Pittsburgh apartment glory, my place in Highland Park is available August 1.  Here's what it looks like.

It's hard to look at these pictures and still want to go.  We've been happy here.

Reading: Cryptonomicon, Portrait of a Lady

Novels I finally finished this weekend:


I visited Scottsdale, Arizona for work-related training last week.  It's a hot, dry, tan-colored city full of electrical wires, parking lots, and flat rectangular buildings.   We mostly stayed in landscaped areas with palm trees, lantana, eucalyptus, and sometimes grass so lush and green it looked fake. Landscaping with green plants appears to be available only to businesses wealthy enough to afford ground-based irrigation.  Most of the city is rocks and sand.  The temperature on May 15th was 105 F during the day, 96 at midnight. 

The food in Scottsdale is superb.  The drivers are rude (a goth girl actually got out of her car at a light to yell at us and give us the finger).  The dwellings are small, low-ceilinged and expensive.  The people are very attractive.  We saw some bad plastic surgery (bad in the sense that it was obvious). 

When I got back, Pittsburgh was chilly, wet, shaggy, disheveled, rotten, friendly, chaotic and very green. 
The Library is a restaurant with a literary gimmick -- books on the tables, books in the windows, books on and above the bar.  The table-tops are laminated montages made from the pages of books.  The menu-items have literary names ("The Secret Garden," "Slaughterhouse Five," "Jack and the Beanstalk").  It's part of a growing subculture of gimmicky places to eat in the vicinity of the South Side Works.  There's the loathesome mixed-metaphor of the Cheesecake Factory -- a Hollywood blockbuster, all plot, zero character, breathtakingly expensive "food" that under all its layers of production is no more satisfying than a bag of La Choy noodles and a tablespoon of corn syrup.  There's the Double Wide Grill, a garage-themed soylent play-date with Jim Jarmusch undertones.   And now The Library.

Karma: Zero

On Saturday night, I had a spontaneous, unplanned, hilarious small party.  Phat Man Dee passed out on my couch.  I remembered that I used to have the kind of social life where the passed-out presence of Phat Man Dee was the norm.  I resolved to spend less time at work and more time among performers and half-empty bottles of wine and gin.  I felt hopeful and cleansed.

In a masterstroke of karmic comeuppance, I then spent the last two days at an offsite work camp with 20 ENTPs.  This was an actual day-camp, full of actual children, stomping and clapping and running around outside while we sat in a freezing cold basement gaping at PowerPoint presentations.  By the last hour of the last day, the general tone of conversation had become unapologetically surreal. 

"Is there an action to publish a process or not?"

"I'd like to use this as a test-case to socialize the discussion."

"I was going to go to California to try to articulate a strawman in this space."

"Let's have a discussion about what it is and see if we can capture it."

"Failure is also a win."
At work we've had construction crews building out a new space for the past few months.  Last week they took down the temporary walls, and rigged up "do not cross" lines with yellow police-tape (which, of course, we crossed, trespassing in the new space like foraging deer).  This Monday they formally opened the space, and a wave of people moved from the "old" part of the office (it's about two years old) to the new. 

The size of our office has doubled; it's now one block long and half-a-block wide.