Nana’s Cinnamon Coffee Cake ~or~ People Watching


 Stella’s mother, whom they all call ‘Nana’, is visiting for a few weeks. She shares Stella’s passion for feeding one and all, but she has her little quirks which often add spice to her conversation.

 While she mixes up her family-famous Cinnamon Coffee Cake in the kitchen she says to her grand-daughters, “Now girls, you can have a piece, but you have to earn it. While this cake is baking, your mom can watch it and we can take a walk to the park. You girls can get some exercise on the swings and what-not while I people watch.This town has so many interesting weirdos and they amuse me.”

 Zoe thinks Nana is forgetting that she is fifteen and a little old for playground equipment, but she deems it wise not to say anything about that for the time being. She likes hearing Nana’s observations and assessments of the world too much to risk irritating her. She also likes her delicious, moist Coffee Cake with its cinnamon-crunch layers and is looking forward to having some with a cup of tea after their outing. Zoe looks at Stella and Stella looks back at her with a slight lift of her eyebrow and just a hint of a grin.

 “Enjoy yourselves, girls, and Mother…”

 “Yes, dear” says Nana with a slight look of challenge in her eyes.

 “Go easy on the citizens. Many of them are my customers.”

 “I’m never uncharitable, Estelle, only truthful,” says Nana, winking at the girls.

 She decides she’ll join Nana and the girls for tea and cake, too. Stella looks up at the calendar, reminding herself of the date of Nana’s flight back home. She’ll need Kevin and Savannah in that morning so she can drive Nana to the airport.


 Cinnamon Coffee Cake

 Mix in a small bowl and set aside:

1/4 cup sugar

1 Tablespoon cinnamon

2 Tablespoons crushed nuts of your choice


Beat together:

1/2 cup butter

1 cup sugar

beat in two eggs and 1 teaspoon vanilla


mix together:

1 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

a pinch of salt

 mix 1 teaspoon baking soda into a cup of sour cream in a bowl or 2 cup measure (the sour cream will begin to foam and rise with the baking soda) – sometimes Nana uses full fat yogurt instead of the sour cream, or a combination of both.

 Add the flour mixture alternately with the sour cream to the wet butter/sugar mixture. Mix just until blended.

 Pour half the batter into greased and floured nine inch baking pan

Sprinkle with half the cinnamon mixture


 Bake at 350 degrees Farenheit for 30 to 40 minutes.

 Delicious served slightly warm.


Carrot Ginger Soup with Zucchini Cheddar Bread -or- Canadian Tendencies

 The first weeks of September have been hot, like August. Stella’s customers aren’t sure whether to order hot coffee or iced coffee. Everyone knows this weather cannot last, and are reluctant to let the summer go, but the calendar says fall is just around the corner, and beyond that, winter. The school kids are eager to wear their new school clothes but fuzzy sweaters, crisp blue jeans, and the latest boot styles will have to wait a bit longer in the closets around town. Stella’s daughters, Zoe and Kendra are still wearing their summer dresses, shorts and skirts to school, along with their friends and classmates.

Stella knows from experience that even though the weather says ‘salads and cold sandwiches’, the human subconscious, especially in Canada, begins to turn naturally to comfort food as soon as the routines of fall resume. Although the thermometer outside will climb to 30 degrees this afternoon, many of her customers, particularly the elderly couple who come for lunch most Fridays, will be after soup with a side of warm bread.

So, this morning, Stella is making a pot of her famous Carrot Ginger Soup. Today’s special will be the soup with a generous slice of Zucchini Cheddar bread. When it is time for her break, however, she’ll be having a crunchy, cooling salad.

Carrot Ginger Soup – adapted from The Moosewood Cookbook 

serves 4-5

 Bring to a boil:

  •  2 lbs total of  a mixture of mostly carrots with either sweet potato or butternut squash, peeled and chopped
  • 4 cups stock (or hot water with vegetable broth cubes added)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1-2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped

 Cover and simmer 12-15 minutes. Let cool a bit.

 Saute in 3-4 Tbps. butter (or coconut oil) with a little salt, until onions are clear and tender:

  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1-2 cloves crushed garlic
  • 1/3 cup chopped cashews or almonds
  • 1 Tbsp grated ginger root – added just before the onions are finished cooking

Puree everything together in a blender until smooth, in batches if necessary. Return the puree to the pot and whisk in one of the following:

  •  1/4 cup of either: coconut milk, yogurt and a tsp honey, or milk

 Reheat soup gently, stirring often


 Zucchini Cheddar Bread – from Joy of Cooking 

 Position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan.

Whisk together thoroughly in a large bowl:

  •      3 cups all purpose flour (or half and half whole wheat like we have done here)
  •      4 teaspoons baking powder
  •      1 teaspoon salt
  •      1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Add and toss to separate and coat with flour:

  •      1 cup coarsely shredded zucchini 
  •      3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  •      1/4 cup minced green onion
  •      3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley 
  •      1 tablespoon snipped fresh dill, or 2 tablespoons dried

Whisk together in another bowl:

  •      2 large eggs
  •      1 cup buttermilk
  •      4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) warm melted unsalted butter or vegetable oil

Add to the flour mixture and mix with a few light strokes just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Do not overmix; the batter should not be smooth. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 55 to 60 minutes. Let cool in pan on a rack for 5-10 minutes before unmolding to cool completely on the rack.


Welcome to Stella’s!

Stella rises in the dark pre-dawn, goes downstairs from her cozy apartment above the shop and mixes up muffins and scones in the small, gleaming kitchen. She brews herself a single shot Americano (espresso and hot water) and sits down to read the newspaper while she waits for the baking to be done; Stella likes to be up on the topics of the day, and several of her regular customers have come to expect some kind of opinion from her. At 6:45 she grinds the coffee beans and presses the start button for the strong, medium-roasted brews preferred by her 7:00 a.m. regulars. She sets out the thermal urns of cream and milk on the glass-topped antique dresser, refills the sugar boxes and makes sure the counters and tabletops are spotless. At exactly 7:00 she unlocks the door and turns on the front lights to invite the early risers in, greeting each one by name – if she knows it.

Artwork and photographs – no mass produced commercial coffee kitsch here – hang on the walls of Stella’s. Instead of local radio, she plays CD’s carefully chosen for their background quality, so they are mainly collections of quiet jazz and folk, and some classical guitar and piano. Stella’s has a small raised area surrounded by windows with a view of the street, usually set with two small tables for two, and where, once a week she stays open late and invites a musician to give a concert. Stella’s is not a big shop, and is one of three businesses occupying a building old enough to have twelve foot ceilings and deep-silled windows. The tables are close together and there is only one area with deep armchairs gathered around a small table set out with newspapers, good quality magazines, and a few large books purchased from the second hand bookshop next door and with titles like Great Russian Architecture  interesting to look at but too heavy and big to ‘borrow.’ Stella’s is a cozy place and the locals seem to like it.
Two employees, Savannah and Kevin come in at 9 a.m. to help Stella prepare for the lunch rush – her soups and grilled sandwiches are legend. In the afternoons Stella offers a selection of cakes made by a local home bakery – banana, carrot, deep chocolate – and besides coffee there is a selection of teas, including African Honeybush, a favourite of hers and of several of her female customers. At 4:00 p.m. Stella bids farewell to the last of her clientele, flips the open sign to closed, and locks the door while she and her employees debrief in a friendly way about the day’s customers. With Savannah and Kevin’s help she cleans the coffee machines, the counters, floors and the kitchen surfaces. Finally, Stella lets her employees out and closes the shop, climbs the stairs to her apartment, lets out a sigh of satisfaction and puts her feet up.
A word from Rebecca: Stella’s is sort of a distilled version of all the coffee shops I have frequented over the last 40 years, from the lunch counter at Woolworth’s with it’s chrome and vinyl stools where I sat drinking juice with my mother, to the Snowdrift Cafe in Kimberley, British Columbia where I took my little boys for hot chocolate and the huge, delicious, soft oatmeal cookies (made by the cafe owners’ Italian mother) with the Grappa soaked raisin pressed into the middle.
I have always loved coffee shops. When I was 20 I had a job at Stanley Baker’s cafe in my hometown. When I met my husband while attending UBC in Vancouver, we frequented several: The Bread Garden and Benny’s Bagels in the Kitsilano area where he lived at the time, Cheesecake etc. downtown, and various authentic Italian places in the East side where I lived with my sister and her husband. When my husband and I moved to Eastern British Columbia I looked for and soon found a place in Cranbrook with good coffee, company and conversation.
When my husband was transferred to Courtenay on Vancouver Island I frequented a place no longer in business called Edible Island, with organic everything and salads paid for by weight. My husband and I tried to raise our four children well enough so they could at least behave decently in a coffee shop. So far, both our grown-up boys have trained as baristas, so that says something about that.
Where I live now I generally gather once a week to sort out the problems of the world (and to laugh at ourselves in our attempt) with a group of local characters at a converted century old house with a garden and a fish pond by the outdoor patio. The coffee here is not the best, but the selection of teas is excellent and served in large, thin white cups and saucers, and the lemon scones are good…but not quite as good as Stella’s.

I have often fantasized about owning a coffee shop, but for practical reasons as well as financial ones, I never have. Stella’s Virtual Cafe is an idea which occurred to me one day when I was making dinner. I talked it over with my daughter, Emma, who came on board immediately as the photographer/website designer, so now we are open for business! We plan to provide recipes for you to try in your own ‘cafe’, share amusing stories about our fictional clientele, and just give our readers a warm and welcoming place to visit. We hope you enjoy Stella’s and become one of her cherished regulars!


Rebecca and Emma