Well done! Many of you identified last week’s mystery as Chimaphila maculata! This native herbaceous perennial goes by many common names including spotted wintergreen, pipsissewa, striped wintergreen, and striped prince’s pine. This evergreen plant is found in dry, acidic woods. It produces a delicate nodding bloom in June through August and is attractive to bees.
This week, we are highlighting another unique plant that is still green in the winter! What is it?
We had some great guesses this past week! We highlighted the bark of the flowering dogwood, Cornus florida. This tree has unique checkered, reddish brown bark. Come springtime, the white bracts surrounding the small flowers are very distinct, but in the meantime, you can identify the dogwood from its low spreading crown in the understory.
This week, we are shifting over to the forest floor. Among the pine needles, we found this delicate plant, which also has fronds in December! What is it?
Six years ago, Ruby Vanags knew nothing about making cakes. This month, she opened Ruby’s Cake Shoppe & Pastries at 415 B, East Dover Road, in Easton. If the long lines at her business are any indication, she not only succeeded in learning, she’s mastered the art of baking.
To get to today, you have to go back to six years ago, when Vanags received a special birthday cake her husband bought from Desserts by Rita in Ocean City. It was a mixture of mangos and strawberries, flavors that reminded her of her Philippines heritage. She became obsessed with it, hoping that a bakery closer to the Eastern Shore could replicate it (and preferably make it cheaper as well). Her search was unsuccessful, and Vanags decided to learn how to make it herself. When store-bought cake mixes didn’t give her the results she wanted, she went online and tried variations. Each attempt was a failure.
Fortunately, at the time, Vanags was working for the Hyatt Regency in Cambridge and asked for help from her pastry chef friend. “I want to master chiffon cakes,” she told him. “But my cakes keep overflowing. So, he said to me, ‘honey, you have to find a deeper pan.'” That was the beginning. “I failed nine times,” she said, “but I got it right on the 10th try.”
Vanags suddenly found herself a new hobby. Friends and family began to ask her to bake for special occasions, birthdays, anniversaries, and even weddings. And she got really good at it. “Every time I wanted to create something, it just clicked. Every time I wanted to learn something different, I wouldn’t stop until I got it right. Baking is very time consuming, and you need to be patient, and I was patient.”
Even though Vanags was willing to remain patient as she learned all she could about baking, some of her friends urged her to open up a store. One, in particular, asked her to explore how much it would take to start a business. “I can’t afford it,” she told him, and he said, ‘You know what? Get your s— together and come back to me. I will help you out.'” And that’s how Ruby’s Cake Shoppe & Pastries came to be.
In January, Vanags left her job at the Hyatt and began construction on her shop. And then COVID-19 hit, and everything was put on hold. Everything except the rent she had to pay. That was difficult, she admitted. Recently, after she got final approval from the health department, she was able to fulfill a promise she made. “I’m going to bake a lot of cupcakes and bring it to the hospital and the frontline workers. So that’s what I did.”
On July 11th, a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held, and as Vanags admits, she’s been slammed ever since. She thinks she knows why. “You cannot find around here, what I’m selling. People haven’t tried the kinds of flavors that I make. Some of them are Asian based flavors, like fruits that you would find in an Asian market.” There is the Purple Yam cake, the Mango Cake, the popular Strawberry Pretzel, the Mocha pie, and a version of the Tiramisu. She says she also makes a great carrot cake. Sure, you can find your yellow cake with buttercream or chocolate frosting, but don’t expect it to be just average.
What she enjoys are the custom orders for items not on her regular menu. “I ask the customer to name me the flavor they want,” Vanags said, “and then I look for ways to make it. It has helped me improve my skills.
One cake she learned to make is the classic Tres Leches, a cake popular in the Mexican community. Vanags first made it for a birthday party. She recalls how a few days later, a new customer came in talking about a cake she had tasted, hoping that Vanags could replicate it. When Vanags realized what she was describing, she showed her a picture of the Tres Leches cake on her cell phone. “Is this the cake that you’re talking about? The customer jumped up, spun around, slapped her forehead. and said, ‘Oh my God, you made that cake!’ I now get slammed with orders for Tres Leches.”
Since all of her cakes are made from scratch, and since she’s had requests, Vanags is working on a dairy-free and gluten-free version of her desserts. “It’s not a big deal for me, and it’s going to happen. I want it to be fair for everyone.”
For now, you will have to stop by the shop to buy a slice or a pie from her display cabinet. There is no written menu. You can also call ((443) 205-3979) and place an order. Ruby’s Cake Shoppe and Pastries has a Facebook page, but no website yet. They’re open Tuesday – Sunday from 10 AM to 6 PM.
Val Cavalheri is a recent transplant to the Eastern Shore, having lived in Northern Virginia for the past 20 years. She’s been a writer, editor and professional photographer for various publications, including the Washington Post.
There was a lot in common with the Avalon Foundation, the Tidewater Inn and Wylder Tilghman Island before COVID-19 came knocking on their doors. All three have always been heavily dependent on the summer months for special events, weddings, and seasonal crowds all eager for entertainment and hospitality services. But after the coronavirus crisis hit, most of those long awaited plans were left in the dust in the wind as stay-at-home orders came down from the Governor’s office.
Nonetheless, the desire by all three to partner on a creative way to create new revenue was almost immediate. With the Avalon’s Suzy Moore, using her eighteen years as its artistic director, securing popular local bands, coupled with chef Jordan Lloyd at Wylder and chef Daniel Pochron at the Tidewater on the food front, the team has formed a dinner and music program that has already become a huge success on Tilghman Island and in downtown Easton.
The Spy asked Suzy, Jordan and the Tidewater’s Lauren Catterton to spend a few minutes to talk about this new alliance and how Wednesday and Thursday nights have been turned into the Sunlit Summer Song Series, an al fresco style dinner and some of the region’s best performers.