A delightfully impromptu, last minute, fun-filled day-trip to Bellingham – that’s what happened this week, after a conversation I had with a friend with whom I am currently working on a play, who knows I write this blog.
“You have GOT to go to this chocolate place in Bellingham,” quoth she, “And the coffee place next door has cream puffs as big as a baby’s head”.
Since I am easily persuadable to anything that sound the least bit fun and escapist, I promptly decided that it would make an excellent blog idea. Fortunately, Younger Son is of the same nature. Sticking my head in at his bedroom door, I caught him mid-level on some video game quest (and therefore vulnerable):
“Hey, wanna go to Bellingham for chocolate and lunch?”
“Good. First thing tomorrow. I’ll wake you up – we’re leaving a t 10:30.”
Younger Son and I have had several wonderful road trips together, here and abroad, and I knew he would be up for anything that involved finding some tasty food, or an off-the-beaten-path store, preferably selling strange merchandise.
After waiting for almost an hour in the line-up for the Pacific Highway border crossing, on a hot July day, we were exhilarated to finally pull up, for our turn to be interviewed by the mirror-sunglassed, no nonsense, probably longing for his break, US customs agent.
“Purpose of your visit?”
“We are visiting a chocolate shop.”
An eyebrow appears above the sunglasses line.
“Where would this be?
“In Bellingham. It’s called Sweet Art.”
A look of interest, and the sunglasses come off. He has nice eyes.
“I’ve never heard of it. I know about Paper Dreams. They make some gooood fudge.”
I hear a stifled sound next to me, as my son turns a laugh into a cough. For the rest of the day his repeated refrain is “They make some gooood fudge.”
I pass the nice customs officer my Gooogled directions, and he studies the sheet, momentarily.
“How did you find out about this chocolate place?”
This is when I turn into my Mum. It always happens, at places like Customs, or when talking to police officers. Unconsciously, I swear, but I feel as though I have to put everything in context to give a clear picture – my partner is constantly saying “Cut to the chase”, but it is in my DNA to be a story-teller, so this poor customs official got the whole story – or the beginning of it:
“Well, it all started when my friend, Mar – she’s Canadian, but her husband’s Mom lives in Bellingham, and they had been coming down to look after her – she has not been well, poor lady – and I was talking to her because we are working on a new play together – and she knows I write a chocolate blog –
The poor guy’s sunglasses come off at this point. He passes a hand over his eyes (I think because of the heat), and says “OKAY, that’s fine,” and makes a waving motion with his hand.
His replacement shows up and he is about to go on a probably much-needed break. Just as he leaves I manage to yell out:
“And there is a coffee place right next door to this chocolate shop which apparently has cream puffs as big as a baby’s head.”
“I’m sure they are wonderful,” he says over his shoulder as he hastily gathers up his stuff and exits the booth. Nice man. I wish I could drop something off for him on our way back.
Younger Son is now laughing out loud and pleading “Can we GO? I am sure the people behind us would like to get into Washington today, too!”
It is a beautiful drive, and we are soon pulling off the highway into a pretty little section of Bellingham, with wide boulevards and tree-lined streets, quaint shops and a view of the water.
And because this is a completely spontaneous and carefree visit, because we are not on any time schedule, even though I make a couple of wrong turns, we manage to end up right in front of Sweet Art – noticeable immediately by its distinctive roof-high candy cane sign at:
1335 Railroad Ave
Bellingham, WA 98225
We head in, and are greeted by Vivian Mazzola, the “Art” half of the partnership. The walls of this intriguing little shop are covered in her canvasses, which spill over into every nook and cranny that is not taken up with case upon case of chocolate treats: golf ball sized truffles, generous hunks of fudge, nut brittles and English toffees, and chocolate dipped honeycomb.
As described by “the candyman” himself, owner Jerry Hruska, Sweet Art is:
“A small mom-pop type retail candy store and art gallery where my wife is the artist and I’m the candyman. She paints oils of flowers & landscapes and I dip chocolates and make candy.”
A sweet little shoebox of a shop, it also has a very loyal clientele of local folk who, even on this hot day, came into the store to pick their favorites.
As we were chatting with Vivian, a couple of families edged in, pointed excitedly at the pictures (one family especially liked an oil on canvas of a saucy brown chicken, right over my shoulder) before turning to their favorite treats.
It’s the sort of place where you can press your nose up against the cabinets, and seriously debate the merits of a piece of walnut fudge over a chocolate covered marshmallow. It reminds me of a place my best friend and I used to bike to In Birch Bay, to buy salt water taffy.
The portion s are generous, to say the least, and as Vivian explained, you pay by weight rather than piece, as they are of varying sizes. The look and feel of everything about Sweet Art reminds me of an old fashioned candy shop, and the proprietors clearly love what they do. It is no wonder people refer to them as the Willy Wonkas of the neighbourhood.
As the shop began to fill up, we picked out a box of nine assorted pieces, which quickly filled their largest box. Here’s a sampling of Sweet Art’s wares:
Lady Gaga: this was the favorite of one of the actresses I am working with – a dark chocolate raspberry ganache, enrobed in white chocolate, with dark chocolate ribbon
Marzipan: nice smooth melt in your mouth marzipan texture. Rich almond taste – almost like a liqueur – this was the one I liked
Ginger: a big hunk of crystallized ginger in the middle of a dark chocolate ganache, enrobed in dark chocolate
Apricot: milk chocolate buttercream and pieces of dried apricot inside a milk chocolate shell
Salted Caramel: dark chocolate, soft caramel, hit of salt, with salt sprinkle atop
Walnut Fudge: old fashioned, big pieces of chocolate walnut fudge, enrobed in milk chocolate
Spicy: chipotle spiced dark chocolate ganache, enrobed in dark chocolate, with chocolate sprinkles atop
Peanut Butter: the old favorite, in a log shape, instead of a cup – really big!
Jerry and Vivian’s sweet treats are also available at the Bellingham Farmer’s Market, on Saturdays from April to October:
After our sojourn in the land of Sweet Art, our appetites whetted for lunch, we walked down the block to “Bellingham’s Premier All Natural Burger Joint: Fiamma Burger”
Delicious, fresh and really filling – Bellingham is the land of big portions – Mmm, the pineapple shake!
Just before heading back to the border, after this wonderful afternoon “playing hooky”, we made a final stop at Creswell Boggs, where Younger Son found that special thing that made the trip for him.
Here he is with his inflatable beard:
It is indeed a very good thing the customs officials on both sides of the border had such a good sense of humour that day!