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Foraging for Flavor: Take a stroll down Cupcake Blvd.

Rachel Ravin works on making treats while Karina Thigpen readies a tray of cupcakes in the background.
Rachel Ravin works on making treats while Karina Thigpen readies a tray of cupcakes in the background. (By Diana Love, Correspondent, Carroll County Times)

The nasty weather last week was as dreary as Seattle or London, and our collective mood noticeably suffered. I find when the weather is gray -- when sunlight is scarce -- I habitually turn to time in the kitchen. Last week definitely I needed a boost.

My therapy, I decided, would include extra time at the gym... and then a cupcake. I found just what I was craving at Cupcake Blvd., located in a small shopping mall on the northbound side of Route 3 in Crofton.

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Angelette Aviles, owner of the shop, grew up in Silver Spring but settled in Florida after attending Florida State University and the University of Southern Florida. She returned to Maryland when her husband, an electrical engineer whose job required nearly constant travel, transferred to a less transient position in Baltimore.

Leaving the steady warmth of the Sunshine State and the bustle of metropolitan Tampa for the decidedly slower pace of Anne Arundel County would be difficult enough for anyone; but Aviles, whose cultural heritage is Puerto Rican, also had to leave her tightly-knit extended family. In Tampa, she lived next door to her parents, two doors down from her brother and blocks away from aunts, uncles and cousins. Her grandparents were just a few miles away, as were her in-laws. Moving to Maryland was a shock worsened by the death of her grandfather.

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In fact, it was his passing and the realization that she had made a major life change mid-course that propelled her into the kitchen. She jokes that making cupcakes was cheaper therapy than shopping, but anyone who loves to cook or even to eat can appreciate how using her hands, mind and creativity in the kitchen helped Aviles move through her grief and loneliness.

Aviles' grandmother, who never fails to end a family meal with a delicious homemade dessert, shared her cake recipes and gave Aviles practical advice on perfecting her confections.

As her baking projects expanded and her cupcake repertoire grew, so did the inventory of treats in her kitchen. Aviles began taking her cupcakes to her children's sporting events and dance classes just to get them off her counters. Suddenly, friends of friends and perfect strangers alike were asking for special orders.

Aviles knew she was on to something, but she wasn't convinced she should bank on it. She didn't have a professional baking background. While members of her family did operate food-related businesses, she managed a public relations firm. Her husband suggested she consider school, so she took baking classes at L'Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg.

Aviles remained reluctant to invest in a storefront, but couldn't legally operate what was rapidly becoming a cupcake catering business from her home. She decided a food truck would be the perfect solution.

The truck would involve less investment, overhead and physical plant and would allow her to have flexible hours. It also would provide a cheap form of marketing -- all she had to do was park her truck on a street with good visibility and consistently offer really good cupcakes.

Cupcake Blvd. on wheels was designed with help from East Coast Custom Coaches in less than 30 days. The actual build-out required four months. Aviles spent that time eating cupcake after cupcake, experimenting with flavors and perfecting her recipes. She had to learn how to make a menu, control costs, bake for profit and manage special orders. She started by Googling "cupcake truck" and began to contact truck owners all over the country.

Interestingly, just 18 months into her food truck adventure, Aviles is considering selling that part of her business. While she baked her cupcakes at Roundz Gourmet Market, also in Gambrills, she actually operated her truck in Montgomery County, mostly in Silver Spring near Discovery Channel headquarters.

When she first opened, she was wildly popular. Working in a business district with a heavy lunch crowd and great foot traffic was ideal. Over time however, the legalities of parking the truck on commercial streets where she was most visible and accessible became difficult to navigate.

Parking attendants began to harass Aviles and other food truck owners about monopolizing spaces and meters. Police officers began to monitor exactly where operators parked and if they were conforming to specific regulations. Food trucks responded by abandoning the area. Aviles notes that sadly, they are now largely gone. As the tide began to turn against food trucks, she began to plan a brick and mortar storefront.

She opened her shop, located on Route 3 North, just after New Year's Day, 2013. Already her business is booming and she is receiving requests to open a second shop or start a franchise.

"I am involved in my community here though," she says. "I would never be able to duplicate this shop, because I am close to it. I can spend time here: I can work and still be present at home. I don't want to sacrifice that. My main rush of business is during lunch hour, when I know my kids are safe at school. Even weeks that take 60 hours, I can still be with my family because I can run to the shop before they wake up, or after I drop them at school or after bedtime."

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Cupcake Blvd. specializes in cupcakes, custom cakes and French macarons. Some of Aviles' most interesting flavors reflect her background. She visits Puerto Rico frequently and loves perusing bakeries there for inspiration.

During Hispanic Heritage Month, which is celebrated annually September through October, Aviles showcased margarita, pina colada, dulce de leche, tres leches and Nutella cupcakes, and the churro cupcake which sounds remarkable: cinnamon cake with chocolate cinnamon cream cheese frosting and a little fresh churro on top!

The regular menu showcases standards like red velvet, chocolate, vanilla and snickerdoodle. I suspect it's the unique daily specials that turn her customers into loyal followers, though: flavors like peanut butter cup, chocolate lava, peppermint patty, and maple bacon. The milky way is chocolate cake with a homemade marshmallow fluff and caramel nougat-y filling, caramel frosting and a tiny Milky Way candy bar on top.

In fact, savvy customers know to check out the Cupcake Blvd. website, Facebook or Twitter pages, because Aviles frequently adds unexpected new flavors to the daily menu according to her whim or what's in season.

Perhaps most wonderful at Cupcake Blvd. are the cake truffles. These are sort of like a cake pop, but are sometimes drenched in adult confections and lack the cake pop's ubiquitous stick.

"Rachel, my general manager and truffle cake mixologist, comes up with different truffle cake flavors every day. She takes leftover cupcakes, soaks them in liqueurs so they are super moist, mixes them with custom frosting and then encases the entire cake in chocolate."

Now that is my way to end a rainy week slump!

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If you're facing bad weather or furlough blues, visit Cupcake Blvd. in Gambrills. Aviles is offering a free cupcake to furloughed federal workers with an ID.

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In November and December she will host cupcake decorating classes in the shop's party room. Participants can learn decorating techniques and will practice executing seasonal themes on six cupcakes. The class is about an hour and half long, and costs $40 per person. Visit

for more information.

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