05-10-2010 02:41 PM - last edited on 05-10-2010 03:02 PM by Kristin_Z
Please join me in welcoming Kate Moses, author of Cakewalk.
Moses is the co-founder of Salon.com’s ground-breaking, award-winning Mothers Who Think website and the author of the internationally acclaimed novel about Sylvia Plath, Wintering. She is a self-taught baker whose insatiable appetite for sugar and stories were the key ingredients to surviving a turbulent childhood with an erratic and frustrated-artist mother and an emotionally-stunted and sometimes cruel father. Later in her life she worked with literary lumniaries at San Francisco’s North Point Press (including MFK Fisher, Kay Boyle, James Salter, and W.S. Merwin)—and perfected her baking skills.
Some highlights from the book include:
- Kate's private dinners with M.F.K. Fisher and Fisher's request for Kate's personal brownie recipe
- Kate's early childhood in the idyllic wine country town of Sonoma during the 1960s, and young adult years in the heyday of Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto
- Her hilariously awful teenage exile in Alaska, where Kate was a member of the junior high geek squad baking her way through pubescent martyrdom, while her glamorous Irish Catholic mother, desperate to escape the family, became the unlikely mascot of the fun-loving local German Club
- Meeting Samuel Beckett on her first trip to Paris--and what Kate inadvertently left behind in his apartment
- Surviving the breakup of a family and later, a first marriage, thanks to the unexpectedly sweet solace of friendship and forgiveness—and motherhood to a tow-headed toddler with a jones for ice cream
- Delicious recipes you can actually use, including the aforementioned brownies, a "Verboten" German chocolate cake implicated in a birds-and-bees speech, the closely guarded family fudge recipe, Kay Boyle's pain au chocolate bread pudding, San Francisco's famous "It's-It" ice cream sandwiches, and the blackberry jam Kate learned to make from her dotty but prescient grandmother
05-13-2010 12:32 PM
Welcome to our site and thank you so much for coming. A few questions to get things started:
-What are your three favorite recipes in the book?
-How did you find writing this book compared to your last one, given it's personal nature?
05-13-2010 12:59 PM
Hi, and thanks for having me!
It's hard to say which recipes in the book are my top 3 favorites, because I'm so attached to all of them! In fact when the manuscript of "Cakewalk" grew much too long and had to be cut down, I had no problem cutting the text but I could hardly bear to let go of any recipes! (Actually that's why I started a blog at my website -- so I'd have a place to post the recipes that ended up on the cutting room floor).
But -- I can say that the most popular recipes in the book, at least in terms of having fans among those who have eaten them and made them, are...
--the Absolutely Best Chocolate Chip Cookies. They really are fantastic. In fact they are now considered "unbeatable" in the chocolate chip cookie tasting being conducted at the blog called Tipsy Baker. I swelled with pride when I heard that.
--Pa's Fudge and Faux Pa's Fudge. I've been making the "real" Pa's fudge since childhood and came up with "Faux Pa's Fudge" as an adult, to remedy the fact that the real recipe doesn't always work, depending on the moon, the stars, if you've taken out the recycling, etc. They taste identical but Faux Pa's fudge is much easier to make, and can be made in huge batches, which I do every Christmas. I started to make it for gifts for my kids' teachers when they were small, and it was so popular people I'd never met before started asking if they could get on my "fudge list." Last year I made something like 95 pounds of fudge. But now that the recipe is in "Cakewalk," everyone can make their own.
--the Spiced Pecan Birthday Cake. Maybe this is really my favorite recipe in the book...as I tell the story in "Cakewalk" I'll just give the nutshell version here: my college boyfriend's wonderful mother, an extraordinary cook, made this cake for my 21st birthday, and I've had to make it for myself every year, ever since. It's also been the requested cake for several weddings and significant anniversaries and special parties -- it's the best cake I've ever tasted and everyone else who has it has said the same. It takes a little doing (it's probably the most elaborate recipe in the book) but it's COMPLETELY worth it.
Oh, and if you want to find the recipes I didn't include in the book, as well as baking tips and such, you can find them at my website and blog: www.katemoses.com.
05-13-2010 01:15 PM
Oops, I forgot to answer Allison's second question: "How did you find writing this book compared to your last one, given it's personal nature?"
I've always found it much more emotionally/psychologically challenging writing fiction versus nonfiction, even when the nonfiction is personal. You're just so vulnerable with fiction: you have only your imagination as the buffer between you and the reader, whereas with nonfiction there is always some kind of objective reality to lean against.
But until writing "Cakewalk," my nonfiction was never solely about ME. Even in my personal essays I was using myself or my experiences as a foil to write about something else, a concept or a question to ponder. But a memoir is completely subjective, and honestly, I thought writing "Cakewalk" was going to be so fun and easy -- no research! I could pull it all out of my head and my recipe files! -- and instead it was the hardest thing I've ever had to write. To paraphrase the late David Foster Wallace, it was the supposedly fun thing I'm not sure I'll ever want to do again.
The difficulty with this book was its very concept -- the bittersweetness of life, and appreciation, and forgiveness, and illustrating that with my own childhood, which was definitely bittersweet, and sometimes downright harrowing and traumatic. But now that I'm finished writing it (which required reliving it with every page), I'm so glad I did. In a way writing "Cakewalk" allowed me to claim my own experience unfiltered, and I'm grateful for that unexpected gift. I'm not sure I'd have attempted this book if someone had told me how painful it would be to write it.
Still, I'd have done almost anything to see my recipes in print! I bet there are a lot of bakers and cooks out there who feel that same sense of ego satisfaction when their specialties are recognized.
05-13-2010 01:23 PM
Hi Remainderette (great name!)
Well, I did apparently leave something in Samuel Beckett's apartment in addition to the pair of Rockport shoes I delivered to him on my first trip to Paris...The story is, I was very close to an old friend of Beckett's, the writer Kay Boyle, and Kay had bought a pair of Rockports for her pal Sam because he had bad feet. I was about to go to Paris anyway, so I offered to take the shoes and save Kay the postage costs. Kay was like a surrogate grandmother to me and suggested I take advantage of the space in the shoe box when I packed my suitcase -- you know, stuff every available space full. She suggested I pack my "underthings" in the shoes, and that's what I did. Except that when I took the shoes to Samuel Beckett, I'd forgotten to empty the box of my own stuff.
I don't know how many pairs of undies I left in Samuel Beckett's shoes...
05-13-2010 02:00 PM
I'm going to run out today and get my copy of "Cakewalk." Yeah! Congrats!
I'm intrigued by the fact that you said: "I've always found it much more emotionally/psychologically challenging writing fiction versus nonfiction, even when the nonfiction is personal. You're just so vulnerable with fiction..."
That's because I wanted to ask you about writing about your family -- particularly, the process of writing the truth about your parents and your child. What was it like to try to write honestly, and yet have boundaries? Perhaps you can share more about this process?
05-13-2010 03:04 PM
It has been an absolute pleasure having you visit. If I didn't already have (and love) your book I'd be running to get a copy due to the candidness of your answers. Thank you for being so frank and honest.
05-17-2010 01:51 AM
In the past in my nonfiction writing and personal essays, I've tried to be respectful of my children in keeping to the rule that their childhoods belong to them, and anything I wrote about them had to be something they gave me permission to use, or was utterly benign (or that would make them proud!). With "Cakewalk," the chronology of the book is such that my kids are only in it peripherally, so there were no issues to weigh with them this time.
But my family, the family I was born to, was a different issue. When I started to realize that this book was going to focus on my painful childhood and that my parents and siblings would by necessity have to be party to it, I was very reluctant to continue. On one hand I did not relish the idea of revisiting times in my life that were essentially traumatic, and on the other, if I did revisit those times to write about them, I felt the quandary of the validity and truth of my own experience versus the validity of the reaction of family members who would not agree with me, and would feel equally traumatized, or that they were revealed in a less than positive light.
I struggled mightily with what to do, using up several months of time on a short deadline in the process -- should I write the book from a shallow perspective, masking what really happened to spare my family? Should I let my mother and stepmother and siblings read the manuscript and react before I turned it in? Should I not write the book at all?
The decision made itself in the fall of 2008, during the runup to the presidential election. My siblings and our spouses and stepmother and I have very strong political beliefs, and we have made a habit not to talk about them with my mother and her husband, who have opposite and vocal, equally strong beliefs. On the morning that I was in the process of making a donation to my candidate's campaign, I received a group email from my mother and her husband with an attachment of campaign "posters" for their candidate -- and the posters, I felt, were highly offensive, not just because I don't share their beliefs, but because the posters were themselves bigoted and incendiary. They clearly thought it was funny, but I saw nothing funny about racism and inciting violence masked as political wit. I responded by emailing the entire group in return as my own "joke", congratulating my mother and her husband on finally realizing that their party was a joke with joke candidates, and that I had just made my campaign contribution to MY party in THEIR names.
Well, I wish I could say I could've predicted the result, but the wrath and abuse I incurred for my "joke" was far beyond anything I imagined. My mother and her husband responded by asking how I dared try to impose my political beliefs on them (uh, who sent the first email?), and they then apologized for me to their friends, saying that I had always been immature, selfish, a liar, incapable of making good decisions, a burden on the family, and all in all a pathetic excuse for a human being.
I realized then that the childhood of trauma and abuse I had suffered had never really come to an end: even now in my forties, if I dare to run counter to my family's myth about itself I am beaten down and my character assassinated. And so I realized that the best reason for me to complete my memoir was so that I would have a record for myself of who I became and why, and that my own story has just as much validity as the stories other members of my family have created about me. It was time for me to erect a few boundaries for myself and to acknowledge my own experience -- with, I hope, honesty and compassion, but without censorship from outside.
Though I chose not to tell my family about this book until publication for a variety of reasons, my brothers, sisters, and stepmother now know about the book and have been incredibly supportive. I appreciate their vote of confidence in me and their acknowledgement of my right to tell my own story -- even when it is uncomfortable for them -- more than I can say.