Serious Reads: Cakewalk, by Kate Moses
"Life does not always reward us with the best cookie in the box, or the happiest family; sometimes you take what you get and make the best of it."
Kate Moses has a sweet tooth. Her life, as detailed in her memoir Cakewalk, has been outlined by a steady stream of sugary treats. A childhood of motherly indulgence, followed by teen years spent mastering the art of baking, led to a collection of excellent and far-reaching dessert recipes. These recipes are inserted after each short chapter of this lengthy book, giving the reader much mouth-watering inspiration. I've read other books that have incorporated recipes, but none have done so as elegantly as Moses's. Each dessert is linked to the preceding chapter, giving us a visual and sensory connection to Moses's experiences and stories.
But despite the sugar-laced theme of this book, Moses's life has been no cakewalk (so to speak). As she states early on, "Life does not always reward us with the best cookie in the box, or the happiest family; sometimes you take what you get and make the best of it." Her initially rose-tinted memories of her family quickly unravel as the memoir follows her into late childhood, when she began to see the cracks in her parents' marriage and her mother's manipulative tendencies. Her relationship with her two brothers is rarely supportive enough to help her through her formative early teenage years. One gets the impression that Moses has been on her own for her entire life.
Moses's wonderful prose and and amazing insight into her younger self completely engulfed me in the emotions of her tumultuous upbringing. But such involvement makes this book tough to read. The recipes, initially joyful and celebratory of the pleasures of sweets, become painful when Moses begins a struggle with weight loss and body image. The brownies that friends bring by to help the flailing new mother sort through a messy divorce leave a similarly sour taste in the mouth. But Moses finds her way to happiness, a new marriage, and a career in writing. And she ends the book with stories of her time spent with M.F.K. Fisher, an esteemed food writer whose contribution to Moses's life is sizable.
Moses's bravery and candidness in so openly displaying her past turmoil is beyond admirable. Food is sometimes only in the background of her reminiscences, which would seem disappointing to those looking for a food-focused read. But once you begin reading her story it is impossible to put down. I highly recommend this book—it is well-written, balances the sweet and salty sides of life, and leaves the reader with a substantial number of new pastry recipes to try. Personally, I'm most interested in the brownies that M.F.K. Fisher declared "delicious." I'll be baking them soon.