Jessie is a writer, illustrator, baker, and founder of CakeSpy, which is a dessert detective agency dedicated to seeking sweetness in everyday life.
From write-ups on bakery visits and delicious recipes to art projects, Jessie encourages us to bake and live with sweet abandon. Jessie has authored two books, CakeSpy Presents Sweet Treats for a Sugar-Filled Life and The Secret Lives of Baked Goods. She is also an eating disorder activist.
I am so happy to have Jessie Oleson Moore of CakeSpy joining me here today.
(*All photos below are Jessie’s.)
On Starting Her Blog:
I was working at a refrigerator magnet company and I was actually the art director. It was the refrigerator magnet division of a greeting card company, and I know it sounds silly, but I had reached a point where I was not going to have too much more advancement in my job, so, I was feeling a little bit antsy, and I had wanted to start my own company for a long time.
At the time, I was reading a book called, The Purple Cow by Seth Godin, which is a fantastic book, I highly recommend it, but it gave a lot of great suggestions for how to start a business. And ultimately one of the things that I took away from it was that to start a business, you’ve got to start out doing what you love. So I was like, “Okay. Well, what would my ideal business have?”
It came to me right away. I was like, “Well, it would have writing, illustrating, and baked goods.” All awesome things, but how do you start a business with that? So I was like, “Well, all right, maybe I’ll start a blog and I’ll figure out what I want to do with the business.” This is 2007 when I could probably count the food bloggers on one hand.
So I started a blog, and I did not in any way think that the blog would become my business, but it had this beautiful fusion that allowed me to start a business doing all of the things that I loved. So I feel really fortunate that I’ve been able to do that.
On Her Journey and Relationship with Food:
Actually your question couldn’t come at a better time. I was at the conference of the National Eating Disorder Association, which was in San Diego this year, and that was a wonderful opportunity. There were over 600 attendees, and it was just a coming together of people who have suffered from eating disorders, people who have family or friends who have suffered, and also researchers and clinicians.
I suffered from an eating disorder from the age of about 12 until, I would say that I really actively began to become recovered in my late 20s and early 30s. So I’m 34 now, so that’s fairly recent. I think that eating disorders are something that, for one thing, nobody asks to have an eating disorder. Nobody aspires to that. And they’re rather insidious things because they insert themselves in your life so gradually, at least in my case and many other cases that I know of, that before you know it, it’s become part of you. Or you think it’s part of you.
And for me, who knows really what got me there. I believe that for me, it was not one thing that made me have an eating disorder, but maybe a few things. I think that to begin, maybe I had an anxious nature and a nature of perfection. And when you have that and you reach your tender teenage years where your body is changing, all of a sudden it becomes really enticing that in this world that feels really out of control, that your food is something that you can control.
So what began as kind of an after-school special type of worrying about food and dieting, escalated quickly into bulimia. And then when I stopped exhibiting bulimic behavior, I thought I was better, but secretly, somehow without realizing it, I had really just become anorexic.
So I suffered from a lot of food-related issues. And I think that actually my food blog, as funny as it might sound, was part of the gateway to recovery for me. I think that food is something that people with eating disorders have a very complex relationship with. But at first when I began to bake, I think that that was… even though it was before I really, truly, hardcore went into recovery, I think that baking was the gateway that led me to recovery.
Because at first, I think that I would only take the teeny, tiniest taste of anything that I baked, but it’s like I started to get to know my enemy. And all of a sudden, when you start baking, it’s like, “Whoa, there actually isn’t evil and the devil lurking in this cupcake. It’s actually just butter and sugar and flour and very real things. It’s not going to ruin my life.” So I think that by beginning to bake, that it helped me to, at first, maybe fear food less, and then to begin to understand it, and ultimately to have a much healthier relationship with it.
On What She Would Say to Someone Suffering from an Eating Disorder:
Number one, you’re not alone. You’re less alone than you think. Number two, this is a problem. You might think, “Oh, but I’m not anorexic so it’s not an issue.” It is an issue. If it’s affecting your life, then it is an issue. And it’s not okay, and it’s important that you get help.
And that leads into, get help. And what type of help you need, it will differ from person to person. I found that my best support was through an eating disorder support group, a physical, in-person group. I liked a group better than one-on-one therapy. I just felt like it had that aspect of connection, although I did have one-on-one therapy.
I was never hospitalized. Some people require that or benefit from that. But the NEDA.org website, National Eating Disorder Association, is fantastic. They have a lot of resources, and they also have a helpline that you can call and get resources.
On Learning How to Bake:
I grew up in a household that was reverent to sweets. Everyone in my family loved sweets. And my mom is, while she was never a professional baker, she was a stay-at-home mom, but to call her an amateur baker would really not quite do it justice. She could have been a baker easily, a professional one.
For instance, my birthday cakes every year, I did not ever, ever have a cake mix cake. I basically had a wedding cake. My birthday cake every year was a three-tier homemade vanilla cake with pink frosting, and roses all piped on. And my mom would make this for me because it was my birthday dream. So for me, sweets have always been something that have been present in my life and that I have loved and appreciated.
And more than even just the sweets, but the culture around them. I can’t remember what I wore or what we had for dinner on my birthday when I turned six, but I remember the cake, and that is a happy memory. So that has always been present in my life. And I was always like a sous chef to my mom while she was baking, very intently interested on getting to lick the beaters at first, but I got more and more curious about the process as I grew up.
And I think that for a long time I felt like, “Oh, well, my mom’s the baker. That’s not really for me.” But it was funny because when I first started baking in earnest, which really quite honestly was when I started the website, I realized that I already knew more than I realized, I think just from absorbing it from years of watching her. So I’ve always had an interest in sweets, but I’m largely self-taught.
On Her Art and Illustrations:
I’ve always been artistic. My mom actually, while she was a stay-at-home mom, as soon as my youngest sister went to school, she pursued her dream of being a children’s book illustrator. So my mom, she is kind of famous, Margie Moore. So my mom is artistic, my dad is a super talented water colorist and painter. And once again, the culture that I grew up in, I was always artistic.
And I went to art school. That is what my training is in, and I studied illustration. I’ve always drawn characters, too. Actually, I was going through some old papers awhile back, and I actually found this drawing I had done of a cupcake and a muffin and they both had smiling faces.
On Her Cookbooks:
The first book, the nutshell story about that is that when I started my website and I started to gain some web popularity… and very early on, I was like, “You know what? I should get a book deal.” So a literary agent had approached me and I was like, “Yeah, I’m going to get a book deal. I’m going to nail this.” So I put together a book proposal, and every single person I sent it to rejected it.
Every single person. I was crushed. And my reaction was, “Screw you, publishing industry. You don’t want me? I don’t want you.” I put that to bed, and if anyone asked, I was like, “No, I don’t want to write a book.”
But then about two years later, actually one of the publishing houses, Sasquatch Books in Seattle who had actually rejected the book previously came back to me. All of a sudden, I guess the timing was right. So they asked me to come in for a meeting. I did.
And I had walked to the meeting, because at the time I lived in Seattle and I was maybe 15 minutes away. By the time that I got home from my appointment with them, they had sent over a contract.
So it’s funny because while it happened very quickly, it also did not happen very quickly. That book was put together largely from the archives of popular recipes from my website. And I actually wrote that book in about three weeks.
At that time, I had about four years’ worth of recipes. So while it was a tremendous amount of work to write headnotes that were cohesive and to format the recipes, I did have quite a bit of the work already done. And then I believe I had a leisurely five weeks to do all of the illustrations.
The second book, throughout writing on my website, I had become interested with baked goods with interesting backstories. My saying is that, “It tastes better with a backstory.” Even the most humble food can become far more interesting and rich when it has a great story behind it. So that book, I think, was born out of that love.
It was with the same publisher. And it was an idea that I had and they let me run with it. So the two books that I’ve written visually both in terms of recipes are quite different but I think that when you see them side-by-side that you see the common thread of the way that I write and my sense of humor.
The Pressure Cooker:
Which food shows or cooking shows do you watch?
I am embarrassed to tell you that I do not watch any food shows. The one that I used to watch though when I was in high school, which is not on anymore but I loved it, was the Sara Moulton show. It was so informative. I just loved listening to her voice. So I’ll say that in the 1990s I was all about Sara Moulton.
What are some food blogs or food websites we have to know about?
Well, if you’ve never seen my friend Peabody’s website, it is called, Culinary Concoctions by Peabody, and this is like my sister from another mister. If there’s a delicious, indulgent dessert it is probably on this website. Even indulgent desserts that you’ve probably never even thought of, they’re on this website. So I really, really highly suggest that one.
I also think there’s a lot of great foodie stuff on Craftsy.com, which is actually a website that I write for. That was how I first was exposed to them. But they have a lot of great food content on there so I’m often checking them out.
And I also love Serious Eats which is another website I previously contributed to but that’s not why I suggest it. I just think that they always do a really great job. So I love reading what they have to say.
Oh, and another one that I always get a lot of great information from is the King Arthur Flour Blog. They always have great information that gets into the nitty-gritty of the process of baking. So I always really enjoy it if there’s a recipe that is on their blog, I really feel like I get a full story from their site.
Who do you follow on Pinterest, Instagram, or Facebook or Snapchat that make you happy?
I follow this one called The Purple Pug that posts pug pictures and also party ideas. The party ideas are wonderful and inspiring but the pugs are my main draw. If you put a pug in a costume – I am on it. I love my friend The Domestic Rebel, Hayley. She posts a lot of really delicious photos. So she’s always inspiring me. And, oh my goodness, I love following Big Gay Ice Cream.
They’re an ice cream company but they post ice cream and unicorns and funny pop culture. So basically they’ve won my heart.
What is the most unusual or treasured item in your kitchen?
Even though it’s maybe about six feet away from my kitchen, I think that my unicorn collection really sets my baking area apart from others.
Name one ingredient you used to dislike but now you love.
I would say tomatoes. When I was little, I had a real problem with as I called it, “tomato thingies.” If I got a slice of pizza and it was the kind of sauce that wasn’t totally pureed, if it had maybe little bits of tomato skin in it, I could not abide by it. I just could not do it. I would not eat it. But now I’m like, “Oh my God, tomato everything.” So I’ve had a real turn around with that one.
What are a few cookbooks that make your life better?
Probably my favorite cookbook on earth, aside from my own, is the Betty Crocker Cooky Book. And this is the early 1960s edition where cookie is spelled C-O-O-K-Y. And this book you can easily find it on Amazon. They’ve reissued it. But it’s wire bound and I just love this book.
It’s got all sorts of cookies but it’s got these adorable headnotes like, “Mrs. Martin Flowers of Omaha likes to make these cookies when she’s not attending to her hat collection,” and things like that. So it’s very amusing, very telling of a different era. And it’s got those weird Technicolor photos. So I love that book.
I also love any King Arthur Flour book. I always love their books. I love all of the cookbooks by the proprietors of Baked, the Brooklyn bakery. And I also have a deep love of any self-published church cookbooks, the type of things that ladies auxiliary committees will do. Those cookbooks are my favorite. I love those.
What song or album just makes you want to cook?
In art school I felt like anything Velvet Underground made me want to create art. But I feel like for me, it’s got to be good oldies to make me want to cook. So that could be Bob Dylan, like, Blood on the Tracks or Tangled Up in Blue.
On Keeping Posted with Jessie:
Definitely on social media, I’ve been getting more into Instagram. I post lots of unicorns, pugs, illustrations, and baked goods, nothing not to love. So that’s a good way and via Facebook is a good way to keep apprised of what’s going on and of course the blog.