Katy Chandler-Isacksen bakes Patience Cakes, which can be made wheat-free, dairy-free or egg-free and use organic, local and Fair Trade ingredients. Find out more by visiting http://patiencecakes.blogspot.com.
Tell me about Patience Cakes.
I’d been a teacher for like 10 years, and I quit teaching this school year. So I was very angry and frustrated with the school system. … That opened up a whole lot of time to rethink what my life is about. I met another former schoolteacher in town. She makes cakes, and I thought, “I’ll just try it.” It’s something I do completely on the side. I work now for Planned Parenthood, and I love it. A few years ago, I made a New Year’s resolution that I would make a cake for a special occasion. I decided to make a little blog, and people shared it, I guess.
My son is 2, and when he was like 2-months-old, he got his first round of shots, and within 10 days he was covered head to toe with oozing, itching red welts all over his entire body. That set off a whole crazy thing. He’s very allergic to all kinds of things—wheat, dairy, eggs, peanuts, oats, sunflower oil. So my entire diet changed completely. I still breastfeed him, and that goes through the milk. So it kind of opened up a whole world. My husband and I, neither of us have allergies that I’m aware of. It’s just really frustrating, so we’re trying to figure out how to deal with that. … There’s this great cookbook called The Kid-Friendly Food Allergy Cookbook. You can do some basic things most kids will like, and you have to adapt it according to the different allergies you deal with. It’s just maddening because I have to take every single one of these steps in this book for my son. I’ve just discovered a network of families of children with allergies.
You use a lot of natural elements in your cakes.
I’m really, really passionate about food that works for the planet, basically. My husband and I take seriously trying to find food that has a small ecological footprint, be it local or organic. The challenge of cakes is that sugar and chocolate have such a nasty history of exploitation of people around the world. Those cost more to find Fair Trade and organic so that it’s fair to the people who make it. I haven’t been able to figure out all of them yet. The flower industry—I don’t know a lot about it, but my aunt is a florist—the people who grow flowers are really unfairly treated because they use a tremendous amount of pesticides and [receive] no real pay, and you just don’t want to put that into a cake. I try to get all completely local stuff where I know where it came from. A lot of what I get [for decorating] is from a local farm or from walking around my neighborhood.
Your neighbors are saying, “So that’s where my flowers went.”
We actually live at the River School, a beautiful little piece of land on the river. You can walk along the river and if you actually take the time to look, there’re just beautiful grasses and plants all along the river.
Were you as committed to sustainable food before you had your son?
Yeah. The allergies actually complicate it. That whole process happened five to 10 years ago. … If you have a birthday cake or wedding cake and you’re celebrating something really special and important to you, you really don’t want to fold anger and sadness and exploitation into that. It’s not just an aside to the cake, in my opinion. It matters deeply. I think that’s critical to how we eat, and the trend of people in general to be thinking about what you are buying and who is it affecting because the world is changing rapidly, and we have to think of different ways to do stuff.
Tell me about the name.
Patience Cakes? We were sitting at the table, and my son and I were making this cake. It was a cake I was making for a special occasion, so I was trying to make it. But he wants to pour everything. He just wants to be involved. My husband walks in and says “How’s it going?” And I said, “These things should be called Patience Cakes.”