I’d like to introduce you to Lauren, a baker by day and a writer by night. I met Lauren in a writing group I attend. She is our fearless leader, as we like to call her. She’s super sweet, smart, and is a prolific writer of fiction. She’s on her 7th NaNoWriMo people! Now, that’s impressive stuff. By trade she is a baker at Sweet Tooth in South Boston. In addition to these things she also runs an addictive blog with her sisters. Check ‘em out at Camp Spastic! I am in awe of Lauren, as she lives her life doing exactly what she wants – she’s equally passionate about baking and writing. By spending her working hours doing something she loves and then spending her free time doing something else she loves she becomes an inspiration for us all. So, I thought it’d be fun to do a little Q & A, introduce you to the awesome bakery she works at in Southie, and maybe inspire some folks to get out and do something creative in their free time this winter!
So, when did you decide you wanted to be a baker? Tell us about what it was like going to school for this?
There were a few false starts. As a kid I once tried to make a cake for my mom’s birthday by, well, basically stacking pieces of white bread that I had cut into circles, then spreading this store bought chocolate sauce I found in the fridge all over it. I was like, “Yeah, that’s pretty much cake.”
I might have been fourteen when I started baking for real. It came from watching a lot of anime, actually. The desserts always looked so beautiful! Mine didn’t, of course, but my family ate them anyway. Pretty soon my need to bake overtook their ability to consume. I fell into the habit of bringing a Christmas tin full of treats with me to school, giving them out to friends, teachers, and anyone who happened to ask what the tin was about. I liked thinking it made someone’s day a little better, you know? But it didn’t occur to me that I could do this for a living until I took a culinary arts class in senior year, and a couple of representatives came from the Le Cordon Bleu school of Culinary Arts in Austin (called Texas Culinary Academy at the time). I ended up going there, and I loved it; met some of the coolest people that year. They did a very good job of preparing us for the real world- no one was promised fame or fortune.
Tell us what a day in the life of a baker at Sweet Tooth is like.
It’s always a little crazy. Some parts of the job are regimented; there is a set list of things I know I’ll have to do on a Tuesday morning, for instance. Then there are aspects that change on a daily basis, like the custom cake orders, and of course you have to account for the occasional crisis. That’s just part of working in any kitchen. Thankfully, we all have a good sense of humor.
There’s a great deal of singing. One of the owners, Glenn, in another life he was a music major. He has a fantastic singing voice and is pretty much an encyclopedia of music. We also enjoy making literary references. Our freezer is named Chillingworth.
What makes Sweet Tooth stand out from other bakeries?
You know, the first thing that comes to mind is how clean we are. That might sound weird, but sanitation is very important to me, and I know there are kitchens out there that let it fall by the wayside. It’s just so nice to work for people who make that a priority.
Tell us about some of the goodies at Sweet Tooth:
– a special treat you are picking up for someone: Any of the cupcakes. They’re gigantic and they’re all decorated, so it’s almost like a tiny cake.
--a pick-me-up single serving treat to yourself after a long day: The cheesecake lollipops make for an excellent pick-me-up. It’s a ball of cheesecake dipped in chocolate; I hardly think I need to say more.
–holiday/seasonal treats: I know I just recommended cheesecake, and maybe I’m just suffering from a craving right now, but the pumpkin cheesecake we do this time of year is amazing. I mean that sincerely. If I had any at home right now, that would absolutely be my dinner tonight.
–what Sweet Tooth is known best for: I’d say we’re known for our custom cakes. We’ve done a great range of things, from the Harry Potter sorting hat to Yoda driving a sports car to a brain. That last one was for a neurosurgeon! Don’t worry, it was done in a cartoon style, so it wasn’t gross.
What is your favorite time of year for baking? Is the holiday season crazy, overwhelming, fun, a little bit of everything?
Winter! The heat of the kitchen is most welcome come January. Holidays are all of the above. Goodness. Those are coming right up, aren’t they? I need to stock up on coffee.
When you’re not baking you write. Tell us a bit about what you’re writing and also reading right now.
Right now I’m getting ready to participate in National Novel Writing Month. I’ve done it six times, so I have that kind of security of familiarity, but I’m still super nervous. It’s hard with Thanksgiving. I have to get a huge head start because I know there won’t be any time for writing that week. I’ll be swimming in pies.
Anyway, this year’s book is about a high schooler who decides he’s going to burn down a warehouse. Should be fun! I’m pretty excited about this one. The character and different incarnations of his story have been with me for years, but I’ve never felt like I had it pegged down enough to start writing. Something clicked earlier this year. I know what to do with it now. As for reading, just finished “Wildwood” by Collin Meloy. He has such a wonderful sense of storytelling. The illustrations were gorgeous, too- it’s just a beautiful book. His wife illustrated it. How cool is that?
Do you feel being a writer and a baker go hand-in-hand due to the creativity needed for both? How do you balance the two?
Having both is kind of essential for me. Writing is not a physically demanding activity- though not for lack of trying on my part, always pounding dramatically at the keys and pacing through my apartment as I brainstorm. Still, more than once I’ve realized at the end of a day that I spent a solid eight, ten, even twelve hours in one spot on the sofa. You can’t help feeling both a little proud and a little pathetic at that point. It’s okay, though, because I know the next day I’ll be getting the bakery workout: staying on my feet, lifting 50-pound bags of flour and sugar, whisking, rolling out dough, kneading fondant, and so on.
Do you ever want to write, but get done with a long day baking and say ‘not tonight’? If/when you have those moments, how do you motivate yourself to write?
I’ve definitely had nights like that. Sometimes I give in and just go to sleep. It happens, you know, but it’s always disappointing. I can usually get myself going with music, though. A lot of what I listen to involves storytelling, so it sort of engages that part of my brain. It gets jealous. I think that’s what happens! My inner writer encounters other writing, in this case a song, gets jealous, and I not only want to write, I have to.
What are your favorite things about baking? Least favorite?
I love getting to work with my hands. It’s also great indulging my obsessive side. You have to be a little obsessive, a little enamored of precision. My least favorite part would have to be the heat in the summer. It can get brutal with the ovens running.
Can we see a short sample of your writing?
Sure! I have this book I’ve been writing on and off since 2006. It’s called “Might as well be Edward”, and it’s about two car accidents and a runner. To give you a little background, the main character has had a near death experience that’s left him in a pretty bad state. He can’t quite remember his name, for instance, though he does know that it contains an Edward and a Martin. In the course of trying to get back to his life, he’s drifting between states of feeling like every single thing around him is incredibly, indescribably important, and feeling like nothing is quite real. The book is written as though by him. He’s having trouble picking a point of view as well. We’ve all been there.
Here we go:
Also, I went grocery shopping.
And so! Grocery shopping. Do not think that I have gone here because there is nowhere else to go. A grocery store, the grocery store, where one buys one’s food, is essential. It is as important as their own kitchen. You do not think the kitchen is important? The wallpaper, the mailbox, the neighbor’s barking dog? What about a scratch in the lens of a pair of glasses? Would it be worth mentioning, even though it is constant?
The fluorescent lights are one thing. They play music you won’t really notice. And the wheel on the cart that spins uncontrollably, so you can’t turn without looking mentally deficient; the fish, the baking bread, the mist that sprays periodically over a section of the fresh produce; the single bird that has flown in and is flitting overhead. Of course, these things. The specifics of one, though- of mine: the produce section is on the left when you walk in, and it leads into the bakery. Next, a wall of cheese and deli, a counter for different cheese and deli, are you still following? Can I describe the importance of the location of skim milk? Every Friday, the new sales go into effect.
When our Edward-or-Martin was still concerned about it, he used to judge his wellbeing by how long it took him to go grocery shopping. Now he stands in line, months past caring how long he has spent shuffling through the aisles, forgetting to blink. He is comfortable and feels safe; if he were uncomfortable, he would be keeping careful watch over his body. He would be blinking rather too forcefully. At this moment, he can unconsciously sense a couple of things, being that (one) the cashier has given him several concerned looks and (two) an infant to his right is staring at him. The two of them are absolutely motionless until, out of biological necessity, Edward-or-Martin blinks. It acts as a switch in his brain, waking him, loosening his stiff posture, softening his inscrutable expression to the point of actual cheer. He smiles brightly at the infant, who does not react in the very least.
Thanks to Lauren for taking some time to do the interview and for providing us with the delicious photos! If you’re looking for somewhere to get some yummy holiday treats to bring to family gatherings or parties why not check out Sweet Tooth? If you do, look up Miss Lauren and let us know how you enjoyed it!