"A baker with a heart of gold. She lives in small-town Selma, AL, where she has found a way to flourish through her love for baking. She makes the most insanely delicious-looking (and tasting!) treats and gives them away to people in the community instead of enjoying them herself."
When I read her nomination, my first thought was, "Someone needs to make a musical about this girl's life." And while GWG is a far cry from musical status, Kate's story certainly sings. One glance at her Instagram and you can see that "talented" is a humble word. She recently launched her own blog and she's well on her way to authoring your new favorite cookbook.
Grab a cup of coffee and a notebook for this one—you'll want to jot down a few words of wisdom. I'm thrilled to introduce our latest Girl With Gumption, Kate Wood.
First, the obvious question, when and why did you begin baking?
My interest in cooking and baking began in college, and my love for food was really cultivated there while studying nutrition. Of course, during that time I had limited access to kitchens, ingredients, and even free time to hone those skills, so I didn’t really start a lot of experimenting until after graduation. I would spend hours scouring the internet for new recipes and ways to use bags of candy I had purchased on discount after holidays… you’d be surprised how many different desserts you can “stuff” with more sugar. Finally, three years after graduating, I was engaged to be married and I decided to follow in my mother’s footsteps by baking and preparing my own wedding cake! So the baking marathon that my life has been the past 4 years began while preparing my first sweet and humble wedding cake for my big day.
Does baking hold any significance to you beyond the joy of the thing?
Food is one of my biggest passions. It’s something I enjoy immensely all on my own, but even more so when shared with others. You can learn so much about people by sharing a meal with them and so a lot of what I’m trying to cultivate in my own family and circle of friends is a place where bread can be broken and life can be experienced together. New flavors, recipes, and other food experiences taste better when shared with people you love because so many memories are formed just by enveloping our senses in something awesome. So being able to cook for my family and share meals with my friends is more than just a task to check of my to-do list… it’s an opportunity to make a moment count. Experimenting with new tastes and techniques and finding successful recipes to celebrate daily life with is a way to include the people I love in to something that brings a lot of joy to my life.
Your creations look as beautiful as they do delicious! Do you have any particular decorating inspiration?
What was our life before the internet? I mean, I guess if this was 20 years ago we would be ripping photos from Southern Living magazine and Better Home and Gardens cookbooks, but having access to blogs and sites on the internets has opened up an entire new realm of inspiration! One of my biggest things with food and most of the things I bake is that I like it to look like what it tastes like. I think I learned that from Ina Garten. So decorating a cookie or a cake is really typically just me trying to convey the flavor of that food in its appearance. Another thing I love is just making food fun. Yeah, you can make a regular pie with a pretty lattice crust that tastes just as delicious as the next, but why waste an opportunity to write a message on it or decorate it with seasonal items or cut-out shapes. I think a lot of times I end up thinking to myself, “How can I make this (insert baked item) look unique”, and whatever comes to mind it what I typically go with.
How often do you bake?
Too much. Ha! I would say that I will bake at least two different items each week, but I also have to admit that there are weeks when I will make something every day. Because I have a 1 year old daughter and a full time job, my free time is often limited, so if there is a baking project I’m trying to tackle, I will often break it up over a period of a few days if I can. Our standing deep freezer is pretty much my lifesaver.
What do you do with your creations once finished?
I eat an embarrassing amount. Truly. But if the baking project was successful, I try to spread the love. We live in a small, southern town and have a tremendous community of friends that I like to share with. My husband is my official taste-tester, although the running joke is that he gets “the uglies”: the cookies that spread too much, the brownie that broke at the bottom of the pan, or the pastry that didn’t brown in the oven. His sweet tooth is pretty strong too though so he usually doesn’t complain.
A lot of the cakes I bake are made for friends and family who are having celebrations of some sort. I don’t currently sell any of my baked goods, primarily because I worry that if I start accepting money for items then baking will start to feel like a job. Plus, getting to bless other people with things is fun and special for me so if I’m able to help someone out, it’s something I like to do.
If at any point in time having access to that small square of someone else’s story starts to make you feel any less about your own story, you need to step away.
These days it’s become normal to snap a photo of our food and share it with the world before we eat. Why do you think that is? What are your thoughts on baking/food as a culture?
I sometimes have mixed feelings about this. Social media is an incredibly valuable tool for finding inspiration, and one of the beautiful things about it is that you can share things and experiences with millions of people you would typically never have access to. Some of my favorite people to follow on social media sites live in Asia or Europe or California where I would never ordinarily meet them even over the course of a hundred lifetimes! So the fact that I’m able to glean something from these people who are a world away is an incredible benefit to me. Likewise, I love to share images via the internet because it’s a way to connect with people who share my passions. If I’m really excited about a successful brioche baking or croissant making, I want to share that with people who will appreciate that task with me! In doing so, I’ve found a lot of new friends, both close and afar, who are passionate about food and family in the way that I am and that is incredibly fulfilling. Plus, food is art- it can be beautiful and interesting to look at just like an old building or a pretty landscape.
On the flip side, I think social media can be dangerous to people, particularly women. That quote about comparison being the thief of joy is incredibly true and the line between gleaning inspiration and becoming obsessed with unattainable perfect is sometimes very blurry. So let’s be clear: social media is (more often than not) nothing more than smoke and filters. If at any point in time having access to that small square of someone else’s story starts to make you feel any less about your own story, you need to step away. It’s something I learned early on and have to remind myself of frequently. The second I’m trying to become anyone else besides the person I am or want to be… well, that’s a scary place, if you ask me.
It would be a shame if I got to the end of my life and didn’t share something that was so fun and enjoyable with as many people as possible.
You have a daughter and a son on the way. How do you think (and/or hope) your love for baking will shape your children as they grow?
Having kids is the best! As a mom to the cutest little girl I’ve ever seen in my life, it’s hard not to project my loves and interests on her 100% of the time. She’s only one and she already has an apron, a tiny wooden stand mixer, and full access to my mixing bowls, spatulas, etc. If that ended up being a common interest for either one of my little buddies, it would literally mean the world to me.
At the same time, I will tell you that my mom is my absolute best friend in the world, and while she wears many hats, “baker” is not one of them. The cool thing though is that it’s still easy to share those things with people you love; If they love you back, they want to be a part of your story and interests, even if it’s not immediately significant to them.
My primary goal with baking for my family and friends, particularly my kiddos, is that I want to use that skill as a way of celebrating them and our relationship. It would be a shame if I got to the end of my life and didn’t share something that was so fun and enjoyable with as many people as possible. So ultimately, if nothing else, I hope my daughter, son, and any other babies God has for me, will get to experience just a tiny taste of how much I love them by time and energy spent in the kitchen and around the table with them.
Have you had other interests and/or distractions along the way and if so, how have you stayed focused and driven?
My husband and I joke about “old lady skills”. My life is basically a series a practicing tasks and hobbies that will make me a really successful 80 year old woman. Quilting and sewing is another one of my favorite hobbies but I also love crocheting, knitting, and anything else that requires an arsenal of glue sticks and cardstock. Traveling and weekend getaways are another priority for us and something we try to set aside specific time for, along with daily living things like work, household tasks, and staying involved in our church here in Selma. I haven’t been at the baking/blogging game for too long so I’m sure I haven’t experienced the full challenge of staying driven, but I will say that so far it’s just been something I’ve decided to set aside specific time for every week. I know I’m going to try to create something new at least once a week and so I just make it something that has to get done. It’s not too hard staying focused either when the end result of that effort is something like cookies or crème brulee… I mean, worse tasks have been put on me before.
Who are your biggest inspirations a) in food and b) in life?
a) I have a ton of sources for inspiration, but I would say, in the food world, the awards go to Ina Garten and other bloggers!
b) In life, my mom is probably my inspiration. She's a rockstar and if I could be just like her in twenty years that would be really okay with me. She's an awesome role model and points me daily to Jesus, the ultimate inspiration.
What do you want to be known for?
In the food world, I want to be known for food that is delicious, attainable, and beautiful! I always try to create things that taste and look awesome, and, ideally, to provide recipes that other home cooks can follow and achieve success with.
In life, I want to be known as a person with loads of joy, and piles of goodness to share. One of my personal goals is to bring something good to the lives of everyone I interact with and leave them with more than they came with. I've got a long way to go but I think it's worth the effort.
There's beauty and things to learn in the process so keep your chin up and keep on keeping on. You'll get there.
What would you say to the woman trying to find her passion or niche?
Oh gosh, I'm in the middle of writing a post about this. Ladies: TODAY IS THE DAY TO BE THE PERSON YOU WANT TO BE.
We're not meant to force a square peg in to a round hole for the rest of our lives. We're meant to find something that we love and do it with joy for the betterment of our lives and the lives of those around us. Don't let fear stand in the way of being who you want to be and don't be discouraged if you're still figuring it out either. In the meantime, do things that bring you joy and make your life more full. If you're spending your time on things that suck life out of you or constantly lead to disappointment, try something else. There's beauty and things to learn in the process so keep your chin up and keep on keeping on. You'll get there.
You launched your own blog Wood & Spoon! Tell us about it.
Wood & Spoon blog is brand spankin' new and I couldn't be more excited! Recipes, baking techniques, and a whole lot of trial and error is the meat of what you'll find at W&S, but it is scattered among life stories, cute baby pictures, and everything in between. You'll mainly find recipes for baked goods like cakes, pies, and cookies, but there will also be a smattering of savory recipes as well. One of my favorite things is being able to have a "go to" recipe that is suitable for various occasions, and so I want to share that with readers! This should be a place to glean inspiration, how-to's, and a general excitement to get busy in the kitchen. My hope is that people will walk away from reading the blog being excited about spending time in the kitchen and knowing that they will end up with a finished product they can be proud to share with their family and friends.
What does a typical day look like for you?
10 ounces of coffee and about 20 minutes of "me" time with breakfast before I get Aimee, my daughter, out of bed and ready for the day. We read books before she goes to school and I head to work. After work, I'm usually in the kitchen, whether that means baking, doing dishes, or sweeping up cheerios off the floor. I'll pick Aimee up from school after a while and we will go for a walk to try to burn off some of the butter and brown sugar I've undoubtedly over-consumed. Once back home, we read more books (our record for "Goodnight Moon" is 8 times in a row before I got sick of it, distracted her, and made it disappear for the rest of the day. Blah.) while I get dinner ready. Once Brett, my husband, is home, he's on baby duty and we eat dinner together before Aimee gets a bath, more books, and finally bedtime. Once she's in the bed, Brett and I usually zone out in front of an episode of "The Mentalist" or "Big Bang Theory" while I catch up on social media, emails, and texts from the afternoon. We're in bed with a book by 9:30 and off to sleep like the oldies at heart we are.
What’s the best thing about living in Selma?
The people- they're the nicest you'll meet anywhere in the world.
Chocolate or vanilla?
Can I pick both?
What does “gumption” mean to you?
Would it be cliché to reference Kate Winslet in "The Holiday"? (Side note from Britt: NOPE.)
Kidding. I think gumption is figuring out what you want and just going for it. Not letting fear of man, circumstances, or self stand in your way, but just setting your heart and mind on what you want and pursuing it with all you've got.
And finally, what is the most delightful thing about Tara, your GWG nominator?
If you know Tara, this question needs no answering. If you don't, you should check out her blog, No Need for Mirrors, and you'll realize quickly why she's more deserving of this interview than anyone. She is FULL of gumption, with loads of go-get-em attitude, fun loving spirit, and a game-for-anything personality. She's incredibly witty but equally real, which is rare and valuable. I've seen her express her love for her family and friends through an incredible amount of loyalty and support. Basically, if I had a big sister, I would pick one just like Tara because she's probably the best option a gal could ask for.