Baking With Medusa
Baking tips and Day Of The Dead projects from Micha Mae.
First of all, can you tell me a bit about you and what you do?
I grew up in South Louisiana. My dad's family is Cajun/Spanish and my mom's family is mostly German with a bit of French. I wear glasses. I watch a lot of movies, especially monster movies. I like to read and research about whichever subject I'm currently obsessed with. Right now I'm interested in Russian folklore and Ukrainian motifs. Pretty much any folk tales or festive crafts are of interest to me right now though. My favorite candy is panda licorice. Cephalopods interest me very much.
I pretty much have always drawn and made things, it's a sort of a compulsion. I guess that's why I studied fine arts in undergrad and graduate school. By day I work in a library and in my free time I work on Baking with Medusa projects. Over the past ten years or more I've really focused on sewing with both fabric and paper, but i tend to jump from medium to medium. I'm really processed oriented and enjoy learning new things and acquiring new skills.
When and why did you start Baking With Medusa and where did the name come from?
I stared Baking with Medusa after Hurricane Katrina. I discovered etsy a few months after the storm. Since my apartment didn't flood and I still had my stockpile of fabrics, I really felt the need to make use of them. Working in my studio and having projects to focus on, are the best stress relievers for me. Besides, there is a certain satisfaction and accomplishment felt when you make something. By september 2006 Baking with Medusa was up and running on etsy. The great thing about etsy is that you work at your own pace so, for people like me, with a full time job, it's quite ideal.
The name Baking with Medusa is an idea I've had in my head for quite some time. A few years ago, I was doing a bit of research on Medusa for my own interest. I think it all started with researching my halloween costume. Anyway, the more I read the more intrigued I was, which only lead to even more reading and research. I guess she was pretty much in my head everyday. I'm a total sucker for the misunderstood monster bit. The way I saw it was that she was a forced recluse - I mean if the very sight of you would turn any living thing to stone, you wouldn't have very many friends. I figured that with all that free time, she would have some sort of hobby to pass the time. I liked to imagine Medusa whipping up fancy cakes at home. The contrast of menacing Medusa being secretly a girly-girl inside amused me.
Baking with Medusa is also a concept. The idea that being domestic and self-sufficient doesn't mean you have to be some little 'Mary homemaker'. Domestic skills can be used by anyone of any persuasion, from your great aunt who makes doilies, to hot-rockin' monster babes with snakes for hair. Again, it's about learning a skill and making it your own. Self-sufficiency is very rewarding no matter who you are. I think that more and more people realize that. You aren't limited by what's available at the store, if you can go home and make it yourself. I believe that's why there is this amazing craft revolution taking place right now. It also gives you the freedom to be a more conscientious consumer, which satisfies.
You went to art school, have you always been so crafty and creative?
Pretty much. My mom is real crafty too, but I've always drawn and made things. I've always had a very active imagination as well. My thought processes and my problem solving are both visually oriented. It's just what comes naturally for me. I guess if i was good with numbers, I'd be a mathematician.
Can you remember the first thing you ever made and the first thing you ever baked?
The first thing I every made? That's a hard one. The first thing I remember specifically is making Barbie clothes. I would use scraps left over from my mom's sewing. I would sew them to the doll and add sequins and lace scraps. She would have to wear that outfit for a while, since changing meant cutting the dress off. I'm sure that I had made other things before that, but I can actually visualize myself doing that. The first thing I baked by myself was most likely cookies or brownies.
When did you first take up baking and what interested you about it?
As far as baking goes, my mom was the family baker. She made all kinds of sweets for parties and such. I was big on helping out in the kitchen, especially if it involved sugar. I was always interested in doing anything my mom was doing. I have a tremendous sweet tooth too, so that's a big part of my love of baking. Presentation has as lot to do with it - sweets usually need some sort of decoration, so that is part of the appeal as well. It also makes your house smell amazing, I love the smell of baked goods.
What are the cakes that you are most proud of and what are some of the craziest ones you've baked?
The dynamite cake is probably my most ambitious to date. There was a time when I was completely macrobiotic. It was a challenge to make sweets and baked goods without sugar or wheat but I really enjoyed it though. The textures are quite different, so I didn't have the same visual freedoms. I'd like to experiment more with whole foods baking though. The day of the dead baking project, I worked on for this article was quite fun. Bread babies are a project I hope to expand upon in the future.
When baking, is there one particular and perfect recipe that you can always rely on?
Quite often I use store bought cake mixes for convenience. Since I usually have some sort of ambitious design in mind, I like to save my energy for that. I would like to spend more time developing standard recipes for myself though. It just comes down to time. I finally have a decent sized kitchen to work in so, here's hoping new baking projects/experiments will follow.
Do you have any tips for aspiring bakers out there?
Just get into the kitchen and get started. Start out simple and make things easy on yourself. You can use store bought mixes and such, there is no shame in that. Get acquainted with your oven and cookware. Some ovens run hot or cool, just like certain pans cook faster than others. Be observant and experiment along the way. Don't be afraid to make mistakes, that's how you learn new things. Get on the internet, you will find a wealth information out there. If you have baking questions email me, or contact other bakers on the web. Most people out there are happy to share their experiences and skills.
What other crafts do you do and what are your favorite things to make?
Sewing is major for me, you just have limitless possibilities when it comes to sewing. I studied printmaking in undergrad, I hope to eventually come back to that. I really want to print my own fabric, that's a future project I hope to get around to next year. I also want to focus on drawing again.
As far as having a favorite thing to make... I really like to make presents for friends and family. Making a specific gift for someone is a really fun challenge.
What's it like to live in New Orleans?
I have lived in New Orleans for the past six years. I grew up in Baton Rouge, which is about an hour north of here. I lived on the west coast for roughly four years, in Washington State and California. To my surprise, I ended up back in Louisiana, being close to my family again has been wonderful. I love New Orleans. You really have to love being here to live here, especially since the storm. I don't think the city is for everyone, but it's the first place I've lived that I have felt at home. I suppose that's why I'm still here.
How do you celebrate Day Of The Dead / Halloween and do you have any family traditions that you like to follow?
Halloween is huge in New Orleans, especially for adults. People get all decked out in costumes and head down to Frenchman Street. Lots of people make their own costumes, I love to see what everyone comes up with. A personal tradition for me is making my nephews and myself halloween costumes. Carving pumpkins is also nice, when I have time. I also crave Peter Murphy every year about this time. It actually starts in september, so I listen to alot of Bauhaus. I like to watch Vincent Price movies too. I guess I do that pretty much all year round, but I make an special effort to watch old horror movies at this time of year.
New Orelans has a tradition of celebrating All Saints Day. Many people visit the graves of relatives and do any needed tidying up and leave flowers. I don't have any personal experience with this though. I really enjoyed researching Day Of The Dead customs for this article. Day Of The Dead was a pretty big deal when I lived in Southern California. I worked on a huge marigold altar for the museum i worked at, so I had some personal knowledge of certain Mexican Day Of The Dead customs. I'd really love to go to Peru during the Day Of The Dead someday.
Finally, what's next for you?
Developing good studio work habits is key for me right now, since I moved into my house early this year, I've been working on getting settled in. Now that I have studio space to work in, it's time to establish work habits again. That's most important to me at the moment, being productive again. I'm also working on a children's book, so I've been focusing on writing and illustration. I would also like to start making new etsy items again. Basically just keeping busy, I'd be satisfied with that.
You can find out more about Micha on her blog, Baking With Medusa or pick up some of her art from her shop.