MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Robert, I'm hosting this week, as you know, from Southern California, lots of great things about being out here, as you know. There is, though, one downside and that is that I'm missing out today on something very special there in Washington.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
That's right. It's something that has become an ALL THINGS CONSIDERED Monday tradition.
MELISSA GRAY: Cake.
BLOCK: That's Melissa Gray. She's one of our producers. And, listeners, I bet a lot of you have someone like her in your office. Just about every Monday, she dashes off a staff email that goes something like this.
GRAY: Up front, we've got sweet potato pound cake still warm. Dig in. Don't be shy.
BLOCK: Well, that goes without saying on our staff. When Melissa started bringing cake into the office, she discovered we will eat just about anything. Her adventures in baking and our adventures in eating what she created are now told in a cookbook. It's called "All Cakes Considered: A Year's Worth of Weekly Recipes Tasted, Tested, and Approved by the Staff of All Things Considered."
And before I headed out here to NPR West, I popped over to Melissa Gray's house outside Washington as she put one of those cakes together.
GRAY: We'll go over here.
BLOCK: This is where it all happens, this little, itty-bitty kitchen.
GRAY: This little, tiny, RV-sized kitchen, yeah.
BLOCK: She decided to make that sweet potato pound cake, perfect for this time of year.
GRAY: Now, I have a bunch of sweet potatoes that I baked last night, which is one reason why the house smells so good.
BLOCK: They look great.
GRAY: Melissa, do you want to do this?
BLOCK: Am I going to mash?
GRAY: Yeah, I'm going to let you mash.
BLOCK: I love mashing.
Melissa Gray steers her book toward the beginning baker, with tips she's learned along the way from family and friends, often laced with her trademark Southern sass. Don't stomp around the kitchen while your cake is baking, she writes. Proceed with your cleanup placidly and calmly, like you're on Prozac or Valium and everything is fine, fine, fine with the stock market.
(Soundbite of mixer)
BLOCK: Our sweet potato pound cake batter is thick, a pretty, pale orange.
GRAY: This is the one-hour-and-15-minute one that I got.
BLOCK: A couple of hours and a subway ride later, Melissa arrives at the office, cake in hand, and it exerts a gravitational pull on our staff.
GRAY: This has sweet potatoes in it, which are healthy.
Unidentified Woman #1: Oh, my God.
Unidentified Man: Oh, man.
GRAY: And nuts, which are also healthy.
Unidentified Man: All right. Can I have a thimbleful?
Unidentified Woman #2: Is Tom(ph) here?
BLOCK: That looks so great. Yeah, he is.
Unidentified Woman #2: He needs to get down quick.
BLOCK: Should I page him?
Unidentified Woman #2: Yeah.
BLOCK: The cake is gone in less than 10 minutes, a new land-speed record, Melissa says with pride.
GRAY: Would you like to take some of the crumbs off of our�
BLOCK: Whatever you give me, I will eat happily.
Melissa Gray says it's that kind of reaction that keeps sending her back to her mixer.
GRAY: I love watching our staff, all of these incredibly competent, brilliant, efficient people, taken back to being like eight years old, and having that little joy: Oh, there's cake. I love that because it makes you remember that people at their core are still, you know, human beings.
BLOCK: Are you sort of peeking over the edge of your cubicle, kind of watching the response, seeing�
GRAY: I keep track of who doesn't get a cake, I do. And I check with them, and I'm like: Didn't you get a slice of cake today, you know. You know, I want everybody to join in. I want everybody to share in the community of having the cake. It's like breaking bread because, in a way, it does bind us. It's that one moment where we don't have to worry about the next deadline. It's an enjoyable moment.
BLOCK: Let's tick through some NPR names and the cakes that they love. Michele Norris?
GRAY: Michele loves just about everything.
BLOCK: Uh-huh. She is easily pleased?
GRAY: She is very easily pleased. She does not like coconut.
BLOCK: No coconut for Michele.
GRAY: No coconut for Michele.
BLOCK: Okay, Robert Siegel?
GRAY: Robert does not eat cake, he claims.
BLOCK: He claims.
GRAY: He claims. I have seen Robert take cookies, though.
BLOCK: I, we know.
GRAY: Well, you're the fried pie, brown sugar pound cake and bittersweet chocolate frosted layer cake person.
BLOCK: MORNING EDITION host, Steve Inskeep?
GRAY: He likes butterscotch. He's a butterscotch guy.
BLOCK: I wouldn't have pegged him for a butterscotch guy. Steve's full of surprises. How about film critic, our film critic, Bob Mondello?
GRAY: Bob Mondello loves coconut cake, because his birthday is near Easter. And every year when he was growing up, when he had his birthday cake, it was a coconut cake. So when I'm there, and it's his birthday week, and I remember, I make him a coconut cake.
Now, sometimes I have to please the people who don't like coconut. So what I do is I do half coconut on one side and just a regular vanilla cake on the other side so Michele can get her slice and Bob can get his half a cake.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BLOCK: What about Dan Schorr, our venerable news analyst?
GRAY: He's partial to frosting. He likes cake as a delivery system for frosting.
BLOCK: I know people like that.
GRAY: There are people like that, it's true.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BLOCK: Well, Melissa, thank you for keeping us so well-fed all these Mondays.
GRAY: You're welcome. And, you know, at some point, I think we're going to have to do Monday aerobics, too, because everybody was complaining that I'm just making them too fat.
BLOCK: I think it's time.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BLOCK: That's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED producer Melissa Gray. Her new cookbook is "All Cakes Considered: A Year's Worth of Weekly Recipes Tasted, Tested, and Approved by the Staff of All Things Considered." And you can find the recipe for sweet potato pound cake at our Web site, npr.org.
SIEGEL: And, Melissa, I have a confession to make.
SIEGEL: I actually did have - knowing that there was an ALL THINGS CONSIDERED piece at stake - I did have a piece of the sweet potato pound cake.
BLOCK: You tried it.
SIEGEL: And I tried it. It was pretty good.
BLOCK: You claim to not be a cake eater. You actually wrote the foreword to Melissa Gray's book and you�
SIEGEL: I did.
BLOCK: �write in there: I am the rare colleague who does not eat the cakes she brings to work, but you actually do.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIEGEL: On occasion. But despite the rarity of that, Melissa did ask me to write the foreword to the book, which is a credit to her sense of irony.
(Soundbite of music)
SIEGEL: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
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