This story is a part of our Juneteenth collaboration with Eat the Culture, where we tapped writers and cooks to share “love letters” to their favorite Black cookbook authors.
I received a copy of Vallery Lomas’ cookbook “Life is What You Bake It” in September 2021. I was 9 months pregnant, exhausted, and counting down the days until my maternity leave.
As I sat there in my smoldering hot tiny 3rd floor apartment, I perused through every page with excitement and sheer admiration as she poured so much of her life and family into this literary and culinary work of art. Every word spoke to me. She talked about finding her passion in baking, pivoting careers, and even how her travels shaped much of her confections in the kitchen.
As I continued to read, I found so many parallels between her life and mine.
I started my blog just before COVID and really leaned in during that time to cope with the ever changing world. She started her blog during the recession of 2009 and spoke about how she baked every single day during her last year of law school to find comfort and joy. In her book, she talks about listening to jazz and baking cupcakes with her sister and how even for just a few hours, all of their worries seemed to pause for a bit. I empathize with this so much because when I bake, the world is tranquil and quiet. The more that I baked, the more I wanted to bake and cook and simply create. My blog was a universe all of its own and it cuddled me and provided so much warmth.
"I perused through every page with excitement and sheer admiration as she poured so much of her life and family into this literary and culinary work of art."
It wasn’t until I saw her pound cake recipe that something really spoke to me, however. One of my all time favorite desserts is my mother’s Mississippi Dirtand my Aunt Hazel’s Pound Cake. I made Vallery’s pound cake recipe and at first bite was immediately transported back to my childhood. Everything about this cookbook went from beautiful recipes to nostalgia and soulful memories of family dinners and playing outside in the summer. Memories of running up and down the block, playing tag and jumping rope until my mother called me inside for dinner. It reminded me of asking for just one more slice of pound cake when my mom would say no, but my Aunt would wink and sneakily pass me another slice and tell me to “shush,” with a mischievous smile. I rubbed my belly and thought to myself “if this is how her recipe made me feel, perhaps, just maybe, I too could convey these feelings through my own recipes”.
In that moment, I was completely inspired and felt, for the first time, that it may be attainable to not only live in my own truth in the food space but also be able to spread so much beauty through food. I’ve ALWAYS wanted to write my own cookbook and reading Vallery’s testimony made this dream feel like it could one day be a reality.
In the very beginning of her book, she says: “If you can’t even admit to yourself what your dreams are, how on earth can you translate them from your head to reality?” In that moment I knew I had to stop hiding under the facade of my job being my safety blanket and take the plunge and embrace my dreams. Lean in. With this quote in mind and my Husband’s backing, I resigned from my position in February 2022 to pursue blogging full time and feed my burning desire to create food that speaks to the soul.
I went back to the beginning of the book and read the very last paragraph of the introduction which stood out to me: “This cookbook is a tribute to them—to all of the women in my family. Their resilience and fortitude paved the way for me to develop my own strengths.”
For this, I have to thank Vallery. For sharing so much of herself and her family and journey in this cookbook. It changed me in a way that I am not fully able to put into words. It allowed me to think introspectively about my career, goals, and aspirations but also pay homage to my family and the long line of women who fed me and kept me wanting another plate.
I thought about my mother, my aunts, my sister, my grandmothers and great aunts and how their influence, love, and food all shape us into who we become. At this point, I realized that this cookbook was a love letter in and of itself to all of those who paved the way before us so that we could turn our wildest dreams into a reality. It paid homage to those who worked diligently, prayed, saved up, and spoke life into us to brighten a sometimes very dark world. Food is the medium that allows for our ancestors to speak through us in ways we can’t always verbalize. However, Vallery did just that. She made the intangible, tangible—with grace, poise, and amazing recipes to back it up.
Thank you Vallery for being an inspiration to me and to all who know you.