While in Chicago on my Cake Ladies journey- and yes, there are Southern Cake Ladies in Chicago- I had the opportunity to meet up with friend and fellow blogger Natalie Slater of Bake and Destroy. Bake and Destroy is the blog where Natalie expounds upon her love of cake, as well as zombies, punk and metal, tattoos, her native Chicago, being a mom, being a writer, and just generally being a badass. She regularly posts quality recipes, complete with how-tos and images (and, importantly, stories of her baking fails in order to assure readers that they are not alone in effing up recipes sometimes).

I was inspired by Natalie in the early days of Short Street Cakes- Bake and Destroy was funny, genuine, and genuinely useful for baking information- and when I started My Life in Cake I made many connections with other cake bloggers around the country as a reader of Bake and Destroy. And not only does Natalie bake- and destroy- she also works full time for reuseit.com, a company that offers products to replace disposable things in our lives with reuseable things, blogs about donuts, zombies, and has another awesome food blog called Brutal Snack. Natalie has gotten a lot of recognition since the beginning of Bake and Destroy: she was a judge on the Food Network’s pilot for Cupcake Wars, she’s a regular on Chicago Tonight, and has been featured on tons of blogs and in magazines (or, as she says on the press page of Bake and Destroy, “no one can keep my name out they mouth!”).

Natalie and I were in touch a few years back when she interviewed me for an article she was writing about vegan baking- we talked on the phone for hours, and I felt happy that, not only did we have baking, blogging, and child-rearing in common, but I genuinely liked her, too. So I looked her up when I came to Chicago, and we promptly ate some cupcakes together.

Natalie and I met at More Cupcakes, which is a super-fancy, sleek, and minimalist (in terms of the decor) cupcake boutique in downtown Chicago. I felt a little intimidated by the place at first, what with all the glass and chrome and gold-garnished cupcakes, delicately displayed like jewelry. But once we sat down to eat (Natalie and I both chose the Salted Caramel cupcake), and enjoyed the 79-degree weather (sorry, Asheville), I was content. The cupcakes were delicious (of course), obviously from scratch (which I’m learning, to my surprise, to be true of only a minority of cake shops), with a gooey caramel filling and a truly lovely, silky, and fluffy (swiss Meringue? Italian Buttercream? I dunno) icing.

And then, Natalie and I sat and talked. For THREE HOURS. I was really happy to find (though I wasn’t surprised) that Natalie was as sweet, sincere, and lovely as she seems. We talked about the pros and (mostly) cons of competitive baking, and about Natalie’s realization about the fact that most people had never had the experience of eating baked goods that weren’t processed. Then she got a job at a small Italian bakery in Chicago called Leticia’s where she learned how to bake, and to appreciate handmade foods: “When I first started baking, I was obsessed with baking a yellow cake that was perfect. And everything that I made was coming out what I thought was too heavy. And I was like, ‘what is wrong with me? Why can’t I do it? Why can’t I get this fluffy, sticky, yellow cake that I grew up eating and that I’m familiar with?’ And I read this article about how people don’t relly know what cake is supposed to look like or feel like or taste like [because they are used to eating cake from a box mix]. And that was awesome for me to be able to rethink the way I was baking things, and its funny because people ask alot how I can bake so much and eat at bakeries so much and stay thin, and I’m like, I’m eating butter and sugar and flour and things that my body knows what to do with, and I’m not eating stuff that’s wrapped in plastic and filled with high fructose corn syrup and margarine.”

Natalie and I talked alot about the experiences we have both been through as bloggers and bakers and moms, and how our lives have changed since we started each of our creative outlets, and how our work has created so many opportunities and connections that we wouldn’t have had before. We talked about how cool it is to inspire and be inspired by other women. Natalie says: “For me, the best part about Bake and Destroy, of all the cool stuff I’ve been able to do, the coolest thing is hearing from people who were either stay-at-home moms, or maybe they were just right out of high school, and they were a little bit lost, people that were bored, just like I was, and maybe didn’t know what they were good at or what they were interested in. I think its amazing when I get those emails from people who [were inspired to] start a business or start their own blog. It makes me blush to think that anybody would look at my blog and think, ‘that’s a success story,’ All I wanted to do was just eat, and celebrate eating, and give people some ideas. And its just nice to have girlfriends. I never had that before.”

These days, Natalie has plenty of girlfriends, and fans, and she’s working on ideas for a book sometime in the not-too distant future. I can’t wait to see where she takes Bake and Destroy- and her life- in the years to come.

Thanks, Natalie, for being a beacon of self-made awesomeness. You remind me that we all can create a world where more people get famous (or happy, or make a living, or whatever they want) by being authentically themselves and doing what they love.