“Would you kids like a treat?”
The answer was always yes, but all grins were off until the ‘treat’ was revealed. There were those parents who thought that a pre-peeled orange or a beet-flavoured oat bar was a treat. Nope. There were those who offered up digestive cookies or puddin pops. Okay.
But, ever so rarely, there was that parent who would pause for the reveal – creak open the fridge, reach into the secret cabinet – then pull out a gloriously sweet, homemade creation. Pink striped cupcakes baked into chocolate dipped ice cream cones. Doctor Doolittle animal cookies blessed with pin drop eyes and multi-coloured swim trunks.
You knew that these lovingly created uber-treats were going to taste good. Had to. But, even more importantly, you knew that this was a house where you were truly welcome, where the conversations would be lively and sincere and where visitors would linger for as long as they could.
This is the feeling that Lyndsay Sung recreates with her enormously popular blog: Coco Cake Land.
Eyes bug at the sight of these deliciously special uber-treats: Cheery Cherry Rainbow Cake Dreams. Can I Get A Noot Noot: Pingu Cake + Cupcakes. Vegan Chocolate Ganache Pie With Raspberries. Happy Chappy Catbus Cake. Peppermint Chocolate Cake with Stressballs.
In the face of all this loving effort, you stay for the conversation and you are rewarded. There are recipes, of course. But, there is also talk of Sung’s family – her beloved young son in costume, her husband graduating from med school, the celebration of her mother’s 70’th birthday and the passing of her Grandmother Poh Poh.
Through it all, Sung is open and heartfelt. Through it all, the community responds with gratitude, questions, recipe dilemmas and life musings. “I’ve always loved the look of cakes,” says Sung, “and what they signify for me: the nostalgia it triggers in me of celebrating with family, feeling loved, or creating something special for a friend or loved one.”
In 2008, Sung launched her cake business and started the Coco Cake Land blog to showcase the work she was doing for clients. “I started it out on Blogspot with a crappy little point and shoot camera. As I started to create more work, a few of my cakes went viral and the number of visitors to my blog blew up. If only I had ads on my blog back then. Ha!”
These days, Sung creates original recipes and tutorials for Coco Cake Land and for other websites and companies. “My every day work is pretty random. It can consist of baking, decorating, styling and photographing a cake party scene in my kitchen. Or taking my kid out for a playdate, posting something to my Coco Cake Land Instagram, making grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch, putting my kid down for his nap and then mundanely cleaning up the house!”
In February of this year, Sung came to her readers with a jarring post. She was going to Disneyland for her Mum’s 70’th birthday and she had breast cancer.
‘Hello my dear friends. I wanted to tell you something – come out of the closet with some personal news. In January of this year I was diagnosed with breast cancer in my right breast – something called invasive ductal carcinoma. I’ll be having surgery this coming Monday February 23rd to remove a large part of my right breast followed by chemotherapy and radiation – all things I’m feeling pretty nervous and emotional about.’
The Coco Cake Land community jumped in with encouragement and support. Some just wanted to send their love. Others told stories of their own family battles with cancer. As ever, Sung responded graciously to each of their posts.
“It was such scary and personal news,” says Sung, “And so the opposite of these happy, beautiful cakes I was making. But coming out with my breast cancer news and its subsequent treatments and side effects has been a really positive experience – so many readers of my blog, or followers on social media, have reached out to me. To feel the support from so many people around the world, it really has lifted me up on down days.”
Sung did struggle with how or even if to share the news, but “it felt so false and so not myself to not say anything and just keep posting pictures of cakes. The Internet is so rife with seemingly ‘perfect lives’ because we can edit our lives to shape them to how we want them to look. But really, things like cancer, death, divorce, heartbeak, the difficulties of motherhood, health problems, depression and so much more – many people experience these things and can relate.”
In a recent Cheery Cherry Rainbow Cake Dream post, we learn that Sung has one more chemo to go. ‘I can’t wait until it’s over. I’m ready to freak out when it’s all done. Then I have a longish break before radiation starts in late August – so this Chinese bald eagle is gonna FLY! Not really. I’m going to hang out in my backyard and eat homemade snowcones and tons of snacks and read magazines and watch Teddy frolic around his kiddie swimming pool.’
Over the next while, Sung is going to be working on a cake book, after having landed a great deal with an “amazing publishing house.” She is also looking forward to doing more freelance photography and writing work. “I’ve realized how much I love styling and photographing, so I want to pursue that more, try out some crazy, artful, colourful food shoots. Make some fun props, that sort of thing!”
With a background in film and music, Sung wants to produce a “really bizarre and colorful cooking show with crazy backdrops and funny little synthesizer soundtracks.”
Sung’s cake and blogging life has been full of twists, bumps and wonderful surprises. What advice would she offer to others looking to pursue creative working lives?
1. “Work hard and create something of quality.
2. Come up with ways in which you could monetize it if you like. For example, if you love making crafts, start an online Etsy shop and sell them.
3. Never stop reading or exploring or learning.
4. Try out different things if you’re able to, and see what you fall in love with. I’ve also had one million random jobs.
5. Be genuine and authentic.
6. Build a community around you, by reaching out to others in your field, whether it’s emailing a business you admire to say hi or commenting on their Instagram.
7. Create great work and make things you care about.”
Written by Elizabeth Newton
* Photos by Lyndsay Sung