Speechless Cheesecakes have story to tell
By Linda Hopkins
Healdsburg Tribune Published Thursday 25, 2010
When shoppers bite into a piece of Speechless Cakes, chances are, they have no inkling as to the story behind the name. But Kathleen White, the baker of the pistachio-crusted, coulis-garnished goat cheesecake, certainly has a story worth telling.
When White was 19, a freak fall on a trampoline broke her back. While many might consider this a good excuse to, say, take it easy for a few years, White—as soon as she was permitted—donned a back brace and took up tap dancing.
Why tap? According to White, it was the easiest form of dance to take on with a back brace, because most of the movement is concentrated in the lower half of the body. Once the back brace came off, White started taking jazz and ballet classes, kicking off a career in dancing and acting that took her around the world to New York City, Italy, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Hawaii.
Seventeen years after her fall, when her son was two years old, White fell ill with a cold. As the cold progressed, she developed a headache. Then her vision began to blur.
Unbeknownst to White, she had contracted viral meningo-encephalitis. Within ten days, she slipped into a coma. When she awoke from the coma 11 days later, she was unable to speak.
“At first, I was mute. No sounds, but some of it returned. Now, I write, use some ASL (difficult language to learn). No one knows sign language, but my family learned the alphabet, and I do finger spell with my family and friends here: Melita, Manok took ASL classes with me! Soon, I will get an IPAD, perfect for me,” White wrote. “My cakes speak for me!”
Today, 20 years after the coma, White still has a speech difference but it doesn’t create a barrier in her communication with others. As an actress and dancer, White was trained in the art of facial expression and body movement; she continues to use those elements in everyday conversation, and augments these with a notepad, pen, and the occasional spoken word. In fact, she’s so comfortably communicative that sometimes strangers meet her and don’t realize she has any speech difference whatsoever.
But the idea of baking cakes did not come to White until she found herself suddenly planted in a local food mecca. A year ago, White moved to Healdsburg. The rest, as they say, is history.
“When I moved to Healdsburg, I got into wine, food. I love the farmers who grow the plentiful harvest here. I met many people, moreover, they became swift friends. Healdsburg does that. The town let me in,” White wrote.
Herb Liberman helped White develop a business plan for Speechless Cakes, and led her to a partnership with Costeaux Bakery, which allows White the use of their commercial kitchen to bake her cheesecakes. White is focusing her business on the Healdsburg community, and the cheesecakes are currently for sale at Shelton’s Natural Foods Market.
White already has a dedicated Speechless Cheesecake following, and she credits the flavor of the cake partly to its farm-fresh ingredients: Amy Miller’s eggs, and goat cheese from Harley Farm.
“I live in a little village called Pescadero, and Harley Farm is right nearby. I happened to know this woman, the cheesemaker there, so I said to Kathy would you like to meet her. Those two took one look at each other and it was love at first sight,” said White’s longtime friend Steve Yelick. “Dee [Harley] says, make me cheesecakes. Now Kathy’s using Dee’s cheese to make the cheesecakes.”
To White, community is essential—and although she has only resided in Healdsburg a short time, she’s putting down roots.
“I feel at home here,” White said.
“Come on, there must be something you don’t like about Healdsburg, just one thing,” Yelick said.
White said, “Nope.”
Tasty Beyond Words
By Sara Jane Phulman
North Bay Bohemiam
Kathleen White didn’t need words to prove to the managers at Shelton’s Natural Foods Market that her cheesecakes deserved a place on their shelves. She simply walked into the Healdsburg store with a written introduction and plenty of samples.
White didn’t always plan on being a baker. She’d had a 25-year career as a professional dancer and actress in Los Angeles and on Broadway. But in 1990, White contracted viral meningoencephalitis on a weekend trip and fell into an 11-day coma. When she woke up, she was unable to speak. Though some of her speech slowly returned, she lives now with what she calls a speech difference.
Not that she needed to talk up her goat cheese, pistachio crust cheesecakes to the market. The taste said it all, and they’re now available in bite-size dozens ($25) at Shelton’s.
It’s a new career that fits the energetic redhead well. White was thrilled by the local food and wine bounty of Healdsburg when she moved here in 2008, and after formally trying goat cheese for the first time, she knew she had to find a way to use the product. Speechless Cakes is her one-woman mail order business, the name in homage to her own experiences and how she hopes people feel after tasting a slice.
“The name Speechless . . . is strong in so many levels,” writes White in an email. “Moreover, it is that good!”
White bakes at Healdsburg’s Costeaux French Bakery, which allows her use of its kitchen, and runs the business from her Blackberry. For the current holiday season, sales are brisk, but White strives to keep every aspect of her enterprise grounded. “The cakes are made from local ingredients, baked in a local kitchen,” she explains, and “the look of the cheesecake is homemade.” White’s cheesecakes are available in just one variety, though special ingredients and lactose- and gluten-free cakes are possible by request. Lime zest and kiwi coulis add a touch of high-end flavor. Along with the small bites, customers can also order four- and seven-inch rounds online ($25–$40).
Rather than succumb to circumstances, White returned to school after her illness, earning a master’s degree in theater arts in 1999 and a bachelor’s degree in law studies in 2004. Throughout it all, White says, she’s “rediscovered hope.” And White isn’t done performing, either—though the stage is now smaller and smells slightly of livestock. In her spare time, she dances with Lulu, her sponsored Nigerian dwarf goat at a farm in Penngrove.
Speechless Cakes are available at Shelton’s Natural Foods Market, 428 Center St., Healdsburg. 707.431.0530.