It started as an initiative to remind herself of the goodness in people: Nerine Gardiner baked and gave a cake to a stranger in Cape Town in January 2014. By the end of May this year she had given 50 cakes to strangers, to “spread a little love”.
These strangers include security guards, petrol pump attendants, people living or working on the street who look like they need cheering up, children in hospital and grieving parents.
At the end of 2013, Gardiner was going through a difficult period; she felt gloomy and struggled to see people’s humanity, she recalls. “There was one week where all the news was bad.”
But then someone made a comment that resonated with her. “The minute you stop seeing the good in other people, you stop seeing the good in yourself,” she was told.
This got her thinking.
A family tradition led her to bake a cake; and then she drove around Cape Town for more than an hour looking for someone to give the cake. Gardiner says there is something about a beautiful, iced cake that “makes the bad go away for a few moments”.
She explains: in her family, whenever someone is away and is missed, a cake is baked. “If you want to show someone you love them or if my brother is away, to lift our mood, my granny or my mom would bake for us.”
That’s why she believes that cake doesn’t only appeal to some people; rather, it is a universal enjoyment. “Everyone feels loved and happy if you give them a cake,” she says.
Baking a cake for a stranger was an odd thing to do, she recounts, but adds that it felt nice. “I kept doing it. I just wanted people to know how a little thing could make a big difference. And I also try to encourage people to kind of do the same thing or find their own way to spread the love.”
HER FIRST CAKE
She didn’t even get the name of the person to whom she gave that first cake. “I planned all these things to say, but the moment was too big. I ended up giggling, giving him the cake. I said: ‘Hi this is for you.'”
Gardiner says it is quite overwhelming, and sometimes she still shakes when she gives away a cake or cupcakes. “Afterwards I feel a little happy and full for the whole day.”
Six weeks after giving away her first cake, she started her blog, Girl with Cake, to share the good news.
HELP COME ALONG
Within a month of starting her blog, people all over the world began asking if they could do the same thing.
Within in three months, she had decided to increase her goodwill, and give people living on the street jackets or blankets
People contacted her, saying they wanted to contribute, for instance by knitting scarves.
In the beginning, she ran the initiative on her own and funded it herself. “From the seventh cake, people started asking me if they could help or sponsor cakes. There have only been one or two cakes since the seventh that I had paid for myself,” she told online news portal, Primedia Broadcasting.
Once, she decided to bake a birthday cake filled with Oreos for her friend, Nic. He was delighted. “But he asked me if he could give it to his apartment block’s caretaker, Paul.”
This was a good surprise, she says. On her blog, she writes that you do not always get the reaction you expect when you give something. “Giving isn’t always accompanied by fireworks and angel choirs.
“You won’t always be greeted by grateful tears or hearty laughs, big gestures or a loud thank you. But not getting the reaction you expected should never be a reason not to give again.”
THE CAKE CALL
Gardiner says she started the “Cake Call” after people asked if they could follow her initiative and also bake and give away cakes. “I felt a bit weird, because I didn’t feel it was my place to tell people if they could bake or not.
“I thought maybe this could mean something like people needing structure. I organised the Cake Call for just a day, when I invited everyone to bake and give a cake away to whom they felt needed love or cheering up.
“Then they could just take a photo and send it to me. I shared the photos on my blog as well to encourage others. And to show there are lots of people who are willing to go out of their way to do nice things for other people.”
She is planning to have another Cake Call this month.
A CHILDHOOD OF BAKING
Gardiner says she cannot remember when she started baking. “I think some of my earliest memories are sitting on my mom’s kitchen counter or rolling vetkoek balls with my granny.
“The first time I baked cake all by myself, was when I was in grade 4 or 5. I was nine or 10 years old. The cake was kind of ugly. And skew. But I still make it today.”
Her cakes rarely turn out the way she plans them. “But I grew up in a family that puts taste above all else, so at least that bit is always good.
“I find that I enjoy trying out new recipes more than using old ones. Obviously I have a few favourites, but I like to mess around. I’ve always tended to go a bit over the top with cakes and sweets, but I feel like that’s how cake should be. Else you might as well be eating a slice of bread,” she says.
Any cake with caramel, coffee or peanut butter is sure to be a favourite of the baker. “Those are flavours I struggle to resist. Good, moist red velvet is also a big favourite. And cakes made entirely of chocolate and nuts.”
She bakes according to her mood and what she likes at the time. “I recently went through a peanut butter phase, so peanut butter ended up in everything I made. Now I’m in a bit of a salt phase, so chances are the next cake is going to have some kind of salty element to it.
“I think I try to give what I’d love to receive. If I get excited about it, chances are someone else will too. And even if they don’t, I’m sure they’ll taste the enthusiasm and love,” she says.
THE CAKE GIRL’S MOTIVATION
Gardiner – who recently moved to Johannesburg – believes that doing something small and simple to brighten someone’s day, is important.
“I realised that I may never change the world. Changing the world is perhaps not the point, as long as we’re all doing something to make a difference to the world around us.”
With this in mind, she tries to bake a cake for a stranger at least once a fortnight.