words: Marla Cantrell
images courtesy Amy Casalman
In 2010, Amy Casalman took a cake decorating class at Michael’s in Fort Smith, Arkansas. While she enjoyed the creativity of turning cakes into works of art, she realized almost immediately that it wasn’t something she’d keep doing after the class ended.
But not long after, a friend had a baby shower, and Amy decided to make cookies for it. The decorating skills she’d learned in class transferred easily, and Amy was thrilled by the reception she got from those gathered to celebrate with the mom-to-be.
Bolstered by that experience, she then made Fourth of July cookies for her hairdresser. The cookies were decorated like U.S. flags and hearts with USA written on them in icing. “Those were very simple,” Amy says, “but I probably spent all night doing them.”
Today, Amy’s sugar cookies are little works of art, so intricate they seem like the tiny canvases of an artist. And while Amy, an accountant by day, grew more adept at decorating each time she tried, it took her seven years to perfect the cookie recipe.
The biggest challenge was keeping the cookies from spreading during the baking process. If they did, they might not resemble the outline of the state of Arkansas, for example, or even a simple circle. Through trial and error, Amy tweaked her recipe, the cooking time, and every other variable she could think of. Today, she bakes confidently, knowing the outcome will be uniform.
Those years of experimentation, of nights spent in the kitchen near tears, is why she’s not sharing her recipe with anyone. She will, however, show you how to decorate them. She schedules classes at Fulmer Candy Company in Fort Smith, a peanut brittle manufacturing kitchen her family owns, and soon to be the new permanent home of That Cookie Lady, which is the name of Amy’s business. The name came easily. In her first months of baking cookies to sell, that’s how she was known. People would see her at events, maybe a wedding she’d supplied cookies for, and they’d ask, “Aren’t you that cookie lady?”
Amy smiles at the memory of those early days. She started baking because she was reeling from an empty nest. Both her daughters had gone off to college, and she was left with more time than she wanted. Her job as an accountant at Golden Living, a healthcare company with an administration center in Fort Smith, fueled the analytical part of her brain. She loves spreadsheets, financial projections, the order and logic of numbers. But Amy also loves crafting and cooking.
The more she baked, the more she realized the Zen aspect of it. Spreading icing across a perfect cookie, watching it flow to the edges, is mesmerizing. Concentrating on the making of dough, letting that be the only thing you’re thinking of is akin to meditation.
In the back of her mind, she wondered what the future held for That Cookie Lady. It was a great sideline from her regular job, but she was also devoted to accounting and proud of her work at Golden Living. Then rumblings started about downsizing at the office building that employed approximately 900 people, and Amy worried.
A woman of faith, she knew her future was not determined by a place of employment, but rather by God Who held Amy in the palm of His hand. But living with the knowledge that your job is in jeopardy, that the career you’d studied so hard for and planned so carefully for might end, is a fretful thing.
To ward off the fear, she started putting more hours into her cookie business. “I told myself I needed to make sure my cookie business was where it needed to be by the time I left Golden Living, which I didn’t know at the time was going to be this December. My husband said, ‘You’re making yourself crazy. It will be there. It will be there.’ I’ve had to step back and let God lead. And He already has. There are people I work with that when the twenty-eighth of December hits, they don’t know what they’re going to do, and they’re the only breadwinner in their home. So I can’t complain about what’s happened to me.
“I’d known for about a year that this was happening, and then I got my formal letter sixty months out, and it was hard to take. I’d gotten a degree. I’d worked hard. I’d done everything right. I had a pity party for a few days, and then I just said, ‘Get over yourself.’
“My job at Golden Living helped me get my girls through college. And that’s over with now, so the timing for me to make a change is just right. And since I’ve started selling cookies, I’ve gone from ten dozen a month to twenty-one dozen a week.”
As Amy came to terms with her job ending, excitement began to build for That Cookie Lady. She thought of all the new classes she could teach, such as girls’ night out classes, or even going to someone’s home to teach cookie decorating. She’s going to travel to Northwest Arkansas and Conway to teach. And she’s going to add cake pops to her menu, and cookie bouquets, and customers will be able to walk into her shop inside the Fulmer Candy Company to purchase cookies.
The thought of all these possibilities keeps Amy up at night. There is so much to do. There are so many plans to make. She keeps track of everything with the precision of the accountant she is and sees how all her work and education is going to help her succeed.
When she talks about trusting God, her eyes well with tears. It is easy to get in your own way, she says. To see a problem, like a job you loved coming to an end, and crawl into bed for a day or two. But when she looked closely at her circumstances, she saw how the Lord opened door after door for her. First, when she took a cake decorating class that sparked her interest in edible designs, and later when she began to decorate cookies for her friends.
She couldn’t have seen how the talent she was developing would become the parachute that allowed her to land safely from a job she had no idea would be ending. But now Amy sees it, in all its beauty, this plan that was forming as she stood in her kitchen trying to come up with the best sugar cookie she could, failing sometimes but never, ever giving up.
Find Amy on Facebook at That Cookie Lady.