Listening to the banter between Dr. Josie Bidwell and Dr. Lishia Lee as they each roll fondant icing into the shape of cats, you’d never guess that when they first started working together they didn’t really like each other.
“We hated each other,” said Lee, an assistant professor in the traditional BSN program at the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s School of Nursing.
“I thought she was mean, and she thought I had an attitude,” said Bidwell, who is also an assistant professor at the SON, as well as newly appointed director of the UNACARE clinic in Jackson. “We were both correct about that.”
“Yes, we were,” said Lee.
“Once we started working together, we realized we kind of liked that about each other,” said Bidwell.
Lee was the nurse educator on 4C at Batson Children’s Hospital when Bidwell first started working there as a new nurse. They both still fill in as floor nurses on 4C as needed, along with their duties as SON faculty.
The collaboration taking place between Lee and Bidwell in the kitchen located on the second floor of the SON building had little to do with nursing, aside from the fact that the cake they’re decorating is for fellow faculty member, Mary McNair, who defended her dissertation on the following day.
One might wonder why there are cats on a cake to celebrate earning a PhD. McNair is known for rescuing the many feral cats that once lived on campus. She trapped them all and had them spayed and neutered. Those she didn’t keep for herself were taken to a cat sanctuary.
“We tease her all the time about being the school’s cat lady,” said Lee.
Lee and Bidwell have been decorating sweet things together for about four years.
“I have been making cakes since about 2003,” said Lee. “I’ve always baked, but I used to only make cakes or cupcakes for work – just plain, nothing fancy. I dabbled a little bit in trying to make little characters, but they were not professional.”
When Lee graduated with her master’s degree, the staff on 4C chipped in to get her a gift certificate for a decorating class at Create-A-Cake in Brandon. After Lee made a birthday cake for Bidwell’s son, the two got together to make a cake for a friend’s shower, and the rest is, as they say, history.
“Really the first cake we made lots of decorations for was the Angry Birds cake,” said Bidwell.
“Yes, Angry Birds was our first mega-molded-decoration cake,” said Lee.
“It went viral as soon as I posted it,” said Bidwell. “Everyone said ‘We need an Angry Birds cake!’ I think we’ve made like five since then.”
“Those were some of the most fun cakes we’ve made,” said Lee.
It would be a stretch to say that the two have a business together. You can find their hobby on Facebook under the name Sticky Sweet Cakes and Treats, but they only make cakes for family and friends.
“We’re not in it to make money, but if they ask for something that is really difficult, it’s going to cost,” said Lee. “That’s why we do this for mainly family and friends. For them, we can just charge for the ingredients.”
“Really, we lose money on every cake we make,” said Bidwell. “I don’t want to make them for strangers. You never know if the customer will pick it up when they say they will.”
“I did get stood up once,” said Lee. “It was a pyramid cake.”
Commissioned by a friend of a friend, the cake was for a little girl’s birthday. She wanted an Egyptian-themed cake in the shape of a pyramid. After working into the wee hours of the morning the night before, Lee delivered the cake to the meeting location only to have the customer never show. When she called the customer, her phone number had been blocked.
“I was crushed,” said Lee.
Luckily, Marcia Rachel, associate dean for academic affairs in the School of Nursing, was celebrating her birthday that day.
“I told her, ‘Please don’t consider it as a leftover. There’s lots of love in this cake,’” said Lee.
The two entered their first cake contest in December when they designed a cake for the Mississippi Children’s Museum’s Christmas spectacular. The Mississippi-themed cake was the culmination of more than 13 hours of decorating work.
“The really cool thing about it was that all the other entries were cake dummies,” said Lee. “They weren’t real. You couldn’t eat them. Ours was a real cake.”
The cake was carved into the shape of the state of Mississippi and featured fondant and marshmallow crispy rice treat sculptures of icons of Mississippi culture and tourism. There were miniature columns to represent the Ruins of Windsor, a vegetable garden, a catfish and, of course, cotton.
“We re-created the big Scrabble board that they have at the museum and made tiles that said ‘Happy Birthday’ because it was the fifth birthday of the museum,” said Bidwell.
We had so much fun,” said Lee. “I started baking cakes on a Wednesday night and took everything to Josie’s house on Friday. We worked on that cake from about nine in the morning until late at night.
“Delivering that thing! My husband was driving, and Josie was in the back seat leaning over the cake to protect it with every turn we took. It was the longest ride ever to the Children’s Museum. We were so disappointed when we didn’t win anything, but that was okay because we learned a lot.”
Bidwell and Lee have discovered a way to use their hobby for another of their passions as pediatric nurses: children struggling with illness. The pair have signed up as “Sugar Angels” for Icing Smiles, Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides special cakes for children with complicated medical problems.
Children who have signed up for the program receive two cakes — a fun cake with a simple design and a dream cake that is carved or two tiered with elaborate decorations.
“We’ve created two cakes for Icing Smiles,” said Bidwell. “One was a sibling cake for a child whose sister has a neuromuscular disorder. We made a monster truck cake for him. The bottom tier was a tire, and the top tier had flames on the sides and a fondant monster truck on top. The other one was for a three-year-old child with a brain tumor. She wanted a Dora cake, so we made a tiered cake with Dora’s face, Boots, Backpack and map.
“That’s what it is about. It’s not about money. My absolute favorite thing is to see the little kid’s faces when they get their cakes. It’s a lot of responsibility because you want to make sure it lives up to that child’s expectations.” “And we are both pediatric nurses,” said Lee. “We have a special heart for sick children anyway. So it is a lot of fun.”