Just about every Monday, All Things Considered producer Melissa Gray dashes off an e-mail that reads something like this: "Up front we've got sweet potato pound cake, still warm. Dig in, don't be shy."
That goes without saying. When Gray started bringing cakes into the office, she discovered the staff will eat just about anything.
Her adventures in baking, and the staff's adventures in eating what she created, are recounted in a new cookbook called All Cakes Considered: A Year's Worth of Weekly Recipes Tasted, Tested, and Approved by the Staff of All Things Considered.
Melissa Gray steers her book toward the beginning baker, with tips she has learned along the way from family and friends — often laced with her trademark Southern sass.
"Don't stomp around the kitchen while your cake is baking," she writes. "Proceed with your cleanup placidly and calmly, like you're on Prozac or Valium and everything is fine, fine, fine with the stock market."
On a recent morning, NPR's Melissa Block popped over to Gray's house outside Washington, D.C., as she put one of those cakes together. Gray made a sweet potato pound cake in what she calls her "little RV-sized kitchen." It's perfect for this time of year. The batter is thick, a pretty pale orange.
A couple of hours and a subway ride later, Gray arrives at the office, cake in hand. And it exerts a gravitational pull on the staff: It's gone in less than 10 minutes.
"A new land-speed record," Gray says with pride.
Gray says it's that kind of reaction that keeps sending her back to her mixer.
"I love watching our staff — all of these incredibly competent, brilliant people — taken back to being like 8 years old, and having that little joy: 'Oh, there's cake!' " she says. "I love that because it makes you remember that people at their core are still human beings.
"I keep track of who doesn't get cake, I do. And I check with them: 'Didn't you get a slice of cake today?' I want everybody to join in. I want everybody to share in the community of having the cake. It's like breaking bread. Because in a way, it does bind us: It's that one moment where we don't have to worry about the next deadline."
Gray ticks off the favorites of some of the hosts and reporters on the NPR staff.
Michele Norris is very easy to please, Gray says, but she does not eat coconut. Robert Siegel claims he does not eat cake, Gray says, but she says she has seen him take cookies. Melissa Block likes fried pie, brown sugar pound cake and bittersweet chocolate frosted layer cake. Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep is a butterscotch guy. Film critic Bob Mondello loves coconut cake, and news analyst Dan Schorr is partial to frosting.
"He likes cake as a delivery system for frosting," Gray says.
But after a year of recipes, it's possible Gray may bring another cultural shift to the newsroom:
"At some point," she says, "I think we're going to have to do Monday aerobics, too. Because everybody is complaining I'm making them too fat."