Haddon Township natives publish ‘Empowdered Sugar: A Collection of Sweets, Treats, & Female Feats,’ a cookbook celebrating feminists
It started, as so many amazing things do, with Beyoncé.
“I’m just a huge Beyoncé fan,” Grace Cuneo Lineman confessed with a laugh.
The cultural icon holds a special place in the hearts of Grace and her sister, Karen Cuneo. The Haddon Township natives have been to countless Beyoncé concerts, and the musician’s confidence and vulnerability have garnered the duo’s admiration since childhood.
“She’s evolved as an artist along with us,” Karen explained, “as we evolved from young girls to adults.”
So it was fitting – and not entirely surprising – when Grace called her food science pro sister with an idea: Can we make a Beyoncé Beyhive cake? (The Beyhive, for those not in the know, is Beyoncé’s fan base.) This was at the end of 2017, and the two got to work, developing the first recipe in what would become the inspiration for their first book.
“Empowdered Sugar: A Collection of Sweets, Treats & Female Feats” is, on the surface, a cookbook, chock full of tried-and-true recipes carefully crafted and thoroughly tested. But beyond the delicious eats, as the book’s name would suggest, is so much more.
Each recipe celebrates a woman, from the clever moniker (think Hillary Clinton’s “I’m With Herb & Buttermilk Biscuits”) to an autobiographical snapshot and favorite quotation. The book is not organized by ingredient, but rather by achievement: activists and athletes, politicians and pop stars.
From the widely celebrated to the lesser known, there are so many impressive, powerful and inspirational women between the pages.
The idea of a cookbook – of a woman in the kitchen – celebrating some of the greatest female feats in history is certainly unconventional. “Empowdered Sugar,” however, seamlessly brings the two concepts together, demonstrating there is strength in the spatula, a potential to empower women who are, at the same time, cooking delectable treats.
“There’s such a separation of this feminism movement and being in the kitchen,” Grace remarked. “We thought it would be a fun bit of irony to bring them back together.”
When the “Beyhive Honey Cake” was brought to life, it sparked the sisters’ imaginations. As they tossed puns back and forth (“Madeleines Albright” for the soft French cookies, “Barbara Waltersmelon Popsicles” for a cool summer treat), there was an undercurrent of feminism making waves in the world.
“This was all happening in the aftermath of the most recent election,” Karen said, referring to Clinton’s historic run as the first female presidential nominee. “There were so many things happening with strong women. We saw a lot of representation of strong females in the media, and we were really empowered by that and wanted to see what we could do to share some of that strong, powerful female energy and put it back in the world.
“We wanted to give back to the movement in the small way we thought we could.”
Grace, a Collingswood resident, and Karen, who now calls Philadelphia home, consider themselves “really lucky” in bringing their book from concept to bookstores in two short years. They shopped their proposal in June 2018, and had a book deal from Turner Publishing Company by September. “Empowdered Sugar” was published a year later, in September 2019.
“It was a whirlwind of a process,” Karen said.
The punchy illustrations, with faceless busts depicting the iconic women, perfectly package the product, and were created by the sisters’ graphic designer cousin Allison Murray, another Haddon Township native who now lives in Arizona.
When the sisters pitched the book to her, Murray was immediately on board.
“I was excited and honored to be a part of it,” she said. “I’ve always known (Karen and Grace) would make their mark in the pop culture space, and it’s amazing to be a part of their journey.”
Illustrating the approximate 80 busts – as well as the cover and food images – was about 65 hours of work, Murray estimated, but the blur that was March 2019 was worth it.
“It came out better than I could have imagined,” she said.
While Beyoncé, of course, is a fan favorite for the Cuneo sisters, they also mentioned a few other female figures that stood out.
“I really love that we included Lisa Leslie,” Grace said. “She was a really cool female athlete that made a big splash. She was the first woman to dunk in a WNBA game, and I think that is a really unique fact that not a lot of people know.”
Highlighting these women’s careers and achievements, especially those with less public fanfare, was a favorite part of the book process. The research behind the women they chose was extensive – and inspiring.
“One of the things we enjoyed most about writing the book is learning so much more about these stories, about these women we may not have known about before. We were really excited to bring some of these lesser- known women into the book,” Karen said, noting neither sister knew social activist Sarah Breedlove was the first self-made millionaire in the U.S. and pioneer of the modern black hair care and cosmetic industry.
A food scientist by profession, Karen also wanted to be sure the book’s recipes were “easy and approachable.” Female friends and family with no technical food background became testers, ensuring the recipes were easy to follow.
“We really wanted the recipes to be something families could share and make together,” Karen said. “That was an added challenge – breaking it down to simplistic language.”
Evidently, Karen accomplished this goal. “Empowdered Sugar” has received a warm reception, particularly from the Collingswood community. When the book was hot off the presses, the sisters took part in the Collingswood Book Festival, overwhelmed by the positive feedback and support they received. Readers continue to reach out, sharing recipes, personal anecdotes and tales of even more inspirational women not included in the book.
It seems “Empowdered Sugar” has certainly put some strong female energy back into the world – just as the sisters had hoped.
“We want the cookbook to not just be a celebration of the food, but really a celebration of the women,” Grace said. “We want to empower girls, women, sisters, friends – in both the kitchen and outside of it.”
“We wanted to bring a sense of pride and ownership in the kitchen,” Karen added. “As Grace said in the book, we wanted to make these different inspiring female stories as familiar as an old family recipe.
“We want people to not only share the food, but also share the stories.”
“Empowdered Sugar: A Collection of Sweets, Treats, & Female Feats” is available on Amazon.com, in store and online at Barnes & Noble, and from most major retailers.