Photo-A-Day: Glasses

August 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

So there’s this blogger, Fat Mum Slim, and she puts up these monthly lists of things to take pictures of. I actually came across this a couple of months ago and wanted to participate, but then my lens on my phone was all wonky and got a huge scratch on it, and let’s face it: you all know me well enough by now to know if I’m having to take pics with my real camera and upload them there’s just no way that’s going to be even a semi-daily thing (though oddly, I actually have a backlog of pics waiting for posts right now). But it turns out that I’m just an idiot, and never removed the plastic from the camera lens when I got my replacement phone a couple months ago. So that’s what was making everything all foggy, and also what had the big scratch in it. Duh, and also yipee!

So here’s my first “daily” (we’ll see how that goes) photo:

The prescription is strong with this one!

My Darth Vader gumball machine sporting my new (temporary — these are destined to become my backup pair) glasses.

Baking cakes ain’t like dusting crops, boy!

February 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’m working on a new recipe to give you next week (I’m in the testing stage, because I overcooked it while I was writing it down the first time. Oops.) so this week’s Tasty Tuesday is a rerun.

Originally published April 25, 2010 on  the A Frayed Knot Knits blog:

Somehow, my daughter Becky has become a huge Star Wars fan. I know, right, how could this possibly have happened? She has recently:

- cried when watching Darth Vader’s body burned on a pyre at the end of Jedi
- told me that I shouldn’t be watching Fanboys because “We don’t watch other Star Wars movies! Only Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi!
- declared that she wants Darth Vader to be her father instead of Luke’s because “Luke is a bad boy and doesn’t deserve him.”
- announced that she wants to be Han Solo when she grows up
- requested demanded a Millennium Falcon cake for her birthday, with Han Solo, Darth Vader, Chewbacca, and Princess Leia, but not Luke, “because Luke is too whiny.” Because I’m a sucker for the Millennium Falcon, and a challenge, and my little girl, I said, “Sure! How hard can it be?” And then I found out:

The party was Saturday at 4pm. Giant props to Kit for handling every detail of the party, from scheduling the space (Build-A-Bear) to taking care of the invites to greeting the parents and filming the party, leaving me free to concentrate fully on the cake.

I had originally thought to do gum-paste figures, but the tiny little sane part of my brain said, “Hey, dummy — they make perfectly good action figures, and then the kid will have a bonus birthday present, too!” So I went out and got everything but a Leia (because the Toys’R’Us I was at didn’t have one, but she was not terribly missed, so it’s okay). I had already ordered the most awesomest birthday candle EVAH for her: Darth Vader holding as his lightsaber a red candle.

After some hemming and hawing, Becky settled on both chocolate and vanilla for the actual cake. I do not particularly enjoy actually baking cakes, which means I don’t do it often enough to get really good at it, which means I bought mixes. My mom’s in town (hi, Mom!) and she helped me get the mixes all, well, mixed and into the oven. One large (13×9) chocolate rectangle for the bottom, and two 9″ vanilla circles for the top + accessories. They came out fine, and we were ready to carve them Friday.

Now that I think about it, perhaps “ready” isn’t the right word…I wasn’t quite prepared for the reality of carving cake, and got pretty frustrated, especially with the cockpit. I finally ended up with something I thought would work, but it was clearly unstable and would need to be attached just prior to putting the fondant on, which I had planned for Saturday morning. Here’s what it looked like Friday night when I was done:

Bright and early Saturday, Kit took the kids for a walk, and I started putting it together and getting it ready for frosting. I had done the carving on a board, but wanted to transfer it to the actual presentation board before frosting. This necessitated planning the layout, so we opened up all the action figures and the candle, which promptly broke at the ankles. All attempts to repair it failed, and actually broke the base even further. Lacking the time to panic, I decided to just set it aside and deal with it later.

We decided where the ship should be on the board, and I commenced frosting it (in case you’ve never worked with fondant before, you put a thin layer of regular frosting on to “glue” the fondant). This meant it was time to attach the cockpit, which promptly disintegrated. You can see in the picture above that I had originally carved the cockpit piece out of the vanilla cake, and as it turns out, the chocolate cake holds together a little better. So I quickly re-carved it out of a piece of chocolate cake that was in my big bowl o’ cake scraps, and skewered it on. And then the bottom fell off, and I panicked.

While part of my brain was panicking, the other part was applying frosting and considering the situation. I finally came to the conclusion that the solution was to cheat. So I went upstairs and got some styrofoam and carved my third cockpit. This one didn’t fall apart, and I moved on to the actually fondanting.

There were a couple of tricky things about applying the fondant, mostly because the shape has a lot of nooks and crannys and this is only the second time I’ve ever used fondant, so I’m not particularly well-versed in manupulating it. But I got it on the cake with no real problems, and despite some cutting errors and a little bunching on the back, I thought it looked pretty good. It was, at the very least, the right shape:

Oh! Before I did the big fondanting bit, I decided it would be a good idea to practice a little and remind myself of how the fondant moves and acts. So I built the sensor dish, which ended up being my favorite part of the cake:

Now that I had the fondant on, it was time for the decorating. I cut out the dots that are a recognizable part of the top of the MF, with the plan of spray painting them with the black frosting I’d purchased for the dual purposes of painting said dots and also dirtying up the finished ship. It turns out that the “black” spray frosting is really more of a “light silver gray,” even after several applications. So it was off to Michael’s for emergency black frosting coloring…and where I found food-safe markers, including black. Win!

Back home, I set Mom to the task of coloring the dots, while I began applying the details with white piping. Then I changed my mind and decided most of the lines should be scored, with a very few details sticking up. So I scraped it down and started over, and let the sane part of my brain convince the panicky part that we had plenty of time as long as we didn’t get too carried away. Applying the blue of the engines to the back was considerably less stressful than I had thought it was going to be, and it improved the lines of the back of the cake quite a lot.

Now, Becky had specifically requested that we included the red/rust detailing — it’s on the real thing, and it’s on one of her toys but not the other — so I used the red marker to color that in, and then went back and piped in a few details here and there, using her two MF toys for reference (incidentally, I highly recommend having a 3D model on hand when doing something like this — much better than trying to find pictures with the right angles on the internet). I redid the cockpit a couple of times, and never was quite happy with it, but finally I had to declare it finished. I took it outside and gave it a quick spritzing with the “black” spray frosting, just to scunge it up a little.

I have to say, I was pretty pleased with the end result. It’s not the best looking Millennium Falcon cake I’ve ever seen, but I think I did a pretty good job for someone who doesn’t really decorate cakes:

I was a little annoyed about only having the foil for it to sit on, but then I had an idea while I was in the shower (yes, I finished in enough time that I was able to shower and even iron my skirt before we had to leave for the party!)…on the way I grabbed a couple bags of brown sugar and when we set the cake up, I think it looked a lot like it was parked on the sands at Mos Eisley:

And look! I solved the Darth Vader problem and the gun turret problem (at some point I realized that I should have guns up there and I wasn’t sure what the hell I was going to do) in one fell swoop! Yay me!

Next time, I’m going to make someone else cut the cake — it was a lot harder than I expected it to be. It took about 5 minutes to go from the above to this, and I really felt like I needed a good lie-down afterwards:

(Incidentally, when you stack cakes on top of one another, don’t forget to put a layer of frosting in there — you’ll thank yourself when it’s time to serve.)

I have to give tremendous thanks to Kit and Grandma Tedi for all their help and encouragement and keeping the kids out of the kitchen/dining room/my way. And especially thank you to Becky, who told me at every stage how awesome her Millennium Falcon cake looked, and made me remember why I was doing this even when I was so frustrated with the cockpit that I was seriously considering sending Kit to the A&P for a plain old sheet cake. Love you all!

Let them eat cake

May 2, 2011 § 4 Comments

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of the birthday cakes my mother baked for me. A few that stand out are the “doll” cake (if you’re unfamiliar, the cake is mounded and has a hole in the center where the doll goes — it comes about up to the doll’s waist — and the cake and the doll’s upper half are frosted to look like a ballgown), the bunny cake (shaped pan, and a bajillion little frosting dots to decorate it), and when I was a little older, a delicious poppy-seed cake. Whatever I asked for, Mom made, and I always loved it. I’ve continued this tradition with my kids, especially Becky (mostly because Zack hasn’t had a party yet that wasn’t just family).

Darth Vader cake

The Force is strong in this one

First there was the Darth Vader cake, which was also my first experience with fondant (I cheated and used the DV cake pan to mold the fondant. I also bought enough to make two cakes so I could practice, which turned out to be a Very Smart Idea.). To be fair, that was really the cake Mommy wanted to make — Becky only cared that the cake was blue, which — thanks to the miracle of food coloring — it was.

"She may not look like much..."

Last year, though, she requested a Millennium Falcon cake. This was considerably more challenging as I had to actually sculpt the cake. I got it done, though, and am still pretty proud of the job I did on that one.

This year, she wanted an Ariel cake. In case you don’t have a small girl-child, Ariel is the name Disney execs gave to the Little Mermaid when they bastardized the classic Hans Christian Andersen tale (the irony of my daughter loving the movie that completely ruined my favorite childhood fairytale is not lost on me). I am always up for a challenge, but I also know my limitations, and “cake shaped like a mermaid” is definitely outside my artistic range. So I suggested that perhaps we do something similar to last year’s Millennium Falcon cake and instead of Ariel herself, the cake could be a castle and then we’d just have the action figures, which would later be hers to play with. She readily agreed (Mommy is no dummy — I knew I’d get her with the toys), but asked that the cake be pink. Not a problem.

Castle cake, unfrosted

One of the castle cakes, pre-frosting

See, I knew that Williams-Sonoma had a cake pan that’s actually shaped like a castle, and I figured I’d just pull the same trick I did with the Darth Vader cake pan. This was going to be easy. Except it never is. First, it turned out that the castle cake pan is smallish. This one was easily solved…I’d just make a 13×9 sheet cake base. Not a problem. I decided to frost the sheet cake to look like the ocean and then decorate with aquarium plants to really give it that “under the sea” vibe. Once Becky found out there would be two cakes, she requested that the base be strawberry and the castle be vanilla. Also not a problem. I baked both cakes (from a mix — I’m still working on perfecting my cake baking skills) Thursday night so they’d be nice and cool for me to decorate Friday night and ready to go Saturday (her party was at one, but I wanted plenty of cushion built into the schedule).

Frosted base cake

The frosted base cake.

Friday night rolled around and I got the frosting made (cream cheese, because the birthday girl digs it) and the base cake frosted (after repairing the giant hole in the middle where it stuck to the pan). The rest of the evening went a bit like this: Roll out the hot pink fondant and try to put it into cake pan. No good — couldn’t get it down into the pan without tearing it. Reroll and drape over cake, then put pan over cake. Still no good — the details on the cake pan were just too fine and delicate to show without there being plenty of pressure to make an impression. Press cake down into pan in attempt to get impressions. Cake and fondant both ruined. Curse loudly and colorfully and send Daddy to the store for more cake mix and cream cheese (because clearly fondant ain’t going to cut it, and now aren’t I glad that I bought that cake decorator gun on clearance last month?). Mix new cake, pour into pan and put into oven, sit down on couch to relax. Realize ten minutes in that I forgot to grease and flour the “nonstick” pan and cross fingers that it really is “nonstick” but it’s already almost midnight so I won’t find out until morning.

Morning comes and I attempt to remove the cake from the pan. I’m not really sure what they mean by “non-stick” but it’s definitely not related to whether the contents of the pan will stick to the pan, because they will, quite tenaciously. More cursing, and also being glad that Daddy got two cake mixes when he went to the store the previous evening. Third cake mixed, pan prepped (I can be taught), into the oven. From the oven immediately into the fridge, where it has plenty of time to cool while I whip up another batch of frosting. Most of the frosting gets tinted pink, with a little set aside for brown (the door), light blue (windows), and lavender (trim). Cake is cooled, pops right out of pan and I plunk it down on the frosted base.

Frosted castle

Look! A pink castle! (Pre-accessorization, obviously.)

Now is the moment of truth. See, I really don’t have a lot of any experience frosting things in a decorative manner, but I really, really want to preserve as much of the stone detailing as possible on the castle — that’s what makes it so neat. So I try a few shots on a plate for practice and it looks pretty good. Time for the real thing…and it worked! It came out really great. I will say that cream cheese frosting is not the best choice for elaborate frosting stuff like this — it’s a little too soft, which is why the castle looks a little melty. But really, I love how it came out. It got lots of oohs and aahs, and two of the moms at the party asked where I bought it!!! Most importantly, Becky absolutely loved it.

Completed cake

And here it is again, fully accessorized.

Becky with cake

One awesome cake, one happy birthday girl.

Zack has already requested a train for his birthday in November. Should be fun!

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