Freebird. Free bird. Whatever.

February 8, 2012 § Leave a comment

Amongst my shortcomings — and there are many — is this: I am truly, truly terrible at keeping in touch with people. I make friends, I enjoy spending time with them, and then I change jobs or move or change my schedule or start having panic attacks and not leaving the house or whatever and I never see them again. I’m just really bad about picking up the phone, or writing an email, or texting, or whathaveyou. But now, there’s this magical thing on the interwebbys called “Facebook”.* You may have heard of it. What Facebook has done for me is allowed me to stay in touch, sort of, with all of these people who formerly would have been swept away by the tides of my life changes. I can see what they’re up to, they can see what I’m up to, we can make the occasional pithy comments back and forth, bring funny internet memes to each other’s attention, and so on. And I can see when one of them is doing something really cool, like my friend Duane Romanell, a very talented artist who I used to work with at Tutor.com.

When he launched his photography page, I went and flipped through the albums, which pretty much just confirmed that Duane is indeed a very talented artist — they’re gorgeous. You should go look. G’head. I’ll wait. There was one photo that I kept coming back to in the “By the Sea” album: a solitary seagull in an empty sky. It was one of those photographs that just touched something inside me. So when he had a little “like me on the Facebooks and I’ll enter you into a drawing for a print” contest and then drew my name(!!!), it was a no-brainer which photo I’d choose.

So I got the print and then needed The Perfect Frame, of course. I ended up finding one at a flea market, but apparently have absolutely zero concept of size, because it was way, way too big. It was only $5, so not like it would have been a huge waste of cash, and I could’ve just framed something else in it, but then I had An Idea™. I had a bag full of seashells and chunks of driftwood, and decided to plop my lovely photo onto some mat board (not under — I learned way back in art school that I hate cutting mat board with a fiery passion and also suck pretty hard at it), slap a quote under it, and decorate around it. I absolutely love how it came out:

No, the photo doesn't really have a big flash over the bird or a giant "C" on it -- the photo is Duane's intellectual property and you should head over to his site if you want to see it. This is just a picture of what I did with it.

 

I put the new mat behind the mats that came with the frame. They were kind of gungy and scratched up, so I used the shells and driftwood to strategically cover the gunge. I just laid everything out, then hot-glued it on. I believe, incidentally, that this is my first successful hot glue project. Usually the stuff I hot glue just falls right apart, but this seems to be holding fine. The quote is this: “Love and desire are the spirit’s wings to great deeds.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

*Yes, I’m aware that the period is supposed to go inside the quotes according to the rules of American punctuation. I think that’s a stupid rule, so I’ve decided to punctuate like a Canadian/Brit

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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!

Fighting the Common Cold*

February 4, 2012 § 1 Comment

Pattern: Vitamin C by Ruth Garcia-Alcantud (aka @rockandpurl) Yarn: Lion Brand Wool-Ease Chunky in Pumpkin

Back in November, this totally gorgeous pattern came across my Twitters. Since I was headed up to a friend’s house that very weekend for a stitch’n’bitch, I grabbed the pattern and some yarn and started when I got to the s’n’b. This pattern is definitely going to get made again…it’s got a ton of variety in the stitches, but each row is consistent and simple enough that you can work around while paying minimal attention to the actual stitches you’re making. The combination of variety and simplicity is absolutely perfect for a project to work on while hanging out and chatting with friends, or sitting in waiting rooms, or really, just about anything. Best of all, if you’re a bit distracted like I’ve been for the past few months, you can miss a couple rows and still end up with a great looking final project!

Get your own copy of the pattern here! And while you’re there, check out the rest of Ruth’s patterns and read some of her blogs…as I mentioned on Twitter the other day, she’s totally my knitter-crush.

Becky wanted in on the photoshoot.

*See, this would be really funny if we’d been having a cold winter. 

Found It on the Internet Friday #12

February 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

A quickie, because it is late and I am tired (and it’s actually Saturday and I still need to take pics so it’s going to be even later on Saturday by the time this gets posted and as it turns out that was last week and I never did take the damn picture so here it finally is yeah, I typed that before I took the picture and then never did…seriously it’s been like a month now but I really did finally take the picture). A couple of weeks before Christmas, I came across this great post on Pinterest about making snowflakes (which is awfully fun anyhow) out of junk mail. I get about a bajillion catalogs every week, especially at this time of year, so I decided to use those. The kids absolutely loved it. In fact, a couple of times Becky asked if we could cut out snowflakes instead of watching TV.  (!!! Yes, yes we can.) They’re both still pretty young and not that confident in their cutting skills, but here’s what we ended up with:

There is a giant grocery bag full of these. The kids cut them faster than I could fold the pages for them. They're still asking to make snowflakes these days, too, and starting to do more recognizable shape cutouts, which is very cool to watch.

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