Fire and Ice and All the Stars Above

August 23, 2012 § 1 Comment

In addition to all the delicious food I’ve been finding on Pinterest, I’m finding lots of fun beauty tips (remember the hair? Still loving that!). Lately I’ve been getting into the whole decorative nail polish thing. I’ve played a little bit with stripes and stuff, but last week I went to the drugstore for shampoo and deodorant and found myself in front of the nail polishes. Normally I’m a more high-end polish kid of girl, because polish chips like crazy on me (I like OPI, China Glaze, and Zoya, in case you’re wondering), but for the fun stuff I tend to cheap out. Sinful Colors runs two bucks a bottle and they have a veritable rainbow of shades to choose from, plus metallics and glitters and all kids of other stuff.

This time, there was a pretty blue glitter that I just fell in love with, and then there was a bright orange that I picked up. Now, I’m not normally an orange girl, but I figured if I’m going to start doing arty stuff like flowers and whatnot, orange is a color I might want to have. This was a reddish orange, and reminded me of the color of one of the Vettes we had when I was a kid – orange being my dad’s favorite color, we had a lot of orange stuff. Hell, the house I lived in until I was 8 was orange. No kidding. Anyhow, I picked this up and glanced at the name – because I love a cleverly named color – and it was Big Daddy. So that one went home with me.

When I got home, I took a look at the stuff I had, and then at the new stuff, and then a plan formed: I would do grey/blue on one hand for a rainy day theme, and orange/yellow on the other hand for a sunny day theme, and then I’d try the galaxy thing on my toes (again – didn’t work out last time, but I thought I knew why). I did my toes first, and they came out just fine this time – I even did constellations! (From left to right: the Compass, the Indian, Bird of Prey, Orion, Cassiopeia, Big Dipper, the Sculptor, the Fox.)

Yeah, I need to work on getting them cleaner. But I still think they’re awful cute!

On to the fingers. I did a grey and silver base coat, but then I had a hard time keeping the blue up as high as I had intended. Also, all of tutorials I read said if you keep patting with the sponge as you’re doing the gradient it’ll smooth out, and that never happened for me. But, when I put the glitter coat on that hid the texture issue so that was fine. However, it didn’t look so much like a rainy day. Then my big plan for the other hand just went to crap. I can’t even begin to tell you what went wrong – it was just all kinds of fugly. So I started over. I decided to scrap the “sunny day” idea and try for a fiery look to contrast with the icy look of the other hand. I started with a hot pink base coat, then added orange, dark pink, and red over top, then finished it all off with a gold glitter topcoat. I’m pretty pleased with the final result, though I’m going to work on doing gradients higher on the nail.

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Plan Z, or Fourth Time’s the Charm

April 24, 2012 § 1 Comment

Y’all, Zack’s birthday is in November. That’s how long this post has been waiting around for me to get my sh*t together and put the photos in and post it already. I feel much shame. The timing’s good, though, because Becky’s birthday is this week and she’s decided she doesn’t like cake that much, so we’re not doing a fancy cake for her birthday this year. Just brownies and Rice Krispie Treats, oh, and homemade mint chocolate chip ice cream. Recipes (such as they are) for the latter two will be shared soon. Swear.

I have established a tradition of baking awesome cakes for Becky for her birthday. Zack hasn’t ever requested anything particular, so he’s just gotten cake. This year, though, he decided he wanted a Thomas cake. No problem, I figured. I made the Millennium Freaking Falcon, after all. How hard can Thomas be? They even make cake pans in the shape of train engines! This was going to be, excuse the expression, a piece of cake.

Zack’s party was Sunday afternoon. The plan was to bake the cake Friday night so it would be nice and cool for me to decorate Saturday. I considered using the yogurt cake recipe that I’ve had so much success with, but wasn’t sure if it would be structurally sound enough to hold the novelty shape. So I whipped up a box mix, added the blue food coloring (as requested by the birthday boy) and popped that sucker in the oven (after I figured out the pan — it’s two parts that snap together. Weird.). Seemed to come out okay — the tester came out clean — so I set it on the rack to cool as per the pan instructions.

After it had cooled I went to pop the pan apart and while the part under the tester hole was fine, much of the rest of it was raw batter. Failed cake #1. Saturday morning I hied myself to the store and bought another couple cake mixes. Mixed cake number two, poured batter into train pan — separated this time (with foil over the tester hole) — and back into the oven. Forgot to add food coloring — no good.

Batter, batter, no batter!

Open another box, mix/add food coloring/pour/bake. Finally, cakes bake through and are the right color. Sweet! Now, to decorate. So now I have to get the cakes together. I shave the center edges of each cake, slap on some frosting, and push them together. Success! For about four minutes. And then the structural integrity — or lack thereof — shows its ugly face and large pieces just start falling off.

I find your lack of structural integrity disturbing.

I try to stick them back on with frosting (because you can never have too much frosting, and incidentally, the frosting was homemade cream cheese frosting), but every time I get one piece stuck on, another one falls off. Eventually, I have what is basically a lump of frosting with some cake stuck on. It is clearly not going to stand up properly. Maybe I can just lay it down on the track? So it’ll be like a photo laid down flat?

Looking like the train wreck it is.

Right. Clearly, the train cake is just not going to happen. And now I’m beginning to doubt that I can make this happen at all. A Facebook friend pointed me to this alternative (love crowd sourcing!):

Cute, right?

and I was considering it, but my confidence was, frankly, a little low at that point. Also it had gotten to be about 9pm. So I decided I’d just buy a damn cake in the morning — I could just draw a Thomas on with frosting (have I mentioned that I love my frosting gun? Got it half price on clearance at Bed Bath and Beyond because the box was damaged.).

Off to the A&P and they actually had a Thomas cake!!! I was halfway to the checkout when I looked at the price and saw it was $27. Yeah, I ain’t paying 27 bucks to feed cake to a bunch of toddlers (yes, I ended up spending way more than that on cake mixes etc. You keep your logic to yourself.). I hemmed and hawed and finally decided to make the alternative cake. I grabbed yet another cake mix and some candy for the landscaping. Baked it, cut it decorated it (after spending a few minutes trying to figure out why the original didn’t feel quite right: take another look and tell me where that tunnel is coming from? Bespin?) and ended up with this:

Choo choo!

Not too shabby, right? Zack was okay with it but not thrilled (I didn’t realize he’d already had a “landscape” Thomas cake at another birthday celebration or I would’ve figured out something else to do), but then it wasn’t really what he — or I, for that matter — was hoping for. Still, I’m not ashamed of it, and I got lots of compliments. The larger “stones” are Milk Duds, the smaller ones are Raisinets, and the patches of flowers are Nerds.

 

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!

Smooth Like Billy Dee Williams

August 11, 2011 § 1 Comment

Or like, you know, a smoothie. I haven’t given y’all a recipe for awhile now, mostly because it’s been too damn hot to bake, and baking’s really mostly what I do. But, here’s a recipe that’s perfect for the hot weather and super fast and easy to boot. My favorite thing about this smoothie is that you can use pretty much any juice, yogurt, and frozen berries you have on hand. The one in the picture was made with strawberries, lemonade, a little orange juice, and plain yogurt. I love using the mixed berries with OJ or mango juice, too. Pretty much anything goes here.

Works Every Time!

Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 c. yogurt (I just use plain, but you can really use whatever you have on hand if you think the flavor will work.)
  • 2/3 – 1 c. juice (Again, whatever you have hanging around that you like is fine.)
  • 1 1/2 c. frozen berries (Really feel like I’m repeating myself at this point, but use what you like)

Place all ingredients in blender*. Blend until smooth. If your smoothie is too thick, add more juice. If it’s too thin, add more yogurt. Serve and enjoy.

*I have one of these fancy-schmancy personal smoothie makers and I absolutely love it. Can’t recommend it highly enough. If you get one of these, just fill the berries up to the “Frozen ingredients” max line.

The Final Frontier*

August 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

So what’d you do last weekend? I finished making the solar system, that’s what I did.

One of these days, Zacky, pow! Right to the moon!

When Zack moved into his Big Boy Bed, we decided he would have a space themed room, largely because a) Mommy’s painting skills are adequate to that task and b) there is a wicked awesome night light available that does moon phases and he loved it. It’s actually taken me a while to get it done, due to my current physical limitations and sometimes choosing to do things with the kids instead of just for them. Even now it’s not done — I’m going to get some glow-in-the-dark paint and stencil actual constellations around the whole room, and also I need to get Jupiter and Saturn’s moons in there, and I’m not totally happy with Saturn’s rings, either, so I may play with them a little, too — but last weekend I did get the very last planet painted (Saturn — I went in order of difficulty), so I wanted to share some pictures.

I decided the ceiling fan/light would represent the sun and kind of just went from there:

Venus, Mercury, and a little of the "sun"

Jupiter and Mars -- clearly Jupiter's sketch lines still need to be cleaned up.

Saturn, Pluto, Eris, and Ceres. Yes, I count dwarf planets! And yes, Pluto also needs his moons.

Hiding behind the AC unit are Neptune and Uranus(giggle). (I'll take a better pic in the fall when the AC is out.)

*Alternate post titles I considered included “To the moon!” and “Drops of Jupiter (and 8 other planets, including Pluto)”

Found it on the Internet Friday #1

July 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

Hey, check me out — I not only remembered that I said I was going to do this thing, I actually went and did it! +1 for follow-through! So, this week’s FIotI projects is a simple bracelet/necklace thingie inspired by one I saw on Etsy (not that one, but the one I saw apparently no longer exists and this is the closest one I could find):

Cute, right?

Essentially, I chained about 3 1/2 yards of this awesome bulky 2ply cotton I picked up at a yarn con (one of the Stitches, maybe?) a few years ago, then joined the ends with one of my vintage buttons. If you read my old blog, you might remember the buttons. I have so many that I had to sort them by color.

I’m not 100% thrilled with it, but I think with the right outfit it’ll be really cute.

Not a Walking Carpet, but still Chewy

July 14, 2011 § 1 Comment

(See what I did there?) Back in the olden days, when not everyone had one of these fancy blog-thingies and in fact, hardly anyone who wasn’t some sort of supergeek even drove on the Internet Superhighway (remember that?) you could subscribe to these things called “newsgroups”.* Being a fairly geeky, cutting edge kind of gal, I joined several. Many of them were dedicated to recipes — you may have noticed I like to dabble a little in the kitchen. The following recipe came from one of those long-forgotten (by me, anyhow) recipe groups. If anyone knows the original source, I’m happy to add the info.

I cannot even tell you how glad I still have some of these so I can go eat them after looking at this picture. NOM.

A note before I pass this one along. It is very simple to make, but it is also a giant pain in the ass. The results are worth it, but I generally save these cookies for people who are very special to me, or who have something I want very badly.

*Yes, I know newsgroups are still around. But most people who joined the interwebs after, say, Y2K probably don’t. Work with me here, people.

Recipe

Makes about 4 dozen

Ingredients:

  • 1 c. butter, softened
  • 1 c. granulated sugar
  • 1 c. packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 c. all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 c. cocoa
  • app. 48 Rolos (A note on the Rolos: it’s usually cheaper to buy them buy the bag, but then you have to shuck them as they are wrapped individually. If you buy them by the roll, you save yourself that step. The choice is yours.)

Cream butter and sugars together until smooth. Add eggs and vanilla, and beat until fully incorporated. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and cocoa. Gradually add to butter mixture, beating well. (Seriously, you want to do this very gradually, or you will end up wearing much of the cocoa and flour.) Cover and chill for at least two hours (I usually do it overnight — you want it to be really chilled). Remove wrappers from Rolos if necessary (see note above) and chill them as well.

Preheat oven to 375F. Using a spoon, scoop out enough dough to cover one Rolo. Roll dough into a ball around Rolo and place on cookie sheet. Repeat until your cookie sheet is full, placing cookies about an inch apart. Bake for 8 minutes. remove from oven and let cool on cookie sheet for 2 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely. While each sheet is baking, put remaining dough and Rolos back into the refrigerator. If it is particularly warm in your kitchen, you may even need to put the dough in the freezer — it’s really almost impossible to work with if it’s even a little soft. (Heh. TWSS.)

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