Saturday, November 28, 2009

Are We There Yet?

We are now entering into Day #62 of what will forever be known as The Great Kitchen Renovation of 2009. This is a project that my father totally avoided doing in the years after my mother passed away in 1986. When asked why he didn't want to update the 1966 kitchen, he would always say jokingly, "I'll let the "next owner" deal with it". Well guess what?


(Insert screaming here.)

Let's the novice kitchen renovator nothing much has changed from the last photo I posted. But to me, "The Anxious Baker" many details have been completed and all of a sudden......everything is starting to gel.

I am very excited about this.

I have had herds of sub-contractors traipsing in and out of my house for the past month and with the exception of being completely financially eviscerated by the plumbing contractor, all has gone relatively smoothly.

Can I be serious here for a moment, because this is an important suggestion. If I had children of my own (and I am thankful that I don't), I would strongly encourage them to pursue a career in plumbing.

Forget college. Parents save your money. Take that college tuition and go on that second honeymoon, buy that flat screen T.V. Spend it any way you can. Let's face it, college is just a reason to give these kids another four years to decide what they want to do in life. Then they'll spend the next 25 years paying off their college loan....or'll have to. In my case, just one kitchen plumbing job by what turned out to be an extremely high-ended local plumbing bandit contractor is almost all that is needed to pay off all four years of your child's college tuition. Trust me with this. I wouldn't lie to you. Financial Consultants and Marketing Analysts will come and go .......but poop is forever! Eventually, everyone needs to hire someone to shovel it........and because no one else wants to do it, they can charge whatever the heck they want to. AND THEY DO!!!!! 'Nuff said. Except that in my next life.....I want to be a plumber. Most of my life is spent neck deep in "it" anyway so I may as well get paid to shovel it too.

Back to our regularly scheduled program, the ceiling guy arrives tomorrow, the drywall is up, the hardwood floor is down and today I purchased all new appliances to be delivered in three weeks. Did you hear me?? I said ALL NEW! Can I get an Amen?? Wahoo! Many thanks to all of you who have been sending me encouraging emails throughout this process. I know myself and my kitchen will be better for it. So, I'm off to sweep up some more plaster and start on Chapter Four of "Plumber, Shlumber, You Can Do It Yourself".

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Baking, Interrupted.

I have the Kitchen Renovation Blues.

Now hear this. All baking will be suspended until further notice....or until I can haul all of my pots and pans over to my sister Kathy's. As much as I am looking forward to having a new kitchen, it sure is a rough ride to get there. Sweet Moses, I have a birthday cake due for next weekend too. (sigh)

Thank you for your attention. We now return you to your regularly scheduled program.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Are You A Happy Camper?

I hate camping.

Okay, I realize that "hate" is a strong word, so let's just say that I despise camping. I detest camping. I loathe camping. I abhor camping. I have an aversion to camping. Is that better?

I've been camping several times in my life. I have to admit that my earliest camping memories were extremely pleasant ones. I was twelve years old. But then who doesn't like camping at twelve? We had family friends who had a camp site on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire and they invited us up at least twice every summer. My sister Kathy and I loved it. Now I tell you mother would have rather thrown herself down on a bed of nails then spend a weekend communing with nature. But because they were good family friends, she went anyway.

Our friends had a swell campsite complete with a huge firepit, two huge dark green tents, a camper and a trailer. My parents (of course) stayed in the main trailer and all of the kids, five in total, slept in sleeping bags in the tents. With the bugs. Tents that smelled like mildew. But I didn't care.

I was twelve.

I loved the fact that when morning came, we jumped out of our sleeping bags and we were already dressed. How great was that? After bolting down a glass of milk and a Pop Tart, we headed down the gravelly road to the lake. Our friends had a couple of boats and all of the kids would head down to the docks and hang out around the boats all day. In fact, I can vividly recall when four of us, all ages 12 and under, took a small motorboat out on the lake by ourselves for most of the day. By ourselves. We were told by our parents to wear life jackets and to " be careful". We did and we were. What a blast! Do kids do stuff like that anymore? Why was it not such a big deal back then but in today's society, someone would probably call Social Services? Anyone?

My next camping experience was when I was 21. Myself and a group of friends decided to go camping at Nickerson State Park on Cape Cod. I borrowed a tent from a neighbor and we headed down for the weekend. I remember that there was a huge party going on at one of our neighboring campsites. It was late and they were loud. It was also really cold and had started to rain. Technically it is still "summer" at the end of August, but when you're in the the rain, you may as well be sitting on a glacier in Alaska. We ended up packing up our gear (in the pouring cold rain) and headed to friend's house in a nearby town. My friend's mother took pity on me and my shivering friends and let us stay in one of her rental cottages for the night. For free of course.

My last camping trip was about ten years ago. My good friends Donna and Bill have a place at Point Sebago in Maine. I have to say that out of all of my camping experiences, this one was by far..............the best. I stayed in a a bed......with clean, crisp sheets. It was warm and cozy. In the morning, I woke to Donna frying up bacon in a skillet just outside my window. As I sleepily emerged from the trailer, she handed me a fresh cup of coffee and directed me to a comfortable camp chair. Now THAT'S my idea of camping.

My project this week guessed it....... a camping theme. The cake was to be in celebration of a couple's 30th wedding anniversary and they were avid campers. So many options with this one. What to do? What to do? So I started with the basics...............

I shaped the tent using a firm piece of cardboard and set it down to dry for a couple of days.

I carefully carved out a section to use for the "river". In hindsight, I could have easily spread the "river" on top, but I wanted the "water" frosting to sit into the cake instead of riding on top of it.

Then I coated the cut-out "riverbed" with buttercream...

...and covered the entire cake in fondant. Please note the gaping hole in the wall behind the cake. No.........I do not have termites. It's just kitchen renovation "stuff".

I used a piece of clear plastic to shape and form the waterfall. I didn't want the "water" to just come down straight and stick to the cake. Water going over the edge of something sort of arcs outward, then down. Aren't you terribly impressed with the creative thought process used?? (insert rolling of the eyes here)

So I coated the plastic with buttercream and attached it to the edge of the top layer of cake.

I initially wanted the waterfall to end up in a little pond, but I ran out of space.

There's always a little "stinker" on every camping trip, right?

Stories anyone???

This was my first visualization of the legs inside the tent, but I thought it looked a little too "Tony Soprano-ish", so I opted for a more playful they're still BREATHING.

See? This is much better. More fun, but I really need a class in the fine art of toe sculpting. Or maybe I just need a stronger prescription for my glasses. It's hard to do a clean finish on something so small. Next time I'll need to use some teeny tiny fondant tools. And a giant magnifying glass. And a searchlight with 100,000 candlepower. Moses, I think I need brighter bulbs!

Don't you just love the smell of a campfire??? What does it remind you of? (Please note that all Firefighters are exempt from this line of questioning) I am mentally whisked away to the state of New Hampshire. Live Free or Die, baby. Or maybe it just gives me a New Hampshire state of mind. I don't know. It reminds me of warm blankets, rustling brightly colored Fall leaves and hot chocolate. (Ahh, yes, of course you knew that chocolate had to be included in there somewhere.) Yes, we have campfires and bonfires in Massachusetts too, but for some reason it doesn't conjure up the same snug feeling. I just love it.

This vaguely reminds me of one of the tents at Lake Winnipesaukee, only this one doesn't smell of mildew. The "trees" are fondant covered Oreo Ice Cream Cones......nibbled cut down to fit, of course.

Cool rushing water. Looks good enough to eat, doesn't it? Oh wait.

You can.

So tell me your stories......I'm dying to hear them.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

She's Forty & Fabulous!

My friend Julie had a big birthday last week. That's right....she officially crossed over into the Land of Forty. Of course I could only wave to her as she arrived on the Land of Forty because I am too busy sliding down into the Valley of Fifty. Anyway, her parents Pete and Joan, had a small dinner at their home to celebrate and I made the cake. It was a small double tier, chocolate of course, with peanut butter and chocolate ganache filling. I made a little grape vine trailing up and across and attached a few fondant "poppies".

It was a really moist and chocolate-y fact, the inside of my car still smells of it. Excuse me while I go for a drive.

(Before we go any further, the answer is no......the baby was not anywhere near the candles. It just looks that way because of the angle.)

Anyway, what Julie didn't know at this time was that her husband Andy had also planned a surprise party for her the following Friday night at a local restaurant. Of course I knew it would be a complete surprise because she had stated time and time again that she didn't want a party for her fortieth birthday. Perfect. I told Andy that I'd make her another cake. I had a couple of things in mind, but after several rough sketches, I finally settled on something demure and understated.

You know..............sort of like Julie.

My inspiration for this cake?? I don't know. I mean it's not like the colors and patterns are around me everyday.

Sometimes I really have to sit and think about what is most artistically and visually stimulating for me.

You just never know where your colors or ideas will come from.

It's frustrating sometimes.

When you just can't find any inspiration even in your very own home.

There are times when I'm totally stumped.

But just when I'm ready to give up....something sneaks up and kicks me.

So first, I had to decide on the flavor and filling of the cake. What else would it be??? Of course it had to be chocolate. Deep, dark chocolate, AND the filling had to be great too.

So I made six 9 x 13 chocolate cakes, leveled each one, then stacked them up.

Next, I chopped up a bag of Ghirardelli Chocolate Mints and mixed them into the Chocolate Buttercream Frosting.

Candy carnage. The scene of the crime.

Then I started the layering process. Lots of thick, rich buttercream in between the layers. Make sure those layers are even!!!!

I used a cakeboard under every two layers of cake for stability.

Couldn't you just run and jump on this???

Once the cakes were all filled and stacked, I put the whole thing into the freezer for a couple of hours.

Then I carved it out.

Then added dowels throughout the form for added stability.

(Note the walls in the background of these photos. I am living in kitchen renovation hell.)

Then I crumb-coated the whole thing with vanilla buttercream and put it in the refrigerator to let the frosting firm and set up. It kind of looks like a saddle here, doesn't it?? Hmmmm......a saddle?? I'll have to remember this if I'm ever asked to make a cake for Seabiscuit.

Then I took this beautiful red fondant and went to work detailing the purse. Although you can use any shade of food coloring to tint white fondant, I always buy pre-made fondant in red and black because of the inconsistencies. It's almost impossible to "make" the perfect shade of red. As a colorist, I know the technique, but I'm just not willing to go through the trouble. It's easier to just plain order it. Trust me on this.

I messed up the white fondant at the bottom of the bag, but luckily I had plans to cover it with a couple of zebra stripes anyway. Whew. This mistake would have NEVER gotten by on Ace of Cakes or Cake Boss.....or would it?

Note to self: Remember to take off rings before working with fondant.

Now for the fun stuff. The handles.

These handles nearly gave me a heart attack ten times over. Initially, I had planned to make just a shoulder strap. I made it out of gumpaste a couple of days before and set it aside to dry. I really needed it to completely dry out nice and strong so it would stand up on top of the bag. I waited until the morning of the party to place the strap on the cake. The minute I set the shoulder strap on top of the bag, it broke into about 5 pieces. Dang it!

"NOBODY PANIC!! I HAVE THIS UNDER CONTROL!", I frantically yelled to Emily, who somehow managed to remain totally calm throughout the entire ordeal.

After a few minutes of complete hysteria I instantly reached for the Rice Krispie Treats and started molding. I covered them with red fondant, made a few fondant "D" rings and left them on the counter to dry.

Then I mixed gold food lusterdust with vodka and "painted" all of the "D" rings and the nameplate. The dried vodka makes it all nice and shiny!


...or without handles it might make a dandy Mongolian knapsack!

I painted the golddust on the fondant while it was drying on the purse.

I used toothpicks and a mixture of royal icing to attach the handles and "D" Rings to the purse. Then I lightly steamed several areas of the purse to give the fondant a nice patent leather look.

"No wait Julie! That's not the cake! That's really my purse!!"

After all of that it just looks like the side of a mailbox.

With a delicious chocolate filling, of course.

The party's over and Julie was left holding the bag. But I don't think she minded holding this bag. She may be forty, but she'll always be fabulous to me!

Happy Birthday Jules!