Monday, September 27, 2010

Cake #2... All Done!

So I have finally reclaimed my kitchen and office. In the past 2 weeks, I've baked enough cake to feed 350 people. Yowza.

This last one, however, was fulfillment of a promise I made nearly 15 years ago. The bride has been my friend for a long time and is the last of our core group to be married. We 3 others in the "pack" used to joke that we'd wear the tartiest dresses we could find - in fact, we'd delight in picking out the most inappropriate dresses we could find on our quarterly shopping trips (and our ages ranged from md-40s to nearly 70) and we'd tell Bride that "that's what we're wearing to your wedding."

I'd kid her that she'd better get married before my hands got too old to do her cake. And finally, that day came. The Groom looked a little stunned. We all laughed during the ceremony, held outside, when it started to sprinkle. It must've discombobulated the groom because he got all flusterpated and couldn't even recite the vows. Bride ended up cracking up and saying, "Close enough!" But seriously, the fun is what makes the ceremony memorable.

A deacon friend of ours (he officiated at our wedding) mentioned that he'd had a ceremony that morning "that was perfect; and the couple won't remember a thing. If you can't laugh or have one personal moment during the ceremony, it's pretty boring!"

Formal Wedding Cake
So here's the cake. Sorry the picture quality isn't great. My camera decided to flake out on me and the flash went wonky.

This cake was much more formal than the Softball Bride's cake. This is a yellow cake with chocolate buttercream filling and white buttercream frosting. The ribbons were ordered online and took me a good 2 weeks to find! They're cake ribbons, and the top one(as you'll see in a close-up shot) had Swarovski crystals in it. I could've put that ribbon on the entire cake except it was $20/yard!! The crystal-studded ribbon looked lovely when the lights were dimmed and the spotlight was on the head table. I have to find the link that I used; they did have ribbon where you could customize the colors of the crystals, but for the small amount I knew I wanted, it was easier to go with the plain crystal. Particularly since I knew what her topper looked like already. I didn't want to clash with it - I wanted to accent it.

The cake stand was something we found online, and I'm not sure I'm entirely happy with it. It does look crooked, and I think it would've worked better with a 3" cake that was torted (cut into thinner layers) and then frosted. This cake was (from the bottom) 16" x 2 (2") layers; 12" x 2 (2") layers; and 8" x 2 (2") layers. That's six layers of cake plus the filling. Maybe it would've worked better with less cake in the middle! At any rate, I can use it for a lovely cookie display for the holidays.

The chocolate buttercream actually made my hubby's knees wobble! Three words: organic dutch process. Oh. My. It was such a rich chocolate; you really got the scent and then the hit of chocolate in your mouth. The white buttercream kept it from being overpowering, and the overall effect wasn't a tooth-rattling sweetness, which can happen with some cake fillings.

I ended up glazing this cake with apricot preserves. That keeps it from crumbing too much and also keeps the cake moist. Only a few people caught the apricot. Usually it's a pretty neutral taste, but if you're good, you can tell!

I used Duncan Hines butter recipe golden. That's a lovely firm cake with a nice texture that holds up well.

Cake Top with Crystal Studded Ribbon
 Here's a close-up of the top of the cake. The cake topper was provided by the Bride, and my hubby had to make the base for it. She wanted it on the top, and we weren't sure, since it was lead crystal, if it wouldn't end up IN the top! We also put a piece of cardstock in the back so you could see what the inscription was.

It almost ended up on the floor!! We were watching, after the ceremonial "cake cut" to see when the wait staff was going to take the cake. And I happened to see Hubby dash up to the front. Look at the picture above. Do you see anything anchoring those cakes to the stand? That's because there ISN'T anything holding them in place. Except gravity!

The waiters were just about going to whisk the cake onto a bus cart. Hubby grabbed the topper and told them, "STOP!" and then explained that you had to take each layer off the stand; it couldn't be moved all of a piece. Whew! Disaster averted... till I saw how they were cutting it.

I think that I'll start including cake cutting diagrams when I deliver them. You know you have a problem when the woman says, in a somewhat snippy tone, "I know how to cut a cake." Well...any 4 year old can cut a cake. But do you know how to properly cut a wedding  cake? This woman didn't! The pieces ranged from clumsy chunks to slivers. I was disappointed. The other thing? They're cutting it and whipping it onto a table, but didn't bring forks out! Hello, people!! They finally got forks out for the guests.

One thing I did like was that they cut a certain portion of the cakes and then they put the remaining slices into lovely little cake bags. That is such a nice way to allow the guests to take the cake home, and hopefully it avoids waste of the cake.

Little Buddies...
 One more picture: the bride loves teddy bears. I couldn't resist parking these two next to her cake. Yeah, she probably has 6 or 7 of the same ones, but what the heck... I had to have a little fun! I put their names and date on the tag. Also, in their wedding card, I gave her two snips of the ribbon to put in her album. If nothing else, the bears are just a little bit of fun for a bride who's found the love of her life.

I am not sure that I want to do that many cakes in that short of time as a regular thing! I enjoyed the real creativity that I was able to use. Even this one: I was told "I want simple and elegant" and I think that's what I gave her. I did have some white satin ribbon roses, but it ended up that I really didn't need them. The complete simplicity of just the topper and the ribbon was enough.

No telling when my next cake will come about. Or what the subject will be. But to me, that's half the fun.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Latest Wedding Cake...

I've been doing cakes (the fancy kind) for almost 30 years. Whew! I counted it up when someone asked me, and it surprised me that it's been that long.

Normally, I do a couple of cakes per quarter; baby showers, christenings, the odd wedding. Well, this time, I seem to have acquired TWO wedding cakes in TWO WEEKS. The first one is pictured here. It was for 190 people, and the groom is military. The fun part was that the bride and groom are softball players.

It came about because I know the bride's sister. I've taken classes with her and she mentioned that her sister was having a hard time finding someone to do her wedding cake. I'm not sure if it was because of what some bakeries charge, if it was a matter of getting a design she wanted or what, but the wedding was about a month away when I told my friend I'd talk to her sister.

Here's my cake-making philosophy: I don't do fondant. I do home-made buttercream that even avowed "frosting-haters" will eat. I don't deal well with people who dither. I do my own interpretation of your idea and my cakes taste good. All of my fillings are home-made, too.

You are getting a really good cake for what you're paying - which is usually less than a bakery will charge you.

Batter up! Softball themed cake
Soooooooo. I meet the bride, we discuss what she wants. And she says that she wants a softball for the cake top, and it's a "surprise." Okay. We can do that! See the picture for how it turned out.

Originally, the bride wanted round cakes and sheet cakes. That's a trend that's a few years old. You make a "presentation" fancy cake and then the remainder of the cake is usually a sheet cake or two, which are basically undecorated. Makes it easy on the designer but it's kind of boring.

This was a white cake, with chocolate buttercream filling, and white buttercream frosting. I asked if she was wedded to the circular cakes. She asked if she could see a drawing or spec. Nope. I don't do that because half the time I don't know what I'm doing till the point where any reasonable bride would be panic-stricken.

But not to fear. I've never missed a deadline, and I've gotten rave reviews from everyone I've done cakes for. As you can see, there are stars on the side of the cake. If you look closely at the pillars, you'll see red, white & blue beads in the pillars, too. The groom's military affiliation is noted in these decorations. The stars are gum paste, which I cut out using a cookie cutter. Gum paste is "old school" and I love it! It's edible, tintable and you can do flowers, shapes and all kinds of things (including people if you want!) with it.

Play Ball! Groom pitches low-and-inside to bride.

You may notice the photo here: the "cake topper" was actually not on top! With the bride's request for a softball for the top, I had to do something with the darling figures she had - and I only had 6" pillars! So the happy couple went off on their own cake, complete with little bases set in. Obviously, not to scale, but fun all the same.

The border is actually a shell border. But if you look at it from a little distance, it almost looks like little softballs! Believe me, that was a happy accident!

Of course, upon delivery, there was a "fat-finger" moment. Everyone who's ever delivered a cake has those, and if they say they don't, well...they're telling stories! Every time you deliver a cake, you pack a "kit" in which you have an extra tub of frosting, a spatula, a bag with tip, wet cloth and extra decorations if needed. Believe me, you'll need them!

One time I was delivering a cake and someone cut me off in traffic. As I slammed on the brakes, I uttered a quick prayer to the "Cake Genie" that the cakes were ok. Well, the top went over a couple of times. So as my mom is telling the bride that the cake will be ready in a few minutes, "...and why don't you go check your veil and make sure your make-up is ok," I'm frantically making roses and re-frosting a good 2/3 of the cake! It was lovely when it was done! But it sure told me to ALWAYS bring a kit. Failure to do so will cost you because it will come back to bite you.

Top view showing softball detail
Here's another quick look at the top, so you can see the softball. I intended to do it with the star tip, but after looking at it, I ended up going "smooth" so you could see the stitches. It's tecnically not correct, because a real 14" softball has white stitches, but for this purpose, I used the chocolate buttercream. I ended up getting a picture off the Internet so I could be sure.

Did you know that 14" and 16" (a Chicago invention mainly) softballs have different stitch patterns? I didn't know that till I had to call the bride to figure out what size softball they played -- thanks to my assistant at the office who asked! Whoops!! It would've been a baseball otherwise!

This week's cake is the total opposite: basic and traditional. I'm not sure how it'll look yet; I'm frosting tomorrow. I'll take pictures and you can see what you think. There's a little more pressure on this one: it's my friend's wedding and this is our gift to her. I hope she likes it!

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Yes, it IS important...

I've been listening to and reading the news for a while and I've come to a couple of conclusions.

(1)  Democrats are incapable of fighting dirty; even when they try, it turns against them. I'm not sure if this is a fundamental part of their DNA or if people who naturally may be disinclined to fight are more naturally drawn to be Democrats.

(2) Republicans know how to organize and get their members all on the same (albeit crazy) page and script.

And (3) If Democrats sit on their collective rumps this November, we will have deserved what we have gotten.

You need to get involved. Not necessarily in a national way. Not necessarily being a "big donor"... but get off your rear end, quit complaining about how "nothing is getting done" and GO DO SOMETHING.  You have to be part of the change. Change doesn't happen when everyone is waiting for "someone else" to do it. Change happens when EVERY single person gets up and does ONE thing to change his or her world. Whether globally or locally - one person CAN and WILL make a difference.

Work on a campaign for something that is important to you. Work on a charity or for a cause that means something to you. Contribute, if you can, time OR money to a worthy cause.

Write letters. Make phone calls. TALK to people about why your issue is important.

Go vote.

Please, I beg you. Do not be one of those "my vote doesn't matter so why bother?" people. If everyone waited for "the other guy" to do something, what would happen? Not much.

There's been talk in the punditsphere that people are apathetic. The economy sucks (to put it mildly), corporations are acting in their own best interests by giving their CEOs huge bonuses and not hiring anyone to "cut costs." And they don't quite see that if nobody's working, nobody's spending... There's also talk that people who are poor and who vote Republican are acting against their own rational self interest. And they may be. You have Republicans in Washington who want to cut benefits for kids, the poor and the unemployed.

Kids? Who needs to worry about them? The poor? They're just not making enough money. Let them eat cake. The unemployed? Lazy buggers who don't deserve any jobless benefits.

Hey, guys??? Didja hear about the corporations who were NOT hiring and who gave their CEOs big bonuses for cutting costs? And didja notice that when people DON'T work, they DON'T spend??

My purpose is to persuade each of you to act in your own rational self-interest. If we lose a majority of seats this November, and if in 2012 the Republicans are back in power, it's going to be dark days for our country. Remember back, if you will, to the past 8 years. Bush created fewer jobs in eight years and he had a surplus to work with. We're mired in 1.5 unjust wars; we're spending our great-great-great-grandkids' money. People in this country go to bed hungry. Seniors worry about whether or not to pay the bills or get their medicines. Husbands and wives worry that the next round of job cuts will include their jobs. There's talk of another "Great Depression."

But Republicans in DC can say that Medicare is a giant "milk cow" and that Viet Nam vets get "too much" health care. And that there's "no money" to pay for additional unemployment benefits. Well, let me about taxing your corporate buddies (you know, the corporations who are now considered "persons" by the Supreme Court) when they ship jobs overseas? Those jobs are essentially "free" for the corporations. For tax purposes, overseas headcount "doesn't count."

Or how about we stop trying to fight wars everywhere and pay attention to the mess that is our own back yard. Wars cost a lot but somehow, there's always money for that, even if the war itself is an unjust act.

How can we change this? Maybe we can't make a sweeping change. Like pregnancy, it takes a while to get into this shape and it will take a while to get out of it. But that is no reason to weep, wail and sit on your backside bemoaning the state of things.

You need, now more than ever, to become involved. You protect your own self-interest by helping another person.

Go out and vote when elections come around. Go out into your community and see what you can do to help. First off, it'll make you feel good. Second, it's a great example for your kids.

Third -- it's the right thing to do.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Grandma's Pearls...

As I've said before, my grandma was a talented needlewoman. My mom sews up a storm and can do lots of other things, but needlework (the fancy kind: knitting, crochet, cross-stitch, embroidery)? Nope. Not her.

None of the females in the family except me - I'm the only one who picked up a pair of needles or a hook and went to town. I guess I've always like things that you do while sitting!

Anyway, I have a bunch of Grandma's needles and hooks, and I was lucky enough to have some of her swatches, which I am going to frame in a shadow-box arrangement. There are bits of stitch patterns, one baby bootie, some edging - just things you could tell she was trying out.

(top) white pearl lariat; (bottom) pearl rope with multicolor thread
And her pearls. Grandma did these ropes -- oh, I don't know how long ago. But I am lucky enough to have them. And I wear them. And everywhere I wear them, I am asked about them.

And reminded again - whether in my own mind or in the comments of others - of how lucky I am to have them. And to have had her to teach me.

The top ones are probably my most favorite. It's basically an I-cord strung with tiny little seed pearls and it's a lariat: I can tie it wherever I want and wear it however long I want. It's beautiful with a sweater set, a suit or my black velvet dress.

The bottom ones I actually snagged from my mom; I told her that since I was still working, I could wear them (and I do) with lots of outfits. This one is a rope that Grandma did with the variegated crochet thread. This is something I usually wear doubled, but the other day, I tied two knots in the rope and it was quite pretty. I wore it with a white tank top and a tailored oxford shirt (in blue) that I wore open as a jacket, with black chinos. The blue of the shirt really picked up the blue parts of the thread.

I have no idea where she got the pattern or if she made it  up herself, which is entirely possible. She was surprised when I showed her the "front post-back post" pattern in crochet because she had been doing that for several years, and calling it a "waffle" stitch.

I have so many of her items: baby afghans for the two boys. An afghan I've been using for 30 years on my bed. Stashes of her favorite yarns. A bone crochet hook, a wooden crochet hook, and many of the aluminum and plastic ones. These teeny-tiny steel crochet hooks she used to use -- at least on the pearl ropes for sure -- but also on the dishtowel hangers you put on your kitchen drawers. She crocheted the tops for hers. She taught me that. She taught me to knit.

She taught me that with patience, you work one stitch at a time, and then you have a finished object that's beautiful and useful. For years and years, if you're lucky.

Akin to the poem about "I Had a Mother Who Read to Me" I am thinking "I Had a Grandma Who Taught Me Needlework." The skills she taught me got me through lonely times, depressed times, sick times...sad times.

While neither boy has decided to pick up needles of any sort (though they do mend - I managed to tell them it's a very "manly" thing to mend your own clothes!), they appreciate what I do and they've benefitted from it. Countless scarves, each one getting a hat this Christmas. One afghan done, another one a WIP. Hacky-sacks, if I can figure out the *^&% crochet for making a ball!! Juggling balls that they use to amaze their friends.

I think my grandma would love the fact that I am carrying on her tradition. I have the afghan for my nephew's baby on the needles already, and while Grandma preferred crochet over all the other forms, I'm knitting the baby stuff. And I think she'd approve. She'd have loved the car seat blanket I've already got done. And she'd love this afghan, the hat and the booties. It's amazing. She's been gone a year already, and I'm not sure where the time went. Truth be told, she'd have been over-the-moon with the announcement of the new baby. That would've made her a great-great-grandma. I hope she knows and I hope she's smiling.

If you're a grandma who does this, teach it to your kids or grandkids. If you're a kid or grandkid, learn. Not because celebrities do it.

But because your Grandma can teach you. You'll love it. I promise.