Monday, May 18, 2015

Paul's 32nd Birthday Cake

My husband's birthday was today, and birthdays=cake! But he isn't really a cake guy. And I love making cakes! Cakes=love! What kind of cake do you make for someone who doesn't really like cake? A brownie, of course! I baked brownie batter in 2 6-inch cake pans and then stacked them with an extra cake layer in the middle (more on that later), covered them in ganache, and shaped the ganache into a barrel. 
Then I covered a wooden board with fondant in a wood-grain pattern. 
Next up, fondant on the barrel, but it needs something more...
That's better! I finally got to use my airbrush on a cake, and I loved it! 
Then it was time for detail work. 
This project wasn't without struggles... I tried a lot of new techniques, like gelatin decorations. Gelatin is a tricky medium, but it's really cool. I had no idea it could dry completely hard. I used it to make Elsa's cape on Ellie's cake, and I figured it would be good for a wine bottle. I was wrong. 
As it dried, the gelatin warped, and the result was not very pretty. 
Another not-so-pretty part of cake making is color mixing. It can be quite messy and difficult to mix up the colors to that just-right shade. 
But in the end, despite the setbacks, all the effort and time that goes into each detail is worthwhile. 
I borrowed some leaves from our grapevine to make the leaves as realistic as possible. 
I like this angle, wine pouring in. 
The label was easy: just food marker on a fondant rectangle. 
Jacobs Estate Winery: Birthday Blend! I ended up pouring colored chocolate in a wine bottle mold since the gelatin bottle failed, and even that didn't work out perfectly, but it turned out good enough for a midnight finish. 
The wine glass was a gelatin success, with minimal warping. Gelatin decorations are technically edible, but plain gelatin, no sugar, and a hard plastic texture do not make for good eating. At least it looks cool!
Here it is, the whole cake. 
We had some fun at cake cutting time. 
Not nearly as yummy as the real deal!
About that middle layer... Remember that gender reveal cake? I made a pink and blue layer to avoid a time crunch, so I had an extra pink layer that I didn't want to go to waste... Paul only ate the brownie part, but the kids were so excited to eat fondant, brownie, cake, ganache... Everything!
They ran around like sugar high maniacs after presents, but even so, I think Paul enjoyed his birthday! Happy Birthday to my love!

Baby Cake

It is so fun to find out the sex of a baby; I remember we couldn't wait to know about our three... I was never very good at guessing, though. The only one I was right about was Anthony. Not big on surprises or secrets, we shared the news pretty quickly with all our friends and family. I don't mind being in on someone else's surprise though! 

My friend Kristen is pregnant with her second child, and she asked if I could make a smash cake for big sister Harper to help reveal the sex of baby #2 to the world. I was eager to help, though a little nervous about the timetable because the sonogram was on Wednesday and the reveal was on Thursday... not a lot of time to bake pink or blue! (Fun fact: I just went ahead and baked one of each color!) The other tricky thing was that Kristen wanted to be surprised by the cake along with everyone else, so the ultrasound tech texted me the result and then deleted the text from her phone!

No suspense here... this was the inside of the cake. 

They wanted the cake to be simple and white on the outside with the colorful cake and icing inside for a cool reveal, and then because the cake would be smashed and not really shareable, I made a dozen cupcakes too. Some pink, some blue, all with the right colored icing inside. That way people could choose a cupcake based on their guess and then bite in to see if they were right.

I put a decoy of both colored sprinkles between icing layers, and it totally worked! In the video, Kristen says, "I see both colors!" Awesome!

I wasn't able to go to the big reveal (sick kiddo), but I got to see a surprised mommy and a happy daddy (and a confused toddler) on video. I'm so glad I got to help create this fun moment for a lovely, growing little family. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother's Day

First, if you're a mom, I hope you got the Mother's Day you wanted! I like mine low-key, drama-free, and with piles of artwork the kids made at school, with their dad, and on their own. 

Lucky me, I got all that this weekend... Plus a few other things, like a visit from my parents, a dance recital, sick kids, and some cute/clever gifts. 

But first! The crafts... This is actually a craft I got the kids to make for their grandmothers (because they're mothers too, and let's face it: I have no idea when Grandparents' Day is, and you can never go wrong with a kid-made gift). 

All we used was a plain white canvas and some washable paint. 
Katie and Anthony painted the blue, all 3 painted/printed the sun, and Ellie painted the words. I thought it turned out cute, and my mom loved it too. 

The other craft is one I had nothing to do with. Paul got the kids to make me some "unconventional flowers" with TP rolls, staples, dowels, and paint. He even photographed them while they made them because he knows how much I love to see the process. 

I didn't get a good picture of just the flowers, but you can see them on the right side of the picture. Very pretty, totally unexpected, and so creative! Paul did well! In keeping with the unconventional flowers theme, Paul also got me a dozen flours (ever seen "Stranger Than Fiction"?), which I thought was awesome! And a pasta maker to use some of the flours. So fun. I appreciate a good themed celebration. 

Needless to say, I felt the love. It was also great to see my parents and little brother and celebrate my dad's birthday. 

Now I just gotta hold onto the warm fuzzies and pray for my two Littles who are battling fevers and colds to get better.



My dad's 60th birthday is tomorrow, and he and mom came to town for the weekend. Naturally, I had to make him a cake. 60 is kind of a big deal. But what sort of cake does one make for a man who has played so many roles, gone so many places, done so many things?

I went back to his career and passion. He practiced neurology for decades, and he loves brainy things, so I made a brain cake with an EEG background. 
He loved it. After we sang Happy Birthday, he meticulously performed brain surgery so we could all enjoy a piece. All that was missing was a nice Chianti, maybe some fava beans. 

Happy Birthday, Dad!!! I love you!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Just because it's what's done doesn't mean it's what should be done.

I don't often watch movies that don't have animated singing animals, so when I get the opportunity, I prefer thought-provoking films instead of light-hearted ones.

A few weekends ago, I took the girls to see Cinderella. I know what you're thinking... It's still a kid movie! Yet... It isn't. Not exclusively. Honestly, I had initially thought that there was no way I would take them at all because who knows what Hollywood must have done with the story, and live-action movies are just not their thing yet (thus the animated singing animal theme I mentioned earlier), so we'd wait for "Frozen Fever" to show up on YouTube and watch it then; forget about Cinderella. But then I heard... It's unexpected. It's beautiful. Its message is... Meaningful. So we went. And Cinderella was beautiful, unexpected, and more. A familiar story to which we all know the ending still had me on the edge of my seat. Tears welled in my eyes several times as I watched the sorrow and cruelty Cinderella had to endure. I never understood why she just took it, I thought to myself. Why didn't she leave? How did that evil not harden her heart? Of course anything can happen in a fictional story, but I'd like to believe that Cinderella's goodness is attainable in real life too.

I looked for the quote but couldn't find its exact words... When the prince asks Cinderella whether her stepfamily is nice to her, she replies something to the effect of "they treat me as best they know how." She doesn't blame them for their cruelty; she knows how broken her stepfamily is and serves them despite their ingratitude and abuse, despite how little they deserve her self-sacrifice.
She's nice... but there's more to it. She isn't a pushover. She has grace and courage that transcends her dire circumstances. Courage is not just big and bold. Her courage is quiet, but it gives her the strength to both accept her circumstances and serve her stepmother and stepsisters.
"Have courage and be kind" are the words her mother leaves with her, and Ella's loyalty to her parents are the reason she endures everything.
Does she have some superhuman ability for forgiveness? Or just strong convictions and ideals?
Patient endurance attains it all.
She didn't wait around wishing things got better. She made the best of what she had and found the goodness. It's not about our circumstances; it's about our attitude and our abilities to see beyond our situation. A little magic (or luck) doesn't hurt when it comes, but she never relied on it. She used it when it came, but she didn't let it change her or transform her. She was grateful for it, but she stayed true to herself at her core, and that's the thing about something truly beautiful. Its light cannot be extinguished or covered up by anything, so she shone through the sadness and darkness. And won. 

The biggest win, though, was not marrying the prince. We demand justice when the oppressor is finally brought down, but here we learn of something bolder, something that required more courage and kindness than many of us can muster: forgiveness. The strongest line in the movie is "I forgive you." Delivered with the perfect amount of strength and sweetness and even a hint of innocence which whispers: "you did not destroy me."

Some have argued that Cinderella is a passive victim and not a strong role model for young girls, unlike Merida or Elsa, who break free from their oppressive lives to find who they truly are... But I disagree. Cinderella knew who she was from the beginning. She didn't need to break free to "find herself," and she didn't gain her worth from the struggle for others' acceptance of her ideals. Her strength came from within. What a refreshing view in a world that tells us that we are only valuable if others accept our views or agree with us or like us. 

I could go on, even into parallels with Christian morality... But my writing is rusty, and my time is limited.  

For some far more eloquent commentary and reflections, go here
(you won't regret it!)

On a mostly unrelated note...
Another movie I recently watched (this time without kids) was Interstellar. I know I'm totally late to the discussion, but I liked it, and I have so many thoughts about it. The big one is: if the earth does become uninhabitable, should we seek out other planets to live on? (Assuming the means to do that actually exist). Or should we just let the human race die? Honestly, I have way more questions than comments or answers, because of course I'm trying to fit this fictional world into a world that is consistent with my understanding of God and eternity. So assuming scientific plausibility, would it even be moral or ethical to seek out a whole new world? And to colonize it, if such a world exists? How does that fit in with our understanding of salvation? I don't think that seeking a new planet is morally wrong, but I also don't think it is necessary. I think the world will (and should) come to an end, and us with it, so that we can go on to the next life. I don't think that we should seek out to continue the human condition at all costs, because this existence is not our end goal. Of course without a belief in God and eternity, there is nothing beyond this life, so I understand the desire to continue humanity for all of eternity, but I believe the human story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. And the universe is a place that gives us awe and wonder and curiosity... And even the drive to explore and improve our human condition... But I also believe it is so vast and never fully attainable or comprehensible to us in our smallness. It isn't and wasn't meant to be. And I'm ok with that. Looking at pictures of space equally thrills and terrifies me. 
Tangentially, I do believe in the possibility of extraterrestrial life, even intelligent life, which then makes me wonder if God has a plan of salvation for them, wherever they are, if they exist, if they even need one. 
Anyway, the absence of God or faith in God in Interstellar makes it so that the only ones who can save humans are themselves (ourselves?). It's just a totally different kind of salvation. 

I know this blog is mostly for sharing my crafts and cakes, but if you have any thoughts/comments/answers about this stuff, please comment. I'd love to hear other people's ideas, especially about Interstellar, because I've searched for discussions about it but only find the science being discussed. Never the morality, and that is what interests me.