Saturday, January 5, 2013

Well, Hello Hello 2013!

Happy New Year 2013!
I hope that these first few days of the year have brought you all happiness and optimism that 2013 will be THE year. I know that is my outlook.
I ain't gonna lie, 2012 was rough. When jokes were made about the fiscal cliff, my response was, 'Makes no difference to me, we fell over the edge months ago.'
The benefit of falling over the edge is that gravity takes hold and you pummel to the bottom at breakneck speed. Because of this, I am confident that we have reached the bottom and the only direction that is left is up.
2013 will be the year of the climb.

With every new year comes a new round of resolutions I fail to keep. This year is no exception. I hesitate to call them resolutions this year. I am taking the 'Whatever happens, happens.' approach.

The list:
1. Drink more water.
2. Become financially organized.
3. De-clutter and purge the house of all unnecessary items.
4. Go to church.
5. Make healthier food choices.
6. Start writing. (the blog, the 3 book ideas I have in my head...)
7. Learn some French.
8. Learn to sew.
9. Be a better wife.
10. Be a better friend.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Let Them Eat Cake: Day Two

(This is the look I came up with the night before)

As gorgeous as the inspiration cake is from my post from day one, I know my limitations. I know what I can do and what techniques I can pull off and which ones still need more practice. I didn't want to take on too much so I sketched out my idea first and then attempted to recreate it. 
This was my first real time working with gum paste. I had dabbled before but never really had that much practice with it. I followed the instructions on the package and let it cure. I had a figure mold that I was hoping would make the job easier, but for me it was a big fat fail. For some reason the gum paste would stick in the mold and tear when I tried to take it out. I tried it again, this time making sure that I greased the mold first. Again, it tore. It might have had something to do with the obnoxious heat, I am not sure. I ended up freestyling the form and the head and hand molded them. In the end it worked out beautifully.  
I added additional detail that I didn't include in the original sketch (like the bow in the back, which I love). 
For the cake I used a recipe for a doctored up cake mix. I chose chocolate. For the filling I had a jar of strawberry-champagne jam in the fridge from Cost Plus World Market that I used for the filling. I thought the champagne flavor was appropriate for the French theme I was going for. I made a vanilla bean frosting for the under-coating for the fondant to stick to. 
I had intended to use royal icing to do some of the detail but in the end was too tired and lazy to make some. I used fondant and gum past to complete the details (such as the trim around the bust, the red mouth and the details for the up-do). I was very pleased with the results and can't wait to explore some more ideas for next week.
Below are pics of the finished product...bon appetite!
(Marie Antoinette, just in time for Bastille Day)

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Spring Garden Tour 2012 (aka Too Hot to Handle)

A post from April 22, 2012 that wasn't posted for lack of pictures. The camera went missing for a bit.

A few years back, my mum, grandmother and I took the garden tour. It is put on by the Modesto Garden Club every year (which I found out today is the largest garden club in the US....who knew?). Last time we took the tour the weather was a little warm and I was wearing the wrong shoes. By the end of the day I was pretty uncomfortable and, towards the end, it made for a somewhat miserable trip. This was unfortunate because some of the homes chosen to be on the tour that year were homes in Modesto that I had always secretly spied on from afar and was now afforded the luxury of seeing them up close.
When my grandmother wanted to know if I was interested in going again this year I thought I would give it another go and made sure to wear the right shoes and the right clothes so that I wouldn't make the same mistake as before.
The valley has had a pretty mild spring. Just last week temperatures were more like those that you would find in the winter months. Just the day before yesterday it was only 75 degrees, today it was 92.
It started out well enough, the walk wasn't all that unpleasant and some of the gardens were lovely. I was able to realize another dream today as well.
When my brother and I were younger my mother would treat us to frozen yogurt and then would drive us around the older neighborhoods in town while we licked our cookies and cream or chocolate mousse and we would gawk at all the beautiful homes and wonder what it would be like if we actually lived in them. Every time we did this my brother and I would beg our mother to take us to the 'castle'. There is a house in Modesto that looks just like a castle. It is made of brick, has turrets and a massive front door. If my brother and I dreamed of living anywhere in town, this house was it.
This house was on the tour today and I was able to finally see it up close. I strolled past the koi pond, skipped around the tiled swimming pool and ate cookies by the outdoor fireplace. It really was a silly old dream come true.
After that, things started to go downhill pretty quickly.
I began to not feel well. I made the mistake of staying up a little too late the night before at a party and the next morning didn't give myself enough time to eat breakfast or to properly hydrate myself. I began to pay the price for it. I tried to fight through it because there was no way that I could complain to my mother or my grandmother. I was the youngest one there, I couldn't be the first to wimp out. We made it through the first leg of the tour (and I swear that we were the only ones that actually walked the whole thing) and stopped at the Yogurt Mill to cool down. I knew it was worse than I had thought it was when I wasn't able to finish my treat. At the next house, I didn't go in and waited in the car...I was no longer sweating...uh oh.
Luckily my mum recognized how miserable I had become and took me home. I ended up sleeping through the rest of the tour and the rest of the afternoon.....ugh, I'm pretty pathetic.
Maybe next year I'll get it together so that I don't embarrass my mother and my grandmother.

(The 'Castle' on Magnolia)

Let Them Eat Cake: Day One

(Gorgeous cake from Cake Opera Co.)
When I stared back to work, baking came to a complete halt. In fact, I haven't taken on a cake project in over a year! Can you believe that? Last year I made the mistake of taking on two cakes in the same weekend. Although both turned out lovely, I was exhausted. I also realized that I wasn't being compensated nearly enough for the amount of work that actually went into making a cake (A good article for those that really have no idea is THIS one from Mother of Cakes). I stepped away. I didn't think that I would be gone so long. There were a couple of times that I thought about breaking out the ol' cake supplies and building a cake just for the heck of it but ultimately I lost the motivation because I would remember just how time consuming it was.
For some reason now, in the middle of a valley summer in a house without air conditioning, I have found the motivation.
I don't know if you know this but Style Me Pretty has a cake gallery with over 1400 photos of different wedding cakes and today I looked at them all and saved some to my Pinterest board for inspiration. Towards the end of the album I reached these gorgeous cakes from Cake Opera Co. and knew that I would have to try to recreate them.

(I really LOVE this one with the white wig)
Now for those that have seen my cakes on this blog might be thinking, 'Jen, you're cakes are awesome but they are a little elementary to those edible sculptures that the Cake Opera Co. has created. Girlfriend, I think you might be out of your league on this one.' (I believe that all four and a half of my readers use the word 'elementary' in everyday conversation because they are all gifted and brilliant. They also are not so snobby to immediately follow it up with a 'girlfriend'.)
This is why I have to try.
I set aside my other little hobby and made way for cake to take over.
I started to crochet again and found a terrific toddler sweater pattern that I was able to use as a base for creating my own. The pink is for a 2T, the blue is for a 0-3 months and the striped one will be for a 0-3 month as well. These little puppies whip up in no time at all. 
I went on a little shopping spree today but found some great deals so I didn't spend all that much money. My eyes lit up when I found the Circle Cutter at the Hobby Lobby and using the weekly 40% off coupon (that can easily be pulled up on a smartphone) made it a steal. I picked up the CK Gum Paste Mix at Edward's Cake Supply. Wilton makes one as well but is a little bit pricier. I have several recipes for gum paste and have always been leery of using it. I love the way that it looks when done right. I bought the mix because it seemed simple enough to make (just add water) and the entire bag was comparable in price to the tylose powder (that would have to be added to other ingredients to make gum paste) that I had originally gone in for. See that figurine mold in the back there? That is my little secret weapon for the cake I want to make. I have a lot riding on that little mold, it better not let me down. 
The gum paste was a breeze to mix up and clean up was easy as well. I have read that gum paste, if stored correctly, can last up to six months. I made sure to date mine. Gum paste has to cure for 24 hours before using. Later tonight when it is cooler I will bake up the cakes and mix up my marshmallow fondant. I am going to try to make do with the cake pans I have for the body of the piece but I am thinking I might have to invest in a doll pan. I might have to make another trip to the Hobby Lobby. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Food Break Up

It has been two full weeks and I have to admit, I haven't been perfect. I was super excited at losing seven pounds so quickly but then nothing. Not another pound. I had almost given up yesterday completely when I shoveled a sugar cookie and two fun sized candy bars down my throat...but then a funny thing happened. The crap food didn't satisfy me the way that it used to. I was looking  for that satiated feeling after eating a fatty, carb filled, nothing but sugar, piece of garbage. It didn't happen. Instead my mouth rolled over each piece of chocolate as if it were a foreign object. It tasted strange, almost plastic like. The chocolate felt like it was coating my tongue like candle wax.
I had found out that my favorite foods were no longer worth it.
I will miss you cheap milk chocolate. I will miss you sugar cookies (you are now far to sweet for me). I will miss you Flaming Hot Munchies. I may miss you most of all. McDonald's? I am so sorry to leave you behind. Your french fries and chicken sandwiches got me through a lot of emotional battles and for that I will forever be grateful to you for standing next to me as a fellow soldier. These goodbyes are bittersweet.
A few years ago I quit smoking (for the most part). The Mr. can't stand it and it really is an immature behavior as well as being one of the worst things you can do to your body. I had dodged urges for a cigarette for months. At one point I couldn't take it, I bought a fresh pack. I indulged in a pricier brand because I told myself  'If I am stupid enough to buy these awful things then I should have to pay for it out of the wallet as well.' (I fully believe that the government should tax the sh*t out of nicotine. Hike up packs to $15 a piece. It would help the deficit and if it forced people to quit because of the price to smoke then it ends up a win-win.)
I unwrapped the plastic coating and pulled back the paper surrounding the cigarettes. Each one lined up perfect, each one matched the neighbor next to it. I pulled one out and could smell the sweet earthy aroma wafting from the tip. I flicked my drugstore lighter and singed the end of it. I inhaled.
It tasted gross.
I inhaled again.
Still gross.
I repeated this process until the cigarette was nothing but the filter. I felt sick. Where was my mellow buzz? Where was that thing that takes the edge off? I had craved it so much and fantasized how it would make me feel. What a let down. All I had was stinky hair, stinky hands and a dry mouth. My head started to spin a little bit, but not in the way I had hoped. I could feel my stomach wanting to evict its tenants. I managed to keep everything down but it was an effort and now I felt awful.
Cigarettes had betrayed me and now junk food had followed suit.
Just like cigarettes, I am sure I will still have moments of weakness. Like that awful boyfriend during the time of bad decisions,  I am sure that I will have urges that I cannot control, duck into a convenience store or run to a vending machine. I am sure I won't think twice to suck down a Butterfinger without chewing. The difference this time is that the feeling that I will be hoping for will no longer be there.
Fine junk food, if that is how you want to be then I don't need you.
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