Monday, March 31, 2014

Tree Branch Wedding Cake

Finally, my cakes were good enough for someone to seek me out and pay me to do a cake.  It started as a bridal shower cake that was going to be plain white with a car that has a just married sign hung on the back with tin cans hanging.  But soon it turned into the wedding cake itself.  Cue the freak out.  This means business

I had one grainy picture from a text message to work from.  The idea was a plain white cake with a tree branch going up it.  Couldn't even distinguish the type of flowers.  The week before the wedding I got the added info that the bride like black and white.  (Note: I wasn't working directly with the bride but someone who was purchasing the cake as a gift).

I searched the Internets high and low for a good tree branch cake example.  And let me tell you, they are few and far between.  Most that I found were on a single layer cake (I had planned for 3 tiers) or they were really chunky.  Not the looks I was going for with my first paid gig.  This had to be spectacular.

During the search I did manage to find some examples of dogwood tree flowers that I really liked.  I at least had a flower idea to move forward with.  Since I didn't have a shape to use to cut these out of fondant, I drew something on a piece of paper then traced it onto the fondant with a sharp knife.  They turned out great once molded and put together.

This cake was scheduled to be picked up Friday night so I started by making the 3 sizes of cake on Thursday evening.  I went with 6", 8", and 10".  My first instinct was  to do 6", 10" and 14" (4" between sizes for 2" around each tier) but when I went to buy the 14" cake pan I realized I could probably feed 100+ people with the cake if I went this direction and I only needed to feed around 50.  The sizes I picked actually turned out perfectly.
Middle layer getting chocolate buttercream icing

Best tip: flip the top layer of each tier upside down for a smooth/flat surface to work with

Since these cakes had edges straight from the pan (ie: nothing I had to cut exposing the middle which has a lot more crumbs) I was able to do their icing very easily.  I watered down the buttercream enough that it was super smooth yet not running.  I laid in it thick to cover the edges of cardboard each tier would sit on.

The final step to layering the cake included placing dowel rods into each tier that would hold another tier on top.  I just placed them about an inch in from the edge of the tier above and 2 inches apart.  Then I dropped (yes literally held it where I thought it would be centered and dropped it while saying a prayer).  Once the tier is placed there is no moving it.

Once they were stacked I created a border between each tier so they didn't look so rough and made it look like a uniform cake.  Then I made tiny fondant balls and placed them within the border.

Ready for a picture?

Isn't she a beauty?

Doing the branches that crawled up the cake was a go with the flow procedure.  I just grabbed a handful of fondant and made a thick bottom then I thinned it out as I moved upward.  I knew that adding a limb after the fact wouldn't look good so anywhere I thought a limb would look nice i just squeezed some fondant to the side.  Once I got to a stopped point I ripped off the extra fondant and molded a final small limb.  Then I went back and created all the other limbs.  I had one branch climbing up the entire cake with 2 small branches each spanning 2 tiers on the front then an additional small branch on the back.

You can see the border a lot better here.

The top of the cake is always the big question for me.  What do I do.  My go to has always been a stack of flowers.  That's how my wedding cake had been done and I've seen it online for cakes so I went with it.  I placed a big blob of icing then laid 4 flowers around it and a flower on the top.  

The final step was a light dusting of silver shimmer over the branches, inside of the flowers and border.  I accidentally used a wet brush when I started on the branches and found out a really liked how it gave a textured look to them since I was almost "painting" them.  For everything else I used a dry brush and dusted the powder on.  You can see a bit of the veining in the above photos on the branches.  The shimmer is so light that it doesn't really photograph but in person it is noticeable.

Well now I can take that out of the books.  First wedding cake, DONE!

Have you been to any weddings yet this year?  The Season of Love is soon upon us!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Thomas Cake

My oldest niece turned 3 right after Christmas.  Finally after everyone got over being sick in their house, we threw a party to celebrate.  This year the request was for a Thomas the Tank Engine themed party.  Since I helped out last year by making her cake I offered to do so again.  I figured a well known character would be easier than a character I had never heard of (Kipper from last year is a British TV show character).  Not so...

I searched around Pinterest for ideas on how to create a Thomas the Tank Engine cake.  I filled my Cakes/Cupcakes board with quite a few tutorials and googled the heck out of images of Thomas.  It slowly started to come together as I worked on the cake but I had my doubts until the very end.

My mess of a kitchen.

I baked a large sheet pan cake (approximately 4 boxes of cake mix) on Thursday for the party Saturday. I broke the large sheet cake into some smaller pieces (but not so much that it wouldn't be large enough to use) then placed in the fridge overnight. On Friday morning I pulled everything out and built the cake.  I used multiple layers and shapes and did a layer of icing between everything to make it stick.

Building the layers.

I placed this back in the fridge just a bit for it to "harden" up some.  This makes it a lot easier to ice without tiny pieces of cake crumbs being loose.

A good ol' "dirty" icing

This is the point where I found out due to sickness the party was cancelled and freaked out.  Then I consulted Lord Google himself and found out I could freeze the cake.  Guess I could have figured that out myself being that our wedding cake is still in the freezer sitting around for another bite at year 3.  So I placed this into the freezer to harden up the icing before wrapping it.  The next day I pulled it out quickly, wrapped with Saran Wrap and placed back in the freezer until who knows when at that point.

Once the party was rescheduled I pulled out the cake Friday afternoon before the Saturday party.  I spent the evening putting a thicker layer of icing on the cake.  It went on nice and smooth since the "dirty" icing left a better surface to work on.  Then I layered it in fondant (trying not to think about that tough task) and did all the little decorative elements.

Layer of fondant on.

Starting to look more like a train.

Top view.

Thomas himself (I made this way early so it would harden, it's from fondant as well) and train wheels (fondant circle with icing spokes)

Railroad crossing signs.

Train Tracks.

Saturday morning I was up early and assembling the final touches.  I also had to make the cupcakes that I was bringing to the party because I'm never sure how many my cakes will really feed.

For your viewing pleasure: Thomas the Tank Engine.

Happy Birthday sweet girl!

Like I said, in the end I liked how it turned out, but I was doubtful during the process.  Not perfect but the birthday girl was happy and that's all that matters.

So glad this bad boy survived an hour and a half drive to the party as well.

Any birthday parties you've been celebrating lately?

Friday, January 31, 2014

Organize It: The pantry

On to the next spot in the house needing some organization.

I don't remember how we lived without the huge open kitchen and ample pantry area in our first house.  In all honestly we didn't really have less stuff but when we moved and had more room, every nook and cranny was still full.  I'm not sure how it happens, but I bet you all know the feeling.

I blame it on organization.  In the townhouse I tried to keep things very organized since there was so little space.  Things were grouped together, stacked, placed in boxes, etc.  I might have had to move something to get another item but that was the way it would all fit.  When we moved and started deciding how to organize the new place, we spread out a bit more.  The small plates weren't stacked on the large plates which were on top of the serving plates.  There was no longer stacks of 4 glasses but each sitting by themselves in the cabinet.

The pantry for the longest time was the catch all for kitchen items that had no place.  The land of the misfit kitchen items.  It was becoming a problem though.  A problem that needed fixed before it got too out of hand.

Hey you lovely mess!  Don't be fooled by the few organized areas.  Or the fact that I removed some items before I remembered to take a picture.

I pulled everything out and spread it out on the kitchen table and counters.  I started grouping everything together that once put back in would sit in one spot.  We have serving platters, storage containers, pastas, baking supplies, all the extra paper towels we buy in bulk (why do we do this?!), knives, the griddle and foreman.

I could barely fit half of these items in there without warning people to not open the doors.

Don't forget the random s'mores supplies next to the soup and tea bags.

Next step was to think about what we use most often.  What items are just stored in here.  How to I fit the most item into the space.  How can I configure all the boxes to not take up valuable shelf space.

Top shelves

Drink at the top.  We don't drink very often so this doesn't have to be handy.  This is also all the extra that doesn't fit with the liquor and things.  We're hoping to find a wall mount wine rack we can use in the dining room.  We also have a large serving bowl and some gallon drink containers if we're mixing something up.  Hidden to the right is the griddle and foreman.

Next shelf down has a lot of my baking supplies, the cupcake stand which holds various items as well.  We have a large seashell shaped serving bowl (from my wedding shower) that holds all the ready to make pastas (yes, these are a staple in our meals).  Then on the far right is the pasta in Oxo containers and cereal.

I love the organization this bowl of pasta gave us.

Bottom levels

I forgot a picture of the one level that is cut off in the above picture.  It has pancakes mixes, our knife block, soup (which we buy in bulk as well), breakfast bars, oatmeal.

Next is a lot of the storage items we buy in bulk (paper towels, napkins, ziplock bags).  Then cans dressing, other supplies that last longer.  To the right (which you can see below) is all our snack stuff like chips and cookies.

The bottom shelf and the floor house all the party supplies, boxes of serve ware and coolers.

Lookin' good.

The organization of the pantry has definitely made daily life a lot easier.  I know I said most items aren't used frequently, but something in here is used at least daily.  So opening the doors up and knowing exactly where to look is nice.  It's kept up petty well so far (a few days) so we'll see how this set-up works for the long haul.  I'm sure there will be some adjusting.

Do you buy any items in bulk?  Any handy tips on organizing a pantry you'd like to share?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Organize It: The ribbon box

Today starts me cleaning of the catch all room.  As I've mentioned before we bought a much larger house to become our forever home.  It has rooms we don't even use.  Heck, the kitties have full reign of the 500 sq. ft basement that I rarely see.  The one thing I think our house is really missing is a proper mud room.  I live in Ohio people, 80% of the year the weather sucks and I have wet, muddy, or snowy shoes that need removed and a coat to take off and hang.  Our laundry room is right across from the door we enter through (from the garage) and we place all shoes and coats here.  But when I walk in the house with my arms full of stuff from shopping, it goes in the catch all room.

This is also known as the craft room, the office, the back room, the workout room....the list goes on.  We just got a cable box for back there so I've been spending more time in there cleaning up and organizing.  To organize the whole room though, there are a lot of little things I must organize first.  I'm getting there, tiny bits at a time.

Enough rambling.

For a few years now I've had a box thrown in with my scrapbook stuff where I store ribbon.  Spools, tiny pieces, from gifts, scraps I find.  Every little bit!  I started by throwing out the worthless stuff then went ahead organizing the rest.

Nothing too scary right?

WRONG!  Pop that bad boy open (well actually it wouldn't even shut) and you have an explosion!

I tried to roll them up then lay into the box, but they kept unrolling.  No bueno.

Laying nearby in the crafts pile were a bunch of twist ties left over from small clear plastic gift bags.  I usually use ribbon to tie them up instead but have kept the twist ties.  I decided to give them a go.

At first I wrapped it under and around, but I found that it was squeezing the ribbon too much.  If it stayed like that for a long time, when I go to unwrap and use sometime it wouldn't be smooth.

So I switched to tying from one side to the other.  I left it loose, squeezed it tight and then twisted.  These seemed to work great.  Bad description, let's look at some pictures.

Looking neat and pretty

Thick ribbon, thin ribbon

Rope and chord

Patterned and solid

Alright, that's starting to sound a bit like a Dr. Seuss book.

I organized it all.  Every last piece got wrangled up and twist tied.

Ahh, organized

I'm happy with the results and that everything now fits into the box.  Part of the reason the box never shut before though was because of the spools of ribbon I have.  A few I took off since there wasn't much left, but other larger rolls have been tossed into the crafts bin for now.  Organizing that is another day.

Nice.  Clean.  Organized.

And that my friends is the tale of the ribbon taming.

What are you organizing around your place?  Or are you waiting for Spring cleaning to really kick you in the butt?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Apple Cider Cupcakes

I never claim that the cupcakes I bake and show you guys are imagined in my own head.  Because truth be told, I'm not as creative as I like to think I am.  I do claim that I LOVE cupcakes and baking though!  Decorating/Icing cupcakes is definitely my idea of a fun time.  Feel free to check out my entire Pinterest Board dedicated to Cupcakes.

So let's get to it and look at some fabulous Apple Cider Cupcakes (recipe found here).  I've been dying to get some apple cider to drink all Fall and this was the perfect excuse to buy some.  Since I only needed one cup there was A LOT left over for me.

Forgive the bad lighting, that's what you get for taking pictures at 5:30 am

Sprinkled with cinnamon and drizzled with chocolate

Two major critiques on these cupcakes and icing.
1.  The cupcakes were dense.  They seemed more like muffins to me in that sense.  Oddly, I made caramel apple cupcakes a few weeks ago (and a friend also made another recipe for caramel apple cupcakes last week) and they were dense too.  I'm wondering if it's an apple thing.
2.  The icing was very runny.  I had to put this in the fridge just to get it to set up enough for me to frost them all fancy.  Even the left over that was in the fridge for a week (and I snacked on) never got very hard.  Maybe I'm just not use to it since my icings are usually pretty thick.

I like the cupcake MUCH better than a candle as the centerpiece!

Have you baked anything delicious lately?  What do/would you spike your apple cider with?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

It's looking like Fall around here

First off, Happy Halloween!  This post is JUST making it is time to be semi-relevant since there is Halloween stuff involved.

I blogged about the fabulous built-in shelves that live in my living room here, but never really did anything with them.  I can't believe I have been in the new house 7.5 months.  It feels like just yesterday, but in the same way seems like it's been forever.  I guess that really proves it's our forever home when it feels so right.

Before: my current style was decorating with cards apparently.  And yes, I can't reach the top so much doesn't go there right now until i find good permanent pieces.

Anyways, back to the shelves.  I figured they would be my main decoration display feature during the holidays, but then realized we aren't in that room too often, so I wouldn't get to see very much of what I put out.  So I walked around the house looking for some other rooms/locations to get festive with.

I can never decide how to decorate during the Fall since Halloween and Thanksgiving both Fall within the time span so I decided to do a little bit of everything.  I'll be taking down the extra Halloween-ey stuff this weekend and leaving the Fall decor up till Christmas (or maybe New Years at the rate I'm going).

The built-ins did get a little bit of spiffing up.  I traded around some pieces, tried to de-clutter a bit and pretty much threw whatever didn't go elsewhere.  The jar of corks got moved from their usual spot on the mantle (stay tuned this is my favorite decorating spot) and the bowl with the large orbs got swapped for some fall colored items.  Burnt orange has always been my decorating taste since buying our first house, so this time of year is perfect for many of our things.  Lots of what gets left out year round fits in.

After: Lamp got moved in here, still working with a good placement of it.  All the cards are gone leaving less clutter but a lot more dead space, both good and bad.

The little, round table in our foyer is fairly new.  My parents are down-sizing and I am taking all the things they don't want.  It's getting bad, my husband hates it, but we DO have a large house to fill.  I'll stop when there are no more spaces left which we are far from.  After accepting this from my parents I realized one day it was the table that use to sit in the upstairs of our old house (not the one they are downsizing from).  So glad we could find a space for it in our home.  Memories....

Before: Very boring...just a little lace doily.

I attempted to put a cob-web up on the railing at the stairs but the cats were "re-decorating" it every day and finally I gave up.  I'd like to make this a nice spot to hang a banner throughout the seasons.

So the table got the "cob-web" on a candle stick and fall basket.  This doily was swapped out for this place mat and another candle and acorn dish were thrown down.  Ignore the ugly Halloween tin on the bottom.  It stored a lot of the little things and never got back to storage.

After: Any ideas on how to decorate these walls, they are B-O-R-I-N-G!

In an attempt to add some festive flair in the kitchen/breakfast nook, I threw up this bat garland (which I had bought for the dorm in college) and added a spooky sign.  I love buying items from the craft stores right after the holiday when it's all on sale.  That's how this little guy came into my possession.

After:  Just spiffing up the pantry door.  (For the before just image those two items not there, good).

The dining room, another area rarely used but walked through a bazillion times a day, got a few pieces as well.  The lazy susan lives on this table and is always holding the large hurricane vase which was a wedding present.

Before:  Oh look, daylight in this photo.  Another room that really needs to be more put together.

I change out the candle and filler for the seasons.  I have yet to lite the short, fat, three-wick candle that came with it.  I'm weird, I hate lighting candles.  So I have about 5 pumpkin scented candles all over the house but none are lit.  The table runner is another hand me down from mom. :)

After:  Yes I have a fabulous corner hutch back there I could have decorated, but I didn't.  Not enough decor for all this space yet.

By far my favorite place to decorate is the mantle.  It's in the family room so I see if every day and stare at it all evening.  It really is a blank canvas in general.  When we moved in we added the mirror, hoping to bounce some light around in the room and the clock usually stay up there too.  To the right is the entertainment center which is another great spot to decorate but I didn't.

Before:  Isn't he fabulous?  We just had our first fire in there last week

I tired to play with varying heights but am not sure I quite succeeded.  This guy will definitely get some tweaking until I find the perfect decorations to use.  Again, a garland or banner would look great here (like the before picture but my husband insisted that one get taken down).

After:  Mostly a hint of Fall and Thanksgiving with a nod to Halloween using the crow.

So there we have it.  Trying to spread my minimal decoration around the house.  I'm hoping to score some after season sales on other items.  Since this was the first time decorating this space during this time of year I really had to get a feel for what more I wanted/needed.  I learned I definitely have a lot more space to work with than I really thought.  I can only go up from here though!

Do you decorate for Fall and Halloween separately?  What's your favorite spot in your house to decorate?

Monday, August 26, 2013

A Day in the Life of Me

I've been trying to find a day that is semi-normal.  That I'm doing at least something consistent that I do every day but besides waking and going to sleep (only to some extent) I rarely have had a typical day this year.  Working killer amounts of overtime will do that to do I guess...and selling a house, moving into an apartment, buying a house, moving into said house....the list never ends.

So what follows is a "typical" day in the life.  I'm breaking from norm and not following a single day but Doing A mash up of my days.  And actually life has recently gone back to normal only in anticipation of in completely changing again.  So without further adieu, a day in the life.

5:30 am  
The alarm on my phone goes off.  How is it morning already?  I browse facebook (a lot happens after I go to bed at night) and delete all the 'spam' from my email while laying in bed and trying to wake up.  The light from the phone helps.  My friends think it's funny I reply to all kinda of things at 530am as opposed to midnight like they do.

5:35-6 am
I don't believe in the snooze button.  Never have and never will, not even in college.  If I'm gonna hit the 5 minute snooze 3 times, just set the alarm for 15 minute later.  Snooze sleep is worthless anyways.  If I wake up naturally within 15 minute of my alarm going off I just get up because otherwise that semi-sleep isn't worth it to me.

Now that I'm off that tangent.  This time is me getting ready for work.  Mostly just standing in the bathroom half that time still trying to wake up.  I don't like to shower in the morning because then I have to blow dry my hair which I prefer not to do, I have enough split ends without ever using a blow dryer.  So the morning is really just washing my face, putting on some basic make-up and getting dressed.

6 am
Head downstairs and grab my lunch from the fridge.  Make sure I have my purse, wallet, phone, work computer bag and anything else I may need that day (like a gym bag).

6:10 am
Heading out the door.  Make sure I have parking money (it's never fun to pay in quarters) and get the stereo set.  My commute can take anywhere from 30 minutes (when I leave early like now or any time before) to 45 minutes (typical traffic if it's busy) to 2 hours (when there is a lot of snow or accidents).

One bonus of working so early I get to see beautiful skies every day (PS: Don't take pictures and drive).

7 am
By this time I've walked into the office from the parking deck.  It's a small lot (the cheapest) about 2 blocks from my office.  Sit down and power up the computer.  Usually just 1 or 2 other people are in at this time.  In my office people come in anywhere between 6 am (yes I was doing this for a long time) and 9:30/10 am.

From here on out I do different things every day depending on how far along a project is.  I'm a civil engineer.  I design roadways and put together plan sets.  I also work on document control of really big projects which involves lots of emails throughout the day.  Recently I began keeping a list to help keep my email organized.  You have technology but it always comes back to basic pen and paper.  Throughout the day I take some various break.

Some plans from a job at work

Sometime between 9:30 and 10:30 am
Take a few minutes to have some breakfast.  Likely oatmeal.  If someone brought something into the office I'll eat that instead.  I can never refuse a free donut (or bagel).  Depending on when I take this break I'll check up on some blogs.

Someone brought in mini muffins for me to enjoy with my peach oatmeal

Sometime between 1 and 1:30 pm
I take my hour lunch break.  Usually I've packed something.  It's typically left overs or else a salad.  My new favorite is salad with corn, chicken, colby jack cheese and ranch dressing.  If people in the office are going out to lunch this usually happens around 11:30 so my eating schedule is altered (or I just skip breakfast).

4 pm
This is the time I leave the office on a normal day (like what I'm trying to document).  As long as I'm not in the middle of something I head out by 4 otherwise I wrap things up and then head out.  When I pull out of the parking garage I play the 'Which Way to Turn' game every day.  And if there is a game in the city, that makes it even more fun.  It has tookmTook  minutes to get the 5 blocks to the highway before (and that's even been in good weather).  Being downtown kind of stinks, but I usually make it out in 5 minutes or so.

Peace out CLE.  (OK, this is from an evening I worked sunrise to sunset, not cool)

5 pm
I like when I get the opportunity to visit the gym.  We are members of our college's Rec Center which is super fancy and as alumni it's actually the same price as a membership elsewhere.  I say it's so nice because the classes are included and there is a pool (though I've only used both those perks a handful of times when I was a student).  Mainly l like it because there are MULTIPLE tvs, with tons of equipment and a lot to choose from.

And this is only about a quarter of it.  Not including the weight area, the rock climbing wall, the lazy river/whirlpool/hot tub pool, Olympic sized pool, fitness classrooms, various courts...

A workout usually includes the elliptical, stair stepper and the treadmill (sometimes the stationary bike to change things up).  I spend in total about an hour at the gym.  I like to go at 5 pm because Dr Phil is on (don't judge me) and the drama is enough to make an hour pass quickly.  Although other times someone has messed with the TVs and you're stuck with Friends' re-runs.

If I'm not headed to the gym I usually get home and try to relax or organize the house for a bit.

6:30 pm
I'm home from the gym or bored of sitting around and it's time to do something.  I'll shower and pick out clothes for tomorrow.  If you've never picked out your clothes ahead of time I seriously recommend it.  I use to pick out stuff for the entire week on Sundays.  It was so nice and also a lot easier when in college and you didn't have to think about what to wear.  Now I have to consider what is going on at work, are we going out to lunch and walking somewhere (no big high heels), what is the weather like...  A day ahead seems to work out very well though.

7 pm
Hopefully we're eating dinner by now.  If we haven't decided what to eat by now I threaten to eat cereal (which I love and leaves my husband to peanut butter and jelly).  We are HORRIBLE meal planners.  Mostly because we are both picky eaters and neither of us is big into cooking.  I don't want to spend 30 minutes or more prepping and making a meal when I've been gone from my house for the past 12 hours.  Definitely not ideal to me.  While some love to cook, I love to do other things around my house or just relax.  My time in the kitchen usually involves cupcakes mostly.

Brought these in last week.  Chocolate cherry, yum!

8 pm
By now something has been eaten and we've cleaned up.  Spending time in the kitchen usually leads to me putting away mail, organizing our 'drop zone' and packing food for the next day.  Sometimes I'll get a load of laundry in too.  I have a problem remembering to move stuff to the dryer from the washer or emptying the dryer, so unless I am nearby, very little gets done.  This is why I usually spend an entire weekend day doing a TON of loads to get laundry done.  I've also recently made our kitchen table the spot to put everything that needs put away still from moving into the new house.  There are just SO MANY THINGS!  We're getting there very slowly.

(Because a day in the life isn't complete without at least 1 of my kitties)
He's clearly "helping" with the laundry...

9 pm
By this point I just want to relax.  My husband gets home at least an hour before me (and he leaves 30 minutes after me, call me jealous) so he usually has control of the remote during the evening while other things have been going on.  So around 9 I always head upstairs to get ready for bed and watch some of MY tv.  I'm usually flipping through the channels unless a series I watch is on.  Otherwise I'll watch old shows.  Right now there is really nothing on, so I've become obsessed with house shows again.

10 pm
I threaten to lock my husband out if he doesn't come upstairs.  I hand over the remote and let him find something to watch because I'll soon fall asleep while he is up longer watching television.  I never had a tv in the room I slept until I got to college and now I couldn't live without it.

10:30 pm
I'm shutting the lights off and asking for the volume to be turned down to I can get some sleep.  Dreading doing it all again the next day.

Thanks for taking a second to peek into my daily life.