Friday, July 29, 2011

Happy Birthday, Grandmom!

My grandmother turned 93 last Thursday. I was chided last year for driving all the way out there on a week day (which was her birthday last year too) so I was told to come on Saturday this time. My mother's sister was in town from Utah, and her brother and his wife were there, and my folks, and Jack joined us too. Since I knew I wouldn't see her on the actual day, I asked my mom if I could make a special cake.

When my Etsy friend Seddy posted this cake on her blog, I knew I had to make one for my grandmother. She used to collect butterflies. I remember spending visits at her home looking at all the butterflies - butterfly ceramics, plates, plaques on the walls, magnets on the fridge, paintings, bed sheets. Butterflies everywhere! When I see butterflies fluttering, I think of my grandmother and her vast butterfly collection. A lot of is has been given away when she moved from her house to the senior community apartment. I knew this cake would be perfect.

I had never worked with gum paste before, so I played with it a bit and made the sand castle that went on Jack's cake. I was pretty sure I could figure out how to make butterflies. Then Seddy posted this butterfly tutorial on her blog and I knew my grandmother's cake would be a reality! As you can see, it was more than a month ago that I started working on this.


Even before I saw Seddy's tutorial, my dad had helped me gather supplies: a butterfly cookie cutter, gel food coloring, paint brushes. So the first step was making butterflies, so they'd have plenty of time to dry and stiffen up (and so I could make several attempts if my gum paste skills proved inadequate).

Rolling Gum Paste

First, roll out the gum paste. I used my fondant roller and the smallest bands so each butterfly would have a uniform thickness.

Cookie Cutter

Next, cut the shape with a cookie cutter. I didn't actually do one at a time, this one was cut after I had gotten three or four out of the same clump. Just ball up the remains, roll it out, and cut again.

Painting Butterflies

Painting the butterflies was really fun! Seddy's cake sported thirty confectionery lepidopterans. I ended up with twelve and I was sure that would be plenty. I used four colors; teal, pink, purple, and golden yellow and painted them in layers. So, each butterfly got a base wash, then an accent of another color, and then a small detail with a third color.

Painted Butterflies

Seddy said her butterflies looked the best when they were all lined in black and I completely agree. Here are my painted butterflies!

Butterfly Boats

I set them gently into little boats made out of foil so they could dry with their wings slightly up. I think this really makes the in-flight effect. It wouldn't look nearly as neat if they were all flat on the cake.

They were all set aside to dry, then eventually put into a container until it was time to decorate the cake. The moisture from the icing can soften gum paste, which would make droopy butterflies! I didn't actually put them on until we got back from lunch and were ready for cake. The whole butterfly-making process took a good two or three hours, but I took my time with it, and found it a very relaxing and enjoyable task.

Lemon Cakes

Friday arrived and it was time to bake! My mother had heard of the terrible time I had making Jack's red velvet cake so she told me not to do anything fancy. If I used a box cake, no one would care. So, box cake it was! I don't think I've ever had a box lemon cake.

I wanted to do something special to the cake anyway, so I threw a handful of blueberries into the batter and added some frozen lime pulp. With all the heat we've been having, I figured a nice refreshing citrus cake would be delightful. I added some baking time to account for the blueberries and ended up with more of a dense pound cake. No big deal, pound cakes are yummy!


I prepared the layers. I used lemon curd in the middle, but lined it with icing to help hold it in. Lemon curd is a lot like the stuff you find in lemon meringue pie. We served it at the VA Renaissance festival on biscuits.

Iced Cake

As I was icing the cake, I realized that one can of lemon icing just wasn't enough. I threw the cake in the fridge and ran back out to the store. The can says it can do two 8 or 9 inch cakes. I don't believe it. I used about a can and 2/3.

The whole thing got thrown into the fridge for about an hour before I braved the heat driving to Jack's place. The cake sat in the fridge there too, so it wouldn't melt too much in the hot car the next day and it really would be cool and refreshing.

We came back from lunch. I gently nuked the remaining icing and started placing the butterflies. The icing on the cake was hard from being cold, you see, so I needed something slightly gooey to set the butterflies in. My aunt hovered as I worked. She was really amazed that they were edible and really impressed that I went with butterflies (because her mother collected them, of course!).

Butterflies on a Cake

The big light in my grandmother's kitchen burnt out just as I was ready to place the butterflies on the cake, so getting good pictures of the finished cake wasn't easy. My aunt took some also. Maybe her camera has a better flash than mine.

The Butterfly Cake

Ta-da! The completed Butterfly Cake! I'm glad I only had twelve butterflies, that was really plenty.


Doesn't that look delicious! Everyone said the taste of the cake was fantastic and the butterflies were beautiful. We did taste them too (poor butterflies!). Gum paste tastes like nothing, but sweet nothing, and the painted colors didn't really have any flavor.

There is a funny end to this cake. Jack and I took the rest with us. We met some of his friends in Rockville to see Captain America, and then I hung out as he and his buds played Godlike. We brought the cake so they could finish it. The icing liquefied in the hot car while we were in the theater! I'm pretty sure it was still tasty!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Just a Few Memories

Just some images I took in the 2004 sailing season on Gone with the Wind.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Gift Just For Me

Sometimes, my sweet kitties will leave me presents to find when I get home from work. It could be a dead, half-eaten spider on the dining table, or a chewed-up plastic ring from a milk jug, or just a toy mouse under a rug for me to step on. A couple months ago, it was 1000 origami cranes in a nest of broken glass on my hearth.

Yesterday, I came home to this.

No, that's not blood. It's wine! The really funny thing is that I don't even remember opening this bottle of wine. It was a bottle of Black Swan Rouge from Far Eastern Shore Winery, a very tasty blackberry Cabernet. Since reds don't need to be chilled, it just got corked and put back on the wine rack. Since I don't remember when Jack and I opened this bottle, I don't know how much was in there, but I don't think more than a glass or two had been consumed from it.

I believe Phantom was the culprit. He had been acting like he wanted to get under or behind the wine rack for a few weeks, like his favorite toy was back there, and I have known him to play with corks. Somehow, I think he found this convenient cork just sticking out and gave it a tug with his teeth. That puddle in the upper middle of the above picture is where the cork ended up.

What resulted was not only the wine pouring out directly into Miss Luna's food dish (the one to the right of the green fish, full of wine) but a spray akin to contents under pressure. No reason for a previously opened bottle of wine to be under pressure, but it spewed forth nonetheless.

The bottle in question is in the right column. From the top, there's a box port, then a bottle of Mayan honey wine, and then the open bottle of Cabernet.

Here is some of the spray on the clothes dryer opposite. Really, I'm baffled as to how it got that far! And the splatter spread out from there. It's even on top of the chest freezer that's directly to the left of the dryer.

Now, since the wine sprayed out like it did, it does make me wonder how much of it got on the unsuspecting cat - and how much he had to lick off!

There seems to be about two glasses left in the bottle, pretty much whatever didn't hit the mouth when the bottle was horizontal. Lesson learned. Open bottles of wine do not get put back on the wine rack! And it was the perfect opportunity to have a glass with my dinner.

I got this wine from one of the wine tasting festivals that Jack and I went to this summer. Everything from this winery was really good. There are a few liquor stores in Maryland that carry it in stock. I might have to send my mother out for another bottle of it! At least there was no glass to leave tiny cuts in my hands this time.

UPDATE! It has been brought to my attention that the cork may have just given up the ghost on its own. I thought I saw little teeth marks on the cork, but it is cork and hard to tell. After I had cleaned the mess, Phantom tried to chew on one of the other bottles too (completely sealed, so I'm not worried this one will burst). Still, I might be blaming the cats for nothing.

Monday, July 18, 2011

His Gift

Jack's birthday was yesterday. Since I've been crazy about baking, I decided to make him a cake. I decided this about a month ago, but I had gotten his favorite kind of cake out of him before that. Do you remember this post where I talked about messing with gum paste? It's time to put that little castle to use!

Jack told me his favorite cake is red velvet. This presented several problems: I've never made a red velvet cake, not even from a box, and that's not usually the kind of cake you find decorated. Jack dresses like a hippie every year for Halloween, so at first I thought I could do a tie-dye cake like this. But, red velvet to me is a more elegant cake, and I think finding it under something crazy like tie-dye icing would be a shock. Don't worry, I'll come back to the tie-dye cake.

So, I had to come up with something elegant to top a red velvet cake, and still be fitting for the person and occasion. Taking inspiration from one of my favorite blogs by an Etsy friend, I decided to play with gum paste. Jack had been talking about going to the beach a couple times this summer, and we had a lovely time in Cancun, so a beachy themed cake seemed appropriate. As you know, I made the sandcastle topper about a month ago. To keep it elegant, I didn't make a huge topper - it's about three inches across.

Onward to the cake!

Box cakes are fine, but I felt this would be more special if I made it from scratch. I found this recipe and went out Friday morning to get the ingredients I needed (minus the pecans because Jack is allergic and I've got my own decorating in mind). I wanted to make three layers (also something I've never done before) but I only had two cake pans, so I picked up another at the store as well. I hit the first problem. Shoppers was completely out of red food coloring. I did manage to find it at Walmart (and they're renovating and stuff was all over in no logical order, it's amazing I found it at all!). When I got home I realized I had picked up only half of the cream cheese I needed. Back to the store!

Mixing Batter

Now with three cake pans and all ingredients, I got started on the cake. I only have whole wheat flour; this is important for later on. It bakes just like regular flour, but I can taste the difference.

Adding Red Dye

The red food coloring in the mix was quite the thing! I kept thinking of the "bleeding armadillo cake" from Steel Magnolias. I evenly measured the batter and the three pans went into the oven.

Perfect Cake

Doesn't that look splendid? I was so proud of my pretty cake. Then I took the other two out of the pans.


PANIC! (Is this always going to happen when I'm baking? Can I make a cake without a moment of panic? PLEASE????) My two older pans did not release the cake, even though they were greased and floured just like the new pan. They came out from the middle, and the sides and bottom had to be scraped off. The cake was delicious! But, I only had one layer and that was not going to work! Because I had gotten started so late and I didn't have enough ingredients to whip up another batch (namely, the red food coloring was out), I ran out to the store again and grabbed a box mix and another new pan.

Take Two

I split the box into two layers so I'd still have a three-layer cake. I mostly did this because I didn't trust my old pans. I could have added more layers fine, but I didn't need another cake crisis.

Mixing the Icing

While the cake round two was in the oven, I mixed up the icing. It's pretty much cream cheese and sugar with a touch of vanilla. This is also my recipe for fondant but in different portions (more sugar, less cream cheese). I had to 'test' the icing with my crumbly bits of cake. Cook's prerogative!


My two box cake layers came out just fine so I leveled them (tested that bit too) and stacked them. The icing at room temperature was a little drippy, so I put the whole thing, cake and bowl of icing, into the fridge for 15 minutes. I then finished icing the cake while it was cool but not firm.

Iced and Lined

In trying to keep the elegant look of the cake, I made some shell-shaped chocolates to line the base. There's really nothing fancy about this kind of chocolate making. I used Wilton's Candy Melts that I bought at Micheal's in white and dark chocolate with a shell mold. Just melt, pour, and let harden. I froze them to speed up the cooling process and because they're very melty when being handled.

Shell Chocolates

I think Jack was most impressed that I made the chocolates. At first he thought I had bought them.

Castle Topper

So, I placed my little gum paste castle on top. I added a red gum paste bucket that I filled with brown sugar "sand" to complete the look. I then sprinkled the top with brown sugar, gold cupcake gems (tiny little flakes of golden sugar), and little candy pearls.

Completed Sand Castle Cake

Ta-da! The Completed Sand Castle Cake! The whole baking and constructing of the cake took a good seven hours. It would have been much less if it wasn't for the pan fail! Jack could tell that the middle layer was my from-scratch cake because it was a brighter shade of red than the other two. He also said it tasted better. Yay! That was the first time I made red velvet cake so I'm glad it turned out yummy. I thought that the whole wheat flour was obvious, but if that's what gave it a better flavor to Jack, I'll happily use it again.

We met some of his friends at his favorite Burmese place for dinner on Saturday and then saw Harry Potter. He and I spent Sunday, his actual birthday anniversary, lounging around watching old episodes of NYPD Blue. We also managed to get in a little True Blood (I think I'm one ep behind now) and A Game of Thrones (I'm way behind here, I've only seen 5 eps). I felt bad because we really didn't do anything for his birthday, but he said it was a perfect way to spend the day. If he's happy, I'm happy!

Next cake: Butterflies for my grandmother! Her 93rd birthday is Thursday.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Public Service Announcement

DO NOT sign up for a "risk free trial" from or They say you have 10 days to review the product before they will start automatically charging you nearly $100 every 45 days. They did not give me 10 days, they gave me 6. But they said the thing was delivered two weeks ago. I can't account for that. My mailbox locks with a key and the package did not show up until last Thursday.

The "risk free trial" is bullshit. Don't waste your time, don't waste your money.

I'm allergic to the product as it is, so if anyone wants a true risk free trial, contact me and I will give you a 25 day supply. But stay far far away from this company!

Friday, July 01, 2011

Burn Scars

I think I removed one of my favorite freckles.

I had a line of three on my right forearm that reminded me (and everyone) of Orion's Belt. Orion is my favorite constellation because it was the first one I could recognize and I always knew where to find it (and the three freckles that reflected the 3 brightest stars in the constellation on my arm. How many people have a star pattern on their skin that wasn’t a tattoo?).

But I burned my arm reaching into my oven on Saturday, right across that line of freckles. The last one got the worst of it. I don't think it's going to come back after the burn heals. *cry*