Sunday, March 21, 2010

Working with fondant

I made M2's cake for the party yesterday. I made and used fondant to cover the cake, which was a first for me. I'd never made or worked with it, so the whole time I was making the cake, I was sending up prayers to every deity I could think of that the cake didn't wind up a flop. If that had happened, I would have had to make an emergency run to the grocery store for a store-bought cake, which would have absolutely devastated my little girl. She had drawn a blueprint of her cake at school and brought it home to me weeks ago.

Failure was not an option.

I made the fondant first, a day before I made the cake. I have now learned that making this much fondant may have been overkill, but after reading forums about the devastating mental effects of trying to color-match fondant later in the game, I figured overkill was preferable to that scenario.

I made marshmallow fondant, since the flavor is supposed to be better than traditional cooked fondant (I wouldn't know, so I was going on blind faith), and it was pretty easy to make. 16 oz. of mini-marshmallows mostly melted in the microwave, a few tablespoons of water, any coloring that you want, and about 2 lbs. of powdered sugar. Coat your hands lightly in shortening and knead till your arms are sore.

Then knead a little bit more, just to cover all the bases, especially if you're new at this and relatively paranoid.

Next comes the cake(s):

That was the easy part, making and leveling off the cakes. I probably could have done that much in my sleep. Not that I did. But I probably could have.

I covered the top layer first, because it was smaller. I coated it in plain white buttercream icing before covering it with the fondant, because the fondant has to have something to stick to. And the smoother you make the buttercream, the easier it is to smooth your fondant.

I may have agonized over the smoothness of my buttercream for an inordinate amount of time.

I may have OCD.

Rolling out the fondant was another adventure. I got one of the extra-long fondant rolling pins and some rolling pin guides to help me out, because I didn't want the hassle of trying to get it rolled exactly even and then having one guest get 1/8" of fondant on their piece and another person get stuck with 1/4". That wouldn't have been a good thing. And rolling pin guides work remarkably well.

Fondant, on the other hand, is HARD to roll out. After my hands got tired, I *may* have used my forearms to keep rolling, and my forearms *may* be somewhat bruised after all this work.

Just sayin'.

But! I got them covered, I got them stacked (with cake pop sticks cut into lengths as dowel rods - because I didn't think of buying actual dowel rods beforehand - and a piece of cake display tray cardboard cut into a heart shape underneath the base of the top layer to help keep it all steady - and it worked!), and I got it all moved onto the foil-covered display board with only minimal mental anguish.

I think Oz was very grateful that it went so smoothly. He knows I tend to get a little bit worked up over these things.

Finally, it was time to decorate, and that was the easy part! The fondant took the buttercream beautifully, and it was actually fairly easy to wipe off any minor mistakes that were made, which was a bonus. And adding the flowers on the sides of the cakes allowed me to cover up any minor imperfections in the fondant.
And so, on that note, I think I might actually work with fondant again!

Wonder what M1 will want for his birthday...?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Party day! *sniff sniff*

My girly-wirly had her fifth birthday party today. She has some very dedicated friends. I know this because, for the second year in a row, I managed to schedule her birthday party during the only snowstorm in March.

I'm THAT good.

But we plowed ahead, nevertheless, figuring that if we planned it, they would come.

So I decorated (supervised by the small girl attached to the head you can see part of there at the bottom).

And I decorated some more (Oz helped, too!)

And I made the cake (that post will come in a day or two).
And, thankfully, people did show up. Lots of them. M2 was in her element. People. Lots of them. I think she darn near died and went to heaven. She promptly hauled everyone back to her room and M1's room and shut them in closets.

Well, some of them. And to be fair, the ones who were shut in closets were typically there voluntarily.

It's kind of like watching circus clowns, only with small children. Amazing how many of them can fit comfortably inside M2's tiny little closet.

But after a while, I rounded up all the munchkins and sat them down for an art project. I had originally planned to have outdoor activities, but those ideas kinda got cancelled for me, so a panicked run to Michael's netted me a bunch of $1 wooden crafts (heart-shaped boxes for the girls and wiggly snakes for the boys) ripe for painting. Armed with dropcloths, paper towels, and lots of courage (and drafting parental supervision along the way), we painted. I had, in my house, 13 children simultaneously painting. And we only had two incidents, one being my daughter painting her own dress. The other involved a boy and a sock.

That's collateral damage I can live with.

I would have taken pictures of their beautiful creations, but the camera battery had decided to tell me it was running low just as I was taking the picture of the decorated table, and I figured that the cake shots were better than the craft shots and that extra few minutes of battery charging time was worth it.

I think I made the right decision.

We had lunch, too, beautifully catered by Chick-Fil-A and their party trays that Oz graciously went - in the snow - and picked up. And I made fruit salad. And we had pink lemonade. And nobody spilled anything, and the children all ate happily, and the adults all ate happily, and all was right in the world. I think it was the most hitchless party I've ever held.

Lunch was, naturally, followed by CAKE TIME!
Don't you love my daughter in her strappy little sundress with 2 inches of snow through the window behind her? She loves central heating; she just doesn't know how much.
I plan to blackmail her with this photo some day. She'd probably die now if she had seen it.

Which is why she hasn't.
It was interesting to watch her open her gifts. I heard noises come out of the girl that I haven't ever heard out of anything other than those hens that you get at the Fourth of July. This was one of the items that caused such a shriek. Tom & Jerry movies were another. She got excited about everything, for which I was very grateful, because sometimes trying to get her to be thankful and happy for gifts is like trying to get a turtle through a crosswalk at rush hour. It can't be done without a lot of mental and physical anguish on everyone's part.

She even went and said thank you to everyone individually when she got done.

This picture - please ignore my husband face-down on the carpet in the background... he had a nap attack that just couldn't be stopped - shows the only casualty of war from the day. M1 and one of his best friends were play-fighting with swords, and M1 got lightsabered right on the side of his nose.

I'm trying to decide if he'll have a black eye tomorrow or not. It's been about 8 hours, and he says the spot "itches."


Friday, March 19, 2010

Dinner Extraordinaire

M1 made dinner for us last night. He occasionally does this. He likes to cook and has since he was teeny tiny. I used to just let him do things like stir together cold salads, but he's tall enough to reach over the counter and stovetop now, and his hands are big enough to hold knives (though I'm still selective about what he chops), so sometimes I let him cook.

Last night, his menu sounded delicious.

We started by making the dessert, since it had to chill in the fridge.

Looks gorgeous, doesn't it?

It tasted completely nasty, though, and that was NOT the boy's fault. The whole recipe was a disaster from beginning to end. I had my doubts but figured that people who make Disney cookbooks actually used real people instead of lab rats to test the food before they published.

I may have been wrong in that assumption.

But he worked hard to make it, and I am still very proud of him.

The rest of the recipes came out of this cookbook that he got as a gift a year or two ago. He really likes it.

He wanted to make these:

and these (which I may have had to help with because by the time he got the carrots peeled, there was only 15 minutes left on the meatloaf timer and I needed to expedite the process):

Here's a cute little video of the meatloaf-making process. I'm a "mean" mom and make him do all the work himself where he's able. Please ignore the attention-seeking girl in the background who is wanting photos and videos taken of HER. She does like to be in front of a camera.

And then he filled the muffin tins and cooked the meatloaves and served them, and all (except the bizarre dessert) was good!

My boy is getting too darn big.

So is my girl. Birthday party pictures impending... along with snow pictures. Also bizarre.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tea party!

I don't really have any pictures from the tea, mostly because A) I don't ever remember to take pictures and B)... OK, nope, there is no B. I'm just not a good blogger that way.

I have these teas about twice a year. Sometimes it's a Mother/Daughter event, sometimes just moms. This time it was just moms. I also have to limit it to a dozen adults because I break out the good china!

This is my great-grandmother's china. It's nearly 100 years old - will be in 2017 - and was a wedding gift to her from her family in Germany when she and two of her brothers got married on the same day in a massive triple wedding in Kansas. It's not expensive china, but it's really pretty and has survived very well, obviously. It's a setting for 12. I don't see the need for it to sit there unused in my cabinet, so I get it out for my teas. I think my great-grandmother would have liked that.

I make quite a bit of food for my teas. I always make pavlovas - usually two of them. If I didn't, I think several folks would be sorely disappointed! Everything else varies. This time I made lemon squares, snickerdoodles, a pumpkin roll (jelly roll with pumpkin in it and filled with cream cheese frosting), and a French silk pie (that Oz was QUITE upset that he wasn't getting to taste test).

Then I made a little something for each lady to take home.

The attached silverware is a knife to cut the fudge with.

I love having my teas. It's the perfect excuse for us ladies to escape on a Sunday afternoon and come vent and eat desserts together. I see why the Victorians loved it so much! I'm already thinking about having another one in September. Maybe we'll include the kids.

Then again, maybe not. :)

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Cabin fever

My husband caught cabin fever the other day.

So he talked me into getting a new one.

Not a log cabin, thankfully.

A car cabin.

Meet the car, a 2009 Chevy Impala LTZ.

It's a nice car. It really is. But when someone tells his wife that car buying is not in the plans for the weekend and then he drives home a car for a test drive (while said wife is PMSing), one should not expect a happy little response.

I'm just saying. Consider it my public service announcement for the week. It took some convincing to talk me into letting him get this car. I hate car payments.

But it is a nice car, and we did get a decent price on it. And now Oz has a vehicle with a working air conditioner and a working heater and which isn't going to OVERheat on the highways, all of which were problems that his truck had been having. He's elated.

I think he also likes the fact that it's a bit sporty-looking and has lots of gadgets. Since he's grown a moustache and goatee and gotten a younger-looking haircut (and is a self-proclaimed gadget whore), I think the car fits his new self-image... even if *I* am the one who made him grow the facial hair in the first place.

I have also been relieving some cabin fever this week.

Spring is in the air! It's 63 and mostly cloudy outside right now, which is warmer than it's been in months, and even the birds are having a day out.

It's not often that the neighbors get geese. Usually they land on our pond or on the pond of the folks who live cati-cornered from us, neither of which are good places for me to take pictures. So I had to snap this shot.

M1 and I are having a worm hunt on Tuesday. It should be all sorts of fun.

Off to go start prepping dinner now. Chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, and blackberry cobbler.

My man is extremely spoiled.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Fun with bacteria

One of the curricula that we're using for science has a LOT of fun experiments in it. Some of them are a bit in-depth, and a few are just too plain complicated, but sometimes the perfect experiment come along, and you just have to carpe diem.

Recently, M1 was studying all the different kingdoms of organisms, and that included studying eubacteria - the bacteria in the air that we breathe, live with, and otherwise cohabitate with every single day.

The experiment?

Grow bacteria.

We used the recipe in the science book to make a beef-broth/sugar-flavored gelatin and let that set up in foil muffin cups.

Then, we experimented. One of the muffin cups was the control, one was rubbed all over with a dirty finger, one was licked, and one was rubbed all over with a freshly washed finger (the same one).

The cups were placed an empty dresser drawer in M1's room, and we waited.

Oh, and we made our hypotheses. M1 actually thought that the clean finger would be the cleanest, followed by control, dirty finger, and that his tongue would be the grossest.

And I completely agreed with that tongue bit.

Here are the results:

I can only guess that his tongue was extremely dry when he licked this, because clearly it's at about the same level as the control.

So our results were a bit unexpected. I simply explained to M1, though, that this is how the scientific process works and that's why you have to have a procedure you can replicate!

The added bonus of these results was that M1 now thinks that sucking his thumb (a bad naptime habit of his) is completely and utterly disgusting, because if his tongue is THAT clean and his thumb is THAT dirty, he won't ever put it in his mouth again! :)