Monday, January 7, 2008

Say What???

Well, first I would like to say thank you to my friend Sid for leaving that wonderful, highly confusing comment concerning my hypothesis that Newton has a lost law of physics which applies to frosting:

Silly Lawyer - My guess is that your frosting is an example of a non-Newtonian fluid (thixotropic fluid in this case), i.e. a liquid that becomes less viscous when stirred (or vibrated)”.

Say what??? For those of you that haven’t guessed yet, Sid is an engineer (chemical?) and is currently working for an oil company in Saudi Arabia, at least until we get him back home in the U.S. after his retirement sometime this year. I am not ashamed to admit that I had to look up the meaning of two words in that comment, thixotropic and viscous. (It’s pretty bad, I think, when the id est doesn’t make any more sense than the original sentence! See, I still remember a little of my Latin.) Sorry, Sid, my lawyer/ENGLISH MAJOR brain just didn’t grasp it without a definition. So, for those of you that are right with me and don’t understand a thing he just said, here’s what I found out: thixotropic is the adjective form of the noun thixotropy, which, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, means “The property exhibited by certain gels of becoming fluid when stirred or shaken and returning to the semisolid state upon standing.” Viscous is an adjective meaning “Having relatively high resistance to flow” or “Sticky”. Hmmm. Does this apply to frosting? I dunno, I think frosting might be the opposite. I wonder, is there some fancy way to say “it dries out and then it breaks”? See, I can be scientific, too!

And speaking of science, I had the pleasure over the weekend of “experimenting” with Food Writer markers on my most recent cake. Here’s a pic of the final product:

You guessed it, I don’t like it. No, I never like my cakes. I can stand and stare at them and all I can see is all the things I did wrong. Eventually I just walk away. Once again, I learned a few things with this cake:

1. When leveling a cake, make sure your cake leveler is wide enough to pass by the cake board on which your cake rests. Failure to do so will result in a lopsided cake, and at least one piece of cake with 2 inches of filling (in this case frosting) in the middle, applied in an attempt to create an artificially level cake.

2. Never over-compensate: don’t buy wide-tip Food Writers when fine-tip will do.

3. Food Writers color/write much easier on dried substances, such as royal icing that has been allowed to set up, or molded and dried fondant.

4. Applying more pressure while using a Food Writer on moldable fondant will not make a darker line. It will, however, put holes and tears in the fondant requiring the writer to start over with new fondant.

5. Food Writer lines do not erase. However, they smear wonderfully.

6. Fondant that has been written on with Food Writers changes colors when mistakes are kneaded in.

7. When creating a “sign” out of fondant that is meant to be curved, it is best to cut a curved pattern rather than curving the fondant when placing it on to the cake. Otherwise, the “sign” becomes creased or folded, and the letters will look squished together.

8. Whenever you are looking for an image to copy or use as a template, every image you find will be too small, too big, too wide, too narrow…or just plain scary! Damn that Murphy.

9. When tracing an image from a template onto fondant, a light box becomes an irreplaceable tool. Light boxes are sold at craft stores, (and I’m purchasing one the next chance I get!)

10. An image copied from your own freehand drawing will never be as good as the original.

So, as you probably gathered, I could not find an image of a skull and crossbones that was the right size to fit on the cake. So, I took a smaller image, pencil and paper and freehand copied it to increase its size. Then I cut out my drawing and used it as a pattern to cut the image out of the fondant. I did all the details on the inside of the skull as well, then traced over it with black marker thinking I could put the fondant on top and trace the pattern. Obviously from my comments above, you know that didn’t work out too well. So I ended up freehand drawing the image twice, once on paper, once on fondant. Even though I think the nose is off-center:

I think the pencil drawing was much better than the one on the fondant. Well, we are our own worst critics. I should sit down and write a couple thank you notes to a few art teachers, though….

Anyway, since I still have my Christmas decorations up in both my office and my house, I thought I’d finish up with a quick story. Last post I mentioned that I had to send my husband to the grocery store on Christmas Eve. If I could have avoided sending him, I definitely would have, but as it turned out we were out of a few things needed to make the French Toast Casserole (thank you Paula Dean) that we were having for breakfast on Christmas Day. As he was out gallivanting with his dad that day, he got assigned the duty. He came home with a story that reminded me why it is I make such an effort every year to have everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING, I need to accomplish Christmas at home no later than December 23rd. It also reminded me of the one thing I hate about that time of year: the fact that no one remembers what the season is really about by the time the day rolls around.

As he approached the grocery store, my husband thought it would be an ok trip. Even though the parking lot was full, he managed to get a space right up front since he was lucky enough to pull in just as someone was pulling out. When he got inside, however, that thought was quickly dashed to pieces. The store was packed, people everywhere rushing to finish their last minute purchases for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day treats and dinners. His report was that there was barely enough room to move. Filling his cart with the few things we needed turned out to be a painfully slow process, and he spent twice as long in the store that would have been necessary on any other day. Of course, he said there were people pushing and shoving each other to try to get to the things they needed, with no regard for anyone else. Finally, the last straw for him, was an older man in one of the aisles. The man apparently did not like how close my husband was to him with the cart. The man began walking backwards, slowly, until he had backed himself into my husband’s cart. Once there, he continued to walk backwards until he was literally pushing my husband backwards (and into other people). My husband tried to get his attention several times, saying “excuse me” louder and louder with each attempt. The man didn’t even acknowledge that my husband was there, or that he was doing anything out of the ordinary. Finally, when the man felt he had enough room for himself, he stopped pushing and walked away, never saying a word to my husband or the people he had pushed my husband into. When I asked about the age of the man, thinking that he may have been elderly and not realized what he was doing, my question was met with “Not THAT old!” Thankfully, the trip ended better than it started. My husband was standing in line when the manager came over, looked in his cart, and took him over to customer service to check out since he had so few items. He didn’t have to wait at all. All in all, though, I think it just goes to show all we’ve forgotten about what this time of year is supposed to mean, and what it’s now become.

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