Sunday, March 29, 2009

M's Red Cake

As I do every year for all of my nephews (on my husband's side, since my sister takes care of it for her own children), I agreed to make a cake for my nephew's three-year birthday party. Being a huge fan of cars and trucks of all sorts, (and of Disney's movie Cars), but most especially of firetrucks, M of course chose to have a Red cake. For those of you who are unaware, Red is a character from Cars who also happens to be a firetruck. Unfortunately, Red also happens to be a lesser character in the movie, as he has no lines. He never actually speaks, only cries quite loudly several times, then drives quickly away to hide. While appropriate for M's personality that Red would be his favorite, Red is apparently not otherwise a popular character. When I went searching for ideas for a Red cake, I found none. That's right, absolutely NO Red cakes anywhere on the internet that I could find. There are TONS of Lightening McQueen and Mater cakes out there. I even found a few Sally and Doc cakes, and a few cakes with multiple characters present. But no red cakes. Which left me to design a cake completely from scratch, something that rarely/never happens.

So, instead I thought about Red's character, and what aspects of that I could use in my design. Red, being the only firetruck in a small town, lives at City Hall. He appears to be the caretaker there, and loves to take care of the flowers around the monument of the town's founder. There was a thought. Flowers. Maybe I could make his flowers and put them on the cake somehow. I stored that tidbit away for further thought. I also thought about adding the monument of Stanley on there somehow, and/or the City Hall building. There was also the part in the movie where Red was hosing off the tower of tires for Luigi. Hmmm, that's a possibility. I could make Red, with a stream of water coming out of his hose, and a tower of tires.

Of course then I came to my senses and realized that I was once again thinking way over my head, and decided avoiding frustration and tears would be the better route. Besides that, this cake was for a three-year-old child. Chances are he wouldn't care what the rest looked like, as long as Red was present. So, I went back to the flowers idea. I decided to make flower planters as Red had in the movie, and put them on the four corners of the cake, then have Red (made of color flow), in the middle. The problem was I couldn't remember what the planter boxes looked like. I therefore convinced Sweetpea that her movie of the day should be Cars, since we haven't watched it in such a long time, having the ulterior motive of observing details. After much debate, and a bit of a guilt trip on my part, she agreed.

Turns out, Red doesn't use planter boxes. Red's flowers are planted in tires. Silly me, I should have figured that. After all, exactly which one of the cars would construct a planter box, anyway? So I decided fondant tires would do the trick. I then set out to find a decent picture of Red to use for my color flow pattern. Apparently Red is not only unpopular for cakes, but for images, too. And that includes coloring book images. Maybe kids don't even like to color him, I don't know. But it took FOR-EV-ER (enter image from "The Sandlot") to find something decent to use for Red. Once I found it, it occurred to me how often I make these things complicated for me. Well, I guess maybe I'm a glutton for punishment.

I also decided to use smaller tires around the outside of the cake. At some point I had the "brilliant" epiphany to make them white walls. How I was going to do that never crossed my mind. Remind me again how I get myself into these things? Anyway, here is the final result:

The cake was triple chocolate fudge, the icing was chocolate buttercream, and the filling was chocolate whipped cream with chocolate chips. I used ground up graham crackers on the top to simulate the sand around Radiator Springs (my favorite part, flavor-wise!) The flowers and leaves were fondant, decorated with Food Writer markers, and I used thin floral wire to make them stand up in the planters. The dirt in the planters was crumbled up chocolate cake, made from the shavings from when I leveled the cakes. Unfortunately, Red had an immediate mishap upon removal from the wax paper. Well, four immediate mishaps. I made two of him, mirror images, so that the cake could be viewed from both the front and the back. When I took him off of the wax paper, all four of the items across the top of his cab broke off on one image or the other. Thankfully, when I put the two images together back to back, I was able to "glue" the pieces back together with icing long enough to stand him up on the cake and get through the "ceremonies". Though it's a good thing he did not have to travel further than the kitchen counter to the dining room table. I don't think he would have stood up.

Despite the mishaps, and while the icing did not smooth as well as I hoped for, it didn't turn out too bad. Of course, it helped to have a good friend visiting who apparently has making round things with holes in the center in her blood. (Her grandpa used to own Karmel Korn in my home town, and I hear he made fantastic doughnuts!) She was a brilliant tire-maker, and I may put her on full time! (Though I may not be able to afford her...) Thanks again, Kel! So, without further adieu, here is my learned list:

1. No matter the size of the color flow piece, it will always break at narrow points. Making extra pieces doesn't necessarily help this, as chances are the same narrow points will break on the extras. That's just how it is. Learn to deal with it.

2. Royal icing works wonders for "gluing" broken color flow pieces back together.

3. Broken color flow pieces glued together with royal icing do not tolerate vibration well. It's best if travel of such pieces is limited to short distances. From counter top to tabletop may be too far.

4. Fine tip Food Writer markers are not quite fine enough. They do not do well in drawing in color flow outlines that have been partially covered by "pillowed" fill-in color flow, since these areas are actually crevices in the piece. Instead of drawing in the outline, the marker catches on the edges of the "pillows" and results in double outlines.

5. In response to #4 above, it is best to remember the rule: if it looks acceptable, leave it alone (a.k.a. if it ain't broke, don't fix it!)

6. Fondant tires are best made by someone with doughnut-making experience/heritage.

7. If you do not possess said experience/heritage yourself, it is most helpful to have a friend that does. It's better to have a childhood friend that does. It's optimal to have a childhood friend that does and will work for coffee and/or chocolate and good conversation.

8. Fondant icing writers are helpful in the making of "white wall" tires. So is a decorator's brush - which is just a fanciful name for a paintbrush.

9. Two coats of fondant icing is necessary to accomplish true "white walls". One coat only results in white washed tires instead.

10. Fondant die cut tools work splendidly for cutting out teeny, tiny flowers. However, getting those teeny, tiny fondant flowers out of the die cut tools without destroying them is another issue altogether.

11. Very thin (24 gauge or thinner) floral wire works well not only for flower stems but for shaping leaves as well. As a safety issue, one should always inform those consuming the cake that such flower and leaf stems are not edible.

12. Fondant tires, due to their necessary thickness, are quite heavy. Such weight causes the tires to slide down the sides of the cake, rather than stick in the frosting as intended, requiring the cake decorator to invent a way to defy gravity.

13. Strategically placed toothpicks are most helpful in defying gravity. As with flower stems, those consuming the cake should be informed that such items are present in the cake.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


There are so many ways to define dedication. While the traditional definition of the word, in the sense in which I use it today, as defined by the American Heritage Dictionary is: selfless devotion; more often we turn to actions to define dedication. And, of course, actions are dependent upon what we are dedicated to. There are multiple dedications - work, family, community. They can also be such things as dedications to hobbies, interests, pets, even individuals themselves. Actions defining such dedications could be things like working late, sacrificing something we want for something our family needs, giving of our own precious time to better our community. Even things such as attending hobby fairs, collecting memorabilia of a favorite actor or band, or staying home with a sick pet could be considered demonstrations of dedication.

In addition, dedication can be viewed in may ways. Sometimes it is something to be respected, an honorable thing Sometimes it is viewed as silly, fanatical or just plain stupid. Well, to each their own opinions as to what is honorable and what is stupid. But we all have our ideas as to what is dedication. But, I write today not to wax eloquent of the philosophy of dedication, but to share with you an example of such dedication that I witnessed during my commute to the office this morning.

This morning I found myself stopped by a red traffic light approximately five minutes from my office building. Of course, this would stand to reason, since at that point I should have been at work for five minutes already. Damn that Murphy. So, as I sat swearing at the light that had so viciously turned red at the exact time I needed it to be green, I happened to glance across the intersection and to my left, at the waiting cars on the other side. An immediate double-take ensued. There was a small, tan, compact vehicle of some sort, in the lane closest to the turning lane, impatiently inching forward, anticipating the change in the light. Inside the vehicle sat a person of whose gender I was unable to ascertain. This person had a bright yellow stocking cap on his/her head. (I would point out that while the morning was chilly, it was still about 42 degrees, not cold enough in my opinion for such a hat.) Where the yellow cap would probably not have normally caught my attention on its own, the thick winter snow gloves peeking out from above the steering wheel, and the heavy winter coat added to the odd scene. But finally, I was most taken aback by the very large, and most unmistakable, amber-colored ski goggles perched, not comfortably on the driver's head, but over his/her eyes like most people wear sunglasses. I should probably mention that there was no evidence of a pair of skis anywhere on the vehicle, since there was no way they'd fit in the trunk, and they would have been capable of being seen had they been in the back seat, (though most likely would have been hanging out of one of the windows in order to have fit). There wasn't even a ski rack on top of the car.

Now that, my friends, is dedication.

Monday, March 9, 2009

New Additions

Over the weekend we acquired some new additions to our family. This was not my idea, mind you. In fact, I've been against this idea since it's hatching, so to speak, several years ago. While I have not been a fan, I finally just figured out that regardless of my squawking, it was going to happen. Well, I guess on the plus side, no one can accuse my husband of being hen-pecked.

Geez, I crack myself up.

Oh my gosh! That one was completely unintentional! I'm killin' myself over here! LOL!

Ok, to let you all in on the joke, here is a picture of our little additions:

Yup, now you get the joke. Right now the little darlings are living in a small, round open container in the garage under a heat lamp. Eventually we will have a chicken coop in the backyard. Once they're old enough, and we actually buy one, they will be moved to a chicken coop in the backyard. By that time they should no longer need the heat lamp. It will be quite a while before they start laying eggs. My husband guesses sometime in July. Of course, that assumes that they are hens. Since these chicks were purchased at a local "country" store, who does not sex-link their chicks, we have no guarantees that we didn't get three roosters. Something we absolutely don't want. My husband got the chicks for eggs, and no other reason. And it's not good if those eggs are fertilized. Plus, roosters are really loud, and not only am I NOT interested in being awoken at the crack of dawn daily, but I don't really want angry neighbors who have also been awoken at the crack of dawn pounding down my door. But, there seems to be a large market out there for this sort of thing, so my husband should be able to find someone to give any roosters to, without much of an issue. Unfortunately, we won't be able to determine their sex for quite a while, either, so right now it's just wait and see.

Part of the reason I did not want chickens was my fear of how we would explain the demise of any said chickens, for any reason, to Sweetpea. I had no doubt she would view these birds as pets. My husband had talked about using any non-laying hens as food. How would we explain to her we had to eat her pets?? No, Not a good idea. My husband tried to tell me we would just name them things such as Nugget, Extra-crispy, Fricassee and the like. Really just his way of saying he didn't think it would be a problem. I just laughed and thought "we'll see".

So this weekend my sister and her family were in town, so Sweetpea and I were out around the town shopping with them, when I received a call from my husband that the local store had chicks, and we should come and check them out. He later claimed that he only intended for Sweetpea to see the chicks; he did not intend to buy any. While I believe that that probably was his intention, I knew better. I had no doubt we would leave that store chicken owners.

And so we did. It didn't take much convincing on Sweetpea's part. She simply had to look up at her daddy, with big, round, adoring, little girl eyes, and the deal was done. The shopping cart was loaded down with items amounting to a chicken starter kit, a small cardboard box was filled with three adorable chicks and off we went. Of course, after the purchase of her new pets, Sweetpea had no further interest in gallivanting around town on shipping missions. So she, my husband and the chicks headed for home, while I continued the shopping with my sister. Shortly thereafter, I received a call from my husband informing me that Sweetpea had named the chicks on the way home. (Keep in mind that this store is about a 5 minute drive from our house.) When I asked if she chose Nugget or Fricassee, he called me a name I won't repeat. (Though probably completely fitting.) He told me we now owned a Feather, Waterfall and Pecky. All he knew for sure was that the yellow was Pecky. I'm not entirely 100% sure, but I may have something along the lines of "I told you so". But I might be mistaken.

So, until we have a new home built in the backyard, the chicks are garage-dwelling entertainment for Sweetpea (and any friends or cousins who might happen by). And boy are we having a hard time keeping her out of the garage. Any time she seems to be just "gone" from the house, we simply have to peak in the garage to find her, hovering over their little nest, gently stroking their feathers and looking down on them with adoring, and I might add somewhat motherly-looking, eyes. She has been taught already that she cannot pick them up without an adult present, so at least she's obeying that rule. But at this point all I have to say is, I hope they're all hens.