Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Vegas Vacation

Many stories to tell from our trip to Vegas, but no time to tell them in. So, to appease you for now, this is what I will do: I will break my normal, self-imposed rule of "No pictures-only posts", and put up a pictures-only post. Fortunately I finally figured out how to do a slide show of pictures, so you get two slide shows instead of endless photos on one post, but sorry, they are not fancy and contain no commentary. You'll just have to figure it out for yourself. :-) The first is all pics of our visit to Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum at the Venetian. The second is pics of the rest of our trip. Enjoy!

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Motorcycle Cake

Let me tell you a little about my brilliant idea to agree to a cake due the day before we were scheduled to leave for vacation. Then again, the cake itself wasn't my idea. In fact, the customer wanted it for one week later, which was a complete impossibility given our planned vacation. I thought the brilliant idea was to tell the customer that I could manage either the 20th or over 4th of July weekend, but not the 27th. I assumed that she would simply go elsewhere being that her husband's birthday was the 27th, and then I wouldn't have to turn the job down. Instead, she agreed that the 20th would work. Damn! Well, the best I can say is at least it was a cake I would actually make a profit from. For a change.

But, as all my cakes have a tendency to do, as I got further along in the project, the cake became more complicated. The customer - I'm referring to her as that because this is actually the first person I've made a cake for that I did not know personally in some way: she was a co-worker of a friend of a friend...of sorts - wanted a Harley Davidson cake, since her husband owns one. I immediately asked if the cake absolutely had to be in the shape of a motorcycle, or if it could be Harley themed instead. I was a bit soured by my prior cake carving experience. Luckily, she agreed that it did not have to be a carved cake. She also said that it did not have to be Harley, it could just be motorcycle themed. So I began my search for a motorcycle cake. As it turned out, this type of cake is relatively popular, and I found plenty of ideas for great cakes. I was trying to keep things simple to cause myself the least bit of heartache and pain as possible. But the further I searched, the more awesome (and highly embellished) ideas I found. Finally, this is what the end result turned out to be:

I should note that the first pic was taken by the customer, and is used with her permission.

The top layer was strawberry with chocolate ganache filling and iced in strawberry buttercream, and the bottom was white almond sour cream cake filled and iced with almond buttercream. The studs and chain were made from gum paste, all other accents were fondant. The chain, studs and flames were painted with metallic glaze, and I used food writers on the skulls. The motorcycle was a toy. (What?? You think I'm crazy enough to try and sculpt a motorcycle out of some edible medium, including painting it, in between working, dealing with a five-year-old and preparing for my first real vacation in 10 years?? Well, I think you can fill in the blanks in that little scenario on your own, thankyouverymuch.) The motorcycle and the maroon colors used in the cake were chosen because the birthday boy's Harley is maroon. The studs were also used because his Harley has silver studs around the seat and saddle bags (assuming that is what they are called. I'm not up on motorcycle lingo!) These were the only ways I could come up with to try to personalize the cake more, since it had no writing on it.

There were a few things involved with this that were new to me. First, the gum paste. I have never used it before, so it was a completely new experience. (And based on that, I am seriously considering taking a gum paste class from Wilton.) Also new was the metallic glazes. I really liked these, though I am not used to having to allow that much time for drying. So, working with new materials always causes difficulty. My biggest difficulty? Well, you guessed it. The chain of course. As it turned out, I was able to find a mold for the studs, so they were not so hard at all. But I had the worst time trying to figure out how to make that stupid chain. I ended up molding it by hand, with each link in two pieces, allowing it to dry, then putting the pieces together and "linking" the chain. And of course, like always, I didn't plan for enough time. I ended up calling the customer to get an extension on the deadline of about an hour. She was an additional 20 minutes late picking it up, and I still only just finished it not two seconds before she rang the doorbell. Whew! We did manage to get pictures, but my husband took them, and unfortunately he didn't take them from an elevated vantage point. So I had to get the other pics from the customer. Good thing she took some! So, on to my learned list!

1. While gum paste can be used to accomplish essentially the same things as fondant, it behaves quite differently, (i.e. powdered sugar dusted on hands and work surface does not assist in the ease of molding gum paste. Instead it dries it out faster. Vegetable oil should be used instead.)

2. Dried out gum paste cracks and crumbles and absolutely DOES NOT cooperate.

3. Silver/Gold glaze prevents royal icing from sticking to gum paste. It is best to apply glaze after assembling any gum paste creation that requires royal icing to hold it together, (i.e. gum paste chains).

4. Hot glue works quite well in assembling glazed gum paste chains.

5. It is very important to point out to your customer anything on the cake that is not edible, (i.e. hot glued gum paste chains).

6. Measuring the amount of gum paste chain needed to go all the way around the bottom of a cake layer is a good idea to prevent making a gum paste that is just one link too short.

7. Maroon is a combination of red and brown. Who knew?

8. Maroon is as difficult to make from white icing as pure red and black. Must be the red involved?

9. It is extremely difficult to customize a motorcycle cake to an individual or individual motorcycle without actually carving a motorcycle cake.

10. Toy Harley Davidsons, however, are everywhere, and finding one to match an individual motorcycle is a piece of cake, as it were.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Dreaded Three

You know how they always say that bad things happen in threes? I think they mean that bad things happen in multiples of threes. At least, they do in relation to me. I zoomed right past three along time ago and moved on to 6...9...12... Seriously, what is the deal this past year? Enough!

I'm sure you're all wondering what in the world I could be ranting about this time. Haven't I had just about everything that could possibly go wrong with one person happen to me in the last several months? Haven't already got enough to complain about? Apparently not. Someone thought I needed a little more. At the beginning of this month I was informed I will be laid off at the end of September. My office is merging with another, and there are only attorney positions for two. Right now, between the two offices, there are three attorneys. I didn't make the cut. I won't go into all the details associated with that, because there are a lot of emotions and hurt feelings right now, a few I'm sure I will never get over. Or, at least, it will take a lot of years and a certain unmentionable place to develop a nasty ice storm before I get over them. But the bottom line is, as of the end of September, I will be unemployed.

Or will I? As it turns out, I appear to be in relatively high demand, considering. The bankruptcy field in the area of debtors' counsel is, shall we say, booming right now. Not a big surprise considering the state of the U.S. Economy at this point. However, Utah has been a bit behind the rest of the country, and the increase in bankruptcy filings seen across the rest of the U.S. is just now affecting us. That equates to the need for additional, experienced attorneys who can practice exclusively as debtors' counsel. Hey! That's me!

So, I found out about this unfortunate turn of events on a Friday. Needless to say, I did not finish out the day. Instead I sped as fast I could - without getting thrown in jail - straight home and right into the arms of my wonderful husband who had the presence of mind to know that he need not panic, I was doing enough of that for the both of us. (On a side note, here, I just have to say thank you to him for being uncharacteristically calm and collected about the issue of possible shortage of funds on which to live, when I'm positive on the inside he was having a worse mental breakdown than I was. I don't deny I'm lucky! Love you, hon!) Anyway, on my way out of the door that day I began making phone calls. I did not intend to spend more than one second longer than I had to unemployed, regardless of what compensation I may receive for the "no fault" termination of my employment. I called friends who are in the same field and who I knew would have the skinny on any possibilities out there. And while they themselves were not hiring, all offered condolences (and disappointment, since part of the result was the increased difficulty in their jobs) and promised to keep their ears to the ground for me. I spent the weekend fielding calls from friends and family checking on my mental well-being, and trying to convince myself that I was not directly the cause of this event, regardless of what other things I was led to believe.

By Monday I had worked myself into a sleep-deprived, caffeine overloaded, nervous wreck. That was not a fun day to return to the job. At first. But
, I had only been at work for about an hour and a half, when the phone calls began. It seems a good friend of mine posted a fabulously complimentary post about me on the online group forum used by debtors' counsel, letting the majority of that Bar know that I am a victim of the merger. By that afternoon another friend of mine, whom I've told should actually be working for missing persons since he knows everyone, called to find out what was going on. He was one of the first I had called the previous Friday, so he knew about the situation, but he said his phone had exploded with calls, voicemails and texts asking what had happened and expressing shock and rage at the situation. Over the next week I was literally inundated with phone calls, emails and face-to-face conversations filled with disbelief and apologies. You have no idea what something like this can do to soothe a broken self-image. And while such things have slowed down since the initial "announcement", I still receive daily comments in one form or another. I have gotten to the point, in fact, that I am overwhelmed (and humbled) by all the sentiment being sent my way. I had expected a few unhappy people, mainly my friends in the business, but I did not expect the overall constant of disappointment, unhappiness and outright anger that has been expressed to me, only part of which I'm sure I deserve.

But, in the midst of all this, I have also received several job offers. In the first week after the news, I had three lunch meetings, two of which have resulted in offers. I have since had two more offers and had two more approach me "to talk". I have been described as an "expert", "competent help in high demand" and, if you can believe this one "prime real estate in the bankruptcy world". LOL! No, I did not take offense to the last one, since it was meant as a compliment and I knew what they were trying to say. It just struck me as funny. Regardless, such compliments and the reaction of utter shock and disbelief of my colleagues, right down to my toughest and most ruthless opponent, have provided the strength I've needed to keep returning to work until I've decided where else to be.

I have made sure that those looking to hire me understand that with this ordeal, my priorities have taken a 180. My family comes first. I have no intention of jumping into a bad situation out of desperation, panic or fear. I intend to consider all offers and possibilities, and will only accept the one that fits the needs of my family and myself in the best possible way. I feel I have the opportunity to be choosy, and I intend to take it. Everyone who has approached me has understood that and the position I'm in, which I'm grateful for as well.

In the meantime I continue to work where I am, though the stress is most definitely getting to me. I did manage to spend a whole week on our vacation to Vegas (that we just got back from yesterday) and not think about work once. A miracle all in itself. Unfortunately I had to go in to work today (yes, on a Sunday) to prepare for hearings tomorrow. I walked through the door and felt all the angst and all the stress literally seep back into my body. Every day it seems I find something else to be angry at. So, the sooner I make my decision, the better off I'll be. But I'm not rushing things, just trying to deal with the emotions in the interim.

How can I be upbeat about all of this, you ask? Don't be fooled; it's just a facade - pronounced "fu kayd". (Enter in scene from "My Fellow Americans". :-) ) But at least I can find some humor in it. Right before we left on vacation, I couldn't decide if things were getting better or worse. Instead of a job offer, I had a colleague offer me the number for his therapist. No joke. I actually still have her card around here somewhere....

Thursday, June 4, 2009


My husband sent me a picture today of my daughter while they were goofing around at a display at the local library:

Isn't she beautiful? Da Vinci never had a better model. My little Mona Lisa. LOL!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Bridal Fair 2009

In April my sister asked me to come home and help her with a Bridal Fair being held in our hometown. She has finally decided to take the dive and start making wedding cakes should the occasion come about. This was also her first official "advertisement" of her cake and cookie bouquet making for sale. Prior to this, all her business has been word of mouth only. A little bit scary, but exciting nonetheless. So, I spent about six weeks bombarding my poor guinea pig coworkers with cake experiments to obtain more feedback on the cake flavors my sister intended to sample at the Fair. Not that they complained any. Except maybe for the few extra pounds most of them were sure they were going to put on. Hey, totally not my fault. I asked for volunteers only. I never pried open their mouths and jammed the cakes down their throats! Anyhoo, out of the experiments I got a FABULOUS pina colada cake (used in the Luau Cake), a decent chocolate orange cake made better by further experimentation, and a, and I quote, "sexiest thing I've ever tasted" chocolate cake with raspberry cheese filling. I also found that Tres Leche cake, while rather yummy, is not a good cake for decorating. It's tough to decorate a cake that is basically wet, and sitting in a pool of liquid. But that's what the experiments were for.

Soon the weekend of the Fair arrived. I took the Friday before off, (since it was my sister's birthday), and Sweetpea and I rode home with my mom Thursday night, who was in town for a doctor's appointment. The plan was for my husband to come on Saturday so we would only have one car for the trip back. (Unfortunately my husband did not make it, since the roads ended up being closed for most of Saturday - surprise, surprise - but that's another story.) I helped my sister prepare Friday and into the wee hours of the morning Saturday morning. Unfortunately we had to be up early to set up at the Fair on Saturday morning, so staying up very late turned out to be a bad idea. Plus, it was quite some time after we got to the Fair venue before we were able to get any coffee. I'm such a bear in the morning without my daily coffee fix!! But sometimes that's just the way the cake crumbles. Here are the displays that she put together (I can't take credit, I just helped):

The cakes were actually cake dummies - MUCH easier to decorate. You can see the sample cakes behind the close up of the crystal cake. Which is a story all by itself. If you'll notice behind the red cake display there appears to be a kitchen area with an island. That's important, keep that in mind. When we got to the hotel where the Fair was being held, we were unhappy to find that the tables that were supposed to be set up for us weren't. My sister had requested one of the 20 foot tables. Instead there were two small, round tables set up. Not nearly enough space for everything we had to display. It took over half an hour to find the person in charge and get the mistake corrected, leaving us with little time to complete our set up. And when the appropriate people were located, and the mistake addressed, they acted like they had no clue why we could not set up two cake table displays, plus an area for business cards, pictures and information sign-up, plus an area for the samples AND an area for cutting the sample cakes, on two round banquet tables that would barely seat six people apiece. Gee, tough one to figure. After much debate, they agreed to change out our set up to what was actually requested.

So, after the problem was remedied, we still did not have a place to cut the sample cakes. Since they had set up our other tables to extend out in front of the kitchen area, we assumed that the island in that kitchen area would be free, and we could cut the cakes there. We placed the sample cakes and supplies on the island and grumpily went about setting up the rest of our display. Keep in mind that at this point, both my sister and I had been up for about 4 hours, with only about 4 hours of sleep and NO coffee. Not people who should probably be working a function where the sale of a product/services to the public is to take place. Soon, along comes a woman we had not seen before. We didn't know who this woman was, or what her position in the Fair was. As far as we knew, she was working somewhere in the Fair but was not one of the organizers. All of a sudden she said to me "You're going to have to clear off these cakes." She was referring to the sample cakes set up on the island. She was speaking directly to me, and did not see my sister standing behind her.

I just looked at her like she had demonstrated that she was a complete and total idiot, and said, "What?"

She said, "There is going to be a vendor set up in the kitchenette, so you will have to move these cakes." Excuse me? A vendor? Behind our booth? I just stood there looking at her like I was ready to murder her. Maybe not so far off, actually...

About that time my sister spoke up behind her, and said "Where exactly are we supposed to cut our sample cakes? We were told there would be room for that." The woman jumped as if my sister had punched her in the back of the head or something. She stood back to find my sister staring at her with the same murderous look on her face as I had. She mumbled something about getting us another table and scurried away as if she was running for her life. Ok, again, maybe not so far off.

We continued on with our set up until one of the organizers of the Fair appeared at our booth. She said she would bring another table for us to set up the cakes on, but that it would have to be behind our booth in order to not further block the vendor that would be set up in the kitchenette. Ok, fine, WHATEVER! My sister just told her to bring the table. It didn't occur to us at all that "behind our booth" meant dead center in front of the complimentary coffee bar offered by the hotel for their guests. Once the first person came to get coffee, and reached over our cakes in the process, I gritted my teeth and once again went after the organizers, informing them that THIS was NOT going to work and they needed to FIX IT NOW. It was only a few seconds before the contents of the entire coffee bar had been moved to a spare counter in the kitchenette.

Unfortunately all this nonsense put us incredibly behind in our set up, and we did not finish with the cutting of the sample cakes until half an hour after the Fair had begun. Luckily, traffic in the Fair was very light for the first hour or so. Unluckily, the total turnout was much less than we had anticipated, and the confirmed appointments my sister received far fewer than we had hoped. It is unlikely she will participate in this particular Fair next year, should they choose to have it. It doesn't seem worth the entrance fee. Though I must admit that once the beginning fiasco was straightened out, the Fair became very interesting. We had a few perplexing questions from Fair patrons that we just weren't sure how to answer. My favorites included: "So what is it your business does?" and "Do you make wedding cakes?" Nope, these decorated cakes and cake samples are just for show. We're actually a "make your own crystal and candles" business on a crusade to put Mikasa and Salt City Candles out of business.... Seriously? I mean come on people!

Just another demonstration of my belief that common sense is really not so common.