Saturday, February 28, 2009

yes, I found wisdom in a movie about surfing penguins

Did I know what I was getting myself into when I became Navy wife? Yes. Does that make it any easier? No. Do I have any right to complain? Absolutely not. Like I said, I knew full well what I was getting myself into. But moving my young family for the first time is not an easy thing. And transferring is a hell of a lot easier when you hate where you're stationed and can't wait to leave. I felt that way last time. I don't feel that way this time. I push the stroller around Kailua on a breezy day, or play with the kids in the water at the Hickam sandbar and look around at the scenery, and I think - anyone who wants to leave here is out of their f***ing mind.

And when we get to Japan? Deployments. Short, but frequent. Which, I am told, is the way it's going at most of the duty stations DH could possibly be assigned to. But there's a kind of intangible difference between 3 weeks on the road and 3 weeks on a ship. Nightly phone calls, for one thing. Am I complaining? No. Can I handle it? Abso-f***ing-lutely. Am I looking forward to it? No.

I can spout off phrases and quotes that fit my situation 'til the cows come home: "God has bigger plans for you than anything you could come up with for yourself." (Does anyone have the exact wording of that one? I think it's Oprah but I can't find it anywhere.) "Let go and let God." "You don't fight the wave - you can't fight these big waves, Co!" Etc. Etc. Etc. But having a store of wise words filed away in your head doesn't make you wise. Being able to say the words doesn't mean that you know how to live them. I've mentioned before that I believe that military life is the single biggest test of your ability to live your yoga off the mat. I guess it's time for me to put up or shut up.

62 days = 2 months. 2 months from right now, I'll be waiting in line at security at Honolulu International Airport, popping a homeopathic jet-lag-relief pill, double checking that we all have our Government No-Fee Passports, and trying to keep Jack from running away from me when I fold up the double stroller to put it through the X-ray machine. And then stepping onto a plane, stepping into the unknown, and trying my damndest to be a pillar of strength for my children, who will be leaving the only home they've ever known.

I just hope that Jack isn't "that baby" who cries, screams, and kicks the seat in front of him for 8.5 hours. Because there's only so much that one human being can endure all at once!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

finally!

Now I can stop baking cakes every other day. Honestly, we're all getting tired of cake. Even Brandon stopped eating it. (He does still eat the frosting off of it, though. Naturally.)

I found a cake recipe that works. (Moist, but not so moist that it falls apart when you frost it.) I found a fondant recipe that works. It was a little dry, and it did crack a little bit, but that was because I worked in too much sugar, and I knew that. That is easily fixable when I make the next batch.

I did this cake in all white because I just can't be bothered with mixing the colors anymore. This was just about making sure the cake didn't fall apart and the fondant held its shape. Check and check. I practiced a couple of piping techniques for Jackson's birthday cake, too. Honest opinions:

Does this look like clouds/skywriting?


And does this look like coral?


Yes, I am planning a cake that incorporates both coral and skywriting. And yes, it will make perfect sense once you see the finished cake.

(PS, that zigzag border looks horrible because I used the Wilton "ready-to-use" decorator icing without thinning it out first. Waaaay too stiff.)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

can't think of a clever title for this one

I feel like I've been sick forever. I literally have not been feeling 100%, or even 65%, on any single day in all of 2009. Understanding that I keep on getting sick because I subconsciously don't want to really get down to the business of getting ready to move, doesn't make me any less sick. So I haven't exercised in two months (yet I've still lost some weight, yay for that salmonella) and I'm way behind on sorting and inventorying our stuff. I haven't even been able to stick to my plan of going to the beach at least once a week for the rest of our time here. I've been working on cakes because I can do that in five-minute bursts, interspersed with copious resting - and it's also a lot more fun. But really, I have to get to it pretty soon - we're moving out in 60 days. YIKES. And yet, somehow, even knowing how much I have to get done, and how much easier it will be later if I just get started now, I still just can't bring myself to do it. All I want to do is take a nap on the couch.
Well anyway. I have to do my taxes now. Yip-freakin-eeee.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

fingers crossed

I'm getting so boring. But I'm going to keep on pounding on this one note until I get it out of my head.

Last night I cooked up a batch of Michele Foster's Fondant (MFF, as opposed to MMF, which is marshmallow fondant). It has to sit for 24 hours so I didn't know how it turned out until just now. I was worried that I might have mixed in too much sugar; and it's just a tad dry so I think I was right about that. But wow - it tastes great, like a marshmallow (as opposed to marshmallows with extra sugar mixed in, which is of course what MMF tastes like). It's still sweet, but not cloyingly so. It's stiffer than MMF; it seems to hold its shape a bit better. I don't have a cake to cover with it just yet so I don't know how well it will work, but I have a good feeling about it. MMF is so unforgiving; MFF feels a little more like the Wilton stuff. (But doesn't taste like cardboard!)

I do, however, have a tab open with a website where I can buy Satin Ice (which, I have been told, is the brand of fondant that Charm City Cakes uses). Just in case.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

bumpy-like-a-lemon cake

I've learned a lot of things about cake decorating in the last year or so, and the most important lessons have to do with compromise. You can have a moist, tender, delicious cake with real butter buttercream, or you can have a cake that looks nice. I've yet to find a way to have both at the same time. Real butter buttercream is out of this world delicious, but you just can't decorate a cake with it and have it look anything other than pathetic; at least not in the climate I live in. Palm oil shortening is a very good subsitute for Crisco; not too much healthier, but it's organic and sustainably harvested so, you know, that's good.

As for the cake itself...I've come to the conclusion that I can't use boxed cake mixes. I just can't. They crumble and fall apart when you ice them, and they collapse under the weight of the fondant. It doesn't matter how good the batch of fondant came out if the cake itself is lumpy and falling apart.

So the cake I made yesterday was pretty disappointing. Delicious, of course (lemon cake with raspberry buttercream filling), but disappointing. Lumpy and lopsided and...sigh. I'm tired of eating cake but I have to keep on trying because I AM GOING TO GET THIS RIGHT!

This actually looks better in the picture than it did in real life, if you can believe it. This was before Jackson put a hole in the side with his finger.




I have three cake recipes and a different fondant recipe that I want to try. With God as my witness, I am going to find a combination that works for me before Jackson's birthday. Even if I have to just give up and do it in buttercream instead of fondant, I am not bringing a lumpy mess of a cake to that party.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

holy crap, I finally got it right.

Fifth time's a charm, I guess.

In trying to knead my marshmallow fondant by hand, I was incorporating WAY too much shortening into it (since it kept on sticking, and I kept on re-greasing my hands). Consequently, it kept on coming out too moist, sticky, shiny, strechy, and just plain yucky-looking. I suspected that this might be the problem after reading a message board post over at Wilton that mentioned that "a little goes a LONG way" when it comes to shortening. So I decided to try again and make it basically idiot-proof; and that's where, once again, the almighty KitchenAid comes to the rescue.

Since it's next to impossible to transfer melted marshmallows from one container to another, I greased up my 3-QT stand mixer bowl (I bought it as an accessory, it didn't come with my mixer) with a thin film of Crisco and used it as a double boiler to melt the marshmallows. I also greased the spatula I was using to stir the marshmallows, and the paddle and dough hook attachments.



I stirred in the first two cups or so of sugar with the spatula, then moved the bowl to the stand mixer.



I started with the paddle attachment, but I think I could have started with the dough hook. When it got to the point that I felt it was time to switch to the dough hook, it was still pretty sticky and hard to get off of the paddle. So in the future, I think I'll just skip the paddle and use the dough hook from the beginning.

I kept on adding sugar 1/2 cup at a time (I was no longer sifting at this point because there wasn't room over the mixer...I think maybe next time I'll pre-sift instead of sifting directly into the mixture). When the dough no longer felt sticky, I moved it to my silpat, thinking that I might have to knead in another scoop or two of sugar, but to my surprise, it was PERFECT.





All it took was like a minute of kneading to get it into a nice, smooth ball.



Absolutley perfect. It wasn't sticky. It wasn't shiny. I rolled out a small piece of it, and it didn't stretch or tear.



All told, it felt remarkably similar to the Wilton stuff. Except that it tastes so good, Brandon kept on coming back to me and asking for more "white play-doh". Then again he likes the Wilton stuff, too...and marzipan (ugh)...I think he just likes the idea of a play-doh-like substance that he's allowed to eat. :D As for me, though, I think this stuff tastes WAY better. No comparison!

Anyway, it's resting in the fridge right now, I'll be using it to cover a cake tomorrow. Oh my goodness, I can't wait.

I did it! I did it! I did it, yay!

I had excellent baking mojo on Valentine's day. Two very different baking tasks that had previously eluded me were finally accomplished successfully: King Cake and a fondant-covered cake. (This is the song that' s been stuck in my head ever since I managed these tasks.)

First up: the King Cake. I'm pretty good with batters, but I kind of stink at doughs. Both the cannolli shells and the pierogi that I made on Christmas Eve came out too small and too thick because the dough kept on shrinking back as soon as I'd cut it. Sugar cookies are hit or miss for me. I've never even attempted a from-scratch pie crust. And yeast doughs? Forget about it. I tried a King Cake last year and it never rose. At all.

Well it turns out that the recipe I was using was really weird. The ingredients were good, but the methodology was pretty bizarre. (I think, though I can't be sure, that whoever wrote out the recipe was using an ingredient list that included "active dry" yeast, but wrote the instructions for "instant" yeast.) Of course I didn't realize it at the time, because I'd never attempted a yeast dough before. But now, armed with the knowledge I've gleaned from Alton Brown's baking book ("I'm Just Here for More Food"), I knew what was wrong with the recipe, and I knew how to make it right. I remember reading somewhere that King Cakes are essentially brioche, but the process for brioche is considerably more complicated, and it seemed like a bit much for a complete novice. So I used the "straight dough method".

And it worked. And it tasted perfect, exactly how a King Cake is supposed to taste. I was worried that it would come out tasting too lemony, but it was perfect!



I didn't roll it out too evenly, hence the difference in size between the two halves of the cake. But it tasted right, and that's all that really matters.

I've never been able to find purple sugar crystals anywhere except for on the internet, and since the decision to try the King Cake was kind of spur-of-the-moment, I obviously didn't have time to order any. (Mixing together red and blue crystals to try and make a kind of pointilist purple doesn't work - the crystals are too big.) So I did a quick google and discovered that it's ridiculously easy to make your own colored sugar; just put some white sugar in a zip-top bag with a couple of drops of icing color, seal the bag, and roll over it with a rolling pin until the color is evenly distributed. The crystals are a lot smaller than the ones you get in the little shaker bottles at the supermarket, but the results are perfectly passable.



Now for the Valentine's cake. My Valentine's Day gift "from Brandon" this year was a set of mini heart cookie cutters and a comfort-grip cookie cutter shaped like lips. Since I had cake mix and a box of Wilton fondant in the pantry, I felt suddenly inspired to try a little (6") cake. My thinking in buying the Wilton fondant was that maybe my attempts at marshmallow fondant have been woefully unsuccessful because I have no idea precisely what it's supposed to turn out like.

The Wilton fondant didn't taste quite as bad as I was expecting, from the way everyone talks about it. Not nearly as yummy as MMF, and it is pretty cardboard-y, although there isn't any more chemically aftertaste from eating a whole slice of cake's worth than a tiny little bite. But it is so easy to work with!

This was just a quick, 1-layer, "let's-see-if-I-can-do-this" kind of project, so it's not very polished. I didn't do a border around the bottom because I didn't feel like mixing up a batch of royal icing, and the cake board has grease spots on it from the buttercream layer because I don't have any fanci-foil. But overall, I'm happy with how it turned out.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

bullets: the last refuge of the lazy blogger

I don't know why I haven't really been blogging lately...actually, yes I do. I've been sick, and then I started reading Harry Potter and got slightly obsessive about it. Still, I could have easily sat down and written a blog entry if I'd had anything to write about. And I don't. So I guess we're doing bullet points today?
  • I bought the Harry Potter paperback box-set, because I hate reading hardback books. The set has books 1-6; 7 isn't out in paperback yet, it won't be until July. First of all, a two year delay? Really? Is that normal? It seems unnecessary. Secondly, I devoured the first 6 books a LOT more quickly than I was expecting to (less than 2 weeks), and I don't want to wait until July to finish, but I don't want to buy the hardback version. The obvious solution, of course, is to take it out of the Library, but guess what? (If you've been following my tweets you already know this.) According to the online catalog, they don't have it. In any public library in the whole state of Hawaii. Not in English, anyway. They have Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and Spanish. But not English. W. T. F?????????
  • I was supposed to be taking the Wilton Fondant & Gumpaste course this month. The first class was supposed to be last Sunday. I went to the store on Friday (2 days before the first class) to find out what time the class was being held, since when I signed up at the end of November, it hadn't been solidified yet. And I was told that it had been canceled. The teacher was supposed to have called and told me. She hadn't, obviously. I didn't think to find out how long ago it had been canceled, because I was too surprised and angry and disappointed. I'd been looking forward to this for two months! (And I clearly need help with fondant.) And now I may never get to take it, because I doubt very much whether anybody in Japan offers Wilton courses. Even more upsetting for me was that the course wasn't actually canceled, just postponed until March, which means that they won't be offering Wilton II in March - and that was the one I was REALLY looking forward to taking. So rather than letting my enrollment roll over to next month, I got my money back and bought a bunch of coursebooks and supplies to learn on my own. Sure, I won't have the certificates that say I completed the courses, but whatever. Course I teaches you pretty much everything you'd need to know to get a job anyway. And how could I sit in a class for four weeks, being taught by someone who I am so frickin' angry with for not calling to tell me the class was canceled? Um, no. It was hard enough last time, when I was just annoyed that she was squeezing four weeks worth of classes into 3 weeks and we were only doing 1 cake instead of the 3 you're supposed to do.
  • Look at the number of days in the countdown in my left sidebar, and subtract 6 days from that, and that's how long we have until we move out of our house. I'm just this side of freaking the f*** out. Granted: we don't have to pack up ourselves. But we have to sort out what we're having shipped there, what we're packing in our luggage, what we're having put in storage, and what we're getting rid of. And I have to take pictures of everything and do a full inventory. It's a habit we got into when we lived in New Orleans, where it felt like at any moment, your frickin' roof could cave in and you'd lose all of your belongings in a flood. We moved before it actually happened, but if we had still been there, we would have been well prepared. I haven't done a full inventory since the last time we moved, though, so I have several days left of walking through the house with a camera and a laptop.
  • For those six intervening days, we will be staying at the Hale Koa in Waikiki. Brian will have a not-so-fun commute for that week, but the boys and I will be hanging out at the beach and eating french fries by the most beautiful hotel pool I've ever had the pleasure of swimming in. We're bringing our old microwave with us to the hotel (since we are DEFINITELY not bringing it with us when we move!) so I'll be using my per diem not on meals from cafes or fast food restaurants, but on ice cream from Lappert's (next door in the Hilton Hawaiian Village). Muahahahaha. That is how I'm exacting my revenge on the Navy for causing us to lose thousands of dollars on the brand new car we bought just months before finding out we have to move someplace where we can't bring it with us: I'm spending my meal money on ice cream. Diabolical.