Friday, June 17, 2016

Finally Finished

Finally.  The project I've spent the last three days, basically, working on is finished.  I didn't realize until I was already started on it that my newly minted (well, almost) 16 year old didn't yet know what the design of his birthday cake (shared with his younger brother) was going to be.  The moment I got enough decorations on for him to recognize it, he was so excited!  I love those moments of motherhood. 

Basic shape carved out and frosted.
Ready to go

I began first thing this morning, stacking and carving cakes.  Once I got four layers stacked up, I decided it looked tall enough, so the kids got to enjoy the extra layer.  Okay, okay.  I had some, too.  Remember how I said I'd tell you more about the new cake recipe once I'd had a chance to work with it and taste it?  Yeah.  It's pretty awesome.  Moist, delicious, and carves like a dream.  I think I'll be making this one again.  But no project can ever seem to go off without a hitch, and I was realizing as I checked my reference photo that I had forgotten an important component.  I was going to need black fondant for the tires and underside of the van.  So, after getting the cake stacked, carved, and iced, I was off to the store for black fondant (and the big fondant rolling pin I couldn't get yesterday because the other Wal-Mart was out of stock), and a mat that I didn't intend to buy but decided I needed.  I didn't end up regretting that $9 spent, either, let me tell you.

When I got back, it was time to add the main layers of fondant, black first, then blue.  The blue tore just a bit on one corner, but by the time I was finished, you couldn't really tell.

The offending tear is on the other side. :)
I decided to do the green splashy designs by making a template of the side of the van and sketching them on it sort of freehand, then cutting them out to use as a stencil for cutting the fondant.  It took a little trial and error, but I found a method for getting them cut and on the cake that worked.  You can see it at that stage up top, with a teenager who's just realized what his cake is going to be when it's finished. :D

Probably the hardest, most time-consuming part of the entire process was getting the text on the sides.  I carved it freehand, but it also had to be done backwards because of the way I was putting stuff on the sides of the cake.  Simply lifting the fondant was causing it to stretch out of shape, so I devised a system of using parchment to lift it up, then peeling it carefully off the parchment--but that meant everything had to be backwards!  I was so thrilled with how it turned out, though!

And now it was just time for the details.  Flowers, tires (including spare) made of fondant-covered Oreos, hubcaps, bumpers, headlights, and gum paste luggage rack, license plate (J05-E16 for their ages), and door handles.

 Ta-da!  One Mystery Machine.  This is, without a doubt, the most complicated cake I've ever undertaken, but these guys make it all worthwhile. . .

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Turning in My Mom Card

Many years ago, a humor columnist by the name of Erma Bombeck wrote a piece entitled "Where Does a Mother Go to Resign?"  The title, if not the actual content (which gets lost amid many brilliant writings of hers I've read over the years) has always stuck with me for some reason.

Today has been one of those days.  The days that make me want to throw my hands up, declare adulting too difficult an endeavor, and retreat to my blanket fort with my crayons.  And maybe a stiff drink.

Our home has been a war zone today.  Kaylee (age 9) and Dalton (11) are frequently known to bicker, but today was worse than usual.  There has been name-calling, kicking, shoving, grappling, and biting. Jonathan (5 tomorrow) kicked Michael (6) in the face, knocking out his loose tooth in the process.  And all I could think was, Well, at least it was the loose one.  There have been accusations of Dalton shooting Michael and Preston (age 8) with the teenagers' airsoft pistol.  And then Dalton has the nerve to act like he doesn't understand why when I inform him it's inappropriate to observe that his internet connection "sucks balls." *facepalm* 

I feel you, Erma.

And through all this, I've been doing my best to prepare the fondant, bake some of the cakes (5 13x9 sheets) needed for this weekend's birthday cake, and hopefully even get the buttercream made up.  So far, I have the fondant made and 3 of the cakes baked.  I should probably be satisfied with that and just say I'll do the rest tomorrow.  I don't plan to decorate until Friday anyway.

I'm doing so many new and different things with this project.  The cake design itself is ambitious.  I settled late last night on a carved, three-dimensional Mystery Machine, since both boys can agree on an interest in Scooby-Doo.  Perry the Platypus was arguably 3D, but the Mystery Machine is going to be a touch more difficult, and quite a bit larger.  I liked the marshmallow fondant recipe I used for Perry, so I made a couple batches for our Mystery Machine.  Hopefully, it will be enough.  I tinted one the teal blue of the base color of the van, and I left the other white to be used for all the other colors.

I'm trying a new cake recipe as well.  I've always just used boxed mixes in the past, but they're very soft and light, and this cake will need to stand up to quite a bit of stacking and carving, so I need something a bit more dense.  I'm using the mix-based vanilla cake recipe from Rose Bakes, and so far, it looks fantastic.  More info to come once I've actually worked with it (and eaten it, yum).

Squeee! :D
And y'all.  I simply have to share this with you.  Anybody that bakes, listen up.  I have found the Holy Grail of pan greasing.  It's called Miracle Pan Release, and basically, it's a homemade version of Wilton's Cake Release.  I've never used Cake Release, so I can't compare the two, but if you decide to use this stuff, be careful.  They are not kidding when they say it literally falls out of the pan.  It's a thing of beauty.  Look at this pan.  LOOK AT IT!!!  No cake film left behind.  Just shiny, aluminum bliss.  Three ingredients.  Just whisk it up and brush it on with a pastry brush.  If you don't have a pastry brush, I'm sure a paper towel would do the trick.  Try it.  Really, go bake a cake.  I'll wait.

The kids seem to be gearing up for another round anyway. :/

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Growing Pains

I occasionally make cakes.  "Occasionally" tends to coincide with the birthdays of my children.  This is a talent and a tendency I inherited from my mother, who was far more talented than I am myself, in this area and many others.  Pinterest, however, has been a fabulous source of inspiration, and most of them have turned out rather cute, despite the stress I place on myself, the dismal working conditions (our kitchen at the old house was TINY, and I have yet to make one since the move), and the repeated threats to just buy the darn thing this time, which I always talk myself out of doing because it costs so. much. more.  I never really expected to move beyond the (almost) monthly rush to find a suitable (and achievable) design and bring it to life in time for a horde of small people to devour it with ice cream.

The other day, my ex-husband's fiancĂ© asked me to make their wedding cake.  In February. And I found myself saying, "Well, I'd have plenty of time to practice the requisite skills."  And that, dear friends, is how I found myself obsessing over cake designs and how-to's on Pinterest, and planning to make the next birthday cake, which is, as it happens, a 2-kid party, in two stacked tiers just for the practice.  What in the world was I thinking?

I just recently made my first fondant cake.  Admittedly, I was rather pleased with the results, and I definitely plan on using fondant again.

Oh, there you are, Perry.

But never mind all that.  I'm pretty sure I just agreed to a wedding cake.  You know, the basic epitome of cake decorating skill.  I'm also fairly certain I agreed to gum paste roses.  Which, oddly enough, scare me less than buttercream roses.  Because I can do this. . .

. . . when I'm just fooling around with some play doh.  I imagine, given the proper tools and a little time to practice, I'll be able to pull off passable gum paste roses.

But now I'm starting to think of other things.  Like if I can pull this off, what's to stop me from making cakes to sell?  I'm always searching for a realistic way I can pull in some supplemental income around here, and rejecting every idea as, well, not being realistic.  And truthfully, I might reject this one, too.  But maybe not.  But it's hard to even find time to consider it thoroughly.  The house and kids require quite a bit of my attention, and a business venture would as well.  And I start to doubt my own abilities.  A lot.  I've invested before in ideas that didn't pan out.  Time.  Money.  Heart.  It's discouraging when you fail.

But eh.  It's not like I have to decide tonight, after all.  Tonight is for planning, and list making.  Tomorrow is for shopping and icing and fondant prep.  Maybe some baking.  Wish me luck, friends.  I'm going to need it.

Catching Up

Would you look at that?  It's been such a busy couple of months at the Duncan-Mosher house that I haven't even found time to write a blog post.  That was about the time that the house next door to us became available to rent, and we decided we were moving.  About six weeks ago, we (with much help from our teenagers and their friends) carried all our stuff across the yard to our new home.  Easiest move ever, lol.  I didn't even need boxes.

And what a blessing it's been!  Our old house was small, poorly laid out, and (biggest problem) absolutely falling apart.  We have long-term plans to buy a home, but that isn't realistically happening for at least a couple of years, and I was genuinely worried that the house we were living in just wasn't going to hold up that long.  Honestly, I wasn't sure what the solution was going to be.  We were trying to tweak our financial plan in a way that would allow us to buy sooner, but it just wasn't looking realistic.  And with nine kids in residence full time, plus a dog and cat, finding a different rental to move to (especially that fit our budget) seemed impossible.  So I finally threw up my hands, figuratively, and I said to God, "God, you know what my family needs.  I'm trusting you to find a way to provide it."  As we all know, God's plans have a way of being better than anything we could have come up with on our own, and very shortly after that, we learned our next-door neighbor was planning to move.  A quick call to the landlords confirmed that we could take the place, and now here we are.  Larger rooms, an extra bedroom, and sturdy floors!  Thanks be to God!  This place is literally the answer to a prayer.

Three weeks later, my six school kids said goodbye to classes for the summer, and I took advantage of having older kids at home to spend some time giving the old house as thorough a cleaning as its structural issues would allow.  (And then spent a couple weeks getting the new house back to some semblance of order, because, well, it looked like ten kids had been in it largely unsupervised for a couple of days.)  And now, it's locked up and waiting.  Supposedly, they know someone who wants to fix it with an eye toward renting it and trading the cost of labor and materials for rent.  I haven't seen him yet.  Personally, we're in agreement that the best fix for that place would be to tear it down and start over, but we aren't carpenters, so we shall see.

Baby Lissa has learned to crawl and is starting to pull up (time to lower the crib mattress!), and Justin is potty training, largely on his own.  I'm not sure if our choice to cloth diaper is making that easier, or if he just would have been easy in any case, but whichever it is, I appreciate it.  The only hitch is that he still barely talks, so I'm hesitant about taking him anywhere without a diaper yet, as he can't communicate to me that he needs to go.  And honestly, when he's wearing underwear, he's more likely to forget.  We've been having great success with simply allowing him to go freestyling for the time being.

We've done some traveling, which we always enjoy.  Jon and I took a weekend trip to Minneapolis/St. Paul for an anomaly, which is a large event that brings together lots of players in smartphone-based geolocation game we play called Ingress.  We had a wonderful time exploring the city, and for once we had enough extra time to stop and discover (and play in) a few other towns on the way home.  My only regret was not packing dress clothes, because if we had, I would certainly have arranged the end of our trip so we could attend Mass in the beautiful Cathedral of St. Paul.  We've agreed that from here on out, we're packing dress clothes for our weekend trips!  Yes, yes.  I know we could have attended Mass as we were, but it just didn't seem appropriate.  As usual, we saw a few things that made us wish we had been in places we visited by night during the day instead.  The old-time village replica in Owatonna, MN would have been interesting to see during the day, as would the Minnesota State Public School Orphanage Museum in the same town.  We did, out of necessity while working on a mission banner (game stuff again), make a stop at the Reiman Gardens in Ames, Iowa, and it was an experience not to be missed.  They were hosting an exhibition of Lego sculptures by one of only 17 certified (by the Lego company) Lego artists in the world.  As an added bonus, we found some lovely locally manufactured lace doilies in the gift shop.

There was also, just this past weekend, a day trip to Shiloh, TN with our teens and one of their friends, to visit the National Military Park there, which preserves the battlefields where the Civil War battles of Shiloh and Corinth were fought.  It can't be properly appreciated in a single day, and we hope to return.  So many men (many actually boys no older than those we brought with us) died there over those two days.

It's chilling to look at the battlefields and think about the horrors they've seen.  It seems so at odds with the serene, peaceful environment of a place that was originally named for peace.

Our annulment process is moving along, if rather slowly, but I find it hard to complain too loudly about the slowness, because a lot of rescheduled appointments have been caused by unexpected deaths or other hardships among our parish family.  Those things require our priest's attention more urgently, and play havoc with his already busy schedule, so we've been pushed back a few times.  I'm not especially good at waiting, but I can manage compassion fairly well, so patience is a bit easier to find than it might otherwise be.  Father alluded at our last meeting that we might be able to be married around this time next year, but if the process keeps getting delayed, I'm not holding my breath on that.  I just keep trying to remind myself that God truly does know best.

I actually tried on The Dress the other day for the first time, and came to the surprising realization that aside from a few pounds for comfort, it pretty much fits.  I guess wedding dress sizing has been changed to more accurately reflect real world sizes since I bought my last one in 2000.  Thankfully, I have a friend who can take it in for me if too many of the baby pounds come off between now and whenever.  Yes, I know.  Perhaps it's a little presumptuous to have a dress already.  But I am pretty confident, and it was hard to pass up the deal.  It's modest enough, I actually really like it, it's a realistic size, and it was a fraction of the price I'd have paid if I'd ended up buying new at the last second.  Having what seems like an unlimited amount of time for planning at least has the bright side of allowing me to keep an eye out for and take advantage of bargains.  And who doesn't like a good bargain?