Monday, June 20, 2016

Happy 50th Anniversary!

Over the weekend, our family celebrated my parents 50th Anniversary. Although I practiced making chocolate lace (previous post), I didn't have any confidence in my abilities at this point so I didn't try it. Instead, I wrapped some ribbon along the bottom of each cake tier and sprinkled it with gold colored sugar and called it done.

I also decided to try to make some flower arrangements with little puppy flowers. I bought a variety of flowers at the local grocery stone, floral foam and a little decorative box and made 2 arrangements. One for my parents and one for my grandmother because grandma's should always get their own flowers to take home.

Here's a close up of the cake. The bottom tier is yellow cake with raspberry, the center is hummingbird cake with cream cheese icing and the third is yellow cake with orange curd. Of course we had way too much cake but that's what freezers are for.

Mom got her wedding cake cutter out from June 1966, which of course we used to cut the cake 50 years later.

We couldn't have asked for a nicer day. The weather was gorgeous, dad was at the grill and the raspberry lemonade was cold. Here's to many more years to a great couple. Love you.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Practice Cake and Chocolate Lace

My parents 50th anniversary is June 18. Last year was my in-laws anniversary and we had a nice catered party with a 4 tiered cake that I worked my backside off preparing. My family on the other hand is small. Even with all the cousins we only number about 14 people and my parents don't get out and don't have any friends. I've asked my parents several times what they wanted to do for their 50th and they always say "nothing" so I haven't really planned anything.

My grandmother on the other hand is a different matter. She knows my parents want nothing for their anniversary but she doesn't believe that includes having cake and ice cream. And it got me thinking...

There's been a cake decorating technique I've wanted to try and it seems like a good opportunity to try it out and there's a cake recipe that I found that I think my parents will really like. So I thought I'd combine the two.

First the decorating technique. I found this video of Julia Usher on YouTube making what she calls chocolate lace. She does doilies and then a cake wrap using this technique. The video is for the cake wrap. Anyway, she makes a pattern on either parchment paper or food grade acetate using melted semi-sweet chocolate. Then she melts white chocolate and tints it different colors and fills in the areas making flowers or leaves. Once the chocolate cools and hardens a little, the wrap is then place around the sides of the cake then placed into the refrigerator to thoroughly harden up. Once that happens the wrap can be taken off the chocolate and the lace is now decorating the sides of the cake with the colored images are visible. I'll post my decorating efforts in another post.

Secondly, the recipe I want to try is called a Hummingbird Cake, which I found on Southern Living. Apparently, this is the one dessert recipe that is the most frequently asked for according to the SL website. It sounds pretty good and it definitely seems like something my parents would enjoy.

So, that's my plan. Make a small 3 tiered cake and make one tier a Hummingbird cake and decorate the cake sides with chocolate lace. I will have to modify the icing. Hummingbird Cake is usually frosted with a cream cheese icing but that won't set up enough for chocolate lace. So I'm going to use cream cheese icing for the inside and an Italian buttercream for the outside so it hardens nicely.

So that means I need a practice run. After all, I have no idea what this cake taste like and I never just make an unknown recipe on the day I need it.

I got all my dry ingredients together first. Then I chopped the nuts and 2 really ripe bananas and got the wet ingredients last.

The hummingbird cake was really easy to put together. I followed the recipe exactly and I was carefully not to over mix the batter.

It is a very dense, moist cake very similar to a carrot cake but with less spices. Some recipe versions call for coconut but the version I used did not.

The recipe calls for 3 - 9" pans but I only used 2 and my layers around about 1.5-2" thick. This cake does not rise a lot so keep that in mind.

I used a basic cream cheese frosting like the recipe calls for and it was very good. I didn't change the recipe at all but I think I would make a slight adjustment. I would add a bit more cinnamon to the batter. I used a good cinnamon too but it was just barely there. So I would use 1.5 teaspoons at least.

I don't have any pictures but for the other tiers, I'm just making a yellow cake and I'm going to fill the 10" tier with raspberry and the 6" with orange curd. The 8" will be the hummingbird cake. The recipe I used for the yellow cake is their Golden Vanilla Cake recipe. I followed their instructions and it came out perfect. It's a moist dense cake, not the fluffy crumbly kinda.

As for the chocolate lace, I watched the linked video of Julia Usher making her chocolate lace repeatedly. The hard part is determining how hot/cool you need the chocolate to be and how quickly you have get the wrap done before the chocolate sets up too much. If it hardens too much it won't bend around the cake. The only thing I can do is practice, practice, practice.

I've started by taking a long strip of parchment paper and drawing my designs in marker. Then when I flipped it over, you can see the design on the backside which I use as a guide to apply the melted chocolate. The chocolate is simply melted in a double boiler over low heat. The dark chocolate is quite fluid when its warm. You have to let it cool off a little before putting in a small paper cone or you'll burn your hand. Candy melts are a lot thicker when melted and don't flow very well so I'd stick with chocolate. Julie Usher has a video on YouTube regarding melting chocolate. Make sure you watch that before trying this.

After I got the dark chocolate down, then I melted white chocolate. Here's a tip: White chocolate will melt and get nice and fluid but if it gets too hot it will seize and thicken. White chocolate cannot take the same temperature as dark chocolate. I made a dark pink, dark green, light pink and light green. I filled in the center flower with my dark pink and the outer petals with light pink. I filled in the greens for the leaves giving it a pretty two toned look. You can see I've got some holes and maybe bubbles but that's why we practice. The bottom flower is the side that will show once wrapped around the cake. Pretty huh?

This wrap wasn't finished all the way simply because this was just a practice. But after filling in the pinks/greens I would fill in all around those vines with a light blue chocolate and cover the whole thing. Those vines dried quickly and would've just broke instead of bending so they'll have to be completely covered in chocolate. You can see where the chocolate was just popping off the parchment.

Also, there is no way for any one person to do this. The white chocolate will have to be melted, monitored, colored and bagged by someone else while I'm drawing the dark chocolate. The dark chocolate would cool off and harden if I have to do it myself. So this is definitely a 2 person job.

But I really like this technique and I think it's going to make for a very pretty 50th anniversary cake. More pics to come!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Sempervivums and Succulents

I decided to try my hand and making some topiary arrangements using sempervivums and succulents this year. I wanted to make a topiary (or a few) and maybe a large pot arrangement. I don't have any sempervivums (hens and chicks) or succulents and I find our greenhouses around here don't really carry all that much or much of a variety.

So I decided I would order them, but first a few definitions. Sempervivum is the genus of about 40 different plants that means "lives forever." Sempervivum's are a perennial succulent that leaves form rosettes. Mature rosettes then produce offshoot plants. Most people know the term "hens and chicks" because of the little baby plants that are produced next to the larger plant. Usually around 3 years old, the plant will flower then die.

Sempervivum's like to grow in hot, dry climates and prefer soil that drains (sandy/rocky) and can tolerate frost and low temperatures. These plants are called "hardy" while sempervivum's that can't tolerate cooler temperatures are called "soft" succulents. Soft succulents also seem to have more color or more variety of color than the hardy succulents but as long as they don't go below 32 degrees they should be okay.

So like any one now days, I decided to order my plants online since I don't really care for the choices at the local greenhouses. I settled on Mountain Crest Gardens located in Fort Jones, California. I thought MCG had a lot of variety to choose from and you can search by color, hardiness zone or light levels and more which I liked. I ordered about 12 plants in the 2" pots. They came neatly and securely packed, labeled and came with some instructions as to what to do with the plants when I got them. Each plant ranged from $3-4 dollars.

I also found a site called Succulent Gardens located in Castroville, California. This site sold succulent cuttings which are helpful for making topiaries or wreaths. I found these cuttings to be a reasonable price. I ordered 160 cuttings for $72. The main drawback to the cuttings is that you get a bag of cuttings with no labels or names and you can't choose what you get. So for example, in my bag of 160 about 1/2 are jade plant and something else similar and the other half seems to be more of a variety of rosette type succulents. These should work out fine for my topiary needs but its something to keep in mind if you're picky.

The third website I went to was Topiary Art Works for my forms. I got forms that were filled already filled with sphagnum moss. I got a 9" wreath, heart, turtle and a small Christmas tree shape. This site has different sizes from 9" to very large yard sized topiary forms and their prices seemed reasonable enough.

Once I had everything, I soaked the topiary forms in water for about an hour to make sure they got good and wet all the way through, then I let them dry out over night. The next day, I planted the cuttings in the moist forms. I trimmed away some of the bottom leaves to give me a stem, then I made a hole in the moss using my kitchen scissors, then I place the cutting in the hole. If the hole was too large or the cutting look floppy, then I used a garden pin to hold it in place.

If you want to put the succulents into a pot or repurpose an old item using dirt, that's fine. Just make sure you get the soil for cactus, not a regular potting soil. The cactus mix soil is made to drain water really well. Succulents do not want wet roots. They'll rot.

I found these little ceramic birdbath looking like things at my local craft store. They have some bits that were broken off but I thought they would be okay as planters. And since they were broken they were 75% off or something. I got them for around $4 each. The only drawback to the birdbaths is that there's no drainage. So if this is outside in a down pour or it rains for 4 days, it will flood and stay wet. Just remember to take this one inside or put a trash bag over it while it rains.

I'll probably put either sand or rocks on top of the dirt. I think it just looks a little nicer and a bit more professional.

I left some room around each plant so hopefully they'll fill in more over the summer. I'm pretty pleased with these plants and I'll probably be ordering from Mountain Crest Gardens again. They have some really pretty plants that we not available when I ordered the last time.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Bird by Bird - Part 4

I thought I'd go over the process of making some of the applique pieces for this quilt. I did some testing (see Part 3) and they came out really well and went fairly quickly.

Let me tell you though, this process makes a ton of trash! After cutting on the 12x12" mat, you peel off the excess which is trash. Do that to interfacing and the fabric and you can see how this generates a lot of trash but the pattern pieces are getting cut and cut quickly.

After scanning the images and importing them into the Silhouette software, I can place them on the 12x12" mat and have the Cameo cut out interfacing or freezer paper backed fabric. You just have to remember that if you're cutting out the fabric to enlarge your pattern piece first so you have plenty of fabric to turn under once the interfacing is ironed on.

Once the interfacing was cut out, I did some test pieces by just ironing the interfacing to some fabric and cutting around the shape leaving a generous 1/4".

Hearts are a little tricky but once you know to do it it's pretty easy. First of all, you have a sharp dip at the top of the heart and the two lobes and of course the point at the bottom. In the picture below, you can see the "V" shapes I've outlined along the lobes of the heart. This is because there is more fabric along that curve that you need to remove. It'll make it easier to get a nice rounded edge on the curve.

The bottom picture shows were I've removed the "V"'s or darts in the fabric. I did not cut all the way to the interfacing - that's important. I've also just cut the fabric down into the V at the top of the heart. I used Elmer's Disappearing Purple Glue Stick along the fabric flanges at the top and gently fold the fabric over the interfacing, creating a nice V at the top of the heart.

Continue glueing and folding the fabric over as you go along the heart. Don't spread too much glue on at once since it dries quickly.

Continue along the side of the heart down to the point.  Then work your way back up the other side. The second side will overlap at the point. This is fine. If you want you can turn the excess fabric up at the point. You can clip this little flag off later if you want.

After your done, turn the shape over and inspect it especially on the rounded areas. It's very likely you will get little points in the fabric. Just turn it over and spread the point out before all the glue dries. Once you do a dozen or so, you'll get better at it and it will go more quickly.

After the glue has dried (I usually leave mine at least 24 hours) go ahead and remove the interfacing paper.  Go slow and easy. You don't want to 1). Tear your fabric and 2). Rip the paper out so badly that you damage the shape. The glue from the interfacing will remain and then you can iron the shape onto your fabric where you want it. This will hold it in place while you sew it down.

That's a quick overview on how I'm making the applique shapes. I've got a lot done already. Several sizes of heart shapes, birds, petals and circles. I really wouldn't recommend this type of applique quilt without an electric cutter machine. I cut 60 shapes out on interfacing and fabric within 1 hour. That's doing all the computer work, cutting my interfacing to the mat, releasing the shapes etc. Everything. And I'm not working on this project 8 hours a day either and I still feel like I'm making progress.

There's other ways to create appliques, but I thought I'd show how I'm doing it for this project.