Friday, March 30, 2012

This Takes the Cake!

I noticed today that I've got quite a backlog of photos, due in part to the photo frenzy that spring always sparks for me and in part to not having my computer for several weeks. Hence, a mid-week post dedicated solely to baking!

I love to bake on holidays, even 'minor' holidays like St. Patrick's Day. Some years are more elaborate than others, but this year I decided to just make cupcakes. But not just any cupcakes...rainbow cupcakes! Alas, no pot of gold.

I don't have the kind of food coloring that makes really lovely saturated colors, so mine were pastel. I whipped up a basic white cake and split the batter into 6 separate bowls. Each bowl was given a different color.

Then, I dropped spoonfuls of each color into the cupcake liners.

When baked, they looked more psychedelic than rainbow.

I frosted them with a simple white buttercream and topped them with green sprinkles.

They were really, really delicious. I think I've found my go-to white cake recipe. Score!

The recipe made around 20 cupcakes. About 1 minute after I took this shot, the left-hand leg of the cooling rack I was using folded and half of them slid off the table and onto the floor...frosting side down. Splat.

At least I had some Irish soda bread to ease my suffering!

A week later, I decided to make some Yoda cookies for Todd, who was getting together with some Star Wars friends. Showing up with cool cookies = instant popularity boost, right?

I was inspired by Sweet Sugarbelle's tutorial for Yoda. I am clearly not as talented as her, though, so mine weren't quite so nice!

I took a spider cookie cutter and stretched the body out a bit. Perfect Yoda face. With royal icing, thinned to a piping consistency, I outlined the face and made a grid for the forehead. You're supposed to fill in alternate sections of the grid and let them dry to give them more definition. Outlining and filling in certain sections, waiting for them to dry, and filling in other sections took a REALLY long time.

I made some royal icing eyes on the face using quick drops of frosting...really easy. Then I filled in the rest of the face, but I wasn't very happy with how it looked...especially with icing encroaching upon the eye space.

I ended up pounding down the surfaces of the old eyes with the blunt end of a chopstick, taking a perverse pleasure in my task after so many long hours bent over my decorating space. To cover the gaping cavities in Yoda's face, I made lots of royal frosting eyes on wax paper and set them over the holes with icing 'glue'.

Piped icing covered any remaining evidence. At last...complete!

Part of the problem for me, I think, was that I decorated so many Yodas.

Not ten, not twenty, but rows and rows of them...enough Yodas to haunt my dreams for weeks to come. Shudder!

I chose a more pleasant topic for my Easter cookies...spring!

Royal icing chicks hatching out...

...simple dots...

...swirly lines...


...and sheep!

The sheep were my favorite. I only had a stegosaurus cookie cutter so I had to improvise.

They're so cute!

I boxed them up...

...made little Easter tags...

...and got them ready to send to out-of-town friends and relatives!

And today...I made this.

I'm really proud of it! Recently I'd seen a tutorial for making fancy-looking icing roses with a simple twist of the wrist and a Wilton 1M icing tip. Sometimes at night, while waiting to fall asleep, I went over it in my head, practicing. I became obsessed, telling Todd, "I have got to try to make those roses." A friend of mine is due to give birth any day, and I'd just seen a recipe for a strawberry cream layer cake, so I had the perfect excuse to make a cake for a friend and try those icing roses. Yay!

Make a mound, make a swirl, and you've got a rose! It may look complex, but believe it or not, it only took about 10 minutes to decorate the entire cake.

Ladies and gentlemen, there are SIX sticks of butter in that cake if you include the frosting. One and a half pounds of butter. It weighed a ton!

And, because the house smelled so good after the cake was delivered to my friend...and because I didn't feel like doing my real work...and because it's spring and I still had some strawberries left...I made another one.

Because I hadn't planned on doing any fancy swirly roses, I added a brick of cream cheese to my buttercream to complement the strawberries.

I've never had a strawberry cream cake before. The taste was very subtle and mild. The addition of the cream cheese and extra whipping with my KitchenAid gave the frosting a fabulous, airy texture.

Really good!

Todd's birthday is in two weeks, and I think I'm going to tackle Martha Stewart's six layer salted caramel chocolate cake with real drippy caramel and fudgy frosting between every single layer.

I can't wait.

Hope you have a sweet week!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Bark in the Park

Yesterday we took Borga on her first real 8-mile jaunt through a local state park. There was a lot for a curious little dog to see. Canadian geese were out in flocks, picking through the grass for insects...

...or performing an early-morning cleaning.

We were all enchanted by the plants that were popping up amid the fallen leaves on the forest floor. This twisty plant...

...unfurls into a Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum). It's also known as wild lemon and fruits later in the summer. The fruit is edible, although it can be poisonous if eaten in large amounts.
The plant's rhizomes have been used for medicinal purposes.

Toad Trillium (Trillium sessile) is a pretty little plant. I like its mottled leaves and the tiny maroon flower that grows right out on top of the leaves instead of from the plant stem.

There were fields - fields! - of Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica). This less-than-stellar photo shows their almost electric colors and delicate blossoms. Due to their unusual shape, Virginia Bluebells are pollinated almost exclusively by butterflies.

These little flowers are known as Spring Beauties (Claytonia virginica). They re-seed rapidly and spread quickly.

There were other flowers I didn't know, like this groundcover that reminded me a little of Myrtle.

I think these are a type of anemone. I remember these from my dainty!

More pretty leaves than I could count!

I love the names of these woodland plants, like Cutleaf Toothwort and Dutchman's Breeches. Yes...we saw these too, but I didn't get a picture of them.

Huge patches of daffodils were blooming and made quite a scene. My only complaint about daffodils is that they don't bloom for very long and then you're left with the tall green leaves, which you cannot cut down because they're gathering nutrients in order to have a successful flowering the following year. But, I've discovered that if you plant columbines within the daffodils, their sprawling leaves and shooting spikes make a nice cover.

Trees were budding out, too, like this redbud...

...and this beautiful forsythia bush.

The forsythia sprawled all the way down the hills to the water. So pretty!

This crabapple tree, too, was in full bloom.

Standing underneath a crabapple tree in full bloom is quite an experience. The branches are low so you're at eye-level with the little white blossoms and shiny maroon leaves.

The flowers have several jutting filaments, each topped with a little pollen packet.

The branches are not just supporting the flowers. I brushed against several spiderweb strands and knew that somewhere close, a small web-weaving spider was waiting for a meal. I stood very still and surveyed the area. Found him!

I just love to see the trees budding out in the spring.

Even though this winter was really mild, we had a lot of dull, grey days.

The water level at this reservoir had dropped significantly over the winter.

Still lots of pretty views, though!

Nice signs of life, like this bird's nest...

...and even a wasp nest in the same bush.

We saw more Canadian geese...

...and this red-wing blackbird even held still long enough for a quick picture.

They're beautiful when they're flying, because all you can see is a streak of black and red.

Lots of little ducks and other waterfowl dipping for fish and algae.

A beaver has been busy here!

All in all, it was a very educational trip for Borga!

These spring days just fill me with happiness. Every day I'm checking my seedlings, pruning bushes, bringing in more and more bouquets, and enjoying the 'greening up' of the yard. I believe that every good thing, even the little ones, are gifts from God, and I love seeing the beauty of His creation, especially in the spring!

I hope you're having a nice spring, too!