Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Flipping Pages

I'm a huge Kate DeCamillo fan, and I recently discovered yet another of her charming children's books: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. One of reviews calls it an "achingly beautiful story," and I must agree. Like Despereaux, it is beautiful in the way that it makes you want to cry.

Next on my reading list: Perfecting Ourselves to Death by Richard Winters. Recommended to me by Laura, as one of her RUF reading list books. They read so many good books during that internship! One thing I miss about college is reading good books and discussing them with people.

No work for me today, so I'm torn between a number of projects for my free time. Start my new book? Hit up the coffee shop to write some poetry? Work on my bag? (I'm sewing a bag, and fighting through figuring out the I-know-how-to-sew code that is the instructions.) Bake cookies? Perhaps all of the above. Perhaps none. I think at least some poetry.

In talking to my dear friend Lindsay the other day, a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins came to mind; it is one of his "terrible sonnets," and the one that comes to my mind most often. Perhaps because I struggle with its subject most often. I am too easily led to despair, to discouragement; I too easily choose not to believe the truth about myself in Christ. I'd rather feed on that Carrion Comfort. But --

Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist—slack they may be—these last strands of man
In me or, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.
But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me
Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan
With darksome devouring eyes my bruised bones? and fan,
O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee?

Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.
Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,
Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, cheer.
Cheer whom though? The hero whose heaven-handling flung me, foot trod
Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? That night, that year
Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Mint Chocolate Done!

As previously explained, my sweetheart of a boss asked me to make a cake for a friend's birthday today. No problem! I'd love to! My first cake for people! I found a good recipe and baked a chocolate sheet cake.

The next step is, naturally, icing. I have a recipe for mint chocolate chip buttercream icing that I was itching to try, and this was the perfect opportunity. Loaded up with peppermint extract and pounds of powdered sugar, I mixed up my first batch. Not quite enough. So I mixed up a second batch. I chopped up lots of chocolate.

I mixed the chocolate in with the minty icing and I was feeling really good about the process. The kitchen, by this time, smelled amazing. The leftover chocolate cake vapors and the new peppermint smells were very pleasant.

What comes next? Color! What color is mint supposed to be? Mint green! Just for a refresher, this is mint green. The color of leaves, of baby booties, and most importantly, of mint chocolate chip ice cream. If you aren't familiar with the usual way to color icing, let me explain. If you are familiar, pardon the review. Color concentrates are bought in little jars, which you transfer into the icing via a toothpick or two. Unless you want an extremely dark or strong color, you don't need much coloring. With this in mind, I put two toothpicks of color into my icing and blended. The icing did not change colors at all. Okay. More color. Still no change. What is stronger and darker? Food coloring! Two drops of green food coloring. (My mom was home by this point.) "Does it look any different to you?" "Mmm... no. Not really." Five drops and stir. Six drops and stir.

Then the mixer died. This is the second mixer I've killed while making icing.

The icing became something like the color of an alligator. Certainly not mint, certainly not even a nice leaf green, which was what I would expect from too much color. Nope. The color of a reptile, with a certain hint of brown under the green. Stirring by hand at this point, I added some yellow. No change. A little more yellow. Slight improvement. More yellow. My arm was exhausted.

                                                        (see how hard I was stirring?)

Somewhere around this time, I began to concede that perhaps, I was losing the battle. Also around this time, the icing was decidedly olive green. Like, the color of a dinosaur. Like, this color. Absolutely not mint.

You can't tell the color as strongly in this picture, but trust me. It's sitting in the fridge at this moment, very much this color.  Now what?

Start all over. To Wal-Mart! (I live in the middle of nowhere, so going to Wal-Mart, or even the grocery store, feels like a hassle.) My mom, who was brilliant this whole time, and kept me laughing instead of getting frustrated, proposed a Wal-Mart and supper trip. Off we went and bought more peppermint extract and a brand-new mixer. We ate a delicious dinner at our favorite restaurant, indulged in a couple ice cream cones, hit up the grocery story on our way home for butter, and then walked in the door, ready to start over. It was about 9:15 at this point. Except guess what we forgot to buy much more of? Guess what is the main ingredient in buttercream icing? Powdered sugar. I needed three pounds and we had about two cups. Grumble, grumble. After debating whether or not to go back to town, I decided it would be better to just wait and go in the morning. We were both exhaused; I could feel my body and brain shutting down, and I'm sure trying further would have only been digging the grave deeper.

This morning, I got up, went to the store, made lots of icing, and iced my cake! I decided to leave the green alone. Some extracts react strangly with color (for example, lemon icing won't dye a true red), and I wondered about the peppermint. I thought it better to not gamble with colors this morning. I decided on decorating with brown, so I made some chocolate buttercream, and got to work. I finished it just in time to drive it to my boss at 11:20 this morning, just before lunch. Whew!

                                the chocolate chips in the icing are what make it look so speckled

 I piped swirls all around the cake, and made a shell border on the bottom and rossettes on the top.

I was glad with how it turned out. I didn't think it was spectacular--I'm a total perfectionist--but I'm also glad it is finished. And my boss was very pleased, and that's what matters most.

I have an hour until I go to work, so now I'm curling up with some Harry Potter in preparation for November 19!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

It must be a full moon tonight

My sweetheart of a boss commissioned me last night to make a birthday cake for her (to give to someone else.) Hooray! I'm somewhat of a professional baker now, right? What I have to go on: mint chocolate chip. And the lady is diabetic. Wednesday night, I found a diabetic-friendly recipe that sounded delicous (and Splenda-free), and plotted my cake. It's for only a few people, so I'm making a 9 by 13 sheet cake, and I'll cut it in half and make a small, squarish layer cake. Chocolate cake, mint chocolate chip buttercream icing. Splendid, right?

Not so splendid. The cake turned out magnificently. The icing ... well. Let's just say I started working on the icing around 5 this afternoon. It is now after 10, and tomorrow morning I have to go to the store (again) and then make three more batches. This will be my fourth and fifth batch. The cake sits uniced, waiting catastrophe to find another house to linger over. I'm going to bed. More later. There will be pictures, don't worry.

(and it really is a full moon tonight.)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Future Jitters

Confession. I go to my first "real" interview this Wednesday morning at 9 am (except I have to leave the house at at least 7), and I am terrified. I've had my share of phone interviews, but I think my last real actual wear-a-suit interview was for the Presidential scholarship at Bryan College in 2006. Isn't that pathetic?

The company: 10 Best. The positon: editor. My degree: English Literature, writing minor. It would seem a perfect fit. Dragon to slay: my all-too easily intimidated self. And my affinaty for disaster when driving to a place I've never been before. (Case in point, I was half an hour late to a wedding this summer. The GPS took me to a dirt road instead of a lovely old house. I was distraught.)

Yet, God is good. And, what's the worst that can happen? I get lost and never find the place, so I have to email the lady back and tell her that I'm a bumbling idiot who can't follow a GPS and therefore would make a horrible employee. I still have my part-time job here at home. Ta-da! I win, right? And God is good, no matter what. He will be good if I get lost, if I get rejected for the job, if I totally botch the interview, or if I am offered a great job. He will be glorified, because He is God, and He is wise. I am not.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cake-skirted Cindy

She just looks like a Cindy. Laura and I stopped at the Dollar Tree before class, not wanting to shell out $6.95 for a doll pick we'd never use again. After skepticism of the choices, pondering the other options, and finally caving in to our cheapness, we both came away with little fairy dolls (the other options were mermaids). I paid the $1.07 in change.

Before I tell you about my doll, I should tell you about my cake. After doing lots of research in the hope of finding a doll cake that wasn't scary, I also found lots of information about the cake itself. Apparently, even the Wilton doll cake pan is too short for a doll, so many people bake an extra 8 or 9-inch round cake and use it to boost the height. As I baked my skirt in a bowl (a perfectly acceptable method, don't scoff), I was sure I'd need this extra lift. Using my grandmother's delicious hot milk cake recipe, I baked these beautiful cakes.

I then proceeded to ice them together, into something resembling a giant hamburger.

Armed with this, and my Cheap Cindy Fairy doll, I only lacked one thing as I entered class: a vision. I had no idea how I wanted to decorate my cake. I realize now I should've looked at pictures of ball gowns instead of doll cakes. If there is a next time (please, no!), I'll know better. I did feel better about this assignment as our teacher explained that the point of this exercise was not idle humiliation, but practice with pressure and control while icing, to prepare us for flowers next week. Ah. Now I understand. She wanted us to use the 104 tip for ruffles (also to be used for roses next week) and the 16 or 32 tip for stars. I dreaded the star tip, because, as I'm sure you will agree, using this tip on a ball gown makes the gown look as though grandma crocheted it. But, like the good student I am, I resigned myself to crocheting and ruffling a ball gown for (now naked) Cheap Cindy.

I might also add, that taking Cheap Cindy's fairy outfit off was quite the ordeal. The neck strap was smaller than her head, so I (of course?) thought to just pop her head off. I then immediately realized that her head might not go back on. It didn't. There I sat, while our teacher warned us about the dangers of using some types of fresh flowers on cakes, with a naked, headless doll in one hand, and her head in the other, trying desperately to reunite them under the table. Laura and I were also trying just as desperately not to laugh. On the verge of collapsing in laughter at the thought of a crocheted and headless doll cake, I handed the doll to Laura, who somehow wrangled her little head back on.

Resolving that if I must make a doll cake, I may as well make it super girly, I decided that Cheap Fairy Cindy's dress would be pink. (Her fairy wings are a shocking shade of lime green, so that ruled out most other colors anyway.) My teacher helped me scootch Cindy's legs into my cake until she stood, nude and creepily sticking halfway out of my cake. I should've taken a picture of that. I ruffled and starred away, until at last, Cindy stood, in all her pink, crocheted, slightly-misshapen glory.

I thought it best to let her hold her fairy wand, since she looked a little bored just sitting there. Or maybe it's a giant bubble wand. What do Dollar Tree Fairies do, anyway?

I must admit, though, that as much as I detest the idea of a doll cake, I have that fondness for poor trapped Cindy as anyone does for something mediocre: just because I made it. And I thought I did an okay job on the icing part (and that's the important part, right?). See my ruffles? You can also tell where I switched from the 16 tip (the small stars) to the 32 (the bigger stars).

I don't know if you can tell, but Cindy does have a little flower detail on her crocheted bodice.

Overall, I'm glad this assignment is over. I'm also glad that this cake will be put to good use. Laura knows a little girl who will be turning 6 this Thursday, and Cheap Cindy will be Happy Birthday to her. And I know for a fact that the cake will, if nothing else, taste good.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Doll Cakes and Despair

It's hopeless. Absolutely hopeless. There is no such thing as a doll cake that doesn't look scary or misshapen or tacky or just plain awful. Except of course this one, (yes, that's a real cake) but it doesn't count. And tonight, I go to my cake class with the same impossible task as Frodo walking to Mt. Doom: I have to create a doll cake. My pride refuses that it be this bad or  this bad (sprinkles, seriously?), but, my spirit is increasingly discouraged. But, disgusting or not, I will show you, don't worry. Alas. Don't judge me too fiercely. I'll be embarrassed enough.

Monday, September 13, 2010


I've been home for a month. And, like most people, I'm not at all where I expected to be at this point in my life. My best friend Lindsay and I had grand plans of living in Chatty for a year, cooking exotic foods, and being lovable and well-paid members of the Chattanooga neighborhood. Even that is a far cry from my original game plan. In high school, my plans were Ivy-covered, and did not at all consider the possibilities of marriage, failure, or smallness. But there was no Harvard for me, and my time at Bryan, if it did nothing else, mellowed my selfish dreams of greatness, and turned a self-focused over-achiever into, I hope, a good friend, content to deeply and quietly invest in a few lives rather than superficially know many people from behind a microphone. And now, here I am, at the end of those mellowing four years, back at home. In a small town (not even a Wal-Mart), working a small, part-time job ("Would you like a cup or a cone?"), even attending a small church, finding joy in cleaning up clutter and cooking a good dinner. Often, the dragon of self-importance comes skulking, breathing ash on my present contentment: My my, what a small life. What would you have thought if someone told you this is where you'd be? And you were "Most Likely to Succeed," weren't you? What happened to greatness? And then I miserably wonder, what happened to greatness? How can I possibly be improving the community or myself by living such an incredibly small life as I am living now?

But I must remember, for it is my only hope, that God is good, and that He is no less present or active here than in Chattanooga or Cambridge. And He is no less good or powerful or soveriegn just because I see myself in a small role than if I were the lead writer for the New York Times, or actually getting paid to write poetry. I forget that the waiting itself is a phase. I think that the transition doesn't count except as dead time in the span my life, but they are often the most growing, the most telling times. The times of being led to a place I do not want to go for an unknown length of time are the times when my character is both clearest shown and, hopefully, strengthened and improved.

I do live a small life. I work 20 hours a week waitressing and scooping ice cream for the same regulars at lunch and a host of tourists on the weekends. I live at home with my parents and our dog, and I attend an incredibly small, incredibly old-fashioned church on Sundays. I enjoy cooking supper. I have one friend in town. But, godliness with contentment is great gain (I Timothy 6:6). More important than making money or winning friends or influencing people or being who other people think I should be. I may never be a world-changing published poet. But I can be godly and content.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

My very own cake

All the baking and cooking I'm doing has put me in even more a cooking and baking mood. So, in addition to time in the kitchen, I've watched "No Reservations," and now am watching "Julie and Julia."

Our instructor wants us to ice pound cakes, which I'm not a huge fan of, but oh well. I decided to bake a chocolate pound cake, because I thought it would work better with butter cream icing than a plain pound cake.

Here's my naked cake:

I had no idea how I wanted to decorate it, even up until I met Laura for dinner. But, fortunately, there was a neat little iron fence in the restaurant, so nerd that I am, I copied the design down in my notebook, and used it as the starting point for my very first cake. The colors: teal and brown. The result? Are you ready?

Ta-da! It's not brilliant or professional, but I think it's alright for a first go. The top border is what really sets it apart as amateur, I think. It's ridiculously uneven. And it reminds me too much of the poopy icing they make fun of on Cake Wrecks. Hopefully this too shall pass. But it tasted pretty good, and it all got eaten when my mom took it to work yesterday.

On another note, I made up a recipe for oven-baked cumin chicken for dinner the other night and served it with steamed broccoli, and mashed sweet potatoes. Delicious!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Buttercream and Beginnings

As I'm increasingly content in this new phase in my life, I'm enjoying investing in new opportunities. Namely, I'm enjoying having a schedule and being able to do and learn things I've always wanted to do and learn. I'm working out and spending time in the Word daily, and cooking almost every day. And, beginning last night, Laura and I are taking a cake decorating class at Cake Decor! I'm somewhat familiar with buttercream icing techniques because of my mom, but it's different doing it yourself, and very different getting it perfectly right instead of passable. Our first class we practiced with all our instructor's icing tips, and we all worked on the same cake. Next week, we're bringing in our own cake and icing and decorating our own cake. I think I'll do much better then than with everyone watching me.

In preparation, this afternoon I whipped up half a batch of buttercream icing and pulled out all my tips and some wax paper and practiced, practiced, practiced!

 Here's my final product of about an hour playing around on the wax paper. I think the poofy borders are so awful, so I was trying to be creative with other cake borders. I have plenty of time to learn. And you can see how covered in icing the tips are! I made a huge mess, but, like the Cat in the Hat, I always clean up my play things. And hopefully, I'll be able to decorate a good-looking cake in a matter of weeks! I'll keep you updated as I go!