Saturday, December 22, 2012

December Decadence

The countdown is on til the man with the bag makes his entrance!  So much excitement circulating between our walls!  And we are finally all home relaxing...baking done, shopping (almost) done, wrapping done. Whew.

The past few weeks have been very busy with orders for holiday cupcakes.  Here are a few samples:

For the staff at the Chesterfield Department of Juvenile Justice.  White Almond Sour Cream cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream. Snowflakes piped with royal icing and finished with silver sprinkles in the center.  Stars of fondant and painted with silver lustre dust.

For a new friend who works for Armstrong flooring.  Her clients are contractors, so I created toppers that I figured they might appreciate ;)  The same cake and frosting combo (a crowd favorite) with hand cut fondant hammers, saws, hardhats and drills.

Finally, some personal projects. I planned to make both of these cookies for my cooking club.  There's a little theme here, which might lead one to believe that I need to go to rehab :)  Both cookies are based on some of my fave adult beverages..a Mojito cookie and an Eggnog Cheesecake bar. Yum!  I did end up taking the Mojito cookies to my club, but remembered at the last minute that the girls in the my club don't like eggnog!  Oh well, more for us at home!

The Mojito cookies are basically a shortbread recipe, infused with lime juice, zest and real mint.  I think they are really good, although I would add a tiny bit of mint extract or more mint leaves next time to heighten the taste of that ingredient. Maybe a sugar glaze with lime juice and mint extract would do the trick.
The Eggnog Bars were a little more challenging. They are a Martha Stewart recipe that I found on Pinterest.  I have never made cheesecake, so I had a hard time getting the consistency right.  They are a little gooier than I would like and didn't cut cleanly, but OMG, they taste fantastic!!  These are "adult cookies" as they have brandy in the recipe.  The recipe makes a 9" pan, so we are left with quite a few, so my plan is to freeze the leftovers and use them to make milkshakes!  In a blender, combine a few of the bars, vanilla frozen yogurt, a splash of milk.  Top with graham cracker and nutmeg sprinkles.  My husband will never want a McDonald's Eggnog milkshake again!!
That's it until January!  May you all have merry and bright holidays!

Confectionately yours,
Cathy

Thursday, November 29, 2012

From the Playroom to the Kitchen

Hi all,
I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!  I wanted to take a little break from re-decorating and holiday prep to share a couple of recent cake projects.

The first was cupcakes for my dear friend, Beth.  She is a teacher, swimteam manager and amazing mom to 2 beautiful girls.  She's one of those women to whom the title "Superwoman" could easily apply.  Beth recently hosted a Stella & Dot party and asked me to provide some sweet treats for her guests.  For those who don't know, a Stella & Dot party is kind of like a Tupperware party, but for really cute jewelry. I wanted to make the cupcakes special for Beth, so I made some toppers to mimic some jewelry designs that I dreamed up.  The cupcakes were rich and moist Choco-Mocha topped with tangy Cream Cheese icing and topped with fondant jewelry.  Thanks for the support, Beth!



 Next up was a baptism cake for my friend, Amanda.  I had done the Nursery Rhyme cake for a baby shower that Amanda hosted, but this cake would be for Amanda's own baby girl.  The inspiration for the design came from the nursery, which has a very cute woodland theme.  The sweet creatures were hand painted by Amanda's husband and are really adorable.  On top of the cake is a little miniature Abby in her Christening dress and bonnet. She is hand-molded out of fondant.








Thanks again to both Beth and Amanda and happiest of holidays to all of you!
Confectionately yours!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Playroom Transformation: Phase 3

Hey!
Today, I am bringing you the next installment in the transformation of the kids' playroom to a more family-friendly study/gameroom.  I think this overall project has been the most comprehensive and physically difficult project that I have done.  Our master bedroom (painting vaulted walls and ceiling which required a rented scaffold) and tiling all 3 bathroom floors definitely kicked my butt.  In this project, however, every step seemed to have me popping ibuprofen after.  But, I LOVE how it is turning out!

Off topic for a minute, I think genetics are fascinating and I love ruminating on where certain aspects of my/ my husband's/my kids' personalities/interests/quirks come from.  Well, I was recently reminded of where the DIY obsession originated.  My maternal grandfather, Douglas (husband of Maria, the inspiration behind CREO) was quite the handy man.  But also a little bizarre.  I have not fully appreciated said bizarre-ness until recently, when my brother posted a photo on Facebook of he and I in my grandparent's backyard.  I was in 9th grade, the pinnacle of awkward adolescence, and my brother was probably about 6, his smart-aleck tendencies just starting to emerge. We were actually living in this house at the time, helping to take care of Grandma, who was battling cancer.  Grandpa had passed a few years prior.  He did not go without leaving behind a legacy.  Check out this picture.  When you are done laughing at we kids (I mean, look at my brother's face!!!), please look closely at the fence behind us...and laugh again.  This is a "privacy" fence that my Grandpa made....out of Budweiser cans.  No joke.  He bound chicken wire to a pipe frame and then carefully cut all of his empty Bud cans (yes, he was a drinker) into perfectly uniform strips and wove them in and out of the wire.  The bottoms of the cans provide a nice, decorative touch at the top, don't you think?  I have no idea what inspired this...but I have to admit it is fairly ingenious..albeit extremely tacky.  I think he may have done it to spite the neighbor. Needless to say, my family moved into that house a few years after my Grandma passed and promptly took it down. Douglas rolled in his grave, I'm sure.


Anyway, I blame him for this obsession of mine.  And now..on to the desktop!!

As with all my projects, I have an aesthetic in mind and then have to find a way to make it affordable and try not compromise my dream too much.  The desktop for this unit was a big hiccup in that department.  I looked at pre-fab countertops.  Decent price, but felt that they looked too kitchen-y.  Really wanted butcherblock, but was not able to find an affordable option.  IKEA recently discontinued a perfect option, so that was out.  So, back to the drawing board...make my own.  Our neighborhood has a maintenance person on staff whom I have befriended.  He has been a great mentor to me, popping by to check out my projects and offer tips here and there.  So, Larry was my first stop when I started brainstorming this idea.  I explained my plan and he gave me a sanity check and helped tweak where I needed tweaking.  Thanks SO much to Larry!!

Back to Lowe's and the lumber department.  I needed 10' lengths in a variety of widths, which I would attach together to form a 26" deep desktop.  I went with 10", 8", 6" and 4" wide planks.  I was not in the habit of buying lumber, so Larry helped me realize that even though these boards say 10" wide, for instance, they are actually a 1/2" less than that.  So, all of mine did equal 26" wide, not 28". A convoluted system, if you ask me.

Once home, (I am lucky they did not snap in two when I shoved them in the back of my CRV), I laid them out in the order that I wanted them and marked the back and left/right sides of each board.


Fast forward a few days later...then came the tricky part.  I had to move very quickly, using strong wood glue to attach the boards to each other (without letting the glue seep out) and then clamp them securely together...but not too tightly as I did not want them to buckle.  Once glued, I had to attach cross-braces to the underside (see next to last photo).  I did one in the center, and one about 15" in from each end. Again, thanks to Larry for those tips.

The wood was not perfectly cut at the mill, so there were some differences in thickness in some areas as well as a few small gaps in between boards.  I had to use wood filler on some areas to minimize those.  Here's the raw surface.


I hated the next part.  I had to use an orbital sander to try to get a more even and smooth surface. This process creates SO much dust..and I did not have a mask on.  So I coughed for the remainder of the day and am convinced that this exacerbated a cold that eventually turned into bronchitis.  Lesson learned.


I finally got it as smooth as I was going to get it and then started the staining process.  I wanted a rustic look..kind of a golden oak color that would not match, but would complement the maple floors.  I used a wood conditioner first, then applied the stain in sections, and finally 3 coats of matte polyurethane.

I like the color of the finish.  I don't like the way that it highlights the sections where I used wood filler, but I had no choice with that.

The open desk section in between the two lower cabinets in fairly wide, so I had to figure out a way to support the weight so it didn't sag.  Again, Larry suggested the ledger board, which is screwed to the studs in the wall.  The back of the desktop rests upon that.  I had planned to do a post to support the front, but didn't like the look of it once I got it all put together.  I elected to do a bracket from the back wall instead.  It's not a perfect amount of support, but I think it will work.  The boys know not to sit or stand on the desk.

And here it is!  Also completed since the last installment...baskets in the top openings, knobs and handles and stools.  Still to come..wall accessories.  Working on a few projects that will help wrap everything up very nicely.  Can't wait to show them to you!

Confectionately yours!




Thursday, October 25, 2012

Playroom Transformation: Phase 2

Here we go...moving on to the next and biggest part of the project.  The cabinets.  I have been stewing over this addition for several years...mentally exploring all the different options for getting it done.  Of course, the first requirement was that it had to be affordable, but I also wanted to make sure that it was quality.  I was willing to do some install, but was hoping to not have to do too much manual labor.

I checked out all the options...IKEA, Pottery Barn, Ballard...all beautiful but way too pricey (even IKEA).  Next it was on to Lowe's and Home Depot, but all the white stock cabinets were laminate/melamine.  I really didn't want to go there if I could help it as the quality can be questionable.  Custom products were made to last, but definitely cost-prohibitive.  So, there were affordable options and quality options out there, but no luck reconciling the two without going DIY.

I ended up going with stock cabinets from Lowe's.  They are solid oak, but unfinished.  More work than I really wanted to take on, but the price was right.  I took an inventory of the cabinet sizes that they carried and then went home, measured the space and sketched out the configuration that would work.




Trying to save a buck, I took these home from the store myself, fitting them in the back of my CRV.  It took 3 separate trips to get them all in.  My back has been killing me since.  But, too late to turn back..on to the painting.  I cleared space in the garage and set up shop for what would be a two week process of sanding, priming and painting.


It is recommended that you remove cabinet doors prior to painting, but alas, screws do not always cooperate, so I was forced to leave the doors on for the cabinet below.  Not ideal, but flexibility and trouble-shooting skills are key when DIYing. And a few curse words help ease the frustration as well ;)


Let me interject here and say that I was by no means winging it with all of these tasks.  I had my iPad by my side the entire time, consulting Google, YouTube and various message boards for process, instruction and tips.  This is the room that the internet built. I especially needed assistance when it came time to install the cabinets. They are darn heavy and I had to make sure that they were securely attached to the wall.  This involved lots of measuring, stud-seeking (uses different skills than when I was single - haha) and calculating.  The shot below shows the ledger boards that I installed to help keep the upper cabinets level and supported while the hubster and I screwed the cabinets in.


After the upper units were in, we brought in the lower and set them in place.  It was so gratifying to see everything start to take shape.  A couple of additional comments:  I decided to leave the doors off the upper square openings and put baskets in to add some texture (baskets still to come).  I also had to compromise on the height of the lower cabinets.  Ideally, I would have liked to have them at a standard desk-height.  However, desk-height cabinets seem to only be available by special order, so I was limited to the counter-height cabinets.  They will require bar stools for seating, but I don't think the difference will bother me once everything is completed.


Next is the desk top, which is a whole other animal.  In the interest of budget and design, I am building my own butcher block style counter that spans the entire 10' length from end to end.  Did I say that I was hoping to not have to do too much manual labor myself?  Yeah, scratch that.  I'm physically spent, but am learning lots of new skills in the process!  Stay tuned for installment 3..coming soon!

Confectionately yours!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Playroom Transformation - Phase 1

Hi all -
I have been out of touch.  The past 2 months have been such a whirlwind of activity - on so many fronts!  The twins started 2nd grade..the homework is NO JOKE!  I have been focusing on marketing for CREO, getting on a referral list at a local country club and relishing in some very flattering press from our major daily newspaper.  AND...tackling a transformation of our playroom into a study/gameroom.

I have mixed feelings about this change as I originally set up the playroom for the boys when they were 2.  So changing it now means saying "good-bye" to an era.  But, the new set up will offer much better storage, space for homework/art/computer and provide a better all-around space for the whole family.

Here's the before. Once upon a time, it was fairly organized, but over the years, it has gotten out of control. (Excuse the youngster in the foreground.)


The overhaul of the space includes:
An overall painting of the space, including a stenciled feature wall
The DIY building of a wall unit that includes lots of cabinet and drawer space and a 10' desk area (I am crazy, I know)
Making my own version of a butcher block desktop (again, crazy)
Cutting down the area rug to accommodate the new wall unit and show a little more of our beeeautiful hardwood floors, DIY curtains, finishing touches

Today I am bringing you Phase 1 of this huge project...the wall stencil.
I was back and forth on a new color for this room and after some trial and error, decided to stay with the neutral background that we have in the foyer and halls.  I'm happy with that, as it gives a more peaceful transition between the downstairs spaces.  However, I wanted something in the room to make it special.  I had been coveting a stencil that I had seen on Pinterest, so I decided to give it a try here.  Here's the inspiration shot.  The tone of this home reminds me alot of some of the areas in our home, so I was pretty sure it would work.


When I started researching the technique, I found that the ready-made stencils can be quite expensive.  This one was about $50, plus shipping.  Too much for me!  So, I set about creating my own pattern.  Not a stencil, per se, but more of a tracing technique.  Here's the process:
I folded a piece of letter size paper into quadrants.  Then with the folds on the left and bottom, I sketched out 1/4 of the medallion.  This took a little trial and error to get the right curves, angles and proportions, but it was not difficult.


I re-folded the paper and cut on the line that I drew.
Then I did the same thing to create the inner line of the medallion, stacking them to make sure the points were lining up and the lines were the proper width.


This paper was too flimsy to use as the actual pattern, so I transferred the designs to poster board that I painted the background color.  Before applying to the wall, I set out to the find the perfect accent color.  I love the metallic effect in the inspiration pic, so I experimented with several colors to get that effect.  I ended up combining light champagne and gold toned acrylic craft paint...perfect!



Time to cut out the medallions and start tracing!  This was a very time-consuming process, mostly because I used a level to make sure that the outer medallions were lined up straight.  Once the outer medallions were traced, the inner tracings were pretty easy to align.


I tackled this over several days - grabbing an hour or two when I could.  It took alot longer than a stencil probably would have, but I am beyond thrilled with the result!  You can't tell by the picture, but from one direction, the accent color reads darker (like you see here), and when the light hits it, the accent is lighter and metallic...just like the inspiration!  It's pretty much one of the first things you see when you walk in the door and I love the tone is sets for the rest of the house.  A little bit ethnic, a little bit glam and totally DIY...that's me!!


Stay tuned for more installments of the big transformation!
Until next time...confectionately yours!



Saturday, September 8, 2012

Hey Diddle Diddle

 Whew!  I am plum worn out!  This week brought the 1st week of second grade for the twins, catching up on house stuff and volunteer tasks and what might be the most detailed cake that I have tackled thus far.

I was asked by a former co-worker to make a baby shower cake to match the theme of vintage nursery rhymes.  Such a cute concept and the fabric and art samples that she provided for inspiration were just beautiful.  I really wanted the cake to capture the vintage quality of the toile - the watercolor effect of the details, soft colors and realistic expressions of the characters.  This would be a tall order, given that fondant characters so often come across looking very cartoon-like with sharp colors and edges.  So, I set out to attempt a new technique for me...painting on fondant.  Instead of using fondant to create all the features, I decided to paint them on so that they would look like a watercolor painting.  I also wanted to create a toile effect by painting on the fondant background.  Here are the inspiration pieces that Amanda provided.

The cake itself was White Vanilla Sour Cream with raspberry filling and chocolate buttercream, covered in vanilla fondant. The figures were all hand-sculpted or cut fondant and hand-painted. When I say "paint", I of course mean with edible coloring.  I used gel food colors, thinned with vodka.  The vodka dilutes the coloring, but then the alcohol evaporates, leaving the dried color.  I scoured the internet to find just the right character images from which to gather ideas for colors and details.  That is the part that I love the most. I especially love the 3 blind mice.  They are sparse in detail, but I feel that they say so much!

Here's the finished product!



 The cat with his fiddle serenades the dish and spoon as they high-tail it up the brick road.  Upon reviewing my photos, I realized that I forgot to give the cat a tail!  Woops! I do love how Humpty Dumpty turned out.  He is such a well-dressed egg!




The back of the cake completes the story of where all this "once upon a time" takes place.  It looks so peaceful and fanciful..exactly what a nursery should be.


Thanks to Amanda for the opportunity to be a part of the celebration!

Confectionately yours!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Very Special Occasions!

Hello!
I've been MIA for a few weeks - doing our summer thing.  Family wedding, Grammy & Papa camp, trip to CA to see the new twin nieces, swim team, family and friends in town - whew! But also a little R&R from caking in the process.  I needed a little break, but am happy to be back at it this week!

One of my former co-workers is hosting a baby shower and she asked me to make a cake to suit the occasion.  The charge was "White Almond Sour Cream cake with raspberry filling, soft purple with pink and peach accents, owl theme (my choice if I wanted to do anything with that)".  She also sent me a pic of some cute wooden lettering that the Mom had painted and hung in the nursery.  The letters were folk-arty with button details.

I have been following a blog lately by a quilter named Sue Spargo, who does beautiful folk art quilts with gorgeous colors and hand-stitching.  I don't quilt, but I would love to take one of her classes, just to learn how to emulate her style.  Well, this cake seemed to scream for details that gave a nod to folky quilting, so I tried to infuse some of those touches into the cake as I went along.  I usually have a pretty succinct plan when I start a cake, but this one really happened organically. I'm very happy with the finished product.




Also, I wanted to share a great idea that my Mother-in-Law came up with.  She hosted the rehearsal dinner for the family wedding that we went to and she asked me to do Bride & Groom cakepops for the event.  Since these are designed to be served with the stick up, vs lollipop-style, she asked if we could put pop signs on them and use them as placecards on the dining tables.  I thought it was a fantastic idea and wanted to share how beautiful they looked.  It was a spectacular wedding and we are thrilled to have a new family member!


Confectionately yours!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

ANATOMY OF A CAKE

People often ask what goes into making a cake of the type that I typically make.  Planning, materials, inspiration...they like to know the deets.  So, I thought this was a good opportunity to lay out how it all comes together.  The project this week was a 4th birthday cake for the daughter of my very close friend, Marilyn.  The birthday girl's name is Claire and she is the charmer for whom I made the Wicked cake a year ago.  I love that she always wants something a little different from what a 3 or 4 year old girl typically wants. This year, the request was for a "chick pirate" cake (Marilyn's words, not Claire's ;)  I was psyched!

So, the first thing I do is find out how many guests will be served and what flavor combo is requested. Then I go to town brainstorming. In this case, I tried to think of as many iconic pirate images as I could, all the while trying to figure out how I could make them fit a sassy, girly cake. I contemplated going with a sculpted pirate ship design, but I probably would have had to resort to doing part of it in rice cereal treats, which I didn't want to do.  For those who don't know, many of the sculpted "cakes" that you see on TV are actually largely made of rice cereal or even inedible construction materials covered in fondant in order to get the desired shape.  There is often a sheet cake in the wings waiting to be cut and served for eating.

After the design is sketched out, I run it by the client, with a quote based on the type of execution involved.  I typically need to have a green light to proceed at least 2 weeks from the event date.  If fondant figures are involved, I need to time to make them and let them set so that they are stable.  For this cake, I started building a figurine of Claire(as a pirate-ess) about a week and a half out.  Then on to the parchment birthday banner, anchor, skull and crossbones flag, treasure chest and gold doubloons. All were hand-sculpted of fondant.  The anchor and doubloons were painted with lustre dust after hardening.


Two days from delivery and it's time to bake.  Marilyn requested a repeat of last year's flavors, Choco-Mocha with cream cheese icing.  This year, we would also cover in fondant in order to achieve the desired design effects.  Let me tell you, I was not a fan of fondant when I started this business.  I had not tasted any where I liked the flavor, and the texture was always bizarre to me.  As I started researching though, I found a brand of fondant that is really head and shoulders above other types that I had tasted.  It's called Satin Ice and is what you will typically find in high-end bakeries.  The taste and texture are completely different and with this product, I now feel like I have a whole new world of design possibilities opened up to me.

After cakes were cooled and iced, I got to work covering the tiers in fondant.  Let me tell you, this is a very intense process.  There is a very specific technique involved in covering cake so that the fondant lays smooth, with limited bubbles, wrinkles, "elephant skin" (a very technical term) or tears.  Fondant needs to be the right texture and thickness in order to make it all work.  The bottom tier received a bright pink coat, which I then hand-embossed into a wood grain to emulate the side of a ship.  The top received a coat with a parchment effect, which I then turned into a treasure map,complete with a big pink X marks the spot.



Finally, it was time to assemble.  This cake was dense and the fondant adds extra weight, so a support system was necessary for the tiering.  I inserted wooden dowels in the bottom tier to hold the weight of the upper tier.  Each tier was also resting on a cardboard cake board to stabilize and maintain the level. Before placing all the remaining details, I created a fondant rope to act as a border for each tier and add a little more visual interest. This was done by twisting together 3 very thin strips of tan fondant and adhering to the cake with water glue.
All icons and figurines were then placed on the cake and secured in place with royal icing (also a great baker's glue).


Voila! Mission accomplished on what is one of my fave cakes so far!  That probably has alot to do with who I made it for...but regardless, I am really happy with it!

Word from Marilyn is that it was a huge hit with both the birthday girl and the guests.  Claire called me with a message of "you're amazing" and several adults said it was the "best cake they had ever had".  Holy cow!!  I feel like I have just found my own buried treasure!

Until next time...confectionately yours.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Big Life Moments

My neighborhood has a ton of graduating seniors this year.  Every street has several houses with balloons on the mailboxes and banners on the porches.  It's such a special time for so many of the families here.  This week,  I completed the last 2 of the 3 graduation projects on my calendar for this year.  Combined with birthdays and weddings, I have been slammed - but in such a good way.

The first project was for a very talented graduate in our neighborhood....a star swimmer and one of the coaches of our swim team.  Her Mom asked me to help with the graduation party, and I immediately knew that I wanted to make a figurine of Olivia to place on top of the celebration cake.  I was provided with a copy of the graduation invitation, and was able to create Olivia in her cap and gown with an exact match of the purple school color. And her tassel is a Twizzler!


Next was a cake for the son of a friend of a neighbor.  I have received lots of business from referrals, and I thank all of those who have spread the word!  The cake is a 5" tall, 3 layer White Almond Sour Cream with raspberry filling and vanilla buttercream and fondant.  I love the silhouette effect and especially the flying graduation caps.


Congrats to all of this year's graduates!
Confectionately yours!