Thursday, December 29, 2011

Santa Hat Cake

If you showed me a picture of a Santa hat cake a few months ago, I would have died and told you that's crazy! A few months ago, I made my first fondant and since then the cake decorating world started to open up to me. The Santa hat cake I'm about to talk about is my second fondant cake. My first one only had a few pieces of fondant here and there. I also made fondant flowers when I first made fondant as a topper for my mom's cake. This Santa hat cake was full on fondant!

When I first saw a Santa hat cake floating around Pinterest, I thought it was such a clever and simple idea. I was totally stoked to create it for Christmas. The more I thought about it though, the more I started to notice all the challenges that came with it. I actually gave up on the idea for awhile out of fear I would mess it up. I even found a few backup design ideas to go with. That's the thing with cakes like these, you sort of only get one chance. Everything involved, like the fondant, takes awhile to prepare and if you mess up, you basically have to buy a cake :( In my case, I was also running out of everything like sugar, eggs, and we were low on butter too! I couldn't believe it. When you run out of simple things like sugar and eggs, you know you have been baking way too much :) Luckily if I had messed up on the main cake, we still had nutella cupcakes and a ton of other stuff for dessert to fall back on.
The inside matched the outside (of course :)
I didn't mess up! I mean the cake had plenty of imperfections but considering things, I was quite happy with the way it turned out. I went with a buttery eggnog cake recipe for the inside. I divided the batter up and added red food coloring to one batch. The used one round pan and one glass bowl to bake the cake and then assembled it the best I could in a cone, trimming away the excess cake. I grabbed some of the cake trimmings and mixed it together with a bit of frosting to make a cake ball for the pom pom part of the hat. I didn't want to risk anything falling off so I made sure the pom pom part of the hat just sat on the ground off to the side. This also meant I had to make the hat tall enough to fold over.

I thought about taking pictures along the way but I didn't have any available hands and I was pressed for time. Sorry:( Placing the hat on was definitely tricky. I actually used a piece of paper to see how it would fold the night before. The best fold came when I cut off half triangles from the long sides of a loose-leaf sheet of paper. I also planned for a small slit about halfway so that there wouldn't be too much tension in the fold. It proved to be a good plan :)

Rolling the fondant big enough was a challenge because it kept sticking to the table. I had to clean and dry the table many times before I could get it right. The more I worked with the fondant, the drier it got and the more stubborn it got. Really! I used two pieces of string: one to measure the circumference and the other to measure twice the height of the hat. Like I said earlier, I only had one chance at this so I had to be prepared. When I finally got the best big piece of fondant I could get, I got Jean-Louis to help me carry it over the cake. Yes, it was that big! He supported the top part while I wrapped the lower part around the cake. The whole thing could have ripped and fell apart right there. I knew this cake would be trouble! Luckily, I moved fast and it was quickly applied and folded. I trimmed extra fondant off and then I worked on rolling a white strip of fondant for the bottom. I also wrapped white fondant around the cake ball. Everything was applied and tucked in. It was starting to look cool! I was pretty confident it would all work out then :) The final touch would be more buttercream for the fuzzy part of the hat. I made sure I applied it where it needed to be to hide imperfections and all *ahem* :) Mission accomplished!

When Jean-Louis first brought the cake to the table there were a lot of ooohs and aahhhs and then someone said that "the cake was the bomb!" Something like that. I'll take that as a compliment :) But the best part was when my mom came back from the washroom and asked why there was a piece of cloth on the table. Someone answered, "that's not a piece of cloth! That's a Santa hat cake!" Pure awesomeness :) The cake took a couple of hours to do but it was totally worth it! By the way, it tasted pretty good too, for a white cake that is. The eggnog was a bit weak and of course the fondant part was a bit sweet. Compared to your traditional cake, it really wasn't that sweet overall but my family is used to Chinese sponge cakes. They liked my Santa hat cake though but I think the presentation helped. You know how things just taste better when it looks pretty? Yeah, that helped.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Big family Christmas at our place

Tristan making cards for the family
For the first time this year, my parents accepted our invitation to come over to Vancouver and spend Christmas with us. Typically, we just spend Christmas here alone. We've been over to Victoria a few times for Christmas but the ferry traffic and me having to bring a lot of kitchen things over kind of stresses us out. This year my parents and older brother came over. My sister and her family and my younger brother, who all lives in the Vancouver area, also joined in on the Christmas gathering. I volunteered to cook the turkey at my place this year. That made it the largest Christmas gathering at our place in the past 8 years!

That Christmas morning, we took our sweet time with breakfast, took pictures by the tree and presents, and then we unwrapped the gifts. Tristan was probably the last kid on earth to open his presents! Like any special occasion, we took pictures and video and documented the whole thing :) Tristan was visibly more excited and happy this year compared to last year when he just turned 2 years old. He received plenty of Legos, Playmobil, Playdough, books, clothes, and money. I honestly don't think anything was left out. Spoiled you think? :) After unwrapping gifts, we skyped Tristan's grandparents in France since we were not able to the day before. Luckily it was still Christmas for them. Then it was play time with the new toys! I took advantage of the time to prepare and send my Christmas emails since I totally forgot to send cards in advance this year :(

Food preparation started around 12:30PM. I honestly think cooking would take much less time if we had a large kitchen instead of the tiny one we currently have. Every time we cook, we have to clean along the way to free up counter and sink space. Luckily my sister agreed to bring a few dishes over so I didn't overwork myself that day :) My sister and brother-in-law brought a roast pork loin, roasted root vegetable dish, and mashed potatoes. Jean-Louis made a vegan lentil salad. I made hot spinach and artichoke dip and served it with red and green tortilla chips and sourdough bread. I roasted two 8lb turkeys, which fitted perfectly in my roasting pan. Hooray! I bought a nice bag of organic carrots and cooked them with marsala wine. We had wine, champagne, juice, and soy milk. The food was colorful, delicious, plentiful and we were all quite full before dessert even arrived.

For dessert, I made an eggnog cake with eggnog flavored swiss meringue buttercream and nutella cupcakes. I am beginning to think nutella cupcakes are my favorite cupcakes :) I got Tristan to help me top each cupcake with a ferrero rocher chocolate ball. He was a good help too! There were also pistachio and apricot sables cookies, chocolate almond caramel, and Christmas rice krispies. It was a Christmas dessert buffet people! Pumpkin pie was the only thing that was bought so really most of the desserts were somewhat healthy because they were homemade ;) You aren't falling for the healthy part, are you? Oh, but was Christmas. You know what they say: eat December, diet January! Lol.

Dessert buffet. Pumpkin pie was brought out shortly after.

The meal was a success. We ran a bit late but it was a good thing we told everyone it was at 4:30PM. I was actually surprised everyone showed up on time. We ended up eating shortly after 5PM I think. I had compliments for my turkey, which was cooked just right and came out flavorful and moist. It was brined and I also stuffed it with celery. I wanted to use my batch of celery up since it was taking up too much space in the fridge and why not, right? We had no bread stuffing this year. It was a bit weird but we made up for it by having plenty of other great dishes. The turkey was served with gravy, cranberry sauce my sister made, dijon mustard, or nothing. Jean-Louis had compliments on his lentil salad as well :) The fact that he made it was enough to get people to try it. Most of it was gone by the end of the night! Kudos to him! The party was over by around 8PM.  Everyone was in a food coma by 8:05PM :) And we were still on routine for the night so I call that a double success!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Why we celebrate Christmas

Jean-Louis is atheist. I'm agnostic. However he was raised Catholic and I was raised Buddhist. I love Christmas. Him? Not so much but we're celebrating it anyway.

Christmas to me is like another holiday to celebrate with family and friends, much like Thanksgiving. The feasting is one of my favorite parts. Big surprise :) I mean we could cook turkey and feast almost any time of the year but knowing that this is part of tradition and that almost everyone else is doing it at the same time makes me feel like I'm included and part of something greater. I have a lot of fun decorating for Christmas and having the house look nice makes the holidays feel more festive. We also go shopping and give out gifts because it's also part of tradition and pretty much everyone participates. Even if you don't give out anything, you will likely receive something and feel bad for not giving back.

I had fond memories of Christmas growing up. My parents always decorated the house and we had gifts under the Christmas tree. Back in the 1980s, my family was very Buddhist but they were also learning how to be Canadian. We didn't have turkey and any of the traditional feast until I was around 13 or 14 since my parents didn't know how to cook or eat that stuff. When I was old enough, I took over cooking the turkey and food for the family.

Of course Christmas is celebrated 10x more now that we have a child. Before Tristan arrived, we had just a few decorations up and when we lived in Paris, we didn't have a thing. I have to confess I was pretty sad around Christmas time :( Somehow Jean-Louis is a Grinch. He sort of hates Christmas. I guess because he sees it too much like a religious celebration. He also thinks the whole Santa thing is ridiculous. He doesn't get why all these stories have to be made up for Christmas. When I asked him why, he actually doesn't remember much. I told him that it had to do with his past. Something must have happened to have made him a Grinch. He thinks it's possible that maybe he was super pissed when he found out that Santa was not real. He knows that his parents still talks about Santa today. Oh boy! Imagine that.

We had our first Christmas tree last year when Tristan was two. We filled the tree with gifts, mostly for him and we did the traditional meal. Now that I'm a part time stay-at-home mom, I also do the Christmas baking. This is somewhat still new to me. It's just my second year doing it but it is so much fun! We do Christmas activities like the Christmas train and we visit gingerbread displays. When it snows, we build a snowman, play in the snow, and go tobogganing. I am now living my Christmas through Tristan's eye and I love it :) I'm excited and happy just to see his excitement! Jean-Louis agrees with me there. He will do anything for Tristan so he has no problem celebrating Christmas :)

When I think of Christmas, I don't think of Jesus. I think of Christmas tree and decorations, Christmas music, turkey feast, presents, giving to family and friends, charity, shopping, extra time off to relax from work, spending time with family and loved ones, chocolates, eggnog lattes, warm cozy sweaters, colors, and snow. It's a time to celebrate with everyone and wish everyone a season's greeting and merry Christmas! I can never be a Grinch. Christmas is too fun and I love it! :)

For your amusement, you can read what other atheists, agnostics and non-believers say about celebrating Christmas too. That was what prompted me to write this post.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Melted snowman sugar cookies

Ever since I first saw them online last year, I knew I wanted to create melted snowmen cookies one day. I was just getting the hang of decorating sugar cookies last year so I didn't want to ruin the cookie. A year later, the cookie didn't look intimidating anymore so I went for it!

It took a bit longer than I expected since I had to cut everything out manually. I tried creating as many different looks as possible with the shapes, colors, and accessories I made with fondant. My fondant was actually quite soft and moist so I didn't need to heat it up from the fridge. It worked better this way because I think if it dried up too much, it would have been hard to bite into. Starting off with a softer and moister fondant is the way to go, especially for the head. This was the first time I used fondant on a sugar cookie. I loved the effect it had on the cookie. There is just something about 3-dimensional cookies that shout out "super cool!"

I loved that the cookies didn't have to be perfect and still looked great. One of the snowman's face was accidentally tilted too much and part of its face was in the white icing. You could only see half of its sad face but then again it looked pretty cool. Poor little snowman:( Part of his face got buried in the snow when his body melted. Some of the gloves were not facing correctly but then again, it could have melted and fell off like that, right? There were little mistakes here and there but each cookie had a different story to tell. I loved the scenes that were being created! I loved it so much I thought it would make a great "show and share" at daycare so I sent Tristan to daycare with one today :)

I am happy with how the cookies turned out. I really am. I had to improvise while I was decorating but it all turned out anyway :) For instance, I was trying to make toques for their heads but it just didn't look right so I ended up with ear muffs. Those were WAY easier to do. I'm not sure I would make melted snowman cookies again in the next year or so but if I were, there would be a few things I would do a bit differently. I had a feeling a pure fondant head would be too much fondant and too sweet. I had ideas of making it better using rice cereal or something in the middle but since I ran out of time, I just went with all fondant. I also figured it was a sugar cookie after all so maybe it wouldn't be too sweet in comparison to everything else. Jean-Louis now tells me that it was in fact too sweet :( I ran into a bit of problem with the icing as well. I got lazy in diluting my icing and ended up applying very thick icing, which then dried up a bit too fast. Then I also ran out of icing before I finished off all the cookies. Doh! When I added the fondant to it, the icing cracked a bit and I had to use additional royal icing here and there to attach the pieces. Oops. Then again, the cracked icing gave a nice effect to the melted snowman scene. When you think about it, there really is no going wrong with this design :) It's one big disaster scene!

I had a lot of fun making these melted snowman cookies. Can you tell? :) When I was assembling the cookies, I actually laughed out loud because they were so hilarious. For those who want to try to make these, here were the recipes I used:

Almond sugar cookies
Royal icing
Marshmallow fondant

Happy baking!

Christmas baking in full swing

It all started last Thursday. The following are stuff I have baked or made so far. Yikes! With the exception of the sugar cookies, they were all new recipes too. The sugar cookies had a new design though :) Cupcakes are also coming up near the end of the week for Jean-Louis' work potluck and then more cupcakes and cake for Christmas day. If you don't get a cavity from reading all this, you may from looking at what I have made so far! Just so you know, a lot of these are giveaways :) We had a good sampling of them though. *oink, oink*
Lemony olive oil banana bread
Chocolate almond caramel (soft toffee)
Almond lavender parfait
Toasted almond cranberry sables cookies
Vegan almond lavender sables cookies

Almond sugar cookies with fondant

Monday, December 12, 2011

What's awesome about your life?

Recently I read an article about one of the worst questions you can ask at a party: Why Ask "So What Do You Do?" It's funny because it's also one of the first questions you get asked by someone that doesn't know you. It has happened to most of us and I have asked others the same question myself. In fact, I witnessed this exact thing this past weekend at a party. It was pretty much the exact question stranger A asked stranger B when they first sat down.Whether you like it or not, it has become one of those lines you use at a party or gathering. I always kind of thought that it would be a good start to get to know someone. What you do for work says a lot about you. However, your work does not define you and apparently, some people like the author of the above article, Lissa Rankin really doesn't like being asked "what do you do?" I am so glad someone else said it first. Although I have accepted the question of "what do you do," I personally hate being asked that myself. It is this question that has made me shy away from a lot of gatherings, especially in the past when I was merely a bored stay-at-home wife.

"What do you do?" is one of the worst questions you can ask someone at a social gathering. There are places where it would be suitable to ask that question but for a social gathering where you are suppose to mingle and have a good time, it would be better not to ask a stranger "what do you do?" At least not at the first meeting and out of the blue. Like Lissa states, once you answer this question, you get placed inside a box. A stay-at-home mom? Well you get placed in the same box as all the other stay-at-home moms and you are stereotypically viewed as being home at lot, playing with your kids, taking naps, not doing much all day and whatever else stay-at-home moms are generalized as. As a part time stay-at-home mom myself, I know that we do a heck of a lot. In fact, there's not a single thing we don't do! Are you a work-outside-of-home mom? If so you get placed in the box where people assume you don't spend any time with your kids and that you are not raising them yourself and you care more about work than your kids etc. There may be good assumptions about you too but the bad ones may just be nasty! Obviously, being placed inside any box would be a bad thing.

Now that we are aware of the worst question to ask at a party, what would be a good question to ask? Lissa likes to ask "what is awesome about your life?" I personally love that question myself. This question would spark all sorts of positive answers and who wouldn't want to share their life's awesomeness with others? The truth is people love to talk about themselves and brag so here is their chance! Just as a comparison, here are my answers to "what do you do?" and "what is awesome about your life?"

What do you do?
I am a part time work-at-home mom and part time stay-at-home mom. For work, I design software and websites for user experience and manage projects. As a mom, I take care of my 3 year old son and make sure everything like chores, bills, and appointments are taken care of.

What is awesome about your life?
So much is awesome about my life! My husband, son and I are whole and in perfect health. We spend a lot of time together every day, even when my son is in daycare that day. Lucky for us, we can drop him off late and he doesn't sleep until 9PM so it gives us plenty of quality time. We go on vacations at least once a year and normally to hot tropical places. We all get plenty of sleep! We eat great food because I like to cook. My son loves to talk and laugh with us. He is a big reason why life is awesome these days. He's a great little kid:) I love event planning and having a child allows me to throw cute and fun birthday parties. It's totally awesome. I think I have finally reached a balance in life where I could be happy with for awhile. I get to stay at home and spend lots of time with my son, Tristan, as well as work part time and continue to contribute to projects I have been working on for years.

I love it! Next time I am ever in the position to break the ice with a stranger at a gathering, I'm going to ask them what is awesome about their life :)

Adult party with the kids

This past Saturday we hosted a Christmas potluck at our place. The party started at 4PM, which all the adults thought was bizarrely early. We figured an early start would mean an early end. Tristan was there and so were his two young cousins. We wanted an adult-like party with nice adult conversations but we wanted to include the kids as well. It turned out well since the kids played well together and pretty much entertained themselves most of the evening:) They were all surprising well behaved. Tristan didn't nap all day and ended up being awake from 7:30AM until nearly 11PM. Wow.

It was great to mingle with adults again. We even forgot about Tristan here and there throughout the evening. Every so often I would return to mommy-mode and offer him water or wipe his hands down. When I was worried he didn't eat much either than tortilla chips, bread and spinach dip, I prepared him a bit of the rice and curry around 9PM. His dinner was totally all over the place but that was okay. It was a party so we let it go. Jean-Louis pitched in here and there too when he brought Tristan to go potty. I was drinking wine and mingling, which is something I don't remember doing in a long time. I got to chat with pretty much everyone and I even got to eat lots. That never happens when I play host! Thanks to the potluck, we didn't have to provide all the food so we really did get to relax and have a good time :) In fact, we went shopping in the morning and didn't get back until later in the afternoon. We had only 3 hours to make four dishes of food for the party and clean up! I think we deserve a medal :)

Considering we're both somewhat anti-social, Jean-Louis and I had a great time. Besides wanting to purge the house of food, I think we both needed a social like that.  It was a bit of a nerdy party since we played Pictionary near the end but we thought it kind of suited the crowd we invited :) Even my 7 year old niece participated. We used Tristan's brand new easel to draw for the game. It worked brilliantly and no mess! :) Someone would draw on the whiteboard and when they were done, he would come and erase the board for them. It got so noisy at one point I was afraid the neighbors would complain. I guess that is what happens when you combine wine with Pictionary :) I swear my Pictionary game is like 15 years old. It just proves that you can have a blast with it at any age :)
Related Posts with Thumbnails