Fancy cake, definitely for an “occasion” (aka, adventures with gelatin)

Two beautiful  young ladies at my office are getting married in August. We had a dual shower/party last week, and I volunteered to do the cake, which of course had to be fresh and beautiful like them. After checking what allergies or dislikes either had, I found myself with complete free reign! 

Sometimes that’s not good – sometimes, you just need a “limit” or an idea to work within, but sometimes it’s awesome, if I do say so myself. 

Having fond memories of Extraordinary Desserts in San Diego, I looked up Karen Krasne’s cookbook, Extraordinary Cakes. While it didn’t have the recipe for the chocolate green tea cake with sesame ice cream concoction that I remember so vividly, it does have plenty of showstoppers!

I opted to make Marco Polo, a layered joconde, custard, fruit, whipped cream fantasy with a streusel side crust and a blackberry miroir glaze on the top surface. If you read reviews of the book, you’ll know in advance that you need to plan out your steps in order to get them all done. Thankfully, she helps with this!

My only issue with the whole recipe was that it called for leaf, or sheet, gelatin, and she’s pretty adamant about it. A little internet research showed that leaf-vs-powder is a raging debate, especially when it comes to conversion factors. I hit AmazonSmile (did you know your Amazon orders can benefit for your favorite charity? Check it out at smile.amazon.com!) and ordered the leaves, which would arrive Saturday, in time for the Sunday preparations. 

Saturday came, and my husband wanted to shop for plants (we’re working on creating a native habitat out of our little postage stamp), so we headed to Frederick. Unbeknownst to me, while a package containing, say, a computer my husband ordered, gets left at the door – a 6×9 package of shelf-stable, non-perishable gelatin does not, and although we arrived home at 4, about 6 pm I receive a “delivery attempted” notice. Knowing full well the gelatin will not be on time no matter who I call, I spend my time researching who might carry it locally. Wegman’s, Whole Foods, Rodman’s, Glen’s, Balducci’s, MOM, Williams-Sonoma… I drive to several and call others but it is not to be found. I buy several extra boxes of the powder just to be sure and try working out the conversions. 

The first step was the joconde. I hadn’t seen that term before in spite of having once owned an entire 6′ bookcase of just cookbooks; it appears to be a nut-based sponge cake with whole eggs instead of just whites. 

The cake was ridiculously easy and came out as close to perfect as I get:  

While the joconde was cooling, I started the first filling, a vanilla custard. Suffice it to say it was an interesting challenge. The custard (which I normally make only with egg yolk, never before with gelatin added) broke, so I took it off the heat and beat well, which was enough to save it. (I realized then I should have added the gelatin more towards the end of cooking. Gelatin 1, Amy 0.) I set the custard aside to cool. After it was close to room temp, it still looked soft, but I pressed on – wrapped and fridged. 

When I came back to it, having decide if it sucked I’d just make a standby custard recipe without gelatin, I found a large flat pencil-eraser – I could literally flip the custard out of the bowl in one solid piece! Unfortunately I was so flabbergasted I didn’t grab a photo. Gelatin 2, Amy 0. Determined to save it, I chopped it up and tossed it in the KitchenAid. Quite a few minutes later, it actually resembled custard, thankfully. Amy 1, Gelatin 2.

I also made whipped cream, and a simple syrup in which I steeped the namesake tea, Marco Polo. Smelled heavenly! 

Assembly entailed slicing the cake, then layering with cake soaked in simple syrup, custard, halved blackberries, whipped cream, repeat:   

      

Then it needed to be frozen so when I poured in hot glaze all would remain well. In the meantime, I made streusel out of ground almonds, ground tea, sugar, and butter, baked, cooled, and crumbled, then pressed into the sides of the cake. (Right about then, thankfully before adding the crumbs, I also remembered to put little strips of wax paper under the edges of the cake – which, when later carefully pulled out, would leave a clean edge on the serving plate.)

The blackberry glaze, miroir, also used gelatin, plus blackberries and a bit of jam, cooked down. For some reason mine would not hit the temperature she specified, so due to the long cooking time as I waited and stirred in vain, it was much thicker than her instructions implied, and definitely not mirror-like, but it did get an intense blackberry flavor that worked out great.  Amy 2, Gelatin 2.
That went back in the freezer. The next day at work, I topped it with a few fresh roses (well washed, stems wrapped in plastic wrap, and even a small “flag” of wrap sticking out from the stems, under the flower heads, to keep them off the glaze. Just didn’t know how organic they were – they are edible so I wasn’t worried about the flowers themselves but the potential pesticides.), and a pile of fresh blackberries.  

        

(Even the inside looked ok:) 

It went fast, and everyone seemed to love it. Since the purpose, for me anyway, of making cake, is for people to enjoy it, I counted it successful. 🙂 (Take that, gelatin. Amy 3, Gelatin 2; I win!) 

Plus, I kept the extra roses from the bunch I’d gotten, at my desk all week, where they smelled wonderful, and reminded me of a former colleague who always kept fresh flowers at her desk.  

PS The recipe is long, and several pages, so I’ve not included here. 

Lots of sewing

I still owe y’all a fancy cake post (I even took photos in prep for a post), but at the moment I’m recovering from a weekend full of sewing! 

90+ degrees made me have zero desire to spend any time outside – walking the dog was plenty. I recently discovered another sewing blog to follow, The Monthly Stitch, which for June has an overall contest, but also smaller weekly challenges. I made up my mind I was going to try last week’s challenge – separates. It meant two items in one week. 

I ended up with very few evening hours available this week. Scruff’s old car finally bit the dust and he needed to get a new one, but didn’t end up trading the old one in, so, long story short,  several evenings were taken up at CarMax! But now he’s back to one car and all is well.  I also had a work event take up a full evening, but I did get a top partially cut out; however,  when I re-read the contest info, I had missed that  it was Indie Patterns… and the partially cut top was a Big 4.

Not to worry, I have a number of indie patterns. After a bit of pondering and shuffling and pondering some more, I decided to try one of my Wearing  History patterns. I’ve had the patterns for a bit, but only made one item. 

So I dug out the “1930s Sport Togs” pattern. Of course, I’m a modern girl with a, shall we say, slightly modern figure, so I pretty much spent Saturday  afternoon tracing out the top pattern and adjusting it to fit me. After a few mis-steps in reading the instructions, it came together nicely, and now needs only buttons.

Of course, Separates meant a second item and Sunday I spent a good deal of time tracing & adjusting the trousers pattern pieces from the Sport Togs.  Perhaps one day when I’m a more accomplished seamstress, it won’t take me quite so long to figure out the pattern changes needed, but for now, it takes a long stare and six or seven measures before I’m ready enough to cut into fabric. For these, while I didn’t finish in enough time for the challenge, I surely still got a lot done! 

What’s left:

Top – needs buttons.

Trousers – needs hook/eye, hem/cuffs, and the self belt.

Here’s a sneak peek – and yes, those are belt loops! 🙂 First ones ever. The daisy print is a scrap from the top. More details to come in later posts. 

  

Argh.

I am overdue on Me Made May final week round up. I’ll definitely get that up this week, but probably will have a fancy cake post first. Tomorrow at work we are celebrating two young ladies’ upcoming weddings in one big potluck, and I am on cake duty. 

There’ll be a longer tale in the actual post, but suffice it to say, it’s been quite a day!!! However, the cake is finally in the freezer, and should taste awesome tomorrow, even though it’s not as close to perfect as I’d like. 

Pics after the party!

Me Made May – week 3

Monday – McCall’s

I can’t believe that yet again, I didn’t grab a photo wearing this shirt! If it comes up this coming week I’ll be sure to get a pic.

Tuesday – McCall’s? 

This was a dress I made long before I’d even heard of FBA (full bust adjustment) and I could never get the bodice quite right. It also is tissue linen, lined with tissue linen… so overall a bit on the heavy side for a full circle skirt. I cut the bodice off and wear it as a maxi skirt now!   

 

Wednesday – Vogue 8831

Yep, love this. Photo was taken after a very long day at work, so pardon the expression, please!  

Thursday – HotPatterns Riviera Summer Breeze

Another repeat. I promise, new stuff coming this week though (I had a nicely productive holiday weekend).  

Friday – Vogue 9109

Tern tern tern! This one is new. I cut it out Thursday before work, and then sewed it up Thursday evening. Lots of folks thought it was store-bought, which I definitely take as a compliment. Unfortunately, while the grey looks good on the shirt, it doesn’t do nearly as much for my complexion as the pretty coral does! It’s also an inexpensive poly crepe and can be static-y so I’ll see how it goes with this one. 

Me Made May – week 2

Not as many this week. 

Monday – Hot Patterns Riviera Summer Breeze 

This was a UFO (UnFinished Object) that I finished a couple of weeks ago, and it was the first time to wear it. Yes, you may recognize it as the same material as the other top last week, but definitely a different style. I may yet convert that self-fabric-I-already-converted-to-grosgrain-tie (at left waist), to a grosgrain “belt” with snaps. While it wasn’t egregious, several times over the day it did come untied. 

Tuesday – Vogue 1236

 
I made this last summer out of old fashioned cotton seersucker. It’s one of my favorites for comfort on a hot day! It has a tie of the same fabric but I decided to wear it with a belt this time. Getting better with fitting here; although it’s a loose style, the shoulders aren’t falling off and I’m covered. Every time I wear this a lady at my office threatens to steal it off me. 

Wednesday – NA

I had a meeting with a client Wednesday morning, and chickened out of wearing any of my own makes, mostly due to lack of confidence that any of my makes were really the appropriate style. I ended up actually buying a knit jacket that fit in well.

Thursday – HotPatterns 1133 Plain & Simple tee 

 Same starting pattern as the floral layered top, but made with a neatly textured cheap poly I got to practice working with knit fabrics. I actually made it before the floral top. I wore this half the day, then went home not feeling well.

Friday – NA
Spent the day home being sick, so no me-makes & even if there were I wouldn’t have been up for a pic. 

 

Me Made May – week 1

As mentioned, I only wore me-mades during the week. I did finish another top, and most of yet another, this weekend though, so there’s hope for more yet! 🙂

Review of last week’s Twitter pics:

Prior Friday –  Vogue 8831

This one was pretty straightforward.  Based on reviews from PR (my go-to before I attempt any pattern), I sized down more than usual even, and then used yet another size down on the cowl. If I were to make it again, I’d also raise the neckline maybe half an inch. I made this with a soft very drapy rayon knit from Hancocks, and used French seams throughout. Considering this one successful because no one believed it wasn’t purchased…. 

Monday – Simplicity 1693, view B/F

I liked the longer back of F and the sleeves on B.  

Tuesday – linen pants

I honestly cannot remember what pattern these are from, only that when I finished I was so disappointed in the fit. It was my first pair of pants, and I ended up taking out multiple inches at the waistband – to fit my junk in the trunk, the hip size that was closest to me came with a huge waist. But lessons learned!   

Wednesday – McCall’s 6702

One of my favorites. I bought this pattern while visiting my sister in NC and we both made this shirt over that weekend, so I could teach her a little about sewing clothes. I call it my “same-not-same” shirt. I didn’t get a pic on Wednesday; this one is from the weekend we made them.   

There’s nothing on the neckline binding in the pattern, but it goes pretty low, so I added three working snaps (my sister opted to top stitch the neckline closed – there’s still plenty of room to pull on overhead). I also stitched in the ditch everywhere, so no top stitching, and used this crazy awesome linen with tons of colors. I love the sleeves and it’s one of my most-worn items. Not bad for a pattern I didn’t choose!

 

Thursday – Wearing History 1940s Overalls, jeans view

In spite of/because of the color, I get lots of comments on these! 🙂 I originally made them for dancing when the Jive Aces come into town, but they’ve worked out pretty well, and have great pockets. 

I did curve the high waistband, and took that in quite a bit (same “problem” as before, LOL), but otherwise these are as-written.  

Friday – HotPatterns 1133, “Plain & simple fitted T”

This was my second go-round at this pattern. I layered two very thin, too sheer alone, fabrics for the body and left the sleeves single layer. I did add bust darts as well. 

 

Me Made May progress

So, 4 days-ish (since I’m only counting work days) of Me Made May and I’m seeing serious holes in my plan! I need more business-casual appropriate clothing, much more. 

I also really need to conquer pants fitting. I’ve made two pair in woven so far. The first pair “fits”, as in, yes, I can wear them, but “why, yes, they are home made” is quite an appropriate answer when asked the source. The pockets stick out, the crotch hangs low (which in pants #2 was intentional, since they were 40s styled)… 
I have quite a few patterns on my table right now, begging for a decision to be made on which is next-in-queue.   

  
I swear I do have pants patterns; they’re just so challenging for me (I have a big butt I cannot lie, LOL, in comparison to my waist) that they rarely come to the top of the list. I also have an unfinished 60s dress that didn’t quite work out, and now I need to learn how to do underarm gussets, but I think I’ll save that one for later. 

Follow me on Twitter: @birdsofakettle

Me Made May

#mmmay15

Ok, so I think Me Made May is probably really for people who are better at sewing & fitting than I, and I’m not even positive I have enough different items to make it work… but I’m going to try for a version of Me Made May. I haven’t found any “official” rules, but I’ve seen several different versions of the declaration of joining… so here’s mine:

I, Amy, of Birds of a Kettle, commit to wearing me-made items as many workdays as possible in May!

I might repeat a lot, LOL, since I haven’t got a huge number of completed items that are suitable for workday wear (many of my earlier projects are swing dancing dresses that are a bit too fancy). I’ve usually got several projects going at any one time, though, so I will focus on adding more completed-and-wearable me-makes in May. 

I did wear Vogue 8831 on Friday to work, so although this post is not on May 1, I did wear a me-made item that day (feel free to ignore the lovely laundry room background!).  

 
Not sure yet what I’ll wear Monday, but whether this is officially part of Me Made May or not, I will be posting work daily pics on Twitter using #mmmay15. Feel free to follow along, or tell me if you love or hate any of my makes! I look forward to feedback.

Another week down

Went to NY last weekend with my twin sister to see my brother and nephew’s last play (the organization they are involved with is making some big changes in response to loss of funding from New York State, so there won’t be any more shows). 

It actually might have been their best ever – out with a bang, as another sister (I have a few) described it.

 

The pic above is about half the cast, the Whos. The rest of them are behind the curtain waiting to show their part in Suessical…. the show was great, the costumes were fun, and both the actors & audience members had a good time. Success all around!

As an aside, my twin sister stayed with me an extra day, before she headed back to NC. She has no reasonably-close IKEA, so we went and she picked up a Kallax 4×4 bookcase, to help organize at her house. I love these bookcases. Please don’t ask how many  Kallax/Expedit (predecessor) bookcases-that-are-pretty-much-used-for-everything-but-books exist in my & my husband’s house; I might be embarrassed to answer! I say might because I honestly haven’t counted… but they are dang useful. 

My twin also helped me finish installing some cleats in the closet-about-to-be-an-office, so painting that and actually getting the standing desk reinstalled is on the docket soon. Then, hey, wow, the office-that-became-a-gym will actually be able to be used as a gym! And since I’m down 8 needed pounds from my Whole 30 experiment, going for another slightly-modified round (starting next week) and being able to add in some gym work (time to swing the monkeys!) will hopefully help get me even closer to my fitness goals. 🙂

I don’t know what’s up with my dash happiness tonight. Maybe I can distract you from them with a pic of my finally-corralled monkeys? 

  

PS You know I purposely went back and added “finally-corralled” just so I could have another dash, right? 😉

PPS Those monkeys are in kilograms and poods, not pounds.

Well… I know it’s a bit dusty in these parts

But I’m getting back into it. Might take me a bit but I plan to post more often! I’ll try to update on Tuesday evenings – I’ve already added a reminder to my calendar even.

Life has been a little crazy, commuting still takes too long, LOL, and we’ve had quite a bit of change at work, so I’m pretty much happy to be breathing at the moment. The change is for the good, but it still kicks up a learning curve.

Among the things taking up my time:

Maxtla needs lots of exercise so many weekends we spend time at the dog park visiting his dog buddies and throwing squeaky balls. His latest favorite is  a “Meteor Ball” by Outdoor Dog which has a nice tail – it stays generally clean(er) while the main part of the ball gets slobbery from him picking it up – that I can fling it with!

I’m also still working through converting the room that was my office to a gym, with my standing desk/office being moved into the closet. The gym part is pretty much done, but I’ve run into a few snafus getting the closet conversion completed (dang moving studs), so my office stuff is still taking up space on the gym floor. That should soon that will be usable though. Pictures later.

Today is my last day of a Whole30 experiment. I know, can you imagine? I’m not really much of a meat-eater, but having an obsession with sugar is bad… and since quitting cold turkey hasn’t been at all successful, so I decided doing something drastic was in order.

I have to say, it’s been wildly more successful than I expected. Today is 30 days without sugar… or beans, grains, dairy, or pretty much any packaged foods at all. The sugar was so overwhelmed by everything else I was choosing not to eat, that I didn’t really miss it much after the first week… but I really need some beans & rice, LOL!  I plan to take a week or so break, then adjust the rules to my own sensibilities, and try another round. (Obviously keep the no sugar rule as that’s my main goal.) I’ve already got ideas for making food prep easier, as that took up a huge amount of time and planning.

Tomorrow I weigh in to see if the change has effected any weight loss. By the pants method, I’m definitely down, which is good, as it was another of my goals. I also have some pretty big-for-me-fitness goals that I’ll share more about later. I’m also still running monthly fitness challenges at work (sorry colleagues, that this month has been so haphazard – better next month I promise!), that I plan to post more about.

Additionally, I’m continuing with my multi-year project to have most of the clothes in my closet be ones made by me. There’ll of course be a few pattern reviews coming, for my sewing friends and whoever else might interested in seeing the clothing pieces.

Later this week my twin sister comes up to Maryland and we’re off to see family for the weekend. I’ve also got an Excel Dashboards training session to watch, and I’m studying for CompTIA certification (nope, not busy enough, right?).

For those who remember my first focus –  bird photography has unfortunately fallen by the wayside and will need to stay on the wayside for a while… but I’ll always come back to it! To tide you over, here’s a Green Heron at Cape May, actively fishing last September (click the photo to see it bigger):

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