Martha Thinks

Friday, June 28, 2013

Miranda's Graduation Cake (my first layer cake)

It was quite a baking weekend.  The Grad Cake and the Rainbow Cake all needed in the same two days.  The KitchenAid never stopped.  So I got to thinking...that in all of my time baking I have never made a multi-layer cake and frosting from scratch.  Cookies, whoopie pies, trifles, fruit pies, apple cake, banana bread, etc. but never a layer cake.

So when my friend, Kathy, asked if I'd like to make her daughter's grad cake, I welcomed the chance.  The flavor they chose was vanilla with raspberry filling and Italian meringue buttercream.  At the same time I was pretty nervous, because I wanted it to come out great.  My friends have all listened to my journey with cooking school/baking/cake decorating classes and I wanted all that I had learned to happen in that cake!

I was very pleased with the outcome and Kathy gave me rave reviews on texture, flavor and design.  It was no easy task but I didn't really expect that it would be.  A more clear vision I now have about why party and wedding cakes are so expensive.  Labor, labor and labor!

Mission accomplished!  It's the kind of thing you have to love to do and once I gain a bit more confidence and find a groove I can shake off the nerves for the next time.

(because I will honestly admit that in the middle of it I said
"I don't want to do this anymore!"...
never mind getting it out of the house, into the car and to the party)

But the sweet graduation girl was very pleased and in the end as Robert Frost said "that has made all the difference."

There's got to be a morning after.  And and this is it.  I have got to take it like a soldier.  It means they liked it, they really liked it!  Every baker knows their little gems can't live on into infinity for what would be the purpose of making it in the first place?  Still, ouchie.  And I heard something about the dog sneaking a piece and having a slight digestion problem ; )  Oh well, can't please everyone.
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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Johnny Was

Have you ever seen someone and thought, that's my style!  But I don't have it yet...I am still wearing the perfectly acceptable but not quite ME uniform of jeans, crops, chinos, tanks, cardys, etc. that came from working at Lands' End for five years. Cute but not quite there yet.  I had a huge moment when I came upon this website.  

Perhaps it was the first time I saw the cover of Carole King's Tapestry  in the 1970's.  The pretty long hair, the bell-bottom jeans, the crewel work in her hands.  It had a great impact.  Every once in a while I would find a great garment that I loved and wore to death, but for the most part I still found my perfect style a bit elusive.  (frankly it's all about the benjamins, too...throw a few bucks around and you can find most anything)

And then one fine day there it was.  The website.  Nirvana.  Angels singing.  Allelulia.  This is me.  Even the inside label is boho chic.  Now back to the benjamins.  Yes, I have two tops from them.  And yes, I paid $200.00 each for them.  And yes, I think that is too much money.  But they are silk and they are gorgeous and most importantly when I put them on they make me happy like I have finally found what I am looking for.  

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Anatomy of a Rainbow Cake

Since my son has seen so many baked goods leave this house and seen his mother come home from a variety of cake-related classes with delicious samples...he felt confident enough to ask me to make him a rainbow cake for his birthday.
And in turn, sure, I felt confident enough to take it on.  I mean, how hard could it be?  Right?  It's just a process like anything else.  Here the batter is divided up into bowls and colored with food dye.  I made six colors, so you get the picture...six bowls.  

And then six cake pans full of batter.  If you don't have six cake pans, just bake two at a time, wash, rinse, repeat. 
 Who is washing these bowls?  

 Then stack and frost.  I wrapped the layers in plastic wrap and refrigerated for at least an hour to firm up and make easier to frost.
While I was doing this, birthday boy's dad took the crew over for a swim.  Oh did I mention his birthday is on the first day of summer?  June 21st - a Summer Solstice baby which pleases him no end.  What I remember is sitting in a cool air-conditioned living room for two weeks after he was born watching Wimbledon.

I had the two older boys in day camp and with the bassinet and diapers next to me, I stayed in my pajamas for days and days and days.  The pace of it matched mine exactly.  I still remember it as the most indulgent time watching the green lawn, the occasional rained out matches, the Royals.  I don't play tennis, but I still love Wimbledon.

Here she is in all of her glory.  A buncha sleepover boys waiting to dig in.

And here is my sweet boy out of the bassinet.  Now 12.  I guess you are too cool to smile when you are a 12 year old boy even if your mother made you a rainbow cake.

Now this - THIS - is my Martha Stewart moment.  Since the sides and top of the cake are naturally browned when baking, you really do not get the full effect of what the cake will look like until you cut it.  But when you do - you will be rewarded.  If you like this sort of thing, it's awe-inspiring, like your own little Mt. Everest.  
Tah Dah!  And so for my son, I did as you asked.  It took me hours and hours.  I didn't have a lot of faith in how it would turn out.  But it is now a victorious page in my cookbook.  I love you.  Happy Birthday.
And the answer to when I would do it again?  When pigs fly.
Love, Mom
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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Sugar Flowers

If it's Tuesday, it must be crafty/self-improvement/creative classes for me.  For some reason it just ended up that three Tuesdays in a row I am taking classes.

Last night I returned to a wonderful cake shop to take a class in "Sugar Flowers".  I have taken classes on two other occasions and the classes are small and the instructors are warm and friendly.  Perfect for me!

What excited me most about this class was seeing the samples of sugar flowers...and being amazed by them...and then step by step being taught the process of mixing gumpaste and fondant together, rolling out the
dough, using cookie cutters to get the right shape, then manipulating the petals by stamping or ruffling them before "glueing" them together. 

Finally we took a brush and painted on "petal dust" to enhance and give depth to the flowers.  No matter what your interest, taking an night away to explore it is a good thing!
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Friday, June 7, 2013

The Painted Pig

The request came via Facebook.
Julie asked "Martha, would you paint my pig?"
Martha replied "Is this a joke?"
It was not.

So I set about to change his rather green pallor to something more colorful and fun.

Julie likes Beatrix Potter and in homage to Peter Rabbit I added some carrots poking out of his apron.  I think he was supposed to be a butcher pig but that just felt SO WRONG so I made him a vegetarian chef pig.  He is now safely back in his home kitchen making his owner very happy.

Bon Appetit if you're French.
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A gift of a rose

This beautiful rosebush was a gift from my friend, Donna M., a bit of encouragement during some difficult days a few years ago.

We have had this brilliant pattern (for growing things!) of hot sunny days followed by lots of rain.  That pattern has been repeated over and over.  The lawns are green and the flowers look beautiful.

Happiness is...
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Monday, June 3, 2013

The stars put on a show for free...

This past Thursday night my son and I went to the " Boston Strong - An Evening of Support and Celebration" concert held at the TD Garden.  

 It was hard to get tickets as the show sold out in 5 minutes.
But we were able to get two single sets and since we live right on the train line, jumped on the rails and rode into Boston.  The show was five hours long.  Rock stars and comedians, bands from our town (Boston, Dropkick Murphys, Aerosmith) that made us proud to be from here.

But on this night the bands also expressed pride in us.  All of the proceeds were donated back to the Marathon Survivors, but the bands thanked the ticket holders for spending their money for such a good cause.  On this night there wasn't a whole boatload of difference between the people on the stage and the people in the seats.  We were here together.

 I always bring my camera and take pictures of the bands at shows that I attend - and I did on this night, too.  But when I was out walking the hallways to get a beer, I noticed something quite striking.  As varied as the people were at the show, there were that many kinds of shirts in support of the chaos, injury, confusion, arrests, healing and recovery to our town and especially those who were killed and hurt by this most violent and senseless act.

Not one "trendy" shirt. 

Not one shirt that you could only get at a certain store but then sold out so less expensive versions were made. No.  Everyone had their own shirt that came from their own favorite store or their own hometown.  

There were so many different shirts that I could not even count them. 

 But what I did see was pride. Not pride that can be bottled or sold.  Not pride because you are Irish and like the Dropkick Murphys.  Not pride because you live in the North End or Southie or Stoneham or Natick.  Boston pride.

I asked permission from everyone I took a photo of.  I told them I had a blog and would they mind if I put
 their picture in it.  They ALL said yes.

On this night, the women didn't say "what does my hair look like?"

They didn't look at me like a stranger...wondering with jaded eyes..."what's she really going to do with these pictures?"

They stood proud, happy and united on this special of all nights.

His shirt says "Boston's Not Afraid of You."
If you live around here you've been to the Marathon.  You've worked in the area at some point in your life.  You've gone on dates and met friends for drinks on those streets.  They are happy blocks coming from or going to the Public Garden.  Who knows how long it will take for the sting to leave us.  I don't think anyone is in a rush.  We want the injured to get well and have a chance to start again. 

I can say that I was Boston Proud to have a chance to support all that will be again.
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