Time for 2013, and a Few Harsh Truths

I’m not very good at this whole blogging thing.

While I admire – and am a little jealous of – those who can pump out a post per day or more, I just can’t commit to it. I want to, but when I get to that Add New Post section and it’s staring back at me blankly, almost defiantly, I freeze up and forgot what brought me there in the first place. Once that nasty self-talk kicks in with it’s ‘you know, you’re really not interesting enough to be doing this’, it’s over. It’s all rather discouraging.

I’d like to say it’s because I was way too busy to blog, but that would be lying. In December, it was true: I was on my way to building what might have been a successful bake-on-demand business, offering to do the holiday baking for those who may have neither time nor inclination. I say ‘might have’ because although it was a moderate success for a soft launch, what happened afterward was less so. Pain is what happened. Over Christmas, I could barely lift a spoon let along beat anything with a spatula because my arm was hurting so badly. As it turns out, a nerve damage issue from my former desk job combined with carpal tunnel AND arthritis were all joining forces to tell me that this is not the path I’m supposed to be on. And don’t even get me started with the city zoning and regulations issues. It’s really a miracle that anyone operates a food business at all.

Which begs the question: what the hell do I do now?

In a way, the forced moratorium on daily baking made me have to do some serious thinking about my motivations. And despite all of my self assurances to the contrary, my obsessive baking was not a healthy tribute to my mother. Quite the opposite, in fact. It was more a desperate attempt to connect with her on some level now that she’s gone, and it was keeping me from accepting her death and moving forward. She had spent most of the day before the stroke took her away from us baking, and no amount of me re-creating that day through a variety of baked goods is going to bring her back.

Unfortunately, it took my best friend basically calling me out on it as well as the death of another loved one – my childhood best friend’s mother, who was like a second mother to me – to show me.

So now, I’m faced with the ugly task of rebuilding. For someone who places a large amount of her self worth in what she does for a living, you can imagine what six months of unemployment is doing to me. When I was baking, at least I felt like I was contributing something of value, building toward something bigger than myself. Sadly most of that value has been converted into inches on my waistline and it’s myself that is bigger, but that’s not the point I’m making. The point is, where do I go from here?

One consolation I have is that I’m about fifty pages away from finishing a complete rewrite of The Novel. I took all of the suggestions made to me from a literary agent who had showed some interest in the story, and changed the point of view from first to third person as well as shaved off a good twenty to thirty pages of unnecessary backstory, and am now on the verge of being able to consider re-submitting to other agents – that first one included. So I guess that’s one thing. But that’s not enough to base an entire future on.

I suppose I could start by changing my perspective. Normally, I am very much a glass is half empty kind of person. Perhaps if I could start looking at it from a more positive spin, like this is an opportunity to start a new chapter and try a whole new direction, I would be way better off both emotionally and physically. But as the late payment calls for bills I don’t have the money to pay at the moment, that might be easier said than done.

Anyone else find themselves in a similar situation? I take some comfort in knowing that I must not be alone in this.

From Failure to (Almost) Fondant: Tea Time with Tiffany Mini-Cakes

A couple of days ago I thought I’d try my hand at marshmallow-making. Those soft white puffy clouds of sugary goodness sometimes haunt me, and I wanted to make them mine. Without gelatin.

This would be where the failure comes in. I discovered – the hard way, as I’m wont to do – that it is extremely difficult to make fondant without some sort of setting agent. Be it gelatin or actual marshmallow root, you need something to make it rise and retain its height as well as shape. One cannot rely on the magic of boiled corn syrup and sugar to do it for one, especially if one is not an experienced candymaker. Like myself. So there I was, stuck with a sticky white dough that wouldn’t quite harden but did maintain form when moulded. Like Playdoh. And it appeared to be awfully similar to that white dough-like substance used to cover most professionally decorated cakes you might see on such shows as Cake Walk on Slice TV or Planet Cake, a BBC series based on the Australian designer cake studio who creates stunningly beautiful cakes. It may have been watching that which made me decide that my marshmallow concoction was indeed fondant (it wasn’t) and that I was going to use it to cover some miniature cakes in honour of my other favourite colour and what I consider my own version of the Happiest Place on Earth, Tiffany & Co. Screw Disneyland – give me a little blue box with something shiny inside any day of the week.

I think that now may be a good time to mention that I have never, ever covered a cake with fondant before. I’ve worked with it, created little cupcake decorations and in the making of chocolate covered cherries, but not to any great extent. But I figured, how hard could it be? Ohhhh so naive. And arrogant. I blame the macaron success wave that I must have still been riding on. Yes, still. I am that sad. And while we’re on that subject, another thing that should be brought up is how completely obsessed with Tiffany’s I am. I have a small shrine in my living room bookshelf where I have lovingly created a vignette featuring bags and boxes from various Tiffany gifts I’ve received over the years. I also insisted on one of our bathrooms being painted Tiffany blue, and dragged the long-suffering husband and son through several different Lowes and Home Depots in search of the shade of blue-green that most closely matched the coveted, proprietary shade. Incidentally, I found it at RONA’s – Canadian readers will know what I’m talking about. I think it was shade #1246 if I remember correctly – it’s a miracle I don’t still have the shade card. Oh right… in case you haven’t picked up on this yet: mentally speaking, I’m a couple cupcakes short of a dozen. But that’s not the point I’m trying to make; my point is simply that matching the shade was the least of my worries since I have more than enough source material to work from. And match it I did, not just once but six times since working with the ‘fondant’ in one large mass was proving to be too difficult so I had to separate and tint it for each cake individually.

That should have been my first clue that something was amiss.

But no, since I’d managed to get so far as too have a near perfect match to that lovely shade I was determined to persevere. Even if it killed me. But it didn’t, it just took me the better part of two days to do all six. With bows. Did I not mention the bows? Oh…whoops!    I decided I wanted to make the cakes into little gift boxes, complete with white fondant bows. Not unlike these ones pictured here.  

From My Little Cake Shop – Cake Central.com

So…not too ambitious for a first project, right?

Enough of my babbling – that’s not what you came here for. What you want to see is what I poured my heart and soul into for a couple of days. There were tears, there were tantrums, there was even a fit or two of rage. But in the end, for better or worse, here is the end result.

Now that I’m looking at them again, they really aren’t so bad for a first timer’s shot at it. I mean, I probably would have fared far better, and maybe saved myself some time and mental anguish, had I used real fondant instead of my homemade concoction. In the closeup top view shot you can clearly distinguish the first day from the second – I prefer to pay most of my attention to the bottom three cakes. They came out much prettier, much more uniform. But I am extremely pleased with the soft fluffiness and pristine whiteness of the cake itself and especially with how well the icing matches. Then again, I am trained as a makeup artist so colour-blending should be second nature to me. So it’s good to know that those fourteen or so years weren’t completely in vain, that there are a few transferable skills I can take with me should I decide to pursue this cake thing further than just a means of therapy.

But that would be another post for another time. And a lengthy one at that. I’m not sure I have it in me today. And besides, I’m still trying to play catch up with these baking posts; yesterday will account for three of them on its own! Yeah…not a good day mentally, but a great day gastronomically! Maybe I can get to that tomorrow. But for now, it’s time to rest and get re-energized so to contemplate my next moves – personally, professionally, and culinarily.