Friday, July 30, 2010

Seattle Space Needle

Last Saturday, we went to a festival / concert down at the Seattle Center. We had an awesome view of the Space Needle and I enjoyed watching the lighting change as evening fell.

Not having my REAL camera, I made do with my cell phone.

5:14 pm

8:28 p.m.

9:15 p.m.

9:27 p.m.

9:36 p.m

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bake Me a Cake...For Friends

I thought I would share a couple more cakes that I have done for co-workers over the past couple of weeks.

For Nancy's cake below, I tried to use gum paste / fondant decorations but did not allow them to dry long enough. When I covered the cake overnight in my cake carrier, the moisture from the cake made the decorations all droopy. The leaves and flowers all went flat on top of the cake. Bummer. But chalk it up as another lesson learned. It still looked fine and tasted delicious.

Nancy's Birthday Cake

Two co-workers, one who used to work in our western Washington office who now lives in France and another from our French office, recently got married over here. They hosted a BBQ at work and we just had to have a cake for the event. I was asked if I wanted to do a cake and since it is good practice for me, I jumped at the chance.

Nico & Katie's Cake

This was another torted sheet cake - vanilla cake with my secret vanilla filling, and buttercream icing. I used the Cornelli lace technique along with the Wilton rose. A reverse shell border on the top and a basic shell border on the bottom with color coordinated dots completes the cake. Nico and Katie took the left over cake home to share with their family - they like it that much! Come to find out, this was their "wedding cake" since they didn't have the traditional cake at their reception.

Using recipes found on, I have steadily been tweaking my buttercream recipe. No more Wilton basic buttercream for me. At least outside of class.

Using a tip from my cake class teacher, I have become a fan of the Cake Mix Doctor, too. Anne Byrn takes your basic box cake mix and "doctors" it up to taste more like cakes made from scratch. I primarily use Duncan Hines cake mixes (no added pudding) and then add in sour cream, vanilla yogurt or flavored instant puddings just to name a few things. It must be good because my co-workers and friends sure do enjoy eating my cakes. I recently acquired a few books by the Cake Mix Doctor with recipes and other tips so who knows what I will bake next. I'm hankering for an Orange Creamsicle Cake or a Lemon Cake, filling and icing concoction. Ooh la la!

At some point, I will probably start baking from scratch, but for now, starting with a box cake mix has been working for me.

I'm still taking another Wilton course, so stay tuned for an update from that class in the very near future.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Bake Me A Cake...Flowers and Cake Design

After taking 3 of the 4 courses that Wilton offered, they revamped their classes before I could take Course 4. Some things would no longer be taught, like a few of the flower techniques and tiered cake construction. But they also introduced some new flower designs to learn along with other cake decorating principles.

I signed up for Flowers and Cake Design. Some of the techniques would be a repeat for me, but there would be new things to learn, too. And I got to continue classes with my favorite teacher, Diana.

The course started off explaining how to use a color wheel to coordinate colors on a cake. Complimentary, neighboring, monochromatic and triad were color combinations we learned about. Having worked with our design team at work, I was very familiar with this but it was a good refresher.

We covered the basics of working with gum paste and fondant. By adding gum paste to your fondant, it will help it to dry out quickly and hard, keeping it's shape as needed. We learned how to tint gum paste using colored fondant or icing colorants. For practice, we made pansy flowers out of the gum paste and a flower cutter / embossing tool.

We made Wilton roses, primroses, apple blossoms, daffodils and violets out of Royal icing. And a new flower for me - the rosebud, was added in. Such a cute little flower, too!

Another flower out of Royal icing, the lily (not to be confused with the Easter lily) was new for this course. It is similar to the Easter lily, but made with a larger tip.

We also covered the basketweave icing technique in our final class.

One nice thing about this course was teaching you how to design cakes. The shape of your cake, the colors, how you position your flowers, your writing and your borders all impact the final look of your cake. If you follow some basic principles of cake design, your cakes will turn out much nicer and professional looking.

Only one cake was needed for the new course and that was for the Week 4 class. I found a nice design on the Wilton website that incorporated many of the techniques taught in this course.

Final Cake for Course

I was pleased with how my cake turned out. It had the lilies, basketweave, and apple blossoms on it. I am still working on getting my buttercream icing to be smooth. It's not perfect, but I am improving. I am picking up tips from the Wilton website, although I understand some of this is now taught in the new Decorating Basics course.

Right before I finished up the Flowers and Cake Design course, my former boss transferred from our western Washington office to Brussels, Belgium. Of course we had to have a farewell party for him including what else - cake!

Farewell Cake

This was a 12 x 18" sheet cake that I torted and filled with a dark chocolate buttercream filling. Yummmm.

Torting a large sheet cake was new for me. Using the Wilton cake leveler makes torting cakes a breeze but how do I handle a thin but large layer? I figured out a way to use a flat cookie sheet without sides to slide between the two layers to move the top layer so I could put the filling in. Then I used the cookie sheet to slide the layer back on top of the filling. Voila! Piece of cake. Hehe.

The Wilton Cake Leveler (thank you, Amazon for the picture)

Next up, the Gum Paste and Fondant course.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bake Me A Cake...Course 3

Wilton's Course 3 - Fondant and Tiered Cakes was the next class I took.

It gave me basic skills in working with fondant that seems to be all the rage on the cake shows currently on TV. I discovered that I do not care for the taste of fondant, at least the Wilton brand (sorry Wilton). But it is fun to work with.

Course 3 started off with some new tricks with buttercream icing...Cornelli Lace, Sotas, a bead border and a ruffled border with garland. We also did some brush embroidery work where you pipe out an outline and then using a small paint brush, pull some of the icing in towards the center of the flower outline. I think in the right applications, this would be very pretty on a cake.

We also learned how to do drop strings on a cake using buttercream. One important thing was if you were transporting a cake and it called for drop strings, do it once the cake arrived where it needed to be. The drop strings are very fragile and would likely break during transport.

Then we moved on to fondant. This class required a cake that had a crumb (very thin) coat of icing. We covered our cakes with fondant and added cutout decorations and a large bow that we made.
My First Fondant Cake

That cake was just okay. Nothing spectacular. But for my first fondant cake, I did alright.

We also learned some additional flowers in this course made out of Royal icing using a lily nail former. Oh, this was FUN! We made Easter lilies, poinsettias, petunias and morning glories. It is amazing what you can do with icing.

Royal Icing Flowers
(from top center - yellow petunia, blue morning glory, pink poinsettia, white Easter lily)

Our final cake for this course would be a stacked or tiered cake. Stacked cakes are where the layers sit right on top of each other. Tiered cakes have separators or pillars in between each layer.

We learned the proper construction techniques for each method. For stacked cakes, wooden dowel rods the same height as the bottom layer are placed inside the cake to support the top layer. A cake board circle the same size as the top layer is under this layer and helps to stabilize the cake construction.

I chose to do a stacked cake for my final class. The design was to be of our choosing so I decided to go with buttercream icing and fondant decorations.

Course 3 Final - Stacked Cake

Again, my co-workers enjoyed eating this cake the next day. They are getting VERY spoiled. :-)

While I was taking this course, the opportunity came up to do a cake outside of what was required for class. This cake was enjoyed by my Relay for Life team. We were going to auction it off, but the team chipped in and bought the cake before it even reached the auction table. We ate the cake during the Relay for Life event. A little extra sugar was good for energy while walking lots of laps. Actually, I think we had a bunch of cake fiends on the team.

This cake was a combination of buttercream icing and fondant decorations.

Relay for Life Cake

Next up, Wilton introduces a new set of courses and I've signed up for Flowers and Cake Design.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Bake Me A Cake...Course 2

Course 2 of the Wilton method concentrated on making Flowers and Borders.

I learned how to make rosette and reverse shell borders made from buttercream icing. I also learned how to make rosebud and chrysanthemum flowers.

We also were taught how to do a basketweave icing technique. It looked much harder than it really was.

One important lesson in Course 2 dealt with making Royal Icing. This type of icing makes some really nice flowers, but is VERY finicky. You cannot have any grease or butter come into contact with utensils, bowls, decorating tools, etc, or the icing will fail. One little bit and you can throw away the batch of icing. But the results are well worth the extra steps it takes to make Royal icing. It dries hard whereas the buttercream icing stays soft. Decorations will keep for 6 months if stored properly.

I learned how to make Apple Blossoms, Violets, Daisies, Pansies, and Primroses out of Royal icing. We even made Wilton roses out of it.

One other technique we learned was decorating with color flow. You take a pattern and pipe an outline with color flow icing. Then using a thinned color flow icing, you fill inside the pattern with your colors. After it hardens, you have a nice decoration to put on your cake.

Course 2 only required us to bake and decorate a cake for the final class. You still had to come up with a design and make your decorations in advance using the techiques learned. I used the design in the course book.

It has Royal icing flowers, color flow blue birds, and the basketweave design on the side.

Course 2 Final Cake

I really enjoyed this course. I found once I got the hang of it, making flowers was lots of fun.

Next up, Course 3 - Fondant and Tiered Cakes

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Bake Me a Cake...Course 1

Patty cake
Patty cake
Baker's man
Bake me a cake

As fast as you can.

Earlier this year, I started taking cake decorating classes. It is something I've always wanted to do, plus it gives me another skill in my arsenal for when my current job eventually goes away.

I took the Wilton courses at Michael's. Each course was 4 weeks long. Over the next several posts, I will share with you what I've learned.

Course 1 was Discover Cake Decorating. Lesson 1 taught us how to prepare our cake for decorating including leveling, torting (layering), filling and icing. We also learned the 3 essentials of cake decorating - icing consistency, correct bag position and pressure control.

Having the correct icing consistency is very important. Too thin and your flowers won't hold together. Too thick and it is almost impossible to write on a cake.

How you hold your icing bag affects the decorations that you make. Hold it the right way and your icing will curl properly. Hold it at the wrong angle and your decorations will not look right.

How much pressure you exert on your bag also affects your decoration. Only with lots of practice can you learn how to control the pressure on your icing bag.

In Lesson 2, we needed to bring an iced cake to class. We started to learn how to decorate a cake using Star tip #16. You've probably seen "character" cakes that are completely covered in icing stars. This style of decorating is very simple to do and was a good start for me to learn. I learned I don't particularly care for this style of decorating. To each his (or her) own, I guess.

We also learned how to write and do line decorating in this lesson as well as beginning to learn how to make the "Wilton Rose".

It just so happened that the next day after class was a co-worker's birthday so my cake was designed with his birthday in mind.

My Very First Cake

In Lesson 3, we continued to learn the Wilton Rose. I also learned how to pipe shell borders which are used frequently in cake decorating. One other skill was how to do figure piping and made drop flowers from the buttercream icing.

Lesson 4 wrapped up with finishing the Wilton Rose. We also learned how to do leaves and vines. Since this was our fourth and final class for Course 1, we had to bring another iced cake to class for decorating.

Course 1 Final Cake

My co-workers were reaping the benefits of my cake decorating classes because this cake also ended up at work for them to enjoy eating.

I had a really good teacher, Diana, for Course 1 and was looking forward to starting Course 2 with her. She teaches a couple of evenings a week and also has a side business doing cakes for others. This in addition to her full-time day job.

Diana shared many good tips with us including That has become one of my go-to websites, along with the Wilton site, for cake decorating inspiration.

Next up, Course 2 - Flowers and Borders

Friday, July 23, 2010

Clematis Jackmanii

Growing in my neglected garden...amazing that something so beautiful is surviving.

Monday, July 19, 2010

It's Rocking - Sheetrocking...that is

The drywall crew came in last week and hung the drywall (also known as Sheetrock). Wow! What a huge difference it made. It is really starting to look like a house inside now.

Living Area

View Towards Kitchen

Looking Out from the Mudroom

My Spa Tub

Downstairs in the Little Cabin

Sleeping Loft in the Little Cabin

This week, the crew starts taping and mudding the joints on the drywall. After that comes the finishing and THEN we can start painting, tiling, and laying flooring. And our cabinets will get installed!

I get more excited as each step finishes. Look out end of August!

On another note, fire is definitely a concern. The spring and early summer rains really made the grasses and other vegetation grow around the house. We are trying to work with a neighbor who has a large tractor & bush-hogger to mow a larger perimeter around the houses. We really should have had this taken care of a few weeks ago when the vegetation was still green, but we are learning. Hopefully, we can work out the arrangements that we will be at the house and possibly with another neighbor who has a pumper truck on standby in case a spark catches the grass on fire. It is amazing how quickly the wind dried the grasses out in the summer heat once it quit raining.

There was a large (almost 20,000 acres) fire that started 9 days ago about 75 miles south of us. This fire grew in size quickly and is finally under control. The fire agencies are saying it is going to be an intense fire season because of the additional growth that took place. I can fully understand why by what I see at our house. We just have to keep working on pushing our perimeter outwards.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Feathered Friends

One of the things I enjoy about the Chicken Dance Ranch and the local surroundings are the birds. I could sit for hours and watch them. Which I often do, camera in hand. I don't know what's what when I see most of them, but I sure do like them.

My favorites are the hummingbirds. We have a feeder just outside of what will be the living room window. The hummers are great entertainers. The most I've seen at once are four of them fighting over who's turn it is to eat. They climb and dive, putting on great displays for a potential mate. There's never a dull moment with the hummingbirds around.

Hummingbirds in Action (Rufous or Calliope still to be determined)

We are also in the migration route for sandhill cranes - heading south in the spring and returning north in the fall. This spring, we were lucky to catch some of them on the journey to the San Joaquin delta area as well as resting after a long day's flight.

Sandhill Cranes Migration

Rest Stop

One day, we took a side trip up to Buzzard's Lake in Okanogan County. I saw the prettiest duck that I later found out was a Ruddy Duck. I think it was courting another duck based on the little noises it was making.

Ruddy Duck

Not too far from our house is a snag by one of the lakes that seems to attract lots of birds. One day I spotted this Red-tailed hawk searching for a meal.

Red-tailed Hawk

This Red-naped Sapsucker was having a good time on an old utility pole in the Methow Valley.

Red-naped Sapsucker

One drawback to having our feathered friends around is their ability to nest in places that they shouldn't. Just the other week, we heard a noise coming from the refrigerator compartment on our camper. Unfortunately, a little tiny bird, species unknown, started nesting behind the frig. We had to dismantle the nest because replacing the refrigerator should something get blocked would be a very expensive proposition. I bought mesh and screened the ventilation holes for the frig to keep the little birdies out. Sorry, guys.

Nest in the Refrigerator Compartment

Look closely and you can see the new screening

On a future post, I will share some of the furry critters that make their home near or on the Chicken Dance Ranch.

Monday, July 12, 2010

What the Heck Has Been Happening???

Lots of activity has been happening at the Chicken Dance Ranch. Yep, that is the official name of the property. Stay tuned for the sign that will posted over there.

Wildflowers in July

Since the last update (and who knows when THAT was!), we have kicked it into gear with a goal to get our occupancy permit this summer. We were able to get a 60 day update on our current insurance policy so the deadline is August 25th. After a cold and wet spring, fire season is upon us and having insurance on the house is a priority.

So where were we?

Last October, partial insulation was installed in the little cabin so we could try to stay warm in colder temps. After that, no other work took place, just Karl fishing. Hey, we had some delicious Steelhead. Yummm, yum!

Karl & Brian - Insulators Extraordinaire

This spring, I built a wall to separate the kitchen and mud-room, and a closet to house the water heater in the mud-room. I must have done a good job because the building inspector never said a thing during his later inspections.

Closet for Water Heater

Look Ma! I did it all by myself!

The next step was to get the rough-in plumbing and electric in. We hired out the plumbing and had ALOT of assistance with the electrical (Thanks, Greg!).

Lighting for the Kitchen

My one splurge - a spa tub

One bad thing with the plumbing and electric being meant no more "camping" out in the little cabin with the woodstove to keep warm. Nosiree, Bob.

The first night we arrived over at the house after plumbing and electric started, we arrived to a mess in the little cabin. We were forewarned, but did we listen? No. The insulation in the little cabin had to be taken down plus the insulation in the floor underneath was now stored inside. Not suitable for sleeping accommodations.

Now what do we do? No camper and we need a place to sleep. Time to grab the air mattress and move it into the main house. Sans woodstove. Let me tell you - it was COLD that night. Temps were below freezing. We had on several layers of clothes and our beanie hats, flannel sheets, a couple of blankets and a sleeping bag on the bed and still we were cold. It made for a long night. Even the puppies were cold buried under the blankets. The oil-filled heater at our heads didn't make any difference. Just too much open area sucking any heat away.

Wide-Open Sleeping Arrangements

Now what? I had a bright(?) idea to go to the local Wal-mart the next morning and buy a tent. Maybe that would keep some of the heat contained so we could be warmer at night.

Our Suite at the Chicken Dance Ranch

It semi-worked. But the nylon tent material still allowed the heat to escape, even with the rain fly on. We ended up putting one of our large tarps (not shown) over the tent for another layer. Ahhh, warmth! Relatively speaking, of course. We spent several weekends doing indoor camping until we brought the camper over.

Once the electric and plumbing were installed, it was time for insulation. That too was contracted out. After the attempt last October to insulate the little cabin, Karl was willing to have someone else come in and do it. The house and cabin were done in ONE DAY! That crew rocked! But dummy me forgot to take pictures. Smack!

One other thing that could be done is to fill in the trench the Karl and Tim dug for the electrical conduit that was run. Both the line to the main house and little cabin are buried 36" plus deep to meet code. The trench was dug with a trenching machine and we started to backfill in by hand. Yeah, right. One hundred feet of trench with a shovel? Are you nuts? We rented a bobcat machine with a front bucket loader similar to the trencher and took the easy way out. Less than two hours later, the trench is filled! (And I think Karl had fun running the machine, too.)

Look Tim! I'm running the bobcat!

Cough! Cough! That was a dusty bucketful.

Next up...sheetrock, drywall, wallboard - call it whatever you want. Sissies that we are, we've got contractors handling that job, too. The crew starts hanging this week. Pictures to come, for sure!

Our cabinets will start being built soon. Let me tell you - I have got a GREAT cabinetmaker building them. :)

Now we've got to address those weeds that have grown this spring so we can increase the fire perimeter around the house. I need a tractor!!!!!