Friday, September 21, 2012

She loves me, she loves me not..

When I first saw the picture that the client sent to me of exactly the kind of cake she wanted, I immediately felt confident.  After all, how hard can be? most of it is made ahead - the plaque and letters, the numbers, the bow and the roses, so once all that's done, the rest of it is just stacking, right? 

I've always struggled with getting straight edges and sharp corners, so I have no idea why I thought it would be quick and easy.  This time I even attempted a variation of the upside down ganache method and while it was better than my previous attempts, it wasn't so much better as to be a noticeable improvement on doing it without the stress of flipping a heavy cake.  I found that when I took my cake board off the top of the cake  (which was previously the bottom) there were so many air bubbles that with puttying all those little holes, I ended up having to re-ganache almost all of the top anyway, defeating the purpose of starting upside down on a flat surface in the first place.  

Don't even get me started on the corners and edges!  I don't know what I did wrong, but they were all wonky and when I tried to sharpen the corners with 2 smoothers, all I ended up doing was creating air bubbles.  Maybe I'm pressing too hard - I don't know.  All I know is that it's very frustrating!  

And to top it off, the pre-coloured pink fondant I bought rolled out streaked with white (as though it hadn't been mixed in properly), and though I use The Mat, I find that recently, my fondant has been coming off it with lots of little pitted marks.  So streaking plus pitting = not smooth sides.  To top it off, one side even has little cracks all over the edge and I have no idea why or how that happened!   Crazy!

Nothing I can do about it though as, working full-time during the day I have limited time in terms of starting over or going to the shops to buy more materials (the limited number of cake shops here in Perth close between 5 and 5.30pm on weekdays). 

So the lady who requested this cake is coming today to collect it.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that despite its little deformities she'll still like it overall.  If you stand a few metres back and cross your eyes slightly it's actually quite a sweet looking little cake haha

Each tier is 3 layers of almond cake coated and layered with white chocolate ganache
In any case, even if she's not so impressed with the exterior, I believe the proof will be in the pudding.  Her request for cake was "pate d'amande" or, if I couldn't do that, white chocolate mud.  A quick search of cake recipes including almond paste turned up an excellent one by David Lebovitz.  I highly recommend anyone who loves almonds to try it as it's definitely one I will be baking over and over again.  

He recommends against using store-bought marzipan instead of almond paste, but as almond paste is not easily found here, I cheated and used marzipan made with approx 20% almonds (but use real marzipan, not almond flavoured icing as that's completely different - the paste is not a pure white colour but more the colour of ground almonds) and the result was an amazingly moist, tender and very finely crumbed cake.  It cuts and freezes very well and on defrosting is just as moist as the day it was baked.  Yummo!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Older but no wiser..

Say hello to my birthday behemoth cake!  Why do I love ruffles so? maybe because it's so good at hiding all manner of bumpy sins hahaha
Oh yeah - I'm fat, I'm heavy and damn proud of it!
One of my birthday presents was a voucher towards getting a new underwater camera for my travels later this year.  My trusty old camera, a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ15 is on its final legs and was a bit temperamental on our last holiday to Phuket - intermittently telling me my battery was dead after charging, giving me the purple screen of death while trying to turn off (I had to take the battery out and put it in again and thankfully it worked) and since about my second year of owning it, has decided it wants to add an orange hue to everything.

Because I loved my old camera so much (despite its idiosyncrasies, which I learned to deal with), I went to the shop with my heart set on the Panasonic Lumix FT4 (basically a newer, underwater/shockproof version).  However, after playing with it against 2 other models, I decided in the end to go with the Olympus Tough.  I've been comparing it with my old camera and here are the results. 
Left: Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ15, Right: Olympus Tough TG-820
Both pics were taken in iAuto mode and the flash came on automatically both times.  I have mixed feelings when looking at the photos close up.  The red with the Panasonic is truer to what I can see on my desk.  However, the colour of my desk itself is closer to what was taken with the Olympus.  

Another thing I've noticed with the Olympus is that frequently on the camera screen a picture will look sharp.  Open it on your computer however, and it's a different story.  And don't even think about zooming in.  It just doesn't have the same sharp detail as my 4-year old Panasonic.  

A little part of me wishes I'd gone with my original plan and just gotten the Panasonic Lumix FT4, but then again, if I had, I might now be wishing I'd tried the Olympus! haha

Oh well it's done now, and Harvey Norman doesn't take returns based on choosing the wrong model or changing your mind.  I'll just have to do the best I can with what I have!  I guess I shouldn't really have high expectations of quality photos, as I'm sure something has to be sacrificed for it to be so hardy.  The sole purpose of this camera was for travelling anyway, so hopefully pictures taken with natural light will fare much better. 

Here's another comparison taken last night of what's on my worktable with similar results: 
Left: Lumix, Right: Olympus
I finally got a cake order, which is both a yay and a boo - the picture she gave me of what she wants has at least 12 roses on it!

Ugh speaking of gumpaste roses, you'd think after all the dozens I've made over the years I'd be getting better at them... but no.  I think I make quite nice buds, or half roses, but the fuller they get, the worse they get, and somehow I end up with half floppy petals, sugar everywhere, really sticky fingers and a rose that looks like Mickey Mouse (I don't know how, but the petals stick out at the sides like great big mouse ears!  Don't even get me started on pre-drying petals - for some reason the shape of the base of my roses is so wrong that pre-dried petals can't stick (the petals end up being a scoop shape which is directly opposite to the bases of my roses which end up being far thinner than the tops).  

I may actually have to bite the bullet one of these days and pay someone to teach me properly, as clearly no amount of Youtube clips, reading of books and internet step-by-steps is helping.  Sigh.

Anyway, it's my birthday week and I'm not going to dwell on my failure at dabbling at being a sugar artist - all bets are off this week - no dieting,  limited exercise, and all I can eat hahaha!  

....yeah I'll deal with the consequences next week =P

Monday, September 17, 2012

My 2c worth..

There's been a lot of buzz on Urbanspoon lately about the Tuck Shop cafe in Northbridge and I thought I'd weigh in on the discussion because I'm a stickybeak (and also because I have these lovely pictures and nobody to share them with!).   

I actually had a brunch catchup there a few months ago but I enjoyed it so much it feels like it was just yesterday.

The decor is casual but bright, clean and classy, with a really cool idea of pinning your loyalty card to their pinup board (to the left) instead of carrying it around (and invariably losing it as I always do).  Four of us were there around 11am with a pram and despite it being quite full, didn't have to wait long at all for a table.

I decided to try the bruschetta and what a pleasant surprise!  I've had some bland bruschettas in my time (you know the ones where it's just old tomatoes and red onion on fat pieces of garlic bread?  You must do - it's a staple here in Perth) but this one had fresh, fat pieces of basil, avocado, soft billowy cheese (aaarggh the name of it escapes me), cherry tomatoes which were perfectly ripe and flavoursome,  bacon which was not too crispy or salty (though I didn't eat all of it - I didn't feel it needed as much as they gave) and the lot perfectly finished with a drizzle of olive oil.  I remember the bread being crispy and a bit chewy but really it was just a base for all that topping - I don't care if it's authentic or not, it was super yummy!

The yummiest bruschetta I've had in a long, long time
Because we'd heard so much about them, my girlfriends each had the lamb pie.  It didn't disappoint.  Tthe meat and filling was so tasty and tender, and the pastry was crispy but flaky and soft at the same time.  Next time I go (and yes, there will be a next time!) I want pie!!

Though having said that... damn but that bruschetta was good.  It'd be a pretty hard choice!

The Tuck Shop Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Being a weapon of massive consumption...

... now and then there needs to have a little bit of damage mitigation.

Now, I'm not a naturally active person.  I would rather watch a marathon (and I hate watching sport), front row couch side, ice cream and caramel sauce in hand, than run for any distance longer than to and from the fridge.  Unfortunately, you can only snorlax along in life for so long before you start to see physical changes, some tolerable (well, if I get a little top heavy, hell bring on the cleavage!), some not so tolerable (what now?  what are those jiggly things on top of my hips?  omg when did my thighs become like that???).

I let it go for some time before I started seeing myself in photographs and realising that the picture in my head was not matching up with the picture on my screen.  When I started to try to do something about it I found, to my horror, that in my 30's, unlike when I was in my early 20's, trying to change my body shape was a lot harder.  About 10 years ago I just couldn't understand how people couldn't just snap their fingers and lose those kilos they'd stack on.  For me back then it was as simple as cutting my food intake for a week to something respectable and I'd see the kilos drop.  Now it's not so simple.  I cut down my calories for weeks and nothing happened.

It was time to start doing the unspeakable.  Exercising.

So, for the past couple of years, I've been trying to do more with balancing what's going in and what's being burned off.  I tried going to the gym and for a while I even had a personal trainer, but I just found the whole thing to be smelly, expensive and the opposite of fun.  It was un-fun.

Luckily I have friends and coworkers who are keen to do a little damage mitigation themselves and want to spend as little money as possible.  That's when we decided to brave the ladder of hell: Jacobs Ladder by Kings Park.

It looks innocuous enough.. but it's pure hell
The first time I tried it I could barely manage 2 (down and up, twice).  I was almost in tears by the end of it, and I just felt like it would never end I was in so much pain!  Eventually I managed, slowly, to build it up, adding one more every couple of weeks.  Whenever I felt like giving up, I'd take a break at the top and try and enjoy the view.

Perth is my City
These days I mix it up with Kokoda (at the bottom of Kings Park near the Swan Brewery) and just recently have started running (yes, running! I know it's nothing to most people, but being able to run 900m without stopping is a tremendous feat for me) between them and doing a couple at each end.  It breaks up the monotony and I feel like it's such a great and quick cardio workout.  You'll get your daily recommended 30 mins of moderate exercise without even realising it!

So that's the exercise I do because I have to.  What do I do for fun?

I hate that I'm bald
Ladies, don't judge before you try it for yourself and men, get those ideas out of your head.  As my mum once scoffed to her friends "Why should I worry? I've seen her do it and it isn't sexy".

It requires a lot of all round body strength (legs, arms, back, abs) plus flexibility and after 3 years of taking intermittent classes, I'm still only at an intermediate level (what can I say, I'm snorlax!).  Of course, in underwear and 6" heels it's as sexy as you want it to be, but for me it's not about that.  It took me a very long time to show my boyfriend what I could do, and even he could see how much it took out of me (if my all my red-faced huffing and puffing was anything to go by).

What I love most about pole dancing, and I know a lot of women mention this as being a non-physical positive side-effect, is the confidence it's given me.  I used to HATE my body.  Really hate it, as in I'd do anything to avoid seeing myself naked or partially naked.  I would turn away from mirrors in change rooms until I was fully clothed.  If I couldn't bear to look at myself, how do you think I felt about others looking at me?  Doing pole dancing has forced me to look at myself, both clothed and partially clothed, at how I move and what I'm doing and over the years and months of looking, watching, adjusting and moving I feel like I've gotten to know myself so much better.  I know all those bumps and curves and I'm not ashamed of them anymore - they're a part of me, and when I execute that move that I've been struggling with for weeks, I couldn't care less about them - to me I look beautiful, amazing, even.  It's helped to make me more comfortable with myself.

And I'm not a natural dancer - I'm naturally clumsy actually, but the pole makes it easier for me to balance, and what I lack in natural grace and flexibility (no I can't do the splits) I try to make up for in strength.  On top of that, in growing stronger with every month and year, I know that under those bumps and curves there's good solid muscle.

I'd recommend anyone to try it at least once: you'll start off feeling very silly so it's great to go with some girlfriends and have a bit of a giggle - it won't take long to realise what an immense challenge it is, and how rewarding it is, both physically and in the people you'll meet and the friends you'll make.