Friday, April 29, 2011

the sMALL city.

The Mall of America, (or MOA, for those who must use the acronym) is an interesting place.  It's practically a self-sustaining city.  You can almost live your entire life there without leaving...if you can survive it, that is.  They have every shop for every possible interest.  They have the regular shops for clothes, makeup, shoes, kitchenware and decorations like normal malls, but this place also has a store for the wannabe magician, one dedicated to shaving, another for the magnet collector, and one for the Minnesota-lover for those of us who don't get enough thrill of simply living here (or tourists that need to prove to friends and family that they did indeed visit Minnesota on their vacation).  There's even a store dedicated just to being Irish, which I can only imagine has decent sales one day per year.

You can eat, watch movies, go to an amusement park, get married, do corporate team building and even go to high school there.  Yes, you read right: go to high school at the mall.  And if you get sick while you're there, just hop over to the in-house Mayo clinic office.  I should not be surprised if I read one day that they're adding condos so one literally never needs to leave.

You can even get shot at if you're at the right place at the right time.  It's happened.  Though I have yet to see it, I have confirmed that there's a new reality show on TLC called Mall Cops that tracks MOA security.

I pretty much avoid the MOA.  There are a few places I must go (like the Nordstrom shoe sale), but for the most part, I avoid it like the plague, which is not hard to do because it's about a 35 minute drive from my house on a good day.  However, this week, we went.  My sweet little niece had a birthday and when you have a birthday at the Mall of America, you get a free unlimited ride wristband to the Nickelodeon theme park.  My daughters were "wet your pants" excited to go to an amusement park and ride roller coasters (the toddler versions of them anyway), so how could we not go?  The three girls nearly sprinted from ride to ride, hardly noticing how starving they were for dinner which they ate two hours later than normal.  It was quite cute to watch. 

(Before I continue, I should say, we had a wonderful time with family, the kids slept in the next morning and none of us got sick!  SUCCESS!!!)

Speaking of fun to watch, we all had a good laugh just watching people.

Right when we arrived, I watched my nearly-5-year-old swipe her hands along two railings, and then immediately lick both of them bottom to top as if she had just dipped them in chocolate cake batter.  What on earth possessed the child?  I warned both of my girls that if they did anything so despicable again, we'd have to stop all the fun and go find a bathroom to wash hands.  Big threat, I know, but it somehow worked - they didn't want to miss a moment of fun.

Another fun thing to watch was the woman who got kicked off of the Ferris wheel because she kept holding her baby son up in the air so he could see someone down below.  I received this text from my sister-in-law as she and her husband were dangling at the top with the 3 little girls, unaware of the Michael Jackson stunt below:
Reassuring, isn't it?  And this is why I don't do Ferris wheels.  Anyway, who can beat the fun of watching a teenager get a power trip and kick off an unsuspecting mom who just wanted her dangling baby to say "hello."  I so wish I'd taken a picture!

And then there was the mother that changed her kid's diaper right in public.  I mean, the gall of some people!  Oh, wait.  That was me.  I snuck behind a fake tree and my sister-in-law.  My kid was in a dress, so I just did it with her standing there.  Hey, when in Rome!  Well, I didn't want to stand out in such a classy public place by not doing it.

I know, I know.  If my blog were more popular, I'd probably get all sorts of nasty notes about how snobby I am and that the MOA is really a wonderful place.  I couldn't agree more.  It's tops for people-watching and germ-catching.  I'd say it's on par with the State Fair for people watching and calorie intake (but doesn't measure up in flavor and creativity).  And, hey, when you need to pick up four leaf clover pin in the middle of July, it's the place to be!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Fabulously Girly

As I was working on simultaneously winning my Loving Wife and Mother of the Year Awards, snapping comments at my husband and making my poor daughters cry every time I told them to get out of the kitchen, I was making one of the cutest cakes I've ever had the opportunity to make.  A friend of mine asked me to make a cake for her daughter’s birthday party where she would be showing the newly released Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure.  (If you thought Disney's High School Musical was finally over after 3 movies, you’re wrong, this new spin off just keeps it going and going and going and going)  I decided to go all out, because A) she’s my friend and B) what’s more fun than a pink and blingy cake?
It seems that I always put a little too much stress on myself during projects like this because I want them to be 100% perfect.  Even when the cake is for my family, I still want it to be just right, but when someone has actually commissioned it and is paying for it, it has to be that much better than perfect.  When I started working on the zebra stripes with two different kinds of fondant, I ran into some trouble.  (By the way, if you’re ever tempted to use Satin Ice Fondant, you’d better be a speed demon because it dries so fast that if you don’t have it on the cake in 30 seconds, it's too late.)  I had somehow created the most amazing texture of MM Fondant I’d ever had before and then I was adding in black Satin Ice zebra stripes.  I intended to roll it all together to make it look like one perfect sheet, like my friend does.  Her zebra stripes are always perfect and she once briefly explained how she accomplished the task.  I may have misunderstood her or it was too long ago to remember correctly or it was just that I was using the wrong fondant.
Of course, the black was drying almost as I was cutting it, and didn’t roll in well, but it still looked nice.  I tried heating it up a little with a heat gun to keep the flexibility but it just wasn't doing it for me.  The real trouble started when I attempted to drape it over the cake.  It just all crumbled and cracked and became a giant mess.  I smiled sweetly, took it off and said, “no big deal! I’ll just take it off and start it again.”  Did I mention that I made the whole thing in a dress and high heels too, just like when I cook and clean?
What really happened is that I asked my husband to wash his hands to help me peel it off and then I blurted out, “How the heck does Shanna do this?  Grrrr!  I hate not being the best at everything.”  My husband looked at me with a confused smile (probably wondering where his "thank you for helping" was), and I laughed at how ridiculous that statement sounded coming out of my mouth.  I was joking, of course, but there is a little something inside of me that desires to be at least as good as my friend.  Admitedly, I have a pretty fierce competitive streak.  I guess I’d better work on letting that go on certain things…but I can justify it slightly by telling myself that it spurs on others to be better, right?  Yes, that’s it!  It’s all for the greater good, me being best.  That makes total sense.  My being better than you is for your good!  However, this particular friend is my inspiration and shares my love for sarcasm, so really, how can I hate her?
The little setback actually didn’t stress me out as much as it normally would have, and I really like how the cake turned out.  I bought a gem making mold and some Isomalt sugar to pour in them.  Evidently ALL the top sugar artists use Isomalt! <insert extra snark here>  Anyway, who doesn’t want a bunch of edible bling on a cake?  Every cake is a learning experience and this one taught me about how to work with Isomalt and silocone molds.  (It also taught me to not mix brands of fondant!)
Here are some pictures of how Ashley Tisdale looks on a cake:
So, thanks to Disney for having another movie!  And thanks to Sarah for the idea for it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lunch Time "Fun"

I made homemade mac and cheese today for lunch.  One of the most delicious things to grace our kitchen, if I do say so myself.  There is nothing quite like a mix of butter, cheese and milk mixed with carbs.  Mmmmmm.  And all just for me and my daughters.  After a morning of running errands and the girls being so well behaved, I decided to put lunch on the table so the girls and I could sit down and enjoy it together.  It turned out to be such a lovely lunch with no mishaps and nothing but rainbows and sunshine.


My first mistake was having expectations of a peaceful and happy lunch.  My second mistake was letting my two year old choose her own seat, which was not in her booster.  I spent the first 10 minutes telling her to get back in her chair and the last 10 minutes cleaning up the cup of red juice she spilled all over the floor.  Someone explain to me why it is that children think that they are the ones that get to cry when they spill?  They do not spend the next several days wiping it up because there's still a layer of sticky on the floor.  No, I argue, I should be the one allowed to cry.  I am the most affected.  Her wet pants and socks can easily be me.  Wow, there are a lot of "me's" and "I's" in that last part.  Alright, I'll try to be the grown up, but only after I throw my fit.  SOME DAYS!

Many mistakes were made in this scenario besides the two obvious ones listed above.  I should not have continued to repeat myself and given her ten chances to obey me by sitting in her chair.  I should not have then gotten upset when, by my own fault of not enforcing my rules, she made a mess.  I probably should have not told her not to cry.  I should have; I shouldn't have.  The list could go on.  I did not scar her for life.  She told me she loved me after all of it and did the same.  I still find her just as stinking adorable as ever...just a little more sticky.

We all learned an important lesson today: it's only OK for moms to cry over spilt juice.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Life is Piece of Cake

Today is less snark and more dabble.  One of my favorite dabblings (is that a word?) is cakes.  I love baking and decorating them.  Ok, I don't love the baking part...that's just a means to an end, but I do love it when the recipe turns out to be the best thing since...well, the last best thing.  I love it when I hear back from the party goers that it was the most delicious cake they've ever eaten.  I know some people feel like they have to say it, but it really is a nice ego petting.  Unfortunately, I can't take credit for most of the recipes. I have "borrowed" many great recipes from the greats and from the grandmas.  Some of the midwesterners' recipes call for vegetable oil or oleo.  Remember that term for margarine?  Whatever you call it, it's disgusting and I prefer good old fashioned butter.  Butter is my best friend and worst enemy, but that's another posting for another day.

I have done a few cakes in my life time, but none were so much fun (nor so much stress) to work on as the cake I made for my friend's father when he retired from serving as fire chief in his town.  She asked me to somehow incorporate his vintage helmet into the cake and I thought to myself, "AHHHHHH!"  Then I thought to myself, "this will be a really fun adventure."  I consulted with my dear friend and amazing artist over at MommaCakes.  She gave me some great ideas and even sent me some supplies to work on it.  (Aren't my friends wonderful?)  She was right when she said that it would be my biggest challenge, but probably the cake of which I would be the most proud.  I spent hours on it, meticulously sculpting and melting and shaping, but in the end, she was right.  It has been one of my favorite projects.

After making the cake for my parent's 50th Anniversary party, and then watching it get cut apart into pieces, I have decided that it's much easier to say goodbye to the cake when it is fully in tact.  I mean, really, who in their right mind wants to watch their artistic creation be cut into little pieces?  I like creating it and giving it away finished while in complete denial that it is soon to be destroyed and consumed.
Here's a little bit of the process:
Since the base of the cake was going to be a tall square building, I decided that I should reinforce it by basically making it a tiered cake.  I put dowels and cardboard between the "tiers" to make sure there was no way it would sink in the middle.  This also helped with the fact that there were two separate flavors of cake.  The bottom layer was white chocolate cake with strawberry cream filling.  The top layer was devils food cake with Oreo cookies and cream filling.  Two of my favorite flavors and I hear they went over well at the party.
After stacking the layers and tiers, I put a nice thick coat of my favorite buttercream frosting found in The Whimsical Bakehouse cookbook.  It's a dream in your mouth and is so easy to work with.

I started on the "brains" of the helmet.  I thought it actually looked like a brain - a little creepy, but it did the trick.  Ground up crispy rice cereal made into treats with marshmallows and butter - YUM!  It was about 6 inches long, smaller than I had orginally planned, but it ended up bein the perfect size when I added the rim.

Of course, to get the gumpaste to stick well and to avoid lumps and bumps, frosting it was a must.  That's a 8" pan, so there's a size reference for you.

The next process had to be done quickly as gumpaste dries pretty quickly - or at least mine did.  I rolled out a thick coat of premade black fondant made into gumpaste with tylose. (black is a color that never comes out quite right when you're mixing it yourself)  I added the detail and set it on a form to dry.  Once it was hardened enough, I painted the detail work.
I saw on Cake Boss that they steamed gumpaste to get it shiney.  I didn't have a steamer, so I just took a paint brush and painted a very light coat of water across the whole thing and it did the same thing.  Amazing transformation, I thought.

And the finished product (first photo by Olive Avenue Photography)

I found a picture of an old downtown firehouse online that was my inspiration for the building.  It looked nothing like the actual firehouse, but I was able to use information from the actual house to use on this one.

The first time I'd ever done melted sugar windows.  I accidently overcooked the sugar, but I thought the yellowed glass effect ended up being a nice touch.

The details.  It was so fun to use copper food paint for the doorknob and hinges.

This hydrant was a replica of one that actually stood outside of the firehouse where the fire chief worked.  I thought it was about the coolest thing I'd seen, so I had to do it.  It was the most fragile part of the cake even with a tiny dowel running through it to hold it together.

The helmet was my favorite part...I loved doing the detail work on it and I love how it turned out looking like real aged leather.

FUN FUN project and I'm grateful for experience of having done it.  Thank you, Shanna for your resources and vast knowledge of the craft.  Thank you, Jess for the challenge to create it.  Thank you, Mom, for watching the girls so I could work on it.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Lessons we learn from TV are always right, right?

A few days ago, while my daughter was watching my very favorite television show consisting of an annoying little girl with a boot-wearing monkey and a talking backpack, she asked me, "Mom, What do you do if it's your very special day?"

"I don't know."  (As I'm thinking to myself, "Huh?  I'm in the middle of changing your sister's diaper; Where did this come from?")
"Can you do anything you want?" she inquired.


Just then the TV chimed in, "It's Boot's very special day!  Boots, you get to do whatever you want!"

"Mom, Dora says you get to do whatever you want."

"Well," I said, "if you wanted to steal a car or throw mud in your sister's face, would you be able to do that?"

"No. That's not nice, Mom."

"So, Dora is a big loser and she's WRONG!" 

Ok, I didn't say that, but seriously?  Do the writers of this absolutely brilliant show think that children are inherently kind-hearted with a bent toward sharing?  "Do whatever you want."?  Give me a break.  Did they not read Lord of the Flies?

Though I have yet to experience it myself, one of my closest friends told me of her child attending a birthday party where the birthday boy's parent subscribes to this nonsense.  "It's your day; you can do whatever you want and you don't have to do anything you don't want to do."  So the kid says that he doesn't want to share any of his new toys with his friends at the party.  "OK, you don't have to, son!"
I'm sorry, WHAT?!  You're not going to teach your child that no one wants to be friends with selfish little boys who don't share?  Why are the other kids even at your party if you're not going to be kind to them?  I get that you want to make your child feel special, but that doesn't mean he gets to eat as much junk as he wants or not brush his teeth or have no manners.

I shall step off my soapbox now and return to being the perfect mother...Thanks for the life lesson, Dora!

Friday, April 8, 2011

What I do

What do I do?  I do it all.  Jealous?  Some things I do well, some I do adequately, some things I'm lucky that I didn't spend too much money on because it goes straight into the trash.  Some would call me a dabbler, some a professional copycat.  I like to take other people's ideas improve upon them.  Does that make me a theif?  I think it just makes me better!  My friends call me creative and talented.  That's why they're my friends!  Don't we all like to surround ourselves with "yes men" who tell us how wonderful we are? 

Take, for example, the baby bib.  It's a great invention.  For the most part, mass market bibs are lacking in almost every way.  They shrink down to nothing when you wash them.  They soak up nothing because they're so thin.  The velcro-like closure is garbage and wears out almost instantly so the stupid thing won't even stay on.  On top of that, most of them are ugly sporting some dumb frog with a crown on it that say's "daddy's little princess" or some other idiotic catch phrase.  No wonder why the baby wants to vomit all over them!  A few years ago, when my oldest daughter was a baby, I started making my own bibs.  She was such a drooler that she was going through a dozen bibs a day and her clothes were still soaked through.  The ones I made needed to be cute because she was going to be wearing them all day.  They also needed to be absorbant.  I lined them with the heaviest terry cloth I could find.  I needed them to soak up the buckets of drool and spit-up she was producing.  A year or so later, my sister and I and (a couple small investors) started an online business, Hattie Rose Designs.  We worked for 2 solid years to make it a success, but ultimately, the economy was so wretched that we had to close our e-doors.  <insert sympathy groans here>

Here's a small sampling of my favorite designs of the one thing I like to do - baby bibs.  Some time soon, you will see some of these again on Etsy.  We've got some left over stock and they're too nice to sit in storage forever.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

what to do...what to do...

In polling my most creative and sarcastic friends for names and tag lines for this blog of mine, I found myself with dozens of ideas.  The top runner up for the name of my blog was "Why I will Never Homeschool."  I, and many of my friends want to puke when we read about perfect women with perfect lives who do it all and still have the patience to spend every waking moment with their children by providing them with their perfected educational experience.  My lack of patience is only one reason I won't do it, but I'll save that for another post.  So let's just do a quick "get to know Jill" by giving you just ten of my many peeves, all of which I'm sure will be a separate post at some point:

1. People who toss their cigarettes out of the window and they bounce on the road under my car.  For some reason I always wonder if it's going to start my car on fire and kill us all.  Plus it's littering and they never get fined the $500 that someone who throws a cup out the window would be charged.
2. Being pregnant.  I fail to see the sex appeal.  I do think there are some pregnant women who are beautiful (I am not one of those lucky few), but not sexy.  I tried being sexy.  I really did, but the swollen ankles, the constant puking and headaches and lack of sleep and peeing all the time.  Seriously, someone explain the sex appeal to me.
3. Potty training. It's 100% pure and utter torture and I resent those who say it's no big deal.
4. Screaming girls. (uh oh. I'm done for!)
5. At the major intersection by my house, when the light turns green I either go straight or turn right to get to where I'm going.  Oncoming traffic turns left and 90% of the cars turning left think they have the right-of-way, so I'm always JUST about to get hit.  (I drew you a picture below)
6. Incorrect use of grammar on television, especially using "fewer" and "less" interchangeably.  "Less cavities!"  Come on, Colgate.  Really?!  Worse yet is the argument that advertisers are just going with the flow of societal norms.  Yes, let's pat ourselves on the back for being stupid!
7. Politics on facebook.  (Unless, of course, I agree with you)
8. Cats.  I do not find them cute, funny, or useful in any way. (plus I'm allergic to them, so there's that)  I'm still trying to get the smell of cat pee out of my house from the former owners.  This could be interesting to some because admittedly, I sort of look and act like one at times.
9. The fact that my hair never stopped falling out after my last pregnancy.
10. People who are "on" all the time.  EX.HAUST.ING.