A Royal Endeavor

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If you saw my last post, you got a peek of the castle cake I made for my daughter for her 5th birthday party.  I’m going to try and describe my step-by-step on how I created this with things I learned while making this.  I used buttercream instead of fondant because I’m not a huge fan of the taste of fondant.

Step 1: The Base

I used (2) layers of 8″ round vanilla cake for the bottom and (2) layers of 6″ round vanilla cake for the top.  I made a double recipe of buttercream frosting, which was able to assemble the whole cake, all layers, and provide a crumb layer for the base.  Recipe below:

Buttercream frosting:

1 Cup butter, softened

4 Cups confectioners sugar, sifted

2 tsp vanilla

4 T milk

Cream all ingredients together.

Make sure before assembly that all cake layers are cooled and the tops are cut so that they are all flat. Between the bottom 8″ round layers and the 6″ top layers, I put a 6″ round cardboard layer wrapped in foil and supported by barbeque skewers so that the weight would not crush the center of the cake.

Step 2: Turrets

I ended up using two types of ice cream cones.  The pointy cones were the tops of the turrets and the tower portion were a combination of the flat sugar cones.  With the pointy cones, I made a royal icing recipe, watered down, and spread it onto the cone.  Then I covered it with rainbow sprinkles and set them on wax paper to set.

I didn’t need anything special for the individual towers.  I simply attached a point cone to a flat cone using frosting first, let it set, then attached that with frosting to the base cone turned upside down.  For the top of the cake, I use a barbeque skewer for the tallest turret that went through the cake and both cones (plus frosting) to provide more stability.

For the top turrets, I wanted to have a hierarchy of the towers so I ended up cutting of the base of two of the flat cones so that you would see the gradual rise of turrets.  I think that the effect turned out quite nice.

Step 3: Assembly

I have never been able to get a really smooth buttercream iced cake.  However, after a lot of research, I found that in order to accomplish this, you ice the whole cake, and then you use a cake scraper, heated with hot water and wiped clean, and run this around the perimeter of the cake.  As you do this, the heat will soften the butter in the icing and give you a perfectly smooth base layer.  It was quite amazing and I will definitely use this method again.

Step 4: Decoration

I basically made this up as I went along.  I cut a graham cracker for the door and then I just iced away.  I thought the top would look more like vines climbing up a tower.  I think though that the main attraction was the turrets so I didn’t want to make it too busy.  I ended up with seven turrets in total since there were seven girls at the party.

This was by far my most ambitious cake challenge yet, especially since I am by no means a professional cake decorator.  I did have a lot of fun though, and I definitely learned a lot.  What was the craziest cake you ever made?

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DIY Color-Me-Mine

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So birthday season upon us and I’m always on the lookout for new and creative ideas suitable for kids, especially as I was planning my daughter’s birthday party.  I had seen, a while back, an article about ceramic sharpie markers that could be used on an everyday lamp, plate, cup, etc. that would spice up an otherwise ordinary piece into something more unique or extraordinary.  In doing a little research, I learned that you could use these markers, bake said piece in an oven, and they would become a permanent part of the ceramic piece in question.  Wouldn’t this be a perfect craft for kids?

Obviously I had to test it out.  I started by purchasing a small box of these enamel sharpie markers:

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I found these to work really nicely.  If you didn’t push the tip in while you were drawing, the paint flowed smoothly and fairly evenly across the surface.  I would probably get a finer tip in the future for my own use, but for kids I think this is the perfect size.  Next, I took an Ikea mug that I had no particular affinity to and started doodling.  This was the result:

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Once I finished doodling, I set the design by baking it in the oven set at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  This was actually really fun and when my daughter saw what I had drawn, we ended up having a little craft party where she and daddy also got to decorate mugs.  So, now we all have our own personalized mugs and we found the perfect activity for seven little girls.  Win all around!

And Now We Are 5!

I figured that turning five years old was the next big milestone birthday after turning one.  Kindergarten!  Losing teeth!  Summer Camp!  The list goes on and on.  In recognition of this, I wanted to celebrate an extra special birthday for my eldest daughter.  I asked her what theme she wanted and she said she wanted a Queen themed birthday party… not a far cry from the princess party she wanted last year.  And, she wanted a cake, not cupcakes.  Similar to last year, I gave her the choice of inviting six friends to attend to keep it small.

This year her birthday party ended up being the day before Easter, so it was almost a no-brainer to have an Easter Egg Hunt as one of the activities.  After a lot of thought, I ended up deciding on a DIY color-me-mine activity that I’ll post about later. Decorations this year followed a pink, orange, yellow and white theme and I decided to use a combination of tissue paper globes, DIY circle bunting, crepe paper streamers and helium balloons.  Altogether it ended up having a very nice spatial feeling that photos can never quite capture.  However, the main focus for me this year ended up being the cake.

I’m not a big cake decorator.  I have never taken classes.  The only thing I know about making cakes was watching my mom make amazing cakes as a child.  She took classes on cake decorating and learned how to make all sorts of beautiful flowers with icing.  She taught me how to assemble a cake and ice it.  I learned about decorating through watching.  We always had the most amazing cakes as children, all made out of my mom’s imagination.  I remember, as a child, running downstairs in the morning for the days leading up to my or my brothers’ birthdays, to peek into the refrigerator and see what progress my mom made on the wonderful cake she made for each of her children each year.  It was a magical feeling and built up the anticipation for the big day.

So.  Queen party. Cake. Castle cake!  I immediately looked to Pinterest and found some really great ideas.  There are any number of ways to make a cake. I’ll post later about more details on how I constructed this.  Suffice to say, this took me about a week to make since I had such limited time to dedicate to it. However, the effect was wonderful and the delight and joy that I saw on my daughter’s face as well as the faces of her friends was well worth the time and effort.

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Happy birthday my big girl, don’t grow up too fast!

Label Love

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You never really realize how much stuff you accumulate with kids until they take everything out of its hiding place and you see everything strewn all over the floor  This is only exacerbated in a larger space because the items get spread all over the house across multiple rooms and it is up to you to pick up the pieces, put the all together in the right games/ kits/ puzzles/ etc. and then put them all back in their proper place.  Something that I realized very early on was the need for some sort of storage bins to organize everything.

Since I’m slowly figuring things out, I didn’t want to splurge on really nice bins or anything.  I found these really cheap but serviceable plastic bins in the $1 section at Target that would do the trick.  Once I got them and started to place the various toys in bins, I quickly realized I was going to need some sort of labeling system so that not only I, but my husband and the kids, would remember what goes where.

I am really interested in typography and the various different methods of representing information.  Variations on how you write the message with color font, size, shape and pattern, will ultimately influence the user on what they are understanding.

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I thought it would be fun to try my hand at whimsical typography for labeling these bins. I wanted to have a visual shape to the words, so that my kids can recognize what goes where since they are still too young to read.  I think the most difficult part for me was how to categorize the various bins, especially the “general crap” bin.  How do you distill that into one word that isn’t “crap”?  Well, I got through it eventually, although it took me longer than I would care to admit to finish all of the labels!  Here are images of some of the tags I created.  I got some craft scissors I wanted to try out so I decided to use them for the borders of the labels, but I’m not sold on it yet.  I may end up cutting it down to a straight rectangle.  We’ll see how I feel in a couple months…. What do you think?

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Happy V-day 2016

 

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Cookies decorated by my almost-5-year-old daughter

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!  I don’t usually celebrate this holiday, but since this is coupled with President’s day as a 3-day week-end, as well as the weather being unbelievably frigid, I was looking for indoor activities that would keep two active young kids occupied and engaged.

My eldest daughter L.O.V.E.S. baking and decorating cookies.  Ever since she was almost 2, she’s been helping out with baking in the kitchen or helping to decorate cookies for this occasion or that occasion.  I have been a little bad about keeping up with baking lately so I figured I owed it to her to give her a decent baking and decorating session.  If the little one wanted to join, so much the better.

After my visit home last summer, I mentioned to my mom how I was envious of her great cookie-cutter collection.  She immediately told me that it was mine for the taking, which thrilled me to pieces!  She packed it all into a box and mailed it to me and it was better than Christmas when they arrived!  My eldest daughter was SO excited she immediately started making plans of all the different cookies she was going to make.  I think she was a bit disappointed when I packed them away and then forgot to make any cookies for the Christmas holidays.  Oops.  So this was my chance at redemption!

It’s so crazy to think that my daughter is almost 5 years old.  She can roll out dough, cut out cookies and ice them (kind of) and decorate them all by herself!  It’s amazing when I think back to the first time she decorated cookies and what a mess it was.  Not that this wasn’t a mess as well, but in a different way.  Maybe I’m lucky the youngest wasn’t interested in making or decorating cookies!

I used a simple sugar cookie recipe I found from Epicurious, which I have used in the past and it works beautifully as it issimple in method and number of ingredients.  I would highly recommend it as they are simple, yet tasty.  I would, however, note that you likely only need half of the icing recipe that goes with this as you will have too much left over.

May you be surrounded by love and happiness (and warmth) today.  Happy Valentines everyone!

Eraser Fun

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My eldest daughter really loves art projects.  Give her an art pad and some colored pencils or crayons and she will be entertained for a good hour or more by herself.  Since she tends to have such an affinity for drawing or art projects,  I am always looking for new ideas of things to do to keep her interested.

My cousins came for a visit over the summer and not only did they bring some awesome colored pencils,  paper pad and stickers, they also brought a really cool make your own eraser kit!  Within the compact plastic case, you saw pristine squares of soft colored rubber waiting to be molded into whatever your imagination and hands were capable of.  She was so excited when she got this gift that she proceeded to show it to me every day until I said we had time to do this project. I finally relented after a couple of days (so this post has been a long time coming!)

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The cool thing is this material is a lot like play-doh except once you are done,  you bake it in the oven and it will harden into an usable eraser. When I asked her what she wanted to make,  she immediately decided on a pink piggie.  Pink is one of her favorite colors right now so I’m hardly surprised she found a way to use the pink first.

I busted out a 1/2″ diameter wood dowel, some toothpicks, and a plastic for and knife to use as shaping tools for our projects.  I decided to make a purple dinosaur (not Barney)!  It was quite fun and as you worked longer with the original material, it became more pliable and moldable,  although it did get stickier as well.

I helped my daughter get the shape just right after her first go of it by herself. I showed her how to add a hole in the bottom so you could mount it on a pencil, how to attach limbs, etc.  It was very similar to working on a clay sculpture.  I think that the end results are super cute and my daughter had such a great time making these.  I can’t wait for round two!

Where the Heart is

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So I have to begin by apologizing for being so terrible about keeping up with my crafting.  I have not have a lot of free time lately, but I’m going to try and get back into it this year.  Part of the issue is that I haven’t had a lot of time to browse and get inspired to make something new.  However, when I see something that I want to try, it drives me to make time for it.  Case and point, I saw this really adorable hat from Portlano and I thought maybe I could try and modify it.

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Portlano Heart Hat

When I saw this, the wheels in my mind started turning and I thought I may be able to figure something out.  I had a perfect opportunity as well since one of my co-workers recently had a sweet little baby girl and we just survived Hurricane Jonas here on the east coast.  Done!

I still have winter white and lavendar yarn leftover from my previous knitting forays with fair isle hats so I just used the same yarn as it is relatively easy to work with, is very lightweight, and makes a very nice finished product.  I did a mash-up of patterns that I got from a great blog here, combining the heart pattern and the stripe pattern.  As always seeing the pattern unfold before my eyes as I’m knitting is always so much fun, especially since I seem to have a serious problem following patterns closely and tend to improvise.  Every project is a new challenge!  One thing I did grapple with was if I wanted to make heart pom-pom for the top, or to try and knit a heart like the original inspiration piece.  I finally opted on a plain pom-pom, but I think that in the future I may try to make an over-sized pom-pom pom.  We’ll see what happens!

I already had the pleasure of seeing my hat on the adorable new owner, which is always such a nice treat!  Welcome to the world sweet baby, and I hope that you are toasty warm with your new hat!