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Saturday, April 17, 2010

The emotional rollercoaster of food blogging

I have complicated feelings about the Pretty Blog Women. You know the ones I mean. They knit. Or sew. Or, God help us, cook. And they share it all with beautifully lit photos which document their success. If you're lucky, they also provide tutorials because, you know, you can do this too. I adore them. I love their creativity and confidence and pretty pictures. But I also sometimes hate them, because who has the time/patience/freedom to do this crap? Especially with a household falling down around your ears, children demanding attention, and a puppy struggling to attain control of her bodily functions.

Or is it just me?

I do all sorts of crafty and creative things. The process, however, is rarely the picture-perfect experience that these lovely blogs might have you believe. At least not in my life. It's usually done in short bursts of activity punctuated by the more pressing needs of everyone and everything else that surrounds me. My workspace is usually cluttered, often dirty, and almost always shared with other things. (Craft room? In my dreams! Try the dining room table, which only allows for temporary use and therefore involves more time in setup and cleanup than I usually get out of use.) I want my life to be pretty like theirs. I'm not sure whether to envy them, or to assume that they are all lying bitches who got a few lucky photos and made up some story about how fast/easy/fun it all was.

So here is why I don't blog my creative adventures more often...

I made a cake for my youngest son's 4th birthday yesterday. It all started with a last-page recipe in Family Fun magazine, for rainbow cupcakes. The birthday boy adores cupcakes, and asked for cupcakes, but I can't just sock candles into a cupcake and sing at the kid and not feel a little guilty about it. A birthday requires a big focal chunk of sweetness. Well, that and I figured it would be less angst-inducing to layer things in one pan instead of, oh, 24 or so muffin cups. I know my limits, people.

I have a long history with cakes. It started with the ill-fated Birthday Cake of Death, whose story perhaps I shall tell another time, but let's say that it closely parallels this story, at least inasmuch it ended with me shrieking and getting all stabby with a big knife. In the years since then, my skills have improved considerably and I've become a snob about never using boxed mixes and a fussy artiste with the frosting. A birthday cake became a canvas for artistic expression, and love.

And then I had my own kids, and didn't have time to pipe all that damn icing and started doing simple layer cakes with one color frosting and some apologetic sprinkles dumped all over it. Blah.

So I decided this might be a fun adventure. It would look like Mom's usual half-assed cake, but then: surprise! I started with the white cake, which required the dreaded meringue. Mind you, this was a butter cake and not an angel-food cake, so at least that reduced the number of required eggwhites by half, but still. I have one stand mixer, and one bowl for it. At least I own a hand mixer for backup, but now I was invested in double the equipment, mess, and cleanup. Also, given the dire warnings in the recipe (DO NOT SCRAPE THE BOWL!), I was concerned that mixing the colors might destroy whatever magic fluffy properties the beaten eggwhites were intended to impart and I'd end up with a rainbow hockey puck. But I threw caution to the wind and maintained my resolve to not resort to a box of Duncan Hines.

I read the user reviews of the recipe online and found an excellent tip: Mix the colors in zip-seal sandwich bags. The writer assured that it allows for even color distribution and easy layering, as the bag could then be used like a pastry bag for precise control. I loaded up the bags, so:

Nothing looks wrong with this, but trust was at this point that I started not swearing. This is a huge hurdle with me, so I'm rather proud of the fact that most of the afternoon was punctuated by outbursts of "Fudgesicles!" rather than my preferred "don't repeat what Mommy said" exclamation. Trying to put something wet and semisolid into a sandwich bag is a surefire way to just make you hate frickin' sandwich bags. They crumple. They fall over. The batter gets on the outside of the bag, and all over the zip opening and...just everywhere. At one point, my husband walked through the room and I expressed a desire to pull a Jay-and-Silent-Bob and locate the author of that "helpful tip", travel to their house, and punch them in the face.

Then the mixing began. By now, the kids were asking to help. Which sounded like a terrific idea, until we discovered the second problem with the Sandwich Bag Solution: sandwich bags are flimsy little pieces of crap and if you inadvertently zip-sealed some air inside with your contents, the squishing movements might cause a seam blowout. And then your freshly-minted 4-year-old is covered in green food coloring and you want to throw everything into the sink and cry. And you are still diligently trying to document the process with your camera but your hands are covered in batter and now you imagine that the neighbors are starting to gather because you are shouting "Fudgesicles!" with the vigor and repetition of a sideshow barker. I decided that it was not Help Mommy time and ordered everyone OUT--for the love of God, GET OUT, and transferred the green to a bowl...

...where, as you can see, the color mixing was far more consistent than the stupid bags. Yup, I was a confirmed bag-hater. I started mentally drafting a review in which I'd give the helpful tip of DO NOT USE THE BAGS.

Then I started layering the cake. It was pretty.

And it was a major exercise in restraint for yours truly. Because I am an OCD personality and I wanted all of my layers to be even and smooth and completely covered. Thankfully, I am also an experienced enough baker to realize that I would probably just end up blending the colors by messing with it, and commanded myself to leave well enough alone.

Things started to turn around for me a bit here, because when I got to the green it was absolute frustration trying to evenly "blop" the batter in using a spoon, when the other colors had piped in so nicely. The green was an ordeal. Okay. Fine. The sandwich bags were a good idea. Did you hear me? I admitted it! I take it all back. Use the sandwich bags!

I got it all layered and un-fussed-with and put it into the oven. I was cautiously hopeful.

Until I noticed, as I was taking the above photo, that I'd forgotten to grease-and-flour the center column of the pan.

Now, friends, nothing ruins a Bundt cake experience like having it stick to the pan. I have had my share of broken Bundts. Either I don't sufficiently prepare the pan, or I flip it too soon (fragile cake) or too late (cooled and fused to the pan). I often frost Bundts to hide the mangled mess that I made of them upon removal from the oven. Well, not this time, by Jove. I turned to the Internet, where most of the advice was about pre-emptive pan preparation, and therefore too damn late. And then a choir of angels started crooning and sunlight streamed in through the window, as I found this tip over on eHow. Which I failed to photo-document but it worked beautifully

and now I want eHow Contribuitng Writer EmmaLee to be my new second-best friend. <3

I was feeling the love again. So I let the kids back into the house and invited the birthday boy to do the frosting.

I know--frosting a Bundt? And one that didn't come out mangled? What can I's a birthday cake. And unless it's an Angel Food cake (the preferred dessert amongst the in-laws, and there's nothing wrong with that!), birthday cake requires frosting. And sprinkles.

It was at this point that I realized we had not so much made a birthday cake as a birthday "Giant Donut". Ah well.

So, why a Bundt? Why put myself through that extra layer of frustration? Because a Bundt does this:

Now that is one pretty awesome birthday cake. The grandparents were in attendance and could not stop praising the results. YES, it was worth it. And not for the praise so much as my own joy upon the first slice. The big birthday party is tomorrow, and the grandparents are unanimous in their requests for a repeat cake. I haven't decided yet whether I'm up to it. Then again, I'm sure it will be much easier the second time around.

Happy Birthday!


  1. I have a sneaking suspicion that the people with the lovely documented picture process either have no kids, much older kids, or kids they ignore totally while they do their thing. Rest assured, I have no time for beautiful crafty blogs, either.

    But your cake is cool! I am glad it turned out well! Where did that recipe come from? I would love to try it!

  2. I'm stressed out after reading this!!!! Lol!

    And, so wait, do I use the baggies or not?

  3. "Taste the Rainbow" I LOVE it! I'm glad you only decided the ehow chick is only your "second" best friend.

    BTW--love the fish blog link too!! Hysterical.

  4. @Rachel: check the post for a hyperlink to the recipe for "rainbow cupcakes". Of course, I modified it with my own recipe and a different pan, but the general idea of the coloring & layering are laid out there on the FamilyFun website.

    @Jennifer: it depends on your level of patience, LOL! I would say, all things considered, use the baggies. But next time I will use quart freezer bags instead, as the freezer bags are thicker/stronger and less likely to break. Also, I should have used the bags to "line" drinking glasses before loading. I usually do this to fill frosting bags, but as I was using a big measuring scoop for the batter, I decided not to fuss with that method. Mistake.