Thursday, December 6, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

I love having family and friends over for holiday meals.  The cooking, preparation and the fun of sharing old times, new times is one of the adventures of life.  Here's some of the tablescapes I did as I prepared the feast.

The napkins were a real hit with the kids (11-15 year olds).

How was your holiday?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Hot Air Balloon Cake

Cakes are my weakness.  Some people like salty snacks, potato chips, nuts and others.  I like the sweet ones.  I can forgo a lot of sugary snacks, but cake and chocolate are hard to pass by.  This week was Teacher Appreciation Day at my daughter's school.  I chose to send a cake.  Here's the finished product.

And here's how I got to it.  Years ago I took a course in cake decorating.  It was during my learn-stuff-I-want-to-learn period.  I took flower arranging, auto mechanics, photography, stone cutting, financial planning, and more in the adult education programs.  The doll cake, Barbie cake were always winners and for the boys, they loved the car cake.

Betty Croker has always been one of my favorite people to turn to when I need instructions.  I've used other brands of cake mixes, but find hers are the most moist.  And what good is a great looking cake if it doesn't taste good.  At office parties I would often take a small piece of cake and taste it, evaluating if it was worth the calories.  With Betty Croker I'm never disappointed.

 This is a Wilton cake pan.  It makes the cake a snap.  The framework is there.

Using one box of cake mix, prepare batter as directed.  Use the 9 x 13 pan directions for cooking.  I use PAM to oil the pan and I dusted it with flour even though it doesn't say to do so.  I want it to flip out of the pan the way if does in the muffin commercials. 

I shake the batter pan slightly and the batter self-levels.  However, in the cooking process the cake will rise.  To decorate a cake, you need it to be level.  A trick my cake decorating teacher taught me was to put a can of water in the oven during baking.  This will keep the cake from rising too high.  It won't complete stop it, but it will lower it.  

If you use a shiny pan (as I did) bake the cake at 325 degree instead of the normal 350 degrees.

Remove from oven and let cool (in the pan) for 10 minutes before turning it onto a rack and letting it completely cool.  If time permits you might bake the cake the day before you decorate it.  If time is not on your side, let it cool for a couple of hours.  I've never refrigerated the cake to cool it.  I think the cake would be took rigid and the icing, coming in contact with a cold cake, might make it harder to maintain a uniform look.  But I've never used a refrigerated cake, so I could be wrong.

Now to the icing.  I love Butter Cream Icing.  Many people like other kinds, but we're all allowed our tastes.  So whatever icing you like, use it.  Just make sure it will pipe out of the tips and not melt from the warmth of your hand (as chocolate will) or come out in blobs.

Using a heavy duty mixer add the ingredients, one pound confectioners sugar, 1/4 cup of butter or margarine, 3 cups of solid vegetable shortening (liquid will not work), and 2 tablespoons of lemon flavor.  The original recipe called for white vanilla, but I like lemon better, so I used that, but you can use white vanilla.

White vanilla prevents the icing from turning a brownish color.  If you use white icing on the cake, you want it to be white.

 Shortening and Butter

 Love that lemony smell.

Confectioners sugar comes in this two pound bag.  Use one pound at a time.

 Mix until the icing doubles in size.  This takes about 15 minutes on setting 4.  I have a cover for my mixer, but I initially put a towel over it in case the flower makes a cloud.

After the first mixing add the second pound of sugar and 2 tablespoons of water and mix for 15-20 minutes, again on a high setting.  When this finishes, you're ready to color the icing and decorate the cake.

Coloring icing takes elbow grease.  Put an amount equal to what you think you will need for the project in a small bowl.  I used plastic margarine containers and filled them about halfway.  I made three colors, pink, green, and yellow.  For the basket I used a container of Betty Croker chocolate icing that I bought in the grocery store.  Deep, rich colors, like chocolate, Christmas red, navy blue, etc., take so much food color that it clouds the taste.   Using various star and piping tubes, I followed the lines on the cake.  To keep track of the colors and where they would go, I made a small free hand diagram and put the colors on it.  You don't have to do this, but it helped me keep from making mistakes.

As an aside, speaking of mistakes, since I took the course years ago, I don't eat my mistakes.  After you've decorated so many cakes, you just wash the icing off your hands and go on.  My kids love the mistakes.  They eat them.      

One thing I mentioned above was to try and cook a level cake.  This is nearly impossible, so when the cake is cool, turn it over and slice off the bulge until the cake is level.  Be careful.  This is not a huge amount of cake.

Using whatever surface you're going to present the cake on, add a little icing to it.  This will allow the cake to adhere to the surface and it won't move around as you decorate it.

Now fill the pastry bags will icing and follow the pattern on the cake.  Your outcome can be anything you want it to be, but it's sure to wow children and adults.


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Happy Easter

Do you remember the big-eyed look on  your face Easter morning, when you'd run downstairs and find your Easter basket loaded with candy?  It was like Christmas in April.  My daughter's eyes bugged out the moment she saw me begin this tablescape.

Pink and Green are two of my favorite colors, especially when they are combined.  Easter is the perfect time to pair them together.

 Time for a bit of whimsey.  Easter requires it.

 Hand painted bunnies.  Not painted by my hand.  A friend did them years ago.

I loved the jellybean trees when I saw them.  The store only had two or I would have gotten more.

I found this basket in a thrift story.  It's beaded and I can't see why anyone would give it away.  I love the feel of the beads.

We haven't colored our eggs yet.  We'll do that Saturday afternoon.  It's always a fun project to do with the kids.

Happy Easter!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Removing an Oil Tank

Home ownership is always a surprise.  Rarely are they good surprises.  I had one recently when looking into getting a generator for the frequent power outages we have after a storm, huge snowfall, or other weather issues.  This time I discovered after all the years I've lived here that there was an oil tank in my backyard.  a 550 gallon tank and it was full of oil.

As the current homeowner, it was my responsibility to get it out of the ground and dispose of it safely.  Leaving it there would create a bigger problem later on, so I immediately got three estimates on removing it, read through their terms and conditions and chose one.

A huge truck arrives and backs into my driveway. The backhoe trailer parks across the street and the driver drive the hoe to the backyard.

Bye-bye grass.  When this is over, I have to buy grass seed.

The equipment arrived and proceeded to dig up my backyard.  First they cut the concrete slab that hold my air conditioner and pool equipment.  Then the backhoe began to dig.

 The tank isn't that far down.  A pump truck pumps out the oil, all 550 gallons of it.  Thankfully, it was all oil and water had not gotten into the tank.  If there was water in there, the cost begins to go up.

Now it's time to cut the top of the empty tank.  With a reciprocating saw they cut the top of the tank wide and long enough to get a human body inside.  The backhoe pulls it open.

The tank if virtually empty except for slug.  The air going into the tank, causes the gas like fumes to escape.  It's only  because the day was windy and cold and the different in temperature makes it looks like smoke.

Our human suits up like an alien and goes inside the tank.

Using special absorbent pads, he cleans all the residual oil out of the tank.  According to EPA requirements, the tanks can't be disposed of with oil inside them.  They also cannot remove the tank with oil in it because of possible slippage which would cause greater problems.

With the tank clean of oil, it's time to remove it from the ground.  The backhoe rolls in again, clears away any excess dirt from the sides and back and then lifts it out of the ground.

The backhoe rolls it a couple of time to get any excess dirt off the tank.  It's time to check for holes and leakage.  They test the dirt in the hole and yes, they smelled oil.  Bad news.

Using large mallet hammers they knock the excess dirt away and look for holes by rolling the tank and checking for sunlight filtering through.  As I mentioned they found a couple the size of a small knitting needle.  Really small, but there.

This mean the EPA gets involves and cost go up.  They take two samples of dirt from the hole and will send them to the EPA.  Depending on their findings, I'll be advised if I have further work to do to clean up the soil.

They close up the hole in my yard, add additional fill dirt to prevent a sink hole.  I pay and they take the tank away.  Now I wait for the EPA's decision.  Lesson learned, when buying a house, ask if there has been any changes in the heating types of the house.  If so, make sure all the proper disposal methods have been done.

The good news, however, is if there is a EPA issue, the state will go after the former homeowners who did not reveal this issue when they sold the house.

At the moment, I'm thankful it's gone.  I bought grass seed and replanted the area just in time for Spring.