Happy International Women’s Day

Autumn Leaves

Auntie Mags

Getting Ready

Hello to all you beautiful women out there!

Nursing Shawl 17

Re-Up

Photo by Alex Ferguson

I’ve always been so proud to share my birthday with a worldwide celebration of womenkind.

Today is a day where I am always thankful for all the amazing women in my life: my grandmothers and my mother and mother-in-law, who have taught me pretty much everything I know that actually means anything to me; my four (!) fantastic sisters-in-law, who I think are better than blood sisters for the sole reason that I didn’t have to fight with them growing up; my three nieces, who inspire me to be someone they can look up to; my three best lady friends, who have kept me in line from all the corners of the continent for decades … and the list goes on!

Where would you be without the women in your life?

Cape Spear

Photo by Ian and Jacky Parker

You should also celebrate the amazing women in your life today. You don’t have to be a woman to join in on the fun.

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.

I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
Krystopf-Atlas Visit May 2013 15It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Maya Angelou, “Phenomenal Woman” from And Still I Rise. Copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou.

Happy International Women’s Day!

Cape Spear

Chel and Me at Breakfast

Cape St. Mary's Eco Reserve 59

Thirty Things I Know

Happy International Women’s Day everyone!

Twenty-eight years ago today.

Today is my birthday — specifically, it’s my thirtieth birthday, which is a milestone in every woman’s life.  As the Pie likes to point out continuously, I’m no longer a twentysomething.  I’m now a thirtysomething.  When he turns 30 in four months I will be sure to rub it in, don’t worry.

My mother tells me that women only really come into their own when they turn 30.  Thirty is when women begin to become powerful and strong.  I think it’s a good way to approach this milestone.

On the morning of my twentieth birthday, I sat on the floor of Doodle’s dorm room and I wrote myself a letter, taking my future self to task for all the things I hoped to accomplish in the next ten years.  I still have the letter, and today, once I get up the courage to do so, I’m going to read it.  I am pretty confident that I’ve succeeded in most of my tasks.  I know my past self wanted a PhD by 30, but will just have to be satisfied with a doctorate by 31 instead.

Anyway, in honour of my very important birthday, I thought I would be self-indulgent today and let you in on thirty very important things (in no particular order) that I have learned over the past thirty years.

1. It doesn’t cost anything to be polite.

2. Flossing is not just for wienies.  It saves you money on dentist bills.

3. Confidence is extremely attractive.

4. Don’t sweat the small stuff (coming from someone with OCD, this is a pretty tall order).

5. Do your best, or else don’t bother.

6. A work-life balance is important.  They won’t fire you for not working overtime.

7. Always pee before you leave.  You never know when you’ll get another opportunity.

8. Fibre is more important than you think.

9. Not everything has to be done right now.

10. Simple food made from scratch is the best.

Also, there should always be time for ice cream.

11. Your age and your weight are just numbers.  Be happy with being healthy.

12. We inevitably turn into our parents.  Just make sure to turn into the best parts.

13. Corgis are awesome dogs.  And it’s not just me and the Pie saying that.

14. You can have four best friends.  It’s okay.

15. Your partner/spouse should be one of those best friends.

Photo by Ian and Jacky Parker
See? Always time for ice cream.

16. People in the service industry have feelings, too.  Treat them with respect.

17. Stupid hobbies are only stupid to other people.  If you like doing it, keep doing it.

18. If you haven’t worn it or displayed it or used it in over a year, you’re probably not going to.  Get rid of it.

19. Never be afraid to either ask for help or to relinquish control.  It may be hard, but it won’t make you look bad.

20. When you bend over in pants, people should not be able to see either your butt or the colour of your underwear.

21. In food photography, obey the rule of thirds and use natural lighting.

22. Always wear shoes you can run in if necessary.

23. Don’t buy stuff you can’t pay for right away.

24. Try to learn something new every day so that you can teach someone else.

25. In the winter you are allowed to sacrifice fashion for warmth.

26. The Green Revolution is not a trend.  Please recycle.

27. “Water-resistant” does not mean “water-proof.”  Especially in Newfoundland.

Rain in the UK is very similar to rain in Newfoundland.

28. The internet knows a lot of things, but not everything.

29. Procrastination is fine as long as it’s productive.

30. It is the smallest details that you appreciate the most: sunlight on a wooden floor, the curve of a smile, a perfect cupcake.  A day on the beach.  Take it all in.

When we lived across from the ocean, I was on the beach every day.

And if today is also your birthday, happy birthday to you too!

Raspberry Trifle Cake

Ten days ago (that would be 8 March 2011) was a very auspicious day.  It was the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day (go us!), and it was also Pancake Tuesday/Mardi Gras.  AND.  And.  It was my birthday.  I turned TWENTY-NINE.  Holy smokes.  That’s a prime number.

In honour of the occasion (and because I need to perfect my fondant for Chel‘s wedding cake in June), I made my own birthday cake.

This is very loosely based on a cupcake the Pie and I made for our own wedding back in August 2009.  The cupcake itself came from Susannah Blake’s Cupcake Heaven, but I think I’ve sufficiently changed this so I can call this recipe all my own.

Some of this stuff you can do ahead of time, like the fondant and the buttercream icing, and just put them in the fridge until you need them.

For the Cake:

Preheat your oven to 350°F and butter two 8″ round baking pans.  Line the bottoms with circles of parchment paper and butter those too.
Beat together 1 cup butter, softened, and 1 cup granulated sugar, until pale and fluffy.
Add in 4 eggs, one at a time, and 2 teaspoons vanilla.
Sift in 2 cups self-rising flour (or 2 cups all-purpose flour and 3 teaspoons baking powder) and fold it in.
Fold in 2 cups frozen raspberries, thawed and drained.  Save about half a cup of the juice you’ve drained off for your icing.  You could use fresh raspberries if you’ve got them but it seems kind of a waste if you’re just squishing them into batter. 
Spoon the batter into your prepared pans and bake for 15 minutes, until risen and golden and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Remove the pans to racks to cool completely.

For the Fondant:

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, whip together 3 teaspoons vanilla, 1 cup butter, softened but not melted, and 1 cup corn syrup.  If you want your fondant to be white, use the light corn syrup, as the dark stuff I used gave the fondant a creamy complexion.

When the mixture is creamy and fluffy, reduce the speed to low and add 1kg icing sugar, a bit at a time.  If you do it all at once, or if you do it on high, you will get a mushroom cloud of icing sugar everywhere.

And it might even get on your dog.

When it is all incorporated, you will have a large doughy mass. 

Tip it out onto some waxed paper and knead it into a ball. If your dough is too tacky you might find that you want to add more icing sugar.  To do this simply dust a work surface with icing sugar and knead it in.

When the dough has reached the consistency that you are happy with (i.e., not sticky, but not so dry that it cracks), then you can colour it.   It helps to wear gloves for this part.

Spread a few drops of food colouring over your dough and knead them in until the colour is uniform. 

It will take a while to get it the colour you want it.

I was aiming for a pale pink but because of the yellowish tinge due to the dark corn syrup it came out more flesh coloured.  Or at least, MY flesh colour.

I pulled off an extra bit of the newly coloured dough here and added extra food colouring so it was a darker pink than the rest. 

I will use this for the decoration part.

When you have kneaded to your satisfaction, wrap the dough tightly in waxed paper and seal it in an airtight container in the refrigerator until you need it.

For the Buttercream Icing:

In a stand mixer, whip 2 cups softened butter until pale and fluffy.  

Beat in 2 cups icing sugar until you get soft peaks.

Add in 4 tablespoons raspberry jam.

And that 1/2 cup reserved raspberry juice

Mix well.  It may be slightly grainy, but that’s okay for our purposes.

Plop the icing in the fridge until you are ready to use it.

To Decorate:

Remove the icing and the fondant from the refrigerator and bring them to room temperature.

Tip out the cakes and peel off the parchment paper.

Slice off the round top of each cake, if you care about such things.  I didn’t, because I wanted the top to be rounded slightly, and so I flipped one cake upside down and put the two flat sides together.  Cut each cake in half horizontally.

I am spreading raspberry jam here in the centre, with custard on the bottom and top-most layers.  I did not make the jam or the custard myself.  I suppose you could create some form of preserve with fresh raspberries, but at this point I think I’ve done enough. I tried to make custard by hand, but I messed it up twice and that’s my limit on egg-wasting.  I suppose you could use pudding if you like, but I didn’t have any on hand.
So here’s the custard.
And here’s the jam.
Then there’s another custard layer.
Don’t go all the way to the edges, because the cake’s weight will force the filling out and down the sides.

Spread a crumb coat of buttercream on your cake (just a thin layer to trap the crumbs) and place the cake in the refrigerator for 15 minutes until the icing has set.  Remove the cake from the refrigerator and use the remaining buttercream to smooth out the surface.  Chuck it in the refrigerator again until the second layer of icing is set.

While the cake is chilling, roll out your fondant on a surface dusted with icing sugar or corn starch.  You will want to roll it to about 1/4″ thick.  Any thinner and you will be able to see the flaws in the cake through it.  Any thicker and you will have trouble stretching it properly.  Make sure to take off your rings and watches while you do this so you don’t mar the fondant surface.

To determine the surface area you will be covering, measure the height and width of your cake.  You will need to create a round surface of fondant that is a diameter of twice the height plus the width of your cake.

Gently lift the flattened fondant over your rolling pin and use it as a lever to help you lay the fondant over your chilled cake.  I found that approach didn’t work for me, and I had to try several different methods before I found one that worked.  I rolled it out over waxed paper and used the waxed paper to do the transfer.  The only problem is that my waxed paper was too narrow and I had to double it, which resulted in it leaving a line on the fondant.  I will have to find some industrial-width waxed paper for next time.

Using your hands, gently lift and press the fondant into the sides of your cake after smoothing the top.  Don’t pull on the fondant or it will crack — lift instead and flatten out the wrinkles with the palm of your hand.  It may seem counter-intuitive, but you’ll see what I mean when you do it.  Notice the strong colour resemblance between my hand hand the fondant?  Yes, I am pale and pasty and spring can’t come soon enough.

Trim off excess fondant at the base of the cake.  Otherwise you will have a cake that resembles a demented jellyfish.  Or some bizarre prehistoric alien life form that may slowly yet inexorably expand, engulfing your family, your house, and then the entire planet.  THE THING THAT TIME FORGOT.

So yeah, you want to trim that sucker.

There are such things as fondant smoothers that you can use to even out the fondant surface.  I didn’t have one, so I used a flat-sided plastic cup.  And that excess icing sugar or corn starch on the surface?  Don’t worry about it.  It will either come off by itself in the course of you smoothing and shaping, or you can wipe it off with a wet finger.It’s far from perfect, but quite impressive for a first attempt, if I do say so myself.

Here I have rolled out the darker fondant onto a sheet of waxed paper and traced on it a design.

Cut out the design with a sharp knife and pull off the excess, leaving the design on the waxed paper.

Lightly brush the top of the fondant pieces with water.

Carefully roll the design on the paper face down on top of the cake and press down lightly.

I took a deep breath after I’d done this.

Even more carefully, peel off the waxed paper, leaving your design on the cake.  Smooth the sharp edges with your fingers.

You can also freehand other elements out of the leftover fondant, as you see I did here.  You can also store the scraps in the fridge in an airtight container, just in case you want them for something else later.

Chill the cake to harden the fondant before serving.  Then eat as much of it as you can handle.

I would definitely recommend storing this cake in the refrigerator and eating it within a few days of making it.