Work in Progress: Poison Ivy Hallowe’en Costume

It’s getting to be that time of year, folks. And the annoying thing about posting seasonal stuff on a blog where you don’t necessarily plan too far ahead is that things like Hallowe’en costumes can’t be posted until *after* Hallowe’en, which is a little lame. But at least they can be inspiration for next year.

Poison Ivy 2015 33

This year, the Pie and I are heading out on vacation and we won’t be home for Hallowe’en. The Pie has a tournament in Toronto that weekend so I’m teaming up with Chel and her friends and we’re doing a group costume: Batman, Robin, and assorted villains. I am unreasonably excited to go as Poison Ivy and join the group. This costume has taken a considerable amount of planning, so it may even top Wolverine as one of my best costumes to date.

I’ll show you what I have come up with so far and hopefully it’ll inspire you as well.

One of the issues with female comic book characters, especially those written by DC, is that they tend to come scantily clad. And I don’t want to show that much skin. There will be children in our group. And sometimes it snows on Hallowe’en in Canada. And nobody likes being naked in the snow. So part of the challenge was to take the traditional PI getup and make it a bit more … modest. Because holy Hanna that is just not my style.

I started off with the basic corset, in green, and I found one on Amazon that also had a wee skirt that came with it (the skirt is MUCH shorter than advertised but oh well).

Poison Ivy 2015 2

After strapping myself into it in a rather undignified manner I realized that the flimsy, slippery ribbons that made up the laces were all that was holding the whole thing together. And I have quite a bit that needs holding in. I could see one of them snapping under the pressure and having a disaster on my hands.

Poison Ivy 2015 3

So I replaced the laces, front and back, with a sturdier material: parachute cord.  Not only was I now more confident that the corset bindings wouldn’t spontaneously explode, but it was actually easier to lace up because there was more friction with the cord.

Poison Ivy 2015 7

Now I could lace it up good and tight and it wasn’t going anywhere. Problem was, this thing is made for people with smaller … assets than I have, and there was some danger of a spill (and there will be children present), so I had to wear a bra underneath to keep everything where it should be. And the bra peeked over the top of the corset. Not good.

Poison Ivy 2015 21

I had to therefore disguise the bra as best I could (because there was no hiding it and I was sure as shooting not going without). Fortunately for me the local Fabricland is about five minutes from our house, so I popped in and found exactly what I needed.

Poison Ivy 2015 27

I basted some trim and sequins onto the bra wherever it was exposed. I also put some more trim at the bottom so that it would blend in with the similar trim at the top of the corset. The sequins might be overkill but I love them.

Poison Ivy 2015 30

Poison Ivy 2015 32

Right. I’m not hanging out anywhere now. This is good. But I’m so tightly strapped into this thing that I’m having trouble breathing. It’s not like I can simply loosen the laces – the whole thing will fall off. And it has no give whatsoever. I needed a bit of a release valve built into this to save my lungs. I bought some 6″ wide elastic from Fabricland as well, and I will cut out two of the back panels and replace it with four pieces of sewn-together elastic. This way the corset can still be as tight as it needs to be but my ribcage can also expand and contract as needed. But I had to go out of town twice for work (I’m in Indiana as I write this and as you read this) so it’ll have to wait until I get back.

Poison Ivy 2015 26

Then, there was the issue of hair. PI’s hair is red and long. Mine is short and brown. Normally I dress as a dude for Hallowe’en simply because having short hair makes it easy to do. This year I had to go to extremes. I picked up this wig for super cheap (thanks Amazon), and after an interminable wait it arrived.

Poison Ivy 2015 17
It’s been about ten years since I’ve had hair this long, or this red.

But how am I going to stay warm, you ask? Well I found a pair of green fleece tights and a pair of fingerless green elbow gloves and those are going to be very handy.

And then there’s this. This is an opera cloak hand-sewn by my great grandmother about 100 or so years ago. I used to play dress-up with it all the time and amazingly it’s still in beautiful shape. It hasn’t fit me across the shoulders and chest since I was about nine years old, however (my great-grandmother being one of those tiny elfin type ladies). After some consultation with my mother we decided to remove the sleeves to give me some more room to move around. She’s working on it as we speak.

Poison Ivy 2015 1

I have some other grand plans including temporary tattoos, fake vines, and lots and lots of glitter. I’ll keep you posted about how they turn out!

Ivy Vanilla Wedding Cake

On Saturday my best friend Chel got married.  To Invis.  For the second time.

Photo by Kurt Heinecke, http://www.khstudios.biz

My wedding present to the lovely couple was their wedding cake, which they wanted to be vanilla flavoured, white on the outside, and have ivy trailing over it.

I practiced ahead of time.  I got the recipe down with the Pie’s birthday cake last summer.  Then I worked on my fondant technique with my own birthday cake, and adapted the fondant flavourings with the moose cake.  I even made my own vanilla for the occasion.Was I ready for this?  I had never made a wedding cake before.  Chel and Invis wanted it simple, but a wedding cake is still a definite challenge.

First I had to figure out how much cake I needed.  I had an 8″ springform pan, an 11″ springform pan, and then a gigantic 16″ aluminum pan (which I think my father now covets).  So I did some mental math and decided to quadruple the recipe that I had for the Pie’s birthday cake and go from there.

That’s a lot of cake.

Four kilograms of icing sugar, 2 of white chocolate.  Two litres of whipping cream.  One and a half pounds of butter and the same in shortening.  Two kilos of cream cheese.  Sixteen eggs.  Two bags of flour.  Lots of mixing.

I gave myself three days to make this cake: the first day to do the actual baking and prepare the decorations; the second day to ice the cakes, and the third day to put the cake together.  So that means you get to have three days of posts, because otherwise you’d be reading the world’s longest essay on cake.  I gotta break it up a little.  Shall we begin?

DAY ONE:

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Butter your pans generously and dust them with flour, knocking out the excess.Of course, the whole selling point of a springform pan is it makes removing cake from it so ridiculously easy.  Unfortunately, you’d be hard pressed to find a springform pan bigger than 12″ in diameter.  So for the 16″ pan, which wasn’t springform, I had to cut out a circle in parchment paper for it and then butter and flour that as well.Separate 12 eggs and bring the whites to room temperature.  Save the yolks for making custard.

Then you want to do some sifting.  A lot of sifting.  More sifting than you actually want to do, to tell the truth.  I started out with a regular sifter.Then I got bored and my hand got tired so I switched to a fine mesh sieve instead.  In any case, sift together 13 cups flour (I used cake and pastry flour because it’s fortified with a bit of cornstarch, which helps you maintain volume in your cake) with 4 tablespoons baking powder and 4 teaspoons baking soda.  The sifting process helps to eliminate lumps and also serves to add a bit of air into your flour, making it lighter and fluffier.  Volume is key.Now set that aside.  In a larger bowl, beat together 2 cups softened butter with 2 cups vegetable shortening until fluffy and creamy.And I’m talking creamy.Add in 7 cups granulated sugar and 1/2 cup pure vanilla extract.

Make sure you’ve also got all those precious vanilla seeds in there too.Beat that up until it’s fluffy, and make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Now crack in 4 whole eggs and mix that up as well.Okay so this next bit you mix in your flour mixture, as well as 6 cups ice water.  But WAIT.You gotta do it a bit at a time.  You want to add the flour in three separate increments, and the ice water in two.  So you start with the flour, then add water, then flour, then water, and then the rest of your flour.  And that’s how that is done.Once you’ve done all your adding, scrape down the sides of the bowl and just keep mixing for a further minute or so.  Isn’t that lovely and smooth?Now, in yet another bowl, you want to whip up those nice warm egg whites.  Add in 1 teaspoon cream of tartar to firm things up a little and beat the whites until they are at the soft peak stage, shapely but not dry.Plop those whipped whites into your batter bowl.Gently, ever so gently, fold those whites into the batter.  This is what will give you the majority of your fluffy cake.Now distribute the batter between your three pans and smooth the tops.Now we bake.  Unfortunately the day I did this, Ottawa was in the midst of a heatwave.  So this is what I look like when it’s hot and I’m leaning over an oven: hair in pins, shorts, dishtowel tied around my waist, and a jaunty wet scarf on my neck to keep me cool.  Super sexy, I know.

Self-portrait of the baker in a heat wave.

In terms of baking times, I baked the first two tiers for about 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centre came out clean.   I used a convection oven, so it might take a little longer in a regular oven.  The bottom tier took about 60 minutes to bake, but just keep checking on them to make sure they don’t burn.  The 16″ tier BARELY fit in the oven.When the cakes are all golden-brown and lovely, put them on racks to cool completely.  When they are completely cool, remove them from the pans, wrap them tightly in plastic wrap, and put them in the fridge overnight.  It is much easier to decorate a cold cake than a warm one, trust me.While the cakes are doing their thing, you can make the fondant and frosting, as well as the gum paste for the ivy leaves.

For the fondant, I creamed together 1 cup softened butter, 1 cup vegetable shortening, 2 cups lily white corn syrup, and 6 teaspoons almond extract.When it was all creamy I was ready to add in the icing sugar.By the time I had the texture right, I had added almost 3 kilograms of the stuff (I’m Canadian, so forgive me for switching back and forth between Imperial and Metric.  It’s just what we do).  I had also neglected to take my rings off before I kneaded the stuff.  Shame on me.  Then wrap the fondant tightly in waxed paper and chuck it in the refrigerator overnight.For the frosting, start off by melting 4lb white chocolate, chopped.  I know, it’s a lot.  But it’s necessary.While your chocolate is becoming liquid, cream together 6, 250g packages of cream cheese.Really mix it well to get out all the lumps.Pour in 2 1/4 cups each whipping cream and icing sugar.  Add in 3 teaspoons vanilla extract as well.Whip that extra good until it’s super smooth and creamy.

By now your chocolate should be all melty.Pour that white goodness into your other white goodness and whip it up to create more white goodness.Now put plastic wrap on the surface of the icing and chuck that in the refrigerator overnight.

For the gum paste, I didn’t want to tempt fate (I know my own limitations, folks) so I purchased gum paste mix from a cake decoration store.The instructions on the package are to mix 16oz of the mixture with 1/4 cup water.Then you stir like crazy, eventually using your hands to knead it all in.Then wrap it tightly in a bag and leave it at room temperature for 15 minutes.Now you can dye it.  I used two different shades of Wilton icing colour: moss green and juniper green.It’s a good idea to use gloves when you do this, unless you want green hands.  Apply the colour with a toothpick.   Just remember that a little goes a long way.Then, with gloves on your pretty little hands, knead the gum paste until the colour is thoroughly mixed in.Okay, so now put a bit of spray oil on your rolling pin and roll that sucker out flat.We’re cutting out ivy leaves here, so I thought, what better template than a real ivy leaf?

Cait came over to help me with the cutting out.

First we squished real (washed) ivy into the flattened gum paste.

You can see how the veins show up nicely.

Now we took a sharp pointy knife and cut them all out.

Laid them on waxed paper to dry overnight.

Aaaand … that’s all you get for today.  I don’t know about you, but I’m pooped.  More Friday!