I've finally found something that would pay me less per hour than writing -- something I'd thought an impossible feat. This cake occupied me for four solid days.
Let me give you a blow by blow of my adventure in creating the tier cake for my fondant class. First of all, long before I even baked the cake itself, I spent at least 9 hours creating the roses that would decorate it. And I don't think this process would increase in speed with more practice. First of all, the fondant had to be colored and each rose bud center had to be created and allowed to dry. And this is just the first batch. Then the three additional layers of petals were added. The fondant was rolled out, cut with cookie cutters, then each petal had to be separated from the other with a knife, the edges then tooled to be thing and ruffled -- and then it was time to add it to the bud. Repeat this about a hundred and fifty times and you have enough roses to decorate this cake. Of course, they spent a day all over my kitchen drying before they could be moved.
Now it's time for the cake itself. Two ten inch layers and two six inch layers. Surprisingly the ten inch were a breeze, but those darn six inch didn't want to come out of the pan and were horrible to cover with fondant. Don't think I'll be making that size again.
Anyway, cakes baked. Then they had to be covered with a "crumb coat" of buttercream frosting. Believe me, I was tempted to stop there, you know, quit while I was ahead because it was looking pretty good.
Then came the fondant. Oh my gosh, this was an adventure. Kneading. Rolling. Draping it over the cakes. Working out the wrinkles and fitting it, then trimming. People who do this for a living have all of my admiration! But once the sweat was wiped from my brow (literally), I was surprised I hadn't messed it up totally. Then the tiers were stacked -- piece of cake. ;-) I added buttercream borders and then applied the flowers.
Now here is my daughter's beautiful cake. She might actually have a future as a baker!
Cake class is over. I kinda miss those Tuesday night's. My neighbors miss the Wednesday cake consumption. Although I'll never be a professional cake creator, I am putting my newfound knowledge to good use. The heroine in my next book is a baker ... but that's not the part of her life that creates trouble. Trouble comes from a most unforseen source... but that's a topic for another day.
I like to think of myself as open-minded and I'll try almost anything once. However, this scenario never once crossed my mind before it presented itself.
I was visiting a wonderful book club a couple of weeks ago and met a woman who is an "animal communicator." Now I've heard of these people, who, like Dr. Dolittle really can talk to the animals. My cousin -- she who cannot say no to a stray of any kind -- has been surprised by the accuracy of an animal communicator she knows. Anyway, this lovely woman at the book club offered to have a little chat with my dog, Bear, and let my readers know what it's like to be the sidekick of an author.
As I said, I'm open minded, so "Sure, I said, let's give it a go."
So here's what my Bear had to say to me through Shannon Gross (www.shannongross.com), the animal communicator: --he'd been on his own for a while before he went to the animal shelter --he knew that I wasn't "looking" for him when I came there, but when I saw him I knew (true) and he was glad because the cats' noises were stressing him out --Bear says my husband needs to take his mind away from numbers sometimes (true) and that he likes the designing phase of things (ultra true) --he says that I need to let myself enjoy putting my hands in the earth (gardening) and accept the thoughts that come while I'm working there; don't force my creativity before it's ready --apparently Bear "sees' my characters while I'm working and says I build the women though a different process than I do the men (true) --Bear takes his job of helping me find the calm place where the stories come from very seriously
Well, working with me or not, Bear does bring calm to my life, that much I can say is a fact.
For the next two weeks, Bear is open for questions via Shannon. Please post any questions you have for Bear on Facebook and my animal communicator friend will see if he'll share his answers with us. Like I said, I'll try anything once if it can be done without harm or peril!
This past weekend I spent almost every waking hour working in my yard. We've been having an unseasonably warm stretch for April here in Indiana, something I'm certain we'll pay for in May -- probably with snow. Watch it, those of you who were lulled into purchasing flowers!
Anyway, I pruned, fertilized, and edged about a million feet of mulch beds (okay, maybe it was only half a million, but seriously, it takes 16 yards of mulch to cover them). Now it's time to guilt the grown children into helping me move and spread the dump truck load of mulch that will be arriving in my driveway today.
While I was working, I looked up and there were six hawks circling overhead. They made me think of my dad. He's been gone for nearly 21 years, but some days it seems like only yesterday he was buzzing my house in his plane and scaring my neighbors half to death. I've always thought that if there was anything to receiving your rewards in Heaven, he'd be up there flying like a hawk. He loved the wind in his face, loved flying open cockpit planes and his Piper Cub with the door open -- really low. I truly think he would have been happy as a bird.
He was not only a private pilot (recreational), but he spent endless hours building his own aircraft in our tiny garage. It began by building and flying model planes, but eventually grew into the real thing. Like everything he did, it became a near obsession. I remember hearing him out there at all hours of the night working away (my sleeplessness must be genetic). Here are my children "helping" him.
Unfortunately, he didn't get to finish this plane.
Now back to that obsession thing. He was also infatuated with books and reading -- funny thing for a guy who hated school and joined the Navy long before high school graduation. Unfortunately for me, he died before I even began writing. I often wish he was around to discuss the emotional and psychological aspects of my characters; he was the kind of guy who could see deep inside people.
Being outdoors always helps me think, I figure out lots of plot and character stuff while cutting the grass. But this weekend, working in the yard and seeing those hawks, made me feel close to my dad. And I like to think maybe he helped me just a bit with the story questions I was wrestling while I was out there working.
As those of you who have been following my blog, I'm venturing into new and unknown territory this year, all in the name of not being the hermit everyone accuses me of being. Yoga. Cake decorating. And I have to say, I'm so very glad I have.
And, as promised, I'm posting photos of my "grand finale" cake. Now to truly appreciate this miracle, you must check my past blog featuring the "birthday blob."
First, this cake uses Royal frosting for flowers -- that's the stuff that they make the stick on letters and candle holders that you find in the baking aisle in every grocery store. When set, it's very hard. So the Sunday before our final class, my daughter (heretofore referred to as Skinny Me, you'll see why when you see her photo) and I embarked upon flower making.
Dear lord in heaven, I never thought I'd get all of the mess cleaned up.
While we were creating our beautiful spring gardens, our cakes were in the oven. Let me say, I have never in all of my years of cooking (and I do like to cook, even though my cake expertise says otherwise), had a cake fall in the oven. Sunday was my first. One layer came out looking like a sagging mattress used by a hippo. I was ready to scrap the thing (ie. eat it) and bake a new one. But Skinny Me had faith that it could be salvaged. She got out her cake leveler (a wonderful tool that, had I know about it, just might have saved me years of embarrassment). My cake turned out kinda short, but who would have known it was initially a disaster. Ready?
Can you believe it??
Now here's Skinny Me's
Of course, no one will eat either of them because they don't want to "ruin" them. We may still have these things sitting around when I'm 90.
Might be just as well, I'm not sure what mine will taste like, might be kinda rubbery since it collapsed!
We've committed to Class 3. Stay tuned for tier cakes and fondant!
Really? Fast lane? That's hardly how I see my life. But lately I seem to be meeting myself coming and going. So here's an update from my previous blogs:
I had a great brainstorming week with my writer buddy Karen White (The Lost Hours and The Girl on Legare Street -- FYI pronounced Legree Street) a few weeks ago. We worked out a few kinks (and added a few intended ones) to my current work in progress. We also brainstormed two books for her. I can't wait to read them!
I'm still dithering on a title for my newest project, but I'm leaning toward The Last Good Man.
Yoga class (ultra-beginners) is going well for both me and my mom. We still spend a lot of time laughing at ourselves. Let's just say ridiculously bad balance must be inherited. But always walk out of there feeling so much better and with more energy. You'd think that increased energy would make me more productive. Ha!
Cake class. Hummm, what can I say about cake class? I love the woman teaching it, she has such a wry sense of humor. I get to spend an evening with my daughter, always a plus. Just wish we'd been able to get my daughter-in-law to join us! This session we're only making one cake, instead of one a week. Good thing 'cause my jeans are getting way too tight. We're making flowers out of Royal Frosting (it's the kind that turns nearly rock hard when dried). The last week of class we're supposed to assemble all of our flowers on a "Grand Finale" cake. I'm sure y'all can't wait for that photo. I promise I'll post it, no matter how pathetic it is. I'll also post my daughter's so you'll be able to see what it's supposed to look like.
My book signing that benefited Best Buddies was such a success, I'm doing another benefit signing -- even did a little TV interview about it! Tomorrow I'm having a signing at a great little boutique shop in Noblesville called The Linden Tree. The shop owner and I are donating a percentage of my book sales as well as store merchandise sales to the Noblesville Education Foundation. With budget cutbacks, the teachers can use all of the help we can give them!
Today, the sun is shining -- such a wonderful sight after the long dismal winter we've experienced. I'm headed out to prune my knock-out roses and pick up what will probably be a truckload of sticks and limbs that the winter battered off our trees. I'd better get to it, winter is due back in town by Monday. Sigh.
The good news is I have managed to keep my feet in matching footwear.
Susan Crandall is an award-winning author of women's fiction and suspense novels. She has published under Grand Central Publishing's 'Forever' line since 2003, when her debut novel, Back Roads won the RITA for 'Best First Book.'
Her ninth release, Sleep No More, is due out in January of 2010.