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We’ve been in the house so long, even the dogs are getting into the baking spirit!

Today I was very pleased to get this lovely video in my inbasket. I have Devin’s permission to post it on the blog and thought it was too cute not to share.

Huey Lewis and Devin make soft pretzels.

Both Huey Lewis and Devin are our neighbours. I have heard lots about Huey Lewis but I have not yet met him. I have met his bigger brother Walt, who loves to play with our labs Ingrid and Nelson. It turns out that Huey Lewis is a great narrator, knows a good pretzel technique and could have a powerful YouTube career if he decides that’s what he wants in life. In the meantime, let’s just enjoy his pretzels! Thanks for sending it to me Devin! Thanks for demonstrating a great way to make pretzels, Huey Lewis!

~ Victoria Sweet

baking, family, food celebrations

New traditions and new fondant skills

So today was my nephew’s 9th birthday party and a big event was planned in celebration. Of course, given the world’s current circumstances with COVID 19, there was no other choice but to postpone the celebration which resulted in a very sad 9 year old boy. When originally planning the party, his mother (my sister) asked if any of her family members felt confident enough to decorate a cake. Of course I immediately stuck up my hand and said “me!” She then says “he wants the bus from Fortnite.” Should be simple enough, I thought. I guess I’d better find out what a fortnite is….

So, it turns out that the characters from Fortnite are a little tougher than one would imagine. Thanks be to Pinterest, particularly one post from Alyssa Cuellar that gave me some insight into what Fortnite cakes and cupcakes were all about. (Thank you for saving it Alyssa, and I’m not sure how to find out where the original post came from but it was creative!) So based on that post, I recognized that I’d need cupcakes, fondant, food colouring, a piping bag, a number 223 Wilton tip (for grass), and a bit of time, and maybe I could make some cupcakes and leave them on my nephew’s door step and somehow salvage a little bit of a young boy’s birthday.

Here is how they turned out –

The cake recipe was simply that chocolate cake recipe that most of us know about. It uses boiling water and is really moist. Here’s a link to the recipe as it appears at the very bottom of this link from the Add a Pinch website – https://addapinch.com/the-best-chocolate-cake-recipe-ever/

If I had been able to get to a grocery store I definitely would have opted for camouflage muffin liners, but these shiny red ones are as good as it gets today unfortunately. My other choice were liners with pink hearts and they really did not go with the overall theme. Use 1/3 cup of batter per muffin liner (in a large muffin pan) and bake as per the recipe until the centres are done. Cool thoroughly before icing.

The base icing used for these cupcakes is a simple buttercream frosting made with high ratio shortening with a tbsp of meringue powder added to keep the piped icing from wilting. As I am a Wilton cake decorating alumnus, I use the Wilton icing recipe. You will not need a full batch for 12 cupcakes so I would cut the recipe in half. Here is the recipe – https://www.wilton.com/whipped-buttercream/WLRECIP-8763.html

Note that I said high ratio shortening (available at Bulk Barns in Canada) so that the icing will hold its shape when piped. This shortening plus the meringue powder are the magic ingredients that allow this to happen. Colour the icing with Wilton’s moss green colouring. Put a #233 Wilton (small grass) piping tip on your piping bag. That tip looks like this – https://www.amazon.com/Wilton-No-233-Decorating-Tip-Multi-Opening/dp/B003W0I6ZQ

I found that piping the grass takes a bit of a technique to get it looking like…grass. The bag needs to be held at right angles to the cooled cupcake, put pressure on the bag when the tip is close to the cupcake and then release your hand pressure as you lift the bag away from the cupcake for best results. You’ll find you will get into a groove of sorts. Good thing about icing is that you can scrape it away and try again. Just go with it, don’t sweat it if it’s not perfect and soon all your cupcakes will be covered with grassy frosting.

The figurines or cupcake toppers are made from fondant. I use Wilton ready use fondant. In Canada, you can find it in the bakery section of most major grocery stores. You don’t need a lot. When you are ready to create, open the bag of fondant, pinch off a small piece about the size of a quarter and start to work it in your clean hands until it is pliable. Colour with food colouring by indenting a hole in the middle of the fondant and placing a bit of food colouring gel in the hole. Work the fondant around in your fingers until the colour is mixed well and is uniform. Use disposable gloves if you desire. Again, I’m not receiving any compensation from Wilton but I find they have lots of colours and the colour mixes nicely through the fondant. Once the fondant is coloured, treat it like plasticine or PlayDoh and have fun with your creations! The fondant pieces can be done before or after the cupcakes are baked and frosted. I felt I needed lots of time for this project (remember a day ago I didn’t know what Fortnite was) so I did the cupcake toppers the day before I baked and frosted the cupcakes. Fondant will dry somewhat if left in the air, but only enough to become less fragile. Any unused fondant should be placed in a zip locked bag for future use.

Have fun with this! I left the finished cupcakes in a cupcake carrier on my nephew’s front door, went back to the car, called his dad on my cell to tell him the cupcakes were there, and stayed back the necessary 1+metre and enjoyed my nephew’s reaction. Later that day, the whole family (younger and older cousins, aunts, uncles) used a group video chat function to sing happy birthday to him and by the look on his face, it appeared that his birthday wasn’t so bad after all. Our family has now decided that, given how far we all live from each other, this will not be our last group video chat. A new tradition is borne – today it is a necessity but tomorrow or next time it could be just to keep us closer together! Our glasses are half full! Enjoy your day everyone!

~Victoria Sweet

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Keeping the home fires burning – an early lesson from a pandemic

Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve refreshed this blog, and if I look backwards, there have been lots of reasons, and no reasons at all why I’ve been away from the blog this long. I’ve moved provinces. I’ve ended one career and started another. Some other pressing needs seemingly took priority – I needed to organize my house. I needed to organize my home office. I needed to get a better camera for pictures of food for the blog. I bought a nice camera, but then I needed some lessons to be able to actually work the camera. The list goes on and on. But here we are – a year since my last blog entry. That time has flown by – but what do I really have to show for it? But now, in the wake of COVID 19, time seems to be going more slowly, at least it does in my house.

If we are listening to the news around us (and unless we work in one of the essential services areas), we are all in our homes, and we’ve been here for about 2 weeks. Life is pretty scary outside right now, but at the same time, the world is filled with an odd sense of tranquility. It’s almost like a holiday season where we all “downed tools” and purposefully slowed down our forward-focused, very busy lives, but this time there’s no real date on the calendar when we expect to spin things up again. Most of us are not used to having this much time on our hands.

I spent the first week or so catching up on long overdue things on my list – some family administration, some organizing around the house, trying to settle into a “work from home” routine. However, in this second week, I will be honest – I’ve felt anxiety, unable to tie up loose ends, and experienced some inability to settle into a routine that I know is so important from the perspective of mental health and resiliency. So as we go into our third week, I’m working hard to fix that. I will establish a routine that looks after my physical, spiritual, creative and professional self. I will also cultivate a practice of reflection and gratitude. And part of this will be to dust off Victoria Sweet, which a mere year ago was a very important part of my creative self, a part that I have let slide off my list of priorities. By establishing this routine, I will be better able to insulate myself and my family from the uncertainty of our present time, and better help myself and my family to be able to weather our current situation for both the short and the long haul. I hope you will join me. It’s been too long since we’ve talked together.

~Victoria Sweet

baking, life transitions, Uncategorized

Cinnamon rolls, small towns and life lessons

My family has finally made our transition to our forever (we think) home, and our forever (we think) town in beautiful Pictou County, Nova Scotia and I recently had occasion to visit a local bakery. This bakery was Cakes and Things, on Provost Street in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. Anyone who knows me knows that I will drive 100 km out of my way to visit a bakery, and this one was right beside me as I was walking on the street so how could I not go in? It was later in the day (3 pm, late by a baker’s standards as they normally get up at the crack of dawn to start their bake, what a glorious job that would be..but I digress). So it was later in the day and luckily for me there were still a few of the most amazing cinnamon rolls available for sale. I picked up an especially yummy looking one and took it to the cash. I then struck up a conversation with the baker. He told me that he started the bakery because he really loved to bake. He and his business partner (his mom; how blessed is she that her son is willing to go into business with her!) had been baking for the local markets but that wasn’t enough baking for him so they decided to open a storefront. As our conversation went on, I realized that there was no debit machine on the cash and I said, “are you a cash only business?” I never have any cash in my wallet, it’s a long term effect from raising teenagers. “Yes,” he answered, “but please take the cinnamon roll. I know after one taste you’ll be back.” I offered to run to the bank (there were like 3 in the immediate area) but he insisted, and although I was feeling just a tad uncomfortable, I felt even more uncomfortable abandoning the cinnamon roll and refusing his hospitality. It just felt, well, rude to do so, and I’ll be honest, the cinnamon roll looked delicious! So I took him up on his offer, and guess what? He was right, I will be back. I’m going to order my sister’s birthday cake from him, because that cinnamon roll was great.

My husband and I decided to move back to the Pictou County area of Nova Scotia after our retirement from the Canadian Armed Forces in order to slow our lives down a bit. We had moved our family all over Canada, had done some really exciting jobs, but we were always in a rush. We wanted, we needed, a slower pace, and we hoped that coming back to Nova Scotia would provide that for us. I think we are still finding our way a bit in terms of slowing down, but that one visit to Cakes and Things Bakery and accepting the offer of a cinnamon roll reminded me why we made this choice. The offer of a cinnamon roll from a person who makes his business from selling cinnamon rolls but who didn’t seem to be the least bit concerned that he wasn’t getting immediate return from the exchange is an important life lesson. Life is a journey, success in life takes many forms, and return on investment isn’t always immediate. Sometimes true wealth comes from another source.

So now my next big decision is whether to order the chocolate or the vanilla cake.

Until next time,

Victoria

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Birthdays, well-intentioned traditions and cream cheese

Birthday traditions go better with cream cheese

Today is my dh’s birthday so last night I whipped up his favourite carrot cake recipe and set my finished cake out to cool for the evening so I could get it all frosted before his birthday began. The recipe is one that I have made a thousand times before and it turns out great when you use gluten free flour. As I prepared the batter I started to think about all the birthday traditions that I had grown up with and smiled when I remembered how I tried to bring some of these traditions over to my new family (my husband and me) when we first started out together.

In my childhood family, birthdays weren’t celebrated with a lot of money, but there were certain things that you knew were going to happen when your big day came. I was the middle child in a family of five children, and we were spread out somewhat far in age, so there always seemed to be a bigger sister or brother ready to carry things out if Mom or Dad somehow forgot. I remember well trying to sneak downstairs and get out the door and on the bus before the house remembered that it was my birthday. The first thing one could expect was the inevitable “butter on the nose” trick. Birthday celebrators needed to have a generous glob of butter ceremoniously put on the end of their nose (or worse yet, that hard brick margarine that was popular in the 70s and 80s – it hurt when being smushed into the nose). Because the birthday victim was usually running away from the assailant, sometimes that butter got in your eye (now there’s a good saying, “here’s butter in yer eye – have a happy birthday!”) or sometimes down the side of your neck, or worse, in your hair (and you still had to get on the bus and go to school, just add that grease to an already puberty-inspired oily ‘do).

And let’s not forget the “birthday bumps” or birthday spankings. One swat on the derriere for each year of your life. That’s likely illegal now, and maybe with good cause, as there is nothing that makes a child not want to grow into the double digit years like the fear of double digit birthday bumps.

The final tradition that my family enjoyed that made my hubby’s eyebrows raise a bit is the tradition of putting money in the birthday cake. Our mom would always put change in the cake and you had to chew very slow to avoid choking. Again, through a 2019 lens, likely not the smartest practice, but hey, I’m still here, and it gave the family a chance to practice their first aid choking drills. Unfortunately, I hadn’t introduced this particular tradition to my hubby in our dating years, and the first cake I made for him happened to be for a birthday celebrated while we were in different provinces while he was on a military course. I couriered a cake to him, which he excitedly opened and shared with his friends. Imagine his surprise (and alarm) when he took a big bite and almost swallowed a quarter.

Sadly, as I think back, these traditions didn’t last in my new family, and that’s just a bit sad. I think on the occasional birthday I would sneak into my kids’ rooms and slather their noses with butter and enjoy the yells of “hey mom, come on!” but unless the tradition is embraced with gusto, it dies a natural death. Maybe I’ll make it my ambition to start it up all again with my grandchildren. And as far as my hubby’s birthday goes, the day isn’t over yet.

I posted a picture of my hubby’s birthday cake. I wanted to do a naked cake but it is his preference to have his carrot cake drowning in cream cheese icing. So I offer a compromise – a bit naked on the sides, and party on the top. A reverse mullet if you will, to celebrate the birthday of a 50 something guy who grew up in the 80’s. Happy birthday Tom, and have a great day everyone!

Until next time,

Victoria Sweet