Sunday, July 31, 2011

Weddings, Simple or Complicated

Here's what I was up to this weekend in the kitchen.

Simple, straightforward cupcakes, chocolate and vanilla, with dainty rose decorations. 
Only a hundred.

And a little pink wedding cake for the bride and groom to cut together.

And then a cake that was decidedly not simple and straightforward, but challenging, time-consuming, complicated and ultimately satisfying. I really stretched and worked my skills with this one. Learned a lot about the difficulties of black buttercream. Do not look too closely at it or you will see all my mistakes. If I could make another one this week and apply all I learned, it would be three times better.

It is pretty photogenic from a distance though, isn't it?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Baking for the County Fair

We had quite a time in the kitchen the other day.

No, this is not from baking ten cakes and seventy-five cupcakes like I did today.  This is only a bit of what three kids generated while making their county fair 4-H entries. I was so engrossed in controlling the chaos that I didn't think to take a photo of my flour covered offspring measuring, mixing, rolling, and baking six different recipes all at the same time in the same space using the same oven and utensils.

This is the boy's very first year in 4-H since in Oregon it starts in the 4th grade of school. We didn't get much done but they managed to make two recipes each and they entered an art project they made last Christmas.

This is Alyssa's very last year in 4-H as a senior. She made the more advanced technique of pie crust and also gluten-free brownies.

The county fair began today and we found out the results of their efforts. They all received blue ribbons on their food projects.

Peter was especially thrilled that both his double chocolate cookies and his chocolate chip muffins (the boy likes his chocolate) won champion ribbons and will be going to the state fair!

Alyssa received accolades for her flaky pie crust. Not only did it receive a champion ribbon but the pie crust was also given a Best of Show award/Grand Champion.

All the time that Alyssa has spent helping me with pies and apple turnovers in our kitchen has honed her skills and made her confident in her ability to foster and pass along the fading American pie traditions.

I am proud of my kids and all their efforts!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

See This Beautiful Wedding Venue

So I've told you about the amazing wedding venues we have here in the Columbia River Gorge but I haven't been able to show you. Today the photographer from one of last weekend's weddings sent me the link to her blog. Take a look at see the beautiful vistas these wedding guests enjoyed. The venue is the Gorge Crest Vineyards sitting on a north facing slope with views of the gorge and Mt. Hood. They have a beautiful grassy area for dining and dancing as well as a pavilion for indoor partying. Alica Falzone took some wonderful photos of my cake as well as the beautiful flowers from the florist I work with.

This wedding was special in that the bride and groom are currently living in Germany. I had not met the bride until I delivered the cake since we worked together only via email and phone calls.

Here is the website. Scroll down to see the post about this gorgeous wedding.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Monday Wedding Cake Round Up

See? This could be a regular Monday morning feature. Do you want to see the wedding cakes that I am churning out every single weekend? Here are the three I just did.

This was a very hefty cake. Red velvet, which I discovered is the crummiest cake ever. Like glitter, the crumbs get everywhere and clean up is challenging. It took two strong server guys to carry this thing to where it needed to be. And notice the color scheme includes purple, the trendy color of the year. The bridesmaids wore charcoal gray gowns.

This was a very petite cake. It is hard to tell the scale from this photo but the bottom is a regular nine inch birthday cake size. All white, very classically bridal.

This was for a bride who loved color. The bouquets were a rainbow of flowers. The bridesmaids also wore gray gowns. Ribbon has been very big this year for cake accents. As you can see all three of these cakes had ribbon.

Next weekend I have my most challenging cake of the summer. A five tiered cake in a black and white design.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Marinated Summer Vegetables

This month I have been doing a cleanse, a special fasting diet to improve my general health. Whenever I do a cleanse, which isn't as often as I should, (it's been a couple years) I only do it in the summer when there is an abundance of healthy fresh fruits and vegetables to tempt me. This time I am doing the cleanse program from a supplement company that I have found to be very good, Standard Process.

I decided that this month would be a good time to be on a special diet because my little boys were gone for almost two weeks and Mr. D. was gone for a few days of that too. So during that time I didn't have to feed anyone but myself. Not having to cook good stuff like pastas and potato salads for other people that I wasn't going to be able to eat was a huge help in getting started on this thing. I've been so, so busy with wedding season. The days that I am icing cakes and delivering to weddings were made easier by just grabbing something simple and nutritious to eat. Because I normally spend many hours in my kitchen preparing meals for many people, not cooking has been very liberating! What I am missing most is my iced coffee while I'm working and a glass of wine when I am done. But I'm on day 15 and so far so good!

Last weekend I had a birthday party for my mother and a houseful of people to cook for. I was challenged to make a meal that was enjoyable for everyone, including me. I decided to go back to a dish that I haven't made in years but is easy, delicious and healthful.

Marinated Summer Vegetables

This could be made with any favorites from the garden but I chose broccoli, cauliflower, yellow sweet peppers, grape tomatoes and green onions and herbs from the garden. I love the color palette of this bowl.

Here's how to make this simple summery dish.

First blanch the broccoli and cauliflower florets (from one head of each) in boiling water for four minutes. This tenderizes them a bit and releases their vitamins. After four minutes put them directly into cold water to stop the cooking and cool them. Drain until ready to use in the salad.

Cut a yellow (or orange, green or red) pepper into short strips, and slice and dice two or three green onions.

In a large bowl mix some marinade: for a healthy combination I used organic apple cider vinegar, about 1/2 cup, 2 tablespoons real maple syrup (a healthy alternative to sugar and packed with minerals), 1 teaspoon salt and some ground pepper. Whisking vigorously, drizzle in 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil until emulsified. To this marinade any combination of herbs can be added. I used some dried parsley (2 teaspoons), dried basil (1 teaspoon) and garlic powder (1 teaspoon). I also finely chopped some fresh basil from the garden and tossed that into the vegetables. Unfortunately, because we are having a very cool summer (sorry to rub that in for you folks suffering in the heat wave) I am not getting much for fresh basil or parsley in the garden. I had to resort to some dried.

Put all the vegetables into the marinade in the bowl and toss until everything is thoroughly coated with the marinade. Refrigerate for at least two hours. Toss again before serving.

These vegetables are packed with vitamins and minerals. Eaten with the apple cider vinegar and the good fat of the olive oil they deliver a health building punch.  Even if you are not eating a special diet this dish is a delicious way to eat vegetables on a hot summer day.

I wish we had one or two of those around here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

We're Birds of a Feather

Remember this pair from last May, distracting us with their interior decorating during out outdoor school work?

This is what they're doing now. They have a houseful of kids squawking at them all day.

The noisemakers are like hungry human teenagers who can hoover a whole bag of chips and jar of salsa in one short sitting.

The harried parents are constantly running back and forth to the store to buy more chips and bread and lunch meat but the kids are never satisfied, always yelling for more.

I'm hungry! What is there to eat?

I love the look on Dad's face.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Another Monday Morning Wedding Recap

One of the very predictable things about Oregon summer is that after the 4th of July it never rains. Really. It doesn't. It is so completely reliable that the wedding industry here has become very big. We have numerous beautiful outdoor venues with spectacular mountain views, lush garden settings. charming vineyards or Columbia Gorge cliffside sites, all fully booked every weekend with brides and grooms eager to celebrate their marriages amid Oregon's natural beauty without having to think about back-up plans for inclement weather.

It took us Midwesterners a while to learn how to garden in a place that received no rain for two or three months of the year (but making up for it the rest of the year). We had to become acquainted with the irrigation system, utilizing the melting mountain snow, piping and sprinklers to water our lawns, flowers and vegetables. And really, when it rains incessantly for six months of the rest of the year, we like the break. We look forward to planning our events and excursions (like camping) knowing we don't have to worry about rain gear or needing a back-up plan for weather changes.

Which is why the rain this last weekend, in the middle of July, was so dismaying to so many. It rained Saturday morning, steadily, and I could just hear the tearful brides lamenting all over the valley. When I delivered my first wedding in the early afternoon the caterers were valiantly spreading linens on the tables surrounded by profusely flowering gardens, while large drops of rain continued to dampen the spirits of the bridal party. Luckily, those raindrops were the last precipitation for the day. The clouds parted just in time for the wedding vows and the rest of the evening was dry, temperatures only in the 60's.

That first wedding had a garden setting and a charming bird motif. This little bridal cake was a white chocolate confection.

The cupcakes also had birds in purple and orange- the trendy colors this year.

The second wedding I delivered cake to was in the middle of a hillside vineyard. The rain was actually a blessing that kept down the dust of the ground but there were some tenacious gorge winds blowing the table linens. Again, the color scheme was purple. This cake suffered a dent as I drove the bumpy trail through the vineyard. It got covered with some more flowers and turned to the back. Another learning experience.

The final wedding Saturday was at an elevation with stunning views of the green valley and orchards. Our snow capped mountain continued to be partially or fully obscured by clouds which was a disappointment to the photographers who use it as a backdrop for all these weddings. This wedding also followed the color trend of the year- orange.

Will that be the last rain for the summer? Many more brides and grooms, event planners and venue owners are hoping so!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

My little boys have been gone from home for over a week. They are hanging out with their uncle at his airplane hangar.  While there they were given a project to keep them busy.

They took an old hunk 'o junk that was sitting around the airport....

....spent some time cleaning it up...

...and taking parts out...

...and putting seats in...

Imagination motivates creativity.

Then their Uncle Tim provided them with a computer flight simulator which they spent some time learning to use. Much better than an ol' X-box.

They then installed it into their cleaned up plane fuselage.

Any ideas what these guys might want to do when they grow up?

I know a certain grandson would would give anything in the world to sit in that seat with them.

The boys did a few finishing touch-ups to the dash board.

And they are ready to fly!

Proud of themselves and rightly so. 
I am too.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Today's wedding was cupcakes...

and bridal cake...

...displayed at the winery venue on this tall tiered stand that leaned slightly to the right....

Preparing for three more weddings on Saturday. Wish me luck and clear brain function!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Homesick Rambling

Life around here is very unusual right now.

First of all, there are no noisy boys running around making messes, leaving stuff in the doorways, tracking mud on the carpet, eating all the cake leftovers and begging for ugly cupcakes.

The little boys are with their uncle having so much fun that they aren't even a little bit homesick.

But I'm getting homesick for the way home is supposed to be.

Kids! All of ya! Come home to your mother for awhile!

Secondly, I'm not doing much cooking. Baking, yes. But cooking no. I'm enjoying the vacation from the stove and the meal planning feels so very strange. Not like home should be with a family table and bowls of hot deliciousness passed around it. It's a good thing my nest isn't permanently empty. That's gonna hurt.

Four more weddings on the horizon has my mind boggled with details and my kitchen covered in cake batter.

Tonight I am making marzipan cupcake do-dads.

Tomorrow- more cakes and cupcakes.

Oh, and the Oregon weather? Today 64 degrees and a bit of rainy drizzle. It's still July, right?


It's so quiet.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Lesson Learned

When delivering a cake on Saturday, I just had to photograph this odd cloud formation I saw. There were no other clouds in the sky. What did it mean?

Sunday's wedding cake delivery was even more eventful when I opened the van door at the hotel and discovered the bottom tier of the cake had serious seismic activity occur along its fault lines and it was basically a mess. After having a short stationary panic I took the cake back home, (taking an extra fifteen minutes or so when my addled brain forgot about the construction on the freeway exit) to deconstruct the cake, straighten out and refrost the tier. Thank goodness I had a lot of extra icing leftover when I finished the cake the first time. Then it was back to the hotel to reconstruct and redecorate the cake in the hotel kitchen. Two hours later and still a half hour before the bridal cake cutting, the cake was presented at the reception looking almost as good as its first incarnation and hopefully the wedding party didn't know the difference.

So my very first wedding cake delivery disaster was an educational experience as all disasters should be. I had started becoming too complacent in the assumption of cake stability because things had never gone wrong before. No more. I don't care how many people are tailgating me as I ease up to a stop sign on a mountain road or cautiously creep around a turn....there's cake in here people and I'm not speeding up. And I won't be honoring any more requests for extra thick layers of fruit filling which only give the cake layers more goo to slide around on.

One nervous breakdown is enough to learn my lesson.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

It's Christmas in July

And the tree getting some decoration is the cherry tree.

Some shiny ribbon in silver and red and some sparkly CDs.

Last year we did not get one handful of cherries from our tree. Not one single handful. Because just before the cherries were ripe and ready to pick, a large flock of birds (mostly starlings) occupied the tree and cleaned off every branch.
It was the pits.

Already the birds are back and the cherries are still green!
We've been observing them with growing aggravation.

So we decided to try this method to deter them- shiny, sparkly, flashing objects that spin and dance in the breeze.
So far it seems to be working! The birds are gone!
Whodda thunk some scratched Led Zepplin would have such a wondrous effect?


I made a fun birthday cake this week for a lady whose birthday was still four months away.

The client didn't want fresh real flowers but edible ones so I had some fun sculpting these.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Pie Revolution

I've made hundreds of pies in the last ten years since I won our local pie contest. Hundreds. For family, for clients, for friends, for pie classes...and I started a business that requires me to bake. A lot.

So I'm so excited to say that I have learned something new and important about pie making!

I love to learn new and important things!

I can make pretty good pie but there is something about my pies that has always bothered me and I didn't know how to fix it. Because I make a lot of pie and because I am lazy, I always use a food processor to make the pie dough. I have not found a good way to use a processor and not end up with dough that has had the fat to closely incorporated into the flour. In my Pie Crust 101 post I explain the importance of the proper composition of fat and flour in pie dough. Our grandmothers, who cut the fat and flour together by hand, did not have as much trouble with the fat getting too completely blended with the flour. The food processor, because it is so efficient and fast, makes short work of the process and it's easy to over-process the dough. I haven't been able to find a good and reliable way around it.

The trouble with having the fat too finely incorporated into the flour is that the dough ends up very "short" like a short bread, and the baked crust crumbles instead of flaking. Pie dough simply has to be flaky. The short crust was still delicious but it just wasn't a real traditional pie crust and that has always bothered me. But....I didn't know how to fix it. Except to cut the flour and fat by hand, which I'm too lazy to do. Especially when I'm making a wagon load of pie dough.

Then I read this blog post over at Serious Eats. It is a wonderful article about this very problem. I love scientific examinations of food and cooking (Cooks Illustrated! Yay!) and this article, written by a former CI food scientist, does a fantastic job of explaining what is happening with the pie dough in a food processor and the author proposes the way to make the crust flaky as it should be. I was somewhat skeptical but anxious to try it out.

And what is the celebration of America's independence without the iconic American dessert? Well, it's just not a complete American celebration! So since it was our holiday weekend I had a good excuse to make a pie and try out the recipe from the blog article.

For the fat in the recipe I used two thirds my best butter and one third my best lard. I was consternated by the amount of water the recipe called for since it made the dough very, very sticky! But I refrigerated the dough over night and made the pie with cold dough, still soft enough to roll because of the addition of lard.

Oh my heavens! The dough had a lovely satin texture that I've only seen in my dreams. It had the aroma of my grandmother's kitchen. Soft, satiny, moist but not wet, the dough rolled so easily and perfectly. I didn't need to use my parchment paper method, just a fine dusting of flour and... easy as pie... the dough was in the pie pan.  No sticking, no cracking, not too firm to manipulate as a cold butter dough can sometimes be. Divine.

You can imagine that I was very anxious to taste this pie and find out if the crust was indeed flaky and not crumbly.

It was. Perfectly flaky! Just like grandma's pie always was!

I learned something new about pie and I couldn't be happier! I think it will revolutionize my pie making from now on!

Try this recipe and see if you don't love that satiny dough too!

A Real Holiday

We didn't spend our Independence Day holiday in the usual way, attending the parade of firetrucks and old cars in town, grilling burgers at home (usually under a cold, cloudy sky) and watching the fireworks over the Columbia River Gorge. We did something different this year.

We spent the day in my brother's new airplane hangar having a family barbeque, playing Bocci ball and taking some airplane rides.

The weather was a gorgeous 82 degrees with clear blue, sunny skies. 
What a great 4th of July!

Alyssa took the opportunity to bravely face her fears.

And everyone had a chance to explore the wild blue yonder.

The area, west of the mountains where we live, is a farming section of the state where mostly grass seed is raised.
This is a Christmas tree farm.

A saw mill. I wouldn't be surprised if many of those logs have barreled past my house on logging trucks from their origins in the forests here.

A golf course.

And a view of the western slopes of our mountain, as well as views of others in the Cascade range like Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Ranier.

It was a fun and memorable day!