Saturday, July 19, 2014

How to Make a Simple Sea Cake

I love decorative cakes, but alas, my imagination exceeds my skill. I wanted to make an incredible cake for my daughter's Under the Sea birthday party, but I needed one that was easy enough for me not to mess up. Too often I find myself the day of an event frantically trying to put together an impossible cake.

This cake was not only simple, but it looked fantastic. It was exactly what I wanted! 

If you want to make a cake like this, all you need is:

  • 2 boxes of white cake mix.*
  • frosting
  • blue food coloring
  • white chocolate
  • small crock pot, a microwave, or a double broiler
  • shells candy mold
  • a spoon
  • vanilla wafers
*I've tried making cake from scratch, and honestly, it doesn't taste all that different from cake in a box. I only use the Pillsbury cake with pudding mixed in; of all the boxed cakes I've tried, that's my favorite.

First, I add blue food coloring to the batter. Don't add the egg yolks to the batter or it will turn green. Cook the batter in four cake pans (or two at a time). Stack three of them on top of one another with frosting in between the layers. Since this was a 1st birthday party, I cut two circles in the fourth to make a smash cake for the baby.

Mix food coloring into the frosting until you get a pretty light blue color and spread it over the top half of the cake. It's easiest to pipe the frosting onto the cake and then spread it with a spatula instead of using only the spatula; you'll pick up less crumbs that way. You'll still pick up crumbs, though, so add a second layer afterwards. 

Mix more blue food coloring into the rest of the frosting to get a darker color and spread on the bottom half of the cake. Using the back of a spoon, make waves in the frosting. When you get to where the different colors of blue meet, blend them in a little bit.

Next, fill a ziplock bag with vanilla wafers and crush them until they're super fine and they look like sand. Line the plate the cake is on with the "sand." You can also pour sand on the top of the cake, if you like.

To make the shells, melt some white chocolate. My preferred method is to put the chocolate in a crock pot on low. That way the chocolate is always at the right temperature and I don't have to worry about it seizing up, and since I had to fill the candy molds three times, I didn't have to reheat it or heat it in shifts.

You can get candy molds in most cake decorating sections of grocery and craft stores, and they're pretty cheap. I found mine in my cupboard the day before the party. I still don't know how they got there.

Once you've poured the melted chocolate into the molds and let them cool in the fridge for ten minutes, arrange them on the cake however you like.

That's it! So easy, right? I had a bunch of extra chocolates so I arranged them on the table, and I added a real shell we found in Tonga to the table because it matched so well.

She loved her sea cake!

Friday, July 18, 2014

What Book Should Every Kid Study in School?

I love hearing what my readers have to say. It makes this blog feel more like a community. Starting now, I'm going to post questions for my readers to discuss.

Since this is my first time doing it, I'll start with something relatively simple.

In an interview with Sue Monk Kidd, someone asked what book she thinks every child should study in school. She said The Awakening. Since female liberation is a strong theme in all her work, I'm not surprised.

My pick is The Giver. Personally, I see a lot of value in youth reading Utopian and Dystopian literature (books about perfect and imperfect societies). It helps them stretch their minds past what they're used to and to view the world's many possibilities. I believe it makes them better voters and citizens when they can constructively think about ways to improve society.

That being said, I do NOT think The Hunger Games should be studied in school. Don't get me wrong, they're fantastic books for recreational reading, but they don't ask any hard questions. They help kids to enjoy reading. They don't teach them to think constructively.

What book do you think every child should study in school?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

When Writing Feels Selfish

I've been working on my novel Voodoo Queen for over a year now, and I keep getting stuck. It boggles my mind because it's never happened to me before. I always believed writer's block stems from a lack of discipline and focus. If you sit in front of a blank screen long enough, eventually the words will come.

The mind is more complicated than that, and creativity is especially fickle. Sometimes interior things get in the way, like attitude and perspective. 

After tearing my hair out for a while, I've finally narrowed down on what is getting in my way:


It was easy to write when I was in school and my homework was done. It was easy to write when I had a full-time job that wasn't very demanding. Now I'm a homemaker with a 10-month-old baby, and when I take time to write, there are negative consequences. Dishes don't get done. Meals don't get cooked. Errands don't get run. My baby gets less attention.

How do I justify taking time out of my busy day to work on a book that might not go anywhere? I decided to work on my book just when I had extra time. Which was never.

I've made peace with the fact that my creativity doesn't let me simply sit down and write a chapter. If I restrict myself to just one project, I will get stuck every time. I have to be free to work on whatever comes to me, whether that be blogging, journal writing, working on a different book, or whatever.

I had three ideas that have really worked for me. First, if I plan my day around writing, I don't have to feel guilty because I know I'll have enough time for what's on my to-do list. Sometimes that means putting a thing or two off until tomorrow, but as long as I plan ahead, that isn't a problem.

Second, I do the thing on my list that are the least appealing first. There are certain jobs I'm going to make time for no matter what. Cooking dinner, for instance, or buying diapers. Then there are phone calls, home-improvement projects, and (sadly) my book that I can put off indefinitely. Those are the things I need to do first.

The most important thing, however, is to remember that all the writing I do is important. Even if I'm just fiddling with some poems. If I separate in my mind the writing that matters from the writing that doesn't, I'll get frustrated and blocked.

Every word I write matters... every word you write matters. If we could all just remember that, we can defeat our guilt.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Baby Shower: Cupcakes in the Garden

Back when I was pregnant, my sister threw me a lovely baby shower. We ended up working on it together because she was also pregnant and therefore too sick to do much of anything, much less plan a party!

The theme was Cupcakes in the Garden. We already had a lot of lovely garden-ish decorations, so we hardly spent any money. We bought pink boxes filled with candy for party favors, some silk flowers for a centerpiece, pink table cloths that we used as curtains for the entryway, and pink plates. We also had most of the food already, so I don't think the whole thing cost more than $25.

I had the idea to make a cupcake bar. We cooked a dozen each of four different kinds of cupcakes, make four different kinds of frosting, cut holes in the cupcakes for filling, and had lots of different toppings. 

Everyone went nuts over it. We made sure to have at least three cupcakes per person because everyone wanted to try several combinations! This would be great for a child's birthday party, too.

Cupcake Flavors: chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and spice.

Frosting Flavors: Chocolate, buttercream, strawberry, and peanut butter.

Fillings: Custard, pudding, mandarin oranges, strawberry jam, cooked blueberries, and chopped bananas.

Toppings: Chocolate, caramel, and strawberry syrup, maraschino cherries, nuts, milk and white chocolate chips, sprinkles, granola, and cinnamon mixed with sugar.

For the first game, we worked together to make Baby's First Alphabet Book. Each guest was given a page with a letter on it and crayons so they could draw something beginning with that letter. I love it and I will always treasure it. Then we filled out a questionnaire with wishes for baby, such as "I wish you learn," "I wish you always," etc. There's lots of them on Pinterest, but this is the one I used. 

Finally, we played one of my favorite shower games: Daddy Knows Best. The host asks the father several questions beforehand, such as "What part of motherhood is your wife most excited about" and "Who will change the most diapers," and the mother-to-be has to guess what he wrote.

We had so much fun throwing this shower that I wish one of my friends would get pregnant so I can throw another one!
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