Monday, June 22, 2009

Strawberry Shortcake cake

Abigail's friend birthday party was in March, and I baked her cake. My mom is a cake decorator, and I grew up watching her make birthday cakes and wedding cakes. I have decorated a few over the years, but I've never quite learned the technique. I have been baking cakes from scratch since I was about nine or ten years old, though. This particular cake is a yellow layer cake recipe with buttercream frosting. The yellow cake is a family recipe that we used for most occasions with a variety of icings, including lemon cheese (a cooked lemon curd that is wonderful), chocolate buttercream, cooked fudge, cooked coconut, caramel and more. Every once in a while one of us would get in the mood for "birthday cake" though, which was our code for yellow cake with buttercream.

I have a Strawberry Shortcake pan from Wilton that I had planned to use, but I haven't decorated a cake in years, and I was intimidated by the large number of stars that I'd have to make for a cake that Abigail won't even remember. I finally decide to just decorate a layer cake. I used Wilton's buttercream frosting recipe because I couldn't find mine. I learned the hard way, though, that the Wilton recipe only makes enough to ice the cake OR decorate it. So if you want to do both, you have to make two batches.

I only had four jars of food coloring (I use the gels from Wilton) so I used red to get the two shades of pink and green, of course, for the green. When I do decide to use the Strawberry Shortcake pan, I'm planning to pick up Wilton's set of Strawberry Shortcake food coloring. It should be easier to make all the right colors that way!

I don't know if it's obvious or not but the little "rosettes" are actually supposed to be strawberries.

I've collected party supplies for Strawberry Shortcake for two years now (first and second birthday parties). I'm hoping that we'll be able to have Strawberry Shortcake birthday parties for several years, at least.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Making Our Playsilks

I convinced my mom to buy playsilks for Abigail's birthday in January. She was apprehensive about it, not sure if Abigail would even be interested in them. I was too, but I really wanted to give them a shot. Playsilks can be expensive, so I decided to try dying some myself. I ordered an assortment of sizes from Dharma Trading Company.

I was impressed with Dharma Trading's promptness. The website states that orders placed before 11am are shipped same day, and orders placed after 11am are shipped on the next business day. I ordered late on a Friday afternoon, and received them in Monday's mail. I wouldn't expect that kind of promptness every time, but thought it was awesome to get my order before I thought it had shipped!

I ordered eight scarves in varying sizes. Six of the scarves are the Haboti 8mm silk, which I think I prefer. I also ordered one crepe de chine 12 mm and one flat crepe 8mm, just to see the difference. They're both nice, but I think the Haboti is suitable for playsilk purposes. If I had to do it again, I would get more of the squares (25x25, 30x30 and 35x35) and less of the longer scarves. Now that I've watched her play with them for a while, I know the the very small rectangles don't work as well. She does like to wrap the long narrow ones around her head or her body (or my head and body).

I've seen lots of post about dying playsilks all over the web, but they all seem to reference the tutorial I used from Sara's Toy Box. I adapted the directions a little. I'd read that her directions created very intense colors, and I wanted a lighter color. So instead of using 3 packets of Kool-Aid, I only used 2. I'm thinking now that was a mistake, because the colors aren't really muted. Instead I have more of a tie-dye affect, which is NOT what I was going for. Hopefully, it will all be ok, and they'll look more realistic. For yellow, I used lemonade, pink was pink lemonade, and blue was blue moon berry. I didn't have a lot of Kool-Aid in the house, so for green, I used some Wilton gel food coloring that I had. The green was the least colorfast, though, so I ended up redying using lemon-lime (I'll show those photos another time along with the rest of the silks).

The reasoning behind using Kool-Aid is that because it is food grade, it is non-toxic. A lot of the blogs I've read indicated that that either the blogger didn't grow up with Kool-Aid, didn't like Kool-Aid or will never drink it again after seeing the technicolor effects of the dye. I did grow up with Kool-Aid, and don't have a problem with it. I also am familiar with food grade dyes because my mom has baked and decorated cakes for nearly my whole life. I grew up with decorated cakes on lots of occasions, and I don't believe I had any ill-effects from the occasional food coloring (this includes the copious amounts of Kool-Aid I drank growing up). I guess I'm just not in the camp that doesn't like about food coloring. I think it's ok in moderation, and it doesn't bother me that I can use it to dye fabric. Natural dyes are food substances too but no one is concerned that blueberries will turn your insides blue!

Another difference between my method and that of the tutorial is that I'd already started when I realized I had no white vinegar in the house. My driveway was still covered in ice from an ice storm that had hit earlier in the week so I had no desire to go get any. Instead I used the apple cider vinegar that I happened to have. I DO NOT like vinegar. I spent the whole day wrinkling my nose and hoping that vinegar really is good for clearing up odors. Then hubby got home, and his nose wrinkled too. I was able to use white vinegar when I dyed the rest of the silks and it seemed to work the same, but didn't have the strong smell when cooked. It still took forever to get the smell out of the house!

Abigail was excited about the silks from the time I took them out of the package. She grabbed them and ran off as soon as I opened the envelope. She didn't seem as excited about them at her party, but she's been playing with them for months now. She calls them her "scarves" and wraps herself in them. She likes to put them over her head to block out light at naptime, too.

Playsilks seem to be a good gift for any age child. A younger child would enjoy them just because of the texture and bright colors, and they make wonderful light summer blankets.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Green sun dress

I didn't make this dress. My dear friend Heather has two little boys, and she found this fabric with smocking on one side that was begging to be made into a dress. She couldn't make a dress for her boys, so she made one for Abigail instead. Heather asked me for measurements, and we decided to use measurements just a little bit bigger than needed so Abigail can wear this dress for a while. So it's a smocked dress that can be a little tight, but is currently a little loose. And it's almost to her ankle right now, which gives her plenty of room to grow taller. We did this in part because Abigail is really small for her age right now, but could get a growth spurt at any time. It's not so easy to make dresses that it's fun for them to be outgrown immediately!

The dress is a fairly simple construction, just a hem and a seam up the back, since the smocking was part of the fabric. The straps are the part that I'm most impressed with. Because we decided to make the dress a little big, the straps had to be made to grow also. So Heather added buttons to the dress and buttonholes to the straps. As Abigail gets taller, the straps can be made longer. Buttonholes scare me a little, so I'm especially excited about that feature.

It's hard for me to get Abigail to stand still for photos anymore. She ran around the yard as I chased her for these shots. If you look close, you can get an idea of our shared fashion sense. She is wearing hot pink corduroy sneakers with her lime green polka dot dress. I'm a little obsessed with lime green polka dots, and Abigail likes combining dresses with practicality. Occasionally, it's my idea to pair her dress with a pair of pants (so she can go down the slide easier), but when given a choice of what to wear she'll often say "dress and pants."

Thanks for the dress, Heather! We love it (and you).

Monday, June 8, 2009

Paper bag hat

Wondering what to do with left over lunch bags, or the slightly larger ones from that take-out order from last night's dinner? Make a paper hat for your toddler. Let her color it as much as she wants and then roll down the top to make the brim. I made this one last summer before Abigail was really into coloring, so I did the decorations myself. She's very much a hat girl now. I think we need to make another one soon.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Easter Dessert Follow-up

I realize it's been a while since Easter, but I was informed that I'd forgotten to mention what we decided to have for dessert that day. I made a sour cream pound cake and sliced it for strawberry shortcake, and my friend made a real coconut cream pie (she used a fresh coconut and everything).

The sour cream pound cake doesn't sound adventurous to me except that I'd never made one before. It's a family recipe that my mama tweaked and made her own. I love this cake. We used to have it as a bundt cake - my favorite was eating it frozen and sliced for breakfast. When I was a teenager and Mama started making wedding cakes, this was the cake she used most often (that's when I learned that it was really good covered in buttercream frosting).

It's kind of funny that this was the first sour cream pound cake I'd ever made since I've been baking cakes from scratch since I was eight or nine. The last step involves folding in egg whites and I was pretty intimidated. Fortunately, it wasn't nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. I'm actually excited that I was able to pull it off. My husband doesn't especially care for it, so now I know I can bake one, and put most of it in the freezer (only for occasional breakfasts).

As for the rest of our Easter, Abigail had her very first Easter egg hunts (one the Easter Bunny left and one with friends), and received several books, spring pajamas and other fun things in her Easter basket. The Easter Bunny apparently decided that she was far too young this year for a basket filled with candy, because she didn't get any. She did discover jellybeans and M&Ms in the eggs during the Easter egg hunt with her friends later that day, though. Abigail loves jellybeans but once she discovered the M&Ms, she stopped everything else until she'd eaten them all.

Now I'll try to be a little more current in my postsings. (Yeah, right. Soon to come? Photos of birthday cakes from January.)