Thursday, September 24, 2009

Cake Decorating 201

Some may tell you I have a one track mind. This could be true. . . actually, it is very likely true. Two weeks ago as I stood in the Target backing aisle looking for yeast I happen to glance at a sale sign for food coloring and, overcome with pure joy, I shouted, "Lego cake!" Paul let me get it. He knew there would be no living with me till it was in my possession.

Now, all I needed was a few tips on how to make my lego cake art and an occasion for which to make it. Two words. Dad's birthday. How selfless of me to plead with my mother to allow me to show up to the birthday dinner with a dessert for my 52 year old father that resembles a child's toy. But she agreed to it nevertheless, and I was instantly online googling tips for making lego cakes. And in my great researching efforts I stumbled across a video tutorial on perfect lego cake-making. "It's so so easy!" They kept saying as they effortlessly frosted their most beautiful creation, and I dreamed of what mine might look like.

Tuesday morning I began the baking process. The cake was double chocolate and I put it in the freezer after it came out of the oven. The video said this would make it easier to cut and frost and who was I to argue? I left it there for an hour and then pulled it out. It felt cold. The precipitation that had formed on the plastic wrap from the cakes original warmth was frozen into small streaks across the surface. I called Paul into the kitchen for the main event. He is my su chief. I gave him the honor of cutting the cake because he is a boy and boys like knives.

The video said to do a "crumb coat" which they explained was a thin coat of frosting to seal in the crumbs. I think from my new found experience I would define it a little differently. A "crumb coat" is a thin coat frosting applied to the cake that allows any access crumbs to come off and get mixed in with your frosting and eventually travel to the untainted frosting in a bowl via frosting utensil. Don't let anyone try to trick you into believing that other definition.

So after I "crumb coated" each block, Paul gave them their final "beauty coat" while I worked on the raised bumps. Originally, I thought I would use cookies for this effect but the online video said they used marshmallows cut in half. This being a much cheaper alternative I thought, 'The masters know best!" What the so-called "masters" don't tell you is that it is nearly impossible to find a bag of unsmashed marshmallows at Macey's on a Monday afternoon during the caselot sale. This did not discourage me too much because I bought them anyway. But frosting them was a whole other story.

The video said to cut them in half with greased scissors and stab them in the side. Frost all you can (minus the part that has a fork sticking out of it) and once it's smooth slip it on to the cake where you will touch up the stabbed side. I tried this. I wondered what these women were thinking. I wondered why they didn't try stabbing it through the bottom which didn't need frosted anyway to eliminate the need to have to touch up the side at all. I wondered if they gave stupidly difficult instructions on purpose so no one could make a lego cake that compared to theirs. I wondered if they were on crack. Problems continued to arise as I frosted those marshmallows. You see, marshmallows are very sticky. The manufacturers put a coating on them that is powdery to keep them from sticking to each other. This coating is frosting resistant too.

For an hour and forty-five minutes Paul and I attempted to turn those little blocks of frozen cake into the smooth-looking deserts that I saw all over the internet. But they just kept crumbling and shifting and not accepting the delicious butter cream frosting that I may have got a little too cold in the fridge earlier that morning. By the end of that hour and forty-five minutes, with sore backs from being hunched over our labors and aching carpals from the delicate and detailed work we just endured, we decided it was time to stop. The cake was good enough. I looked around my kitchen and marveled at the amount of dishes we had dirtied and wondered how I would fit every utensil in the house in that little dish drainer.

I later asked Paul what he will say if I ever suggest making a Lego cake again. "No," he said. "No."

Friday, September 18, 2009

Daddy’s hands

I have mentioned my mother a lot in my blog. After all, she taught me most everything I know, but this week is the birthday of another person who taught me a few good lessons himself.

My dad is a mechanic and not because he loves the smell of gasoline and the roar of a broken muffler. It’s because he’s good at it. Ever since he was young he was taking apart and tuning up almost anything with wheels. Wagons, bicycles, motorbikes, full-blown motorcycles, cars, vans, trucks, you name it. I don’t think it took him long to discover that in his hands broken things became fixed. Still today, Fords destined for salvage become freeway material, Chevys are taken off blocks, and little Toyotas are transformed into chariots for poor college students. And he doesn’t love it. In fact, it’s hard. As his body ages crawling under a dash turns out to be more challenging with the decreased flexibility. Kneeling at tires dirties his aching knees. Hours of bending over engines causes much soreness in his back. He’s worked for bosses he didn’t like and with coworkers he found difficult. He’s spent hours busting his knuckles on rusted bolts and cutting his palms on sharp metal corners only to bring home no paycheck. But he always goes back. Every morning for my entire life he’s pulled on his stained uniforms, packed his lunch and set off for another day doing something hard that he doesn’t want to do because he loves his family that much.

Lesson 1: Life is about doing things that are hard that you don’t want to do. That’s what makes us stronger. . . like the calluses on my dad’s palms. The more we’re rubbed, the tougher we become.

My dad loves Looney Tunes. From boyhood to manhood he has never grown tired of Elmer Fudd looking for that “wascally wabbit” or Marvin’s quest to remove Earth from his view of Venus. My family would be gathered at the table eating some delicious meal and Dad would do some Looney Tune impressions for us. Sometimes he’d show us clips of his favorite episodes on youtube. I think we all love them because he does—because they make him smile, so we smile. One of my favorite memories of him was bedtime. He would tuck me in, take my favorite teddy bear and in his high, happy sing-song voice say, “Can I sleep with you tonight?” I would grab Teddy from him and just giggle. I liked his silly voices. For a short time, when we first moved to Utah, my dad would drive my brother, sister, and I up to Lehi everyday for school. He had an old cassette of Bill Engvall’s cleaner material and we loved listening to it. My dad would just laugh and laugh. I like his laugh. I love how his shoulders fall up and down as he chuckles.

Lesson 2: Even when times get hard, stay happy. Laugh with the people you love most.

There were times, especially in high school where I would come home and break down. Life was over for whatever trivial reason and I wanted some sympathy. Sometimes Dad gave it, and sometimes he didn’t. Most of the time he didn’t. He would sit me down and tell me that life isn’t high school, then he would ask me a question: “Is griping about it going to get you a better grade on the test?” or “Is standing here complaining going to help you do well in chair auditions?” I hated those questions because I knew he was right. I needed to just dive in and practice and study.

I also was overeager to grow up just a little bit faster. When I was three I wanted to be in school, and when I was in grade school I wanted to be in junior high, and so on. There was such difficulty for me to just live in the moment. But my dad has always just been in life while it was happening. So often it was him that grabbed my little kite tails and pulled me back to earth where I was needed. He knew wishing away my present wouldn’t bring the phenomenal future of my dreams. I wish I understood it then like I’m learning it now.

Lesson 3: There is a time and a place for everything—even drama (detail oriented-ness). Sometimes it’s just time to work.

My parents have a long mirror in there room. It’s the only one in the house so if vanity permits and one has to see what an entire outfit looks like, that is the place to go. And sad to say, I ventured there more often then I’d like to admit. I can remember more than one occasion of walking in my parent’s room to determine my “lump factor” only to catch my dad on his knees. He prays a lot. It is my Heavenly Father’s will that he sought when he moved my family to this valley. It was the Lord who he went to when decided to start a business. He has led us in morning family prayer for as long as I can remember; it was him who so often knew, without me saying anything of how sad I felt, that I needed to give the prayer.

Lesson 4: “Pray always, that you may come off conqueror.”(2 Nephi 32:9) And teach by example.

Happy birthday, Dad! Thanks for letting me watch you for twenty years. Thanks for loving me unconditionally. And thanks for your patience. I love you!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Can I interest you?

Paul’s school schedule is predominately in the evening . . . which I hate because it means I spend a majority of my afternoons home alone. Upfront, I didn’t think it would be an issue. Being home alone has great advantages. I can turn on my silly girl music, dance around in my underwear, sing at escalating volumes, and there are no witnesses. However, after doing that for five afternoons in a row I was ready to move on to a different hobby. Unable to find one quite so entertaining I’ve trained myself to clean, cook, and nap, which as you can imagine took far less time to get old then my afternoon interpretive dance sessions. But no matter what I fill my afternoons with, mostly I just feel lonely and miss that man I love. When Paul is home I have someone to talk to and a partner in crime on my dessert making adventures when Monday night FHE permits.

Tuesday was one if these lonely afternoons were I cleaned the bathroom, vacuumed the carpet, worked on my cookbook project, and prepared some rather soupy homemade macaroni and cheese. I put a in a movie to play in the background, and when I had a free moment I could stop and watch. It was during one of these slow moments when a knock came to the door. I answered. It was door-to-door salesmen. Smart door-to-door salesmen.

And when I say smart I don’t mean it in the sense that they were knowledgeable about their product, or highly educated. What I meant was crafty. I have a no soliciting sign on my door. It is not faded like the house numbers or smudged or handwritten. It is an official laminated plaque with bolded words, and for the illiterate there is a picture of a little man with a briefcase circled and crossed out. Yet I’ve had three sales representatives come to my door in the four months I lived here, and they all try the same trick.

[knock knock] I open the door. The sales people smile. “I’m so sorry,” they say. “I didn’t see your sign.” Thinking of dear Bill Engvall I resist saying, “That makes two of us.” Instead I give them some nonchalant words to excuse their grievous error but before I can finish my sentence a flyer is shoved into my hands. “But you can take this if you want and, I mean, if you don’t want it you can give it to a friend. Hey what kind of cable service do you got?” I open my mouth to reply but—“because we’re here on behalf of DirectTV and we’d love to hook you up with a greater deal than whatever your paying.” I tell him we are paying nothing, that we don’t have television, and if he can give us a better deal than free, like a monthly check to take his services, I’d sign up. They look a little nervous, I bid them good day, and I shut the door.

No kidding, I think they are teaching this method in annoying sales people schools, which apparently Comcast and DirectTV and all-purpose cleaner companies require all their employees to attend. The teacher stands in front of a class, re-slicks his comb-over, and leans forward. “Class,” he hollers. “I’m going to give you the trick to successfully working your way around a ‘no soliciting sign’.” The students lean in, anticipation dripping from their open mouths. The instructor hitches up his pants “The key is to walk up to a door and ring the doorbell as fast as humanly possible, then look around to see if there’s a sign. If there is one you can’t leave because you already rang the doorbell and doorbell ditching is rude. So wait till they answer the door. Apologize for not seeing the sign, and before they have time say goodbye you throw out a pitch faster than Billy Mays.”

Now, I’ve fallen for this three times and I think I know what my problem is. I have two actually. The first is I keep answering the door. In my defense, I’m new in the ward, I still don’t know a lot of people, and unless these men have matching shirts and logos plastered to ball caps, which none of them have, looking out my window I can’t tell salesmen from home teachers. So I just keep answering the door.

The second problem I have is I’m a girl and an English enthusiast which means in the simplest terms: I can’t say anything in just two words. If my husband answered the door and the salesmen apologize for not seeing the sign he would say, “Okay, bye.” And he’d shut the door. But I don’t do that! They apologize and it’s like I have this need to put their guilt to ease or it is transferred to me somehow. So I say something like this: “Oh, guys! It’s okay. I know how that feels because this one time I was trying to raise money for the school band and I went to this house to ask if they wanted to pledge for a carwash and they had a sign and I didn’t realize and I just started shaking because I didn’t know what to do. . .” And I my mouth just won’t stop. This gives them plenty of time for flyer shoving and an interruption followed by the beginnings of a pitch.

I’m caught in this vicious cycle that will never end because I can’t just stop being a girl, and I can’t change my prose-like mindset. I suppose I should just make peace with the idea that I will argue with door-to-door salesmen for the rest of my life.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Setting the record straight

There is a rumor about me. I suppose it’s been circulating ever since I’ve existed. From the moment I opened my little mouth to say my first word there has been this rumor that I am dramatic. I’d like to lay this rumor to rest once and for all. I am absolutely, without a doubt, one billion percent sure that I am most certainly not, under any circumstance, even amidst the trials of this torturesome and at times pleasant earthly life, dramatic. I am detail oriented. That’s all.

Let me expound on this. If I were to tell you about a certain customer I assisted in my checkout line today it might go something like this:

It was 1:48 in the afternoon. I remember the time because I looked at the clock on my register and acknowledged that slight annoyance I feel that it is two minutes behind my watch. A day goes by so much slower when I look at my watch and two minutes later glance at my computer screen only to see the same time blaring back at me. I also recall the time because four added to eight equals twelve for which one is the first number. Hence 1:48. And it was at this 1:48 that SHE came through my line. I know this customer by name for she is a regular and I would add the name to the story because it suits her quite well except it makes me shutter to even type it, and I can’t have my poor husband thinking I have turrets syndrome due to the multiple times I would have to type it. So, for the sake of the story I’ll call her Miss T.

Miss T strolled up to my register and gave her usually half smile half grimace. I inhaled deeply anticipating a transaction requiring much patience. She slipped in behind her shopping cart and began loading the belt.

“Hi! How are you today?” I said in my best ‘fake-happy’ tone. She looked at me and with her nasally voice told me she was good, holding the ‘oo’ out far longer than any person usually would. “Do you have a Preferred Customer Card with you today?” I added as I began to swipe the first items.

“I doooo. “ She replied and handed me the object in question. I scanned it and smoothly handed it back to her. I looked down at the belt and all appeared normal, and I felt confident that the transaction would be over without any mishaps. It was when I was ringing in her lemon that I realized she was reaching into her cart for something else. Here we go. Bring it on. Miss T laid a fist full of wrappers on the belt. “I need to pay for theeese tooooo.” I picked up the first—an empty yogurt cup and spoon—and scanned it. The second wrapper, which had once been home to a protein bar, was quite wadded up, and as I tried to restore it to its original state so I could find the bar code crumbs began falling out of it. The third wrapper was wet from what I can only assume to be yogurt, and the forth was a can of empty soda, dark red lipstick framing the hole from which Miss T drank. Ew. One by one, I placed them over my scanner and then threw them away below me.

I gave her another fake smile. “Is this everything for you today?” She hesitated and stared longingly at her cart that still carried items not yet purchased. Then came the onslaught I had been waiting for.

“Weeell, I don’t think I can get this caaan, but I want this cat fooood. Wait, just one cat fooood, I don’t want the otheeeer. Aaaand I don’t want thiiiis one but can you just tell me the price on thiiiis one? Okay, yeah. . . I don’t want that one either. And maybe I want one of theeeeese but not the other threeee. What’s my totaaal?”

Panting I tell her the number.

“Okaaaay. Then I don’t think I want this baaaar, but I do want this rice. Actually, could we pour this rice in another baaaag? I don’t thing I want aaaaall of it. Then I have this yogurt but I don’t think I’m going to geeeet it. And actually, I think I wiiiill take that bar after aaaaall. And then I don’t think I’ll get the rest of theeese.” She proceeds to empty her shopping cart with the reminder of the items she couldn’t afford. I started getting creative finding places to stuff the rejected things because my cubby designated for “go-backs” was full. A line was forming behind her and she pulled out her checkbook. Oi. “What’s the daaate?”

When Miss. T was finally completely checked out and the line had been taken care of, I unloaded four days worth of groceries off my register into a handheld basket (brimming full) to be redistributed around the store.

A less detail-oriented person might tell this same story like this: “I had this lady come in today who bothered me and couldn’t buy everything in her cart. I hated it.” Which is fine. And even if they pronounced each word imitating Jim Carrey, that simple tale wouldn’t be deemed dramatic. And my story laced with rich descriptions included purely for the recipients benefit, allowing them to relate almost as if they were there, would be called dramatic (even if it was read by a monotone man named Barry). I don’t think including details is dramatic. (i.e. side-effects of medicines. Not dramatic. Meticulous facts that are important to know.) That's all I'm doing. Therefore, I am not dramatic. I am perceptive, and the fact that I can recall so much should speak volumes for my memory.