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Flowery Notes & News

Art for horsecamp 2013 – Duct Tape Bags

I cannot tell a lie (err…  just go with it.).  I picked this project for horse camp because I’ve wanted an excuse to buy (and play) with all that fun duct tape I see at Michael’s an Hobby Lobby (and even Costco too!).  Aren’t they cute bags ? (Can’t call them purses as we have a single boy student.)  The tutorial I (sort of) used is here.  I won’t rewrite the instructions, but I have to say it went really, really well.  This was by far my most popular craft of camp.  In fact, one of the mothers asked me for instructions because she wanted to make one for herself.

(I will now admit that I have made 3 for myself.  I use them to hold horse treats and think they are fun even if other people (the vet, the farrier) look at me oddly when I have it on.)

 

Here’s the kids doing the taping.

 

And a pict of the inside fabric (had to get the horse theme in there).

And some of the finished bags.

For the older kids (and mine), we added straps instead of the cut out squares for handles (looked exactly like the tutorial).  I ended up liking that much better for future reference.  Either way, I had very satisfied (horse-loving) customers!

Art for Horsecamp 2013 – Horseshoe Frames

Art Camp Horseshoe

Two weeks of horsecamp down, one more to go.  Of course I’m so busy while in the throws that it takes me a while to get all these pictures up (meaning lots more to come).  Horsecamp is definitely my kids’ favorite week of summer.   It’s also the most expensive which is why I’m in charge of art.

I do it every year, and every year I come up with a new batch of projects, except for the one I’m sharing today.  It’s a staple of horsecamps across the world (or at least the U.S.) and very simple.  Take a  horse shoe (we used new aluminum shoes), let the kids go crazy painting (acrylic paints – it will flake off with time, but does alright and is affordable), give them glue and all kinds of trinkets to decorate, and when finished add a photo of them and their favorite pony.
Kids making horseshoe frames

Horseshoe frames

Entire project takes about an hour and the kids have a ton of fun being creative.  Love it!

Recent Reads: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey (a love ...

I had a tough time with this book and thus wasn’t sure if I should include it in the blog.  However, I decided it should be included just because I spent so much time thinking about the darn thing after I finished it.

So here it is…  The story of a teenage girl, terrified, alone, willing (and able) to murder anyone who might be an enemy, after four waves of an alien invasion (99.9 percent of the human population has been destroyed).  She’s got one goal.  Save her six-year-old brother from the military camp that stole him and killed her father.

The world she lives in scared me in the same way Stephen King did in The Stand.  I hated that.

The point of view jumped between the heroine and several other key kids.  She has a very strong, almost stream-of-conscious voice.  But so do the other characters.  And as the book is written in first person, I had a terrible time figuring out whose head we were in when a new chapter started.  It took me almost a full page each time and this was both frustrating and a road-block to enjoying the story.  All the characters (male / female / six-year-old brother) sounded exactly the same.  I hated that.

But I loved the way the story developed.  I loved Evan – the somewhat human boy who injures and then saves our heroine.  (He did have a bit of a stalker thing going.  I wouldn’t usually put up with that, but the circumstances were SO extreme).  He made the book for me and I was more interested in his reactions to the story than I was in Cassie or what she was doing.

He hooked me.  I turned page-after-page, staying up way too late, for a story resolution.

The climax was fabulous.  My favorite moment of the entire story is Evan knocking from above before dropping in to save the heroine (got to read it to understand why that’s significant).  I even liked the ending.  Until…

The last two pages.  The last two pages we awful.  I wanted to scream and cry and feed the darn book to the goats (I didn’t.  It was from the library after all).  The problem…

The heroine’s emotional reaction to Evan’s situation at the end.  She did have a reaction.  I even understood why she reacted the way she did considering the world of the story.  I still felt hugely disappointed because her reaction was so dissimilar to mine.  I needed her in that moment to mirror what I was feeling.  And she just didn’t. (Weird.  I can’t think of that ever happening to me before.)

This book was so close to being utterly wonderful that I have decided to reinvent the ending in my head to satisfy my emotional needs (err… whatever…).  And love it anyway.

Enter Ruthie (and foster friend)

We’ve got the land.  We’ve got the knowledge.  We’ve got the money (not enough.  never enough – just to be clear).  It is time for the Taylor family to get a horse.

Enter Ruthie.

Ruthie  meeting the 'neigh'bors

Our 4H group took a tour of a local horse rescue.  I’m a sucker for rescues as my last horse Flirtation Walk came from one 15ish years ago.  No, it’s actually more than just her.  I love a good underdog and rescues take in the horses that no one else wants, the horses whose only other option is the long trip to a meat factory in Mexico or Canada.  And the truly sad thing is that for a good percentage of the rescue horses, the only difference between them and a horse someone will pay good money for is time and effort (ours, not theirs).

That could have happened to Ruthie.

Ruthie in the trailer coming home

I’d had several horse friends tell me about the rescue we went to tour.  It was almost an eerie coincidence as it all happened so fast.  I had two rescue horses on my radar as possibilities, but when we got  out there neither one of them felt right (hard to explain that feeling, but when something is going to be mine, I just know it.  Insta-love).  But there was this little Morgan mare that a volunteer was hand-walking…  I hadn’t considered her before because all her pictures had her riding western, and we were looking for a kids’ English /Hunter Hack type pony, but my heart went pit-a-pat-pat.

She and her mother had been dumped last fall on the side of the freeway.  Ruthie had never had human handling.  She didn’t like being touched let alone haltered.  She was seriously underweight and terrified.  The Humane Society collected her and the rescue took her from there.  She turned out to be such a delight that it took little work to get her used to being groomed, round-penned, and ridden.  And who was riding her?  A 13 year old girl.

Ruthie was clearly perfect for our family.

Ruthie Grazing

We went through the adoption process and brought her home to live with our goats.  She is super green (Whoa?  What’s whoa?), but also super willing to learn and forward (forward meaning she’d rather be moving forward than standing still).  We adore her.

And since she was a tad lonely and we haven’t found the next member of the family yet (working on that…), we fostered another horse that had also been dumped and then saved by the rescue.  His name is Beau (the kidlets call him Grandfather), and he’s a 30ish Standardbred.  Ruthie acts like she hates him, but she’s happy he’s come to stay (until he finds his own forever home).

Beau

For those interested in horse rescues, here are a few I follow…

Perfect Fit Equine Rescue (Morgan Hill, CA)

Pregnant Mare Rescue (Watsonville, CA)

Starlight Sanctuary (Fallon, NV – They pull horses right out of the kill buyer’s lot just days before they are shipped to slaughter – amazing group of people.  Really stressful to watch them scramble to find homes for all the horses week after week after week though.)

Last Chance Corral (Athens, OH – They save foals orphaned when their lactating mothers are sent off to feed more valuable racehorse foals in Kentucky.  If not rescued, the foals are sent to slaughter.  I really, really, really want one of their foals and there are a bunch being shipped my direction.  Fingers crossed my fickle heart agrees (and we can get the timing right as a 6 week old horse is not something that can be left at home when we go on our summer vacation)!)

Let Us Eat (Unicorn) Cake

Pink and Purple Unicorn CakeJust a quick share of a cute project I did.  I had very specific instructions to make a pink & purple unicorn cake.  I’m no decorator, but I thought it came out cute none-the-less.  Whatcha think?

 

Periwinkle & Peach wedding (with lots of lave...

Periwinkle & Peach WeddingThis was honestly the most elegant wedding I’ve done.  It was really, really pretty.  My job was (of course) the cupcakes.  Flavors were:

~ Vanilla filled with salted caramel

~ Chocolate filled with ganache (baked inside too.  Worked beautifully – Instructions coming soon)

~ Carrot cake filled with cheesecake (should have been baked inside, but I absolutely couldn’t get it to work (wasted about 50  cupcakes.  And I’ve DONE this before successfully).

 

Because the wedding was 800ish miles from my home (and I learned last time how HARD it is to bake using other people’s equipment), I made everything in advance (cupcakes / fillings / frosting / 400 or so gumpaste flower), froze it (except the flowers), packed it into coolers and drove it the wedding city.  Since the ceremony was in the morning and the open house reception was in the evening, I spent the in-between time putting everything together (with help from my mother, oldest two daughters, and a few cousins).

It was a ton of fun and one of my favorite parts of the day.  We did all this at the home of a close friend of the mother-of-the-groom.  It was a bit of a McMansion (I’m not judgmental at all or anything), but I have to say I enjoyed the experience and the family (and all the miscellaneous other people constantly coming and going through the house) were lovely.  Here’s the cooking grounds.  Ritzy, yes?

Periwinkle & Peach wedding prep

The cupcakes turned out really, really beautiful.  Both just as nice as I hoped and by far the prettiest cupcakes I’ve ever done.  My daughters and I made all the flowers ourselves (broke four plastic tools and took over our (much smaller than the photo above) kitchen for about two weeks).  It was hugely fun.  Here’s some close ups.

 

All boxed up and ready to go.
Periwinkle and Peach Wedding Cupcakes with Gumpast Flowers

Periwinkle Flower (I know, it look slight blue in the photo, but had more gray /  purple in person)

Periwinkle and Peach Wedding Cupcakes with Gumpast Flowers

 

On the cupcake stand.

Periwinkle and Peach Wedding Cupcakes with Gumpast Flowers

 

I did not make the cake topper (although I wish I had as I could totally do something this simple.  Still, gotta have a limit somewhere).  I did make the flowers on top.  They looked fantastic, but I forgot to take a photo just of them.  Grrr…

Periwinkle and Peach Wedding Cupcakes with Gumpast Flowers

 

There are a few things I wished I’d done differently (other than make the cake top myself and remember to take photos of the top flowers).  I wish I’d spent the time to figure out what was going on with the bake-in cream cheese.  It would have tasted better (not that there was anything wrong with the carrot cake.  I’m just saying).  And I wish I’d spaced the cupcakes on the cupcake stand closer together.  In person it looked right and made it easy to get them out.  But in the photos they look too far apart to me.  Oh well.

Those are minor issues though.  Everything went as smoothly as possible.  We were all exhausted at the end of the day and the kids (and adults) had a wonderful time.

Flower Girl

smallcamera 009

Champagne Italian Buttercream Wedding Frosting

I’ve spent the last couple of months experimenting with buttercreams trying to come up with the perfect frosting for wedding cupcakes.  I want… excellent-flavor, not-too-sweet, depth (meaning salt), pipeability, smooth finish, and wow-factor.  It took quite a few tries to get something I am happy with.  But here it is:Champagne Italian ButterCream Wedding FrostingThe secret ingredient?  Well this is a fun one.  Champagne Flavoring.  Gives the frosting just a touch of fruity flavor without it being overwhelming.  Yum.  I purchased mine (along with about 10 other fun flavorings from The Baker’s Kitchen.  They regularly have their extracts 2 for 1.

Here’s my recipe:

Rachel’s (Wedding) Italian ButterCream

 Ingredients:

1.5 Cups White Sugar

½ Cup Water

1 Cup egg whites

½ tsp Cream of Tartar

½ Cup sifted powdered sugar

3 Cups Salted butter (softened)

1 Cup Unsalted butter (softened)

1.5 Tbsp Clear Vanilla Extract (regular works too – but for weddings…)

½  Tsp Champagne Flavoring

8-9 Cups Powdered Sugar (Sifted)

Instructions:

Combine White Sugar and water in a saucepan and heat over medium-high on stove.  Cook without stirring until 240 degrees (but don’t allow it to get to 240 degrees until the egg whites are ready  – the timing comes with practice).

Place egg whites and Cream of Tartar in bowl of stand mixer and whip with wire attachments until foamy.  Add in ½ Cup sifted powdered sugar.  Continue whipping until you have medium peaks formed.

Once eggs are ready and syrup is at 240 degrees, slowly drizzle syrup into whipping (so the stand mixer is going – but not so fast as to make a mess) egg whites.   Continue whipping until mixture cools to room temperature.  This can take 15 or more minutes.

Remove wire whisk attachment from stand mixer and put on regular beater (preferably one that scrape the bowl ). Add in the butter, one pat at a time, scraping down sides of bowl regularly (top of the bowl if your beater does the rest).  Add vanilla and Champagne Flavoring.  Add in powdered sugar one cup at a time until the flavor is right.

*Can be frozen for later use, but will need to be rewhipped before it can go on cupcakes.

And one more yummy photo.  I can’t wait to post the final pictures of the wedding cupcakes.  They are going to be my best ever!
Champagne Italian ButterCream Wedding Frosting

 

My very first fondant Cake (no expectations of per...

In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.

~Bill Cosby

Green Fondant cake with purple flowers

My oldest daughter only wanted one thing (well, sort of.  The rest of her ‘wants’ weren’t all that realistic) for her birthday.  For mom to make her a cake covered in fondant.

Personally, I hate fondant.  Totally ruins the flavor of a perfectly good buttercream.  But I can’t disagree that a fondant covered cake is uper-elegant.  We made the fondant ourselves (Marshmallows and powdered sugar…  Can you believe stores charge $20 for what I can make for $2?)

The flowers on top are gumpaste / fondant experiments gone bad.  Actually, the flowers are fine (gorgeously fine), but rather than a lovely periwinkle color, they came out purple (err…  don’t ever try to match colors at night in bad lighting).

Misc Baking

I had all kinds of trouble rolling out the fondant.  Most of my issues had to do with lack of correct tools (trying to roll out a 30 inch circle with a 10 inch rolling pin just doesn’t work), making too little fondant (should have figured out my needed measurements BEFORE I made anything), and inexperience (the youtube video I watched said NOTHING about bubbles under the skin).  Here’s my worst patch  job: (Not enough fondant to cover.  Also, lots of wrinkles as the fondant was too thin.)

Misc Baking

Still.  For a first time, I’m pleased.  And my daughter’s comment…  “Well Mom.  It’s not perfect, but it’s not so bad you could get on CakeWrecks either.”  (Yup, she was disappointed.)

On other news, I burned another batch of caramel (thermometer was 15 degrees off.  Oh my. (But not my new thermometer – another I tried.  What was I thinking?)

AND then promptly made an absolutely-perfect, nothing-went-wrong, it’s-edible-and-everything second batch. (Which I mixed with the too salty batch – just wait and see what I’m going to do with it.)