Going to the chapel…

A new dear friend got married this past year and as many of you know, it is an expensive gig! It doesn’t matter how well you save, plan and budget, there are so many things that happen (especially at the last minute) which no one can foresee and that usually involves extra money. One of the things I love about being able to bake and decorate cakes is that I see it as a gift to be shared with others. Perhaps in my wildest dreams, I think about owning a bakery, or being a store front cake designer (and one day maybe that will be feasible) but overall it is something I do for fun and as a blessing to others. As mentioned in an earlier post, my mother and aunt were talented birthday cake extraordinaires and our lavish birthday cakes were the highlight of the party. I think it’s wonderful if someone can afford to go to a cake designer and have the wedding cake of their dreams, or order that perfect immortalized comic book character cake for their family member’s birthday. But, that’s not where many people are at, especially in this economy. My family didn’t have a great deal of expendable cash every month, Mum often went without much needed new clothing items for months so my brother and I could have what we required for school etc. I value these memories of her, and I especially appreciated that she used her artistic talents to make our birthdays (and others’) so very special despite the difficult times. This inspires me especially when making wedding cakes, (and in fact all cakes).  I still have much to learn in the world of cake decorating but what I do know, I want to use to replicate that same experience we had as kids for others.

So, my new friend was getting married and my gift was the time devoted to baking and decorating her wedding cake.   We figured out a minimum budget for cost and had so much fun looking through hundreds of pictures for ideas. Finally, the pencil scrawling on a piece of paper shaped its way onto a humble cake board and into the design you see below.

She and her (now) husband have always been incredible people who give so much of themselves to others so it was not surprising when all their friends and family wanted to rally round to make their special day everything they deserved. I made this cake during an extremely busy work week and was so grateful for the three friends who came over to help shape pearls out of fondant and give me an extra pair of hands with the assembly – without them I would have been up for several nights and exhausted for work the next day.

We rolled and painted each of these fondant pearls by hand.

This continual community effort throughout the wedding celebrations symbolized not just the beauty of marriage and the coming together of two people in perfect union, but also the important part played by the community in supporting that couple in their successful lives. The cake was a microcosm of this spirit and it was truly a blessing to have been part of something that, on closer reflection, revealed great truths about marriage, love and friendship.

Photos taken by the very talented Jennifer James of JJMediaOnline.com http://www.facebook.com/jjmedia Or you can see more photos from the Knapp wedding here:  http://jjmediaonline.com/2012/06/knapp2/

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Blood is Thicker Than Water

Being raised as a Greek-Cypriot, even in London, you know and have met almost everyone you are even remotely related to on both sides of your family. Every Uncle and Aunt, your parents’ Uncles and Aunts, all your 1st, 2nd and 3rd cousins and even some fellow villagers of your grandparents who are related to you from 8 generations ago, are a familiar part of every day conversation in your home! Family is important to us Greeks. It is our identity in the community, (you are ‘so and so’s relative’). And it’s not just part of your history but also your present as you soon learn when going to weddings and christenings every weekend as a child and have a hard time remembering these people’s names, their relation to you, and why they all seem to instantly know who you are and want to tell you how much you’ve grown while violently pulling at your cheeks! Every family vacation doesn’t involve some glamorous trip to the south of France, or a cultural exploration of the ancient Roman ruins in Italy. Instead you will go to Cyprus and spend two weeks travelling from town to town, seeing every relative in every corner of the island, being ‘cheek-pulled’ and force-fed copious amounts of grilled lamb and pork.

As a result, relatives come to mean something more to you than what most Westernized families experience. My 1st cousins, for example, are like my brothers and sisters. Not in the way that just means, oh I kind of like them and they’re cool. They are a part of my soul. The meaning ‘blood is thicker than water’ perfectly describes my deep, deep love for them to the point where it seems as though they form a part of my actual physical being.

One such member of my 1st cousin clan is Lizzi. Being 2 years older than her, I was the big ‘sister’. In all fairness, I was not a very nice one which is heartbreaking to think about now because she looked up to me at the time and I didn’t realize that it was a privilege and honour. She would follow me around and always want to copy whatever I did, and whatever I wore, and whatever I played with so I would get all diva-esque and annoyed! Despite these moments I in our very early years, there are many more great fun memories like jumping from couch to couch trying not to fall into the ‘Sea of Carpet’ and reveal our true identities as mermaids (yes we were obsessed with the movie Splash!), or we were damsels in distress needing saving (being the bossy older child, I was usually the one being rescued while Lizzi and her brother had to climb ‘Mount Staircase Banister’ to save me from the ‘Landing of Terror’!). We wrote and made up ‘plays’ every weekend much to the dismay of our parents who would have to sit through every living room performance acting enthused as if we were budding Shakespeareans in the Globe Theatre at the pinnacle of our career! We only lived in London together until I was 8 at which point they moved to another town and then later we moved countries and were miles apart from my Aunt’s family. However, this did not affect our deepening love for each other and by our teens, Lizzi and I  were the bestest of friends, talking for hours about every worry, adventure and little secret plan of mischief behind our parents’ backs. To this day, from across the pond, we will talk about everything we can in the space we are allotted  Planning a phone conversation is nearly impossible, not only because of the 6 hour time difference, but because we usually have 4 hour conversations and only just begin to scratch the surface of what we want to share.

When she got married in 2011, I had the honour of decorating her wedding cake. Someone else had prepared the layers, Liz had her design and accessories in hand, and it was my task to bring it all together once I arrived from the States. Of course what made this even more special was that I had my mum as an assistant and for those of you who have read why I began decorating cakes, you will understand the significance of sharing this experience with her. Although this cake was not the usual hours of work other wedding cakes have been, it was definitely a labour of love for my little sister, Lizzi, on her special day.

Truckin’ 4 Jesus

I once heard that you should always be pouring into someone younger than you, and have someone older pouring into you. These words have become invaluable to me throughout my life and travels. Every city and/or country I have lived in, without really intentionally meaning to,  this dynamic has always seemed to be true. I can’t help but want to invest in the lives of younger women and I always seem to find myself delighting in the wisdom and advice of women who are further along in the journey of life. Of course inevitably, my ‘mentees’ have ended up shaping my life as much as I have shaped theirs, and I can only hope that I have done some good in the life of those who have invested in mine. There have been so many precious people at either end of this mentoring cycle and I would absolutely not be the person I am today if not for our meaningful connections.

Recently, one such lovely lady helped support me through a difficult period. She provided lots of hugs and encouraging words as well as cups of coffee and hope. During our journey together, she also hired me to make a few cakes for various family occasions and I have chosen to feature the one for her father’s 70th birthday. This story really is more hers than mine in some ways as the cake I made was in honour of a long-standing family truth/joke about their father. She gave me a picture of a Green 1970’s Chevy Truck that was the exact truck her father had owned for 20 years throughout their childhood (and early adult lives). He apparently dearly loved and cared for this truck and it was quite the event when he finally parted ways with it. I studied the picture and tried to cover every possible detail to make it as true to life as possible. My friend grew up in Georgia and in true 1970s/80s Christian fashion, this vehicle bore the mark of faith in the form of a unique license plate at the front. It read in big letters ‘TRUCKIN 4 JESUS’! Being such an important feature of the truck, we were sure to include it in the design of the cake. It did take a long time to get right but the look on her face when she came to collect the cake, and knowing that in some small way she allowed me to contribute to their celebration of his life, was more than worth it! Hearing how moved he was by the reunion with his beloved truck, and finding out that he didn’t let anyone cut it for ages, was probably one of the most satisfying moments in my cake career! Perhaps, I can’t be a mentor for my friend in the way she has been for me, or repay her the encouragement, empathy and hope she gave me during a difficult time but I was pleased to bring more joy to a meaningful event in her life.

For now…

Did I mention how much I love baking?

I find myself in an unusual place in life. I lived in a small community in Tennessee for 5 years and was building a good clientele for cake orders. Unfortunately, I was so busy with my 24/7 job the last few years that I didn’t have the time to fill all the orders I was receiving. When we found out we were moving to Texas earlier this year, I was so excited to get a normal 8-5 job and have all these free evenings and weekends to explore my baking passion. Of course, as with most things, now that we are here the reality isn’t quite living up to my idealistic imagination. Baking is expensive, especially when you’re on a tight budget (even more so after exorbitant moving expenses).  Usually, I do my cakes at cost to help the client, to cover any expenses we simply can’t afford on our budget, and because I want an excuse to make things without having the temptation to eat them all! Building a new clientele here is really challenging. I don’t have the same broad circles of interaction as I did in Tennessee and it is proving difficult to find an opportunity to showcase my work.

My life is calmer and quieter than it has been in a few years and I am loving the low stress levels. However, when you have free time, your first instinct is to fill it with all the things you love to do and so I find my desire to bake and decorate  so overwhelming, it’s almost like a physical urge. At work, when things are very quiet in the office (which is often), I have been watching videos about cake decorating and scouring through Pinterest for inspiration. This weekend I finally broke down (almost in floods of tears to be perfectly honest) because of the frustration of not being able to unleash all the creative energy that’s been building up over the last couple of months. Through my budgeting and planning savvy, I was able to save some extra money on groceries and immediately knew how I wanted to spend the money. Cookies and Royal Icing are fairly inexpensive, plus they are easy to give away! In my decorating frenzied research, I became obsessed with cookie decorating and decided that this weekend I would begin a new avenue in my beloved baking hobby. Apart from the odd childish endeavor  I have never actually tried this before, so I found a reliable recipe from one of my books (which I, of course, adapted…hey come on it’s me….when do I ever just follow a recipe?!) and then watched a couple of tutorials from a decorating master, Amber Spiegel, from SweetAmbs.com ( if you haven’t heard of her, you need to check out her blog She is incredible! )

And these are the results:

This brush embroidery is my favourite design (on cakes and cookies alike) and it was my first attempt. (next time I need to use a darker base colour to highlight the brush work and slightly thicker icing to really show the brush effect.)

This was my third attempt! I would have shown you the progression but the hubby wanted some tasters and I only let him eat the mistakes from this cookie batch!!

This was just my experimentation with swirls.

Overall I was very pleased with my first attempt and can’t wait to try them again soon now that I know what I am doing and can rectify some of my novice errors! These were fairly simple to make and I managed to get out all my creative energy… for now!

Old Timey Radio

My relationships with my grandparents were not what you would call traditional. My paternal ones lived in Cyprus while I was growing up in England and my grandfather passed away when I was only about a year old. Although my grandmother visited on occassion, she developed some form of dementia and wasn’t very coherent by the time I had learnt enough Greek to communicate with her. She passed away when I was 18. My maternal grandparents lived in London but my grandfather also passed away when I was in my early teens. Although I have memories with him, he was not the fluffy/cudly kind of man who enjoyed tender moments with people. My grandmother however, is still alive and one of the people I love most in the world. She and my grandfather emigrated back to Cyprus shortly before he passed away.  It was there, a few years later that my grandmother and I would become much closer. I moved to Limassol (Cyprus) when I was 15 and lived with her for 2 months before my parents were able to join me. As I became more fluent in Greek, we were able to communicate more clearly and she would sit and tell me stories about her childhood growing up in the village and how she met my grandfather. Her life was an extremely difficult one but she has never lost her spunk and savvy cheek! How many can say their grandmother crashes weddings with her friend for fun! I still enjoy my time with her and the older she gets the more precious those moments become, especially as I now live in the States and don’t get to see her often. Giagia (grandma in Greek) is definitely one of the strongest women I have ever known. I will probably refer to her at other times throughout these pages as she has most certainly been influential in my culinary journey, among others.

I write all this to say that now I get to have a whole new set of grandparent experiences through my husband’s family. Although his maternal grandfather passed away before I arrived on the scene, John has been deeply blessed to have enjoyed these special relationships with his grandparents for a lot longer than most. They are definitely the warm, tender, doting kind of grandparents you see in movies and read about in books.  I love hearing stories about their youth or tales of their younger days when my husband and his sister were children. They are each very dear to my heart and over the last six years they have welcomed me as their granddaughter and shown me so much love and acceptance. When Pawpaw celebrated his 80th birthday it seemed only fiting that I make a cake dedicated to his years of experience in the radio world. We searched hundreds of pictures online to find the perfect radio, and with approval from my father-in-law on the design, I made the cake below and surprised him on his birthday. This was very early on in my cake career but it is a wonderful memory where I got to give back to these people who had so generously welcomed me and allowed me to co-opt their history with my husband.

Dance Puppets!!

It’s not the most wholesome show by any means but Family Guy does have some hillarious moments. Although I am not as huge of a fan as I used to be, the first few episodes still make me laugh out loud in an undignified uncontrollable sort of way! You know…those moments when something is so funny that your face contorts in a way that removes any evidence that you are in fact pretty (or even a lady), and the sound coming out of your mouth (and nose) confirms Darwin’s Theory of Evolution! For me, these scenes usually revolve around Stewie and his malevolent ravings.

My husband attended a very small high school where the students all knew each other and were pretty close so he and three other guys from various grades became great friends. To this day they still spend time together and as each one got married, us wives were adopted into the group. I love them all very dearly and we have shared some incredibly fun times. Our love of Family Guy is one of many things we have enjoyed together. We quote it extensively at each other (even when it only remotely applies) it just never gets old or overused in our eyes. So when one of the wives asked me to make her husband a Stewie cake as a surprise for his birthday, it was a great celebration for all of us! She chose this particular Stewie expression from her husband’s favourite key chain and it certainly captures our maniacal Family Guy friend at his most amusing moments. Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed making it and presenting it to our friend for his birthday. (I may have even watched a few of my favourite episodes for inspiration while the cake was in the oven!)

Why I Make Celebration Cakes

On May 4th every year as a child, I woke up with intense excitment. Not just because it was my birthday but because I knew there was a spectacular cake waiting for me at my party. I never knew what it would be because Mum would work tirelessly through the night after we had gone to bed; it was a complete secret to be revealed to my friends and I during the celebration.  She never failed to amaze and impress. From the flat 3ft rag doll to the tea party table and princess castle, they were every little girl’s dream and I remember them well.  Eventually, my aunt and mother would work together on all our cakes in the family and they became legends. I would pour over their cake decorating books for hours, and it didn’t matter how many times I saw the pictures, I would pick them up and flip through again and again for many years. They were fascinating to me.

I think it was these memories that drove me to begin wandering into the baking sections at bookstores and  looking at the new books on cake decorating (after all there were so many developments since Mum’s ones from the 70s and 80s!). It suddenly dawned on me in 2007 that I should try my hand at making one and began slowly collecting books of my own.

However, it wasn’t until May 4th, 2008, my 30th birthday, I decided to stop dreaming and actually make my first one. I was working at Starbucks at the time and was obsessed with coffee and, seeing as I coulnd’t find a design I wanted to try from the books, I would just use the basic knowledge I had aquired and make a Starbucks themed cake.

It was not perfect but I learnt a great deal and remade this cake several times for fellow Starbucks junkie friends. This was the beginning of a great journey. I do not have my own children to surprise at their birthday parties but I am blessed to see the same excitement and joy on the faces of  friends and family as I offer them my creations and celebrate together.