Our Engagement Story

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This past week, Michael and I took a trip to Calgary to visit with his family over New Year’s. We had a wonderful time catching up with his parents and brother, celebrating a belated Christmas, eating some delicious meals, and perusing through old albums of Michael as a little munchkin. Of course, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit beautiful Banff, just a short drive from Calgary.

The Banff Springs Hotel truly emulates its title as “A Castle in the Mountains”. The architecture is stunning, authentic, and being in an old castle surrounded by the Canadian snow-topped Rockies is nothing short of magical. Which is probably why Michael decided this would be the perfect location for a proposal.

The morning of the proposal, we had an amazing buffet breakfast in the Fairmont dining room. Michael didn’t give anything away as he was super calm and ‘going with the flow’. We even watched some Ellen DeGeneres in our hotel room and had a casual lunch. We were scheduled to meet a photographer for a mini photo session after lunch. It was then, while we were waiting for our lunch to arrive, that Michael went back up to the room to get his cell-phone (read: ring) so he could contact the photographer if we got lost in the huge castle.

We met up with the photographer and took some shots around the beautiful hotel, where we eventually came upon a mostly-quiet room with large windows and a fireplace. There, mid photo shoot, Michael got down on one knee and asked me to marry him! I was so stunned for a few moments, but of course, I said “yes!” without hesitation.

Banff is a place I visited twice with my family as a teenager, so, along with its obvious beauty, it holds a special place in my heart for the fond memories I have of being there. And now, I am lucky enough to add another incredibly special memory by experiencing one of the biggest milestones of my life there, with the person I cannot wait to begin forever with.

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D is for Dig Dig (and Delicious)

A sweet little boy requested a “dig dig” cake for his second birthday, so we couldn’t disappoint.

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But first, I’ll confess. Although we carefully constructed (pun intended) the exterior presentation of the cake, the innards were derived from a box mix. Let me explain: it was getting late. We were anxious to just decorate. And frankly, it’s acceptable to put all your efforts into either the taste quality or the presentation quality, and we chose the latter. The added bonus: you don’t have to actually see how much sugar went into the cake you’re about to devour. So it kind of, even, possibly, makes it healthier. Ta-da. :)

And we did make the chocolate buttercream icing from scratch, so that further justifies the box cake mix.

For the buttercream icing:

– 1 cup butter

– 2 cups icing sugar

– 2 tablespoons milk

– 1 teaspoon vanilla

– cocoa – slowly add until desired colour and taste is achieved; about 1/2 cup (optional)

1) Blend all ingredients together with an electric mixer until smooth.

For the cake:

1) Bake according to package directions in desired pan.

2) Allow cake to cool completely, and then scoop out a small hole on the top of the cake to resemble a digger hole, and place digger truck accordingly. Conserve the crums to make a dirt pile after icing. The great part of this is that nothing has to be perfect – it is a construction site after all!

3) Generously ice entire cake, avoiding the digger hole.

4) Place cake crumbs in a pile and place dump truck accordingly.

5) Using a wide ribbon piping tip, pipe a line of icing curving around the perimeter of the cake, and place steam roller accordingly.

6) We added “construction colours” of M&M’s to make a big ‘2’ on the front of the cake for a final touch!

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The best part: the birthday boy got to use the trucks to scoop and pile the mess of crumbs on the table; what more could a 2-year-old ask for?

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Lessons from Pasta Skeletons

It’s that time of year again…where we get our Hallowe’en crafting on by making pasta skellies at Playcare. It’s arguable whether it’s more fun for the kids or for us, but in any case, this year, I vowed to let the kids take the lead.

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“This is the example”, I told them, “but you don’t have to follow it if you don’t want to; you can make your skeleton as unique and creative as you like.”

And then I tried hard not to cringe every time a femur went where a humerus should go, legs connected to the skull, or a patella was misplaced or absent (Health Sciences has done me well).  But since I was working with such young ones (about 3-6 years), it didn’t need to be so focused on the finished product. We had everything from piles of pasta swimming in globs of glue, to fully formed, anatomically correct skeletons. If you are working with older kids, though, I would definitely adapt it to make a science activity out of it, and have them place “bones” properly, and even have them label the major bones (cranium, humerus, femur, ribs, vertebral column…). But for these guys, the fine motor skills they were developing while manipulating the pasta, as well as the (major) life lesson on using glue conservatively, was educational enough.

Another point that was brought to my attention through the making of this project, is the controversial teaching, being incorporated into early childhood education, that discourages the use of food items (ie. rice, pasta, beans) as craft or play supplies. Personally, I see these items as inexpensive educational resources to be used in the right context. Not to mention, we are likely causing immensely more waste and economical disparity through the use of excessive and over-the-top craft and toy products. What are your thoughts?

Happy Hallowe’en from the skeleton team!

 

Soccer Ball Cake

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After having only ever attempted one cake in the past using fondant to decorate, I was hesitant to take on this Soccer Ball Cake Project. Especially since, for the making of the last cake, I didn’t roll out the fondant enough, and it didn’t even come all the way down the sides of the cake; leaving me patching up the gaps with various fondant strips–not very professional looking! So, when this Soccer Ball Cake ended up being a huge hit at the birthday party I made it for, I thought I would share the simple steps; because if I could make it, anyone can. As a bonus; the entire thing was made using household items–no fancy cake making tools!

The awesome part is that the same steps can be followed for any sports ball cake (basketball, baseball, tennis ball..), or any rounded cake really,  just adapting the decorating phase accordingly.

Step 1:

Follow the directions on a box of cake mix of your choice, and split the batter somewhat evenly between two round cake pans of equal (or similar) diameter.

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Step 2:

Bake cake according to directions on box and remove from pans. Allow to cool to room temperature (approx. 1 hour).

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Step 3:

After cakes have cooled, generously ice using whipped icing. Start by icing the top of the cake that will be on the bottom, and then place the other cake on top. Then, continue to ice until sides and top are roughly covered. One of my cakes was slightly smaller in diameter than the other, so I placed this cake on top and it started to give the rounded shape. After icing, place cake in the fridge (or freezer if you’re impatient like me!) until it becomes very firm (about 20-30 minutes in the freezer).

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Step 4:

This step can be done while you’re waiting for the cakes to cook, cool or chill in the fridge. Roll out black fondant and use a paper pentagon template to cut into several pentagons with a knife (if you have a cookie cutter, then all the better!). Don’t forget to lightly coat your work surface and rolling pin in icing sugar so the fondant won’t stick. I placed them on a piece of cling wrap for easy removal, with an additional piece on top to prevent them from drying up.

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Step 5:

Once the cake is completely chilled and firm, use a large serrated knife to carve a curved edged around the top of the cake. This will give it as much of a ball shape as possible. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect…icing works wonders!

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Step 6:

Generously ice entire cake, again with whipped icing, and smooth out imperfections. This is the last opportunity to give your cake as much of an even rounded shape as possible.

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Step 7:

Now for the workout! Roll out the white fondant large enough to generously cover your entire cake. It may be necessary to measure the diameter of your cake to avoid running into the same fondant crisis as I did with my last cake. Drape the fondant over your cake and begin smoothing it over with your hands. It is important to have enough excess fondant so that it doesn’t wrinkle on the sides of your cake.

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Step 8:

Starting to get professional looking! Once you’re sure the entire cake is covered and wrinkle-free, cup your hands slightly and run them around the bottom edge of your cake, using the edge of your pinky finger and hand to crease the fondant at the bottom of the cake looking like…

This!

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Step 9:

Use a sharp knife to cut around the bottom edge of your cake, removing the excess fondant. At this point, I was ready to decorate and realized that I probably should have come up with a better plan for transferring the cake onto the platter…I used cardboard pieces and a lot of luck, but I would recommend placing the cake on some sort of a base that can be cut to the size of the cake immediately before icing, allowing you to transfer it seamlessly from one step to the next.

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Step 10:

Time to go from white blob to soccer ball! I began by placing one of the black pentagons in the middle of the cake. In theory, I was supposed to use a mathematical approach to place every piece in it’s exact position, but, because the cake is not a perfect half sphere anyway, it quickly became a guessing game. Thankfully, although it wasn’t perfect, it looked enough like a soccer ball once every piece was placed. I gently pressed each piece on to get an idea of placing, and then, when I was sure of where every piece was going, I lightly wet a towel and rubbed it on the back of each piece, fastening it to the cake.

And voila!

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The final touches included using a serrated knife to create the stitching effect of the white pieces, and piping green icing around the bottom for grass.

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