Holy Cow, Someone's Forty

Even though I'm just an amateur at cake decorating, I still like to put together one of a kind birthday cakes for my family. Today a special family member celebrated a milestone birthday, so we needed a cake to mark the occasion. This cake was baked in a 9 x 13-inch pan and was frosted with Classic Vanilla Buttercream. I don't have a lot of experience using fondant, but I made up a batch from a very simple recipe and found it to be easy to use for the decorative cutouts.

Marshmallow Fondant

16 ounces mini marshmallows
2 - 5 teaspoons water
2 pounds powdered sugar
Crisco shortening (to be used for greasing hands)

In a microwave safe bowl, melt the marshmallows and 2 tablespoons water together, stirring after 30 second intervals. When marshmallows are melted, stir in about 5 cups of the powdered sugar, mixing well. Grease hands with Crisco and knead in the remaining powdered sugar. Add food coloring as desired. Knead the fondant for about 7 minutes. Additional water may be added 1/2 tablespoon at a time if mixture is too dry. Dust surface with powdered sugar and roll to 1/8 inch thickness to cover cake or to cut into decorative shapes. To store the fondant for later use, roll in a ball and lightly grease with Crisco. Double wrap tightly with plastic wrap, then seal in a zip-top bag. Store in refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before rolling out.

My cow shape was cut from white fondant with a cookie cutter. I used pink and black tinted fondant cutouts to complete the cow. The letters and numbers were cut from red and black tinted fondant. The fondant pieces will adhere to the cake when dampened with a few drops of water on the back, then positioned into place.

Happy birthday, Susan! The cake may say 40, but you'll always be this little girl to me!


I'll Be a Gardener Yet

I lamented recently about the mockingbirds feasting on my ripe tomatoes. The birds may have won round one, but I've had a comeback. My container garden is now thriving, thanks to some bird netting.

I was so disappointed to find the birds were watching my tomatoes just as closely as I was, and they helped themselves to some of the best ones just as they became perfectly ripe.

My solution was to cover each plant in this bird netting I purchased at my garden supply store. I wrapped it around each plant and tucked it in around the bottom, making sure there were no holes the birds could get in on the advice of reader J. Moore from Oregon because "birds are smart".

This netting has saved the rest of my tomatoes. The birds have not been able to get to the fruit, and I feel like I have conquered one more of the obstacles to being a successful gardener. 


Mud, Snakes, and Birthday Cakes

When I think of birthdays I think of cakes, blowing out lighted candles, and getting a year older. When my grandson thinks of birthdays, he thinks of mud and snakes. Landon celebrated birthday number 8 last week, and he had some definite ideas about how he wanted me to decorate his cake.

The first cake I made for him was for a family party. This cake was all chocolate and was baked in an 11 x 15-inch sheet pan. The frosting was his favorite Chocolate Buttercream recipe, and he wanted it to have a Gator and a four wheeler playing in the "mud" on top. Once he chose the vehicles for the top, the rest of the cake was a cinch to put together. I used the wheels to "track" up the top of the cake icing and finished with a shell border made with a #22 tip. The script was also written using chocolate buttercream with a #4 round tip.

After the family party, Landon had another party with friends. For this party his idea was to have another chocolate cake with Chocolate Buttercream frosting, but this time he wanted it to be shaped like a snake. I thought cupcakes would be an easy serving solution for a group of children, so I put together this rattlesnake from cupcakes. The eyes are yellow M & M's and the tongue is cut from pink fondant.
The cupcakes are frosted with a #4B tip, the eyes are made from a #12 round tip, and the diamond shapes on the back are made by combining copper, black, and yellow coloring with white buttercream then piping through a #16 tip. The rattles on the end are made with a round #7 tip.

I also made a white snake for the children who didn't like chocolate, but for this one I had to alter the design I had planned. The cupcakes were white, and I frosted them with a Classic Vanilla Buttercream Frosting. My plan was to use yellow, green, and blue tinted frosting to make polka dots on each cupcake, but I couldn't make them that way after reading the food coloring label.

All my colorings had the same warning on the label - "made in a facility that also processes peanuts, tree nuts," etc. Another grandson is very allergic to peanuts and all tree nuts, and I knew he liked the white cake. There was no way I could add the coloring to those cupcakes with this warning on the label. I did however, add a few colored lines for stripes, being very careful to leave many of the cupcakes untouched by the color so they would not be contaminated. Looks like I'm going to have to discard my current food coloring and look for a safe brand.

The cupcake snakes were kid-friendly and easy to serve at the party.

Eight-year-old boys are easy to please, it just takes a little mud and a couple of snakes.


What I've Learned About Growing Tomatoes

All year I long for summer and for the taste of my own home grown, vine ripened tomatoes. My tomato garden is quite tiny though, as I have only two patio plants in pots and two plants growing in the flower bed. In spite of my lack of space, I know even a few plants can produce an abundance of fruit if my thumb is green enough.

Tomatoes have not been easy for me to grow, and I have learned some valuable lessons by making mistakes with my tomato gardening. I have learned from other gardeners, by trial and error, and by reading about tomatoes. I have experimented with different varieties in past years, and some do better than others in the Arkansas heat. This year I am growing Bush Goliath plants in my patio pots and Better Boy plants in the flower bed. Both of these varieties can typically be counted on to be good producers.  

When I visited Bean2Blog at Moss Mountain Farm and toured the P. Allen Smith gardens, we spent the day learning about soybeans, but I also picked up some valuable information on growing tomatoes. Allen had several raised beds in his one acre vegetable garden, and he told about the yearly rotation of his plants. We visited the farm in late May, and my tomatoes were already planted at home, so I was interested, but disappointed, to learn that tomatoes are one of the plants that should be on a scheduled rotation, not being returned to a plot for three years. I have planted mine in the same spot several years in a row, setting them up for problems with plant disease and pests, such as tobacco hornworms. I'll know better next year.

My patio plants are producing well this year and rewarded me with these beauties today.

I'm not the only one who likes the red, ripe tomatoes though. I have some mockingbirds around my backyard, and they are keeping a watchful eye on the tomatoes too. This is how they damage the fruit by pecking holes in the best red tomatoes, making them ruined for use.

I knew I needed to take some precautions against the birds, but I let the birds win the first round this year. Some people hang rubber snakes or something shiny or reflective to scare the birds away. Old computer CD's can be recycled for this by stringing them above the tomato plants. Since the birds only like the red mature fruit, another method to outsmart the birds would be to pick the fruit just before it gets fully ripe and let it finish the ripening indoors, but this would take away some of the vine ripened flavor of the tomato.

The method I plan to use is bird netting. This will cover and protect the tomatoes so the birds can't get to the fruit. By covering these green tomatoes with netting from the local garden center, I can protect them before they start ripening and the birds become interested in them.

Next year I'll be rotating my tomato beds to protect the plants from disease and pests, and I'll cover the plants in netting BEFORE the first tomato ripens. Growing tomatoes may not be easy, but I think given time it's an attainable goal, if only I can outsmart those birds.


Peach Cobbler Cake

This is the cake that almost didn't happen. I drooled over the recipe when I saw it on Facebook some time ago, and I even went as far as to put the ingredients on my grocery list and buy them. But I neglected to save, print, or Pin the recipe. When I got the ingredients out and started looking for the recipe, I couldn't even remember which blog had posted it, and it's a big recipe-blog world out there. I Googled and searched until I found THE recipe I was looking for at The Country Cook. Brandie posted this recipe toward the end of April, so it took me more than 2 months after I bought the ingredients to find the recipe again and bake the cake.

Peach Cobbler Cake

1 box yellow cake mix, divided use
1 cup all purpose flour
1 packet (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
2/3 cup warm water
2 eggs
2 (21 ounce) cans peach pie filling
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

1 cup powdered sugar
2 - 3 tablespoons milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare a 9 x 13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
Measure 2 cups of the dry cake mix out into a mixing bowl; set the remaining cake mix aside to use later.
Combine the 2 cups cake mix with flour and yeast, add warm water, stir well. Add eggs; stir until combined. Spread mixture in prepared baking dish. Next, spread both cans of pie filling evenly on top of cake batter.
In a medium bowl, combine remaining dry cake mix and butter. Blend together with a pastry cutter until mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle this mixture over the pie filling.
Bake in preheated oven for about 45 - 55 minutes, or until topping is golden brown. Allow the cake to cool for about 15 minutes.
In a small bowl, combine powdered sugar and milk. Drizzle icing over top of cake and serve.

This Peach Cobbler Cake starts with a layer made from cake batter.

The second layer is peach pie filling.

The pie filling is covered with a crumble topping.

Drizzle the cooled cake with icing. This Peach Cobbler Cake was well worth the wait, but just a bit of advice - if you see a recipe you want to try - print it or Pin it!