Thursday, December 31, 2009

Looking back on 2009

Well, this has been a really busy year for me, I've learned so much about food and about cake making and decorating, I thought I'd do a quick recap of the great year I've had!

It started with a bang, in Australia, a wonderful new year, spent with my adorable niece, Poppy and my brother, sister in law and Mum.

I then zipped home to find a very cute 2 year old wanted a birthday cake, so I tried for a 2 tier cake, and was really happy with the results!

I was lucky enough to get on the cake decorating class at grossmont college, so we baked our way through all kinds of delicious confections, including Black Forest Gateau, Opera Cake and Princess Cakes, learning countless important techniques.

I continued practicing my skills, had fun making a couple of cakes with dinosaurs on.

I was lucky enough to find myself in New York City, with Elise Strauss, learning lots more about cake decorating. She taught me that I needed to be extremely thorough and careful in preparation, and although we made a very plain cake, I learned so much that day, I am eternally grateful!

I was honored to be involved in the wedding of a really sweet cycling couple and I made many little cupcakes to share among the guests, as well as a big cake for their wedding day.

Another really fun wedding came up in July, and I was happy to make a fun, 3 tiered cake, with lots of cupcakes to go with it, it was very elegantly presented on an antique table in the garden of a beautiful house in Rancho Santa Fe!

I spent several weeks of summer evenings learning how professional bakeries work, I learned an awful lot, and was very happy to actually be able to help to finish one large cake entirely,

We then took a rest and made our way to wine country, for a nice break in Santa Rosa, with a stop off in San Francisco, it was really fun to ride around the wineries on a bike and check out the local scenery.

My jet-setting niece then made her way over from Australia, via the UK, with her parents in tow, and I spent a great week with my brother, sister in law and Poppy. She was a bit confused about the beach, but loved the water! I think her favorite thing in San Diego was probably my cat, who was always at least a room away!

I had a really fun vacation in the UK, managing to fit in an afternoon with Beas of Bloomsbury, and then made it over to Wales, for a wonderful wedding, in which I was most honored to be involved by preparing several wedding cakes for the happy couple.

The highlight of the year had to be in November, where I was forced to celebrate my husband's birthday on the wonderful resort, Kona Village, on the big island of Hawaii. What an amazing experience! We didnt see the lava flow, so that means we have to return!!
My last fun cake of the year was a delightful princess cake, for a 3 year old, I was very happy with how it came out. Maybe not the most original, but I was very happy with the execution, and the progress I have made this year.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Daring bakers build a gingerbread house!

This month I actually had time to have a go at the challenge twice! I foolishly offered to make a gingerbread house for one of my colleagues, so I decided I definitely needed a trial run to make sure I was up to the challenge!

I tried using anna's recipe and it worked very well, I think the first time I rolled it out it was a little thick, so there were cracks in the gingerbread as it cooled. I also needed to bake twice, the first time it was a little bit soft, so I put it back in the oven until it was harder and more sturdy.

On the second attempt, I decided to follow martha stewarts recipe, and unfortunately I measured the roof wrong, so I had to make some extra pieces to make it large enough. I think it came out pretty well for my first attempts at gingerbread houses, although I'm not sure this is really something I'll be becoming an expert at! We'll see how I feel next year when I'm ready to tackle it again!

It does make a lovely christmas decoration though, since ours are a bit sparse, it was nice to have something festive in the house. I found it really great that any mistakes can be covered up with copious amounts of candy and icing!

One thing I did find useful was to re-cut the gingerbread when its still warm out of the oven, I found it did spread a little.

I added a couple of sugar-cone trees which were piped with royal icing with a leaf tip.

The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Cycling Nutrition-my take

I've been cycling seriously for nearly 6 years now, I'm not the speediest of cyclists, but I've done lots of centuries (100 mile rides) and I've managed a crazy ridiculous ride called the death ride, which was a fun experience. Unfortunately I've let this go by the wayside while I've made confections and treats, and its time to get back into the training, I've really missed my bike. I also need a goal to keep me riding decent distances again. I'm signed up for the Solvang Century in March 2010. Its a beautiful ride in Central California and even better, I'll be raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

I thought I'd share a little about what I've learned about nutrition, and a couple of recipes which I like to use for snacks on the road. I've been studying nutrition at the UCSD extension and also as part of my studies at Grossmont college.

One of the most important things I've learned is that everyone is different. Everyones stomach is different and tolerates different foods/drinks, and their metabolisms respond differently too.

When involved in endurance training, one can burn several thousand calories, our entire glycogen store, so it is important to replace this before, during and after riding, otherwise you will experience a 'bonk' where you get really dizzy, angry and strange because your fuel tank is empty.

One of the secrets that not everyone knows is that many of the expensive sports supplements you can buy are a waste of money, and often taste awful, you can do much better with everyday foods. Arnie Baker, an amazing cyclist and cycling coach swears by pop tarts and bagels! One of the exceptions is maltodextrin, a useful supplement to add to your drinks, if you need a lot of calories, especially if you have trouble controlling your glucose levels in your blood, this doesnt have to be expensive if you know someone in the food/science industry.

Most cyclists stock up a little with a decent meal the night before(we call this carb loading), maybe a few extra complex carbohydrates. A good breakfast is very useful too, my favourite is oatmeal (not the instant kind). This keeps me warm for ages on a cool day, and it seems to be metabolized slowly enough to keep me going. Once on the road, a combination of snacks, and a source of glucose in your drink are a good idea. I sometimes put some brown sugar, juice and a pinch of salt in my water bottle, then have some dry gatorade mix to add later. I also have snack bars, usually home made granola bars and protein bars. When things start getting really intense, things like sports gels can be an easy way to get some calories, and some of them have a much needed caffeine boost, although I've found myself chugging a starbucks doubleshot to much the same effect!

Upon finishing a ride, its a good idea to have a snack ready for less than 30 minutes after riding, a decent amount of protein is also useful at this stage. Some people have a burger, a turkey sandwich or chocolate milk. I like to have a slice of cold home-made pizza in a cooler in the car!

Two of my favorite snack recipes are from the foodnetwork. A favorite, which I've photographed here is ellie krieger's energy bars. Tons of nutrition but not too much fat. Maple syrup is really expensive these days so feel free to sub with honey or any other syrup, and this recipe is really easily adapted too!
I also love alton browns protein bars, I usually switch the dried fruit around, and you can switch around the nut butter used, and even add a bit of cocoa powder to make it all chocolatey!
If anyone has any nutrition tips, I'd be happy to hear about them! Please share your wisdom in the comments!

Also, this kicks off my new efforts in getting healthy for the new year. Recipe Girl is starting a project in January, which I'm very happy to get involved in, '10 in 10' where we get together and try and get healthier in the first 10 weeks of 2010.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Following my intuition

I wanted to make some christmassy cupcakes, so I turned to Martha, her cupcake cookbook is very comprehensive, so I knew she'd have something great for me to try.
I decided on Mint Chocolate and Gingerbread cupcakes. Upon reading the recipe, I had a few qualms, but I thought 'that martha, she knows what she's doing, I wish I'd trusted my instincts a little more. There is plenty of talk about following ones guts, for instance in Malcom Gladwell's Blink, and in a blog post I read recently on a favorite blog.
The mint cupcakes only had 3 tablespoons of oil, they came out a bit chewy, not to my taste, and the gingerbread cupcakes had a whole 3 sticks of butter in, not surprisingly they were a bit greasy, and a bit dense too. I need to trust myself a little more when I'm looking at recipes like this...
They did come out cute, especially the mini ones, with a little bit of vanilla peppermint frosting with a red stripe for the mint chocolate, and some lemon cream cheese frosting and gingerbread man sprinkles, they were very festive. Back to the drawing board for festive ideas though!