TBT: Baking Cakes Ain’t Like Dusting Crops, Boy!

A cake decorated to look like the Millennium Falcon, resting on a bed of brown sugar and surrounded by Star Wars action figures.
Yes, it is a crappy quality picture. It was 2010 and I took it with my OG Motorola Droid phone. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Out of all the cakes I’ve baked for the kids, this is still my favorite. Originally published April 25, 2010 on my old A Frayed Knot Knits blog. Also, this has been sitting as a draft on this blog since 2015, idk why.  But it’s Thursday, and reading through this I was proud of myself all over again, and it’s still my favorite cake I’ve ever decorated, so:

Somehow, my daughter has become a huge Star Wars fan. I know, right, how could this possibly have happened? She has recently:

  • cried when watching Darth Vader’s body burned on a pyre at the end of Jedi
  • told me that I shouldn’t be watching Fanboys because “We don’t watch other Star Wars movies! Only Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi!
  • declared that she wants Darth Vader to be her father instead of Luke’s because “Luke is a bad boy and doesn’t deserve him.”
  • announced that she wants to be Han Solo when she grows up
  • requested demanded a Millennium Falcon cake for her 4th birthday, with Han Solo, Darth Vader, Chewbacca, and Princess Leia, but not Luke, “because Luke is too whiny.” Because I’m a sucker for the Millennium Falcon, and a challenge, and my little girl, I said, “Sure! How hard can it be?” And then I found out:

The party was Saturday at 4pm. Giant props to Kit for handling every detail of the party, from scheduling the space (Build-A-Bear) to taking care of the invites to greeting the parents and filming the party, leaving me free to concentrate fully on the cake.

I had originally thought to do gum-paste figures, but the tiny little sane part of my brain said, “Hey, dummy — they make perfectly good action figures, and then the kid will have a bonus birthday present, too!” So I went out and got everything but a Leia (because the Toys’R’Us I was at didn’t have one, but she was not terribly missed, so it’s okay). I had already ordered the most awesomest birthday candle EVAH for her: Darth Vader holding as his lightsaber a red candle.

After some hemming and hawing, Becky settled on both chocolate and vanilla for the actual cake. I do not particularly enjoy actually baking cakes, which means I don’t do it often enough to get really good at it, which means I bought mixes. My mom’s in town (hi, Mom!) and she helped me get the mixes all mixed and into the oven. One large (13×9) chocolate rectangle for the bottom, and two 9″ vanilla circles for the top + accessories. They came out fine, and we were ready to carve them Friday.

Now that I think about it, perhaps “ready” isn’t the right word…I wasn’t quite prepared for the reality of carving cake, and got pretty frustrated, especially with the cockpit. I finally ended up with something I thought would work, but it was clearly unstable and would need to be attached just prior to putting the fondant on, which I had planned for Saturday morning. Here’s what it looked like Friday night when I was done:

Bright and early Saturday, Kit took the kids for a walk, and I started putting it together and getting it ready for frosting. I had done the carving on a board, but wanted to transfer it to the actual presentation board before frosting. This necessitated planning the layout, so we opened up all the action figures and the candle, which promptly broke at the ankles. All attempts to repair it failed, and actually broke the base even further. Lacking the time to panic, I decided to just set it aside and deal with it later.

We decided where the ship should be on the board, and I commenced frosting it (in case you’ve never worked with fondant before, you put a thin layer of regular frosting on to “glue” the fondant). This meant it was time to attach the cockpit, which promptly disintegrated. You can see in the picture above that I had originally carved the cockpit piece out of the vanilla cake, and as it turns out, the chocolate cake holds together a little better. So I quickly re-carved it out of a piece of chocolate cake that was in my big bowl o’ cake scraps, and skewered it on. And then the bottom fell off, and I panicked.

While part of my brain was panicking, the other part was applying frosting and considering the situation. I finally came to the conclusion that the solution was to cheat. So I went upstairs and got some styrofoam and carved my third cockpit. This one didn’t fall apart, and I moved on to the actually fondanting.

There were a couple of tricky things about applying the fondant, mostly because the shape has a lot of nooks and crannys and this is only the second time I’ve ever used fondant, so I’m not particularly well-versed in manupulating it. But I got it on the cake with no real problems, and despite some cutting errors and a little bunching on the back, I thought it looked pretty good. It was, at the very least, the right shape:

Oh! Before I did the big fondanting bit, I decided it would be a good idea to practice a little and remind myself of how the fondant moves and acts. So I built the sensor dish, which ended up being my favorite part of the cake:

Now that I had the fondant on, it was time for the decorating. I cut out the dots that are a recognizable part of the top of the MF, with the plan of spray painting them with the black frosting I’d purchased for the dual purposes of painting said dots and also dirtying up the finished ship. It turns out that the “black” spray frosting is really more of a “light silver gray,” even after several applications. So it was off to Michael’s for emergency black frosting coloring…and where I found food-safe markers, including black. Win!

Back home, I set Mom to the task of coloring the dots, while I began applying the details with white piping. Then I changed my mind and decided most of the lines should be scored, with a very few details sticking up. So I scraped it down and started over, and let the sane part of my brain convince the panicky part that we had plenty of time as long as we didn’t get too carried away. Applying the blue of the engines to the back was considerably less stressful than I had thought it was going to be, and it improved the lines of the back of the cake quite a lot.

Now, Becky had specifically requested that we included the red/rust detailing — it’s on the real thing, and it’s on one of her toys but not the other — so I used the red marker to color that in, and then went back and piped in a few details here and there, using her two MF toys for reference (incidentally, I highly recommend having a 3D model on hand when doing something like this — much better than trying to find pictures with the right angles on the internet). I redid the cockpit a couple of times, and never was quite happy with it, but finally I had to declare it finished. I took it outside and gave it a quick spritzing with the “black” spray frosting, just to scunge it up a little.

I have to say, I was pretty pleased with the end result. It’s not the best looking Millennium Falcon cake I’ve ever seen, but I think I did a pretty good job for someone who doesn’t really decorate cakes:

I was a little annoyed about only having the foil for it to sit on, but then I had an idea while I was in the shower (yes, I finished in enough time that I was able to shower and even iron my skirt before we had to leave for the party!)…on the way I grabbed a couple bags of brown sugar and when we set the cake up, I think it looked a lot like it was parked on the sands at Mos Eisley:

And look! I solved the Darth Vader problem and the gun turret problem (at some point I realized that I should have guns up there and I wasn’t sure what the hell I was going to do) in one fell swoop! Yay me!

Next time, I’m going to make someone else cut the cake — it was a lot harder emotionally than I expected it to be. It took about 5 minutes to go from the above to this, and I really felt like I needed a good lie-down afterwards:

(Incidentally, when you stack cakes on top of one another, don’t forget to put a layer of frosting in there — you’ll thank yourself when it’s time to serve.)

I have to give tremendous thanks to Kit and Grandma Tedi for all their help and encouragement and keeping the kids out of the kitchen/dining room/my way. And especially thank you to Becky, who told me at every stage how awesome her Millennium Falcon cake looked, and made me remember why I was doing this even when I was so frustrated with the cockpit that I was seriously considering sending Kit to the A&P for a plain old sheet cake. Love you all!

I Blue Myself

I love my birthday. I think having a birthday is awesome, and I will tell literally everyone I encounter that it’s my birthday on that momentous occasion. I don’t care about getting older, I just think it’s neat to have a day where people are nice to you for no reason other than you were born and have managed to stay alive this long.

Also, I like cake and presents. Because who doesn’t like cake and presents? This year, though, I thought I’d like to do it up a little differently than I have in the past. This year, I wanted my birthday present to be taking the family to see Blue Man Group.

Kit took me to see them while we were still in the long distance phase of our relationship, and I was less than thrilled with the idea. I was not at all a performance art kind of girl — still not, really. That was also when Stomp and Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk were really big, and I suspected it would be similar, which did not excite me. But Kit had seen the show and assured me it was different than that, and not too performance artsy-pretentious. I trusted him (and figured it was only a couple hours out of my life anyhow), so I agreed to go. I had only one condition: I did not, under any circumstances, want to participate.

We had front row seats, and the show was AMAZING. I even had to participate (because of our seats — the particular component is no longer in the show), and it was totally okay. I’ve wanted to go back for years, but we just never managed to make it happen. Then we had kids and it definitely wasn’t happening while we had two little ones at home.

But the kids are finally old enough, so I really wanted to take them and share the joy. Even though my birthday isn’t until the end of the month, we decided to go ahead and go sooner rather than later (ticket prices are going up in March and I am frugal cheap, so saving the  $$ makes it even more of a present for me). We had thought we’d maybe go in early and wander around the village for a bit, but the weather had other plans. We did try to stop by Dō, but the line even in the freezing rain was regoddamndiculous — I was going to snap a pic, but it didn’t seem prudent to take my phone out in the aforementioned freezing rain. I’d only wanted to go there because I thought it would be a fun treat, but I can make (and eat!) cookie dough any time I like — I don’t need to wait in a crazy line for it.

So we just made our way over to the theater and hung out at KMart of all places until the doors opened (hey, it was warm and dry, which we were not by then). I was worn out and snappy when we finally got to our seats, but sitting and warming up and Kit being awesome really helped a lot, and I was able to relax and thoroughly enjoy the show. We did not have front row seats this time, but the theater is so tiny that there really aren’t any bad seats. The show has changed somewhat in the past 19 years, but it has also retained a lot of the same components. It was just as amazing and fun as I remembered, and seeing and hearing the kids’ joyful reactions was truly the best birthday present ever.

We’re adorbs even when we’re blue.


Feelin’ Good


Yesterday, I turned 43. It’s not a milestone birthday, but for some reason it feels like it’s going to be a big year. I made a lot of changes last year, and I’m feeling pretty good about where my life is headed. So, without further ado, here are my non-concrete goals for 43:

  • Stay on track with conditioning & practice
  • Be neater, at least in the house where it affects other people
  • Eat healthier
  • Cultivate creativity
  • Nurture friendships

Now, I know that goals really need to be concrete to be meaningful and attainable, so I’m going to take those 5 things and try to break it down into doable, concrete chunks:

First, stay on track with conditioning. This is an easy one, but it’s super important because it directly affects my roller derby life. So, the concrete bits are:

  • Exercise at least 4 mornings a week (I’m loving the Hero’s Journey right now, but when I’m done I’m going to start trying out some more of the workouts I have pinned.)
  • Go to the gym at least 4 evenings a week: Two days of cardio, two days of trainer-designed routine
  • Swim at least twice a week
  • Practice skills on skates at least twice a week besides team practice (in the kitchen until the weather gets warmer, then outside somewhere)
  • Keep up with nurse evaluations (quarterly) & free PT re-evals (6-8 weeks) at the gym

Next, be neater, at least in the house where it affects other people. Look, I’m a messy person. I just am. I constantly have piles of stuff around me. I’m a bit  extremely mercurial, so I never know what I’m going to want to read/work on/deal with next, and so I try to keep it all around me so I can grab what I want at a moment’s notice. What this means in practical terms is that there is an entire section of our couch that is unusable because it is covered in my stuff. So I need to:

  • Limit myself to a single project and single book/magazine on the couch at any one time
  • Do quick things immediately (e.g., mending stuffed animals)
  • Put away one project (or book/magazine) before getting out a new project if I want to change up what I’m working on
  • Take tools and supplies back out to the Craft Mine when I’m done using them in the house (this is somewhat weather-dependent, but I think this year we’re going to try to put a little porch/deck out there for me, which means I won’t have to deal with trying to find/balance on wobbly concrete blocks in the snow/rain/dark and that will help tremendously)
  • If I bring a project into the house and then don’t get to it (and won’t in the next day), take it back out to the Craft Mine until I’m actually ready for it

Third: Eat healthier. This one’s pretty easy, I just want to put it down in writing:

  • Eat breakfast every day. Every. Day.
  • No “dessert” on weekdays (candy/cake/hot chocolate/what have you)
  • Eat at least one fruit AND one salad or veg soup every day
  • Pack lunch at least 4 days a week
  • Lean protein + brown rice for lunch before practice
  • Drink at least one 32oz bottle of water every day

Cultivating creativity is up next, and I’ve already told you where I’m starting with that…Make’n’Tell starts tomorrow! (I’m not gonna lie — I forgot about Leap Year for a hot minute this morning and panicked because I hadn’t planned what to do for the day yet.) But there are some other things I want to do, too:

  • Publish two patterns
  • Blog at least twice a week
  • Cook or bake something at least twice a week
  • Sketch at least every other day
  • Journal at least every other day
  • Fully develop two classes and submit them to appropriate venues (and then go teach them if accepted, obviously)
  • Spend at least two hours a week in the Craft Mine (weather permitting)

What I think is going to be the hardest for me is the last one, nurturing friendships. I’ve traditionally not been awesome at this, for a lot of reasons, but I’m going to do my best because I’ve managed to find myself surrounded by several extraordinary groups of people and I genuinely want to make sure I’m giving as much as I’m getting. I’m going to do little baby step concrete goals for this one:

  • reach out to at least one friend every week, even if it’s just to say, “hi, how’re you doing?”
  • wish people Happy Birthday on Facebook (as applicable)

Whew. Looking back at this, it seems like a lot. But I really do think it’s all small and concrete enough that I can do it. And I think this year is going to be the best one yet.