Month: February 2014

Falling for Fondant

I love my children, I truly do.  My girls are sweet, affectionate, well-behaved (most of the time) and so hilarious.  But I will admit, between our wild transplant to Denver, our questionable living situation, and Ramona’s inability to sleep for more than three hour stretches, there were times when I felt a wee bit crazy as a stay-at-home mom.

Any person who stays at home with their kids full time (if they are honest) knows the job isn’t always snuggles and Pinterest-inspired craft projects.  For as many great moments of laughter and joy I had, there were also many times where returning to work with grownups sounded pretty appealing.  Like when Ramona went through a phase when she screamed anytime I wasn’t holding her…or when Penny decided to flush a whole roll of toilet paper down the toilet…or when I had just been thrown up on…again.

It’s true, at times, the luxury of staying home full-time did not always feel like a gift.

I had been used to being extremely busy before we had moved. In Portland I had worked part-time, had been an almost full-time student, and co-managed a transitional housing program.  We had been active in our church, had a full social calendar, and made time to hang out with our parents and other family members on a regular basis.

When we moved to Denver, all that was gone. Life came to a screeching halt and suddenly it was just me and the kids in a basement, trying to get into the swing of a much slower pace of life.

With all my previous responsibilities, relationships, and job titles gone, I was forced to rediscover who I truly was.  I had been used to forming my identity through my job and perhaps even my crazy level of activity.  Busyness can make us feel very important, even if we often complain about the stress.  If I wasn’t busy, was my life meaningful?  Did I have a purpose without a “real” job?  I felt as if someone had stripped me down to my bare bones and forced me to stare in a mirror.  At first, I could barely recognize my own reflection, but gradually God began to reveal who I was apart from my previous career and responsibilities.

I began to realize I had a tremendous opportunity to rediscover how to live with purpose without any expectations from anyone but myself.  I started to do homeschool with Penny, I volunteered at a home for kids with cancer, and I even got a little part-time job at a women’s shelter.  But even with all my new activities , I still felt myself tipping toward depression.

And then there was Micah’s birthday.

He was turning 30.  Needing some fun in our lives, Penny and I agreed Daddy would like a Spiderman party because he is a huge Marvel geek.  I thought making a cake would be a good distraction for me so I delved into google images, flicker and Pinterest to find a good model.  But cakes like this scared me:


I felt like frosting-piped images had too much opportunity for failure- one slip of the wrist and Spiderman could look like his head was exploding or he was melting in hot lava.   I began to realize all my favorite cakes were made with fondant.  But fondant was so intimidating.  How was it made? Wasn’t it expensive? Didn’t fondant kind of taste weird? Didn’t you need a pastry degree and/or magical powers to make a cake look that seamless?

Then I stumbled upon this blog: Amanda’s Cookin’.  She was a novice baker with no experience with fondant, yet she made her own fondant out of marshmallows and described her trials and eventual success in making this cake:


I was inspired and so began my fondant adventure. I watched countless youtube tutorials, made sketches of my cake design and I carefully set out to buy all my ingredients for my little experiment.  I was so excited about making the cake, I would actually toss and turn at night thinking about how I was going to accomplish it.  I thought I would try going to a local cake decorating shop so I could grab a couple of supplies and perhaps some advice.  I was so excited to visit the cake shop: I thought, these are my people- cake people.  Surely they will be helpful and excited to assist me in my project!

So off the girls and I set to Littleton to visit my cake Mecca. After grabbing a fondant smoother, gumpaste and a piping bag, I mentioned to the saleslady that I was going to be attempting to make my own fondant.  She frowned and said, in no uncertain terms, it was impossible to make fondant at home.  I felt myself go clammy- what about all the tutorials I had watched?  But she continued to insist that I would surely break my stand mixer and wouldn’t I rather buy this box of $26 fondant instead….

I guess everyone needs to make a buck, but the experience left me jaded against the snobby cake shop and scared witless to attempt making fondant at home.

However, I was determined and I didn’t have $26 to spend on fancy boxed fondant.  Homemade fondant just has four ingredients: marshmallows, water, vanilla, and powdered sugar.  After the girls went to bed, I stood in my kitchen with great trepidation with these four little ingredients, just certain I was about to embark on a crazy disaster.  I must have beat the fondant in my mixer for over an hour, adding a tiny bit of powdered sugar at a time, waiting to see if my Kitchenaid was going to explode or burn out.  I laugh now, because you really can whip up a batch of fondant in about 15 minutes, but that cake lady had really shaken my confidence.

Luckily, the results were magical. The fondant was like edible playdough- smooth and versatile and it tasted like melted marshmallows. So there, snobby cake lady- yes I could make fondant at home! After letting it set overnight, I started to play around and made my first little edible creations:


My Neighbor Totoro Cupcakes: My first fondant creation


Mario cupcakes soon followed

And then came the main event: covering the cake with fondant.  First I stacked and filled my cake layers:


Then I did a crumb-coat of frosting on the outside of the layers:


And finally, I covered the cake in fondant. I think I had to try this twice to do it without tearing, but fondant is very forgiving and it wasn’t even as difficult as I thought it might be:


Now the hard part was done and I could start playing around.  I ended up with this as my finished cake:



I was so proud of my project and the whole process had given me a huge creative release.  I felt I had found a hobby that could be cathartic for me.  Decorating cakes was so different than parenting or working- it became way I could truly be creative and have an activity that was just for me.  I began to plot my next cake creations, so thrilled with my new hobby that I continued to lose sleep from time to time as I anticipated my next cake project.  This really became the turning point in my transplant to Denver and the darkness that had settled over me since our move started to lift as I threw myself into my new expression of creativity.

Who would have thought a little sugar and marshmallows could have such a positive effect on my life?  And then I started thinking about how my little cake decorating hobby might be able to have an impact on my community around me. But that’s another story….

For now, I will leave you with my recipe for fondant. I’ve made this countless times and it’s been great for all my cake projects.  It tastes so much better than boxed fondant and is WAY cheaper.  And no, it will NOT break your stand mixer- it’s no harder on a mixer than making bread dough. However, you really do need a Kitchenaid or similar stand mixer in order to make it.

Homemade Marshmallow Fondant*

16oz mini marshmallows (I always use Kraft)

2lbs powdered sugar, sifted (Kroger brand works fine or C&H)

3TB water

1 TB pure vanilla extract

Vegetable shortening for greasing

  1. Use the shortening to grease a large microwavable bowl for the marshmallows, the mixer bowl, your dough hook, and a sturdy spatula.
  2. Sift the powdered sugar.  Reserve one cup to the side.
  3. Put the marshmallows into the microwaveable bowl and add the water and vanilla.  Microwave in 30 second intervals until milted, stirring with rubber spatula in between intervals.  Pour the melted marshmallows into the greased mixer bowl.
  4. Add the powdered sugar to the melted marshmallows.  Lock the mixer and cover the opening with plastic wrap to keep the powdered sugar from coming out.  Turn mixer on low and mix for several minutes until the sugar seems to have incorporated for the most part.  If still sticky, begin adding reserved powdered sugar.  (I almost always use all of the powdered sugar and it’s very dry here in Denver).  Should feel like clay or playdough and shouldn’t stick to your fingers if they are just slightly greasy.
  5. Scrape fondant onto a greased counter top and knead a few times by hand with slightly greased hands. Wrap in plastic wrap and allow to rest for a minimum of 4 hours, overnight is best.
  6. To add coloring, do not use liquid food coloring. Use paste or gel colorings to a handful of fondant, then mix that piece into a larger batch.  You can also color the fondant by adding the color to the melted marshmallows before adding the powdered sugar.
  7.   Cover work surface with cornstarch/powdered sugar blend. Roll out fondant to ¼” thickness.

Yields 3lbs of fondant- enough to cover a 9 inch cake with extra left over.

Notes: If the fondant is very firm, you can warm it up slightly in the microwave before rolling it out to make it more pliable.

If you buy the marshmallows in a 1lb package and the powdered sugar in 2 lb package, you can whip this up quickly because you don’t even have to measure hardly any of our ingredients.  Besides, I have found using the freshest marshmallows yields the best results. If you use 1/2 a package of dried out marshmallows, it becomes a guessing game of how much powdered sugar you will need to get the right consistency.

*Adapted from Amanda’s Cookin‘ fondant recipe

Have fun, and don’t let the snobby cake ladies in life crush your dreams!

Potatoes in the Landfill

The first time I walked into my new home in Denver, I burst into tears.  Mind you, it was late at night and I had just traveled on a plane with a newborn, a three-year-old and a cat.  I was exhausted, all of my belongings were piled in chaos, and postpartum hormones were still wreaking havoc on my emotional stability.  All that aside, as I descended down the dark staircase into our basement apartment, I had a sinking feeling my standard of living was about to have an adjustment.

Here’s where we moved:


 We lived in the basement of this duplex for the first year and a half of our new life in Denver

We knew we had moved to one of the worst areas of the city.  Micah had to start his new job as a math teacher just two weeks after our daughter, Ramona, was born and I had sent him ahead to find us a place to live while I recovered.  Time was tight, as was our budget.  Our previous home had been at a transitional housing program as the managers- we were used to poor areas and people who were rough around the edges.

But now we were alone in a strange city, far away from all the people we loved and the community we were accustomed to.  At times, our living situation was just plain scary.  I would sit late at night as our neighbors screamed at each other with my hand on my phone, not sure if I should risk a confrontation or just talk to them when they were sober (which was rare).

In addition to our sketchy housing situation, there was an overwhelming darkness and oppression in our neighborhood and I felt powerless to change it. Our basement apartment was literally dark as well- though the Colorado sun was shining, our tiny windows didn’t offer much daylight.  With it’s low cement walls, I often felt like I lived in a bomb shelter.

I found the darkness didn’t contain itself to my surroundings- it began to settle on my mind and heart as well.  The first few months, I battled through feelings of isolation, loss of direction, and plain good ol’ homesickness. More than a few moments I wondered if we had made the right decision to leave Portland.

I don’t want to paint the picture too grim- there were many incredible blessings that carried me through those first rough months in Denver.  Here’s a few:

Cultivating a new community of friends:


Making our first “orphans” Thanksgiving dinner with the Starrs, our dear friends who transplanted to Denver just a few months prior to us and who became our Colorado family

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPre-Christmas dinner with the Starrs and the Lunds


Penny making new friends

Exploring our beautiful new landscape:



Coyote Song Trail at South Valley Park


Rocky Mountain National Park


Ice formation in Georgetown, CO


Beautiful Golden, CO


Dayhike at Lair O’ the Bear

Visits from family and friends:


 My kindred spirit, Bethany visited for a birthday surprise


Penny with her Papa

And moments like these:


In those first months of transition, I did my best to count my blessings and trust God had opened up this opportunity to our family for a reason.

But adjusting wasn’t easy.  Yet no one had ever promised it would be.

Unearthing Buried Treasure

One really cool aspect of our house was we had an enormous backyard.  Mind you, it wasn’t fenced and had been basically used as a dump for the neighborhood as long as any of our neighbors could remember, but there was a hidden charm to that 1/3 of an acre.  In return for a spaghetti lunch, my friend Mark helped carry out mounds and mounds of trash, old furniture, and even a dead dog (yes, truly).  We weed whacked, cut back the poor overgrown trees, and turned it into an almost-suitable place for children to play again.


 We had the only backyard on our entire block- the other properties were low-income apartment buildings

 After extracting the trash and dead animals, you could imagine my delight when I discovered the evidence of three very old raised gardening beds.  Penny and I headed out during a warm spring day to see if we could maybe turn the old beds into a “bit o’ earth” where we could grow flowers or veggies.

We found some worms:


Gave the earth a drink:


And to our delight and surprise, after carefully picking out dozens of junk food wrappers and countless shards of broken glass, we discovered these little gems:


Some time ago, someone had planted little red potatoes in that mess of a backyard.  The discovery was so unexpected, we felt like we had found buried treasure in a pile of rubble. As I fried them up for dinner that night, I felt a kind of nervous excitement and I knew God was at work.  It may sound silly, but it was as if those potatoes were a little sign of hope for me- that amidst the darkness and the struggle, God was going to do a new work in me that was going to be life-changing and surprising. Deliciously surprising as it turned out, because my life-change was going to come in the form of a cake.

So that’s what I’m writing this blog for- to dig down in the dirt and share the surprises in life; the hope amongst the despair.  I’ve found a hidden talent and passion in cake I’m trying to figure out how to use it to help the broken people in my community.  The first step is to invite you all into my story and ask for your prayers and support as I embark into this sticky adventure.  I’d love if you would check out my other pages, subscribe to my posts, and give me feedback.  I’m hoping to share stories about my cake-making escapades, birthdays at homeless shelters, and maybe a recipe or too in the mix.

Just be prepared: it might be a messy ride.

On the way, I’m holding onto this C.S. Lewis quote: “Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.”

Have you ever transplanted to a new city and made new discoveries about yourself in the process?  How have hardships in your life molded you into the person you are today?