Monday, December 28, 2009

Adventures in Cake Decorating #1 - Baby Blocks

Here's a flashback to October, when we hosted a small baby shower for some friends. Being a lover of cutely decorated—and more importantly, homemade—cakes and whatnot, I of course was not about to order some pre-made baby shower cake from the store. No! I was going to make something cute myself!

I had the idea to make little baby blocks out of the cake. I baked two rectangular cakes, one yellow, one chocolate, let them cool, iced the top of one and stacked them. Trimming the edges for perfectly flat sides and cutting out cubes was easy enough. (There were a lot of cake scraps leftover, which Len would later use to make a modified version of his mom's trifle for an office party.)

But, I severely underestimated the amount of frosting I would need and had to settle for frosting only three sides of each block—the presentation sides, we'll call them. And, even though I did what pastry chefs would call the crumb coating (a preliminary thin layer of frosting to seal the crumbs to the cake), the chocolate layer of the cake was still so crumby that the white icing ended up looking like cookies 'n' creme icing. Not a huge deal, but not Martha Stewart perfect. (If you search for baby block cakes online, you'll find most use fondant for a perfectly smooth, flat look. I did not want to use fondant and used all soft, butter cream-like icing—way more difficult for handling the individual blocks, but much tastier.)

Before I reveal the finished product, let me just say: If I'd had more frosting and more patience, I would have used more than just three colors for trimming and decorating the blocks. And, if I'd considered beforehand how bad I am at drawing, I would have piped only letters on the blocks, instead of trying to draw things like a cat, a car, a leaf... I know you can't tell what they are. Oh, and the wooden skewers sticking out of the blocks? I made the cake a day in advance and used skewers to hold up the plastic wrap, so I could protect the cake from drying out without smearing the icing. A big enough Tupperware container, if I had the right size/shape, would have been better.

Anyway, here it is, not bad for my first baby shower cake, definitely homemade, and only room to improve:

Friday, December 11, 2009

Global Day of Action on Climate Crisis

I admit this is old news, but I have been meaning to put up a post about it and am just now getting around to it.

November 30 was the Global Day of Action on Climate Crisis. Around the world, activists held peaceful demonstrations against cap and trade, carbon offsets and other solutions to climate change that some consider insufficient.

In Chicago, just a block away from my office building, one of the nine major demonstrations in the U.S. was happening—protesters lay in the middle of the street, arms linked by tubes bearing messages like, "You can't trade away our future," while others crowded around holding signs with similar messages and police on foot and horseback kept watch. In the end, about a dozen protesters were arrested, I assume for lying in the street for too long.

In case you're not clear on these climate change solutions the groups were protesting, here's a quick rundown:

Cap and trade, also known as emissions trading, is when a governing body sets a cap on companies' pollutant emissions. Companies that need to exceed the emissions cap can purchase carbon offsets ("carbon credits"), which represent a reduction in emissions. The company is not actually polluting any less, but it is giving money to companies that are polluting less or to green energy industries, in essence trading for the right to emit the amount of pollutants that these other organizations have ceased emitting.

The idea is that, while individual companies may pollute more or less than the "allowable" amount, overall emissions would average out below the cap. Whether such practices actually reduce the amount of pollutants being pumped into our air and water is yet to be determined. There aren't many statistics yet on the resulting effectiveness or ineffectiveness, and some people—November 30's protesters, for example—stand firm that emissions trading is not the answer to our climate crisis.