Sunday, November 25, 2012

New York Sisters

I look out the window and I see the lights and the skyline and the people on the street rushing around looking for action, love, and the world’s greatest chocolate chip cookie, and my heart does a little dance. -Nora Ephron

I've always been in love with New York.  Before I'd even set foot on its concrete welcome mat - I was smitten.  I was nineteen when I first visited.  When all of our college friends headed south for Spring Break, my friend Gretchen and I schemed up a plan to spend the week at her Dad's loft apartment on the south street seaport, just above the Fulton Fish Market.  By the time the plans all came together, the airfare sale had ended, and my hopes were dashed.  A week later, with fortune (in the form of a tiny travel agency in South Minneapolis willing to backdate an airline ticket for the sale price) on my side, I was on my way. 

We landed in New York on St. Patrick's Day.  By that time, our group had grown to four - Gretchen, myself, and our friends Jen and Brian.  I had a bit of a crush on Brian at the time, and blame the city for my now 17 year marriage to him. 

You see, New York is Magic.  It gets inside you.   It is a symphony of lives, of rhythms, of traffic and noise, and eight million different souls coming together to form one living breathing entity.  While you're there, you're part of it.  It owns you.  And when you leave, you become homesick for it, even though it's not where you live.

And anyone you encounter who has experienced the city in this same base-sense is now your kindred.

Enter Nina and Deanna.

I first met this unstoppable pair of twins three years ago, when they came in to plan their brother's Bar Mitzvah cake.  They put me through the ringer.  Incorporating every detail of his wide range of interests.  By the time we were done, we had designed a cake that incorporated among other things,  the broken sword of Narsil from the Lord of the Rings, a Brett Favre signed football, and a frosting bag of Doritos. 

During our meeting, I was surprised to find myself engaged in conversation with two ten year olds.  Not that I don't like kids, I just don't understand them.  I typically find them to be on the level of drunk adults...overly emotional, short attention span, clingy, and irrational.  These two weren't like that at all.  During our conversation, we discovered that we had been to many of the same travel destinations.  These two had been to the Vienna Opera House, as had I, and they had frequented, and adored, New York.  They spoke of the city with the same familiarity and adoration that I spout when on the subject.  Their eyes lit up and they filled with energy talking about their favorite places, foods, and sights in the city.

So, three years later, when time came to design their Bnot Mitzvah cake, I was thrilled to hear that they had chosen a New York theme to the party.  My girls. 

Their mom had an awesome event planned.  The room would be divided into Burroughs and landmarks.  There would be Coney Island, with carnival food, the Carnegie Deli, Russian Tea Room, Tiffany's, etc.  The cake...try to stop us.  Incorporating each of their favorite colors, red and blue, a nod to their love of music, their Russian heritage,  and all things New York, we designed a cake that would take their guests from our Minneapple to the Big Apple in one glance.

We covered our basic landmarks, then added subway signs, street signs, and took a few liberties with some Broadway show titles.


Then, after adding the Brooklyn Bridge, the two decided that there most-certainly had to be an M&M "East River". 

When we went to set up the cake, we were thrilled to see our guests of honor arrive early for family photos.  We typically don't have the opportunity to see our clients, as the cakes are set up, and we are but a puff of powdered sugar in the air by the time guests arrive.  I couldn't help feeling a bit nostalgic when I saw the two enter the ballroom in party dresses and lipstick.  I've only known them for three years, but they've become my girls.  Maybe it's that I've had a great time with their family on every event we've done.  Maybe it's that I'm getting older and softer, or that their mom cracks me up every time we talk.  But if you had to pin me down, I'd say it's because our hearts share the same home town. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Showdown at the Chambers Corral

If you've followed this blog for any amount of time, you know a two things about Amy from Mimi Weddings.  First, she and her cohort "Amy Blonde" are two of the most talented wedding designers on the planet.  Second...She's trying to kill me.

I honestly can't put my finger on when it started, or just quite why, but make no mistake about it, this girl is dead set on putting me in an early grave.

Whether it be hiring a group of Irish Step Dancers stomping their pretty little curly heads within five feet of a cake that took me weeks to engineer, getting me to set up a cake in an un-air conditioned tent in record heat indexes, a beautiful cake display filled with floating candles and blossoms that made my cake stand hydroplane like an air-hockey puck, or talking me into letting her drive a four tier cake five hours away to a set up without me, I can always count on her to push the limits of my overly precautious cakey ways to the point of certain cardiac incident.  If I had a dime for every time I heard those sweet words "don't freak out, but..." pass her lips, I could retire tomorrow. 

So, when I heard that she, my mortal cake enemy, was engaged, I braced for the worst.  What fresh hell could be awaiting me?

Imagine my relief when she announced that she didn't want a wedding cake...and subsequent terror when she clarified that she wanted FIVE wedding cakes.  Trying to kill me.  After calling my shrink to up my meds, I happily met with her to work up some options.

The wedding would be Urban Western in design.

Ah, a showdown, you say.  My mind went to a dusty abandoned western street.  Me with my rolling pin, Amy with her swatch-book, squinting into the desert sun.  "They tell me you are a cake decorator with True Grit" she sneers, her trigger finger twitching toward her design book.

I can always count on the Mimis to come up with something unique.  But once she started laying out her color swatches, decor inspiration and layouts of her fabulous invitations, I found myself in that familiar Mesmerized Mimi-fied state.  That one in which I am so enamoured with their ideas, that I'll agree to anything.

Copy the invitations printed on wood veneer, I'm in, mimic the branding iron monogram that Chambers would be using on the Filets, no problem, copy the Palomino mural in their showroom, no problem.  Just send me a picture of it...

She's trying to kill me again.

I get this all the time.  People who think I am far more talented than I am.  This mural was far beyond my  range of cakey talent.  Period.  But I wouldn't let her get me so easily.  So, I rifled through my bag of tricks.  What if we played off of the wooden invitations and the look of the branded monogram?  I pitched the concept to my tormentor, and she...loved it.

Here's the thing about Amy.  Like any good Western villain, she lets me dig my own grave.  She, like any truly creative person, knows the secret to getting the best work out of her vendors.  Let them run with it.  That's precisely why I love/hate what she does.  She brings me a payload of fabulous design ideas and inspiration, then trusts me to push my own limits.  Ooh, maybe she's trying to get me to kill myself?

The wedding day came, and I had the honor of actually attending her reception.  Relieved to find that the set up was not in front of a shooting gallery or some other Western themed obstacle to my sanity, I changed out of my pink chef coat and into girl clothes to enjoy the evening.  And what a fabulous event it was.  The Urban Western design scheme was unique and exquisite, a perfect balance of horseshoes and boutique hotel.  The food was a combination of haute cuisine and comfort food (passed hors d'oeuvres including paper cones filled with french fries) (cocktails along with trays of mini diet coke bottles with limes and straws to sip from).  Not sure what to expect from a planner's own wedding, I was delighted to see that Amy did what she does best.  She entertains.  She shared her and Joe's favorite things with the people they love.

The look was elegant, the food divine, and when it came time for the party to start, they did not disappoint.  We arrived upstairs to the dance and were greeted by a photo booth, pinball machine, and temporary tattoo station.  I want a kitty tattoo.  Who wouldn't?  But just in case, you could get a cowboy tattoo if you'd rather.  But wait.  I'm allergic to cats.  Could this be the final attempt on the cake lady's life?  To survive every other evil Mimi plot, only to succomb to an allergic reaction to a temporary tattoo of an adorable kitty sitting on a couch.  My mind reeled.  My thoughts turned to a young Mattie Ross, pulling the trigger that avenged her father's murder only to be kicked back into a pit of rattlesnakes.  To face her mortal enemy and emerge victorious, only to succomb to the bite of a lowly reptile...kitty...kittysnake. Say it isn't so, this most cruel of endings!!!! 

It isn't so.

So, I will play some pinball, have my picture snapped with my tuxedo-clad husband...and I shall ride off into my Urban Western Sunset, slinging my rolling pin onto my back.  And I will live to bake another day.

Many thanks to the unbelievably talented Studio 306 for these beautiful photos!  We loves us some Marc and Leda!!

Decorator's Notes:

Amy and Joe's cakes featured one of my favorite decorating techniques....hand-painted wood grain fondant.  We have finally decided to reveal how we do it in a photo tutorial (paired with an adorable mesh stencil set) available on our Evil Cake Genius site HERE
It is an incredibly simple and effective technique!

The Chocolate Horseshoes were created using a mold that we found at Sugar Delites.  It's a great mold.  We used a little powder color to make them look a bit rusty. Mmmm....rusty.

The metallic gold accents on their cakes were painted with a mixture of our Gold Powder and Vodka.  It is truly the most beautiful gold we've ever used.  This is also available on our Evil Cake Genius Site.  Click on the link below to shop.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Baroque Decor and my strange habit of paying Jenna with meat products.

Copy Cat.

My entire grade school career was spent diligently avoiding this label.  Shy of line "Budger", "Geek", "Cootie" carrier,  or the dreaded "Paste-Eater", being branded a "Copy Cat" was a social label that could seriously impair your playground social calendar.

Funny how thirty-some years change your perspective.  While I still think that "Paste-Eaters" are a completely different class of humans, I now proudly brand myself a "Copy Cat".  People ask me all the time how I come up with such vastly different cake designs from week to week.  I'm not truly the Evil Cake Genius I claim to be.  I'm simply a very accomplished Copy Cat.  Let's be honest.  No two couples are the same.  And unless they hire a wedding coordinator who lumps them into a formulaic cookie cutter wedding, their wedding won't be the same as any other wedding.  So, my job is easy.  I take the most compelling and visually interesting elements from their wedding, their relationship, their culture or family history (check out the Rubber Ducky post) and design a cake using "borrowed" elements. 

The benefits are obvious.  Our clients always get a unique design that is cohesive with their overall event, and even better, I never have to make the same wedding cake twice! 

Now, on to Kerstin and Erik. Their wedding would be classic and romantic.

An outdoor ceremony in Duluth, followed by a reception at the  Historic Greysolon Ballroom.

This Baroque beauty of a room inspired their wedding invitations, their color scheme, and, you guessed it, their cake.  From inset paneled walls, to gold Baroque garlands and molded chandelier medalions,  this setting was a cake decorators dream.

And Kersten and Erik let us run with it.  The only hitch...the Greysolon Ballroom is three hours away from Gateaux Inc.  So, shy of a 6 hour round trip drive, we weren't going to see the ballroom until we delivered the cake.  This is where I marvel at how I ever did my job before digital photography and the internet.  Yes, I'm that old, get a grip young'uns.  But fortunately, this old broad has adapted.  Kersten and Erik's coordinator, the fabulous Laura Mullen, provided us with photos of the space and color swatches, and I cyber-stalked the location to fill in any gaps. 

So, imagine a three hour drive, with a five tier cake.  In our multiple layers of long underwear, thermal shirts, mittens, and coats to keep the cakes icy cold, I couldn't help but wonder if we would meet the expectations that the Ballroom had laid out for us. 

When we arrived, we were greeted by park benches of Seniors lining the sidewalk outside the Greysolon, whose upper floor hotel rooms have been transformed into senior condos.  They watched, quietly murmuring, as two frozen figures emerged from a delivery vehicle, donned our hot-pink chef coats and began loading in box after box of precious mystery cargo.  When the elevator opened to the ballroom, I couldn't help but feel as though I was meeting an old friend.  It was just as I had hoped.  Elegant, but welcoming.  Classic and timeless.  And a spot-on match to its Cake Counterpart. 

Only two things left to do.  Stack the cake, and do a little exploring in Duluth.  Gotta' be a tourist when you can (plus, we needed a little time to defrost our limbs).  Our Senior Citizen audience got a second show that day.  When we returned to the car before our walking tour of Duluth's shoreline, we realized that it was a beautiful mid-eighty degree day.  So, we started shedding layers.  Much like clowns coming out of a tiny car, the layers of clothes kept coming off, only to reveal, more layers.  Once we were dressed like normal humans, again, we embarked on our adventure. 

A few weeks before the delivery, I heard a show on MPR about great food on the North Shore.  One caller mentioned a place called North Water Smoke House.  He sang its praises as a fabulous source for all things delicious and smokey.  And the Cake Lady was sold.  If you read our post about Two Harbors you know that I have a strange habit of paying Jenna her bonuses in Meat.  I think it began when we delivered a birthday cake to a night spot that was next door to Kramarczuk's Sausage Shop in Northeast Minneapolis.  Followed by our excursion to Lou's Fish house, Meat on Millacs (awesome jerky, by the way) and now North Water Smoke House.  This time, the mission...Bison Pastrami.  I've never had Bison before, but that's what they sell, and Charcuterie is their specialty.  So, we loaded up on the goods, and headed back to the car.  Not before planning what on earth we would do with several pounds of meat.  So, stop number two...find a bakery to buy a Marble Rye, three, a cheese shop, and by the time we arrived back in Minneapolis, we had all the makings for Reubens (well, not so much Reubens as Robins, grilled pastrami and swiss on Marble Rye, with Parmesan Peppercorn dressing).   So, off we split, to our separate residences to a Cake Decorator's Saturday Night.  Dinner in pajamas, on the couch, with the men who put up with our ridiculous schedules and neurotic obsession with all things cakey. 

Thanks to Laura Ivanova Photography for sharing their beautiful photos of our lovely Bride and Groom.