June 16, 2011

A Labour of Love is Never Lost

Last year, before we cut back the cable to the bare minimum, my daughter Emma's favourite channel was The Food Network, and her favourite show was Ace of Cakes.  She loved watching the team of Baltimore cake artists create what looked less like cakes and more like sculptures, using a substance called fondant.  Fondant is moldable, rollable, dye-able icing which is used to give a smooth, sculptured finish to professionally made cakes for weddings and other special occasions. It is made much like candy since it involves the heating of sugar water to an exact temperature and consistency. Fondant-making is not for the faint of heart in the kitchen, but my daughter, who had seen the senior cooking class make an easy version out of a marshmallow base was determined to make fondant from scratch for a Father's Day cake for her dad.

As my sister Monica is wont to say, "There is the ideal and then there is the real."

Since our Father's Day weekend is jam-packed with planned activity Emma asked if last weekend would be a better time to make the cake. I thought it was, so on Saturday with her sister as videographer and myself on standby in case of a culinary emergency, Emma made the cake and then started the fondant. The first step, heating the sugar water to the correct temperature and 'soft ball' stage was the easiest. When the right consistency was achieved, Emma poured it into a large rimmed baking sheet to cool.  After waiting about a  half an hour she followed the Joy of Cooking instructions to the letter and began to stir the mixture in a figure eight motion. She stirred, and she stirred, and she stirred some more. She appealed for help. I stirred, and stirred and stirred some more. Then we kneaded and kneaded and kneaded the fondant. There was icing sugar everywhere, and I think it took us an hour and a half to get the right, white consistency. Exhausted, but happy, Emma put the fondant in the fridge to ripen and spent another hour cleaning up one incredibly sticky kitchen.

The next afternoon, after exercising her horse, Emma came home to decorate the cake.  I had a meeting so she would have to wrestle with the fondant herself. Her dad was forbidden to enter the kitchen, so even he could not be of service. When I returned from my meeting, Emma was still cleaning up another sticky mess and looking pale and spent. When I asked about the cake she said it was in the downstairs fridge.  She also announced that she would NEVER, EVER attempt to make fondant again; it was TOO HARD! The cake was lovingly decorated with a fondant tennis racket on a lavendar background, with the words 'Dad' scrolled on one side. I could see how much work had gone into the cake and hugged Emma, who, though laughing, was visibly frustrated with the outcome of the project. The result had not matched her expectation and hopes for a Father's Day gift. Emma suggested we have the cake then and there, so I went out to the garden to tell my husband what was waiting for him in the house. When the cake was presented with everyone gathered around the kitchen table, Emma could see how pleased and touched her dad was that she had gone to all that trouble for him and she forgot about her disapointment in the result. She still said she would never attempt fondant again, and we agreed that mere sugar, water and foodcolouring were not worth all the stress (and buttercream tastes better anyway), but her effort had been appreciated and the results, praised by the very person they were meant to please.

As almost everyone knows by now, riots erupted on the streets of downtown Vancouver last night after the Vancouver Canucks hockey team lost the final game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. My daughters and I returned from the youngest's piano recital to see the televised reports of cars set on fire, alcohol fuelled fights between rioters who defiantly refused to obey the police orders to leave the downtown or be arrested, the smashing of shop windows, reports of looting, etc., etc. etc. At one point we watched two police cars being trashed by a gang of hooligans - mainly young men in their early twenties, by the look of them. Male after male jumped up on the cars to try to smash the windows or make dents in the roof. A really young boy joined in on the action and climbed up on top of one of the cars.  Just as he began to jump, and adult male came over, pulled him down off the police car and hauled him away and the boy did not bother trying to resist. I am not sure if the man was the boy's father, uncle, friend, or just someone who knew this kid should not get caught up in the destruction. Soon after that scene, someone threw a firecracker in the car and the rioters achieved their goal, which was to set the cars on fire and see them explode into flame. The police did not bother stopping the burning of their property, for public safety was their main concern and they were far outnumbered by the crowd. The crowd was full of people with cameras, taking pictures and video of the proceedings. I believe strongly that their presence did little to help the police at the time, but perhaps a few of them will come forward with evidence which will lead to arrests.  The newspaper was full of photos this morning, clear images of young men jacked up on alcohol, testosterone, and perhaps other substances as well, involved in criminal acts of all kinds. What a mess they created, and for what noble, or at least understandable, cause? For none.

As Father's Day approaches I want to express my appreciation to my dad, my husband, and the other fine fathers and father-figures I know. I am so grateful my brothers and I, my children and their friends, had, or have someone in their lives like that unnamed man who pulled the young boy off the police car, someone who cared enough to nip that kind of behaviour in the bud, and offer a healthier way of finding some excitement in their lives.

Happy Father's Day to all!


  1. She picked the one craft in cooking that cause Michelin stared chefs quake in their steel toecapped crocs. And there is no harm in having a bit of confidence in the young.
    As to your riot. Well it took ye long enough. Did you hear the comment from the Yank, that you mightn't be such a walkover when they decide to make you the 51st.

  2. Well, we really had no idea what we were getting into, but Emma is a determined young person and can usually do what she sets her mind on to do.
    As to the riots, we had pretty much the same thing happen back in '94 when the Canucks lost to the N.Y. Rangers. Sore losers, or just people looking for a fight? Who knows? I did not hear that comment from the 'Yank' but he should know that from the War of 1812 :)

  3. What a wonderful labor of love! TRULY she should be so proud!

    The riots! OH DEAR!I saw snippets of it on the news! SO horrible!

  4. You did a good job here knitting together two seemingly unrelated stories - until you realise that in life very little is 'unrelated'. I'm not even sure it's what you set out to do, but the juxtaposition of those tales resonates very well together.

    The reality of what your daughter produced after so much effort was so different to what she had in mind it seems, that she felt she had failed, and yet her fathers reaction showed that she had done exactly the right thing. I#m reminded of two things here; that in life it's the journey and what you learn along the way that's the important thing, and;

    Thomas Edison conducted several thousand experiments over several years before her perfected the lightbulb {so much effort that we never think of when we flick a switch} At one time after thousands of failed experiments a journalist asked him why he didn't just accept that he had failed. He replied that none of the experiments had been a failure - he had successfully found a thousand ways that didn't work and each one took him closer to a result!

    Thanks for giving me something to ponder at 5.30am over here.......

  5. that is such a cool cake...great job on it...you are certainly ace of cakes level...smiles. crazy about the riots...watched a bit on the tv...ugh...we have had our share of them...just shaking head....happy fathers day to all the fathers in your neck of the woods...

  6. Oh no no. Abby, our babysitter, is an amateur cake maker. She has sold a few, but is only 17 and still works out of her kitchen. At any rate, she makes fondant without heat. She starts with confectioners sugar in a pile on a very clean table, and slowly works in something (water?). It is sort of like adding egg to durum flour to make pasta. If Emma has any interest in trying again, I can get her the recipe.

    Also, using butter cream under the fondant adds to the taste and covers the crumbs to keep the fondant from looking lumpy. Didn't notice hers looking lumpy, just know from personal experience that no crumb-layer is a rookie mistake.

    And, in the end...I'd eat that. :)

  7. Hi Jill: Emma appreciates all the encouragement she got about her cake. She now wants to invest in a fancy cake decorating set.

    Hi Al: Thanks so much.I did intend to meld the two stories under that one title, and I'm very happy you think it worked. I like that Edison quote. I've heard it before, but it is a good one to be reminded of!

    Brian: Happy Dad's Day to you, too Brian! Emma would have liked to put a fondant bicycle on it, but thought that was a bit much :) The morning after the riots, hundreds of Vancouver citizens went downtown and helped to clean up the mess. There were photos all over the internet of people writing messages of sorrow and encouragement on the plywood boarding on the windows of the trashed storefronts. It was a scene of healing. There were also many stories of people making human chains to try and protect property and cars and several acts of heroism, too. So, all is not lost.

    Hello Tracey: Emma says yes please to the offer of the recipe for the no-cook fondant! We did put chocolate buttercream as a filling and first thin layer under the fondant. I knew enough to do that, at least :) We all ate it without too much effort.

  8. I think the cake looks great and bet it tasted good, too. That was such a thoughtful thing to do for Father's Day : )

  9. I think, The Cake was very nice the way in which your Daughter expressed her love, Because sometimes we tend to overlook the simple things in life.


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