How to be a cake decorator

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What you’ll need: buttercream frosting, fondant

Songlist: Cake’s rendition of I Will Survive

Further reading: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender


I already posted once before about cakes, but they’re such an important topic (right?) that I thought cakes warranted their own week.

This is a particularly good week to talk about cakes, because today I’m heading to my cousin’s wedding in Wyoming. My mom, along with three other women, has been enlisted to create a cake for the reception. Much to my pleasure, she went through a cake-making frenzy last week to find the perfect recipe, which meant that I had to be enlisted as a taste-tester. Not a problem.

I’ve always had a special place in my heart for cake. Whenever I accompanied my mom on grocery shopping trips I looked forward most to the bakery aisle where, if I was lucky, someone would be decorating a cake. I loved then–and still love–the delicate sugar roses and perfectly twisted piping that decorators create out of globby tubes of icing.

One of my childhood friends still remembers my birthday parties for their unique cakes. Everyone else always got Disney princess cakes (cakes are the medium most perfect for replicating Disney stories in their bright, sugary un-wholesomeness) complete with figurines you could take off and play with. My cakes, though, were never just sheet-cakes-from-the-grocery-store. I had a cake in the shape of a butterfly one year, and my brother once got a castle complete with turrets made of ice cream cones. And, well, yes, I got a Little Mermaid cake another year, but my dad hand-drew Ariel and her friends and cut them out of cardboard.

Buddy concentrates on a wedding cake in the likeness of the Leaning Tower of Piza

My family has gotten more health-conscious over the years, and cake has been all but banished from our kitchen. However, we still get our cake thrills through the amazing show Cake Boss (yep, already wrote about this too) which takes cake decorating to a whole other level. Sure, Buddy, the eponymous Boss, can do flowers and piping. But he can also create the entire city of New York out of cake complete with fireworks or flashing lights, or replicas of prehistoric mammals, or a cake from which a person pops out or birds fly free.

We joked about what kind of cake Buddy would bring to my cousin’s wedding: probably a replica of the Tetons complete with a minuscule working chairlift and skiers coming down the mountains. Buddy surely would not make the kind of cake my mom’s bringing: vegan, gluten-free, free of processed sugar. But as much fun as cake-mountains capped with real snow would be, I can assure all the wedding-goers that my mom’s cake will be just as excellent. I should know: I taste-tested it. And then I taste-tested it again.

DIY wedding veil

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Is it just a coincidence that "birdie" is an anagram for "I, bride"? Yes. Yes, it probably is.

My cousin, mom, and I ducked into the Brides of France store in Minneapolis on a cold November evening.

“Congratulations!” The shop attendant said to my cousin, when she told her she’d recently gotten engaged. The attendant started to show us the lavish and expensive wedding dresses shipped in from Spain. My mom, cousin, and I grinned at each other, having already found a beautiful dress for a fraction of these costs the day before. Still, we were in a wedding mood, and were happy to wander around the shop brimming with satin and lace.

The girl helping us showed us back to the accessories section, which was full of purses, tiaras, jewelry, and veils. My cousin had tried on a traditional veil with her dress the previous day, but we joked that we could easily an identical veil out of tulle for a few dollars and no one would know the difference. Here at Brides of France, though, they had more than just your typical veil. We were all intrigued by the birdcage style and the blushers made out of wider mesh complete with sparkly clips and flowers. However, we left without any new purchases.

A week later, my mom came home with a orange-mesh bag of clementines. With a little extra work, that hideous orange mesh was transformed into a perfect wedding veil, or at least a great gag-gift for my cousin for Christmas.

But making a beautiful birdcage veil isn’t all that difficult. I found a great website that shows a simple pattern with relatively few materials–no orange-mesh clementine bag needed. All you need is 2 feet of 18″ Russian veiling, a comb, thread and needle, a ruler, and scissors. Sew the comb to the veiling, add an embellishment like a flower or feather and voila! You’re on your DIY way.

All you'll need for a beautiful birdcage

Wedding cakes


Buddy's model cakes

I fell in love with the show “Cake Boss” this past autumn–who wouldn’t love a family of loud, colorful Italians who make loud, colorful cakes? Though much of the series is now devoted to crazier and crazier cakes (robot cakes that move, life-size race car cakes, a roulette cake with a spinning wheel for the mafia, etc), the series premiere was devoted to wedding cakes. Buddy, the eponymous boss, created three cakes for a wedding magazine photo shoot that epitomized elegance and class.

After that first episode, wedding cakes were rarely featured. There are a few notable exceptions, though. There was the wedding cake that featured live birds (apparently, this is old-school Italian wedding fashion). There was the episode where the delivery boy delivered beautiful cakes to the wrong locations. And then there was the episode with the ultimate Bridezilla: she came in unexpectedly to preview her cake and was so disgusted with it she ruined the all-white cake with multiple frosting tubes while Buddy was out of the room. Imagine ruining a cake worth several thousands of dollars.

What? Don't the colors make it prettier?

Buddy ended up making this unhappy bride a new cake (the mother of the bride paid for both), and the second cake was even more beautiful than the first. The bride refused to appreciate it.

Now, that bride seemed like she wouldn’t have been pleased with any cake Buddy presented her. I could forgive the next bride for being displeased with her cake, though (not a Cake Boss creation). Perhaps it’s her fault for asking for her cake to resemble her. Still, she looks mighty unhappy as she prepares to cut into her frosted doppelgänger.

I do NOT have red rick-rack on my dress. This cake is all wrong.


Great proposals

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Everyone loves a good proposal story. Searching “marriage proposals” on YouTube brings up approximately a bazillion home videos of guys finding somewhat creative ways to make their girlfriends cry (in a good way!) It’s funny how, no matter what the creative scheme is, these videos all end up following the same script: a guy grins like an idiot, and a girl covers her face and cries in shock.

In fact, this first video skips that element, as the video itself is the proposal. Adorable.

Audience participation is always fun. Who wouldn’t love dozens of roses from strangers?

This video could be edited down, but on the plus side the ring-bearer is a dog. Perfect!

Do you have a great proposal story? From your own life, friends, family members?

How to be a wedding planner

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What you’ll need: A tolerance for Bridezillas, a love of list-making

Songlist: Bill Idol’s White Wedding, Lohengrin bridal chorus

Further reading: The Knot Book of Wedding ListsGroomology: What Every (Smart) Groom Needs to Know Before the Wedding

Powerscourt Garders, Ireland: A good place for a wedding

Whenever we went to beautiful places in my childhood I would imagine a wedding taking place there, as though only a beautiful event would properly pay homage to the place. At first I imagined these weddings as my own, though the actual marriage part of the event didn’t factor much into my thinking. My mom pointed out that I would need to be married several times to accommodate all the perfect wedding spots I’d found. No thanks.

Instead, I figured I would just find places around the world and direct other people’s weddings to them. All the aspects of weddings appealed to me: the exquisite flowers, the elegant dresses, the towering cakes. And the lists. OH, the lists. I loved opening wedding planning books and seeing page after page of checklists, worksheets, fill-in-the-blanks (a feature of weddings that my engaged Facebook friends seem only to bemoan).

I’ve come to understand, though, that weddings are about more than just beautiful places or lists (hard to believe, I know). I started reading the New York Times Sunday vows section about a year ago, and it’s become part of my Sunday ritual (which, admittedly, includes nothing else now that football season is over). The two-page articles are like mini happily-ever-after stories, but with modern-love twists. Couples meet on the internet or at their children’s preschools, commute weekly from different sides of the country, get divorced and remarried.

Yesterday’s was my favorite Vows story ever. The featured couple were former royalty in St. Paul’s Winter Carnival celebration, 75-year-old Dorothy Furlong a former Queen of Snows and 80-year-old Charlie Hall a one-time King Boreas. Both widowed, they began playing bridge together, and soon that partnership blossomed into a romantic relationship. Hall proposed with a bouquet of flowers, a ring, and a note including his full name, telephone numbers, SSN number, his address, and his US Navy service number. No confusion there.

The couple was married on the final day of year’s carnival amid snow sculptures and ice skaters in what sounded like the kind of perfect ceremony that would be every wedding planner’s dream. A great wedding deserves a great story.

St. Paul's winter carnival, circa a long time ago