Monday, May 24, 2010

Have Cake, Will Travel

They’re three of the happiest words you will ever hear from a friend or loved one:
“I’m getting married!”
It wasn’t long ago that I was blessed to hear these joyful words from my dear sister, Kara. She spent many years searching for her prince, and when he finally came along, it was truly a match made in heaven.
So in December of 2008 when I received that fateful call, we laughed, and squealed, and exchanged virtual hugs (as my sister would say, “Darn you 2,000 miles!” Living on opposite coasts can be downright inconvenient sometimes). Truly, it was a beautiful moment.
Actual ring…a gorgeous antique sapphire center stone
But let me back up. Before those magical words were uttered, my sister started the conversation with a question:
“How do you feel about making a wedding cake?”
Beloved reader, I am sure you know the delight this question instilled in me. What better way to show my love and support for my sister and soon-to-be brother-in-law than with baked goods?
The wedding was set for June 2009. I plotted, and planned, and eagerly envisioned the three-tiered, multi-flavored tribute to Kara and Ryan’s love. It was not long after that initial call, however, that the happy couple decided on a destination wedding set in the picturesque hills of Tuscany. What could be more romantic? *Sigh*
Actual view from the villa
Ryan and Kara were flying out both families, in our entirety, for a week at a glorious villa and we were all giddy with excitement. So I abandoned the cake making idea, and threw myself into purchasing the perfect wardrobe to complement the glorious Italian countryside. I bought shoes, and packing cubes, and tiny tubes of toothpaste (don’t you just love travel size toiletries? No? Just me?).
And then one day, my sister brought up the cake. “You do still think you can do it, don’t you?”
*Blinking on the other end of the line* Eh? “Well…heck yeah!” Making a wedding cake in Italy? It was on!
So, along with my sister, I decided to scale back my original plans and make a nice little two tier gem for the family to share. We came up with a sweet, simple design which only required one icing tip, and Kara found a darling little topper on the internet. I was set. I mean, how hard could it be? We each had our own full apartment at the villa, and really, cakes are made in Italy everyday, right? What could possibly go wrong?
Fast forward to late May, 2009
Dear God, what was I thinking?!?”
It was mere days before we were set to leave, and reality had landed on my head like a ten-pound sack of flour. I was sitting bleary-eyed in front of the computer, hair sticking out in fourteen distinct directions, a half-eaten bowl of Cherry Garcia congealing on the desk beside me while I Googled the Celsius equivalent of 350 degrees F. “I am single-handedly going to RUIN my sister’s wedding!”
Dog #1 lifted her head with mild curiosity, while dog #2 ignored me completely. My husband, who looked like he wanted to follow dog #2’s example, sighed and said, “You’re not going to ruin your sister's wedding. It will be great, and the cake will be fine.”
Fine? FINE?? I was right—the wedding was doomed.
The problem was, I had innocently pulled at a single thread, and somehow managed to unravel the entire cake plan. “What if the flour is different there? A different weight, texture, or type of wheat can drastically change the properties of a cake. If I couldn’t find self-rising flour, then I would need to find baking powder and fine-grained salt. Wait a second, was the butter unsalted or salted? Did they even have powdered sugar or shortening?? What if all they had was IMITATION vanilla???
I couldn’t risk it. I had to bring everything.
By the end of the day, I surveyed my haul from a frantic trip to the grocery store. Before me lay everything I could need… including *cringing* two boxes of Duncan Hines French Vanilla cake mix. I had come to grips with the fact that making a cake from scratch may be akin to attempting to find love on a ex-con dating website. The possibility of disaster far outweighed the hope of a happy ending… unless your name was Martha Stewart, in which case you would probably do fine in both scenarios.
The challenge that lay before me was this: fitting a week's worth of clothes, shoes, toiletries, primping paraphernalia, reading material, snacks for the plane, my computer, two cameras, power cords and converters, four cake pans, two cake mixes, one bottle of vanilla, one stick of shortening, two pounds of powdered sugar, a ten-inch long frosting knife, my hand mixer with two beaters, yellow food coloring, and a handful of toothpicks into my luggage.
Oh, and did I mention that I NEVER check luggage? That is correct, beloved reader, all of this needed to fit into two carry-ons. Piece of cake.
Four hours, three hissy fits, two Tylenol, and a whole boatload of curses later, I had actually succeeded. Before me sat two quivering, groaning, bulging green carry-ons, ready and waiting for the 6,000 mile journey to Italy.
My hubby and I managed to arrive at the airport with nary a hiccup, and, once we had printed our boarding passes, headed for security. Expert traveler that I am, I had my shoes off, computer out, and tidy plastic bag full of adorable toiletries ready and waiting when it was finally my turn.
Hefting the bags on the conveyor belt, I strutted through the metal detector and waited for my bags to emerge on the other side of the x-ray machine. Alas, they were nowhere to me seen. I looked to the TSA worker, whose head was tilted like a cocker spaniel who had just been asked to explain Einstein’s theory of relativity. I watched as the conveyor belt ground to a halt, reversed, paused again, then came forward. The process was repeated several times before the woman’s face cleared and she let out a whoop of laughter. She turned to me, shaking her head. “Lord, child, you’s bakin’ a cake!”
I couldn’t help but grin at her amusement. “Indeed I am! And in Italy, no less.”
Unfortunately, I was distracted by her big smile and my own preening pride, so I didn’t notice the other agent grab my bags until he gave me a curt “Follow me, ma’am.”
He and a second agent led me to a cordoned off area and carelessly dropped my two exquisitely packed bags on the steel table. I took a discreet step back, fearing the tentative cease-fire between my bags and the basic laws of osmotic principles was about to be breached.
“Ma’am, we need to take a look inside of your bag. If you would just stand here.”
Biting my lip, I did as I was directed, watching as TSA #1 reached for the zipper of the rolling bag. The zipper groaned in relief like a pair of skinny jeans let loose after Thanksgiving dinner. The top flap popped open and the two agents just stared for a moment. One of them gave a low whistle, and I decided to take it as a compliment to my packing prowess.
TSA #2 got to work peeling back the layers. First came the perfectly flat, vacuum sealed Ziplocs full of fruit snacks, Teddy Grahams, and Rice Crispy Treats. Then out came the packing cubes, followed by the shoes (packed with socks, of course), and the layer for makeup, brushes, and my curling iron. At last, TSA #1 lifted out my precision packed, vacuum sealed wedding cake assembly kit.
After a moment of silence, they looked at each other, then down at the vast array of stuff scattered on the table, in the seat of the chair, and down on the floor. Finally, they looked back at me.
“My God,” TSA #1 said. “Is this Mary Poppins’ bag?”
I couldn’t help the satisfied grin that came to my lips. I nodded to the second bag, which was now leaning against the table behind them. “Are you going to have to check that one, too?”
“No, no, I think you’re good.”
I swear to you reader, this is absolutely a true story :) I’ll end here, and pick up Part 2 of the Italian Wedding Cake Saga next Tuesday. I hope you’ll join me then!
Italy, here we come!
ANNNDDDDD…as a reward for those of you who stayed with this loonnngg story to the end, as well as a thank you for joining me here each week, this week I am going to send one lucky commenter a four pack of cupcakes made by yours truly! All you need to do to be eligible is tell me where your wedding was, where you want it to be, or where you would have had it if you could choose anyplace on earth. On Monday I will put the commenters’ names in a hat and draw one for the prize. Winner’s choice for both cupcake and icing flavor!
Perfectly Perfect Buttercream Icing
1 pound powdered sugar (1 box or 4 cups)
½ cup butter (1 stick)
1/3 cup shortening
1 tsp vanilla extract (use clear for wedding cakes)
¼ tsp salt
1 - 3 Tbsp whole milk (as needed for consistency)


    Okay, now that that's out of the way -- I was going to apologize for putting you through so much, but you got such a great story out of it that I'm just gonna say "you're welcome." :)
    Seriously, still the best and yummiest and prettiest cake that's ever been made. Nothing, not even 6000 miles, can stop your culinary genius.

  2. Oh, and the answer to all three questions is same -- Italy, by all means, Italy! (Bonus points to anyone who can guess what movie I just paraphrased:)

  3. Okay, you have more gumption than me. I would never think of baking a cake over in Europe.

    BTW, how did the conversion to the metric system go? :P

    Where I had my wedding? In Raleigh, NC

    Where would I hold it again? I must lead a boring life because I can't think of anyplace I would want to have it.

    I can't give up control and I would never think of planning something where I couldn't check every detail. So the answer would be where ever I was living.

    BTW, there is absolutely nothing wrong with boxed cakes. They are simple and quick and my kids will never know the difference. :)

    Although I have perfected cheesecakes. No substitutes there. Also neither my mother or mother-in-law make them. So no competition or expectations to meet. Yes!

  4. LOL Kara, I definitely should be thanking you for the experience! And I'm glad you found the Martha Stewart clip as funny as I did :D I hope you enjoyed part 1 of your anniversary tribute.

  5. Oh, my, Erin. LOL. This is a great story. I think you owe your sister a huge debt of gratitude for putting you through this one.

    So, since I'm not married, I would have to say that my dream wedding is at the Little Chapel in the Woods at Texas Woman's University. I'm a student there now, but it has been one of my favorite buildings in the world since I was a little girl. And for such a tiny building, it is pretty famous. You should look it up.

    But the reason I would choose it for my wedding? It's really small. I'd be able to seriously limit the guest list without having to go on a destination wedding. LOL. I don't want to have hundreds of people there. Just the few closest to me and my hero.

  6. BETH! You keep teasing me with your cheesecake goodness - One of these days I better get to taste it! As for the boxed cake, it is what I was raised on, and can be super delicious :) Oh, the metric system...more on that in part 2, LOL! And I love that you would have your wedding in Raleigh again...that means it was perfect for you!

  7. Oh Catherine, the idea of just close friends and family to see you marry your hero is so sweet! I looked up the chapel, and it looks quite lovely. As for thanking my sister, she already pointed that out, and I happily obliged-lol! Thanks for stopping by - good luck in the drawing :)

  8. OMG!!! I'm LMAO over here! Your humor slays me, Erin! I can't believe you fit all of that into two carry ons, by the way! I need you to teach me how to pack! LOL!

    As for my wedding, it was SUPPOSED to be at a Unity church, in their beautiful garden. However, no one took care of it from the time I booked it to the time of the wedding (about 9 months, and when I went to look at it with the photographers, the grass was brown and all the flowers were infested with bugs!!!!), so less than a week before our wedding, we had a falling out with the wedding planner at the church and had to find a new venue! Ack! Amazingly, the place we found was 10 times more beautiful and FREE! Contacting 100 guests wasn't the easiest thing to do, but no one went to the other venue, so we totally pulled it off :)

    I can't wait for part 2!!!!

  9. Holy smokes, Jerrica, that sounds like quite the drama! Props to you and Eric for pulling it off, and how awesome that you guys ended up with such a better - and free! - place :)
    Good luck in the drawing!

  10. Great blog, Erin. We got married in France. I know it sounds all romantic, but we were simply living there at the time, so no great story attached.

  11. Janice Sweasey ZimmerMay 25, 2010 at 10:45 AM

    Great story Erin can't wait to hear the rest:) I got married in LaGrange at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. My dream wedding would be on three mile beach in Port Douglas, Australia. The most beautiful and deserted beach I have been on!

  12. Erin, I LOVE reading your Blog. It is my little "getaway" during the day. I don't get to read many things with a newborn, 3yr and 5yr old. Your posts make me smile and laugh. I am so proud of you and your talents! My wedding was in Raleigh, a great day with family and friends that came from as far as Germany and India to share our day with us :)

  13. Clarissa, I think that the fact that you were living in France at the time makes it MORE romantic, not less!

  14. Janice, how totally amazing an Australian beach wedding would be :) On the other hand, IC is lovely, and I bet you guys loved being able to have all your friends and family around. Maybe you should head to Port Douglas for the 10th anniversary!

  15. Kristina, thanks so much for the kind words:) And how very multicultural your family is. I remember all those amazing pictures from India. I'm so glad you drop by each week, and that it can be a mini getaway from that bustling, wonderful, adorable family of yours!

  16. Haha, I remember this story...and I can still recall the taste of THE MOST AMAZING WEDDING CAKE IN HISTORY. Seriously (not to give away the ending), it was beyond divine. I also loved picking fresh flowers in the fields to decorate it, such a special morning. A year ago on Thursday I was flying to Rome with my family, hard to believe! Thanks for the fun and funny (and delicious) memories Erin!
    As to where I want to get's a tossup between a castle in Ireland/UK, the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, or under the autumn foliage outside Boston in some historic manor. Any of these would do :)

  17. You know where I got married, but if I could've chosen anywhere, I'd say Italy! Ever since I saw Under the Tuscan Sun and actually went there for my senior trip. I wanted to be proposed to at the Trevie (sp?) Fountain! Kara and Ryan picked a great place. And since you helped with my wedding cake, all I ask is you come visit me and we'll make tons of cupcakes and I will be your apprentice :) I love your blog and I can't wait for the next installment!


  18. Has it already been a year? It was a wonderful time and such a blessing to be able to share it with family. Thanks so much Ryan and Kara for the incredible trip and thanks Erin for the great story.

  19. Lindsay, that whole week was pretty amazing, wasn't it? I was just looking through all the pictures, and the ones of us picking wildflowers really made me smile :) I think all of your wedding location ideas sound awesome!! Thanks for stopping by, and of course for the compliment on the cake-lol!

  20. Courtney, how fun it would be to make dozens and dozens of cupcakes with you! We could disperse them among the troops for an extra great time. Thanks for stopping by, I hope to hang out with you again soon!

  21. great story ek!!! cant wait to hear the rest...when you actually made the cake (scarf & all :) and you are definitely the packing queen...
    love you! -andi

  22. Thanks, Andi! Ahh, the scarf - I'm going to have to see if dad has a picture of that. I'm so glad you stopped by to say hello :)

  23. Erin,
    What a hilarious story! Our wedding was in a dinky little town in the Ozarks. I had very little choice on anything from reception location to the cake, but I wouldn't change a thing. We had a blast, and we had tons of extended family and dear friends there to help us celebrate. In the end, the only thing that really matters is the wonderful man I married that day. :)

  24. Awww, Samantha that is so sweet! A happy marriage is truly the best, sweetest thing in life :) Thanks for stopping by and sharing, and good luck in the drawing! (something tells me that if you win, you will be ordering the margarita cupcakes-lol!)

  25. I commented on this on Tuesday, but for some reason it isn't showing! At any rate, darn cliffhanger! We got married in Louisville. We had a rice krispie castle cake at our reception. If we could have a do-over, I would get married where my aunt did in Germany. It is so gorgeous over there. Is your buttercream icing good for piping and coloring? I love your blog. Keep writing and sharing :)

  26. Oh, no Rhonda! I'm so glad you double checked. Germany sounds delightful, I really hope that I can visit someday. Thank you so much for the kind words about the blog.
    As for the buttercream recipe (and please note that I have updated it, I forgot to list the milk in the original ingredients!), it is the only recipe I use for piping, coloring, icing, and as a base for fondant. You can adjust the consistency with the milk for smoother vs. stiffer. I usually use the solid Wilton gel food colorings so not to change the moisture content. Oh, and I always use the Crisco baking sticks - for some reason, I swear they taste better than the Crisco in the tub...
    Good luck in the drawing!

  27. First, I have to say, are not the only one who loves tiny toiletries!!! I just flew to Vegas last night and it was a soothing, almost therapeutic task fitting all my little bottles into the quart sized clear bag.

    Also, you mentioned packing cubes. I have been researching them. Worth it? What brand do you prefer? What makes them the most useful?

    OK, so I am totally single...but am 30 and have started thinking about my hypothetical wedding a lot. I think I would love to get married at Lake Tahoe. So far in my travels, it has been the place I have loved the most. I haven't been out of the country yet though, so this could change. I can imagine an evening wedding over the lake with about a million candles. I def think it will be a destination wedding though.

  28. Yay, Leslie, I'm not alone! Honestly, I get giddy when a trip comes up and I can run to Target and ogle all those teeny tiny bottles -lol!
    Packing cubes are the best thing since sliced bread...actually, they are *better* than sliced bread! I was lucky to find some Eagle Creek ones at TJ MAxx one day, and they rocked my world. Since they are pricey, I usually ask for them at Christmas. I always roll my clothes up to save as much space and possible, and then put all the pants/shorts in one, shirts in another, underthings together, etc. It makes packing sooo easy and neat, and no TSA agent can destroy your packing efforts.
    Lake Tahoe sounds amazing! One of these days I hope to visit.
    Thanks for stopping by - good luck in the drawing!