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Jun, 2011

Phew! Aubrey's Snake Cake Was A Success!

I really enjoy baking. I wouldn’t say it’s a passion, but it is a lot of fun and it’s something I do well. Every year I take on the challenge of making a birthday cake for Aubrey. It’s my gift to her and I’ll do it for as long as she enjoys it. I know someday she’ll want me to just drop her off at the mall so she can eat a Hot Dog On A Stick for her birthday, so this is something I want to make special for her while it lasts.

Her first birthday was my choice, so I made her a monkey cake:

Her second birthday, she chose a Yo Gabba Gabba theme and I think the cake turned out adorable, if I don’t say so myself:

Last year, my mom sent me a Williams-Sonoma donut shaped cake pan as a just-for-fun gift and as soon as Aubrey say it, she wanted me to make it so we had a giant donut cake for her third birthday and made it a baker’s theme. She got her own baker’s hat and apron with her name on it too:


This year, a reptile guy came to Aubrey’s preschool and the kids got to touch snakes, lizards, toads and more. Aubrey was taught to be afraid of snakes by some other parent and nanny in her life (a-hem) and she freaked out a little when it was her turn to touch the snakes, even though I was the parent volunteer holding the snakes.

Needless to say, I was a little shocked when she told me she wanted a SNAKE CAKE for her birthday this year! One of the many ways Aubrey amazes me is that she takes on the daunting task of facing her fears head on – all on her own. No one taught this to her, she just does it. She forces herself to confront her fears until she desensitizes herself and even starts to enjoy the thing that scares her. She’s done it with hippos (yes, hippos), pirates and skeletons and now, snakes!

So a snake cake it was and I let her choose the color: “Orange with purple polka dots!”

The clock started ticking and I started planning the cake. I’ve decided to post the instructions and results here because after I finished it, everyone asked me HOW I made it. I admit that I stole the basic construction concept from some ideas I found online, but the rest is original and she was a real hit at Aubrey’s party!

Here’s How I Made Aubrey’s Cute Girl Snake Cake:

It was a 3 day project, a little bit at a time.
– I used one Giant Donut Cake Pan from Williams-Sonoma which is actually two ring pans and then an additional, slightly larger ring pan which I had a fairly hard time finding but finally got at a specialty cake store. I’m sure you can order online if you plan ahead… unlike me.
– I made marshmallow fondant from scratch on day 1. There are many recipes online and very basic to make, easy to store and work with. Just a sticky mess to make, but tastes WAY better than regular/store bought fondant!
Blurry pic of fondant process – powdered sugar EVERYWHERE!
 And also did some prep work like julienne slicing the licorice for grass and gathering together all of my decorations and tools.
Making grass from green apple licorice
– I made buttercream frosting on day 2 and stored in fridge
Buttercream icing for the crumb coating/fondant adhesive

– I baked the cakes on the 2nd night and cooled them, so I had 3 rings total. Also, a fun thing about this cake is you can make different flavors so I had a yellow cake ring and 2 chocolate cake rings.

Two smaller rings which made the top coil and the head/neck & tail

– The 3rd morning, I did all the decoration assembly with lots of help from another 2 hands. It was at this point that I’m going to publicly admit that I almost threw the entire thing in the trash! It was 8:30am and Aubrey’s party was at 5:30pm. I didn’t like the way the cake baked and my buttercream was overthawed, I had no idea how to apply the fondant and I was pretty sure it was going to be a disaster. In a nutshell, I felt like I was on one of those cake war shows. STRESS!

But I pulled myself together and made it work. Thus the PHEW in the title of this post.

For the design: I cut the larger ring lengthwise, in half to form 2 rings. These formed the bottom coil and the middle coil. Then one of the smaller rings formed the top coil and the last smaller ring was sectioned in two to make the tail and the head/neck. 
For the coils: I rounded off any sharp edges with a sharp serrated knife and ate the shavings because I was starving. Yum. I also trimmed out some of the center hole of the top coil so it was large enough to stick the neck through later. I also use a little of that piece that I trimmed to help form the head in the following steps.
For the tail: I shaped about a 1/3 of the one smaller ring like, well, the tail you see here and make sure it matches the height of the lowest ring so it looks “realistic” (all using a sharp serrated knife). 
The head: This was definitely the HARDEST part for me as the piece of cake you have left (2/3 of a smaller ring you just shared w the tail piece) doesn’t look anything like a snake head. I had to use smaller scrap cake pieces to piece together a roundish head, then sort of hold them together and try to frost it all. An assistant (like my very nice boyfriend) is helpful at this point.
After cakes were cooled and cut and frosted in a “crumb coating” – I stuck in fridge as I went – it’s a very easy cake to work a piece at a time.
Iced the top ring in buttercream
Obviously, start with the bottom coil and work up. Roll out your fondant and apply. I used long strips and because I’m not very skilled with fondant yet (this was my 1st fondant cake) I had to use 2 strips on each coil. I couldn’t figure out how to apply it all in one piece without it getting to bunched up in the center, so I did it in 2 pieces each coil and you can see the seams – not the end of the world.
Applying fondant to the bottom coil

Two coils done!

Once I had the 3 coils covered in fondant and stacked up, I did the tail – wrapped in one piece and then tucked the end of the fondant underneath the bottom ring, molded it with my hands to sit near the body. And then the head. OH MY GOD! The head was tricky and all I can say is it took me a long time to gently stretch the fondant, trim it with kitchen scissors and tuck the bottom seam and edges in a way that wasn’t too bulky and could be hidden along the bottom of the piece. I pinched the fondant at the end of the neck and tucked the piece into the center of the coils to have her peeking out, head resting on the top coil.

Oooh! She finally looks like a snake!
Then the fun, creative part… DECORATE! 
I used:
Eyes: Mrs Potato Head’s eyes!! Perfect for poking right into the cake!
Mrs Potato Head’s Eyes!
Polka Dots: Wilton Sugar Sheets (pain in the ARSE without their expensive cutting machine. I thought metal cookie cutters would work, but they don’t. I had to have my boyfriend pound out each polka dot with the cookie cutters and a heavy duty rubber mallet! You might explore other options, although I think they look great. Apply with a light amount of water on a small paint brush.
Flower: store bought sugar cake decoration
Grass: Green apple licorice that I julienned – bought at bulk candy store
Rocks: Chocolate candy rocks – bought at bulk candy store
Cookie Lettering: Trader Joe’s Cinnamon Schoolhouse Cookies – painted them orange with aerosol spray food coloring (bought at Michael’s). Stuck them to the foil covered cutting board with dots of icing.
Nostrils: I had some Halloween colored cookie sprinkles and used 2 black dots from there – applied with a dot of icing
Tongue: cut out of a berry fruit strip (fruit roll ups work too). Tip – draw and cut out a guide on a piece of card stock first and then lay it on the fruit strip. Trace with a very sharp knife. (i.e. don’t screw it up if you only have one fruit strip)
Used some of the chocolate cake batter to make one cupcake for the candle holder since I didn’t want to put them in the snake, and my daughter really wanted the other little candles, so I made a little fondant candle holder for them.
The birthday girl and her snake cake!

I had a blast making this cake, but it was a lot of work. The beauty of the decorating I used was that I could cover the seams and any imperfections with polka dots 🙂
Finished Snake Cake!

And that’s my Cute Girl Snake Cake! I hope she inspires you and good luck if you try it.

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May, 2011

Who's Bad?

About a month ago, I introduced Aubrey to Michael Jackson and now, she can’t til she get enough. Literally, as soon as we get in the car she needs to hear an MJ song or she gets a little surly.

Bad is one of her favorites and here she is dancing and singing along to the video on YouTube. I hope you’re having a great holiday weekend!

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May, 2011

Kung Fu Panda 2 - The Good, The Bad & The Toys
Last week Aubrey and I wend to the Dreamworks campus in Glendale to attend a special preview screening of the animated sequel Kung Fu Panda 2 . This screening also included a sneak play preview of the Mattel KFP2 toys and a lunch where fried macaroni and cheese balls and mini bundt cakes were served, so we were pretty happy campers.
A VERY excited Aubrey!
Although Aubrey was a little disappointed that there weren’t any slushies and popcorn at this screening (we saw the film in an actual Dreamworks screening room) she was very excited to see Kung Fu Panda 2. She has been a long time fan of the original Kung Fu Panda movie – even though I somehow have managed to never see it – and she was pumped and ready to go for this special event.

In this 2nd installment, Po (Jack Black) joins forces with a new group of animated animal kung fu masters to take on the evil peacock Lord Shen (Gary Oldman) and his deadly new firecracker cannon. 

So I’d like to start off with the positives: 

– Kung Fu Panda 2 is visually stunning and we didn’t even get to see it in 3D. Ya done good Dreamworks and I’m sure it will be even MORE stunning in 3D. For anyone who is an animation geek, this one is a must see. It was even breathtaking at times. 

– The story was interesting and held most of the kid’ AND adults’ attention spans for a long time. Like I said, I had never even seen the first one, but I was able to jump right on the Panda wagon and get into it.
Mattel figurines

– The Mattel toys also seemed to be a hit and we were lucky enough to take a couple of them home with us in a gift bag. Aubrey received the figurines above and ended up playing with them for well over an hour later that night. However, I did hear her yelling her own made up line of, “DON’T YOU EVER KILL MEEEEEE!!” while pulverizing the bad wolf guy with the Panda. Which leads me to the “You Judge For Yourself” portion of my review…

Here are my not so positive opinions and then we’ll wrap this up in a nice little bow at the end:

– The second half of film was fairly dark and violent and from what I heard from some of the parents who had seen the first one, it was darker than the first one. But I’ve seen this pattern in many kids’ movies, including the uber popular Toy Story franchise. Toy Story 3 kind of made me feel like I was watching the family version of Saw at one point. Anyway, I digress. My daughter is almost 4 years old and generally doesn’t have too much trouble sitting through an animated feature. The last section of KFP2 is quite violent, however, and while it is action packed, it did seem to me to just go on and on and on. Just when I thought, “OK, NOW the big fight scene is over,” it would gear back up again.

I guess my heads up number one for parents of little ones is that this IS a rated PG movie. If your younger child has a tough time with darkness and bad guys for a prolonged period of time, maybe not for you. And maybe my kid was a little more sensitive to it because (sorry) she’s a girl and she’s never pretended to shoot anything in her life. I dunno.

– Here’s heads up number two and this is something that I would have liked to talk about in a Q&A perhaps, but we weren’t given the opportunity, nor would our kids have sat through it… but (MINI SPOILER ALERT!!!) in the movie, we find out that Po’s panda parents abandoned him to save his life when their village was pillaged by Lord Shen and his bad guys. There is a heart wrenching scene where the mama bear is shown hiding Baby Po and then running for her life. And I’ll let you guess as to whether she makes it or not (the mom ALWAYS gets the axe or the lock up in animation – Bambi, Nemo, Dumbo…). While they don’t show the attack on her, it is implied and the scene actually made my daughter cry and get pretty upset. Oh and I was sobbing too and so was every other mother in the house. It’s sad! But I was surprised at how emotional it made my daughter. She’s older now and she’s starting to “get it” which is cool and scary all at once. All afternoon I had to answer the questions, “Why did the mommy bear leave her baby,” “Why was the baby panda crying?” and “What happened to his mommy?” Ugh. Wahhh!

The other part of this portion of the story line (MORE SPOLIER) is that we learn that the noodle house owning goose, Mr Ping (James Hong – YAY James Hong!) adopts baby Po and raises him as his own. As a Korean born adoptee raised by geese… I mean caucasian people… this actually got me emotional on different levels and with so many Americans parenting transnational and transracial children these days, I hope they, the parents, are prepared for the barrage of emotions and questions that will come after the movie. I explained to my daughter that I was adopted by my mommy and daddy just like Po was and then she wanted to know why my mommy couldn’t keep me (I don’t know). Did she abandon me (yes). Was I going to ever leave her – NO! So, even though we had a great time, it turned into a bigger day of emotions and issues that I was expecting. Anyone immediately touched by adoption (birth parent, adoptive parent or adoptee) is going to have some feelings about this movie. I’m just warning my people!

– And my final and most serious issue with the film is the whitewashing of the cast. This is an American made film set in China. Yes, it’s a cartoon, but it is clearly set in China (not a Chinatown in the USA) and it draws it’s story, character names, movement and imagery from the rich and real history of China and Chinese kung fu. So why weren’t more of the actors of CHINESE descent? Or at least Asian American? I, as an Asian American actress, get a little upset about this kind of stuff and I don’t think I’m being too ridiculous. While I never felt the film was mocking Asian or Chinese culture in a way that was racist or inappropriate, throughout the entire film I kept hearing recognizable voices of non-Asian actors and the handful of actors who were of Chinese descent were in lesser billed roles. The director of KFP2 is Jennifer Yuh and so… that’s cool. But the stars of the film are all white. I get it that picture deals are made and contracts are signed and Dreamworks has to do it’s job to sell this movie, but there’s no reason Lucy Liu shouldn’t have had Angelina Jolie’s top billed role and no reason James Hong or Jackie Chan shouldn’t have had Gary Oldman’s leading role of Lord Shen. Although, James Hong steals the show in his role as Mr Ping. He is a true pioneer and a sweetheart to boot.

But I digress… Of the 13 top billed names on the cast, only four are of Asian descent . So shame on someone. And I’m going to go ahead and say it: It’s because the roles are Asian. There’s even a black guy in the main 13 characters of this movie. I’ve already discussed this issue with some friends and some people have thrown the “But it’s just an animation and you don’t see the actors who are playing animals so why does it matter” argument at me. But it does matter. Asians are now and have been the most underrepresented minority on tv and film for eons and it’s because we are simply not given the due respect that other human beings are given in this industry. We are not seen as Americans and we are not respected as people with spines. Therefore, it is socially acceptable to cast The Last Airbender (yikes) and Akira and Kung Fu Panda with white and even black actors. If you think I’m being a tad overly sensitive, ask yourself this question: In an animated film where a character was a white person or a black person would they hire an Asian actor to play that voice? Kind of doubt it, but the reverse is always fine when it’s a role of color, even when it’s not animated! We’ll get there eventually, but it’s a slooooow row to hoe. Yes, I just said ho and set myself up for some horrible Asian actress jokes. Go ahead. Make them. Every Asian actress has played one or been asked to play one and we all own our own lab coats for auditions. (My big prostitute role was when I was 9 months pregnant too! It was a dark, dark comedy.)

Aubrey going SKA2OOSH!
But, once again, I digress. After all of that bitching and moaning, I still think you should go see the movie. I did enjoy it and my daughter did enjoy it. I think the film is more appropriate for kids who are a little older – perhaps 6 and up (remember, intense!), but overall it was a fun moviegoing experience and Aubrey can’t stop talking about it. It also introduced her to more Chinese culture has piqued her interest in martial arts. Maybe I have the next Michelle Yeoh on my hands. BTW, she played the Soothsayer and was awesome! Did I mention we got fried macaroni and cheese balls?

If you would like to learn more about Kung Fu Panda 2, please visit these official sites:

Official Movie Site: http://www.kungfupanda.com

YouTube Experience: http://www.youtube.com/dreamworksanimation

Royal Caribbean Sweepstakes!! http://www.facebook.com/kungfupanda?sk=app_199032100139302

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