Saturday, 25 February 2012

From Our Lily Pod to Yours: Baby Shower Friday

Despite yesterday being a Friday, there was little sense of "rest," as it was one of my busiest Fridays in recent memory; that being said, it was also quite a meaningful one. In conjunction with our monthly-ish gathering of Student Development folk, under Kristan's leadership and with Laurel as host, we held a baby shower for the Bill and Kirsten as they will soon be expecting their second child in the next few months after having recently adopted Nathan. And so, there was as much to be thankful for as there was to be celebrating and looking forward to. Now I can't say I know much about baby showers, but apparently diaper cakes are a great way to go and it certainly beats wrapping up a bag of diapers. The diaper cake pictured above was beautifully constructed by the craftily-talented Kim (click on her name to check out video footage of the "cake"), one of the members of our working group. This past fall, our different offices were arranged to work in groups around a central theme. Ours brings together our three Centers (Cross-Cultural Engagement, Religious and Spiritual Life, and Women and Gender Action) under the theme of exploring identities; over time, our group's been affectionately dubbed as the "Identity Pod".

To compliment Kim's amazing work, I woke up early to preheat the oven to 350 °F and make a full batch of my adapted Hershey's dark chocolate cake batter (though this time I did use vegetable oil since that's what I had in stock). As you can see from the above photo of my paper-lined mini-cupcake/muffin tin, I clearly was in a bit of a hurry (to be fair, the batter is also rather runny; perhaps I could've done without the water, but it is part of the recipe..). What you can't see, though, is just how much actual batter was produced. I had 48 cupcakes ready to go, and also filled up three of my mini casserole dishes; in total a full batch makes at least 8 c of batter.

But a whole pile of mini chocolate cupcakes doesn't make a lot of sense--on their own, they do, but not within the context of a baby shower--and so I had an internal discussion in my head as to how I would decorate them. Eventually, I settled on lily pads made out of marshmallow fondant. This time around, and especially since I feel that I haven't used it enough lately, I thought I'd try this out using my standing mixer rather than kneading out some fondant by hand. And my word, this was hands down the best marshmallow fondant I've made to date. As with the preparation described in the above link, Crisco (yes, I'm using it as a verb here) a plate, a spatula, the mixing bowl and the hook attachment. With that done and your hands washed, microwave in two (or more) batches a total of 5-ish oz mini marshmallows. For each batch, microwave them for about 30-40 seconds, keeping a close eye on them, especially if you're using a small plate [in which case, this is a test to see if you've read through the post correctly... use as big a plate as possible!]. Carefully (the plate will be hot!!) transfer the marshmallows to the mixing bowl and on a low setting, get this mixing with a few tablespoons of water. You want to be sure the marshmallows have melted and mixed with water before it re-solidifies and creates tough pieces of sugar. When the marshmallows have indeed melted and it looks more like a cream, in small batches add enough confectioner's sugar until the resulting fondant pulls away by itself from the sides of the mixing bowl, stopping the mixer every so often to add more confectioner's sugar and so lightly scrape down the sides of the bowl (you'll need at least 4 c, aka 1 lb, confectioner's/powdered sugar). As you add more confectioner's sugar, increase the speed of the mixer. If you're only going with one colour, as I did, get the food colouring mixing in, as well. For this preparation, I used 18 drops of green.

When the fondant can't seem to take any more sugar and it's pulled itself together, take it out of the bowl and do a quick check for any tough pieces of sugar. Once cleared, transfer the fondant onto a sheet of plastic wrap and tightly wrap it. You'll note that, depending on the speed of your mixer and the amount of time you continuously mixed it, the fondant will be rather warm; if this is the case for you, let the fondant cool off slightly before tightly wrapping it. As the Wilton recipe suggests, and as I did when I made the fondant for my Harry Potter 7 cake, it's best to let the fondant sit overnight. With this preparation, it definitely would have been good to go as, but I did have a window of time (about 6-7 hours while I was at work) for it to rest. By this point, the mini cupcakes were also ready to get out of the oven to cool.

When 3pm rolled around, I went back to my apartment, gathered the mini cupcakes, the fondant, an icing spatula, a flexible cutting board and my French-style rolling pin, and headed over to Laurel's to make the lily pad decorations. Using a washed juice cap, I cut out rounds of green fondant, a small wedge (think "Pac Man"... everyone else seemed to have thought it) and then a set of leaf veins using the icing spatula. I also used it to lift the fondant off the board without needing any extra Crisco or powdered sugar; the preparation and consistency of the fondant itself also definitely helped.

The lily pads then simply rested on each mini cupcake and were then arranged on the larger lily pads of Kim's diaper cake. As I arranged the mini cupcakes as more and more guests arrived, I couldn't help but think of "Cupcake Wars".

Alongside a frog-themed congratulatory cake, Laurel's punch of of Hawaiian Punch's Berry Blue Typhoon, lemon-lime soda and white cranberry juice made its splash along with scoops of vanilla ice cream (whitecaps or mini icebergs). With a great sweet finish and a blue-berry-sicle layer from the ice cream, this drink complimented the theme extremely well. To check out the rest of the baby shower photos, click here.

Not exactly food-related but nevertheless important: As others made their way to the shower, I had to soon head out for what I have retroactively deemed as one of the most meaningful programs I have ever helped to organise. Yesterday evening, and as part of a course that was created to coincide with this year's Denison Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. theme--"Defying the Distance: Toward Solidarity with the Disinherited"--we brought Shawn Wilson and Ilyana Kadushin to campus to discuss their latest work, Separate, but Equal (winner of the 2011 HBO Best Documentary Film award). We had a great dinner with the class, and quite a few faculty, staff and additional students also attended the documentary screening and follow-up discussion. For a Friday evening, it was truly inspiring to see the level of interest in this cultural anthropology-type view of another side of Civil Rights history. In particular, I was especially moved by the feeling that, in many ways, taking a risk with new programming such as this becomes rewarding when students especially are able to vocalise their thoughts and share them in an open forum from a place of analysis, inquiry and honesty. For those of you who find a special connection with the song "Lift Every Voice and Sing," I highly encourage you to check out the sample of (and even download) Ilyana's especially moving version that concludes Separate, but Equal. To check out photos from the dinner and discussion, click here. The positivity, as well as sense and question of "community," also carried forth as we then transitioned over to the Black Love Week Showcase which was organised by one of our student groups. And having taken the intro African dance course last semester, I was thrilled to see that one of the final pieces to the showcase was a lively bantaba (community dance circle). If we choose to recognise and name it, there is certainly a community that is very much alive here in central Ohio, up on the Hill.

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