It was so lovely to catch up with a couple of great friends last week. I was very spoilt on one of the days by a lovely lunch with a friend I hadn’t seen for well over a year. She is an amazing cook and besides my mum, I think she makes the best Lebanese food I’ve ever tasted. This is one of my favourite Lebanese dishes she made – Chicken & Rice with Pine Nuts , Almonds & Cinnamon.....
On another day, it was off to Cronulla in Sydney to have lunch and catch a movie with an old school friend. We watched “The King’s Speech” starring Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter and one of my favourite Australian actors, Geoffrey Rush. I loved his performance and think it’s a movie well worth seeing. It’s based on a true story, which I always love, but I was particularly struck by the poignant portrayal of a devoted wife in love with her husband, warts and all...you'll have to watch it to get what I mean! It also made me think about how difficult it must be for the rich and famous to always have to don the mask of perfection. (Just an important note about the movie - it contains some offensive language, so it's not appropriate for kids).
After the movie, since my friend knows I love all things “organic”, she took me to a cute cafe called Heart & Soul Organic Chai Cafe. She said they have the best Chai Lattes she’s ever tasted, and being a great fan of Chai, I had to try one for myself. It was delicious, but what I was even more impressed with were the delicious range of salads. It was the first time I’d tried Quinoa, which I loved as well....
I finished my week with a fun outing to Darling Harbour with my family to see the Dragon Boat racing that was going on as part of Chinese New Year celebrations. Being a breast cancer survivor, I was particularly interested in seeing the Dragons Abreast team, which is comprised of breast cancer survivors and their family or friends. It was great to see people of all ages, men and women, involved in this great sport. It looked like so much fun that I’ve now added it to my already very long “to do list” to try some day!
You know I love chatting to people, so if you look really closely in the above photo, you can spot me like “Where’s Wally” – I’m talking to a lovely lady from the Dragons Abreast team!
As promised, I’m now going to share a recent chat I had with an interesting cupcake lover and blogger, Kati Angelini. Unfortunately, Kati lives too far away (in New Jersey, USA) for me to chat to her in person, but that’s what I love about cyberspace:
Hi Kati! Did you bake growing up?
Growing up we often made holiday cookies; tons and tons of holiday cookies-our specialty was our criss-cross peanut butter cookies and our pineapple glaze cookies.
Who in your life has influenced your baking the most? Who's been your greatest mentor?
My mom was always baking and cooking--she was my biggest influence! She always had us make the most special occasions out of little things like taking ordinary events and making them extraordinary. She was big on Sunday dinners with big pots of meatballs and sauce, lasagna trays and desserts. Birthdays were always super special and holidays were amazing. My mother instilled a sense of tradition and family pride based on good food and fun times through recipes and delicious treats.
What first inspired you to begin baking & cake decorating?
I always loved baking and grew up with that lifestyle. When my youngest son started school full time I knew it was time for me to go back to feeling accomplished and successful and more than just a caretaker of my kids. I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree so I decided to combine my love of art with a love of baking--creating edible works of art out of cupcakes!
Are you self-taught or did you attend a cake decorating course?
Self taught although I attended one Wilton course but only went to two of the classes--it was too difficult trying to juggle my three children and being away at night after working all day on orders. So I just started combing websites, reading decorating books and teaching myself new techniques. I'm always on the hunt for something new, different, unique and beautiful to bring to my cupcakes!
What misconceptions do people have coming into the field?
That it is easy and you become a successful business overnight--it takes years of building up your brand, working hard, constantly plugging away and you finally start to see results--it's all about hard work and long hours and lots of dedication! But, in the end the hard work eventually starts to pay off!!
What does a typical day in your life look like?
I get up very early (about 4:30am) check emails and my social media sites, edit photos, post on my blog and prepare for the day. I start to hear my kids wake up (about 6am) and help them prepare for school (they are ages 7, 9 and 12) and then begin with my orders for the day/week. I typically work on my specialty fondant toppers in many designs such as baby themes, birthdays, cartoon themes, wedding flowers, etc. and bake if needed for the orders. I continue to receive calls and emails throughout the day as well as check in on my social media sites (twitter, flickr, tumblr, etsy shop, website,etc) and get as much done as possible before the kids come home at 4pm. Later I try to help them with homework, make dinner and repeat the steps mentioned above if needed until I wear myself out, LOL and go to bed!
Best baking tip for a novice?
Have good sound recipes and stick with a few good basic ones!
Which three baking tools or gadgets are your favourites?
Disposable piping bags, X-acto knife for cutting out fondant toppers, and flexible rubber spatulas for scooping icing, mixing batter, and much more.
Five ingredients in your shopping trolley you consider as must-haves?
Madagascar vanilla, Hershey's cocoa, buttermilk, cake flour and large eggs--the basics!
Funniest kitchen incident?
The first order I had was crazy-I ran out of time and I created a kitchen nightmare--there were supplies everywhere-very unorganised and disastrous! I learned a lot from that order--I made sure I gave myself ample time and did things early if possible, I organised my supplies, and started to be more realistic about what I could reasonably handle on my own--then; I hired a helper for busy weekends!! Best move I ever made!
Favourite food to bake with?
Strawberries - I love making strawberry cupcakes in the summer time with fresh strawberries and then I cut them up and put them in the buttercream to create a double strawberry cupcake special.
When at home, what do you like to eat?
Grilled fish or chicken, roasted veggies, rice---I'm a plain Jane!
What is your family’s favourite dish that you cook for them?
My kids love my Shake ‘n’ bake Chicken with Roasted Potatoes!
A dish (savoury or sweet) that you’ve never cooked that you wish you could?
Your favourite cookbook?
Martha Stewart Cupcakes.
What have you learnt in your field, as well as in life generally, that you feel would be helpful to others?
Take on what you can realistically manage and put yourself and your family first--in the end that is really what matters!
What has helped you through life's toughest times?
Having a supportive family as well as an angel (my mom) watching over me from above.
What are you passionate about right now?
Right now I am passionate about cupcake towers--there are so many possibilities for customization and personalisation.
Is there one song (new or old) you're currently obsessed with and why?
I've been listening to Coldplay a lot lately but no one compares to my Rob Thomas--love him!!!
What are you most grateful for in life?
A devoted husband and three beautiful and healthy children!!
What is your hope for the future - for yourself, your family and for the world?
I hope that I can open a little cupcake shop in my hometown one day and that my legacy can live on for my kids to enjoy. Ultimately though, as long as we are all healthy and happy and at peace--that is all that matters. To live well together, age gracefully and make wonderful memories together-that is all I hope for.
Is there something else you’d like to share about yourself that you're really proud of?
I recently sent in my application for Cupcake Wars on the Food Network--we are hoping for a call back and ready to throw our oven mitts in the ring for a shot at the $10,000! Maybe that shop will be open sooner than later-keep your fingers crossed!
This is a photo of me ready to go on a morning program (CBS 3/CW Philly) to discuss cupcakes and cupcake decorating--it was one of my proudest moments and I got to bring my whole family-very exciting!
Can we see some of your gorgeous cupcake creations?
Chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting.........
Two-tone frosted cupcakes...........
A Bridal Shower cupcake tower.......
Please check out Kati's Kupcakes and if you’re ever fortunate enough to be in New Jersey, be sure to order some of her delicious treats!
Thank you so much for sharing with us Kati!
Thank you so much for sharing with us Kati!
And now to share my cupcake analogy for the week.....
A beautifully iced cupcake can mask a perfectly baked cupcake underneath.
In my last post, I talked about layers. I see the layers that we put on as some of the traits and characteristics that make us who we are. A lot of them are good and healthy layers, but being imperfect humans, we also have some “faulty” layers that we could improve on or take off completely. This is what growing older and wiser is all about I think.
We all have flaws, but it’s when we choose to wear a mask and try to cover them up, that we squander the opportunity to acknowledge them and try to get rid of them. When there’s something about ourselves that we don’t like or we don’t think we’re good enough in some area, we pop on our “I don’t care” or “I’m cool” mask. Or we put on the “I don’t know what I’m talking about, but I’ll just say what pops into my head” or the “I don’t like you because you’re prettier than me” mask. We try to be someone we’re really not, in the hope that we might fool people. We try to put up barriers so that we don’t feel inadequate or get hurt.
But the thing is, if we’re always wearing a mask, we never reveal the true essence of who we really are and we rob others of getting to know us. And if it’s our imperfections that we’re worried about, if we just acknowledge them we might just be able to improve on them or get rid of them altogether. Once I realised that I was created to be “me” - not Audrey Hepburn, Angelina Jolie, Mother Teresa, or any other famous female for that matter – that’s when I was freed from the pressure of always comparing myself to others.
Although there are some truly amazing and awe-inspiring people out there, God made each and every one of us amazing in some way too. He made each of us a unique and “one of a kind” masterpiece. There never was and never will be another “me” throughout time....what a truly magnificent thought. So if that’s the case, I certainly don’t want to waste my life comparing myself to others or pretending I’m someone I’m not! Instead, I want to spend my life being the best “me” God created me to be!
Comparing ourselves to others and then focussing on what they have and we don’t have, is not helpful at all. It’s okay to learn from others in order to build our own character, but I don’t think we should see ourselves as any less valuable than the next person.
When I meet other cake decorators, who are so much better at cake decorating than me, I don’t put myself down because of it. I acknowledge that if I want to be as good as them, it takes time, practise and a course or two more than I’ve done. I don’t wear a mask, pretending that I’m better than I actually am either – if I did that, I might get asked to make a wedding cake or something....aaahhh, what would I do then? So rather than end up in an uncomfortable situation, I openly reveal who I truly am when it comes to cake decorating...just a fun-loving gal, searching for the perfect cupcake recipe!!
I may not be a professional cake decorator, a beautiful actress, or a famous missionary.....but I know who I am...a Christian, a devoted wife, a loving mum and a person simply striving to do my very best in whatever I do. Whether it’s cooking for my family, writing this blog, listening to a friend in need, living life....I just want to do it to the best of my ability. And when I fail, which of course is inevitable sometimes, I will dust myself off and try again.
As parents, my husband and I never tell our kids, “you have to be a doctor, or a dentist, or a famous trapeze artist!” We simply tell them to do their very best in everything they do. That’s all my parents ever asked of me and I am truly grateful for that. I think striving for excellence and good character is one of the noblest aims one could have.
Don’t misunderstand me...a bit of healthy competition never hurt anyone. In fact, it’s great to acknowledge that someone else is clever, or really talented at something, or amazingly beautiful. It’s wonderful to be inspired by others and motivated to become better versions of ourselves. But it’s when we make negative comparisons and take on a “woe is me” attitude that we’re heading in the wrong direction. After all, we were ALL made in the image of God Himself, so there is potential greatness in all of us. We just have to make the effort to tap into it.
“And God saw EVERY THING that He had made, and, behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31, Holy Bible)