I have just returned from a three day workshop on Sculptural Cake Decorating. It was relaxing, tiring and wonderful all at the same time. The weekend came to an end with ten exhausted women carrying ten beautiful (and completely different) works of art to their cars. Hugs were shared, and some of us promised to keep in touch. Unfortunately for us, the structure of our cakes were made from styrofoam; not the lovely, buttery confection we had imagined, eating it for weeks afterwards until we finally exploded from too much sugary goodness…. We bonded over fake cake. However, now that I have it home, sitting on the table, in my living room, I no longer want to eat it; I want it to live forever in my house; I will never get tired of it, no matter how dusty and faded it gets. It’s a reminder of a pocket in time when I lost sight of who I was supposed to be, I immersed myself into whatever decided to dwell inside my head. For three days I didn’t care about the outside world, or if anyone approved of what I was doing. What made it all so special, for me, was how the center had managed to combine the artistic lifestyle with the classes that they held there. Where we stayed was quite basic; the house was over a hundred and fifty years old, the amenities were minimal, the atmosphere one of simplicity and comfort. We had no choice but to forget the outside world. We were in a very rural area with no televisions, no radio, definitely no internet service and very sporadic cell phone coverage. Everyone at the center was there to study or learn a craft, so the focus was on their art (not the latest debate on Government Healthcare). We had no choice but to be absorbed into our surroundings. When we first arrived we were given hours of instruction on the art of fondant cakes, and how to decorate them. Then came time to start sketching our designs. I admit I was a little intimidated to have to design and present a cake (albeit styrofoam) to a woman who has singlehandedly taken the dessert world by storm (the delightful and tremendously talented Collette Peters). Fortunately, she made it very easy for us to like her, and I began to sketch my ideas out onto my notepad. I knew almost immediately the pattern and colors that I wanted to use. After she had consulted with each of us we were given the arduous task of carving the cakes out of styrofoam forms. It sounds easy, but honestly, I think it took me about three hours to get the measurements and the shapes right. At the end of day one I had three sawn off pyramids, all of graduating sizes. The following morning the fun part began, we started coloring and shaping the fondant to cover our “cakes”. During the next two days I want to believe that the cake became a reflection of me and my ideas. It is a colorful cake that has symmetry and whimsy, but it is also woefully imperfect. It may be an act of self-preservation, but I firmly believe that beauty and character lie within our imperfections. As my cake evolved I needed to change a few things. The bottom layer was supposed to be purple but as I mixed the purple food coloring into the white fondant it started to turn blue. I added more and more purple and it just became more and more blue. Collette asked me why I had that puzzled expression on my face (my daughter lovingly calls this my twisty face) and I explained about the color problem. She said that for some reason the purple reacts with that brand of fondant and turns it blue. Adding red only muddied the color, so I had to change direction and redo all of my color schemes throughout the cake. I was happy that I was able to adapt so easily. The more philosophical part of my reminded me that this was perhaps just another teachable moment that can only happen when mistakes are made (but, let’s not get too carried away, it was afterall, just a styrofoam cake, not the Mona Lisa).
Last night, after I returned home, I thought of some of the other women who were in the workshop. An architect who spent some time the week before planning her cake; she assembled it beautifully, so quickly and perfectly, with no gaps or structural issues. A young woman did an amazing cake that was a stack of classic horror stories. The top of the cake had a bloodied hand creeping out from the top. Alternately, she also did the sweetest, tiny cake that looked like it had just fallen out of a fairytale. And my dear friend, Debbie, who did a topsy turvy cake that was a glamorous study of pinks and purples with silver pearls in between. Does this mean that given the freedom to do whatever we want, we begin to embrace who we really are inside? I think it does. All of these women were creative, and yet the cakes could not have been more varied. As we got to know them I could see why they did what they did and the relevance that the cake may have had in their lives. These women had an opportunity to design whatever they wanted; in an environment with all of the tools that they could possibly need, with a teacher of world-class renown. When given all of these things most of us chose to demonstrate who we were in a very tangible way. All of them beautiful, but all of them different. I think we should enjoy what makes us different. What makes us think or cry or giggle. Take the time to find out what these things are and make them a part of your life.
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