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The Color Dilemma: Natural Food Color in Cake Decorating

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Cookie icing using natural food coloring

Cookie icing using natural food coloring

 

To color or not to color that is the question! Celebrations are supposed to be festive, fun, and colorful but more and more people are rethinking the use of food dyes in food. Do you have options?  Can you be fun and colorful without food dyes?  If you are trying to say away from artificial colors there plenty of options, but each option has advantages and disadvantages.  Let’s walk through them.

Natural food coloring.  Natural food colors are derived from plants, vegetables, and spices.   You can make them yourself or buy them.  We prefer to buy them, as they are quite labor intensive to make. Although most brands claim there is no added taste, we beg to differ. They are not flavorless, but for the most part are not as off putting in taste as their chemical based food dye counterparts.  It takes a lot more product to get darker colors and the colors will not be vibrant.  Natural colors are 3-10 times more expensive than their chemical-based counterparts so if you desire a richer color, the cost can add up pretty quickly.  Natural colors are safe for most people with food dye sensitivities, unless you are allergic to one of the fruit, vegetables, or spices used to make them.

 

We love using natural food dyes when a more sophisticated pink, yellow, or orange is desired.  Beautiful pastel colors can be made with natural food colors without any effort.  Think baby shower, 1st birthdays, Spring, Easter, Mother’s day, and even Halloween are themes and color schemes that will benefit from natural food coloring. Here’s a sample of our work using natural colors.   And of course, you can request  natural colors with your next order! .

Go Non-edible.  If you really love deep bright colors, give non-edible decorations a try.   We know that we are in the day in age where it is totally cool and the norm for everything on a decorated cake or cupcakes to be completely edible.  Plastic and paper picks can be added to cupcakes and cakes to give them the color pop without using chemical-based food dyes.   We can acquire food safe toppers in almost any theme and color scheme you can imagine with enough advance notice.

 

In fact, you can typically save a lot of by choosing  non-edible décor, as custom handmade decorations can add up very quickly depending.

Limit it or make it removable. If you are not allergic to the chemical- based food dyes and really can’t imagine your custom edible dessert without artificial dyes, make the décor removable.  There will be traces of the food coloring, but you will significantly reduce the amount ingested. You can cover cakes and cupcakes in uncolored frosting or fondant, and use colored fondant pieces for accents.

Another way to limit the amount of food coloring used is to select a design that works with airbrushing or edible images. A smaller amount of coloring is used in airbrushing, it will be a thin layer on the outside of the cake, rather than a much greater amount used to color the frosting or fondant all the way through. The downside of an airbrushed design on frosting, is that if the area is touched the uncolored portion is revealed, so placing candles or other objects on the cake can distort the design.  Make sure to protect your cake until you are ready to take those birthday pictures.  You may want to get a shot of the person of honor with the cake before putting in the candles.

Like airbrushing, with edible images only a thin layer of dye is introduced on the outer surface of the cake.  Most edible images contain soy lecithin, so this is often not an option for those with soy allergies.  Out of the Bubble Bakery, can special order edible images in most themes as well, but we do not have the ability for on demand printing.

Just know whatever choice you make on color, we have many choices available to support your allergy or mindful diet!

Day 7: VegWeek

Isn’t it bad that I can’t remember what we ate for breakfast. It is that kind of Monday.  All I can tell you is that it was vegan, probably a grain with a side of fruit.

For lunch, although I had plans, the kids demonstrated to be able to eat pasta shells with marinara sauce.  They had a side of yellow peppers and a chocolate chip cookie.  I couldn’t stand to see those delicious chocolate chip cookies anymore so I had to get rid of them as soon as possible.

I'll eat bell peppers over chocolate chip cookies any day!

I’ll eat bell peppers over chocolate chip cookies any day!

 

Check out that self-control by my children.  I taught them well! Ian goes for the bell pepper first and not the cookie.

HA!  The camera shows you what I want you to see, the other two are chowing down on their cookies.  As usual they eat nearly a pound of pasta by themselves.  I nearly had to fight them for food.  When will I ever learn to make larger quantities of food.

For snack we had blue corn chips with guacamole and salsa.  There isn’t a store brought guacamole I like, so I always make my own.  Keeping with the laziness of my day, I didn’t feel like doing all the chopping so I took some shortcuts.  I mashed the avocado with a tablespoons of chopped fresh cilantro, a bit of jalapeno pepper, a squirt of lime juice, and a couple of heaping tablespoons of ready made salsa.  It was really good, and it carried us over until I felt like getting dinner ready.

This cold, rainy Monday called for some soup.  I was going to make a bean soup or chili, but I just couldn’t get myself together to get the soup started.  We were all in a lazy, grumpy mood.  I saw a couple of cans of Progresso tomato and basil soup, I put some leftover white rice in the soup and we had our vegan tomato and rice soup.  I also used those leftover dinner rolls, lightly coated them in olive oil and put them on the grill pan and spread some homemade white bean spread on them.  I prepared the bean spread by placing all the following in a food processor and pulsing until smooth:

Preparing Bean Spread1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 (12-ounce) jar of marninated artichoke hearts, drained
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon lemon zest
3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 clove of garlic
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

 

We did it, we made it all seven days and it didn’t kill us.

Tomato and Rice Soup, with White Bean and Artichoke Crostini

Day 6: VegWeek

We are coming down the home stretch! Sunday we usually eat really well, and as usual we did. The only thing different was we ate vegan and well.

For breakfast we started out with homemade chocolate chip pancakes. The kids had been asking for pancakes all week.  I use to make egg-free/dairy-free pancakes all the time, but I couldn’t find my recipe so I adapted my typical recipe with eggs, to be vegan. They came out great, better than my old recipe.  I doubled the recipe with the hopes we would have leftovers for Monday’s breakfast.  No such, luck they were all gone.

Vegan Chocolate Chip Pancakes

 

 

 

 

 

 

For lunch, I also tried a new recipe.  Sometimes I make corn or bean enchiladas for vegetarian day, but I wanted to do a twist and make corn taquitos.  I started by combining  the following for the filling:

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2  TBS of chopped cilantro
2 cups of frozen organic super sweet corn
1/2 cup of sauteed onions
2/3 cups of Toffuti sour cream
1 tsp of ancho chili powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp of pepper

Putting it all together

I placed the filling in a flour tortilla and rolled.

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See how big they are! Then I deep fried them in corn oil. Not taquitos, maybe we can call them chimichangas?!?!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I served them with a side of plantains (lightly salted after sauteing) sauteed in coconut oil, and Zataran’s red beans and rice (surprisingly vegan). Everyone really liked this meal. Big success, despite the fact that they didn’t quite look how I wanted them to.

vegan corn chimichangas, fried plantains, and red beans and rice

vegan corn chimichangas, fried plantains, and red beans and rice

I knew dinner would take a long time, so I planned on homemade chocolate chip cookies for snack. I’ve made vegan chocolate chip cookies before and the recipes that I developed or tried previously have been good, but just okay.

Cookies in the oven

Cookies in the oven

I typed in “best vegan chocolate chip cookies” in the Google search browser and this is the first chocolate chip cookie recipe that came up. I thought to myself, yeah right, but hey we are doing something new so why not. I did use rice milk instead of almond milk. These cookies were absolutely divine!

Best Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies

The best vegan chocolate chip cookies

They were crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. A disclaimer, I used virgin coconut oil and the cookies did have a slight but pleasant coconut flavor. I bet if you used refined coconut oil, the coconut flavor tends to be toned down, you wouldn’t taste the coconut at all. I couldn’t stop eating the cookie dough either. I’ve never been a fan of cookie dough, but this might make me a convert. Now I’m having dreams of making a vegan ice cream with cookie dough in the summer.

The cookies kept everyone happy until dinner. Dinner was later than usual, it didn’t get on the table until 6:45pm. Dinner didn’t go to well– I was the only one that liked it. The kids barely ate, and my husband ate, but registered his complaint. I served rosemary polenta with a caramelized onion and mushroom compote (made with those expensive trumpet mushrooms) and garlicky greens on the side.

Prepping for the mushroom and onion compote. Trumpet mushrooms, red onion, sage, and thyme

Prepping for the mushroom and onion compote. Trumpet mushrooms, red onion, sage, and thyme

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was the most time consuming meal yet and everyone usually likes the greens which are mix of kale and swiss chard with an entire head of garlic, but not this time. Maybe I should have saved the cookies for dessert.

Rosemary Polenta, Onion and Mushroom Compote, and Garlicky mixed greens

Vegan Rosemary Polenta, Onion and Mushroom Compote, and Garlicky mixed greens

One more day, until the verdict…stay tuned.

Day 4 &5: VegWeek 2013

    Day 4:

The last two days were hectic. Between baking, delivering, mommy duties, and preparing for class I didn’t get any time to write or seriously cook.

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On Friday, I let the kids choose what they get for breakfast, and like most Fridays they chose cereal. I also gave them a side of blackberries and strawberries.  I didn’t even think to get vegan friendly cereal when I went grocery shopping so we went with what was already in the pantry.  I ate a bagel and drank tea instead of coffee in hopes that it would settle my stomach. Thursday I started having bad stomach cramps and it keep me up most of the night Thursday and Friday night.

Let’s move on to lunch.  Although I complained about only having french fries and salads at restaurants to eat, guess what we had for lunch on Friday? You guessed it, french fries and salad!  It was a unanimous at some point before lunch we all mentioned we wanted french fries and salad, so that’s what we had with plenty of ketchup for dipping. Hmmmmm! We were all satisfied.

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This kids were really hungry on Friday afternoon. We did several snacks one of them was trying something new, Daiya, a cheese substitute that doesn’t contain soy.  I found it to be awful, but Zachary who is the real cheese lover, ate all of his, mine, and his brothers. The twins didn’t like it, neither did I.

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For dinner, we had pasta with marina sauce and zucchini with a side of broccoli.  Ian keep telling me I forgot the meatballs.  Zachary tried to explain to Ian that we were celebrating the Earth so we are not eating meat.  It was a funny conversation to listen to because Ian was trying to convince Zachary that meatballs were better than zucchini. Nonetheless they all cleaned their plates.

DSC_1297 (3000x1995)After dinner we relaxed a bit, then I stayed up until 1:30am preparing for my Lambeth cake decorating class. The class focuses on piping intricate and ornate designs with royal icing. I thought about trying to develop an egg-less royal icing, but quickly decided against it. I wanted to focus on the technique– I can experiment later and there is nothing really like the albumen in egg white that is plant-based.

Day 5:

I don’t have much to report for Day 5, because I was in class all day. For breakfast we had organic waffles again.  For lunch the kids ate leftover pasta from Day 5.  For dinner my husband prepared vegetable pot-stickers, rice, and a side of mixed veggies.  The kids barely ate dinner.

I stayed up most of the night with digestive issues and woke-up early to get to class. I was in such a rush I forgot to pack my lunch. Lunch for the class consisted of croissants, chicken salad, cut-up veggies, cheese, pepperoni sticks, and water.  Although I knew it wasn’t vegan I ate the croissants and  some of the cut-up veggies to get some calories in because I was feeling quite weak.  I should have taken the time to pack my lunch.  But I am going to make up for the lack of food on Sunday.  I have excellent meals planned for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Now that I think about it, I have too much corn planned for Sunday, but I’m going to stick with it.

Day Three: VegWeek 2013

Today is catch what you can day, because it is the busiest day of our week.  The madness started early and breakfast was so chaotic I didnt’ get a chance to take pictures.

For breakfast, we had cinnamon raisin bagels,  grapes and rice milk. While the kids were eating breakfast I had to pack Zachary a lunch. On Thursdays he has an afterschool program, so he eats lunch at school before his program starts.  In his lunch box I put a sunflower seed butter sandwich  a gala apple, grape tomatoes, and a juice box.  I also had to take care of some correspondence with the school, so my breakfast was delayed.

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I had my usual coffee, coconut milk creamer and sugar with barely enough time to enjoy it before getting Ian and Alastair into the car and off to their gym class.  The twins didn’t finish their breakfast so they finished their bagels in the car.

After gym, they are always hungry and tired.  They had cheerios and raisins for a snack. Everyone was unusually grumpy today so between playing referee I attempted to prep lunch.

 

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We had essentially the same lunch as Zachary, Sunflower butter sandwiches and gala apples.  But we all ate at different times.   Alastair ate while I prepared the kitchen for baking.  Ian was asleep and he ate some of his lunch when he woke up.

 

Dinner tonight is comprised of leftovers from the past couple of nights.  We had black bean patties (from Day 2),  barley salad (from Day 1), and a side of mix veggies.

 

Boy do I wish we could have dropped into a fast food restaurant today for a quick meal.  With only french fries and limited salads as options, I passed.  If and only if there were more vegan options.

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I think I’m starting to feel the effects of not eating animal products.  My body feels somewhat tired today, not tired as in wanting to go to sleep.  But tired as in, my muscles just got finished a rigorous workout and they are feeling kind of weak like jello.  I haven’t had any meat cravings yet.  However, I have been craving nuts, but I’m allergic.  I ate a handful of sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds, but that just didn’t do it.

I’m off to start working on this week’s order. It is fitting, because this week’s only order is a vegan cake!  It’s a light week, because I need to prepare for a class that’s all day Saturday.

Goodnight!

 

Day Two: Vegan Awareness Week

 

 

 

This morning for breakfast we had Pillsbury crescent rolls and bananas. The kids drank their usual rice milk, and I had coffee with coconut milk creamer and a bit of Starbuck’s Vanilla Spice flavoring.  Again, this is a typical breakfast for us.

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Lunch was the highlight of today’s meals.  It was cold this morning, but by the time lunch came around the weather was just gorgeous, so we turned lunch into a picnic in the backyard.  We had falafel from Trader Joe’s, pita bread, grape tomatoes, and a cucumber-dill yogurt sauce.  For the yogurt sauce I placed all the items below in a food processor and pureed until smooth:

  • 3 tablespoons of plain coconut yogurt
  • A 5 inch piece of peeled and seeded cucumberDSC_1149 (3000x2087)
  • one clove of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons of fresh dill
  • 2 tablespoons of parsley
  • The juice of ½ of a lemon
  • Salt and pepper

This meal was a hit with the kids, especially the sauce. They dipped everything in it.  Then they came up with their own sauce.

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Zachary bit the top off of one of his tomatoes, squeezed the tomato juice/pulp on his pita bread, and declared he made his own sauce.  It wasn’t long before the twins caught on, then all three were doing it.  The wind picked up halfway through lunch, so we also enjoyed dandelion seeds and blossoms off the apple tree with our food as well.

I don’t know what I was thinking for dinner.  I had it in my mind that I was going to make black bean patties, sweet potato fries, and confetti corn.  Then I decided it would be cute to put the black bean patties on a bun to make it look like a hamburger.  Sometimes I make things more complicated than they need to be.  Instead of buying fries or chips, I decided to make them.  Dinner took me nearly 2 hours to get on the table.  Next time I will buy the sweet potato chips or fries, and perhaps prepare the black bean patties earlier in the day, and cook them in the evening.

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I used 3 tablespoons of the leftover coconut yogurt from lunch as a replacement for the egg whites in the recipe. I also added cracker crumbs to make the patties stiffer, and coated them in flour instead of cornmeal.  The last time I made this recipe we all agreed we didn’t like the texture of the cornmeal.  I didn’t do the rice with the recipe this time, but it is delicious as well, and you can easily substitute olive oil, corn oil, or any other type of vegetable oil for the butter.

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Making the sweet potato chips did bring me back down memory lane.  After digging the sweet potatoes up out of the garden, Grandma Ease with clean them, peel them, and slice them with her very not sharp knife with the piece of the blade broken.  I’d steal raw sweet potatoes out of the bowl and she would swat at my hands like I was a fly.  Hehehehe! She’d fried them and put them on paper towels to get the grease off.  We would eat them piping hot sprinkled with a little salt.  By the time she got to the last batch everything she had cooked previously was gone.

 

Dinner was okay.  The patties were much better without the bun. It was just too much of the same texture with the bun.  I should have stuck with my original plan.  The twins cleaned their plates twice and Zach ate everything except a tiny bit of his burger.  The burgers were made with the black bean patties, dinner rolls, tomato slices, and bbq sauce.  They were served with a side of sweet potato chips and a pickle.

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Let’s see what tomorrow has in store!

Day One: Eating Vegan

So today was our first day of a seven-day adventure.  First I had to do menu planning, then I had to go grocery shopping. Since this is a busy week, I’d only plan to go to one store. I chose Wegmans, because my list is produce heavy and Wegmans has the best selection of fresh produce in my opinion. I wasn’t able to find vegan dinner rolls or near ripe plantains.  So I will have to visit the local Giant tomorrow.

Let’s start with breakfast. I have ~45 minutes between the time I start cooking breakfast and the kids finish eating breakfast. Therefore I look for pre-packaged foods.

Vegan Breakfast Day 1

Today we went with waffles, raisins, and rice milk.  This is what I found in our pantry before the grocery shopping trip. Everyone cleaned their plates so it was all good!  The kids  had their breakfast while I drank my coffee and prepared the grocery list.  I took my coffee with a teaspoon of evaporated cane juice and coconut milk. By the time I finished my list, it was way past time to leave for the grocery store, so I skipped breakfast and headed out the door.

I shoveled Oreo cookies in the kids mouths (they are mostly vegan, less the sugar), while we shopped to keep them quiet. The shopping trip was easy, I had to visit fewer sections in the store for my shopping this week.  Since I skipped my breakfast, I was starving near the end of the shopping trip. I passed through the bakery section for a quick bite.  I was so tempted to get a croissant, donut, or muffin–but I was good, I picked a kalamata olive roll from the artisan bread section.  All in all, the grocery bill was about $30 less than the typical week.  My splurge item was trumpet mushrooms at $12.99 per lb.  Every week, I buy something special that is either an expensive item or something we haven’t tried before, the trumpet mushrooms fell into both categories.

 I picked up my son from preschool and headed home. I usually have about 15-20 minutes to get lunch on the table before the meltdowns start, so again we go with quick meals for lunch.

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Today we did gnocchi with marinara sauce and sliced cucumbers on the side.  I made 2 lbs of gnocchi with the hope we would have enough leftover for Thursday’s lunch, but no such luck. The kids ate nearly 2 lbs of gnocchi and the entire cucumber by themselves.

 

DSC_1029 (3000x1803)I had to pick the leftovers off their plate and scrap together a lunch.  I know what you are thinking.  I must have teenagers. NO!  I have a four year-old son, and two toddlers that are 2 and 1/2 years-old.

 

 

Let’s skip to dinner. I made a variation of a recipe I’ve used for years. I tweaked the recipe for Toasted Barley Salad with Red Bell Pepper, Corn, and Grilled Portobello Mushrooms.

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Lately the kids have been against spicy food so I substituted green bell pepper for the poblano pepper, lemon for lime, and the basil for cilantro.  We had the salad with a side of roasted carrots (2 lbs) that were drizzled in olive oil, a pinch of salt, and 1 tsp of maple syrup.

Carrots with Thyme and Maple

Everyone liked it. All the kids went back for seconds. They barely left enough carrots for dad and me.  I had my dinner with a glass of Chardonnay.  Everyone ate well all day! 

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Cake Show Piece_013

Part II: The Cakes and the Decorators at the National Capital Area Cake Show 2013

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One of the most striking things about the cake show was that no matter how perfect the cake was, everyone seemed to be displeased with the cake they were entering that I spoke with. I’m not sure what to think of it.  Either we all have really low self-esteem, are being very humble, can’t see the beauty in our own work, or we are psycho perfectionists.  It’s probably a mix of all the above.  It made me wonder if cake decorators/artists are ever pleased with their work. I just thought about my cakes and I can’t think of one cake that I was absolutely pleased with how it came out. We all have initial visions and sometimes they just don’t work how we had it in our head. We see flaws that no one else sees, but at the end of the day the cakes we make put smiles on people faces and awe in their eyes, and I wonder why we just aren’t happy with that. Why isn’t that my measure of success—why isn’t that your measure of success?

Perhaps it is because we are always comparing our work to one another and of course we would do that, after all it is a competition.  What I was most inspired by was the youth and beginner cakes. You can just see the fun in the youth cakes, it is refreshing to see.  You can see each unique person, their interests, the things they love, and their favorite colors in their cakes. Looking at the beginner cakes reminded me everyone has to start somewhere and some people just have it. There are the rare few that are just extremely talented and will produce a flawless piece on their first go round. Nonetheless, you can still be great; it just takes hard work, practice, patience, confidence, and perseverance. It takes some guts to enter a cake that has very visible flaws amongst cakes that will end-up in magazines across the world. But those cakes scream, I’m going to keep going, I’m taking this seriously, and nothing comes easy.  As someone who entered the semi-professional division that had a cake that I felt wouldn’t even make it in the beginner or youth division I asked myself many times over the course of the weekend, why did you do this? I still don’t know the answer, but I tell you what—it has made me want to try harder, be more precise, and move out of my comfort zone. So I am a better cake decorator for it.

 For your viewing pleasure, pictures of many of the youth cakes entered. The youngest are 4 years old!

 

Contestants walk nervously from the cars with their cakes to the showroom

My experience at the 2013 National Capital Area Cake Show

Part 1: The Arrival

Although it wasn’t my first year going to the National Capital Area Cake Show this year was very different. This was the first time I entered a cake in a contest so I wasn’t just a by-stander I was a participant. I arrived at the cake show all blurry-eyed, nervous, and embarrassed. I was up most of the night before putting the finishing touches on my cake entry. Since I had been to the show the year before I knew how expert the cakes were. My cake was no were near the caliber of the cakes that get ribbons. Before arriving at the show I didn’t care about placing, I just wanted to enter a cake to say “I did it, I pushed myself to try something new, and that was a big enough accomplishment for me”.

Contestants walk nervously from the cars with their cakes to the showroom

Balancing Act

Then I pulled into the parking lot and saw everyone unloading their masterpieces from the car and I suddenly got the feeling that I wanted to do more than just enter a cake. I want to measure up, I want to win next time. Just when I was feeling accomplished for completing a cake I felt unworthy to be entering a cake and I became quite ashamed of the piece I was submitting for judging. I tried to sneak in with my cake and register. But there was nowhere to hide, bright lights, discerning eyes, and professional photographers all greeted me and my cake show piece at the door. I put my cake on the table, did a few more touch ups, took a few pictures, then had it photographed.

I started to walk around with the goal of taking pictures of every cake that was in the cake room. I was just in awe of the cakes. Some of the beginner cakes were out of this world, much better than anything I could imagine myself doing. Taking the walk along the Master’s Cake lane was like taking a walk on the Hollywood walk of fame. Seeing these lovely works of art by celebrity cake artists, people that inspire me, and teach me. People that I “stalk” every day, looking at their websites, blogs, facebook pages, and youtube videos. They had cakes on display in the same room as me. We were walking in the same room. Our cakes are merely feet apart. OMG! OMG! OMG! This is like a dream come true! I was on cloud nineteen! This was the best experience I’ve ever had, what an honor!

…….stay tuned for Part II, III, IV, and V