Archive | June 2013

The Cake Muggles

At orientation for law school, the professor warned us that we were stepping into a black hole for the next three years. We all laughed, but it turned out to be true. To do well there, we had to eat, sleep and breathe the law. So we did.

When I moved into the baking field, it was just for fun…at first. It was a hobby that let me do cool cakes for my step son and for my coworkers. When it becomes your profession, especially if you work for yourself, the black hole opens up and swallows you. I knew when I started my own bakery that it would take long hours. I underestimated. I was easily working 12-18 hour days, six to seven days a week. I insanely thought that I would never turn down an order, so I took everything that came in the door…even if that meant I didn’t get to sleep that night. It became a source of pride to brag about how many hours straight I had been working.

Unless my friends or family helped at the bakery, they simply did not understand how the bakery life goes. Family get-togethers were invariably planned for 2 pm on Saturday…right in the middle of wedding deliveries and birthday pickups. They planned the family Christmas Eve party for Christmas Eve Eve several years in a row. That is the single busiest night of the year for a bakery like mine. Everyone picks up their orders for Christmas Eve. I was blessed that my family were not critical to my face, but I could tell I disappointed them when I fell asleep on the couch at the parties. (We decorators know that as soon as you stop moving, you are toast!).

I visit with a lot of decorators who ask me how to get their family to understand. I wish I had the answer. I really do. It is so difficult for an artist to explain their passion.

With respect to a spouse, you simply have to keep at it and negotiate a compromise that works for both of you. It could be that they let you go to Cake Camp if you let them go on a hunting trip. Or that you only do cakes every other weekend so that you leave time for family. When you do cakes from home, I think that it is harder for friends and family to look upon it as a business. To them, you are at home playing. You and I know that it is the hardest “playing” you ever did!

I decided that it is a bit like Harry Potter’s world. The Muggles don’t understand. They haven’t been exposed to the wizarding world and cannot begin to comprehend what makes the wizards tick. Your family is the same way. They haven’t experienced the rush of making the first buttercream rose you don’t hate or the first figurine that looks like what it is supposed to be! They don’t get a rush when someone posts a new Craftsy class or when your dream teacher is coming to a city near you. They don’t mean to hurt your feelings…they just don’t understand.

You have to be the one to educate them, cajole them and ply them with sweets until they offer you their support. Sometimes they are just waiting to see if this is a temporary fad. Once they see your level of commitment to making a career of cakes, they often will become your biggest supporter.

Besides, cake is still cool. My dad never bragged or got that excited about my law career. And I had a decent one…won some awards, won most every hearing, was in the paper…it wasn’t tangible to him. But put me on a cake TV challenge, have me give him sweets for his Sunday School class or let me do a cake with his race car on it, and I was brag worthy! The poor nurses at the hospital – they all had to hear about me right up until the day he died.

So my message to you is to remember that YOU are the one with the superpowers, so you have to help your family fall in love with your talents. Over and over, I have seen families embrace and support their decorators once they fully understand. Don’t give up on the cake Muggles….they’re just like us, just less “Sweet”.

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The Earlene Factor

When I went to my first cake show, I was a wide eyed decorator looking to learn as much as I could. I watched those around me and figured out who the influential, inspirational decorators were. They were the people I wanted to be more like. For me, that was Maxine Boyington, JoEllen Simon, Cheri Elder, Cheryl Hawkins and, most importantly for me, Earlene Moore. Earlene created cakes with lace and butterflies that were far beyond my knowledge. She was always smiling and happy and sharing her love of cake.

Earlene went further than most decorators, however. Before there was Facebook, Pinterest and You Tube tutorials, we had Earlene. She created a web site called http://www.earlenescakes.com. On her site, she offered advice for entering cake shows. She posted tutorials on common problems decorators faced. She shared recipes. This was so ahead of its time that, in my opinion, it contributed to her being named to the ICES Hall of Fame several years ago.

Every cake show and cake club seems to have someone like Earlene. I call it the Earlene Factor. As I was growing up in cake decorating circles, there were always groups of ladies (and some men) who were about 10-20 years older than me that were my guiding lights in the cake world. Some became mentors. Most became friends over the years. Because they were who they were, they continually inspired me to push myself to be more, to go further.

A year or so ago, I was at a cake show, talking to young, wide eyed decorators. All of a sudden I realized that I had become a type of Earlene. You never realize that you’ve moved from the young decorators group to the “slightly” older, influential group. I still think of myself as one of the young ones, but the mirror and my birth certificate beg to differ. I remember how much it meant to me to get the chance to learn from Earlene. Some of you have written to tell me how much it has meant to you for you to learn from the decorators of my generation. Many of us are trying to emulate a life that reflects the Earlene Factor.

I read a FB post last week from a decorator that had written someone she respected. She posted that the response she received was so arrogant and condescending that she was truly rocked by it. This broke my heart. That means that someone didn’t take the opportunity presented to them to inspire a talented young decorator. How sad. Part of the Earlene Factor is making sure that you check you ego at the door. Earlene is one of the most humble women I have ever met. She doesn’t walk around listing her accolades. She doesn’t talk down to you. She motivates. She inspires. She informs. I am so incredibly blessed to call her a friend.

If I am becoming an Earlene, then I am achieving one of my life goals.

Who has inspired and motivated you? Who has the Earlene Factor in your neck of the woods?

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Ruth’s Favorite Decorating Tools

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I’ve been wanting to write some blogs about my favorite things for a while. I really enjoyed writing the Top Ten on the cake events and wanted to do something similar on other parts of decorating. When I started making lists, I found it was hard to keep things at 10 all the time. So, I decided it would be easier to do like Oprah and just call these my favorite things…that way I don’t have to worry about how many I have.

favorite tools

I’m going to start with tools. These are the things that get us through every project or class. I know some of you will think this is horrendous because I am not listing my mixer, but I am making a list for DECORATING this go round. For each tool, I will tell you why I like it, where I got it and how I use it. Some of these are very cheap; a few are not. The key for all of them is that they make my life easier.

fondant mat

My Mini Ruth Mat

I used to use large silpats or pieces of upholstery plastic to work on. I still use those when I cover cakes. But most of my time is actually spent on making smaller things like flowers and figures or rolling out small pieces of paste to cut out designs. As I was teaching, I realized that when I gave my students a large placemat to roll out on, they would grab a larger piece of paste and never quite got it thin enough. My employees at the shop faced the same issue. One day I realized I wanted a small silpat for my students, to make them work smaller and thinner. After an online search, I bought all the 6″ round silpats on the market.

They worked like a charm. People’s flowers were better than ever! There was just one problem; they worked so well the students all wanted to take them home. I tried and tried to find more of them, but the company had stopped making them. I found a place in China to make them for me. Now I have 8″ mini Ruth Mats. They work perfectly for my classes and now people can buy them to take home. The other reason I like them is that they are small. I can tuck one in my tool bag, in my purse or in my delivery kit. They are awesome for kneading color into fondant…I work on them and don’t get color all over my work space. Washing them off is a breeze. They also fit in my 8″ baking pans, so I don’t have to cut parchment circles at home. They work with modeling chocolate, gum paste, fondant and isomalt. They have been exactly what I needed. Before you ask, I sell them on my web page, www.ruthrickey.com, click on online shopping.  They are $6. NY Cake now makes a 9″ mat like mine. Check their page for more information.

clay gun

My Clay Gun

This isn’t a tool I use a lot, but it is invaluable to me when I need it. I tried many of the smaller, cheaper ones on the market, but they hurt my hands or gave me trouble when I tried to extrude from them. This one is a bit pricey, but I looked on it as an investment tool. If I only need one and it will last me 10-40 years, it is worth it. I have had mine for well over ten years, making its price seem affordable.

I use this to create hair, flower centers, borders, tassels, ropes and so much more. I checked and Global Sugar Art carries these.  www.Globalsugarart.com. Norman Davis has become a huge fan of a giant extruder. I have used it in a cake challenge and it is very efficient for large projects.  Earlene Moore came up with a holder for the large extruders. You can buy that on her page. www.earlenescakes.com

dusting brushes

My Dusting Brushes

Oh the joys of a good brush! I have tried so many brushes over the years, but my favorites are absolutely my shaders and filberts. These are available from all your arts and craft supply stores. I usually use a 6 or 8 for dusting. I will use a 2 or 4 for brush embroidery or more detailed dusting. These also work well for spreading gelatin on the sheets that they sell at Cake Connection.  www.Cakeconnection.com.   While I do sometimes offer these for sale when I teach, I don’t offer them online. A quick online search will show you lots of places to get the brushes!

baby spatula

My Baby Spatula

It is actually a mini spatula, but the girls at my shop called it a baby spatula and the name stuck for me. This is an artists spatula and is much finer and thinner than the cake spatulas. I use this for everything. I lift delicate gum paste petals with it. I cut with it. I mix tiny amounts with it. I always have three or four in my tool bag. When I closed my bakery, the one thing every single employee wanted from my supplies was a baby spatula. Wilton has come out with a new tool set and it looks like they have gotten close to this spatula. I tried the Wilton one the other day. It is thicker and stiffer, even though it looks the same. I do sell these online and at my classes because my students fall in love with it just like I did. Mine is available here, www.ruthrickey.com, click on online shopping,  but many other artists carry it on their webpages.

ribbon cutter

My Ribbon Cutter

This is made by FMM. I had one in every delivery kit at the bakery, as well as several more at the shop. I think I’m pretty good at free handing straight lines, but always use this for even bows and stripes. It comes with some groovy cutting wheels, but I only use the smooth edged ones. I love it enough that several times when we would lose the tiny nut that held one together, I would go to Lowe’s and go through all the drawers until I found the perfect one to put it back in operation! These are available through a number of web sites, including Nick Lodge, www.nicholaslodge.com/shop/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=0&products_id=7896.

ball tool

A Great Ball Tool

There is something wonderful about having a ball tool you love. It fits your hand just right, the ball is the size you need every time and it lasts a long time. The plastic ones are fine to start with, but when you can, graduate to a metal or acrylic one. If you find one with an ergonomic handle or a cushion grip, all the better. I carry three sizes from Geraldine Randalsome. www.ruthrickey.com, click on online shopping.  I also love the one that Dianne Gruennberg sells on her site, www.avenueschoices.com.

face brushes

My Face Brush

Oh my goodness I love this brush. It is an 18/0 spotter. This is the kind of brush that, once you discover it, you cannot live without it. Just ask anyone who has painted faces or brooches with me! The key is that there are few hairs and that they are short, so you have perfect control of your paint. A liner brush is just not the same. I’ve used this type of brush for years. I used to keep my newest ones hidden so that no one at the bakery would use them. I am happy to say that I sell these, because they can be hard to find at the craft stores. Buy mine here:  www.ruthrickey.com, click on online shopping.

fondant knives

My Fondant Knife

Ok, it is really a lettuce knife, but I like calling it a fondant knife. Nick Lodge figured this out. He told Susan Carberry, who showed it to me. Oh my, I was hooked! It slices through fondant, gumpaste, modeling chocolate, Rice Krispie treats and so much more without sticking. Yes! Metal knives and spatulas gum up all the time and make me nuts. I was constantly trying to clean them off before the next cut. The plastic knives even cut through fondant covered cakes nicely, I hear. I found some in fun spring colors and carry those on my site, www.ruthrickey.com, click on online shopping.

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My Embroidery Scissors

When I first started doing gumpaste work, people told me to get the stork scissors from the sewing department. So of course I did. I loved them. They were a little pricey, but the blades were thin and sharp and I could get perfect cuts on flower centers. When I started teaching, I needed to have scissors for every student. That was going to be too expensive if I bought the stork scissors. I started wandering around the sewing department to see what other options were out there. I found the scissors pictured above. They are comfortable for my hand, they can achieve tiny delicate cuts on even the smallest orchid center and they cost around $5!! These are the scissors I use in all my classes. Buy them at Michael’s in the sewing department.

cel shredder

My CelCakes Cel Shredder

I didn’t want to buy this. It costs around $60, which seemed crazy to me. I bought a cheap yellow tape shredder to cut my floral tape. It gummed up constantly. It was unwieldy and irritating. I had studied enough that I knew I needed to cut my floral tape to achieve better results.  I use a third width tape.  I even tried cutting the tape by hand…time consuming and anything but straight!

Finally I gave in and bought a Cel Shredder. I swear I could hear the angels sing when I used it. You just place a roll of tape against it, rotate the tape and it cuts through several layers at a time! It has a dial system to let you choose whether to cut the tape in halves, thirds or fourths. Genius! It is easy to take apart to replace the razor blades when they become dull. This is another investment tool that is SO worth it! Bye them here: www.nicholaslodge.com/shop/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=0&Products_id=7506,  You may notice that Nick has a new one with his name on it for around $30.  I just heard about it and hear it works really well, too.  It cuts into fourths and halves.  I will pick one up at Cake Camp and experiment!

So there you have it, a few of my favorite things. I know I haven’t listed them all, which means I will probably follow up with more information about tools in future blogs. Coming soon is my blog on my ten favorite books/book series that I highly recommend. I can’t wait to share those with you!

Now that you’ve read my list, do you agree? Are you tempted to go buy anything that you don’t currently own? Which favorite of yours did I leave out?

A Ripple in the Water

Recently, in the same week, I got to watch two separate social media meltdowns. One made the national news; one just swept the cake industry. Both involved cake artists. In both cases, the cake artists fed into the drama instead of ignoring it or rising above it. I honestly do not know what the long term effects of these meltdowns will be, but I would not be surprised if long term damage has been done to reputations.

In today’s fast paced world, one drop truly does ripple out. Seemingly small choices can have large impacts. If you blow up on a public forum, you have to expect that it will be shared and shared and shared. Whether we like it or not, people are watching our posts. People are judging us. If we are constantly negative, people will unconsciously think negatively of us. If you are constantly upbeat and encouraging of others, people will be drawn to you. If you make a mistake and are honest about it, people will forgive you.

In the case of the national meltdown, a bakery was on a tv show and made some unusual comments. People went onto their Facebook page and poked fun or derided their philosophy. The bakery owners then made the fatal mistake of engaging these critics. The better and more expedient solution would have been to block the people and to remove the comments. Anytime I had someone place a negative post on my bakery Facebook page, this was my solution. Yes, it takes a little time, but it removes their power. The only thing they want is to create drama in your life. You can join in the drama or wipe it from the face of the Earth.

In the other instance, a well known cake celebrity was subjected to a prank. She did not laugh it off or simply post that the prank was a prank. No, she blasted the creator of the prank. When others found humor in the prank that she could not see, she blasted them, as well. In the end, she blocked numerous people. So what did all of that gain her? Not much. Many people were offended by her reaction to the prank and it may, in the end, cause her to lose supporters for a project dear to her heart. This is sad. Sometimes, in hindsight, we can see where we went wrong on social media, but it isn’t always easy when we are in the middle of an emotional situation.

Another example occurred last week. A talented sugar artist in England closed her business due to cyber bullying. She was driven to a suicide attempt by the behavior of a few self described sugar witches. As with the cases above, she tended to go into the drama instead of removing the drama from her life. I think she initially tried to ignore the posts or block them, but, at some point, began to post about the treatment she was receiving. While that did get her sympathy from other artists, it also fed into the drama. I still believe the best approach would have been to block the people posting on her page and to remove their comments. As a business page owner on Facebook, you have that ability. When the people who live to create drama find silence, they will move on.

Does this silence mean that you are validating their treatment of you? Aren’t you supposed to stand up for yourself and call them out, so that the bullying stops? Kind of. Calling them out publicly, as seen above, did not stop the bullies. It magnified it. The better approach is to take away their forum. Report the tactics to Facebook or the proper authorities. Punish them through the proper channels.

When the British artist posted that she was closing her business, her followers immediately wanted to go attack the people who harassed her. They wanted to bully the bullies. I cringed as soon as I read those responses, because I know in my heart that this will create a nightmare situation for all involved.

There is so much good in social media (take for example the pages that sprung up after the Oklahoma tornadoes to give assistance to those affected, to reunite pets and owners and to give out important, life saving information to people in the area). This is when I love Facebook. Social media connects us to our friends and family and to people we don’t know who share our interests. It is not Facebook or social media that is evil. It is only some who use it.

The next time you are about to start on a rant on Facebook, please take a deep breath and ask yourself if this smothers the drama or feeds the drama. My guess is that you will realize it will feed the fire and that you will delete your post. I know that I cannot please everyone in my personal or professional life, so all I can do is try to remember that I hate drama and do my best to keep it out of my life and off my Facebook pages.

When did we lose the ability to laugh at ourselves? Why do we let one or two people ruin our day? We must not let them have so much influence over our lives. Sometimes the hardest, but most eventually rewarding thing, is to let time and karma show the world who is wrong. Lets try to be sweet to each other. Lets try to support our fellow artists. There is plenty of business for all of us out there. Bake love. Not war.

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