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Book Review/Interview:  Artisan Cake Company’s Visual Guide to Cake Decorating by Liz Marek

Recently, one of my “cake daughters” wrote her first cake decorating book. While she is the master of social media and openly shares her life’s ups and downs with her friends on Facebook, I felt like we could all get to know her and this project better. 

When you dive into the book, you will find actual guidance on support for figures and cakes. Most decorating books on the market do not focus on this info. The part that I thought would be a “must read” for people is The Elements of Cake Design”. As a judge at most of the major cake shows in the U.S., I will tell you that most cakes rise or fail at the design stage. Take her lessons to heart and you can be creating more visually impactful cakes!  

Here is my interview:
1.  What was your favorite project in the book? It’s hard to choose but the owl was my favorite. He was just so cute I wanted to smoosh his widdle cheeks! 

2.  What was the hardest part of writing the book? Writing a book was so much harder than I expected! Coming up with ideas was easy but then practicing the project, working out the bugs, taking photos and writing it in a way that could be understood by even a novice was very hard and I went to bed many-a-night with a migraine from thinking too hard lol

3.  What decorators influenced you or inspired you as you were learning decorating? I loved and still love many decorators I looked up to when there was no fb and only flickr haha. I used to devour photos from karen portaleo, debbie goard, mike mccarey and melody brandon from sweet and saucy. All very different from each other but each had something special that I wanted to achieve in my own work. Creativity, clean work and beautiful details. 

4.  How did you get started decorating? I started by doing. I watched a few episodes of Food Network challenge and Ace of Cakes and got the bug. No youtube tutorials existed yet so I just winged it. My first cakes where not pretty at all lol

5.  What is your biggest wish for your book? My biggest wish is simply that people find my book useful and that it is used. It is not placed on the shelf to gather dust but the pages are worn from use, dog-eared and stained with batter. I want this book to be a tool, not a decoration for a book shelf. 

6.  What did you learn yourself as you wrote this book? I learned that I take way too many photos of my cakes haha I also learned that I work best at night and that I cannot sleep until a project is done. 

7.  Who is your target audience for the book? My target audience is beginner to intermediate cake decorators who need help getting beyond the basics or advanced decorators who need some inspiration to take their ideas to the next level. 

8.  Do you hope your daughter follows in your footsteps someday? I hope my daughter feels passionately about whatever she chooses to do in life and I hope to help her find that passion no matter what it is. I did not find my passion until I was almost 30 years old and spent a good portion of my life thinking I wasn’t good at anything. I want my daughter to be inspired every day and try everything until she finds the thing that makes her happy. 

9.  Tell me about juggling your bakery business with writing a book. Writing a book while baking cakes for clients was a nightmare. There was never enough time in the day to get everything done. I still do not know how it happened. I also was 9 months pregnant and approved my final draft of the book the week I went into labor. I joked that writing a book was more complicated than having my baby and definitely more painful haha. But def love my book like she was my own baby. 

10.  How many copies have been sold so far? We have sold over 4 thousand copies since December 2014 and counting! The book is getting great reviews and the publisher is talking about another book but I’m not sure I’m ready for that lol.

You can buy Liz’s book on Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/Artisan-Companys-Visual-Guide-Decorating/dp/1937994694
   
    

Learning to Breathe

SugarZen

I grew up in a trailer park. We never had a lot, but I rarely knew I didn’t have it all. I loved the place, especially the pool. I learned to swim in that pool, watching the other kids. I was like a fish. I swam as often as I could, practiced holding my breath under water and swam as though I had no fear. Put me in a lake and I was just as confident. I always considered myself a good, strong swimmer.

What I did not realize until I started really paying attention to the Olympics and until I started training with a swim coach for a triathlon is that I was only a recreational swimmer. I never took classes at the Y or with the Red Cross like many children, so I never learned the fundamentals of swimming. The lack of those basics never would have bothered…

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Book Review/Interview: Cupcake Envy by Amy Eilert

Recently, I shared with you my list of “must have” books (https://sugarzen.wordpress.com/2014/06/26/ruths-favorite-sugar-art-books/).  At that time, I promised that I would be reviewing some of the new books on the market.  I’m excited to bring you the first of several today!

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I first met Amy Eilert at CakeLove in Vancouver, Canada.  I had heard of her from an appearance on Food Network, but really didn’t know much about her.  I have to say, it was love at first sight!  She has this adorable husky voice that wraps itself around you and makes you want to hang out with her all day.  She exudes joy.  When I heard she had written a book, I knew I wanted to share it with you!  j

This book features what she lovingly calls “cakelets”.  They are NOT cupcakes.  They are precious mini cakes that you create, often as you learn to do carving.  For many newer decorators, carving into a cake is a frightening experience…they just can’t see the design within the sheet cake.  Amy makes it easy.

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I sent her a list of questions that I thought might help you get to know her and her book better.  Here is the interview:

  1. What was your favorite project in the book?

I’d have to say the grocery bag themed design called At the Market. This design is a paper grocery bag cakelet with sugar sculpted groceries.  This would make an awesome cakelet for your favorite food fanatic.  You could can customize the grocery bag with any items this special person loves to cook. I would fill my grocery bag with eggplant, french bread, potatoes, and of course, cake!

  1. What was the hardest part of writing the book?

Writing a book was such a learning experience for me.  I was used to teaching classes and writing tutorials however, writing a book is a completely different beast.  I was very fortunate to have a helpful publisher to walk me through the process.  One thing I had to keep in mind at all times:  Measure Everything!!!

  1. What decorators influenced you or inspired you as you were learning decorating?

I launched Cupcake Envy before the days of Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.  One place I was able to connect and find amazing cake artists was Flickr.  It was there that I was introduced to the insanely talented skills of Debbie Goard. Debbie’s approach to cake design was unique and her work so distinctive, it really inspired me to keep practicing.

Throughout my journey with Cupcake Envy, I’ve had the privilege to meet and work alongside such incredible artists/teachers. Norm Davis, in particular, has been a huge inspiration and a dear friend as well.

 4.  How did you get started decorating?

I started out stumbling into cake decorating unintentionally.  I was a NJ public school music teacher prior to relocating our family to NC.  I wanted to stay home and raise my sons and once they started school, I started making treats for their class celebrations.  I wanted to make something special for each child which eventually went from creating  cupcakes to mini cake design.  I like to call them Cakelets.  I would practice different techniques every night after the kids went to sleep.  It was relaxing and gave me a new outlet to be creative.  I wanted to get better so I kept my eye out for classes.  That’s when I took my very first class with Bronwan Weber.  After that, the fire was lit and Cupcake Envy was born.

 5.  What is your biggest wish for your book?

I have two wishes for this book.  The first wish is that people will find my book as a useful reference for creating fun mini cakes (cakelets).  I wanted the designs to be easy to create, fun, and approachable for anyone to do.

My second wish for my book is to inspire my sons to follow their dreams.  I always tell them that we are here to leave our mark, whatever that may be and to work hard for what you want.

6.  What did you learn yourself as you wrote this book?

I learned that I am a complete unorganized scatterbrain.  There were many times throughout the process that I said to myself,” you have no business writing a book!”

I learn that I needed to stop looking at the big picture and take it one project at a time.  I learned how to better utilize time and how to organize my thoughts so not to feel overwhelmed.

7.  Who is your target audience for the book?

The target audience for this book is broad.  I wanted the designs to be approachable for beginners.  Many people who have taken my class have never touch fondant before and they would leave the class with designs that excite them and that they are proud of creating.  I also hope the book, which focuses solely on mini cakes, provides seasoned decorators a fun option to add to their decorating arsenal.  A custom cakelet with coordinating cupcakes is a fun option for any celebration.  The guest of honor gets a special mini cake created just for them while partygoers can enjoy custom coordinated cupcakes.

8.  Do you hope your children follow in your footsteps someday?

I learned early on when I tried, unsuccessfully, to teach my sons how to play the piano that they are their own person with their own interests. The same can be said for Cupcake Envy.  I do hope I am a good role model when it comes to working hard and never giving up.  Those are the footsteps I hope they will follow.

 9.  Tell me about juggling your illness with writing the book.

I am not sure if people are aware but I was diagnosed with both Systemic and Discoid Lupus when I was 10 years old.   Lupus is a chronic inflammatory disease that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks your own tissues and organs.   As I grew up, I acquired a few syndromes and challenges along the way that has certainly changed my life.  I’ve had my share of difficulties and hospital visits that have certainly impacted my daily life as well as my family’s life.   I am so grateful for family and friends that have helped me through those tough times.  Sometimes it’s not just the physical setbacks but also the emotional setbacks that become the biggest mountains to climb. Ruth, you have talked me through my most recent episodes and your words gave me strength to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Thank you for being there.  I experienced 2 hospital visits during the time I was writing the book which delayed the release date but with the help and support of friends, family, and neighbors, the Cupcake Envy book is finally here.

In the end, I’ve learned that no matter the cards you are dealt, never let it stop you from reaching your dreams.

10.  Who was your first inspiration?

Early on, I became a huge fan of Colette Peters books, especially, Cakes to Dream On.

Even though I  mini cakes, Colette Peter’s book were a treasure trove of inspiration and decorating techniques.  I learned so much about cake decorating from her books.

11.  How many copies have been sold so far?

Honestly, I have no idea but I wish I knew!

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I hope you enjoyed getting to know Amy a little better!  Sometimes, we focus so much on the art form that we forget to SEE the artist behind the work.  If you are looking for a great book to introduce you to mini cakes, this is the one!  You can purchase the book at:  http://www.amazon.com/Cupcake-Envy-Irresistible-Cakelets-Little/dp/0804843686.

 

The Great Imposter

@ninagarcia: “The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize.” Robert Hughes

When I read the tweet from Nina Garcia, I realized how true those words were. I started doing research on the subject, as a former lawyer is prone to do. I discovered that there is an actual Imposter Syndrome out there. It affects women more often than men. It finds talented women doubting themselves and their choices. I am surprised at how often I encounter a decorator who is flat out amazing at what they do, but are afraid to enter cake shows. They don’t think they are good enough. They give their cakes away for free or little money because they don’t think they have the right to charge.

Dr. Valerie Young is an internationally known speaker, author and expert on women and impostor syndrome. Her book — The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive In Spite of It (Crown Business, Random House) is a fascinating look into how so many accomplished and capable people suffer from self doubt. She lists Tina Fey and Maya Angelou as two who have admitted that they suffer from this disease.

Apparently, some of the people with this syndrome vacillate between egomania and imposter thoughts. In this situation, Tina Fey says she rides the egomania times and tries to get everything done that she can when she feels invincible. When the insecurities come, she struggles to remind herself that the feelings aren’t real.

I know more than a few decorators like this. I might be one of them! One day I can feel like I am a great teacher and that I should be doing books, DVDs and traveling overseas. The next day, I look at a class project and think I am not worthy of teaching anyone. I start to doubt my skills, my classes and the projects I design. When the imposter feeling comes over you, you MUST have someone you can talk to who will tell you to snap out of it. I do it for my friends and they do it for me. I cannot even count the number of times Susan Carberry has talked me off a ledge!!

One of the most important things you can do is to remember that the self doubt you feel is COMPLETELY NORMAL. In fact, I would worry more about someone who never faces insecurity. I think it is that angst that makes us push harder to do a better job. It is the little voice inside that says “you can do better”. If you believe you are perfect, you are likely a narcissist and have stopped learning and trying to do better. Thankfully, I do not know many of these!

The next time the customer calls and you doubt your abilities, put on your imposter hat and pretend you are on top of it. Sooner or later, you won’t be pretending anymore…you will have it under control! 20140530-112315-40995155.jpg

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Now Hiring

It’s the day you’ve dreamed of and dreaded with equal fervor. You are so busy, you need to hire a helper. What happens next? My first two employees were my best friend and then my sister in law. The scary part was that day when I hired the first person that I did not already know. I was hiring a baker. She would work when I wasn’t there, baking my cakes. The day I gave her the key to my shop, I thought she was going to have to pry it from my fingers! I kept picturing coming in the next day to find all my equipment gone. Trusting a stranger with my dream, equipment and reputation certainly gave me pause.

Over the course of my bakery ownership, I probably had 120 employees. On average, I had sixteen employees working for me at any given time. Some stayed with me for years. Some lasted weeks, days or hours. All in all, I think I was pretty lucky about the people who came to work for me. I considered more than a few to be friends and still stay in touch with many of them. That being said, I also saw just about every type of employee out there! I want to share with you some of what you might encounter. Maybe it will help you decide who will be the right fit for you.

The Competitor
This person does cakes from home, but thinks you don’t know. This person gets mysterious illnesses on days when they have orders going out. I had one that seemed to always get a “Fridaygraine”, a migraine every Friday so she could finish her wedding cake. Usually an excellent employee, unless she is overbooked. You need to lay ground rules at the start about what you will and will not allow your decorators to do.

The one who knows better than you
This employee isn’t in charge, but is always telling others what to do. This person has a loud, dominating persona and can ruffle feathers with how she says things as much as with what she says. You have to put a stop to this quickly or the person will continue to try to run your business.

The drama queen.
This person never has an ordinary day. There is always a crisis, real or manufactured, going on. They are constantly on the phone and texting dealing with these family issues. They will only give you the very minimum amount of work. They need to focus on their lives and just can’t be bothered to actually work. As soon as I discovered I had one of these, I worked very hard to squeeze them out. They disrupt the entire flow of a bakery.

The misfit
The seemingly quiet one that you think will be a great worker. And they are, but they cannot interact with customers or other employees. You find yourself trying to isolate them from others. With one employee, I found a way to make it work. With another, she quit when I would not let her work alone in a quiet room. (Where on earth was I going to find this quiet room?)

The cleaner
The one who is always cleaning, fixing and organizing. Sure, there’s some OCD at play here, but this person seems to get their job done and make the place look better. Grab them. Keep them.

The right hand
The one who sees how hard you work and does everything they can to make your life easier. They anticipate what you need. They keep things running when you aren’t around. A true gem. Treat them well. Keep them by your side as long as you can.

The troubled ones
I saw more than my share of these. People fighting addictions. People struggling with mental illness. They did not last long. They would always disappear back into their problems and stop coming in.

The teller
This one never asks off. They tell you they are leaving for a month. Or two. It’s family. It’s important. Often, it is, but they never bother to ask. They just make pronouncements. You have to decide whether they will have a job when they return. I had a couple of these over the years. Both were very good employees and were in unique situations, so I let them come back. But I never stopped resenting that they just told me how it was going to be.

The insecure one
This one is constantly asking for help with their work. They ask for multiple opinions before starting. They second guess themselves and will work at a snail’s pace. They drain your resources because another employee always has to help them finish their work. They have talent, but are afraid to believe in their own judgement. I always tried to make it work with these folks. I would compliment and build them up, but you cannot make someone believe in themselves. I was always relieved when they left.

The thief
They slip money from the register. They “borrow” cutters, books, pans, product with no intention of returning it. Get them out as soon as you figure out who they are.

The half asser
They don’t read the order thoroughly. They mess things up constantly because they just aren’t giving their full attention to work. They aren’t really paying attention to anything. You will be doing refunds non stop until you get them out.

The spy
This is the person who starts working for you to learn you recipes, methods and organization. They will leave to set up their own competing business. For me, it was one I did not expect. Luckily, she wasn’t really that good at doing it all (baking, decorating and working with customers), so her efforts had no impact on my business.

The handy one
Not only is this person good at their job, they also have useful skills. They fix things. They are your MacGuyver. Hold on tight and treat them well.

The mid life crisis
They have a great, well paying job. They want to leave to follow their passion. They talk a good game. You give them a chance. They last only days when they realize how hard “decorating cakes” really can be. I regretted each of these hires.

The slug
They don’t even give a minimal amount. No one walks this slowly. Seriously. They have to practically lay down to take an order. They have two speeds. Slow and slower. Get them out!!!!

The gossip
They want to know what everyone makes. They pry in your office. They stir up trouble between employees. They cause people to mistrust each other. They are toxic to a work environment.

I’m sure I’ve only barely scratched the surface of the types I had over the years. The one truth I can give you is that you have to talk to a potential employee for a while. Maybe have them decorate a cake for you. Have them show you pictures of their work. Introduce them to the other employees and see if they seem to get along initially. In the end, you have to trust your instincts. They’ve gotten you this far! And don’t be afraid to take a chance on someone. One of the most talented people that ever worked for me had a rough interview. She was so nervous she got red, her eyebrow twitched uncontrollably and she barely spoke. Luckily, a friend had vouched for her. She turned out to be my right hand.

I hope you find great employees. Having a business that is growing is incredibly exciting! Enjoy the ride.

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The Professionals

I follow lots of bakery pages and young decorators on Facebook. Lately, I’ve started to notice something that bothers me. When I am coordinating with a friend for dinner, we often text back and forth. That is how many of you do business. You may never actually speak to your client in person until they pick up the cake. Only then do you realize that there was a miscommunication and that you have done the order wrong or that they did not understand what you told them.

When I had my bakery, I absolutely refused to take orders by email. I cannot even comprehend taking orders by text. We made customers come in or call so that we could be sure that we both understood the order. I understand that many of you work from home and don’t want people coming there to order. Fine. Establish posted business hours. Stick to them and speak with your customers over the phone.

If you are going to text or email your customers, for God’s sake, please write in proper English and not text speak. I see many decorators post screen shots of conversations that look completely unprofessional. You are not a teenage girl making a date to go to the mall…you are running a BUSINESS. If people have not been treating you with respect in this profession, you might look to see if it is because of your own actions.

Home bakeries will get more prevalent with the influx of Cottage Food Laws being adopted across the US. To compete with store front bakeries, you need to act as they do. Get a good order form. Establish ordering procedures. Communicate in a businesslike manner.

I know that the world today is different than when I first opened my shop, but some things will not change. If you want to be successful, look and see what the successful people are doing. The best bakeries are NOT sending text messages back and forth with their customers. Please, please, please start doing business like a business person!

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The Invisible Win

My brother used to do Century rides. For those who don’t know what that is, he would ride 100 miles on his road bike with groups of other like minded folks at events like Hotter Than Hell. One day he had finished a ride and was meeting his girlfriend’s family for the first time. Phoebe’s brother, Carey, started questioning Robb. “Did you win?” “No” said Robb. “How much money do you get for riding that far?” Robb explained that he, in fact, paid money to do the ride. Carey sat and tried to process why my brother would ride that far, for that long, with no hope of winning, and would pay to do that.

By now, people who do endurance events are laughing. We get it. Others just don’t. I realized that the reasons I do endurance events, the reason my brother rode Century rides, is identical to why I enter cake shows. I do it for myself. I do it for the journey…working on each cake teaches me a bit about myself, about my skills and about my vision for cakes today.

When I tell people not to worry about winning, to just enter, someone always says “why should I go through the time and expense if I won’t win?” Maybe they shouldn’t. Maybe they are like the runner who won’t do the marathon if they think they won’t win. I don’t know. I believe that each race, like each cake show, makes us better. So, why do I ride? Why do I run? Why do I enter cake shows?

Very often there are skills you want to try, but no one will pay you to practice those. Designing a show cake around them lets you practice. Sometimes you have a cake that you are just dying to make. Making it a show cake lets you fulfill that dream. Sometimes you just want to prove to yourself that you can put together a clean, attractive cake. Cake shows let you prove that. Sometimes you want an honest assessment of where you are as a decorator. Cake shows give you that. Sometimes you just want to be able to say that you compete – show the world that you are brave enough to put yourself out there. You become a winner, just by entering.

I may have many regrets in my life, but I have never regretted entering a cake into a show. And I have never regretted showing up on race day. Life, for me, begins just outside your comfort zone. I choose to live fully. I hope that some of you will take that next step and sign up for the National Capital Area Cake Show, the North Texas Cake Show, the MS Challenge in Florida, the Kentucky cake show, the Tennessee Cake Show or the Icing on the Cake Competition in Louisiana. Run the race, not to win, but to prove to yourself that you can. Claim your invisible win. Just do it!

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