Do you love August? I can’t say I have a strong affection for it, but I think that’s because I’m in general a high strung person, and that sometimes makes it hard for me to enjoy good things. I’m feeling a little stressed today, but as I look back through the pictures of everything we did during the month of August, you know what? It was pretty wonderful.
So here’s what we’ve been up to.
Berries and Tea and Outdoor Things
Despite a few cooler days here and there, August was still amazingly warm and dry. So far, we’ve kept our perfect record for beautiful summers when we’ve stayed up north. The second weekend, Stringbean and I went out to Alide’s cabin for a night under the stars with some friends. We baked rolls over the fire:
And, while it turned out too cloudy to see any stars, the cloud cover did make for a magnificent sunset. I was too sleepy to watch the meteor shower anyway. That’s Alide’s collection of qiviut-bearing muskox skins in the foreground, airing on sawhorses.
My garden is hanging in there! It grows very slowly. I think I should have made holes in the back flap too, because the plants in the front are definitely doing better. The spinach was a loss, but the tomatoes are producing a few tiny cherries, almost ready to pluck. The kale is growing slowly, slowly. Between this garden and our aerogarden indoors, I harvested our first salad.
And, as Alide predicted, the radishes did not disappoint! They grow so fast, they are almost like instant-gratification gardening. These were added to a batch of bok choy kimchi that is currently being used to spice up our hummus sandwiches. Yum.
August is prime berrying season. With the weather so hot, everything has been early. I went out to pick aqpiks (a.k.a. cloudberries, a.k.a. bakeapples) with my friend Bernadette. They were plenty ready for harvesting on the first weekend of the month.
I completely failed to pick up pectin at the store while it was available. I probably could have just made jam without it, but instead, I decided to make my aqpik harvest into shrub syrup. You can use that to make a very lightly fermented, naturally carbonated sweet drink. I’ve made it with saskatoon berries before, and Jared and I like it very much. I think the aqpiks have a wine-like flavor that would lend itself well to being fermented, so I’m giving it a go. They’ve been bubbling away on my counter for nearly a month now; I’ll process them into syrup next week.
Aqpiks are very special, but blueberries are my favorite. I took the kids out over the next two weekends to work on blueberries.
Our first spot was not a huge success, but the second time we went to the aqpik spot, only accessible by ATV, which is also prime for blueberries.
The plump blueberries are pictured below. The piney plant sticking towards the camera on the upper right of the picture is Labrador tea, more about which in a minute.
I got a pretty good harvest of blueberries, probably a quart or so. I didn’t feel moved to try to make jam again. I made a batch of muffins which we dispatched instantaneously, and I’ve been putting them on my quick oats.
I’ve frozen the rest. I think I’ll use them for baking as the fancy takes me. These tiny berries are so dense with flavor compared with their larger southern cousins.
Picking blueberries reminded me that I told a friend with a tea shop I’d harvest a significant amount of Labrador tea for him this year, which I will get moving on more seriously once I find out if I need a permit. That’s a work in process that will take over my nice days in September. Which is fine with me! I find in the fall, after spending lots of time outdoors, I’m kind of done. I tend to shrink inside early, and miss the last of the nice weather. I’m thankful for dogs and tea to drag me out again. Today was another beautiful morning, still above freezing, not too windy, and warm in the sunshine.
Now on to the crafting! Not a ton that I can show you this month, and it all appears to be blue.
As promised, first thing this month, I finished Dooner’s quilt top.
It is gorgeous, and I hate to say it, but as soon as I took this picture I folded it up and put it away. I want to finish this quilt someday, but it’s just not a priority yet.
I shared with you the one bit of spinning I finished – at least that I can show you – the Radnor breed and color study. I love these yarns. Several folks have asked me if I plan to take some of the extra twist out of the chain plied skein, which I could definitely do. But it’s not so overtwisted that it won’t knit up into a good sock. I’m going to try for less twist on the second braid of Radnor, and that will make a perfect point of comparison for wear. I’m all about the experiments.
I’m more than halfway done the singles for the red colorway. I can’t wait to get that done so I can knit these socks!
…And that’s all I can show you! There’s more spinning, but I’ll share it after that episode of the Wool Circle is up. And there’s knitting, but it’s all super-secret. So, how about some cake?
Time for me to gripe some more. Cake, my friends, is a cruel mistress. I tested my recipes for six months before opening up for orders, and everything went swimmingly for a while, until suddenly one of my cakes was underdone. Then more were underdone. Then my cream cheese frosting started giving me trouble. Cake does not let you relax. You can think you are doing everything exactly the same way every time, but you still have to pay attention the whole time, because any kind of rushing leads to disaster. And it’s a particularly nasty kind of disaster, because you don’t find out about it until your customer cuts into your cake when you’re not even there. It makes you wonder about the disasters you don’t even hear about, because customers are nice. So, I’ve had some hard lessons in attentiveness, and not getting lazy just because things are going well, and the risks inherent in working at scale. With that, I’ll share you my beautiful failures, and then some successes.
When freezing cakes, be very careful. I can make cakes cute on the outside, but this one was sadly soggy on the inside.
I worked really hard on making these next two custom kids’ cakes beautiful. But sadly, both were underdone on the inside.
Those were my two big FAILS this month. As JJR says, cake is not about perfection, but about covering up your mistakes. I’ve definitely found that to be true, but no amount of covering up mistakes can make up for inedible cake. Them’s the breaks.
That said, I did make lots of other cakes this month that did go pretty well, if not perfectly. I’m my own worst critic. I think you have to be, because customers don’t always tell you when they’re not thrilled.
This was a small anniversary cake that I made, going for cute. It ended up a little too cutesy I think, and the colors a little too ’80s. Next time I’d do the gold sugar instead of the big colorful pearls. The rest of this cake batch became some cupcakes which I sold for a fundraiser.
This one I was very proud of. As you can see, I’ve gotten more and more into putting fondant details on buttercream cakes. I find the fondant easier for characters and symbols, because you can make them look really sharp, while buttercream always looks a little floppy, at least at my skill level.
That said, there are times when only buttercream will do. This was a funny farewell cake for a couple leaving town, ordered by their friends. I worked closely with them to pick the funny messages, and I love how it looks.
I had an order for a small cake and cupcakes for an engagement party, the only brief being that the colors were green and grey.
Afterwards I found out, they picked these colors because they’re Slytherin! Which is awesome! I would have made little snakes for the cupcakes. But these are pretty cute anyways.
I was asked to make a cake for a work party for the local energy corporation, incorporating their logo. I did it in fondant, and I’m happy with how it came out. I wasn’t sure how to decorate the rest of the cake, because the clean lines of the fondant logo made me wary of doing too much embellishment. Then I had the idea to do qulliq flames and sparks around the outside, and for a small embellishment, and keep the top edge of the cake plain for the clean line. I’m proud of this design; it’s rare I do something completely out of my head.
This order was for a baby’s first birthday. It was supposed to look like a giant cupcake. I think it looks more like a yurt.
It’s not finished in the above picture. I’m not sure why I didn’t take a picture of it when it was finished, but I added some gold sugar which helped it look a little better. Suffice it to say, sculpted cakes will take a lot more practice. This little smash cake which I included was a lot easier.
I had a last minute request for a soccer cake, which I was able to take because Reasons. I did a piped soccer ball design, which took forever, and was almost awesome. I didn’t realize that I’d need an even number of pattern repeats around the sides for the decreases in the center to work. But the sides look great, right?
I had a request for a repeat of my double chocolate oreo cake from months ago, but since it was for a young man, I offered to make it more “manly looking.” Well, I was going for heavy metal, but it came out more Jackson Pollock. It tasted delicious though, I’m sure. With chocolate cake, chocolate buttercream, chocolate ganache, and dark chocolate oreos, it kind of doesn’t matter what it looks like. It’s my favoritest flavor.
I had a request for a repeat of the Spiderman cake, with words on top this time. I was annoyed with how the lettering turned out, but really it looks OK. I like being able to have another crack at a design I’ve tried before. The eyes were my big improvement this time.
This cake, bless its heart, lost me a lot of sleep. I’m not going to say much about it so I don’t have flashbacks, but the short version is: cream cheese has to be really soft.
This wee cake is cute, and I’m sure was completely delicious, but is another illustration of how ganache is a tricky beast. I don’t know why I get it wrong three times out of four.
Finally, these two cakes were from this week. This is a Batman cake that I’m very pleased with. I made the symbols by using many different sizes of circle- and oval-shaped cutters. Again, the clean lines of the fondant called for simple embellishments, so I added some movement to the bat-throwing-stars on the sides. I am aware that the blue makes this Wolverine colors. It needed something other than yellow and black.
This is a hockey-themed cake for a little girl who loves purple. I hope she loved it; she deserves it!
Out of the many different plates I have spinning right now, cake is the one causing me the most stress. It affects how I eat as well, which is a big issue. I love doing it, and it provides a service, as well as a steady income towards my long-term-goal savings. I’ve also invested a fair bit in equipment and consumables at this point, so I’ll be sticking with it for at least a year. But if push comes to shove, this is going to be the first thing to take a back seat, even if just for a season. They say “never trust a skinny baker,” but when this baker gains weight because eating cake is a trigger, and takes up time that I need for healthy cooking, I become a sick baker, and that’s not going to lead to more or happier cakes.
All Our Gear Shifts
My sewing corner has been transformed into my office/studio, in which I am sitting to write to you right now.
My studio is all set up, and I’ve recorded my first two episodes of The Wool Circle, which Rachel is editing. If you are of the spinning persuasion, now is the perfect time to sign up! As for this writing, it’s still the first day of the tiers being open, and the response so far has been amazing for both of us to watch!
But I’m not the only one in the house with new stuff happening. Jared is now a volunteer firefighter, and he took a ton of on-call shifts in August, because lots of folks (including the chief) were traveling. That was challenging, but he really enjoys being a first responder and chaplain. I wish I had taken a picture of him in fire gear when he was throwing out candy from a fire truck during the Nunavut Day parade.
There’s lots new on the go for the girls as well. School starts early here – August 14th – to accommodate the spring hunting season. Stringbean has started grade 4, which is the last year she’ll be at LUS, the elementary school. And we finally put two and two together when she refused to sit more than three feet from the TV while I’m playing Stardew Valley, so she has a new look:
MiniMighty is cool as a cucumber in grade 2. Soon after this picture was taken, she lost a front tooth, and the rakish look suits her personality one hundred percent.
And Dooner has finally begun preschool.
She’s incredibly proud and excited to finally be going to school. The preschool here is pretty special, being run by the local friendship center, and is pretty hardcore bilingual. She’s being called by her Inuktitut name every day, and being challenged in new ways.
Now that August is finally over, things can start to finally settle down a bit. I hope. The kids are all in their classes. They all like their teachers. We have something resembling a routine, at least for the first two thirds of the day. Dooner has finally started preschool. Thanks to a series of illnesses and delays, this is actually my first afternoon with all three kids out of the house for 2.5 hours. But I’ll take it.
What this month has seemed like, really, is a challenge to level up. All the problems I have are good problems. Problems of having good work to do, good kids to raise, a good calling, and the confidence that with God’s help, this stuff can happen. But it’s a lot. I know it’s important to run with a margin, so that someone can get sick, for example, without everything imploding. In order to run well, and leave a margin, I have to actually do the self-care stuff. I have good stress, but it’s still stress, and my body doesn’t know the difference. I have the self-care systems in place: I know how to make healthy food and not eat too much of it. I know how to exercise, and I have a support system. Sleep and hydration are my weakest links, but I have angles to work on them both.
The system is there, but I have to use it. When I’m stressed, I have to choose to take a walk instead of playing video games. I have to choose a can of seltzer over the bag of chips. I have to listen to a sleep meditation instead of reading a book that will keep me up. I’ve been careful to keep an attitude of curiosity, wondering if I’m ready for all this, rather than worrying about the consequences if I’m not. But I’m motivated. I know I’m blessed to have so many opportunities to do cool things I enjoy, and share them with others. So, onward!