Layered Cake Design From A Non-Foodie Girl

June 27, 2011   //  Posted in: Casual Celebrations, DIY, Kitchen   //  By: Emily   //  7 responses

Ever eat half a cake because it’s pretty? Good frosting, fresh cake, fun colors?

I did. The happy colors were taunting me like rainbow sherbet does on a hot day.

Girly graduation cake.

It’s my fault; I should have given more to Pete and his parents to eat over their respective weekends away. It was something I whipped up as a Woo-Hoo-You-Graduated (From Preschool) cake for his girl, and there was no holding back when it came to infusing with color. What kid wouldn’t want the girliest cake ever? (Well, turns out I would have been better off making cupcakes since 4-year olds assume they’re a different, better recipe, but I’ll continue because it went over really well with the adults involved with the shindig.)

I’m not much of a foodie, but see some grand colorful cakes in my weekly blog scouring and on stinkin’ Pinterest (I read foodie blogs, but I have no intention of trying to become one even though I want to post something about each and every delictible recipe I stumble across and tag to my “MAKING ME HUNGRY” board).

When it comes to making a quick and kid-who-likes-cake-not-cupcakes-friendly dessert, straight out of the box mix is an obvious answer. Pillsbury is what I used, if you’re curious. I chose plain ol’ white mix, since I had lofty goals to make the kick ass girly layered cake with colors I know the girl adores. She really went crazy for the rainbow cupcakes we made over the winter, so maybe I was just looking for a reason to use the best food coloring ever (which I’m still pretty sure was bought at Williams-Sonoma but can’t verify with certainty).

The mix itself, I had decided to break up into 4 layers of two colors: The Pink and The Orange. Why not? I say it’s the best food coloring ever emphatically because it is; each of these bowls required one single drop of the highly-concentrated formula and I swear to you, if I had added two drops in the pink (for instance) it would have been enough to turn it to blood red. I actually only let part of a drop just barely kiss the batter in order to achieve carnation pink.

Two bowls of cake batter. Pink, right, and orange in progress on the left.

I baked the layers over the course of an hour using a single 8″ pan (one that Pete literally salvaged from who-knows-where last Wednesday). I have larger 12-16″ pans, but if I used them, the layers would have been more like crepes, not cake.

Baked, I layered them and secured them together with frosting dyed lilac purple. Purple, check; Pink, check; Orange, check.

Layered and tinted cake with purple frosting.

Purple frosting also coated the cake in entirety. It was easily already the girliest cake I had ever had the pleasure of baking.

I employed a regular baggie when it came time to adding DIY frosting letters; a decorating kit with tips would be fun to have someday (and something you can obtain over time by using 40% off coupons for Michael’s or JoAnn’s) but the baggie with a pinhole technique has worked in the past and didn’t fail me this time. It’s not a pretty process, and it’s less precise, but that’s OK with me when a kid is going to jam their fingers into it an hour later anyways.

A DIY frosting application technique. Baggies!

The best part about the baggie and how it worked out during my experience, is that I was able to mix new colors right in the same baggie; how’s that for being a cheapo? Really, I only did it because I way overloaded the yellow when I wrote the initial script, and then wanted to adjust the leftover frosting color as I proceeded with additional details on the cake.

Mixed the yellow into an orangey-red, and then added some blue to make a dark purple.

Little did they know when it was presented that there was more to it than just assorted frosting designs and colors. We all poked at it, and then cut in to expose the layers. Oohs and Ahhs. And Yums.

A single photo of the cake in it's final, untouched state.

I already showed you what the whole center of the cake looked like. And the cut was surprisingly sloppier than the average beautifully cut layered cake I drool over on Pinterest. What’s the trick? Cut with a wet knife? Cut more slowly? I’d love to know from one of you foodies.

Girly graduation cake.

I never intended this to be a fully-foodie blog-type post and I’m not letting it become that. I’m also not going to pretend it’s a “I can be a perfect party planner” post either; the cake, a few presents from grandma and grandpa, a few minutes of fun spraying each others’ feet with the misty water hose, and checking out a pirate ship that was chillin’ in the Genesee River, that’s how I roll. And that’s a perfect par-tay for a 4-year old preschool graduate.

A Pete and Julia pile up. Checking out one of the two ships on the Genesee River.

How about you guys? Do anything especially cake-y or pirate-y this weekend? Yo-ho-ho.


Interpretative Mid-Century Birdhouse

June 24, 2011   //  Posted in: Backyard, Decor, DIY   //  By: Emily   //  5 responses

I tapped into the bird brain this week, as the little fellows who were born in a nest on my pergola took flight and started new lives of their own. Thank goodness; they were messy. Time to remove that nest before someone else moves in.

Sneaky little birds nest on my pergola. Grumble grumble grumble. Photo cred to @dadandblog.

We did have a good time watching mama and papa come with wormy dinner and leave with what several websites have confirmed to be bird poop in small sacks. Sorry to make it poop-related, but watching them was fascinating; who knew they were so hygienic. Cute too, with their little mouths held open and ready for din-din every night right around 6:30.

Sneaky little birds nest on my pergola. But they're so cute. Photo cred to @dadandblog.Hoping to keep the birds in the area but not loitering over my entryway, I decided a formal birdhouse might be well-suited for the backyard. My parents had a slew of birdhouses (both DIY and fancy pants two-story aluminum structures with railings and condos and HOA dues) and I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to realize that I had never made or installed one myself.

Happy shout-out to Chris at Curbly for the inspiration behind creating this project. His mid-century modern birdhouse must easily be the hottest birdpad in town. Swanky. I started by using his as a visual reference, but applied some of my own creative liberties along the way based merely because I was limited on materials and didn’t want to drop some dough if I didn’t need to. (I didn’t; this was totally free-zilla.)

The wood I used was leftover premium pine from when I installed the open kitchen shelving.

The few materials available to make the birdhouse. Note: One entire 11x14 board went to the roof.

Starting with a few sketches, I decided that a square-ish structure with a slanted roof, like Chris’s was a fair starting point. Because I was optimistic about using the larger 11″ x 14″ boards for the roof and floor, I biscuit joined several strips of the narrower boards using a similar technique as when I’m building custom frames. There were biscuits installed each place there’s a piece of tape. This was about to become the front panel.

Laying out boards and measuring for even biscuit connections.

The boards were assembled carefully so as to align with one another. A quick photo of that for your enjoyment:

Joining the boards together.

Once together, they remained clamped overnight, and then sanded the following day for a smooth finish. After that point, I decided to make the bird door for the front panel; I used a simple 2″ hole saw bit on the cordless drill, and decided to position the door slightly off center for effect.

Flawlessly round bird entryway.I followed similar logic for the back panel of the house, and mitered the top of each board to a 15-degree angle to accept the angled roof that I envisioned. Thank you, handy bevel.

Of course, I’ll be totally honest and tell you that it took me at least 8 cuts to get the angles right, facing the right direction, matching each other, etc. I was kind of an angry-at-myself goon by the 8th time I messed up my cuts and added another biscuited board to the front of the house since I had eliminated any real chance of having a slanted roof having made an ungodly amount of inaccurate cuts. That’s the beauty of the biscuit; it’s a quick and simple way to marry two pieces of lumber in happy union.

Another reason I like the biscuited look is that the horizontal lines are subtly made visible by the inconsistent wood grain. Unless they’re royal mid-century birdlets, they probably won’t give a chirp, but I like it.

By this point, I had the front and back panels of the house. They measured 6″ x 8″ (front), and 3.5″ x 8″ (back). The symmetrical side panels, I had decided would also be 3.5″ by 8″, which means there’s going to be extra ventilation as the roof extends from the back to the front.

I biscuited these pieces together as well, although I did follow up with a nail gun in a few places for added security, since I was planning on using it all along for the base and roof assembly.

Birdhouse, front to back.

Because I had the main structure in place before building the floor, measuring and installing that floor was very easy; I simply measured the house, and slid in a piece of wood to serve as the base. It was right around this point that I realized I could arrange to have an easy access point, and removed the floor that was a perfect fit, cut it into two pieces (2/3 and 1/3). The larger flooring piece was affixed to the side walls via nail gun, and the smaller panel was attached using a single screw into the back of the house horizontally, so that to remove it and clean the birdhouse, all I had to do was remove that screw and drop the small panel out. I anticipate it being a piece of cake, and even pre-drilled a hole in case I wanted to twist a screw or hook into the bottom of the panel to help extract it.

A single screw holds a removable floorboard in place so that it can be dropped down for cleaning purposes.

As I said before, the nail gun was best suited for attaching the remainder of the base and the roof (which is 11″ x 14″ if you’re wondering) to the structure securely. We really love this pancake compressor, and use it and it’s accessories as often as we can.

The final step was to drill a small hole to make a bird perch using a leftover wooden dowel a.k.a. a fancy green pencil that I had in the house. The 9/32 bit is the perfect size to drill the size of a pencil, for the record.How’s that little pop of color for you? I positioned it slightly below the entryway, and forced it about 2″ inside the house as well so even from inside the birds could jump up to the door easily.

Pencil perch on the birdhouse.

The finished house received a final sanding to smooth out any rough edges, and is currently waiting install on the fence in my backyard, probably right in amongst all of those roses in the background once they’ve finished blossoming. My house is loaded with roses right now, by the way. It’s quite nice.

DIY mid-century modern birdhouse


The Man’s New Throne

June 23, 2011   //  Posted in: Basement, Bathroom, DIY, Tools   //  By: Emily   //  7 responses

Here's the framed (but not finished) basement. Sink, toilet, lighting.A quick intro to a not-so-quick post: Let me backtrack 6 months to when we were demo-ing the basement “bathroom”. The half-bath (shown in that thumbnail to the left) in the corner of the otherwise unfinished basement was nothing to rave about; the water to the sink wasn’t hooked up, and while the toilet was functional, it had been leaking for who-knows-how-long and destroyed the raised platform floor. I believe my home inspector called it “spongey” in his report.

The situation didn’t bother me too much; I had a full, non-spongey bathroom upstairs. Sidenote: I’ve heard that many local-to-Rochester, NY American Foursquares are set up to have toilets in the unfinished basement. So weird.

Anyways, Pete claimed it as his bathroom for when he was working in the basement; said it was manly and convenient and he liked it because he could wear his muddy Doc Martens to the bathroom without worrying about tracking the mud up the stairs and across the West Elm bath mats. Fair enough, but that meant that the spongey situation had to be fixed.

We tore out the vanity, and tore out the wall enclosure – you can read about the whole plan here and here. (We’ve been using those materials for various projects, like building the workbench and my gardening storage).

The basement bathroom, torn apart (and extra lumber ready to be used in future projects).

And that brings me back to present day. The toilet and remainder of the platform were the last things to be removed. Basic uninstall of the toilet, and demo of the remaining soggy wood (which went straight to the trash), left us with a blank slate in which to build a new platform on which we could re-install the toilet.

Pete covered the area in sawdust to help absorb some of the moisture that had gathered on the floor. This seemed to help a lot after a day of absorbing and evaporating. Since we knew that the leakage was just from the faulty toilet, we knew the wetness wouldn’t be an ongoing issue.

Platform and toilet free, we used sawdust to absorb moisture in the basement.

As you can see in that last picture, the plumbing forces the toilet to sit about 9″ off the ground. Pete figured out how tall the platform needed to be based on that, and built a 3′ x 5′ structure that was tall enough to support the toilet, and wide/long enough to be comfortable for the person using it. Toilet user space is such a classy topic.

Hi, Pete here. Not only did I choose 3′x5′ because it was comfortable, but also because that just happens to be the uncut dimension of HardieBacker® 1/4” Cement Board.

Each board that Pete used in the new platform construction was partially wrapped with plastic; just a little something to help keep the wood from absorbing inevitable moisture from the concrete. You can see it a bit here in this photo with the finished platform and soon-to-be-installed OSB.

3'x5' platform along with a piece of OSB to serve as a floor base.

The OSB installation was a breeze – it was connected to the platform with basic wood screws. The cement board, unlike the OSB, needed to be mortared and then screwed into place with cement screws, which were bought and used in that step. The next picture, taken at some point between the OSB install and before the cement board was dropped on is decent for scaling the real size of the platform when compared to my feet. And it’s a little mortaring-technique action shot for you guys. Pete’s a blur in most photos I take of him, and occasionally I have to ask for a “FREEZE” to get him non-blurred when I’m using the iPhone.

Mortaring the OSB prior to affixing the cement board to the platform.

When it came to tiling the surface of the platform, we were approaching it with a “this-is-our-first-tiling-project-ever-practice-run” for when we get around to doing other projects on my wish list (like the entryway, the bathroom, the kitchen).

I found a whole bunch of tile in my basement from the previous owners, and our full-intent was to put it to use on the platform during this tiling test run. (Read: free!)

Just one of many containers of leftover gray tile in the basement.

They’re neutral gray, and free is just the ticket. It was a good plan until we noticed that they had been previously mortared. Semi-blow to my positive attitude. Before I could get too far with a plan to try and chip off the remaining mortar by hand, Pete observed that the tiles were an odd 6.5″ square size and to fit on the 3′ x 5′ platform, we’d have to do a lot of avoidable tile cutting… without wet saw access. Another blow to my now semi-positive attitude.

I sulked a little bit about missing out on being able to use the free stuff, but got over it when we went to Home Depot and bought the plainest-of-the-plain 12″ ceramic tiles that were clearance priced at a sweet 88-cents/sq. ft. (down from $1.23/sq. ft. which is still mighty cheapola). At least we knew that the even 12″ tiles would fit evenly on our 3′ x 5′ structure without much extra work.

Basement platform tile, plan B. The cheap stuff.

The tiling process was as easy as I could have expected; with the cement board screwed in place, we applied mortar slowly across the platform (and also buttered the backside of each tile, thank you DIY Network). The tiles went down and aligned very nicely, except, oh, see those two missing tiles at the top around the plumbing?

Platform tile going in!Tile cutting was inevitable. Did you read earlier when I said we didn’t have a wet saw?

We tried both an angle grinder and a few Dremel attachments to try and cut out the half-circles that needed to come out of each of the two tiles. None of those efforts worked, so don’t even try it yourself; we ended up taking a quick road trip to a friend’s house for some wet sawing therapy before all the hand-mixed mortar dried up on us. It was like the Amazing Race of DIY, the race against the stubborn substance that wants nothing more than to cure in a huge bucket and become unusable. A race against the clock. It was actually Scott from the Hamilton Productions Workpad post + fiancee Sherri that came to the rescue here, and boy oh boy, did we appreciate the last-minute-availability and tutorial on using the wet saw (also the first time using one). P.S. Doesn’t the lawn look so lush over at their pad?

Cutting lines into the tile with a wet saw.

Because the saw only cut straight lines, we cut narrow, parallel strips into the tile, and then chipped each manageable piece out individually. Good technique for a wet-sawing newbie. Write that down.

Cutting lines into the tile with a wet saw.

And yes, we did beat the clock, making it home before the mortar went unusable and got the last two tiles worked into place. We let the mortar set for two days to dry thoroughly.

Mortared tiles in place.

When it came time to grout, we chose a simple dark gray color that we mixed ourselves instead of buying a pre-made container. I liken it to making your own inexpensive macaroni salad instead of buying the tub of it at the store.

Grout time!

The toilet install was the final step, using a new wax ring and the existing fixture, but noticed that once it was installed it was leaking from the tank.

Washers in the bottom of the toilet tank.

At least Pete’s handy and knew that this was probably because the rubber washers used on the bottom of the tank were deteriorating and needing to be replaced, so after another trip to Home Depot, he had the parts he needed, emptied the tank, and made the swap.

To clean up the edges of the platform, Pete custom-made trim for the exposed two edges out of wood that had been used in the original bathroom structure. Also, he painted the walls surrounding the area that were dirty (not mold, just a combo of previous water damage and never-painted walls that were hidden in the original half-bath, we think).

Perfect seal, clean space, and a finished basement bathroom platform.

Hi, Pete here, again. Wow, look at the difference between the old, disgusting wall that was covered and the nice, new white from the UGL DRYLOK® Waterproofer. Now I just have to clean the grout off the trim panels I put up and paint them.

Finished Bathroom Platform

Kind of exposed, so knock before going to the basement. I suppose it would decrease the manly rating if I hung a yellow ruffly curtain around the edge?

P.S. You might be wondering where the vanity went. To the curb, baby; it was a 1940′s crumbling mess. There’s a sink in the basement that is totally usable 5 steps from the toilet. Now, where to put the toilet paper?