Sunday, November 09, 2008

My Neighbor Totoro

Two of the last three weeks have been... I'll settle for "interesting", since "pitifully sad" sounds so... pitifully sad.

My husband got sick on the day of our 5th anniversary. By the end of the day, (Saturday, October 18th), he was yearning for the sweet release that only Ibuprofen and a swig of NyQuil can bring. What followed were two weeks of flu-ishness in everyone. I had it three different times. SuperCat had it once. Yuck.

Thankfully, the next week, the week leading up to Halloween, we were all given some sort of Get Out Of Jail Free card by the Universe. We were healthy, we were happy, and we got everything accomplished that we'd planned. We carved pumpkins (my husband and I each carved n owls and the SuperCat helped with her Blue pumpkin, from Blue's Clues). This year, her grandfather grew pumpkins for all of the grandkids, and shortly before Halloween, led Supercat out to the pumpkin patch to harvest her very own, home-grown pumpkin!

On Halloween night, we went Trick or Treating with the SuperCat. Or, we did after she finished giving out candy, because as soon as the doorbell rang, she ran to the door with a tin pail of candy, ready to dispense treats to all of the other kids in the neighborhood. None of them scared her, either, even though this seemed to be the Year of the Zombie, costume-wise. Because Halloween is her birthday, we started early, when SuperCat was about eleven months old, telling her that none of the scary stuff was real. As a result, she calls everything scary-looking "not reals". Skeletons, zombies, witches, goblins and the like are all "not reals" and she isn't the least bit afraid.

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday both because of the good memories I have of it as a kid, and because of the memories I have of my own children's Halloweens. The costumes I've worn, the costumes I've sewn, the pumpkins we've picked out and carved, the candy. I don't think I have any bad memories of Halloween at all, just happy thoughts.

So, I was happy when the SuperCat was born on Halloween. She'll always have a national dress-up party on her birthday with special foods, decorations and games. How much fun is that?

With her actual birthday being Halloween, we've decided that at least while she's young, it really is too much to ask for everyone else to miss their Halloween, and besides: SuperCat's grandfather's birthday is 4 days later, and postponing the party two days allows us to all gather for a combined party, which is so much fun!

The menu included a double-baked and stuffed potato for me (gluten free), delicious hash brown casserole for everyone else, a salad, and cake and brownies for dessert.

This year, when I asked SuperCat what sort of cake she'd like, she told me, "ponies... no... kitties...", then quickly changed her mind and blurted out, "Totoro!"

Totoro is from a Japanese animated film titled Tonari no Totoro (My Neighbor Totoro) by director Hayao Miyazaki. It's about a giant forest sprite (Totoro) who befriends and helps two little sisters in post-World War Two Japan. It has been a part of the childhoods of all three of my children, and if you haven't seen it, check it out. The children in the film are smart, able, and they are respectful of adults. The adults in the film are smart, help and comfort the children, and are competent and caring. In short, it's everything a lot of children's films aren't.

My Neighbor Totoro is a wonderful film, one of our favorites. The story is winsome, sometimes sad, always touching and beautiful. It's on DVD, so if you get a chance, check it out.

This is a Totoro:

So, how to make a Totoro cake? I don't live in Japan, where products with Totoro are sold, so buying a Totoro thing for the top of the cake was right out.

I don't do Wilton-type decorating (although learning how to is on my list for 2009), so that was out as well.

I do craft in polymer clay, and I'd made a Totoro before, but it's best not to touch polymer clay to food, and besides, a Totoro that would be appropriately sized would weigh several pounds and would take a ton of (expensive) clay. I finally settled on fondant. And instead of a cake, I'd make cupcakes. Our wedding cake was covered with rolled fondant, and although I didn't make it, I had always wanted to work with fondant.

Fondant is a mixture of sugar, water, gelatin, glucose (or white corn syrup), a bit of glycerin, and some flavoring and/or coloring, if desired. You mix all these things, bring it to temperature, take it off the heat, and knead it till it is a soft, smooth dough.

Fondant can be modeled, rolled flat to cover entire cakes, made into bows, any sort of shape you can think of; in short fondant is like edible candy modeling clay.

Fondant doesn't really taste like much except "sweet", so it's a good idea to frost the cake before the fondant is applied, since most people don't eat it.

But I didn't want to make it because I've never made it. For one thing, I live more than 6000 above sea level. Water boils at a lower temperature where I live than where most other people live. It's drier and it's cooler, both of which affect candy making. I didn't want to risk making it for the first time, so, I went with Wilton's pre-made. Five pounds is about $22.00 at Hobby Lobby; around $13.00 or so with a 40% off coupon, and is enough to cover a 3-tiered cake or make probably 3 dozen Totoros. I've promised to add "making fondant from scratch" on my list of things to do in 2009, right below learnng Wilton-style design.

I only needed about a dozen Totoros, so I saved the rest of the fondant for Thanksgiving (squirrels for decorating a gluten-free cake ) and my husband's birthday (within a few days of Thanksgiving). He's getting Tux the penguin cupcakes (Tux is the mascot of the operating system Linux & my husband is a Unix/Linux systems administrator).

Last Saturday night found my fabulous husband and myself standing in the kitchen, molding about a dozen Totoros. We followed a picture and were done in about 90 minutes. He's basically a flat-bottomed egg shape, with pinched tubes for arms, cones for ears, a ball for a tail, ovals for eyes, a thinly rolled oval of white for the bib, and that's it! Stick the parts on with water if they start to dry out, and try to keep the yet-to-be used "clay" covered with a moist paper towel while you work.

Sky blue Wilton's paste food coloring was used to dye the fondant to make the body, ears, arms, and tail; I left it plain white for the eyes and the chest; and used the blue paste food coloring watered down and applied with a sharp toothpick for the pupils, fur, and noses. Before I tinted it, I flavored the fondant with vanilla and a bit of orange oil so that if anyone decided to eat it, it wouldn't taste really icky.

The flowers are Smarties candies. The grass is coconut dyed with green Wilton's paste coloring.

Here are the results. You can click on the pictures for bigger versions.

We were happy with them, but SuperCat was thrilled.
Happy 3rd Birthday, sweetheart!


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