wild limb studios, pt 4: strawberry & cava cake with fresh mint icing

This is the last hurrah for the Wild Limb shoot. So sad.

This baby is a standard-sized (nine-inch), two-layer vanilla cake made with Cava and dotted with chopped, fresh strawberries. Like the others, it has an Italian meringue buttercream- dotted with chopped, fresh mint from my parents' garden. I'd like to say the strawberries were also from their garden, but... Maybe next year, Mom. 

This shoot was so fun. As a creative, it's immeasurably necessary to have people in your life who support you, believe in you, want to help you. Without each other, we get nowhere; we accomplish nothing. And the thing is, we can all help each other. We all have talents to lend each other, as ways of encouragement and as unspoken whispers that say, "You're doing great. Keep going. I believe in you." We all need it.

It's not about the networking, or the climbing on top of each other to reach more bars of success, or the competitive conversation, or the approval from those who seem so inhumanly lofty. Yes, those frantic boasting moments will sometimes be hard to pass up. But, as you mature, you will indeed let them go. And you'll watch them meander on, knowing that they are not the point. The leg-ups are not the focus or the goal. Total immersion is the goal. And from my experience, you cannot get there without the help of those who believe in you.

At some time or another, each of us reaches a point of total disheartenment. It's a lowly and hopeless place, full of grim futures that reflect even grimmer souls. It's quiet and desolate down there. And that's when we need you, whoever the "you" happens to be that day (and let me just say: you better not hold back; we need your brave, bold words). We need someone to shake us, wake us from our sad delusion, and remind us that a) it's all going to be okay; and b) even if it doesn't feel okay, it's all still worth it. Every bit. Doesn't matter how much "success" you visibly witness or experience. Keep hoping. Keep dreaming. Keep creating. We're all here for each other. Because, inevitably, and soon enough, the camps will be switched. And you'll be generally content, whether that looks like gliding through your creations or working bullishly with your head down. And your friend, your sister, your mom, your fellow creative, the stranger next to you- they will be hanging by a thread. And they're going to need the same power-up that you received only last week, and it is your responsibility to slingshot them forward again. And that's how this cycle works, friends. We are here to believe in each other. We are here to create, to spur creativity in each other, to actively highlight the uniqueness in the craft of the souls beside us and say, "Yes, that's it! Keep digging, pressing, focusing, challenging. Don't quit now. In fact, let me help you. Let me carry this burden with you. We'll figure this out. We'll get through this drought."

And to me, it's that- that relentless scooping up of each other- that is so remarkable. It's even more jarring and beautiful than these creations themselves. We are here to bolster, to believe that something bigger and badder and better can take place through the distilling of our craft. Ours alone. Mine, yours. And without all this substance, what is the point? This is where the gold flecks flicker.

So, thank you, to all, but notably to Abby & Brendan, and Suz & Brian, and Noey & Barry-- for your belief in me and your most recent tangible help and your actions and words and gifts that say, "We've got your back. Keep moving forward." I've got yours, too.

Mega thank-yous to Abby & Brendan of Wild Limb Studios. See their personal work on Instagram: @wildlimb & @idlehourbaltimore.

wild limb studios, pt 3: black forest cake

You guys. There's a good chance that I've never been more excited about debuting a cake.

Let me just let you into a little secret: the prep day for this shoot was a glorious shit show. Everything that could have gone wrong, did. I forgot my cooking spray and my parchment paper. Every single one of my cake layers broke. My smith island fudge icing separated and never came back together. My thermometer screen blacked out from excess heat while making my buttercream. I sliced my finger good and clean and deep halfway through icing cakes (don't worry, that's all just food dye, I swear). And then I hauled these babies back and forth across Baltimore probably seventeen times.

But then, somehow, everything just smoothed over. The chaos ended. The shoot was fun and successful and no cakes were harmed until we cut into them and started devouring. And, while I expected to be royally pissed off the whole day because none of my cake kids cooperated, I was actually pleased with how they turned out. And even excited, when it came to this cake. Like, really excited. 

I've been eyeing this style of icing for months, never quite confident enough to try it. But holy freaking cow, I love it. Seriously, if you dig this at all, next time you need a cake from me, just tell me your preferred color(s) and let me run with it. Promise you'll be happy. And the cake- I've wanted to make this for ages, but haven't for the same above reason. I'll alter a few things for the next go, but it was real good start. Traditionally, it's a chocolate cake filled with cherries that have been soaked in cherry liquor, and iced with whipped cream. I used a vanilla buttercream instead- I mean butter or no butter, is that even a question? And brandy was my choice of liquor because does any liquor store in the entire United States even sell Kirsch anymore?! Help a friend out if you see it. 

So, here she is: the black forest cake, Ellyn-style. Sometimes things suck, and sometimes they get turned around, and sometimes you can be happy when you didn't think it was possible. Thanks for the analogy, little cake.

Mega thank-yous to Abby & Brendan of Wild Limb Studios. See their personal work on Instagram: @wildlimb & @idlehourbaltimore.

wild limb studios, pt 2: coconut cake

There's nothing too crazy or formal about this little guy. But from my few years spent in the baking world, I'm finally catching onto its popularity (I've got an order for one this week, in fact!). It's a yellow cake baked with as many coconut shreds as it can handle, iced with vanilla buttercream, and dressed up with unsweetened coconut flakes. It's packed with flavor but not overly sweet, a total crowd-pleaser. Unless you detest coconut, of course. In that case, pass it on to a friend and stay tuned for the next one.

Mega thank-yous to Abby & Brendan of Wild Limb Studios. See their personal work on Instagram: @wildlimb & @idlehourbaltimore.

wild limb studios, pt 1: smith island cake

I got to do a photo shoot this week! A cake shoot. My cakes got shot. It was with a camera, but the whole time I couldn't help but imagine how fun it would be to send a flying bullet through them and watch crumbs and fruit and chocolate explode everywhere. Maybe next time.

My sis and her hon operate a newly-renovated warehouse studio in the heart of Baltimore, called Wild Limb Studios. I helped with a bit of painting; they graced me with photography. They're wonderful people with lots of talent, out to help the corporate and the creative frame their craft accurately and beautifully. Hit 'em up (see below). We had a great day together, snapping and drooling and tasting little by little. That's the benefit of a food shoot, I suppose. Instant gratification. 

I'm featuring four individual cakes, some with more attitude than others (admittedly, they all were incredibly stubborn in the baking process). The first, and certainly most finicky, is the Maryland classic: Smith Island Cake. It's 8-12 individually baked layers of vanilla cake, sandwiched by and coated with a cooked fudge icing. I've always wanted to make it, though I've never actually eaten it before. It's cozy and decadent and nostalgic for an age of cake that boasts no fancy ingredients or methods. Rather, just time and care and a whole lotta love... And maybe some curses along the way. But what's a good cake without that, eh?

Mega thank-yous to Abby & Brendan of Wild Limb Studios. See their personal work on Instagram: @wildlimb & @idlehourbaltimore. And a huge thanks to Suz for her artist eye, excellent tasting skills, and constant encouragement.

on the feeling of being crazy and how to not care about it

Caution: word vomiting starts now.

“Who am I? Is my voice worth anything? Do I even have a voice? What’s it sound like? If you hear it can you please call me because I miss it? Do you want some cake?”

All these questions are cropping up one after another, like mint stalks spreading throughout a garden that my bunny just wants to chomp through. Every moment there seems to be another, and it leads immediately to the next. Before I can answer one, the next sprouts up.

I’m in a small, strange, and rare phase of life that is allowing me to take a respite from nearly everything and just focus in on those many questions. It’s a necessity, a luxury, a terror all in one. I don’t know what to do with my time or how to start answering all the mess that’s constantly churning in my head. And though the space has all just begun and I’ve not nearly accomplished all I want, I’m so ready for it to be over already. I want to return to normalcy, schedule, to living. But I have been leveled, and a rebuilding is in order.

Recently, at least, there’s been a springboard. One small homework assignment from one session of counseling, and a side gate has been opened. As I reflected on the trend of feeling bulldozed in my life (i.e., my opinions not being counted, my voice falling away into silence, my viewpoints being less than), I started to realize that while there have been relationships and experiences that have contributed to this general feeling, ultimately, it seems that it’s been mostly self-imposed. I’ve been putting myself in the bulldozer’s way over and over again. And my life is my own responsibility; it’s no one’s fault that I’ve done this, but it’s about time I learned to live otherwise.

For most of my life, I’ve based my opinions, decisions, views almost solely from those of my inner circle. And for a while, that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with healthfully engaging with those closest to you who have wisdom and insight. It’s helpful, when you need someone you trust, when you’re in confusion or crisis, when you’re growing up and don’t know what to think of the world. But it seems that somewhere in the act of this engaging, I lost the ability to form my own thought or opinion. I never stopped to teach myself the skill. And it is, indeed, a skill, which I now know because I literally do not have opinions or answers to questions that are not terribly difficult. “What do you want?” “… I actually don’t know.” Until asked, I realize that I’ve never really landed on resolution in regards to many things. I’ve just skirted around having to decide because it’s easier and less offensive that way. And if I do have an answer, I’m so hesitant to say it because heaven forbid I offend someone else with my own genuine thoughts.

And such is the poisonous cycle of fear and people pleasing, put on repeat for 25 years. There will always be someone to displease. Always someone who disagrees. Probably always someone who feels discomfort from a certain honest word. But must I allow that to hush and halt my own convictions? In this forest of confusion, one thing is clear to me: I am very much done with that way of living. Realistically, this will be a lifelong struggle. Hoppers, by DNA, tend to be people pleasers. This is not an easy habit to crack. But I will not live like this anymore.

Note: There is a crossover point here. I want to spend my life loving people with the Grace that I’ve been loved by. And more often than not, that means giving up some comforts and some wants. But, that does not equate to becoming a lifeless shell of human that robotically answers “yes” to everything. Somewhere in the theology of loving people, I became a doormat. I put peoples’ value and worth and desires and opinions so far over my own that I flattened myself. And the thing is, it’s not like these people asked me to do that for them. Their intentions were not to suck the life out of me like a mosquito. I just surrendered anything I could offer because I just so often want everyone else to be comfortable. But in doing so, I shrunk myself to a nagging, worthless gnat under the belief that my voice was worthless. Not good.

So now, I’m taking responsibility for my self-shrinking. I’m saying “no” when I don’t want to do something that I otherwise would agree to out of sheer people pleasing. In fact, I did it this morning. And it felt great.  It was like a little latch unhooked itself, giving myself a little morsel of free living. I want more! So I’ll keep asking myself the important questions. “What do I think? What does my voice sound like? How can I live as if it’s actually as important as anyone else’s?” And not only will I keep asking, but answer, with confidence and discernment and Ellyn-ness.

And, seriously: Do you want some cake? Email me.