Friday, December 16
While the rest of the world is celebrating Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and the like…you know holidays involving winter, snow, lights…well, our house is celebrating birthdays galore! Both of my sweet daughters were born just a week before Christmas. It’s crazy town. But (as long as I can survive the stress) it’s lots of fun!
Since their birthdays are so close to Christmas, each year I make them whatever birthday cake their little hearts desire to make sure their day is special and non-Christmasy.
Anna is having a “Glamour Party” this year, which evolved into a “Hello Kitty Glamour Party” when she discovered the Hello Kitty plates and napkins at Target. So, a Hello Kitty cake it is! Hello Kitty by the way is an AWESOME subject for a cake. SO easy. Thank you, Anna! She was so cute this morning, staring at her cake the whole time she ate breakfast.
Cate picked out some kitty cat cupcakes from my favorite kids’ cake book. For some reason I thought Juicy Fruit was white. It’s yellow. So yeah, yellow ears and whiskers is what we got. I’m pretty sure Cate won’t mind!
Because I would like to make this post semi-useful to you, I used regular buttercream frosting this year (adding a little cream cheese to the frosting for Cate’s red velvet cupcakes). And I most definitely did a crumb coat on the Hello Kitty cake (a thin layer of icing on the cake that picks up all the crumbs, followed by 10 minutes in the freezer before doing the final coat of icing). And for the kitty eyes, just use a food writer on M&Ms. Instant cat eyes!
Even though the birthday cakes invariably cause me to stay up way too late at night, I must admit the torture is fun.
Thursday, August 11
Photo taken by my sister Anne when Cate was about 1 week old
My body does not like being pregnant. It’s a fact. It happens every time. And yet, here we are, working on baby number 3. Sometimes wondering why we are working on baby number 3 (just kidding!), yet always beyond happy that we are.
As you may have noticed, one of the biggest impacts that pregnancy has on my life is in my relationship to food. For the first half of my pregnancy, I can barely keep any food down with the help of medication. It’s a constant struggle to keep myself, and my baby, nourished. Then, once the crazy nausea and vomiting have dissipated, the constant acid reflux controls what I do (or do not) eat or drink right up until the baby is born. My current food predicament? Nothing sounds good to me. Yes, I’m starving, but I have no zest for food. Except chocolate lava cakes. There is always zest for chocolate lava cakes.
The thing is, food is essential and central to the experience of life. Especially my life. I’m a mother, constantly needing to feed two (and a half) little people. I’m a food blogger, constantly wanting to write about food. And, at the most basic level, I’m human, needing food to survive. So when the relationship I have with food is so wrought with problems, it really does affect everything. It’s beyond frustrating.
I want to complain. And often I do. And I invariably feel guilty about the complaining, despite caring friends and family telling me I have every right to complain, that I should get it all out without feeling guilty. And even though sometimes (okay, maybe more than sometimes) you can find me whining about my latest pregnancy-induced ailment, I truly am so grateful to be growing this little life inside of me. And whenever I do feel like I’ve hit rock bottom…too sick or in pain to move, to be a mother, to be a wife, and feeling depressed as a result of all of that…I remind myself of that gratitude. Grateful that I am in this position to begin with and that, despite the crumminess, in reality everything is healthy and wonderful and the end result will be breathtaking.
I also can’t help but think of many of my friends. My single friends who wish so much they were married and having babies of their own. My married friends who never could get pregnant or who struggled for years to conceive, with month after month of heartbreak defining the process. My friends who are parents but for various reasons cannot have more children and constantly feel a small hole in their life where that child they thought they would have should be. I love these friends dearly and I hope that I have been able to keep my shallow complaints about sciatica and heartburn to a minimum in their presence.
I very recently had the most precious moment with our little Anna, who is now three years old. As the pregnancy progresses and she gets a little older, her interest in her baby brother increases. It’s so sweet to see the evolution. Two days ago she was gently feeling my belly, trying to see if she could feel the baby. He wasn’t moving, but there was a bump that she said she could feel. I am never quite sure if she really gets what’s going on, but I love that she tells me she does.
After a few seconds, she laid her little head to my belly and said, “I can hear his dreams.”
She’s three and you can’t always understand everything she says. I wasn’t entirely sure she had really said the word dreams, so I asked, “You can hear the baby dreaming?”
When she answered that, yes, she could, I asked her what he was dreaming about.
“He’s dreaming about us.”
And at that moment all of the struggles didn’t matter. All I could feel was love and gratitude. For my supportive husband. For my friends who, no matter their own circumstances, are truly and wholly happy for me. For my beautiful daughters anticipating the arrival of their little brother. And for this person moving around inside of me who, before I know it, will be grown up and having babies of his own. And so I take my iron pills, throw a pillow between my legs and eat my dinner that doesn’t really taste that great. Because life is good and I’m lucky I get to experience it.
Tuesday, June 28
A while ago I wrote a post for Make and Takes about nasturtiums. We planted nasturtium seeds again this year, this time in deeper planters, and they have practically exploded on our back patio!
That random plant there in the middle? It just popped out of nowhere. I don’t have the heart to pull it, it’s doing so well…so random plant it is.
My original post pretty much already says it all, but nasturtiums are FUN to plant with your kids and very easy to take care of. Definitely a great summer activity. Both times we’ve grown them from seeds with no problem and they are super hearty and flexible when it comes to sun exposure. Plus, you can eat the flowers and the leaves. I personally don’t love the taste, but the novelty can’t be beat!
That’s all for today. Just wanted to share something that’s been fun for my girls that’s also super easy.
Wednesday, April 13
Today I’m car-less, it’s raining, and I have a ton of work to do. And Anna doesn’t have any school. In anticipation of a pretty boring day for my little 3-year-old, I decided to whip up some playdough for her.
I went straight to Make and Takes and found Marie’s favorite playdough recipe. I trust her. She knows what she’s talking about. Sadly, I scoured my cupboards for cream of tartar and came up empty-handed!
I googled homemade playdough recipes to try to find one that didn’t require cream of tartar. I settled on two recipes – one salt-based and the other baking soda-based.
Well, the salt-based dough was a total bust. I don’t know if it’s a bum recipe or if I didn’t cook it long enough, but it was super sticky and soft, definitely not a useable dough. Anna decided it just needed to go in the trash, and she was right!
The baking soda recipe, however, came out great! It was much faster than the other recipe and it makes a nice maleable dough. And, someone pointed out on Twitter, it’s gluten-free. Nice bonus for those of you who need that. I have no idea how long the shelf-life is, but it’s just baking soda and cornstarch, so I think it could probably keep in the fridge wrapped in plastic and in an airtight container for a while.
Here’s the fun playdough tip I discovered while searching for recipes. Add your food coloring to the water BEFORE mixing with the other ingredients. This worked so great! Of course, if you want to make multiple colors of dough from one recipe, you would need to add the color after it’s cooked, but if you’re just making one color, dissolving the color in the water was a genius idea.
Here’s the recipe we used today. Although, I’m getting some cream of tartar so I can give Marie’s favorite recipe a go one day!
Traditional Playdough Recipe
Standard recipe; I found it on this site, but I’ve added my own commentary
- 1 cup baking soda
- 3/4 cup water
- 1/2 cup cornstarch
If you’re planning to just make one color of playdough, mix your food coloring into the water.
Whisk all ingredients together in a pan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula. Once boiling, you’ll let it cook 2-3 more minutes, until it turns into dough. It’s pretty quick and magical!
Turn dough out onto waxed or parchment paper to cool. Cover the top with plastic wrap so you don’t get a dry film on the top while it cools.
Tuesday, December 21
For her birthday, Cate selected the elephant cake from my handy dandy Cakes for Kids book. Honestly, I think the main reason she picked the cake was because it was pink. I was happy to oblige – it was a straightforward design and super cute. And I could make cupcakes for all the kids, topped with Circus Peanuts to tie it all together (see photo near the end of this post). The cake and the cupcakes were a hit!
Like I mentioned on Sunday, Cate’s elephant cake tasted light years better than Anna’s ghosty cake. And not just because chocolate cake will kick angel food cake’s patootie any day of the week. But the icing I used for the elephant cake is to die for. The book had suggested frosting the cake with a recipe that uses shortening, because it’s easier to handle and would work for creating texture on the elephant’s skin. But, uh, hello? Shortening? Blech. I promptly picked up the phone and called my good friend Faye, the pastry chef in my life. She suggested I whip up a Swiss Meringue Buttercream, which would also be easy to work with and have the added benefit of actually tasting like food.
I’m not exaggerating. Swiss Meringue Buttercream is the creamiest, smoothest, most flavorful frosting I’ve made. I don’t even usually like frosting that much. I love this stuff.
And, sure enough, I was able to gently press a sieve into the surface of the icing to create a super cute texture that every pretty pink elephant aspires to.
Swiss Meringue Buttercream
As described over the phone to me by my friend Faye Stein
- 4 egg whites
- 1 cup sugar
- 15-20 ounces butter (american style, the regular stuff you get at the store), room temperature
- 1 tsp vanilla
Combine the egg whites and the sugar in a KitchenAid bowl. Place over a pan of simmering water. Whisk thoroughly until the temperature reaches 165 degrees (which actually happened faster than I was expecting). The mixture will be shiny and the sugar dissolved. Remove from heat, place on mixer.
With the whisk attachment, whisk at high speed until it’s a meringue, stiff peaks forming. Stop whisking, let mixture cool until bowl is cool enough to touch and the mixture is room temperature.
Whisk at medium high speed, breaking off pieces of butter and adding, mixing after each addition. The mixture will stay quite soupy and you’ll think there’s no way that this is going to turn into frosting…and you’ll get ready to grab your phone to call me and find out what you’re doing wrong even though I told you it would work (that’s what I did with Faye)…but you just keep whisking and whisking, and then all of the suden it’s right. It suddenly turns into creamy frosting wonderfulness. (I added about 15 ounces of butter total the first time I made it, 12 ounces the second time I made it). At the point that it looks like actual frosting, add your vanilla and any food coloring and whisk again for a few minutes.
Leftover frosting can be frozen for future use. Once you’ve refrigerated or frozen the frosting, if you want to mix it in the mixer again you should use the paddle attachment, not the whisk attachment.
For the cupcakes, I stuck with my usual buttercream frosting, which is also very tasty and delicious.
Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
From How to Cook Everything
- 8 tablespoons butter, room temperature
- 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 6 tablespoons cream or milk (cream is better)
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Use a fork or electric mixer (I use my KitchenAid with the paddle attachment) to cream the butter. Gradually work in the sugar, alternating with the cream and beating well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. If the frosting is too thick to spread, add a little more cream, a teaspoon at a time. If it is too thin (which is unlikely), refrigerate; it will thicken as butter hardens.
Thursday, December 16
What? This doesn’t look like a birthday cake? To me it screams “I have a Christmastime birthday!”
Anna really really really wanted this Halloween cake for her birthday. I figured, you only turn 3 once! And her big birthday meal where she gets to eat anything she wants? Hot dogs! I do believe that might be the perfect third birthday.
The more I stare at these ghosts the more they look like thug snowmen with sunglasses. Perhaps Anna was going for a winter theme after all. Or maybe she’s rebelling against having a birthday so close to Christmas. Whatever it is, I love it.
This was my first foray into the world of Seven-Minute Frosting, which is essentially meringue that tastes just okay but looks really cute. There is some technique involved with preparing it, but it’s not too hard. And the frosting is actually quite forgiving. If you mess up, just scoop it off the cake, smooth everything out and start again. I made a LOT of awful looking ghosts before reaching the final product!
I got the idea for this cake from Cakes for Kids by Matthew Mead. LOVE THIS BOOK. This ghosty cake is an angel food cake with frosting filled in the hole. I doubled the frosting recipe below so I was sure to have enough, but make sure you use a large bowl because it made a LOT of fluffy frosting. I used a big ziploc bag with a smallish hole cut in the corner to pipe the ghosts.
One birthday cake down, one to go…
This version is from Cakes for Kids, and I paraphrased a bit here and there
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1/3 cup cold water
- 2 egg whites
- 1/4 tsp cream of tartar OR 2 tsp light corn syrup
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
Mix sugar, water, egg whites and cream of tartar/corn syrup in the top of a double boiler or a heat proof bowl that can be set over a simmering pot of water. Using an hand mixer on low speed, beat for 30 seconds.
Boil some water in the bottom of a double boiler or in a pot. Place the top of the double boiler or bowl on top. Cook over medium heat, constantly beating with the hand mixer on high speed until stiff peaks form (probably 7-10 minutes for a single batch). Remove from heat, fold in vanilla then beat again for 2 minutes. Let frosting cool to warm or room temperature before working with it. Discard leftover frosting.
The frosting is perishable, so make it the day you plan to serve it and refrigerate any leftovers.
Addendum: This cake did not taste great. Anna hardly ate any. The frosting is just so sweet. The angel food was yummy, but the combo of the frosting and the cake was just a little dry and too sweet. HOWEVER…I’ve been thinking about it – if there had been sliced strawberries to top on each slice, it would have been much better. Next time…
Tuesday, November 30
When I asked for tips for cooking with kids a few weeks back, you shared wonderful suggestions and tips. And many of you identified with my struggle, which made me feel much better knowing I’m not alone.
Since that post, I’ve had Cate helping a LOT in the kitchen. There was ample opportunity given that it was Thanksgiving week. We’ve had some great success and, while there are still moments of frustration, I’m doing much better with the whole process overall. In fact, Cate cooked with me for hours on Friday and we were both happy the whole time. It was great!
Here are a few things I’ve concentrated on the last few weeks that I think have made a big difference:
When Cate and I made Chocolate Almond Crackles, I prepared a lot of the recipe ahead of time (and she didn’t even realize it). For example, I had the chocolate melted and cooled waiting to be mixed in. The butter was softened. All the ingredients were taken out of the cupboards and all of the measuring utensils were on the counter. I can’t believe how much this helped!!! I think a lot of the trouble Cate and I have in the kitchen is she gets bored. By prepping these simple steps ahead of time, there was very little downtime while we were actually cooking together, so Cate felt consistently engaged.
Set expectations for myself – expect things to take longer, expect things to get messy, etc, etc, etc. Set expectations for my kids – for example, before we even go in the kitchen, I remind Cate that she can’t just grab things or move too quickly so that we can stay safe. I also try to remember to communicate what all the upcoming steps are so she knows what’s going on.
That one word says it all. The more patient I am, the happier everyone is. Easier said then done sometimes, but I’m working on it!
And now for the recipe for these delicious cookies. They’re from the Martha Stewart “Holiday Cookies” special issue that’s on newsstands now. (There’s a $1 off coupon for the issue on the MarthaStewart.com homepage, bottom right.) My contact at Martha sent me a copy of the issue (muchas gracias, Mark!) and it is full of all kinds of amazing-looking cookies. I absolutely love these Almond Chocolate Crackles. They have great texture, moist and chocolatey but with a bit of crunch thanks to the almonds. And they just plain taste good. The powdered sugar doesn’t really stay bright white over time…just an fyi!
Chocolate Almond Crackles
From Martha Stewart’s “Holiday Cookies” 2010 Special Issue
- 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 1 cup blanched almonds, toasted (350 degree oven for 10 minutes)
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp coarse salt
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
- 1 cup packed light brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
Melt chocolate in a double boiler or a heatproof bowl set over (not in) a pan of simmering water. Let cool slightly.
Pulse almonds in a food processor until very finely chopped. Transfer to a bowl, and stir in flour, baking powder and salt.
In a separate bowl, beat butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix in chocolate. Reduce speed to low, and add almond-flour mixture. Cover and chill at least 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Shape dough into 1-inch balls (this was my job). Roll in granulated sugar to coat (this was Anna’s job – my 3-year-old) then in confectioners’ sugar (this was Cate’s job – my 6-year-old). Arrange on parchment or silpat-lined baking sheets, spacing 1 inch apart. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until surfaces crack, about 15 minutes. Let cool completely on sheets on wire racks. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.
Friday, November 12
Each week Cate, my kindergartener, gets to choose a book at the school library. This week she picked a cookbook, which I thought was really sweet. We sat down, picked out a recipe (a very tasty fudge recipe that I’ll share below), gathered our ingredients and got to work! After a few moments of me getting frustrated because Cate wouldn’t listen, we finally settled into a groove and had fun. And I had her cut the fudge into pieces and display them on a plate. She really had fun and was very proud of her hard work!
I have to confess something. Cooking with kids is not the easiest thing in the world for me. I try to be patient, and we usually settle into a groove…but incorporating my children into my cooking just doesn’t come naturally to me. But I want it to! I think it’s important for children to have positive experiences in the kitchen and to develop cooking skills that will serve them their entire lives. Plus, it’s supposed to be fun! SOOOO….
Does anyone have any tips for cooking with kids? I want to hear them! I’m sure some of you out there do a great job cooking with kids, while others may be more like me and struggle with it. For those of you who do have it figured out, I’m hoping some of your magic can rub off on the rest of us. Please share your tips!
Oh, and before I forget, the fudge recipe. YUM.
Cream Cheese Chocolate Fudge
From The Usborne Little Book of Christmas Cooking
- 1/2 C full-fat cream cheese
- 2 C powdered sugar
- 1 level tablespoon cocoa powder
- 1/2 C semi-sweet chocolate chipps
- 2 T butter
- 8-inch square baking pan and wax paper
Lay the cake pan on a sheet of wax paper and draw around it. Then cut out the square just inside the line.
Butter the bottom and sides of the pan (or you can use cooking oil). Press the paper into the bottom of the pan then butter the top of the paper.
Put softened cream cheese into a bowl. Sift the powdered sugar and cocoa through a sieve into the bowl. Mix everything well (we used our beaters).
Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler. Remove from heat and stir in 1 tablespoon of the cream cheese mixture.
Pour the chocolate mixture into the cream cheese mixture and stir until well mixed and creamy. Spread in the pan and smooth the top with a spoon. Refrigerate for 2 hours or until the fudge is firm.
Loosen the edges of the fudge then turn it out onto a cutting board and remove the wax paper.
Cut the fudge into 36 squares. Place in an airtight container and refrigerate 2 more hours. EAT!
Wednesday, April 21
Don’t miss my post on Make and Takes today, Edible Science Experiment: Making Butter & Whipped Cream.
Cate and I had a grand old time performing our cream science experiment. If you have kids, this is definitely a fun, easy and tasty project for a rainy afternoon, or any afternoon for that matter! Enjoy the post!
Wednesday, February 17
Don’t miss my post on Make & Takes today! Cate and I had a lot of fun stenciling our brownies with powdered sugar!