Wednesday, April 27, 2011

More on 'cakes...

What a sweet family on Easter!

Seriously?  Yup.  I have more to say about cupcakes.

{Hey - I love 'em!}

But actually, I've just been doing a lot of thinking lately about blogging recipes.  During the Everyday Foods Challenge, I opted not to post the recipes we tried.  I sort of assumed, in a Young House Love sued by This Old House kind of way, that it would be taboo to Pete and repeat Martha's recipes when, after-all, she's just trying to make a buck and wants you to go out and buy her magazine.  Not check in with Karin to get the recipes for free.  At least, that was my thinking.  So I shared the success of our experience and left it at that.

Enter: Cupcakes.

I love love love cupcakes - and I love baking them.  I also love sharing recipes.  But is it OK to literally take a recipe from a cookbook and share it on the blog?  I actually did some research and found a great resource to this question.  I've seen David Lebovitz around the baking blogosphere and apparently he's the queen's jewels when it comes to baking and blogging, so his word is like the Bible.  Apparently. 


Having said that, and having read his post on sharing recipes, I've a mind to do so.  Except that it's been done.  Literally, if you google any of the names of cupcakes I'll share with you during The Cupcake Challenge (it now has a name - so it must be official!), you will find a host of other bloggers who have actually done the same thing (and here I thought I was so clever).  That, of course, begs the question of whether or not Pete should repeat and whether I should blog about baking Martha 'cakes when so many others have done so before me.  I guess, then, that it goes back to Emily's comment about life :: as art.  And then the making of 'art'...
You believe it’s already been said, done, created, explored. That you have nothing new to say. Say it anyway. Be brave anyway. Throw out your inhibitions and spin around in this crazy world of recycled ideas. There is nothing new to say. Say it anyway.
So, I may or may not share recipes - do you want me to?  I may or may not photograph the steps along the way.  But I actually see cupcakes as my art.  It's morphed through the years from stamping to photography to cupcakes.  I'm a little weird.  I get that.  But, bear with me as I take photographing cupcakes to a whole new level of obsession I mean artistry.  {Or not.}  Regardless, I'll be saying it anyway!  After-all, "Food writer Laurie Colwin once said that if it wasn't for people sharing recipes, mankind would not have survived."  And I don't want to be responsible for the fall of mankind.  I just want to bake cupcakes.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Ode to the Cupcake

The cottage has been replete with the smells of baking recently.  I guess I wasn't kidding when I said I wanted to make every cupcake in Martha Stewart's Cupcake cookbook! 

I'm dividing my baking time between the splendid tastes of Martha and the decorating marvels of Hello, Cupcake (Hello).  This week, I even got to combine the two to create a whimsical butterfly garden of strawberry cupcakes for a dear friend whose daughter turned 5 today!  (Thanks, Christine, for my first real live order for cupcakes :) !!!)

So, without further adieu, enjoy the baking whims of   Me : : Part-time Baker Extra~ordinaire!  ...??

Don'chu toucha my centipede cupcake  (inspired by Hello, Cupcake!)
Salted Caramel Chocolate Mini Cupcakes = Y.U.M.!!!  Inspired by Martha's Cupcakes. 
I gave these away to Sashi's preschool.

Happy Birthday LucieLu!   Enjoy your strawberry cupcakes (Martha) and chocolate butterflies (Hello)!!!
The extras went to the teachers at the big kids' school.

My mom's cupcakes are the best!

I baked roasted banana cupcakes with honey-cinnamon buttercream frosting this week.  I think they may go to church...

Monday, April 25, 2011

Pennies for Problems

Sunday mornings you can always find us in one of two places. 

One is church. 

But before church, we head out for breakfast.  Every weekend.  With math flash cards always in my bag.  Because my husband is all about not allowing our schools to be the sole educator of our children. 

I'll be honest with you.  It used to annoy me. 

Instead of having a nice conversation over breakfast out at a restaurant, he drills the kids on math facts.  Instead of talking or debating about - well, I don't know...gas prices or the stock market or how many icee mochas I've consumed this week...he flips cards in the kids' faces and leaves me sitting at the other end of our 6-person-two-round-tables-pushed-together seating arranged space in the restaurant ~ quietly observing.  And he pays them money.  A nickel for a card...sometimes just a penny.  He'll pay more or less for story problems (usually involving, "Mom goes to the Bread Co and orders an icee mocha that costs $5....)  The kids eat it up.  I've observed for most of the year now.  And I've grown to love it, too. 

Recently, we took Pookie's friend with us during our weekly trip because she had spent the night and was going to church with us after breakfast.  Hubby asked her to do math problems for pennies, and she agreed.  Only it wasn't very easy for her.  In fact, I could tell it was quite difficult.  And my heart broke.

The next day, I made arrangements with the principal and Pookie's teacher to come to school to drill kids on their multiplication facts.  I pay them a nickel for every card.  Real money that I keep for them in ziploc baggies with their names on the front.  After they earn a dollar, they trade me the cash for a toy from my bag of treasures (that I scored from the dollar store).  I take groups of 3-5 kids and they sit around me in a semi-circle and answer 3x4 and 6x8.  And they eat it up.  

I love the smiles on their faces and how the whole class (even Pookie) raises its hand in that "me!  me!  pick me!" way that kids rise up out of their chairs while leaning over their desks on their right arm, willing their left hand to be fat in front of your face so it's like they're still sort of sitting yet they are pleeeeeaading in that pleeeeeeeeeaase pick me way that kids do when they want to be picked.  To go do Pennies for Problems with Mrs. Karin.  Because learning is fun.  And pennies and nickels are insanely motivating.

It does make me sad.  That so many parents expect the schools to be the sole educator of their kids.  That I didn't see this as a need and volunteer earlier in the year.  That I didn't think I had time to tutor.  That the kids reeeeeeeeaally are struggling in some cases to do even 1x7...and the school year is almost over.  And that it doesn't seem like it's enough - to go in every day for 15 minutes each day.  And to stay late every day because they really, really do want to do it.  And I don't want to stop them.

Instead of being sad, though, I'm trying to figure out what to do from here.  I've realized that there is a need.  I'm also realizing that I can help.  Even when no one is asking.  Because odds are likely no one is going to ask.  But that doesn't mean they didn't need the help or that I couldn't be the one to offer it.  What about you?  Do you volunteer?  Do you feel like you should be doing something or even something more?  Maybe you have ideas for my Pennies for Problems dilemma?  I'd love to hear from you in the comments section below! 


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Everyday Grace

Today I made chocolate salted caramel mini cupcakes.  They are lovely.  A little salty, but I guess that's the point - beings that they're salted caramel and all.  (Originally, I was going to name this post: "I made caramel today."  Because I am just that proud of the fact that I actually made homemade caramel.  From sugar and water and syrup and cream.  Amen.  [I'll post pictures tomorrow].)

In the meantime, tonight I am directing you to The Nester for an incredible message she recently shared.  I watched the video and I have to tell you - by the end of it I truly felt that I was on holy ground.  "She don't know she's beautiful" amid life's everyday messes = God reminding each of us of His grace in the moment.  I, for one, regularly feel like I am failing at this job of stay-at-home motherhood.  That if I could just get my act together or my energy up or let them watch one more show I could clean my house.

Well.  Not today.  Today I made chocolate salted caramel mini cupcakes.  And now I just have to find someone to help me eat them...

Monday, April 18, 2011

80's Dance Par-TAY!

Friday night our school hosted an 80's Dance Party.  Whomever decided to focus on the 80's this year is genius (it's always been the 50's - a great decade in itself, but very low attendance dance-wise in recent years).  The turnout for the 80's was seriously record-breaking.  Kids were everywhere.  Literally.  Running from point A to point B (because that's how 1st through 5th graders ... 'dance?'), knocking down innocent by-standers, mutilating little people.  Better known as chaos.  But it was all good.  Actually, very good.

I may well never forget the moment I emerged from the bathroom with my hair in 80's glam.  {Big.}  My kids said, "Wow!" and "Mom, you look GREAT!"  It was one of my proudest moments.
Big hair went *POOF* by the end of a very busy night...but still tons of fun!

I scored a jackpot at Goodwill for Pookie's outfit - and she ended up winning Honorable Mention - amongst heavy competition, lemmejusttellyou!  Everyone was glammed up.  But she looked uh-mazing!  Her hair was HUGE!  Until she went to golf practice for an hour in the windy spring weather (Dad just wouldn't let her skip a lesson, beings that he's all about the golf.  And the bottom line).  When she arrived at the dance...her hair was no longer huge.  But she still won a Rubik's Cube for the effort, nonetheless  (which Daddy took apart tonite - just like we used to do in the 80's when the darn cube had us beat!  ... well, I actually just pulled off the stickers.  But he used to pull them apart and snap the colors back into the right places.  Still works like a charm)!

The dance was a huge success in terms of photography, too.  The PTO prez asked me a while ago to take party pics at the event.  We were able to make almost a 3-figure profit from my li'l camera, so I'm happy!  And if they ask me to do it again, I have a better idea of how to run the show.  (Always live and learn.)

More to come this week...

Sunday, April 17, 2011


We spent the afternoon today at Spring Advancement for the boys.  Meiners finished his first year as a Cub Scout and MrT is moving up to Webelos. 

I've never been to advancement before - usually it has been cold or Sashi was too little.  I'm glad we were able to go today as a family and watch the kids play in forts and a babbling brook.  Pooks is lucky that two of her good friends have brothers her own brothers' ages - so even she skipped off to unearth 'sea snails' from the river, earth worms, and beetles.

Yesterday, to prepare our part of the meal to be served to all the Boy Scouts and their families at today's ceremony, we unearthed some of our very own bugs here at home.  In chocolate.  Cupcake form.

The three big kids helped along the bug path.  We decided chocolate bugs were a bit of hard work.  But they persevered and ate their fair share of creepy crawlies today.  Chocolate creepy crawlies that is.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Photo Day

It's been a busy few weeks for the PTO Photographer.  Never mind that it's mostly because I'm behind on all the photos and feel compelled to catch up before the literal end of the year.  School activities in general seemed to take over our lives for a period of time.

Thankfully, it's over.

Anywho, in honor of all those photos, I thought I would make a photo post for ya (along with a lot of rambling words...).  So, enjoy!  I'll post more soon!

 Remember when I told you about the batch of cupcakes I ate all by myself?  You don't blame me now, right?  I'll share the recipe another day!  (You really, really don't want me to, anyway.  Unless you have people who are willing to take these cupcakes away from you.  Far, far, far away from you...)

 Meiner's Science Fair project board.

MrT and Pookie's Science Fair project board.

 Our three winners - MrT and Pookie took 1st place!!!  Meiners took 2nd!  We are thrilled for them!

Pookie's Character Fair board. 

To be fair, here are all three! 

I was very proud of all three of them for the work they did.  (And the projects they took on ~ I have awesome kids!)

This one's for CJ - who played Science Fair Easter Bunny and snuck over to deliver presents to our Smarties.  (And cupcakes for their parents - YUM!)

And this one's for me.  Well - them.  These two - whom I collectively call "The Reds" - have such a unique relationship in the hierarchy of our family.  When I watch them interact, I always wonder if my oldest brother was like this with me when I was little.  I grew up with 3 big brothers - and I love that whole concept (of growing up with big brothers), so I love this relationship for Sashi.  And for T.  They are special together.  The way he is tender towards her.  I saw him nuzzle her belly to tickle her today and make her squeal exactly like he's seen Daddy do with his beard.  She leaps onto his back so he can carry her around the room.  Oh, they have their fair share of angst.  That's for sure.  But it's a sweet oldest/youngest relationship that I just truly enjoy witnessing.

I'll be back soon to share more stories of our days lately!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Long Talk

She climbed up in her bed tonite and called out, "Mama?  Can I have a hug?" 

It wasn't my precious 3 year-old.  The one who recites the Pledge of Allegiance and can do addition and subtraction through 15 (seriously, she can). 

No.  It was the 9 year-old.  The precious 9 year-old who won first place (with her twin brother) in the Science Fair.  Whose artwork was featured tonite at the Taste of SoCo.  Who sings "Maybe" as well as Aileen Quinn (imo) and can be the. sweetest. girl. 

And then there are the other days.  When she makes goo (her latest 'obsession' - thank you Science Fair) and leaves it E.V.E.R.Y.W.H.E.R.E.  For me to clean up.  Fortunately that stuff dries out and becomes a powder.  All over the counter.  Dad's chair.  The couch.  The table.  The deck.  The deck furniture.  The porch.  The porch furniture.  The bowls she used to make a miriad of colors of the stuff.  Blah blah blah. 


Some days it's a lot or work to have one kid.

Let alone four.

And today we were finishing Character Fair projects.  And I'm telling you, I'm just not Tiger Mom material. 

Oh, it's all good in theory.  But put it into practice? 

Put it into practice and I agree.  It really is much easier to just let your kids get sucked into video games and TV shows and let their brains rot and have them become unproductive members of society. 


Was that the point?!

The point of Character Fair was to teach the kids about service.  Show them the joy that is felt in giving back. 

I am so grateful that I have kids who do Character Fair stuff - the fundraising to help feed the birds at the World Bird Sanctuary, the using gift cards given to them to buy books and teddies for kids in the hospital, the shoveling of drive ways and sidewalks so our neighbors can walk their dogs and exercise in spite of record snowfall...I'm so grateful for kids who do all of that when there's no reward beyond the doing of it

The fact that they made posters and logbooks and all that out of it to display at the Character Fair? 
It doesn't even matter. 

The point is that they are amazing kids that God created to do His work among His people.  The point tonite is that He is having a long talk with me.  He is reminding me that what we do is only good when it is done to glorify Him. 

It's good to listen to a lecture from a loved one occasionally.  (Thank you, God.)

edited to add: I just read the best quote I think I've ever read - at this blog - from her comments to one of her readers:  "Hard is good when you look through the right lens."  I think that about sums it up!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Re: a red-headed clown house & strawberry cupcakes

On April 1st, Heart 2 Heart, a local support group for families walking the path of congenital heart defects, came together to serve dinner at the Ronald McDonald House in West County.  We prepared dinner for 60 house guests [there's no vacancy at the inn over there right now :( ] and served it up buffet-style for a few hours while gabbing amongst ourselves and chatting with some parents whose children are hospital-bound.  For the first time in my life, I planned ahead and actually prepared my part of the chili and cornbread the day before.  Thank God.  Because Friday I baked 40 Martha Stewart cupcakes to take along, made a total frosting flop and had to start over from scratch (and borrowed butter from B/F/F.  TWICE!  LOVE her!!), decorated 4 plates of chicken dinners (cupcakes), and baked/frosted 24 cupcakes (mini meatloaf and potato-toppers).  *breathe*

The cupcakes turned out swell - in spite of the frosting debacle.  (I still don't know what happened.)  So, I thought I would share the recipe.

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cake flour, (not self-rising)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 large egg white
1 cup whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups finely chopped strawberries, plus small strawberries for garnish

Whisk dry ingredients together in a medium bowl.  In a separate bowl, blend sugar and butter together until light and fluffy.  Gradually add eggs, one at a time, mixing each well before adding the next.  Add vanilla.  Finally, mix in dry ingredients to egg mixture, alternating with milk and ending with dry ingredients.  Fold in strawberries.  Bake in lined cupcake pans at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.
Source:  Martha Stewart Cupcakes

What I liked best about these cupcakes was the authentic strawberry flavor.  The taste was not overwhelming and not too sweet.  Keep in mind, I usually make the Southern Living version of strawberry cake found here which uses a box of Duncan Hines strawberry cake mix.  I have to say I preferred the subtler flavor in Martha's.  As for the buttercream frosting, I'm no Martha.  I made the cooked egg white version found here and it was a flop.  I seriously do not know what happened.  It was perfect until I added the strawberries.  But anyway, this strawberry buttercream is to die for (Source:  Southern Living)!   So take your pick.  (Strawberries.  Pick.  Get it?  Get it?  Ok, nevermind...)

1 cup butter, softened
1-ish (16-ounce) package powdered sugar, sifted
1 cup finely chopped fresh strawberries

The original recipe calls for 2 bags of powdered sugar.  WHOA!!!  Too much for me.  And too stiff to pipe.  But this frosting combined perfectly with the not-too-sweet cupcakes and just melted in your mouth (my mouth.  YUM!).

I left 40 of my cupcakes at RMH (I sure hope they were eaten!).  Anyone else looking for free cupcakes if I make 'em??  Anyone?  Please?  (Soon I'll tell you about the batch of triple chocolate ones I made recently that I ate all by myself!  *groan!*)

How cute is this kid?  Think he'd eat one of my cupcakes??

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Tiger Mom?

I recently finished the phenomenal book by Amy Chua titled Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom.  ("What on earth does a 96-hour old McDonald's hamburger have to do with Amy Chua," you ask?  Give me a minute.)

Yes.  It's controversial.  Yes.  She uses vast generalizations between "Western" parenting and "Chinese" parenting.  Yes.  Her parenting style is extreme.  And yes.  She learned from her mistakes.

But ultimately?  Ultimately, she brings up some incredibly thoughtful and thought-provoking ideas on parenting.  And maybe we are a little easy on our kids.  Too easy.  I think we can learn a lot from her.

My kids were encouraged but not asked to practice their first semester of violin instruction in the fall.  I paid nearly $700 this year for them to play the violin.  And that's a lot of money in my book.  In January, I made an ultimatum.  Practice or don't play it again.   Actually, I said, "Practice 3x per week to even have a voice in the decision of whether or not you will play again."  Ten minutes per practice session I said.  I have since upped it to 20 minutes.  You'd think I was killing them.  Chua made her kids practice upwards of 6 hours per day.   In fact, she said the real practicing didn't start until an hour into it!

One thing Chua said in her book was that left to their own devices, children tend to be lazy.  I would say "most of them."  Or maybe "sometimes."  I wanted to play the flute from the time I was in 3rd grade.  When I got the chance to do so, I practiced diligently until I was first chair in the top symphony in my school.  I don't recall a single time that my mother told me to practice.  Chua says we don't truly enjoy something until we're good at it.  She would probably wrinkle her nose at my $700 for two kids to play violin for a year.  I'm considering finding the best private instructor to work with the twins over the summer to push them and teach them the real violin and then let them decide if they want to keep going with it. 


Chua also says that being the Chinese mother is hard work and that she'd often rather have gone to the spa and have her nails done after lunching with her Western friends than to sit fighting with her daughter over hand position and intonation for 4 hours on Saturday morning as she did - and that was before their private lesson and then returning home to practice again!  But being a Chinese mother means hours and hours of diligent guidance and not being your kid's favorite person. 

I sorta feel that way after our weekend of science fair projects.  We certainly didn't do the projects for the kids (anymore than Chua picked up her daughter's violin and played it for her Juilliard Youth College audition.  By the way, her daughter didn't get in and Chua kicked herself over pushing her daughter to do it).  But there was diligent guidance.  I wasn't willing to accept mediocre work.  I don't think my kids wanted to turn in mediocre work, either.  That required conversations, long hours, and at times redirecting wandering minds back to the task at hand.  Let's face it.  Saying you 'want to do' a science fair project is one thing.  Finishing the project is a whole other soap opera.

Anyway ~ I'm sparring with the Tiger Mom parenting style right now.  It compliments the perfectionist in me.  But obviously there is a cost.  I'm just hoping to find the "happy medium."

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Backwards Day

I have always wanted to be that mom.  You know - the super cool one.  The put-together, has it in order, gets things done, plans ahead, dyes the milk green on St. Patrick's Day, makes fake food for April Fools Day super cool mom. 

With me now?  Yeeeaaah - that mom.

News flash:  I'm not that mom. 

Until now. 

Friday, after making enough chili and cornbread and strawberry cupcakes (YUM!  Recipe to follow...) to feed a small army (at the Ronald McDonald House - more to come on that, too!), I made my family April Fools dinner.  I left to serve chili dinner at the Ronald McDonald House, but I left cupcakes for the entree here at home.  (Meat loaf base and swirled, pink-dyed mashed potatoes.  Check out the recipe at Family Fun here.)  And chicken dinner for dessert (cupcakes with a variety of cereals and candies adorning the top - straight from the original Hello, Cupcake found here).  Lemmejustellyou they ate pizza for dinner.  No fooling.  (I've told you about our stellar eating before, right?)  Yup.  Dad made everyone eat one cupcake.  Err, I mean meatloaf.  Then he saved the day by letting them have pizza.  And chicken dinner.

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