Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Butterfly Cake

Our sweet, rambunctious, independent Ellia turned 2 last week.  She is full of life, laughs, and plenty of squeals......she loves babies, both real and dolls, she talks in 5-8 word sentences, she calls Corban "Pibben" and until just yesterday, said hiccup as "Hippup".  Irresistibly cute!  Now she says it correctly, which is still cute in her little voice, but it's just not the same.  

Ellia loves butterflies, so it was a no-brainer to make a butterfly cake for her birthday.  I ended up choosing this one from Betty Crocker.com - and made two of them, since each butterfly is made from one 9" cake layer.  I also made some flower cupcakes from another cake mix, because I didn't want to run out of cake!


1 cake mix, baked according to box directions in 2 9" rounds
Buttercream frosting of choice
Assorted candies for decoration - optional
Colored Sugar in desired colors
Fruit roll-ups 

After cake is completely cool, wrap in foil and freeze overnight if possible.  
Remove from freezer when you're ready to decorate and trim the top of the cakes if they're rounded.  
Then cut each circle exactly in half.  Cut out a little triangle out of each straight edge just below the center and use the cake pieces to form the body of the butterfly, as shown below.

Frost and decorate as desired, using fruit roll-ups for the antennae (or you could use licorice if you want).
I wanted to make them a little more detailed, but I just didn't have the time.  The lovely thing about butterflies is that really the sky is the limit on how you can decorate them - just be creative!  
And what little girl doesn't love butterflies?  

She really did like her cake, she was just a bit overwhelmed at the group of people staring at her and trying to get a smile out of her.

This is her big gift - the mac-daddy of all dolly strollers.  It's awesome.  There's little she loves more than pushing dolls around the house - and we figured we might as well get a nice, sturdy stroller that would last a few years.  This one most definitely will.  She could hardly believe it when Grant brought it out for her.  Her face was priceless.  

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Can she be 1 Month Old already?

Holding up her head like a big girl - 11/7/11


One Month Old Today - 11/9/11
At her check-up, she was 22" long (grew an inch since birth) and is now 11 lbs even. 

Just the hint of a smile. 

Very very serious.  11/16/11

Starting to get a little happier. 11/16/11

Now that's downright funny.  11/16/11

She's 5-1/2 weeks old, and we're getting genuine smiles every day now.  Love it!

Sleeping so peacefully - little angel baby.  11/12/11

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cake of Roses

Meet Marissa's 6th Birthday Cake.  Isn't she lovely? 

She had originally asked for a horse cake, but since I knew I was going to have a 2-3 week old baby consuming most of my attention, I wouldn't have the time or energy to attempt what she desired, so I talked her into a rose cake.  I first saw it on foodgawker and was completely smitten.  There are several such cakes on there by different bloggers - the first one I ever saw was posted by I Am Baker.
She has a lovely tutorial on how to make this cake and so I took her method and my ideas for flavors and here we are. 
The great thing about it is that this beautiful cake can be achieved with just a 1M tip. 
(it took me a few months to get one - our local stores were consistently out of stock every time I checked, which was often - when I finally found them, I bought 2!)

Per Marissa's request, I made a chocolate cake using this recipe for Chocolate Raspberry Cupcakes, along with the raspberry filling and Raspberry Buttercream Frosting (a double batch).  The cake recipe made 3 layers - which I baked ahead of time and froze to make them easier to trim and frost.  This cake is extremely moist and can be difficult to frost, but the taste and texture are SO worth it. 

After a bit of deliberation, I decided the raspberry filling wasn't thick enough to be a sufficient filling between the layers, so I added a chocolate mousse copied from this cake.   

Then all was left was to give the cake a thin coat of the buttercream and then pipe the roses. 
Easy breezy! 
 I've never finished decorating a birthday cake so fast! 
I could have been a little neater on the piping job, but I had a sweet little newborn calling for me, so I rushed a bit. 

Marissa with her cake - she LOVED it!

And for the record, it should be refrigerated - if you leave it out at room temperature too long (most of the day) and only half of the cake is left - this might just happen.

We didn't see it happen - but it had been leaning a bit, which concerned me, and while we were getting the kids to bed, it decided to fall apart.   Thankfully, all the festivities were over.  I did salvage the cake and we did eat it and enjoy it tremendously - but it sure wasn't pretty anymore!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Fudgy Mint Cookies

These have to be some of the easiest cookies I've ever made. 
And some of the tastiest.  
Okay, so they do use a cake mix, which I generally try to avoid.....
but for these delicious morsels, I'm willing to make an exception.  
Chewy, fudgy, chocolaty, with little chunks of minty goodness in every bite, 
they're a huge hit wherever I take them.  

Recipe:  (adapted slightly from Taste of Home)

1 Devil's Food Cake Mix
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 T. water
2 eggs
1/2 package of Andes Mint Baking Chips
4 T. powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 375°.
In a large bowl, beat the cake mix, butter, and water until well combined.  Beat in eggs.  Stir in Andes baking chips.  Shape into 1-inch balls; roll in powdered sugar.  Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.
Bake for 8-10 minutes or until set.
Allow to cool for 2 minutes before removing to a wire rack. 

Yield: about 3 dozen

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Miranda's Birth Story

Expectations.  I had a few of them in regard to Miranda’s birth.  I expected that it would be my easiest labor.  I expected that it would be my shortest labor.  I expected that she would come early.  Well, maybe that last one was a strong hope.  But I was definitely counting on it.  I expected that there would be no complications and that she and I would be completely healthy and well.  I expected that we would have no traffic issues in getting to the hospital/birthing center.  A few of these expectations were met.  A few were not.  Thankfully, the most important ones were the “met” ones.  

With my parents’ visit halfway over and no baby yet, an impending ankle surgery for Grant, and me just 1 cm dilated, I was really stressing. I felt like a watched kettle that wouldn’t boil.   Yes, my parents had agreed to let mom stay with us an extra few weeks and fly home instead of driving with dad, so I knew we would still have help during our time of transition, but I desperately wanted Miranda to be born (and us to be home) before my dad had to leave for Arkansas.  He needed to meet his newest granddaughter. 

I awoke at 1:35 a.m. on October 9 with a contraction.  This was nothing new.  I had been having contractions for weeks, sometimes at regular intervals for hours at a time.  I had mistakenly thought I was in labor at least four times in the past two weeks, only to have everything just die away eventually.  I was beginning to think I would never recognize when I was really in labor until it was too late to make it to the hospital. 

But this time was different.  I knew it immediately.  It was sharper and stronger than I had been having.  I again began to hope that this was it.  Miranda would be born on her due date.  In my excitement, I couldn’t go back to sleep, even though the contractions were at least 7-8 minutes apart.  I eventually woke Grant around 3:30 and made the call to the midwife soon after that.

After hearing my description of what was going on, she thought it was too early to come in, but that I was probably in labor.  While Grant showered and got some things ready, I tried to rest.  Hindsight being 20/20, like it usually is, I realize now that it probably would have been best if we had just hung out at home for a few more hours.  But seeing as it was my 5th baby, I had no idea how fast the labor would go, and I really didn't want to be in hard labor during our 30 minute drive to the hospital, plus the fact that I preferred to get going before the children were up, we went ahead and woke my parents and left the house around 5:30 a.m.
I had four contractions on route to the birthing center, just like before, with Ellia.  With her, we had a baby in our arms less than three hours after arriving.  With Miranda, not so much.
The midwife Beth, the one whom I awoke with my call, (and whom I had only seen twice during my pregnancy – and never with Ellia, since she was new to the practice) checked me soon after I was hooked up to the monitors for the mandatory 20 minute check on the baby.  I was 3 cm. dilated.  Not great, but at least we were moving in the right direction.  Beth seemed a little grumpy.  She left the room after that and we never saw her again. Oh well.   Didn’t bother me too much (Grant either).

At 7:00 was a shift change for the nurses and we met the two that would be with us for the day (Connie and Jessica). I was given the option of having the monitor on for 20 minutes every hour or having the nurse listen with a Doppler for a couple of minutes every 45 minutes.  I chose the Doppler. 

I prefer to labor standing up and spent the next couple of hours walking around the room, occasionally sitting to check facebook or write on my blog. I was getting a little frustrated that the contractions were still 6-7 minutes apart and not super intense.  Things were dragging a little, in my opinion.


Obviously not in serious labor yet.

Around 9:00, Blair came in.  I was so excited to see her, as she was my favorite midwife of the four in the practice and I just felt most comfortable with her.  She has a way of being very cheerful and upbeat while calm and peaceful at the same time, and assertive when necessary.  It’s a great personality for a midwife.
After assessing the situation with my sporadic contractions, she asked if she could check me….I was dilated 5 cm.  She said that although I had made progress in the past 3 hours, she didn't know if she would even classify me in active labor, considering all the information.  According to her, labors with 5th babies are often long and slow.  Well, she’s the midwife, she would know better than me.  She said that if we left things as they were, she wouldn't be surprised if I continued in labor for another 12 hours.  Ick.

wasn't super uncomfortable, but I definitely wanted to have Miranda sooner than that.

She then suggested breaking my water. Four days earlier, my friend Christen’s water was broken at 5 cm (her fourth baby) and she had her daughter one hour later.  (Of course, she had been walking around dilated  5 cm. for nearly 2 weeks and she always has fast labors-- I know that everybody is different, but I can’t deny that her experience was on the forefront of my mind and those expectations kicked in again – surely I’ll have Miranda within an hour if we do this!)
I hastily agreed.  My water was broken at around 9:30.  I dilated to 6 cm, 100% effaced, and Miranda’s head was at 0 station, lower than before.  As expected, the contractions picked up in frequency and intensity almost immediately.  Within 20 minutes, they were over a minute long and about two minutes apart. 

For awhile, I found that standing next to the whirlpool tub watching the water was helpful to me.  Blair said that wasn’t surprised; she always makes sure the tubs are filled even if the expectant mother has no intention of getting in because just the sound and sight of the water can be soothing. 

Around 10:30, Grant was standing near me during a contraction and I leaned over on him, hugging in sort of a slow-dance position, and that was a much better alternative to the water-gazing.  We continued our “dancing” as the contractions tumbled on top of each other and the breaks became nearly non-existent. 
At some point in there, the times are fuzzy to me now, or maybe I never even looked at the clock, Blair checked me again.  I was 7-8 cm. dilated.  That was a little discouraging, as the pain was getting nearly unbearable. I remember giving myself a little pep talk in my head, something like, “You can go from 7 cm. to 10 cm. in just a couple of contractions.  It’s happened to me before.  You can do this.”

One of the nurses picked up our camera and shot some photos (without even asking us!) .....
they and the midwife said we were such a perfect "laboring" team, they loved to watch us.
Grant continued to be my strength as it became almost impossible to relax through the non-stop contractions.  Blair sat in the corner of the room, knitting and quietly observing.  She came over at one point and asked why I was leaning forward so much – I explained that it was because my lower back was hurting so badly – not from labor so much but from just standing for hours.  She suggested that we modify our position a bit and Grant put his foot on the bed and I rest my belly on his leg-shelf.  It did help the back pain slightly, but a few minutes later, I decided I had to try lying down.
I lay on my left side on the bed and felt a few moments of hopelessness – that I could never do this.  I kept praying through the pain for the urge to push.  I just couldn't wait for it to be over.  A few minutes later, I felt that blessed urge – and announced it to everyone.  I don’t know what I was expecting as a response exactly, but I remember being a bit shocked at how relaxed Blair was.  She just said, “Ok” and kept knitting.  The nurses were getting last minute preparations ready for the baby – but Blair seemed completely unconcerned.   She moseyed over and stood near me as I started pushing slightly.  wasn't sure what position would be best – and she said I could just stay as I was.  One of the nurses came over and held up my right leg. 

Almost done!  
I have no recollection of this photo being taken and upon reviewing the pictures was surprised to see that I somehow managed to look so peaceful during this stage - it's not how I remember feeling!

I couldn't believe how hard the pushing was.  It seemed more difficult than it ever had before.  I had to change positions to something more familiar.  I sat up partially, with Grant sitting behind me so I could lean on him.  That felt better.  Again, my expectations of how this stage of labor would proceed based on how Ellia's labor was weren't met. I had actual breaks between contractions where I was almost "pain-free" and didn't feel like pushing at all.  Although I had read about this phenomenon, I hadn't actually experienced it with any of my other labors.  (Well, the two with epidurals don't count).  So while the pushing stage in reality was only 10-15 minutes (not sure exactly), it seemed so much longer because of those breaks.  

Miranda was born at 12:05 pm and was a bit purplish and had a gurgley cry, but she was put on my chest and rubbed vigorously with a warm towel by one of the nurses while I snuggled her and rejoiced that we had done it, it was over.  Well, nearly.  We waited until her cord stopped pulsing to cut it, which only took a few minutes, the placenta was delivered, Blair confirmed that I had no tears or issues at all, (thank God!) and Miranda continued to improve in her color and crying - although she remained a bit rattley in her breathing for a few hours.  

We did it...she's here!

Her weight was taken, a whopping 9 lb 5.6 oz, and 21" long.  Big baby!  Not surprising, our others were 8 lb 1 oz, 8 lb 6 oz, 8 lb 13 oz, and 9 lb 0 oz respectively. Definite pattern there.  Getting larger every time!

Grant thought her sticking her tongue out a little was funny.

So back to those expectations.

This was not my easiest labor – that would be Ellia’s. (I’m convinced that my labor with her was easiest because my water didn’t break until the pushing phase.  Just my theory.)

This was not my fastest labor – that was Marissa’s. 

Miranda did not come early – she was exactly on her due date.  (which certainly beats late, I admit.)


We had perfect traffic to the birthing center (Sunday morning at 5:30 in the fall = no tunnel traffic!)

She and I were both healthy and well after an uncomplicated labor and delivery. 

And, I had the bonus of my favorite midwife, something I had barely dared to hope for. 

She is beautiful.  She is perfect.  Even right after delivery, I stared at her, amazed that she had come out of me, in awe that in just 9 short months, this little soul's body had been formed.  Birth and life are such miracles. 

Miranda means "Wonderful, admirable".  Kathryn means "Pure".  Names with significance.  Qualities we desire and pray for in our daughter.  

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Skateboard Cake

Our boy turned 8 last month - October 20, to be exact - and since skateboarding is one of his favorite activities, I had decided to make him a skateboard cake.  I got inspiration from the Family Fun website.  
But how to decorate it?  
I scoured Cake Central for ideas, ones that would be simple (we do have a newborn baby around here, after all) but appealing to him.  When I found this one, I knew it would be perfect, since he loves all things camouflage and it looked relatively easy to replicate.  
I chose well, he absolutely loved it, and his friends were all very impressed as well.  

Here's how ya do it.


1 13 x 9 " cake (I used chocolate)
1 9" round cake (I used yellow)
1 batch Buttercream Frosting** (recipe at end of post)
Cocoa powder
Heavy cream or milk (for thinning frosting if necessary)
4 small chocolate-coated doughnuts
2 Pirouette cookies
Food coloring - black, green

It helps to have the cakes baked ahead of time and frozen, that way they carve easier and you get fewer crumbs when icing the cake.
Cut the 9" round cake in half.  Lay the 13 x 9" cake horizontally on the cake board and trim off a little of the sides, to give the skateboard some dimension.  Place the cut halves of the circle cake on each end.  Trim bottoms to make level with the larger cake if necessary. 

I tinted my whole batch of frosting light tan with some sifted cocoa powder.  Sifting is very important, you don't want clumps of cocoa in there! 

I removed about 4 cups of frosting and divided equally between 4 bowls.  One I added extra cocoa powder (plus a little cream) to make the dark brown.  Another I added a little bit of green food coloring for the light green. Another I added lots more green and some more cocoa powder to make a dark green.  The last I added more cocoa powder and black food coloring to make black.  (It's much easier to achieve black frosting with chocolate in there!) 

With the plain light tan frosting, I gave the cake its base coat. Then I used a toothpick to outline the design I wanted. You could skip that step if you want, I just felt more comfortable with having an outline.

Then I simply fitted a couple of pastry bags with small star tips (Wilton tips 17 and 18), filled with frosting, and went to work.

Interesting note: I only have two re-usable pastry bags that I like to use. Since I didn't want to wash them out between colors, I did the dark brown before the light brown and the dark green before the light green and just left the residue of the darker frosting in there when I filled the bag with the lighter frosting - it made the lighter frosting come out mixed and made the camoflaged appearance even cooler.

After the piping was all complete, all I had to do was stick a couple of the Pirouette cookies in between a couple of doughnuts for the wheels and axles and place them carefully on the cake. I made sure to have extra doughnuts handy for the kids at the party, because of course everyone wanted one.

The happy birthday boy.

**Buttercream Frosting:
1 cup butter, room temperature (salted)
1 cup shortening
8 cups powdered sugar
1 T. vanilla extract
1/4 cup cream or milk (more if necessary for desired consistency)
1/2 t. almond extract (optional)
Pinch of salt, (if you used unsalted butter)
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and shortening on high (8 on my KitchenAid) for a minimum of 10 minutes. Reduce speed to "Stir" and add the powdered sugar slowly. Add vanilla and cream or milk. Whip until smooth. Add almond extract if desired. It gives the frosting just an extra "Wow" factor that I really like.

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