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Our trip to visit my parents is coming up, and with it four very long flights on an airplane. Carla has a tablet for just this kind of occasion (also for going out to restaurants when her parents cannot stand the thought of cooking/washing dishes), and so I am on the lookout for some new apps. Is it apps? Suddenly that’s making me think of appetizers. Or aps? It’s not apse, I know that. (Although I still couldn’t tell you which is the apse and which is the transept or how they are related except by “church.”)

Carla’s favorite apps include:

Toca Pet Doctor (My husband and I recently got into a nearly-heated discussion about why it’s “pet doctor” instead of “vet.” My husband’s explanation is that the “healing” has nothing whatsoever to do with veterinary medicine. My retort is that nor does it have anything to do with any sort of “doctoring.”)

Toca Pet Doctor.jpg

(Image from Tocaboca.com)

 

Toca Hair Salon

Toca Hair Salon

(Image from appsplayground.com)

 

Sago mini Ocean Swimmer

Sago Ocean Swimmer

(Image from googleplay.com)

 

Sago mini Road Trip

Sago Road Trip

(Image from itunes.com)

 

Dr. Panda Restaurant

DrPanda Restaurant

(Image from smartappsforkids.com)

 

Dr. Panda Airport – I love this one because it requires simple counting and number/letter recognition, as well as understanding of matching concepts. Plus it’s fun.

DrPanda Airport

(Image from topbestappsforkids.com)

 

Sago mini Toolbox

Sago Toolbox

(Image from gabdar.com)

We also have Sago mini Monsters, but I don’t know if she’s ever played it. It seems a little simplistic. And we have Toca Boo, which Carla likes in concept (scaring people while dressed as a ghost), but is a little advanced for her, so she gets bored quickly.And there was a Sago mini Friends app we had on our ancient second-gen iPad, which Carla loved as well.

We are always on the lookout for fun apps for Carla. Especially if they are free or very low-cost. Any apps that your toddler loves?

 

Brushing Teeth

Speaking of apps, I was thinking that it would be SO GREAT if there were an app that was connected digitally to a child’s toothbrush. The image on the screen would be of a mouth with lots of gunk on the teeth. And the child would be able to remove the gunk by brushing his/her own teeth. AND the gunk would come off only after two minutes of brushing. HOW COOL WOULD THAT BE?

Because brushing teeth is becoming a HUGE power play around here. My husband and I have exhausted our collective creativity on the subject. For a while, Carla liked being A Big Girl and brushing her teeth. For a short while, she liked me or her father to brush her teeth for her. For a short while, she would “compete” with one of us to see who could brush their teeth most quickly. For a shorter while, she accepted the dentist’s recommendation that we be the ones to brush her teeth. There were a few days when she would enthusiastically “teach” her baby doll or one of her stuffed animals to brush their teeth by watching her. Of course, my husband or I had to narrate the entire time. There were a few days when she thought it was hilarious for me to brush her teeth while she had her thumb in her mouth. Then two thumbs. Once in a while, she will brush her teeth to a toothbrushing song or video on YouTube. Lately, I have been allowing her to watch Elmo videos while I brush her teeth.

Every day, it’s something new. You never know whether she’ll be game for whatever stupid game you’ve dreamed up or you’ll end up feeling like a teakettle about to boil over.

It’s a NIGHTMARISH ORDEAL, is what I’m saying.

HOW in the WIDE WIDE WORLD do you get a stubborn, control-enthusiast toddler to brush her teeth?

 

Eating (again)

Last night for dinner, Carla had two tablespoons of peanut butter and 12 slices of pepperoni.

I mean.

She can’t SURVIVE like this, right? How is she surviving?

As usual, I served her a meal that had a variety of things. AND, the variety was things that she LIKES and has eaten with gusto in the past. (Read: no guarantee she will ever eat again.) I gave her fish sticks (with plenty of ketchup), cheesy noodles, and cheesy broccoli. But no. She put a tiny bite of fish stick into her mouth and then spat it out. “I don’t LIKE it,” she said, beseechingly. SIGH.

She asked for rice off of my plate, then didn’t eat it.

We THREATENED. She has presents to open from the party this weekend, and we said she MUST eat three fish sticks in order to open them. Nope. Nothing more than the teeny little taste that came right back out.

So. Peanut butter and pepperoni it is.

She used to be GREAT about yogurt. And I felt fine with giving her a (whole milk, full fat) yogurt anytime, anywhere. But now she is finicky and not interested. Oh! That DOES remind me that she and I made some yogurt “popsicles” that I should try and get her to eat.

Breakfast used to be a fair guarantee that she’d eat: a pancake or two, a French toast stick or two, plus some fruit, plus an applesauce pouch, plus a yogurt pouch. Lately? She’ll eat a handful of berries, a bite of a starch… and some Cheez Its.

This morning she had twelve Frosted Mini Wheats (she’s very into counting things; there were 20 to begin with, and it took about 890 minutes to eat the twelve and then we were late) and about a half cup of blackberries and raspberries. And an applesauce pouch in the car.

And that’s the other thing. Meals drag. On. For. Ever. I wake her up at 7:00, and we’re “eating” by 7:15… but it takes until 8:30 to be done. And even then, it’s only by setting timers and urging her to KEEP EATING FTLOG and then we have to be finished even if she’s not done. Dinner time is a series of ups and downs and “I need water” and “I need a spoon” “no a different spoon” “no a BIG GIRL spoon” and “I have to go potty” until we strap her into her booster seat. And then it’s eating nothing and trying small bites and arguing and wheedling and negotiating until finally I set the timer for bath time. And then she wants something else! That she doesn’t eat! And something else! And something else! Until I am ready to throw in the towel and all the bedsheets and a canopy besides.

I know – I know – that EATING is one of the few ways she can exert control over her universe. But it is driving me mad. MAD.

And also nervous. Because how is she surviving? She eats less than a bird.

Do I just… continue along this path – offering good food, then when she refuses it, give her an alternate option? (And please keep in mind that I asked her what she wanted for dinner – between two options – and she chose fish sticks so it’s not like I haven’t tried THAT tack.) I cannot put her to bed hungry. I know it’s an option, and it’s one that we’ve tried. But it just doesn’t work for us.

WHAT ELSE IS THERE?

9:30 a.m. Decide to take a “break” from work to clean up after the party.

 

Might as well do some laundry. Toss a load in the washer.

 

Begin in the kitchen.

 

Move all the chairs out of the kitchen.

 

Swiffer the floor with a dry washable cloth.

 

Vacuum up all the thousand little bits of leaf and chip crumbs and lettuce shred and assorted detritus that 12 adults and five children track in and out over the course of six (!) hours.

Grout Before 0

De-messified de-detritused floor.

Throw the wet clothes in the dryer.

 

Swiffer the floor with a wet disposable cloth.

 

Assorted other cleaning. Might as well do some more laundry. Fold the dryer load. Start a new load of sheets to soak in Oxy.

 

10:00 a.m. Hmmm. Is my grout really as dirty as I think it is? Would it really be that difficult to clean the grout?

 

Choose a small section of tile near the garage door. A “high traffic” area.

 

Assemble scrubber brush, Target brand bleach spray, elbow grease.

 

Oh my god how have we been living like this.

 

There is a Significant Difference between “dirty grout” and “cleaner grout.”

 

Sit back to admire small patch of cleaner grout.

Grout Before 1

HOW HAVE WE BEEN LIVING LIKE THIS.

Oh no. Now there is such a stark difference between the cleaner patch and the rest of the kitchen I HAVE TO clean the rest of the grout.

 

Also, turns out that scrubbing the grout doesn’t eliminate the dirt. It merely removes it from the grout and spreads it in a sickly grey puddle across the rest of the floor.

 

So: Additional supplies. Bucket of clean water, sponge, washcloth.

 

10:10 a.m. Decide that this project necessitates a plan, or I am going to end up in a remote corner of the kitchen with no way to escape lest I step on the freshly cleaned floor and RUIN MY EFFORT.

 

Begin at the far end of the kitchen by the laundry room.

 

Geez, this grout is dirty.

 

And wow, so are the baseboards.

 

When was the last time I cleaned the baseboards? Maybe if I just use the sponge to…

 

And look at the pantry doors. Filthy! What if I just scrub a little of the…

 

FOCUS ON THE PROBLEM AT HAND.

 

Scrub the grout, wipe clean with the sponge. Scrub the grout, wipe clean with the sponge.

 

10:19 a.m. Okay, am done with the little hallway. Let’s see how long it takes to do the next section, and then I can estimate how long this entire project will take.

 

Scrub the grout, wipe clean with the sponge. Scrub the grout, wipe clean with the sponge.

 

Oh geez, the sponge is starting to shed little blue spongelets. Do I need to get a new sponge? I CANNOT. The extra sponges are conveniently located in the laundry room, which is now down a sparkly clean and wet hallway.

 

No matter! The spongelets will surely dry and I can vacuum them up later!

 

How in the name of cheesy nachos have I been living in a house with such filth? I mean, I’m not what one might call “tidy” but I am definitely what one might call “germ averse” and I kind of always thought that translated into “clean.”

 

Oh, how I love bleach. I don’t use it nearly enough.

 

This is hard work. I think I am developing a blister on my scrubbing hand.

 

Why didn’t I do this BEFORE we had a bunch of people over?

 

I wonder if they are all exchanging furtive phone calls this morning: “She’s a nice lady and everything but did you see that grout?”

 

Crouching is not an intuitive posture.

 

Wow, my husband is going to be so impressed when he comes home and sees how sparkly this kitchen is.

 

This is taking forever. I have been doing this forever.

 

My husband BETTER be impressed. The first words out of his mouth better be, “Wow, this floor looks AMAZING.”

Is there a Roomba for this?

 

My hands are starting to feel… odd. A little tingly. Should I have perhaps worn gloves?

 

This is taking FOREVER. Despair is setting in. I have not even finished a QUARTER of the kitchen, and already it is lunchtime.

 

What am I going to eat for lunch? Obviously I will eat potato chips leftover from the party.

 

Okay, I am FINALLY DONE with this section of the floor. Probably an eighth of the entire kitchen. I am going to be doing this for the next twenty years. Time check:

 

10:29 a.m. Oh wow. That didn’t really take that long. But it felt like forevvvveeerrrrrr.

 

Can I give up? I can totally give up. A small section of floor that is now clean is better than not having done anything.

Grout Before + After 2

No choice but to keep going until the bitter end.

But… Look at the Dramatic Difference. It will be 100% clear that I just gave up. BAH.

 

More scrubbing. Is the bleach spray losing its efficacy? Am I scrubbing less heartedly? Heartily? Half-heartedly?

 

Wow, our floor is really scuffed up.

 

Hmmm. Some of those “scuffs” seem to be old-banana-turned-floor-adhesive. GONE.

 

Why oh why did I ever begin this stupid project? I WAS BETTER OFF NOT KNOWING JUST HOW GROSS THIS WAS.

 

Oh. No.

 

I am going to have to do this again in the future.

 

How often do people scrub their grout? Is this, like, a weekly thing? Monthly? Probably more often than “never,” though.

 

Okay, my finger is distinctly numb now. I probably have some bleach-related neuropathy that will leave me permanently tingly in my pointer finger. GREAT.

 

Everyone who visits my house from now on had better comment on how great my floors look.

 

11:00 a.m. Okay! I have reached the Quarter Floor mark! Time for lunch!

 

— Long break during which I eat, do some writing —

1:30 p.m. Time to resume. Let’s knock this thing out!

 

This time I will wear gloves. The only thing I can find are some gardening gloves that are… not waterproof.

 

Better than nothing! This is apparently my motto now!

 

Scrub the grout, wipe clean with the sponge.

 

Man, the clean grout doesn’t look AS CLEAN as I’d anticipated. It’s still a little greyish.

Grout After 3

This grout is ALL SCRUBBED. Even though it doesn’t really look like it.

NO MATTER. Let’s not dwell on that.

 

The water bucket seems to be getting grimier than it did earlier.

 

Should I be wearing a mask or something? Or opening windows? Breathing in all this bleach spray can’t be that good for me.

 

“Whatever happened to your beautiful, brilliant mother, Carla?” “Oh, it’s terribly sad. She ruined her lungs and fingers with bleach spray in a 2016 tragedy.” “I’m so sorry to hear that.” “Yes, truly devastating. But I have grown up with such a deep admiration for her dedication to clean living. Her motivations were pure.”

 

Why is there so much HAIR on my floor? How is it that my husband and daughter and I aren’t completely bald?

 

All visitors must immediately comment on how clean and beautiful my floor is or my life is worth nothing.

 

It doesn’t really LOOK LIKE it’s that clean, but IT IS.

Grout After 1

IT IS.

I vow from this day forth to heap effusive praise on my friends for their beautiful kitchen floors.

 

3:00 p.m. Finally all the grout has been scrubbed and sponged clean.

 

Now, a once-over with the wet disposable Swiffer cloths.

 

The floor looks remarkably similar to how it did before all this work.

Grout After 2

I swear I spent three hours scrubbing this floor. IT IS CLEAN.

— LESSONS LEARNED —

 

  1. Don’t even bother to clean your grout.
  2. If you do, it’s pretty satisfying in terms of cleaning projects. You can SEE the difference as you go, and it’s hard and physical. If I had Mad Feelings to work through, it would have been even better.
  3. I am 100% certain it counts as a High Intensity Workout, what with all the crouching and the vigorous scrubbing and the gripping of the scrub brush.
  4. As soon as some sort of Monetary Windfall drops our way (I am not anticipating such, but a girl can dream) I am going to replace all of this horrid tile with beautiful, easy-to-clean hardwood.
  5. OH CRAP. All three bathrooms are tiled in this same tile, and now I need to clean THAT grout.

 

It smells much too enthusiastically of bleach in here. I am going to go take a shower.

GRATIFYING UPDATE: My husband not only noticed the floor, he kept commenting on it! He must have marveled at how clean it was a good three or four times. Am very smug. Despite the fact that the inside of my nose now permanently smells like bleach.

It is really too late to fret about this now, because it’s HAPPENING THIS WEEKEND, but that means I’m in Prime Fretting Headspace.

We are having Carla’s birthday party this weekend, and TWENTY PEOPLE will be here. Okay, eighteen. But that’s VERY CLOSE TO TWENTY. I have never had so many people at my house before.

Things that I am fretting over:

1. The Food: Because my husband has kindly and gently pointed out that one of the reasons I find entertaining so stressful, we are outsourcing the food. We are getting a big sandwich tray, along with some pasta salad, and some chips. I am TRYING to resist the urge to make homemade guacamole and salsa. We’ll see if I succeed.

I also really REALLY wanted to make macarons, but my husband gently and kindly persuaded me not to. And he’s right: they are time intensive and also finicky and I can imagine the feet not setting correctly and feeling frustrated and panicked. So. No macarons. Instead, we are ordering an ice cream cake.

Will we have enough food? Will people like it?

And what about alcohol? How much beer and wine do you need to buy for twelve adults? We don’t have anything resembling a cooler, so I bought two big plastic tubs from Target for $5.99 apiece that I’m planning to fill with ice and drinks.

Besides beer and wine, what’s appropriate to offer as drinks? I got some bottled water (although Target didn’t have EITHER Dasani or Aquafina – my preferred brands – and I had to buy Ice Mountain instead) and a box of fun-sounding La Croix. We have tons of diet soda already, but we don’t drink non-diet soda. Do we need to buy any?

2. The Décor: This is supposed to be a birthday party, so I want it to be somewhat festive. But I also don’t want to go too overboard. My ORIGINAL idea was to match the decorations to Carla’s dress, which is orange and blue and white.

 

Birthday dress

It’s from Gymboree and it looks like I’m going to have to IRON the hem.

So I got some navy blue plates and cups and napkins and tablecloth and balloons and a “Happy Birthday” banner from Target. And some of those little poof things you hang from the ceiling. And a little banner for the cake. Man, Target really knows how to get you to spend a LOT of money on single-use stuff.

Blue party supplies

Image from Target.com

But I cannot find coordinating ORANGE decorations anywhere! Even my local Party Place only had about five orange balloons. I guess that will have to be enough.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. I did find the following from Amazon. But they are asking $12.95 for eight settings. Target charges $2.00 for 10 9-inch plates, $3.00 for 10 cups, $2.00 for 20 napkins.

Orange plates

Image from Amazon.com

Dammit, now I see that Target has orange party supplies ONLINE, so I could have ordered them! But now I am out of time! ACK.

And I was going to do blue macarons and orange macarons. But THAT’S not happening. So now I’m feeling like the décor will be half-assed.

3. The State of My House, Indoors and Outdoors: My house is my house, right? But whenever actual PEOPLE are going to spend time here, I start worrying about whether it is too shabby or too dirty or too cramped. Do we have enough chairs? No, no we don’t. Is there enough room in the living room? Nope, not at all.

Hopefully the weather will cooperate, and we can divide our time between inside and being in the backyard. I mean, I am REALLY counting on being able to throw all six of the kids into the yard so they can play.

But the deck is… well, if we are being charitable, it is “distressed” at best. And the latticework that ostensibly keeps creatures from setting up apartments under the deck is very beat up. The long side that faces the yard has fallen in completely, and it looks terrible. But THAT’S not going to be different by this weekend.

And I have been spending ALL SUMMER searching for cushions for our rag-tag collection of seating on the deck with NO LUCK. So finally this past weekend, in a panic, I ordered some things that might (fingers crossed) work, and those are going to arrive tomorrow HOPEFULLY.

What if it RAINS? What in heaven’s name will I do with six toddlers? I suppose I could spend a couple of hours making the basement more child-friendly, and just toss them all down there.

4. Entertainment for the Kids: I think here is one area where I am allowing COMPARISONS to freak me out. We recently went to a birthday party where the kids were all playing outside while the adults were eating and drinking. And somehow THAT party has become The Benchmark, and I know – I KNOW – Carla’s party won’t measure up.

It was her best friend’s party. And they have different circumstances than we do. A much larger house and yard, for one thing. And a nanny-share situation that means they have a TON of toys. But the party included: a massive trampoline, a bounce house, a mini-swimming pool, and a sprinkler.

We just don’t have those things, and nor would I want ANY of them, really. But since we DON’T have any of those things, I am fretting about what the kids will DO outside.

My mother-in-law has apparently bought us some sort of sprinkling apparatus. We have a small water table. Carla has a little tiny play structure with a small slide and a little hidey-hole underneath. She has a table with benches and an umbrella. She has a mini-trampoline that one person can use. There are various balls and bats and a little lawnmower. I think the kids will have things to play with. No one is going to be standing in the middle of the yard, staring in boredom at the grass.

I didn’t feel like doing gift bags (is this the wrong way to go?), but I did get every child a bubble wand. So they can play with bubbles.

Is this enough?

I am fighting the urge to hire a magician or that guy who comes equipped with turtles and armadillos and an alligator.

5. The Mix of People: We have invited:

  • Family A: One of our closest friend families. One of our family friend families. A family of close friends.
  • Family B: Another family that we’ve known for years but don’t see as often.
  • Family C: Another family that we’ve known for years, and frankly I would LOVE to get to know them better, but until now we have only seen them when our parents and their parents get together.
  • Family D: My husband’s parents.
  • Family E: The parents of Family C.

So… Family A and Family B have met once or twice. Family C obviously knows Family D and Family E. We know everyone. But will they all find things to talk about? Will Family C feel awkward/left out? Will the Families of Parents feel like they are just there as add-ons? Will all our kids get along?

I am trying very hard to remember that MANY people are not as socially anxious as I am. And that Family A and Family B – at least – are super friendly and outgoing and can talk to anyone. And Family C is super nice and friendly, although I can’t speak to whether they are introverts or not.

The other thing I am trying to remember is that if I were the guest at a similar party, I would soothe my own anxiety by knowing I could just talk to my husband or play with my kid if it felt too awkward with the other adults. People DO this kind of thing all the time. They all said “yes!” when I invited them; they are grown ups; they know what they are getting into; EVERYTHING WILL BE FINE.

Once I have made it through this list, I loop back to whether the house is clean enough. We are having a cleaning person come Friday to clean, and that will take care of surface things like vacuuming and toilets and such. But then I think about things like, Oh no! Our baseboards are still green! And, The grout in our tile is horrendous! And, Why haven’t we hung up those six paintings on the wall yet? But am I going to paint the baseboards or clean the grout or magically hang a gallery wall of paintings in the next two days? No, no I am not.

It was so much fun thinking about and planning for dinner with our friends who have some dietary restrictions. You had so many helpful suggestions on my post about it, and I now have a stuffed-to-the-brim folder of delicious-sounding meals. Okay, it’s a digital folder, so I don’t know that it CAN be stuffed-to-the-brim, which is a little unsettling. Suffice it to say that I have a LOT.

One of the most useful suggestions was to simply TALK to my friend. NGS noted that she wouldn’t feel comfortable having me cook for her gluten-free family member, because the allergy is so severe. So that really spurred me to find out about my friend’s comfort level.

Over coffee, I said, “I really want to be able to cook for your family. What would you be comfortable with?” Even though I was a little anxious about the conversation, it was perfectly fine. The vegetarian family member eats fish, which was a huge relief, and everyone else eats chicken. And she was fine with me using the grill for everything – and if there was a concern about gluten being on the grill itself, we could put one piece of chicken in aluminum foil to protect it.

What we ended up with was:

  • Grilled swordfish with mango salsa
  • Green bean and jicama salad
  • Green salad with assorted dressings
  • Gluten-free macaroni and cheese (Annie’s brand)
  • Gluten-free chocolate chip cookies (Immaculate brand)

The mango salsa is my own “recipe.” I dice four mangoes, two red bell peppers, a quarter of a red onion, and douse the whole thing with lime juice. I also add jalapeno – which would of course vary based on your heat tolerance – and a handful of rough-chopped cilantro.

The green bean and jicama salad is super delicious. It’s adapted from a recipe in Thrill of the Grill, which makes little sense to me because NONE of it is grilled.

Jicama salad 1

It’s the perfect dairy-free, gluten-free salad. And it’s also perfect for hot summer days, because it’s cool and crunchy and tangy. If you, like I am, are always looking for mayonnaise-free salads to bring to picnics and barbecues, this is an excellent choice.

Here is the recipe:

Jicama salad 2

As you can see, my “adaptation” consists of leaving out the horrid, horrid tomatoes.

Three important things:

  1. In my opinion, it’s critical to make this the day that you are going to serve it. The blanching step helps keep the green beans their beautiful fresh green. But by the next day, they turn the brownish-green of canned green beans. They are still crisp and delicious, but they don’t LOOK it.
  2. It is really, really important to salt and pepper this salad. It helps tremendously with the flavor.
  3. This makes a TON of salad. Since we didn’t use any tomatoes, I used a pound and a half of green beans, and one largish jicama. The recipe says it serves 4 to 6 people. I think it would safely serve about 10 people.

Of course, I fret and fret about an evening with friends after the fact. I did have a momentary panic when I realized that two of the food items had cilantro. But what can you do AFTER the food is already made?

Jicama salad 3

I looooooooooove cilantro.

Everyone SEEMED to enjoy the food. At least, they ATE it. (Well, Carla didn’t eat anything except one of the cookies. But I anticipated that. As soon as our guests left, we fed her a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.) So I’m hopeful that it went well.

And I feel much more confident about inviting this family over in the future. PHEW!

Next time, I think I will make this mushroom-and-pea-risotto (h/t Sistomax!) (whoops! Sistomax was directing me to this one, with artichokes, that ALSO sounds delicious!) and maybe these salmon kebabs (we could do chicken kebabs for the non-fish eaters). We have made the salmon kebabs in the past, and they are so pretty and delicious.

Much of this week has involved in medicinal baking. Baking is excellent for occupying one’s mind. And it has the delightful side benefit of producing delicious medicinal treats.

First up was cupcakes for Carla to take to school. I did end up using the Test Kitchen recipe I mentioned here and it seemed fine. Here’s where I have to admit that I’m not a big cake person. I’d rather eat tacos.

To top the cupcakes, I made the frosting from Sally’s Baking Addiction, and again: seemed fine. Not as vanilla-y as I was hoping (even though you can see the little black vanilla specks in the frosting), but acceptably sweet and frosting-y. My husband on the other hand – for whom cake tops the list of all foods, well, maybe tied with ice cream for second place with peanut butter coming in first – said that the frosting was the best I’ve ever made.

For the filling, I did make the blueberry filling from Mother Thyme. It was perfect: sweet but not overly so, and the cornstarch made it nice and thick so there was no seepage.

 

Nothing makes cake more palatable (in my opinion) than filling it with something delicious. Which is why I cut a little well in 48 miniature cupcakes, filled each little well with blueberry sauce, and capped each one with its own personal cake hat. Then I topped each cupcake with a daub of frosting and a blueberry.

Third birthday cupcakes 1

The frosting doesn’t quite cover up the filling well in this photo, but whatever. STILL TASTY.

 

I overfilled the first batch of cupcakes, so they became my “test batch” (i.e., the ones that I have been eating for breakfast). But the Test Kitchen recipe made a TON of batter, so I had enough to make two entire trays of mini-cupcakes. The second batch was perfect, so those were the ones I sent with Carla to school.

I think they turned out pretty cute.

Third birthday cupcakes 2

Turns out that I bought way too many blueberries. Way. Too. Many.

The next baking project was, of course, the cake.

The cupcakes were a success; I should have just copied exactly what I’d done, but in cake form. Right? Well, turns out I didn’t have enough baking powder to make a second batch of the Test Kitchen recipe. Baking powder is one of those ingredients I just ASSUME I have enough of, you know? And the Test Kitchen recipe calls for A Lot of baking powder, so it’s really kind of a fluke that I didn’t have enough. All that said, I DIDN’T have enough. And I really didn’t want to go to the grocery store, so I thought, the frosting from Sally’s Baking Addiction was great, so why not try the accompanying cake recipe?

The first issue I ran into was that Sally’s recipe called for all-purpose flour, and I had spent something like $8 on two boxes of cake flour, so I was damn sure going to use THAT. But it turns out there is a difference between the two (surprise), and in order to use the cake flour, I had to use MATH.

MATH. Whilst baking.

(I do not care for math.)

Cake flour is less dense (or something; I sort of skimmed the science part of it) than all-purpose flour, so you need to use slightly more cake flour if you’re substituting. Two tablespoons extra cake flour per cup of all-purpose flour, to be exact. Of course, the recipe didn’t call for straight cups of flour, so my Cake Math involved fractions.

Once I got the math figured out, I really got going. The batter turned out exactly like Sally promised – nice and thick (and very different from the Test Kitchen batter – I know they are Different Recipies, but they were SO DIFFERENT: melted butter vs. tablespoons of room temperature butter; GREATLY different amounts of baking powder; baking soda vs. none; etc).

But Sally’s recipe was for cupcakes, and – even though she’d provided a helpful note for converting to 9-inch cakes (which I admittedly didn’t read until AFTER the fact) – I was using 6-inch cake pans.

So I turned to the trusty Wilton website, which has all sorts of conversions for different sized pans. For my size pan – 6-inch round, 2-inch deep – it said use two cups of batter. And I got barely two cups into one pan, and then there was… about a cup leftover for the other pan.

SO I HAD TO MAKE A SECOND BATCH OF CAKE BATTER.

Finally I got the cakes in the oven, and they puffed up WAY too high and then the tops cracked. Which according to my panicked googling, was from either 1) too hot an oven 2) opening the oven while it was cooking 3) overfilling the pans or 4) over use of a rising agent. (I am going to go with option 3, which means that I didn’t actually need to make a second batch of batter. SIGH.)

Well, I’m not going to say that WASN’T helpful, but it didn’t do much in the way of preventing the cracking as it was happening.

The cakes were cooking and cooking while still being all gooey in the center. Sally’s recipe specifically said that the cakes should be pure white and NOT turn golden brown, but the outside of my raw cakes was DEFINITELY golden brown. I was in a CAKE PANIC, let me tell you.

As my ruined cakes were cooking, I began on the frosting. And realized that I was out of powdered sugar.

So as soon as the cakes were out of the oven, I ran to the grocery store. While there, per my husband’s wise counsel, I got enough ingredients for the Test Kitchen cake recipe as well, just in case the Sally’s cakes were inedible. The only thing I didn’t get was more vanilla beans. I got my previous beans from Penzey’s, which sells a tube of THREE Madagascar beans for $8.99. The grocery store had two beans for $14.89. No thank you. Penzeys4Lyfe.

I returned, loaded down with powdered sugar. I removed the cracked cakes from their pans, washed the pans, and loaded them up with Much Less of the remaining batter.

After that, things went better. The second cakes were perfect. Normal, flat-topped, pure white. The frosting turned out just fine.

I cut the tops of the cracked cakes and tasted them; to my relief, they tasted perfectly fine. If you’re keeping track, this means I had FOUR cakes.

So I made a game-time decision to use three of them as the layers in my cake, rather than trying to cut any of them in half. It was a good decision.

As Alison suggested, I spread each layer with a thin coating of frosting to make sort of a barrier between the cake and the filling. Then I spread a nice thick layer of the blueberry filling from the previous day’s cupcaking. Per Holland Wax (a REAL cake baker!), I tried to make a little “dam of frosting” to hold the blueberry filling in, but I think my frosting was too loose at that point to dam well. The filling was nice and solid though; by that point, it had been in the fridge overnight and had a nice heavy-jelly consistency, so the dam wasn’t entirely necessary. (The frosting barrier probably wasn’t necessary either, but hey – more frosting!)

Once all three layers were stacked, I went to work frosting the whole cake. It was going well until I got to a part where the filling had oozed out a little, and then I got filling mixed in with the frosting which gave part of the cake a purplish tinge. That’s when I decided to put the whole cake in the fridge – along with the frosting – and take a shower.

When I got back, the cake and the frosting had tightened up a bit, and I was able to finish frosting everything without any more filling incidents. Then I decorated the top and sides and added some blueberries and candles. And some more blueberries. I can’t stress enough how many blueberries I have in my house at this time.

The finished cake wasn’t perfect, but it was cute. Carla exclaimed, “It’s so CUTE!” when she saw it, and the whole family seemed to enjoy eating it. So I will call it a success.

Now I am tired.

THREE

When I look back at photos of Carla at age three months, or six months, or ten months, or twelve months or eighteen or twenty-four or ANY of the months preceding this one, I feel such a painful longing for Carla of the past that it is almost hard to bear.

But the way I feel about RIGHT NOW is so intense that I know Future Me is going to have a very rough time looking back at photos of Today.

It feels like being in love, I think. Like, I can’t stand to not be with her. When she’s asleep, I miss her. (That DOES happen, if infrequently.) When I’m in a room with her, I’m often staring at her with a goopy lovesick expression splashed all over my face; if I were in a cartoon, my eyes would be replaced by big red hearts.

My husband – less demonstrative than I am, much MUCH less verbally effusive – feels similarly. I can see it on his face. We kiss her good night before we adjourn to bed and spend a few minutes just looking at her, tucking a tendril of curl behind her ear, smoothing a finger over the soft cheek.

“I can’t believe we MADE her!” I say to my husband, awash in wonderment, like it just happened yesterday. (I mean EW, but I do say that, and I do feel wonderment and awe.)

Three (or, to be accurate, the tail end of Two) is magical.

Carla says “eventually” and “actually” correctly in a sentence, and the earnestness with which she pops these qualifiers into her speech makes me laugh almost every time.

She loves puzzles, running, singing, making lemon soup and other delicacies in her play kitchen, any and all TV, swinging, dancing, hopping on one foot, sliding, hitting her T-ball in the backyard, reading, jumping on and over and across things, cutting play-doh with (play) scissors, swimming, watching tennis, and pretty much anything active.

More than anything in the world, she loves dogs. Big dogs, small dogs, soft dogs, wiry dogs. Dogs hanging out of car windows, dogs walking down the sidewalk, dogs getting their hair cut at PetSmart, dogs lounging on lawns. All of them.

It was surprising, then, the other morning when – after asking to watch a kitty cat video on my phone – she said with such heartfelt longing if we could “bring a cat into my house so I can hug it and snuggle it.” I’ll tell you what, I almost went right out and got her a cat, despite my severe allergies.

She has strong opinions about everything, from what she likes and doesn’t like to eat to where someone should sit to what she should wear to school. One day, we had a long discussion about whether our friend Jack’s name was really “Jack” (my vote) or “Jax” (her vote, and the ultimate ruling). When I told her that in fact Jack’s name was actually “John” and not “Jack” at all, it really blew her mind.

A current obsession is counting things. Whenever you ask Carla how many of something (strawberries, blocks, crayons, blueberries, cheese crackers, minutes until bedtime) she’d like, she says, without hesitation, “Five.” She counts anything that can be counted, from bites of pancake to windowpanes to the caps in Caps for Sale. With some skipping of or confusion with fifteen and sixteen, she can count all the way to thirty.

Fruit remains a staple in her diet, with blueberries topping the list of favorites. Strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries follow, but apricots, peaches, oranges, bananas, kiwi, plums, and nectarines are not far behind. She does NOT like melon. (Fine by me. Melon is an abomination.) She loves pancakes and french toast sticks for breakfast. For veggies, she loves pickles and capers, occasional carrots. Green beans and broccoli top her list of dinner-veggies, and she will even eat them raw (frozen). Peas and corn, sometimes. Same with yams. Fish sticks, tacos, pizza, meatballs, and chicken nuggets are usually eaten and enjoyed. PBJ sandwiches are a good anytime food, same with raw ham and cheese crackers (Cheez Its). She still eats yogurt and applesauce daily (although not as much yogurt as I’d like her to).

I think her favorite food of all is chips. Or maybe ice cream. She is confident ordering both: the former in our local Mexican restaurant, only very rarely with guacamole; the latter anywhere ice cream is sold, even at the previously-mentioned Mexican establishment. Her long-time go-to has been vanilla ice cream with sprinkles (jimmies), but lately she has been asking for rainbow ice cream.

She requested very specifically a vanilla cake with blueberries and vanilla frosting for her birthday. But ask her what she wants for her birthday dinner, and she responds, “Dinner? For my birthday?” as though the concept doesn’t compute.

Her favorite conversation topic of late is a thorough recounting of what happened during the day. “Tell me about your day, Daddy,” she will ask at dinner, and then when he pauses in a sentence, she turns to me: “Tell me about your day, Mommy.” She particularly likes us to tell her about special days – like the time we went to the zoo and saw not only a person dressed up like a cookie, but then ran into some family friends and went on to spend a lovely afternoon together.

More often than not, I am “Mom” and her father is “Dad,” which I am trying to resist. I still wish I was “Mama.”

She is at that stage where she expresses her love freely and loudly: “I just love you so much, Daddy!” she’ll crow, throwing her arms around him.

She still has a few baby words left: mixing up “lemon” and “melon” (which results in the delightful “waterlemon”) and saying “am-ih-lo” instead of “animal” (although “squir-lahs” are now clearly “squirrels.”) and calling “yellow” “lellow.” She has recently taken to calling her grandfather’s slippers “bumpers” (because of the anti-skid bumps on the bottom). I often say to her, “I love you more than all the stars in the sky” and her responses crack me up. Once, she said, “I love you more than all the pants on the ground.” “I think you mean plants?” “No, I mean pants.”

The other day, we were playing in the yard. We have an enormous tree back there – so big it would crush our house to smithereens should it decide to tip over – and Carla decided she was going to climb it. She managed to get maybe a foot off the ground and kind of hung there. “I think it’s too tall for me to climb, Mommy,” she called back. Cheerfully resigned, she dropped down and commenced running in circles, laughing with joy.

She has the most magnificent dandelion puff of blonde curls. I think it’s the perfect reflection of her personality. Beautiful, light as air, untamable, gleeful, fun.

I cannot wait to see what she does next.

My daughter turns THREE tomorrow, and I am having Feelings. Lots of good feelings, about her. But also sad, sentimental feelings about How Quickly Time Flies and How This Might Be the Only Three I Get and how bedtime issues might be preventing me from properly Cherishing. And also also the long tail of Sadness Surrounding Her Birth and the attendant Guilt for Feeling Sad At All Because It All Worked Out Okay.

So! I am distracting myself with cake!

Carla specifically requested a vanilla cake with blueberries and vanilla frosting. And for her school treat, she wants to bring blueberry cupcakes with sprinkles.

I have been spending pleasant hours looking for Just the Right Recipe, which has – as I mentioned, just now – been pleasant. But it’s also been fruitless (ha – blueberry pun) because The Exact Cake is not out there. Or if it is, I haven’t found it.

Don’t get me wrong! I HAVE uncovered many many MANY delicious sounding recipes. But it seems that most bakers pair blueberry with lemon. And why wouldn’t they? It is a DELIGHTFUL combination. I would in fact eschew the blueberry and just go with the lemon. BUT. It is not my birthday, and I aim to please.

One of my Life Goals has been to bake a cake. A from-scratch cake, with from-scratch frosting. The first cake I baked was for Carla’s first birthday, and I baked three: 1. A practice cake, which turned out so well I then immediately went on and made 2. A smash cake for Carla and 3. A real cake for me all the guests at her birthday party.

First birthday 1

I mean, if you think I have Feelings now, just imagine how intense those Feelings were at her FIRST birthday! So lots of cake was in order then as now.

Her first birthday cake was a banana cake with cream cheese buttercream. I do not like bananas, so I had to take my husband’s word for it that the cake was amazing. Carla, for her part, seemed to enjoy it immensely. It was maybe her second encounter with cake and she made short work of the smash cake (to my husband’s chagrin).

The rest of us ate the other cake, which was lemon with lemon curd filling and lemon buttercream.  It was DELICIOUS, but that’s my kind of cake, you know?

For her second birthday, I made a chocolate cake with chocolate cream cheese frosting. Let me just clarify right here that in my opinion, cream cheese frosting is The Best, hence its repeated appearance in this post and on the cakes I bake. But if I am making vanilla buttercream for THIS YEAR’S cake, I suppose that means no cream cheese. BUMMER.

Second birthday

Speaking of this year’s cake, after that detour into birthdays past, and also I have a strong an unaccountable craving for cake, don’t you? what I have found is a lot of vanilla cakes, and some lemon cakes with blueberry buttercream, but no vanilla cake with blueberry buttercream.

So I am going to have to put some recipes together, which makes me feels like A Real Baker. Clap clap! Very exciting.

I even looked at Actual Cookbooks for help, Internet, which is unusual for me. But they proved Very Unhelpful in this instance.

Third birthday 1

Right now, I am wavering between this recipe for white cake from Test Kitchen…

Third birthday 2

(although I would also scrape some vanilla bean seeds into it, and instead of using almond extract, I would just double the vanilla extract) and this recipe for Very Vanilla Cupcakes from Sally’s Baking Addiction.

And look! That very same recipe just so happens to have a vanilla buttercream to go with it!

And for the blueberry frosting between the layers, I am doing a LOT of waffling.

First waffle: blueberry filling vs. blueberry buttercream. If it were LEMON, I would of course go with lemon curd. It would make a nice little tart opposition to the creaminess of the frosting on the outside of the cake.

But blueberry isn’t really TART. Well, I see that this recipe for blueberry filling from Mother Thyme includes lemon juice, presumably to up the Tart Factor (Hmmm. Sounds kind of racy for a toddler, no?), but it worries me. Even though the recipe says to chill the filling, I’m afraid it won’t gel correctly, and then we’ll have soggy cake. IS THERE ANYTHING WORSE? (Yes: Soggy hamburger buns.)

Here is a potential solution: Bean Town Baker has a recipe for blueberry curd that seems like it would address both the tartness and the sogginess issue. Curd is a weird word. Curd. Curd. My only hesitation is that I am not the best at MAKING a curd. The eggs have, in the past, egged up on me. Which is disgusting. When I’ve used lemon curd in cupcakes and cakes, I tend to by it in a jar because it’s much better and MUCH easier. Also: no egg bits amongst the creamy lemony tarty goodness. What are the odds I can track down some pre-made blueberry curd? A very quick google says “not good.”

Second waffle: If I go with blueberry frosting, I am waffling between this blueberry buttercream from I Heart Kitchen or adapting this raspberry frosting recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction. The former gets points for being super simple AND using fresh blueberries. The latter sounds more decadent AND I already have blueberry preserves in my possession.

Now wait a second… Here is a recipe for blueberry CREAM CHEESE frosting from White on Rice Couple! But, while it sounds better to ME, I’m not sure it really adheres to the desires as expressed by my daughter. So maybe next time.

I have been dithering, as well, about throwing a blueberry or two into the actual batter of the cake, to see if that increases the blueberry quotient. But Carla really seemed specific about wanting VANILLA cake. So I will probably just go with adding some fresh blueberries to the top and sides.

OH! Or, for the kids’ cupcakes, I could FILL them, with blueberry filling/curd! And top them with vanilla buttercream! Maybe that’s what I’ll do. Sorry, toddler parents! Get your Shout spray and your Oxi Clean ready!

All right! To the store for Cake Supplies! And birthday hats.

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