I love pretty much everything about Indian food. The flavors. The rice. The naan. The abundance of sauce. But of course, getting Indian takeout every night or even once a week is not particularly practical.

So I have been trying for YEARS to make an appropriate substitute at home. I’ve tried all the simmer sauces you can get from the grocery store. I’ve tried so many recipes for chicken tikka masala that they have all sort of begun to run together.

But then I tried this recipe for Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala from The Kitchn and I fell in love.

Chicken tikka masala 1

You can make it at home IN YOUR CROCKPOT, which is pretty much the holy grail of cooking experiences for me. It’s flavorful and satisfying and – even though it doesn’t taste quite the same as food from your local Indian restaurant – it scratches that itch for spicy, creamy, saucy Indian food that I get every few weeks or so. Plus, it’s another way to dress up boring old chicken breasts – and I am always looking for new ways to eat chicken breasts.

While this recipe is HEAVILY influenced by The Kitchn’s version, I have tweaked it over the past year enough that I am always wondering exactly how much Indian red chile I should use and sometimes forgetting the fenugreek altogether and then wondering why it tastes off, and I have gotten to the point where I need the Real Thing written down somewhere.

One thing I will say is that this doesn’t result in anything resembling chicken tikka masala – at least not any chicken tikka masala I’ve ever had. It would be more accurately described, I think, as an Indian-style curry. So if you are hoping that this will taste just like the tikka masala from your favorite Indian takeaway, you will probably be disappointed. Just letting you know, so you don’t feel misled!

Also, I like things SPICY. So if you do follow this recipe, keep that in mind, and adjust the Indian red chile and the hot chili peppers as necessary.

There are two other things I will say in warning before I type up the recipe:

  • This recipe requires quite a few spices. And I have to say, I cook dinner probably six nights a week and I only use the Indian red chile and the fenugreek for this recipe. I have never used them in another recipe. So I don’t know if it would be worthwhile to buy them on the off chance that this recipe becomes a regular part of your rotation. That said, The Kitchn’s version does not call for either of those spices, which means you can just leave them out, if you want to. I think they help add a more “authentic” flavor to the dish, but they certainly aren’t indispensable.
  • My favorite way to make this is to do the prep work in the morning while Carla is eating breakfast (the chicken and the yogurt, measuring out all the spices, chopping the ginger and the onion) and then doing the sautéing step at lunchtime. Then I throw everything into the slow cooker at about one o’clock and let it cook until dinner. If your plan is to have the crockpot work while you’re at work, this obviously won’t do. So you may need to start the night before.

Slow Cooker Indian-Style Curry

4-6 servings


  • 1 to 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size chunks (Note: You can certainly use chicken thighs instead if that’s what floats your boat.)
  • 1 cup fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 tsp garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 Tbsp garam masala
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp ground Indian red chile
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp fenugreek seed, ground
  • 1 28-oz can tomato puree (Note: If you like chunks of actual tomatoes in your food, you could use a 28-oz can of diced tomatoes instead.)
  • 3/4 cup canned light coconut milk (Note: Scrape off the solid part of the coconut milk into your measuring cup first, then fill out the rest of the 3/4 cup with the liquid.)
  • 2 15-oz cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 2 bell peppers, cut into strips
  • 1 chili pepper (jalapeno or serrano)
  • Fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 2 cups cooked rice, to serve (Note: I prefer basmati rice.)
Chicken tikka masala ingredients 1

The ginger looks weird because it’s frozen, and the garlic looks weird because it came from a jar. I bought the Indian red chiles whole and ground them myself in a spice grinder.

Not pictured: chickpeas


  1. After cutting your chicken breasts into bite-size chunks, marinate them in the yogurt for an hour or so.

I just put the chicken into a bowl, toss with the yogurt, cover with plastic wrap, and stow in the fridge for a few hours. You could probably do this the night before you make the dish, if you want to press “cook” right before you go to work. But I can’t remember if I’ve tried that, and I don’t know if the yogurt has any sort of adverse impact on the chicken if they sit together that long. Proceed at your own risk is what I’m saying.

  1. Sauté the chopped onion, garlic, and ground fenugreek in the olive oil over medium-high heat until the onion becomes translucent and soft.
  2. Add ginger, tomato paste, and spices to the onion and garlic mixture. Cook until the mixture is fragrant, stirring frequently to prevent it from sticking to the pan.
  3. Add the onion and spice mixture to the bottom of your slow cooker.
  4. Add the chicken and yogurt to the onion mix in the slow cooker.
  5. Add tomato puree to slow cooker. Use about a quarter cup of water to “rinse” out the tomato puree can, and add water and remaining puree to slow cooker.
  6. Stir everything together, then cover the slow cooker and cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours. (Note: I don’t think I have ever cooked chicken breast for 8 hours. Make sure whatever meat you use comes up to the correct temperature, which I am not remembering at this time but which you can find elsewhere online.)

Sometimes I do a combination of the two: I will cook on low for 4 or 5 hours, then on high for another hour or two, just to thicken things up a bit.

  1. Fifteen minutes before the end of cooking, stir in the coconut milk and chickpeas.
  2. You can add the sliced bell peppers at this time, too, depending on how soft you like them. (I like my bell peppers to have some crunch to them, so I put them on top of my rice and then add the hot curry to the bowl so that they are just warmed through as I eat them.) If you aren’t a bell pepper fan, you could try green beans, peas, broccoli, zucchini, or any other veggies that strike your fancy.
  3. Serve over rice.
  4. Garnish with sliced chili peppers and cilantro. (Obviously, this is optional.)

Chicken tikka masala 3

I feel like this recipe seems more complicated than it is. The sautéing beforehand is kind of a pain in the rear, I won’t lie, but it’s very quick. Probably takes five to ten minutes of actual cooking. And I cheat with the garlic and ginger: We use ginger so often, I have a Ziploc bag full of diced ginger in my freezer that I dip into for this recipe. And I use jarred garlic, which is perfectly adequate for this recipe put those eyebrows back where they belong. Plus, the onion can be roughly diced; no one’s going to measure the pieces to make sure they’re even. So that part really doesn’t take more than another five minutes. Add in five minutes to track down and measure all the spices, and you’re looking at 20 minutes of prep time, and that’s allowing for a minute of staring into the fridge wondering what you opened the fridge to get, and forgetting that your cutting board is in the dishwasher so you have to wash it really quickly, and having to open a brand-new jar of garlic because your old jar is depleted WHAT. It is a delightful time saver and I will not apologize for it.

The chicken, of course, is another matter. I hate websites and people who recommend doing all your prep work the instant you get home from the grocery store, because who wants to do that once you’ve just expended all that energy GROCERY SHOPPING? Not me.

But it does help, grumble grumble. I plan out what I’m going to cook for the week, and then when I am being Super Productive, I will trim and freeze my meat in whatever marinade I’m using. I label the Ziploc with the contents and where the recipe lives online, and then I have waged half the battle when it comes time to actually cook the stuff.

So for this recipe, I would cut up the chicken breasts on Day 1, and then the night before I plan to make this meal, I would remove the chicken from the freezer and throw my cup of yogurt into the Ziploc to marinate as the chicken thaws in my fridge overnight. Then it’s ready to go.

Well, no matter how much I love this recipe, it’s only going to make it into your rotation if it works for you. So I will stop trying to shove it down your metaphorical throat. Maybe you can come over for dinner next time I make it, and see for yourself.


A few months ago, I asked for advice about kids’ books with an instructive element. I loved the comments on that post – they were so full of good ideas, and I have since requested many of your suggestions from the library.

THEN. After I published the post, I got an email from A Kind and Generous Person who just so happened to have an entire STACK of the Joy Berry books I fondly remember from my own childhood.

Her children had outgrown them, she said, and she was thinking about the best way to release them from her house. And would I want them?


She boxed them up and sent them to me, FOR FREE – AND DID NOT EVEN WANT ME TO COVER THE SHIPPING – and they now live in my daughter’s bedroom. (Can you even believe how KIND and GENEROUS and ALL-CAPS WONDERFUL that is?!?!)

Joy Berry Books 1

I get a little tingle of delight EVERY TIME I see this stack of books!

We have read them several times over. Carla was OBSESSED with them when they first arrived, so we read all 20 of them right away, two-at-a-time before naps or bedtime. And then she began asking for specific books. And now we work them in among the other, less-instructive books that crowd her bookcase.

The books, by the way, are as wonderful as I remember… PLUS they are better, because now I am the one trying to teach my own child certain concepts. And some concepts are HARD.

Joy Berry Books 4

The elephant is already very clear on the concept of disobedience.

Thank goodness for Joy Berry. She very clearly and simply lays out a term and what it means and then offers several clear, firm, no-nonsense examples, all accompanied by a cartoon that shows the concept in action.

Joy Berry Books 5

There’s always an animal along for comic relief/extra shaming.

Then she lists simple examples of what you should do and what you should not do in order to avoid the concept being taught.

Joy Berry Books 6

SO EASY to abstain from disobeying! Just follow the two steps! (Disclaimer: May not be quite as easy in practice as it seems in the book.)

It was such a wonderful, pleasing case of serendipity. That this Kind and Generous Person would not only have the Joy Berry books, and be done with them herself, and be looking to pass them on to someone else… but that she would also read my blog at the exact moment I posted about my longing for those very books.

It’s the kind of thing that makes me itch to pass along the kindness.

To that end, I happen to possess three books that a) I LOVE and b) I am no longer in need of and c) I would wholeheartedly recommend you buy anyway because they are soothing and easy to read and short. So I would like to give them away to you.

They are by Louise Bates Ames, Ph.D., and they are slim “guidebooks,” if you will, to the inner workings of a two- and three-year-old.

Louise Bates Ames

I have no idea why these are not ordered CORRECTLY. It is driving me batty (although apparently not so batty as to retake the photo), so let’s just quickly look away, shall we?

The two-year-old book and one of the three-year-old books are gently used. The other arrived from Amazon as a surprise extra, and Amazon – which apparently has more money than it knows what to do with – just shrugged its shoulders and said, “keep it.” So the book is fresh as the day it arrived, more than a year and a half ago.

The books follow the same basic structure, outlining the characteristics of a child of that age, techniques for dealing with a child of that age, accomplishments and abilities typical for the age range, how the child sees the world, etc. There are “real life stories” sections in the back of each, where parents give a brief description of some problem they are encountering and the author responds.

I like these books for their cheery and matter-of-fact tone, for the “help with routines” sections, for the books/toys suggestions at the back, and for the short lists of “things to avoid” when interacting with your child. Sample, from the book on two-year-olds: “Avoid any expectation that all daily routines will go smoothly.” Second sample, same book: “Avoid any questions that can be answered by ‘no.'” I don’t know why, but these simple suggestions give me the giggles. And have I mentioned that they are short and very easy to read? Some parenting books are so dense. Others are so wordy. These books are so quick. Of course, that also means that they don’t really cover anything in-depth. But as an overview of what to expect from your kid at a specific age, they are top notch.

If you (or a loved one) are in possession of a nearly two-, or three-year-old, and if you don’t already own these books, let me know in the comments if you would like a) Your Two-Year-Old: Terrible or Tender, b) Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy, or c) both. I will do some sort of random number drawing on Friday.

Oh! And whether you want a copy of the Louise Bates Ames books or not, I would love to know what your favorite instructive-type children’s book is… and/or your favorite/most useful parenting book.

Hair Fret

Well, the world seems about ready to spin off its axis entirely and every time I even so much as glance at the news I start hyperventilating, so let’s talk about MORE FRIVOLOUS STUFF.

At some point last spring, I decided I wanted to Mix It Up a little bit with my hair. For me, a person who avoids change at all costs, this meant asking my hair stylist to add a little red to my normal brown hair dye.

I think I was picturing something like Anna Kendrick’s hair… Dark, but with a reddish tinge…

(Photos, clockwise from Anna, from myhaircolors.net, pinterest.com, and ouchpress.com)

I liked the result okay. But it wasn’t anything like ANY of the above photos. It felt so BROWN. More like… Young Rory Gilmore. Or… Jennifer Garner without highlights. But… Less shiny.

(Photos, left to right, from worldhairextensions.com and allwomenstalk.com)

So I went back to her a few months later and told her that I wanted to change things up AGAIN.

“What was wrong with the last color?” she wanted to know. She was non-accusatory, not hurt in the least; she just wanted to know what the issue was so she could help avoid similar issues.

“It was just too… brown,” was all I could come up with. But she nodded like I’d been extremely explicit and detailed with my criticism and presented me a few alternatives.

She did so by putting together a little board of hair samples. A literal curl of hair in four different colors that I could choose from. The far left was my hair color of last fall. The far right was Really Red. The two center options were somewhere in the middle.

But here’s the kicker. She recommended one of the options. I can’t remember which, all I can remember is that she compared it to Hair of Last Fall and said something like, “This will go much better with your skin tone than what we used to do.”

I trust her and so we went with the option she’d recommended.

You see where this is going, no?

I do not like my current hair color. It’s fine. It’s not bad or anything. It’s closer, I guess, to Anna Kendrick Brownish Red. But it’s lighter than I like my hair to be, and it’s still too brown, and it’s different enough from my natural hair color (mouse brown interlaced with grey) that you can REALLY see the difference now that it’s growing out.

When my husband – who, bless his heart, doesn’t notice these things – not only agreed with my assessment that it was very clear my hair was in need of a color-update, but also said he’d noticed without my pointing it out, I made a hair appointment immediately.

But now I am fretting. I mean, it’s MILD fretting. Nothing on the level of School Stress or What If Writing a Book Is a Huge Waste of Everyone’s Time Worry. But I like to wring every last bit of anxiety out of every possible situation so here we go.

What I really want is to go back to my hair stylist and say, “Let’s go back to how it was last fall.”

Simple enough… Except that she has already expressed a preference for NOW vs. THEN.

It’s like when your friend breaks up with that kind of boring dude she’s been with for five years, and when she finally does it, you can’t help but say, “Oh, I’m so glad you aren’t with him anymore! He really wasn’t bringing out your inner sparkle!” And then a few months later she decides to get back together with him.

Only I’M the one who is getting back together with the dull boyfriend, you know? And my hair stylist is the one who has to reunite us.

I would almost rather find a NEW hair stylist. But it’s so hard to find a good one, and I really do like her, and she does do a good job, and I really like the way she cuts my hair. Plus, my husband goes to her, too. So if I quit, it seems like he would have to quit, too, just for the sake of awkwardness and I’m too tired to worry about any of this.

My husband helpfully discussed this with me (although I doubt he will engage in deeper or additional conversations on the topic) and agreed that a) my former darker hair color worked just fine with my skin tone and b) it was totally reasonable for me to have a different opinion from my hair stylist and c) I could very reasonably ask her to change the color back and all would be well.

But YOU understand my fretting, don’t you?

What if she does it, but clenches her teeth the whole time, so certain is she in the life-altering mistake I am making?

What if she does it, and then it turns out she is RIGHT and my skin tone is Totally Wrong for dark brown and I HATE IT?

What if I can’t think of any other disastrous outcomes?

In any event, I want to go from Reddish Brown to Dark, Glossy, Gorgeous Brown and completely avoid Just Plain Brown at all costs.

Maybe what I do is pretend that I am NOT going back to my old hair color… and ask for a NEW hair color?

Something like one of these?

(Photos, left to right, from pinterest.com, hairboutique.com, hairstyles123.com, and pinterest.com)


I could totally go in and say, “I want my hair to be a bit darker for fall. Let’s change it to Katie Holmes brown please.” And then see what happens.

Perhaps I will even bring her this photo as an example!

Hair dark brown 1

What do you think?

I think the first half of the post title implies that I am eagerly awaiting the end of summer, but that’s a little… simplistic, I guess. Yes, I will be glad to have my regular schedule back. Yes, I will be dee-freaking-lighted that I won’t have any more camp laundry to do. But I am also trying to relish these last few weeks, primarily because I will miss all this extra time I’ve had with Carla, and secondarily because I am a little anxious about how the upcoming year will go.

In any event, I am reflecting on our First Summer of Camp and also looking ahead to Pre-K.

First, an update on camp. Turns out I had but the one Camp Fret (well, that I posted about, at least) and the rest of it all went pretty well.

We enrolled Carla in four separate camps, for a total of eight weeks. And I think it all turned out fairly well despite the fact that I had NO IDEA I needed to enroll her in camp in FEBRUARY and that I had to start researching/planning in January. That is RIDICULOUS. Nonetheless, I will know better for next year.

The first camp was the best camp. It took place entirely outdoors, in the woods.


Please ignore the wildfire in the background.

Carla ADORED it. She came home filthy and exhausted and absolutely joyful every single day. She was overflowing with details about what she saw and learned each day, and was bursting with news of whatever creature she had seen or held or been peed on by. There were many snakes. She learned about poison ivy and black capped chickadees and baby toads. She learned how to rappel down a ravine via a rope tied to a tree and how to make sculptures out of mud and how to cook a potato in a campfire. She had her face “painted” with mud. She played in the rain. She napped under a canopy of trees. I cannot overstate how wonderful it was. I hope it is offered again next year, and for a longer time. I will enroll her in a heartbeat.

I also cannot overstate how horrific the laundry situation was. The campers were outside literally all day, every day, rain or shine. When the sun was out, they played in a creek. So she was wet and muddy at all times. How can I convey just how muddy she was? Let’s see. I had to disrobe her in the garage before bringing her into the house. I had to carry her into her bathroom and immediately deposit her in the bathtub. I had to hose her down with the shower to de-mudify her before filling up the bath. She even had dirt and mud UNDERNEATH her underpants and dirt sprinkled into every inch of her hairline.

She wore Keens (with socks) and jeans and t-shirts, and I had to wash the Keens each night and set them out to dry because they were so concreted with mud as to be unwearable. I washed out each individual item of clothing under a running faucet and then plopped it into a washing machine full of Oxi and water. I let everything soak all week and then did a load on the weekend. And nothing ever got clean again.

Listen, I am no stranger to stain fighting! I am a wizard with Oxi-clean. But man alive, the camp laundry was a worthy foe and to this day her camp shirts and many MANY pairs of socks still bear the grim reminder that I did not always win.

The first camp turned out to be the most communicative, another reason I love it so very much. We got an email each morning from the head counselor, telling us what the plan was for the day and what the weather would be like and offering suggestions about clothing to bring. The head counselor also operated a camp website, and each day posted photos and a list of discoveries and activities undertaken throughout the day.

The second camp was fine. I’m not particularly clear on what the campers did all day, aside from coloring print-outs of Disney scenes. The main benefit was that Carla got to go swimming three days a week, which she loved. She seemed to enjoy it well enough, but she wasn’t vibrating with excitement at the end of each day, nor did she bubble over with talk about what she’d done and learned and seen. It struck me as a summer daycare, which is fine, I suppose; maybe that’s the POINT of camp.

The third camp started out disastrously. It was held at the same location as Camp 2, so I kind of assumed it would be similar. We got one email about it, the week before it began. The email gave specifics about the duration of the camp and what the drop-off/pick-up procedure would be. That was IT.

When I picked up Carla the first day, she told me I needed to bring her a snack every day. And I said, no, we’re going home to eat lunch. And then it became clear that she meant I needed to send a snack with her, to camp. And I asked, did the other kids have a snack this morning? And she burst into tears and said that yes, they all brought a snack from home and she was the only one who didn’t have one.

I mean, my heart is obviously broken. This is no doubt going to be one of those things she brings up with hurt eyes for The Rest of Our Lives. And I feel TERRIBLE. But I didn’t know! Camp 1 specifically told us to pack two snacks and a water bottle for the kids each day. Camp 2 said nothing about snacks, but sent out a weekly lunch menu, and also provided a water bottle that we would take home and refill and send with her each day. Camp 3 SAID NOTHING. So. Major Mom Fail. (And let’s spread the blame a bit: Major Camp Communication Fail.) Also, it seemed like Camp 3 involved a lot of watching Tumble Leaf and The Lion King. So I’m not planning on doing THAT ONE again next year. Whatever. Live and learn.

The jury is still out on Camp 4, but rest assured I WILL be packing snacks and I will fill you in on any disastrous outcomes.

As camp winds down, I am thinking ahead to Pre-K. I am fretting over whether I did enough with Carla academically this summer (unlikely) and wringing my hands over whether her teachers will be a good fit for her.

And, in the category of Frivolous Considerations, I have been scouring the internet for The Perfect First Day of School Dress.

Carla loves to wear dresses. I think she’d wear a dress every day if she could. But she has a very specific idea of what A Good Dress is, and so do I, and they tend not to overlap.

I will spare you another home-made Venn diagram.

Her requirements, insofar as I understand them, include:

  • Twirly
  • Very twirly
  • Like, so twirly

My requirements include:

  • Not expensive, because she will outgrow it in a year, and also she is hard on clothing
  • Really. I’m thinking the $15 range would be ideal.
  • Not overly frou-frou, because it WILL get dirty (see above point re: hard on clothing) and frou-frou is hard to clean
  • Not ridiculous, which is, of course, a completely subjective thing
  • Not sleeveless, because I want her to be able to wear it all year long

Further complicating things is that her school doesn’t allow kids’ clothing to feature a) denim, b) characters, logos, or single images, or c) words.

So this Gap Kids dress, which looks appropriately twirly (although it features easily-rippable tulle), is out because it says GAP on it.

And this similar dress is out because it has a heart on it. (I know.) (A pattern of hearts would be okay, though.) (I don’t really get it, either.)

Anyway, I have perused many websites, searching for The Dress. Old Navy, Gap Kids, Target, Amazon, Zulily, Gymboree. Even Hanna Anderson, which I love but which I usually deem too expensive (usually, not always). I have found some possibilities, but nothing that exactly 100% fits the bill.

Shall we take a look together?

This dress from Gap Kids is pretty adorable. But I don’t know if it will be twirly enough for Carla’s taste.

Ooooh I LOVE this dress. Seems like it would have some good twirl, no? Although… $32 is WAY outside my $15 budget. And now that I am giving it a Good Hard Look, it seems like maybe it would be less twirly than… hangy. Maybe what I really want is this exact dress in MY size. For $32. Get right on that, Gap. Thanks.

Carters has… some cute options. But nothing that falls within that narrow slice of Perfectly Twirly and Meets Mom’s Requirements Too.

This is the Lands End dress Carla wore last year. I love it SO MUCH and would happily buy it for her again – maybe in the navy-with-birds pattern – but the original no longer meets the Twirl Standard. (Unfortunate, for a dress NAMED “The Twirl Dress.”) And it’s $39. AND we no longer have a Sears nearby, so I can’t take advantage of the free returns.

Gymboree is usually my go-to for cheap twirls, but I’m not finding many candidates this year. Perhaps this one? But let’s be honest, I don’t really like it. I’m not anti-pink, per se. But this is SO pink. And the unicorns are SO gold. Meh.

Oooh! Hanna Andersson is having a back-to-school sale this weekend! I could totally do $19 for a First Day of School dress!

Hmmm. Okay, they have a very limited number of on-sale dresses available in Carla’s size. And the ones that are available seem… potentially not as twirly as they need to be. This one is cute… but is it First Day of School cute? More important, is it First Day of School twirly?

This one looks more reliably twirly… but I’m not in love with it. As far as plain-top-with-fancy-tulle-skirt dresses go, I like the Gymboree option FAR better. Especially because this one is $39.

Now, I DO like this one! It looks pretty twirly. And it also comes in a lovely purple, which is Carla’s favorite color. Which is important only because it’s buy-one-get-one-half-off, so I’d obviously have to buy two. (OBVIOUSLY.) That’s still about $23 per dress, but that’s reasonable. Maybe. My only complaint, really, is that it’s so simple.

Janie and Jack is having a 20% off sale on dresses! But… nope. The one I like best is STILL $79, with the discount. I cannot justify spending $79 on a dress that will likely end up covered in paint.

Nordstrom has a lot of choices, but very few under $30 and none that seem like they’d have the proper Twirl Level.

This Old Navy dress has potential, although I just can’t tell how well it will fill the Twirl Criterion. Sixteen bucks, though. That’s not too shabby. Although… do the sleeves read more “I’ve outgrown this dress and my mom hasn’t noticed” than “three-quarter-length on purpose”?

This Laura Ashley dress from Dillard’s is so adorable it almost hurts. Plus, it’s only $20. But… it’s much too summery. I don’t see myself flipping through Carla’s closet and choosing this one to pair with leggings and boots this fall. And it looks like it would be ruined in about five seconds, and that I would mourn its ruin. Dillard’s has a TON of really cute dressy dresses. Almost makes me wish that we had some weddings to attend so I’d have an excuse to buy one.

Oooh this dress from Amazon is pretty cute. And it’s under $10! The only thing that might be problematic is the ribbon (which ties in the back). Carla is notorious for removing belts and ribbons immediately. Also, it’s hard to tell whether it would have the appropriate Twirl Factor.

This one seems like it would meet Carla’s twirl requirement… and it’s only $11… but I think the tulle would last a day or two at most. And it has a belt. And I’m not sure if it really says I Am A Serious Academic (you know, as all Pre-K students’ clothing should). Actually, in my very subjective opinion, it veers pretty near to “ridiculous” territory.

LOOK WHAT I FOUND. This may not be right for The First Day of School, but no matter! I am adding this to my Amazon cart right now! How can I not? CATS. On a DRESS. Carla is going to FREAK OUT.

Well. So I haven’t found The Perfect Dress. Good thing it is so enjoyable to SEARCH. If you see anything that fits the bill, let me know!


Carla’s rainbow cake turned out FAR better than I had hoped.

Rainbow Cake Final 4

Firstly, I asked Carla which order the layers should go. I said, “Do you want it to go ‘purple, blue’ like the Bubble Guppies song?” And she thought about it and said, “No, that’s wrong. I want it to be like a real rainbow.” Although she then asked “Where’s the white layer” and I had to assure her that there would be white frosting. (She has also since begun singing the song “blue, purple” despite the Bubble Guppies’ maddening insistence on “purple, blue.”)

Let’s back up a bit now. Because while the title and the first sentence of this post indicate Unadulterated Success, I will admit that there were some small setbacks. Especially when it came to the cupcakes. But a bit when it came to the cake, too.

For some reason, I am determined to make Carla’s cakes from scratch. I don’t know why. My husband (indulgently) thinks I am a wacko. My mother, who intuited my birthday-related stress from thousands of miles away, understood completely. She – who worked a demanding, full-time job throughout my childhood and beyond – made all of my Halloween costumes from scratch because of the same genetic quirk.

So I used my tried-and-true Sally’s Baking Addiction recipe for Carla’s cake. It is a good recipe, and it makes a very nice vanilla-y cake. But I realized only very belatedly that it is an oil-free cake. And – possibly because of that, although I can’t say for sure since I am a baking amateur at best – I think that makes it kind of heavy. I comforted myself for the heaviness of the cake by choosing to believe it makes the cake very easy to cut and layer. But I think perhaps next year I will try a different recipe. OR I will try to force myself to use boxed cake mix, which is what I used for the cupcakes, and which turned out light and fluffy and yet perfectly moist.

Of course, I was converting Sally’s recipe – which was for cupcakes – into what I needed for a six-layer rainbow cake. So I instantly made a mistake. My model cake used 8-inch cake pans. But I didn’t have 8-inch cake pans. I had three 9-inch cake pans OR two 6-inch cake pans. I decided to go with the 9-inchers, which resulted in super thin, super flat layers.

Rainbow Cake Layers in Oven

Too thin! Abort! Abort!

But! I stopped while I was ahead! I only made those two layers, and when I realized they would result in a very thin cake, I recalibrated. I mixed up another batch of Sally’s cake batter. And I went with the 6-inchers.

IMMEDIATELY better. They turned out very even in size.

Rainbow Cake Layers Six

They are not in ROY G BIV order here and it is Driving Me Crazy.

To get the color to be so vibrant, I used Wilton gel food coloring. And I ended up using a LOT of each color. Maybe 1/4 to 1/3 a teaspoon of each, which is a LOT. (Note: Sally’s recipe uses only egg whites, which I think definitely helps with the brilliant colors. Using egg yolks makes the cake more yellow than white.)

Rainbow Cake Batter Colors

I used my new Wilton cake leveler to cut the tops off the layers.  Okay, correction: MY HUSBAND used the Wilton cake leveler to cut the tops off the layers.


I carefully studied the directions (“directions”) for how to use it. And then I watched a video about how to use it, but I still couldn’t get it to work. My husband on the other hand got it to work just fine, and he did all six for me, which made me feel like he was being involved which was a nice feeling, and plus, I ended up with nice, flat tops to all the layers. I saved the tops in a Ziploc bag; they are in my freezer. (It turns out there are a lot of things you can do with leftover cake. I tried one of them – making a cake-pop-within-a-cupcake – with limited success, but there are other things to do as well. Might make for a fun project to try with Carla.)

Then I made the frosting – the same recipe that Sally used for her cupcakes.

Oh! And this is where I tell you my Shocking Vanilla News. Sally’s cupcakes and frosting both call for vanilla beans. And vanilla beans have always been expensive. I think the grocery store brand usually was about $11.99 for one decrepit bean. But last year I discovered that Penzey’s sells vanilla beans, and I was able to get two nice, plump beans per jar for $8.99.

That’s what I assumed I would pay this year, too; I have no concept of the changing price of vanilla beans. But this year, two beans was $18.99. EIGHTEEN NINETY NINE. I expressed my shock to the Penzey’s salesperson, who said that there’s something going on in the region that produces Penzey’s vanilla, and it was pushing the price up. She said she thought it would be temporary. But SHEESH. (Listen, I am selfishly NOT looking up the details about why the price is so high; I am hopeful it is something like an unusual drought and not a horrible civil war or something, but there are only so many things I have the capacity to worry about, you know? I am trying to limit the number of things I cry over these days.) It turned out it was a good thing I spent the $18.99 for two beans, because, as I noted above, I ended up having to make a second batch of cake batter.

Having learned from previous mistakes, I did a crumb coat of frosting and then put the whole cake in the fridge overnight. This is what it looked like right before I did the crumb coat.

Rainbow Cake Pre Crumb Coat 2

And then the next day, I added another layer of frosting and decorated the whole thing with these little rainbow-hued non-pareils.

It was hands-down the best looking cake I’ve ever made.

I don’t think it was the best tasting, though. First of all, the cake was dense and heavy as I mentioned above. Secondly, the frosting was VERY sweet. I mean, it was just sugar and butter, so it wasn’t a surprise; I didn’t expect it to taste like pickles or something. But it was too much. Probably the thick top layer on top of the crumb layer didn’t help. If I were to do it again, I would find a less-sweet frosting to use. Maybe a cream-cheese style (which is my personal favorite) or something that was more like a traditional buttercream, with less sugar. A third option, I suppose, would be to layer the cake with something other than frosting. I would normally go for a curd of some sort, but that wouldn’t really work with the aesthetic of this particular cake. Maybe a whipped cream frosting would be okay.

The cupcakes were another matter.

If you will recall, I made the rainbow cake for Carla’s actual birthday. She and her grandparents and her father/my husband and I went out to her favorite restaurant for dinner, and then we came home to eat cake and open presents.

But her birthday party was several days later. It was a make-your-own-pizza-party at a popular chain and we invited twelve of her friends and it was DELIGHTFUL. But I wanted to make cupcakes for that party, see above RE: wacko, so I did.

Rainbow Cupcake Tray

I think I’d gotten a bit cake-saturated by the time I got to the cupcakes, so my head wasn’t in the game. Plus, I’d decided to use a store-bought cake mix, which made me a little cocky. So I kept making stupid mistakes. I forgot to add the water to the first batch. (I was able to salvage that one with math; I’d already separated the oddly too-thick batter into its separate colors. When I discovered my omission, I simply divided the required amount by six and stirred the appropriate amount into each color.) Then I forgot to add the eggs to the second batch. (That one I had to throw away.) Then, when I finally got to the frosting, I’d left the cream cheese out all day… and despite varying reports online about whether cream cheese is safe to eat after that long (answers ranged from “it’s only okay if you’ve left it out for no more than four hours” to “I’ve left it out all night and it’s fine!”), the resulting batch of frosting I made had a very weird texture and I couldn’t in good conscience feed it to twelve of Carla’s preschool friends. (I ate some of it and have lived to tell the tale. But I’m not going to use preschoolers as guinea pigs.) So I scrapped it and made some more too-sweet icing – although this time I used a Martha Stewart recipe because I was plum out of vanilla bean.

Making the cupcakes into nice even rainbow layers was HARD. I tried the “use a spoon” method. And then I tried the “put each color into a separate sandwich bag” method. And then I tried the “drop whatever you have in wherever it fits” method. I kept running out of one color or another, so that the layers were never perfect.

OH WELL. They were all pretty. And they were all super delicious as well.

And hopefully Carla is DONE with rainbows. Because I don’t know that I will have the kind of patience that comes with novelty if she asks me to do it again.


First, Carla has begun referring to limes as “green lemons.”

Second, I don’t think you will be surprised to learn that I don’t adjust to change easily. I mean, not THAT many people are all “Woo hoo, change!! Let’s tilt the world on its axis just for the hell of it!” so I am probably not the anomaly here.

I like to think of myself as a loyal person – once I find something that works, I stick with it. I like to think of myself as adaptable and flexible; I don’t need things to be perfect all the time! I can work with non-perfect! Also, I like knowing what to expect. I like routine. I like to be able to depend on something. My aversion to change is why I stuck with my first job for seven years, even after it became clear that we were no longer as great a fit as I’d hoped. It’s why I’ve kept my same Honda for nearly 15 years, despite the fact that it needs increasingly expensive “fixes” to keep it in running condition. It’s why I have a hard time imagining ever moving out of this house, even though it’s a little small and even though I DESPISE our tile floors and even though I would LOVE to have an actual mud room.

My philosophy – because it’s always been that way – is that if we’ve always done something a certain way, there’s probably a good reason for it and therefore NO REASON TO CHANGE.

All of this to that I have a hard time accepting – despite my advanced age and extensive experience – that sometimes, changing something – ON PURPOSE – can make things BETTER and/or EASIER.

Example 1: When I was… ten, maybe? my mother gave me the occasional responsibility of cooking for the family. She got me a cookbook – Kids Cooking: A Very Slightly Messy Manual – that I loved and remember fondly. For my chosen meal, I always made spaghetti with meat sauce. I always made it the same way: brown a pound of ground beef, add diced onion, minced garlic, and diced carrot, add pasta sauce, add Hunt’s tomato sauce, add dried basil and oregano, add splash of Tabasco, cook until you can wait no longer. THAT was just The Way to Make Meat Sauce. There were no deviations.

Until I met my husband. And the first thing he helped me change was the (store bought, jarred) pasta sauce I used. I’d always used Prego; it was the brand my mother used, I was accustomed to it, it was just how it was done. But it had tomato chunks in it, and so I had to put it through the blender before I added it to the meat and veg. My husband pointed out that Ragu is completely smooth. So – with great trepidation – we made the switch. Instantly better and easier!

And then I admitted to him that I hate the carrots. I dislike cooked carrots as it is. Plus, they are super annoying to dice. And I ended up picking them out of the sauce every time we made the meat sauce. So my husband suggested that I just not add them. What?!?! But… carrots were an INTEGRAL PART of the sauce! What about the flavor profile?! What about tradition?!

I stopped adding the carrots. Instantly better and easier.

Example 2: When I started hosting Thanksgiving dinners, I bought a potato masher.

When the potato masher wasn’t in use (you know, 364 days a year), I would stow it in the Random Utensil Drawer. Do you have one of those? It’s not the silverware drawer, where you keep the forks and spoons and knives. No, it’s the drawer where you stuff all the other random things you use rarely or never: the lemon juicer, the grapefruit knife, the zester, there must be some non-citrus tools as well… oh yes! The whisks, the garlic press, the can opener, the pizza cutters, the offset spatula, the regular spatulas, the miniature spatula, so many spatulas. What the hell else is in there? There are WAY more things cluttering up my RUD. Who knows. Anyway. That’s where I kept the potato masher. It was very cranky and easily offended. I mean, if it got twisted at all, it would prevent the drawer from either opening or closing. Worst was when the drawer wouldn’t open. Then you’d have to stick your hand in as far as you could and try to maneuver things around in the drawer to see if you could get the masher to lie flat. It was very frustrating.

But that’s WHERE THE MASHER LIVED. Its home was in the RUD. That’s just how it was done.

When my mother came to stay with us after Carla was born, she noted that the masher was really irritating, and I agreed but sort of shrugged because what can you do, right? It’s just how it was.

My mother, bless her bravery, MOVED THE MASHER. She put it in the little bucket that holds all the tongs and the ladles and pancake turners etc. that lives on the counter near the stove. And lo, the RUD opened and closed, and lo, the sun continued to rise in the east and set in the west, and life was instantly better and easier.


I think about these lessons a lot. A lot a lot. Whenever something annoys me about the layout of my house or about how I’ve set up my cupboards, I think, “It doesn’t HAVE to be that way! I can CHANGE THINGS!” I haven’t actually made any changes, but I know that I CAN, should I choose to.

Like sometimes, I think about how great it would be if we could get rid of 85% of the cups on the top shelf of the cups cabinet. We use about 5% of the cups up there, and then there are 10% that we use on a very occasional basis. But the rest are just… sitting there, taking up space. I could get rid of them! Or move them into a box!

Or! Carla’s crafts (workbooks, sticker books, crayons, drawing paper, paint supplies, play-doh) live in two separate places: an armoire in our dining room and a curio cabinet in our kitchen. The armoire has some other things in it and the curio has a bunch of odds and ends in IT. I don’t know if those are the correct furniture names, but whatever. Sometimes I think about how I could totally consolidate ALL of Carla’s craft supplies into ONE of these furniture items! And either pack away, get rid of, or move the other odds and ends!

Even the prospect of changing things from the way they’ve always been is truly liberating.

Of course, the actual effecting change is not quite as simple. But still. LIBERATING.


It is hard to believe that, four years ago today, I was officially 42 weeks pregnant with Carla… 14 days past my due date… and yet I wouldn’t meet her for another two days.

My Dealing with Birthday Feelings therapy is, apparently, making an elaborate homemade birthday cake for my child. I don’t know how, exactly, panicking over measurements whilst being covered in flour is therapeutic, but it is my thing.

Carla has requested a rainbow cake this year. Which is an improvement over what she asked for previous to settling on rainbow cake, which was a purple cake with black frosting. I am not opposed to that combination, but no way am I cleaning black frosting out of a fancy birthday dress. I doubt there is enough OxiClean in all the lands for that task.

My model rainbow cake looks like this:

I am going to follow The Little Kitchen’s strategic plans to the tee. But I am going to kick the crazy up a notch by not using boxed cake mix and instead making my own cake, using the recipe I used last year: Very Vanilla Cupcakes from Sally’s Baking Addiction

Since the cake has many layers (SIX), and since I have proved to be terrible at making straight cuts to the top of a cake, I got myself a little helper. It is a Wilton cake leveler, and I bought it at JoAnn Fabric for $7.99, although NOW I see that I could have bought it (as an add-on item) from Amazon for $4.98. Ooh! I also see it is now on sale at JoAnn Fabric for $5.59. I have not used it, so I have no idea if it will work or if it is destined to become one of those things that languishes at the back of the bottommost cupboard, only to be glared at disdainfully the three times a year you spot it behind the food processor. I will report back.

Speaking of disdainful glares, we have now come to the Bubble Guppies portion of this post.

Listen, I have a lot of problems with the Bubble Guppies as it is. But my current problem is rainbow-related.

Bubble Guppies Venn

I don’t know why this image is so huge, nor why the circles themselves are so THICK, but we do the best we can with the tools available.

My daughter has been singing a little song regularly for the past few months. It’s very catchy, so you can imagine that sometimes I awaken at half past three in the morning with it running in maniacal loops through my brain. It basically goes, “Red orange yellow green purple blue white! Something something something just right!”

That can’t be right, I thought. So I kept correcting her. “It’s not red orange yellow green purple blue white,” I would say, secure in my knowledge that of the few things I can truly accept as fact in the world, Roy G. Biv is one of them. “It’s probably red orange yellow green blue purple white.” Even though I don’t know why they’d tack the white on there, I guess I could ALLOW for it, because of rhythm. And yes, “blue purple” has a different rhythm than “purple blue,” but so what? Children’s songs have made more with less.

But Carla would become quite adamant. She would screw up her face and stomp her foot if she was in foot stomping position, and she would say, “NO Mommy, it IS red orange yellow green purple blue white!”

And I would calmly explain to her about Roy G. Biv and the rainbow and blah blah she’s not yet four so you may already know how well those conversations went.

We did end up seeking out the song on YouTube. And my dear Carla was finally vindicated! The song DOES say “purple blue white” and so now I am furious with the Bubble Guppies for passing on misinformation in such an ear-wormy way. WHY, Bubble Guppies? WHY? (Also, “orange like an orange”? You couldn’t think of ANYTHING ELSE that’s orange? Um, pumpkins? Tangerines? Velveeta?)

I would like to publically acknowledge that the song is not about rainbows per se. But it has insinuated itself into Carla’s brain as Fact. Color Order Fact. So she looked at the picture of the rainbow cake and told me that it was in the wrong order. And that her cake needed to go purple blue, NOT blue purple.

I don’t know if I will be able to misorder the layers of the cake. It will look so horribly WRONG, you know? (Although it will look horribly wrong to Carla if I do it the Roy G. Biv way…) And, more importantly, it will BE wrong. Plus, I don’t want her to go through life thinking that this is the way the rainbow goes! I can envision her failing all sorts of rainbow-related tests in future years, and her teachers shaking their heads and recommending rainbow remediation and our dreams of an Ivy League education disappearing into a bank of cumulous clouds.

We watched a YouTube video of Bill Nye, explaining rainbows. We looked at an actual rainbow. We discussed how mommy is a bit older than Carla and knows a few more things.

Nope. Bubble Guppies are apparently the Final Word on color order.

Basketballs are also orange, BUBBLE GUPPIES.