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Posts Tagged ‘my baby is growing up’

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.

rainbow-cake-leveler.jpg

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.

rainbow-cake-final.jpg

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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.

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Yesterday was Carla’s last day of preschool. It was a short day, so I ran to Target after I dropped her off. I had a list of things we needed, and a stack of coupons, and a cartload of Feelings, and where better to go when you have Feelings, I ask you, than to Target, where you can mindlessly wander the aisles and also participate in the soothing act of buying things?

It surprised me – which is surprising, knowing me – how much I was affected by The End of Preschool. I’ve been having terrible dreams for days: the one where I’m trying to save Carla from an active shooter but the only path away is riddled with motorcyclists and highways full of speeding cars; the one where I’m trying to save her from a furious grizzly bear lumbering toward us at the terrifying speed of bears; the one where she’s swimming with her face in the water and I’m terrified she’ll drown (way to be super original in your choice of metaphors, sub-conscious).

It’s pretty clear that this little milestone is presenting as a more significant marker of The Ceaseless Passage of Time than maybe it should be.

 

Right after I yanked my cart from the corral (and wiped down the handle with my own sanitizing wipe; I am nothing if not a germaphobe, and the wipes provided by Target say NOTHING about being sanitizing), I heard the two part harmony of children crying. The volume and intensity ramped up as I rounded the $1 section, and as I trekked down the aisle between the purses/jewelry section and the bank of checkouts, I could make out words. The older child was wailing, “I want the candy!” Her younger sibling was crying, too, but – it seemed to me – in sympathy rather than in any sort of personal outrage. The older child was really getting into it, hysterical sobs punctuated by very loud, very insistent screams of “I want the candy!” Her timbre and noise level read full-on meltdown and I am sure her mother was glad of the early-morning dearth of shoppers.

I felt, as one does, great affection and empathy for the mother, who was calmly unloading her cart onto the conveyor belt as her child railed and flailed.

As I passed, I overheard the person behind the family note, to the mother, “She wants the candy!” in a tone that conveyed bewilderment as to how the mother had missed this crucial point. And the mother responded, with great patience, “I know, but she can’t have the candy because she hit her sister. And I can’t give her candy just because she’s upset.”

Oh, internet! I was already weepy with all the sunrise, sunset feelings that The End of Preschool had brought on. But now, here was a mom who was just doing her best to teach her children, who was being scolded – albeit very gently, it seemed, from my in-motion and distant eavesdropping – for allowing her child to scream rather than just giving her the damn candy, and, in addition, she was calmly and steadfastly defending her actions to said scolder. Like she really needed a THIRD person to instruct when all she wanted was to buy her diapers and her chicken dinosaurs and get the hell out of there. I wanted to wrap my arms around her, internet, and tell her she is doing such a good job. That it will be all right.

But I don’t know that it will be. And especially at that moment, when I had to suppress the urge to shout, “Give her the candy now because she’ll be off to college in an eyeblink and you need to ENJOY EVERY MOMENT!”

 

We’ve been enjoying some really glorious weather the past week or so. Low humidity. Cool breezes. Warm sunshine. Carla and I have been spending as much time outdoors as possible.

One of our favorite activities of late is “bubbles.” I have this enormous bubble wand (from Target, obvs.) that produces excellent bubbles, both in size and quantity. I stand in our front yard and wave the wand, and then Carla chases the bubbles and tries to pop them (often with her face, which I have tried explaining is not the smartest plan).

It’s good from an energy-expenditure standpoint; Carla really throws herself into the chase. She runs hard, she leaps, she twirls, she dives. I contemplate her future as a soccer star. After fifteen or twenty minutes, she’s breathing hard and I know she will sleep well.

But aside from being good exercise (for her; unless you count “mild upper arm tiredness” as exercise on my part), it’s also kind of magical. The bubbles have their own sort of childish beauty, shiny and round, bumbling around the yard on air currents, nudging into one another, popping on the grass. When a breeze picks up, they erupt from the wand all at once: a flock of smooth and iridescent birds, bobbing this way and that in luminous clusters. When the air is still, they form slowly, elongating shimmers that finally coalesce into globes, unsure of their shape as they stretch and wobble through the air.

I love watching them burst against Carla’s hand, her cheek, her blond head. Even more, I love watching the gleaming orbs drift skyward, growing smaller as they rise, pinpricks of light against the clouds.

 

Preschool ending must have really messed me up, because – despite my list – I kept forgetting things. So I’d be in the pretzel aisle and remember that I forgot to pick up vitamins. And then I would schlep all the way back to the vitamin aisle… and realize I forgot all about Carla’s shampoo, on the complete other side of Target. And then I’d get to that side and remember I needed aluminum foil, which was way back in the opposite corner. It was a good thing I had a couple hours to kill, because I traversed that Target many times over.

One of my coupons was for 20% off Cat & Jack toddler clothing (ONE item, which at least they now state on the back of the coupon; harrumph). So I searched for awhile among the toddler clothes. But really, Carla is big enough now to shop in the older children’s section. (Of course, a pair of shorts in size XS or 4 may be identical in price to a pair of 4T shorts in the toddler section, but the coupon is applicable only to the 4T shorts.)

A whole end-cap of socks was on clearance. The display was in disarray, with all the sizes out of order. I dug around until I found the style I liked in size medium — lots of colorful stripes; pom moms on the back of one pair. A pack of Frozen socks caught my eye; Carla has a set that she’s outgrowing, so it would be nice to replace them. But they only had XL and XS – enormous socks for much older children; little teeny socks for tiny baby feet. So I had a little cry right there in the clearance section.

A whole wall of Carlas, at every age. Little wide-eyed infant with the jerky kicks and the balled up fists. Soft blond fuzz and chubby thighs crawling across the carpet. One-year-old Carla shrieking with delight as she clutches a blue carnation in her fist. Eighteen-month-old Carla saying “Hi, hi, hi” into a toy phone or digging into a baby-Carla-size pumpkin with an enormous spoon. Two-year old Carla eating snow by the bowlful, cheeks pink from the cold. Three-year-old Carla jumping gleefully on a trampoline in the backyard, blond curls taking flight around her. Three-year-old Carla in her polka dot dress and backpack posing with her chin up on her first day of school. Three-and-a-half-year-old Carla, fearless on skis, twirling with her father on ice skates, arms wrapped around the neck of a tolerant neighbor dog. Nearly-four-year-old Carla, chasing bubbles in the sunshine. Lifting her feet off the ground and gliding on her balance bike. Bending over a drawing – real! recognizable! – of a person. Skipping down the hall toward her classroom for the last time, “Elsa” braid swinging at her back. Slipping away from me, ever forward, not a glance behind.

Me, running to catch up. Never having mastered now enough to fully enjoy it. Grasping to hold onto each glimmering moment, even as the breeze catches it and pushes it up into the sky.

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