Our Family Unit
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  • January30th

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    Like I mentioned last week, one of our Family Traditions is Birthday Cakes.  The kids get to pick out the subject/theme and I do my best to create a cake that lives up to their hopes.  Jessie and Buzz have birthdays only 2 days apart and this year we were coordinating birthday celebrations with a visit from Grandpa Dan & Marmie, so we celebrated one on a Friday and the other on Saturday.

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    For her 3rd birthday, Jessie wanted a pink and purple cat cake.  But since most of the 3D cat cakes I saw online looked fairly creepy, I decided the better route was a fun layer cake with cats on top.

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    Seeing her “cat cake” for the first time.

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    I made a 6 layer Neapolitan cake, using Sweetapolita as inspiration.  I had my own favorite chocolate cake recipe, but used her strawberry and vanilla cakes.  The vanilla cake was good, but the strawberry cake was OUT OF THIS WORLD!  It’s made with real strawberries!  So. Damn. Good.

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    As a side note, Jessie got a camera for her birthday.  Other than the floor, Buzz is her favorite subject.  I have no idea where she learned to walk around sticking her camera in people’s faces.  ;)

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    Buzz 1st Birthday party was a Cat in the Hat theme.  We thought it was fitting since we actually announced his pregnancy with the help of Dr. Seuss, not to mention there are some ridiculously cute Cat in that Hat ideas on Pinterest.

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    Having the two birthdays celebrated so close together worked really well for the actual cake baking.  I ended up sharing cake batter and frosting between the two.

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    The bottom layer was more of our favorite chocolate cake, a 10″ round.  Then the middle red and white section was a 4 layer strawberry and vanilla cake using an 8″ round, and then the top layer was more chocolate, a 6″ layer cake.  For both cakes, I made my own marshmallow fondant.  It’s so easy to make and so easy to work with, I can’t justify anything else.

    Although, I do have a question, does marshmallow fondant sweat more easily than the kind you can buy?  Or is that just the nature of fondant?  I tend to have very sweaty cakes and I can’t quite figure out why.  I’m sure some of it is just condensation as it comes out of the freezer, but I haven’t yet figured out a better way for keeping it cool (and safe from prying fingers) while I work on it, usually over 2-3 days.  I’d really appreciate any tips as I have a feeling the kids’ ideas will only get bigger and grander over the years.

    Oct bdays-15We had such a wonderful time with friends and family, celebrating our littlest man’s first year.  Cakes are a tradition that help build excitement for the kids, with or without a party.  They’re a bit of creative outlet for me and Kyle, who is the true artist of the family, always improves them with his ideas.  I don’t know if you’ve been counting, but that was 2 strawberry cake recipes, 2 vanilla cake recipes, and 3 chocolate cake recipes in 48 hours!  You can see now why I’m in the market for a treadmill.

    Aren’t these two precious though?  What great excuses to overload on sugar!

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  • July18th

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    The Monster Truck birthday cake was a huge hit with Woody!  I got a few emails after his birthday post about how I did it, so I figured I’d give a quick tutorial.

    First I baked my favorite chocolate cake in two loaf pans.  After letting them hang out in the freezer a bit, I started carving and shaping.  Basically, one loaf was used for the bottom half of the truck and then a portion of the other loaf was the cab.  I used one of Woody’s little monster trucks to get proper proportions and really worked on shaping the cab and hood to help it look as realistic as it could.  Then I crumb coated with buttercream frosting.

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    One little trick I figured out this time is how to get a super smooth crumb coat.  In every fondant tutorial I’ve ever read, the experts say that getting a smooth crumb coat is vital in making the fondant look its best.  But no matter how much I smoothed with the frosting knife, I couldn’t eliminate all the indents and ridges.  This time I tried something new.  I kept putting the cake in the freezer between working on it and other projects, which definitely “chilled” the butter in the buttercream.  Then I used my finger to warm and smooth the buttercream frosting so there were absolutely no ridges whatsoever.  It definitely made  a difference when I topped it with the fondant.

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    For both the John Deere Tractor cake and the Noah’s Ark cake, I used store bought ready-made fondant.  This time, I tried making my own.  I used the Wilton recipe for Marshmallow Fondant and it worked really well.  Not to mention that the bag of powdered sugar and bag of marshmallows are about 1/10th of the cost of the boxed fondant.

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    I made the Monster Truck Tires out of Rice Krispies and followed this AWESOME tutorial.  Last year, I put the tire tread “V’s” on the outer layer, but this time I put them underneath.  I think it made it look more realistic.

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    Another lesson I learned from the John Deere cake was that heavy layer cakes like this need a lot of support, especially in the heat.  Sadly, the tractor was already stuck in the mud when the party started.  This time I had Kyle make a cake stand out of plexiglass and dowel rods.

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    Then I covered it in Saran wrap and wrapped the legs in black fondant, to disguise them.  The tires ended up basically just leaning against these legs, not having to support the actual cake/truck at all.

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    To make the flames, I colored a bit of fondant yellow, orange and red and laid them next to one another on wax paper.  (I like using Wilton food coloring since the colors are so vibrant and true).

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    Then I just just started smearing them together with my figner, up and down, until it looked “flame-y”.  I covered the flames with another sheet of wax paper and used a rolling pin to flatten it out.  Then I stuck it in the freezer to get good and hard.

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    When I was ready, I just free-handed a couple flame shapes to apply to each side of the truck.

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     Again, learning from the John Deere experience, this time I rolled out a HUGE piece of fondant, large enough to cover the entire truck.  Then I cut off the excess and cut out areas for the windows.  This worked much better than trying to piece it all together, like I had done with the tractor.

    For the final touches…the roll cage is just straws wrapped in gray fondant and I used a Play-Doh cut out for the “5″.  The ‘dirt track’ was, of course, OREOs that I’d put through the food processor.  (Best ice cream topping EVER!)  The assembly was ridiculously easy: Set cake on cake stand.  Lean tires against cake.  Serve.

    Tip: Don’t do this in a house that is 90 degrees!  I think the marshmallow fondant was sweating as much as I was.

    As always, if you make it…I’d love to hear how it goes and see pics.  Good luck!

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  • July16th

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    My oldest baby just turned FIVE!  I truly cannot believe that.  In my mind that somehow means we’ve graduated from having ‘children’ to having ‘kids’.  Children are innocent and young and have rookie parents, but kids are smart and surprising and have parents that are supposed to know what they’re doing by now.  Oops!  I think I’m a bit behind.

    On his actual birthday, we were helping some friends move and so rather than do the cake & presents that day, we went out for a special breakfast and opened just one special gift.

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    An original Nintendo that we picked up off of Ebay and a few games that Kyle and I had saved since childhood (after a bit of blowing on them, they worked just fine).  ;)

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    That afternoon, he and dad had some serious bonding time!

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    The next week, when Grandma Carol and Mike came to visit we did the rest of the celebration.  Pizza is still Woody’s favorite, but Mexican food is the “stuff he eats more and more of” (meaning he always asks for seconds and thirds).  So we had make-your-own-loaded-nachos for dinner.

    The day after his John Deer birthday last summer, he requested a Monster Truck cake for his fifth birthday.  About a month ago he told me, “Mom, don’t forget!  I want a Monster Truck cake that tastes like chocolate when I turn five!”  So that’s what we did.

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    He is such a great kid!  So full of life and personality and silliness.  He so freakin’ smart it scares us sometimes.  He’s an amazing big brother to both Jessie and Buzz.  We are just blessed beyond belief to have him be our son.  I just wish he had more expressive facial features…

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  • September14th

    In an effort to stock the pantry before K2 arrives, I’ve been trying out different make ahead breakfast recipes.  The fruit smoothies are fantastic!  (I will definitely be making more freezer packs before the darling babe arrives.)  Another trial run was homemade instant oatmeal packs.  The Quaker pack at my local Safeway was $5.50 / 10 packs, or 55¢ per package.  Doing it myself, I made 20 packages for less than $3!  75% cheaper!!  And it only took 10 minutes…I know…because I timed it.  :)  Yes, I’m that anal sometimes.

    A quarter cup of quick-cook oatmeal, a tablespoon of brown sugar and 20 snack bags.  How easy is that?  All I have to do is add a quarter cup of milk and whatever toppings (cinnamon, chocolate chips, cranberries, etc) and breakfast is served.  I think they taste great, especially with the cinnamon.  The kids are still trying to decide if they’re oatmeal fans.  (Sadly, I don’t think they’d ever eaten it before this.)

    That same day I tried one other breakfast experiment.  Mini-frittatas.  I scrambled some eggs and milk together, poured the mixture into muffin tins and then added some ham and shredded cheese.  Straight out of the oven they are fine, but I tried freezing the left overs for another easy breakfast option…less than steller results.  Once reheated they are very dry and look so unappealing.  This is one Pinterest idea that I won’t be doing again.

    All in all though, Pinterest still came through.  Smoothies and Oatmeal for the WIN!  Time to stock up; we’re just over 6 weeks away from D-Day!