Monday, June 20, 2016

Update, June 6-20: Wedding cakes, Daisy standing, Father's Day

I had a wedding cake request for June 18, a vanilla bride and chocolate groom cake, so the weeks leading up to it were filled with researching designs and hot weather-stable frostings to survive the outdoor reception on a 90-degree day, in addition to the usual baking and decorating.  I ended up having to use a shortening-based buttercream for the outside frostings.  It was also my first square cake, which presented a few challenges getting sharp edges with the new buttercream.  I'm happy with the way they turned out, though.  

I had a hankering for chocolate chip cookies during a thunderstorm last week, so I made these fancy ones:
Our garden is in full swing.  Tons of chard, lettuce, spinach, kale, peas, and strawberries.   Beet are nearly ready (I just picked 4), as are raspberries.  We've been picking a few carrots a bit early to snack on.
Daisy updates: She's such a fun baby!  She really loves to play with you and delights in interacting with her family.  She's even more social around strangers than our other kids were.  She's been standing up unsupported on her own a lot lately and can slowly push a chair around the room.  She recently discovered the kids' dish drawer and gets into it every chance she gets.  She's also tall enough to dumpster dive in our trash can (which she alternates with the dish drawer), which makes me think it's time to get a new trash can with a lid.  She is super into scrunchy face smiles, tilting her head to the side to let us know she's cute, feeding herself (favorite foods: peas, butter and jam sandwiches, yogurt chips, strawberries), swinging, doing backflips (she throws her whole body backwards while we're holding her to let us know what she wants), being tossed in the air, and falling onto soft things while saying "Uh, uh, uh... aaaahhhhh!"  Seriously, so much fun.  She can also sign 'all done' and 'more'.  The one thing she can't do is sleep through the night, and it's really wearing us down lately.
 
 

 

Ellie has been going through a really hard time lately.  She has daily tantrums over completely arbitrary things.  Today it was because I put her water canteen in the cup holder of her carseat (she had wanted to do it but didn't inform me of this).  Yesterday it was because I made her a sandwich according to her specifications but she had changed her mind about it by the time I was done making the sandwich.  And of course there's the nightly tantrums over bedtime.  I feel like we're constantly walking on eggshells around her.  It's like living with a live grenade and you just never know what's going to set it off.  She's recently discovered how to Queen Bee, and regularly tries to leverage her love, affection and friendship to get what she wants.  The moment she doesn't get what she wants, we're no longer friends and she no longer loves us.  She spends a lot of time not loving us lately...  But, she does have her sweet moments, which is what we're desperately clinging to right now.  She adores her baby sister and loves to play with her.  And she really is affectionate when she isn't mad at us.  She loves morning and night time cuddles and is really into us telling her stories right now. Collin's stories about Petty Pappy and Tinkerbell are her favorites, while she tolerates my stories about Tinkerbell and the giant pizzas (Tinkerbell is featured prominently on her favorite light-up t-shirt).

We went to Discovery Park last week.  It was crazy hot and the boys were a sweaty, dirty mess by the time we were done.  They played hide-and-seek tag through the network of wooden structures while the girls and I hung out at the swings. 

It was 100 degrees today (how fitting for the summer solstice), so we went to the splash pad to cool off.  Daisy liked playing in the water for short spurts.  The boys got into a water gun fight with another group of boys and things got a little heated for a while.  Isaac resented getting nailed in the eyes and back, but it was nothing a post-water fight Slurpee couldn't fix.
Sunday was Father's Day.  In true Collin form, he woke up early with Daisy before I even heard her.  But he was able to get in a good nap later that morning.  The boys spent hours this week making a special book for his gift, I gave him a video game (Ratchet and Clank), and Ellie gave him a couple of tantrums.  (She's going through something lately.)  We got some nice treats at The Rose Establishment after lunch, then he spent the late afternoon playing his new game while I passed out in a big way during Daisy's nap.  I couldn't have asked for a better father to our children and am so grateful he is so devoted to us all.  He works tirelessly to provide for our every need, even when he's so very tired.  He runs around and wrestles with the kids.  He helps them build Legos.  He helps them walk on the ceiling.  He's at their side in a flash when one of them wakes up crying at night. He teaches them the Gospel of Christ.  The kids completely worship him, and for very good reason. Happy Father's Day, Collin!  We love you!


Monday, June 6, 2016

High altitude white cake

I think I might actually get a stomach ache from all the cakes I've been tasting and re-tasting (for science!) with The Great High Altitude Baking Experiment of '16, but I'm finally there!  I finally have a white cake that works!  It's stable!  The top is perfectly level!  No sunken centers!  It only took three attempts this time, and the winner recipe is Rose Levy Beranbaum's white velvet cake.  I couldn't be bothered to take a picture, because cake #7, but it's most definitely level, with a smooth (dare I say, velvety?) crumb. Taste- and texture-wise, it was my favorite of the three tried.  Here are my adaptations for high altitude:

White Velvet Cake
Makes 2, 8" cake layers

Ingredients (everything room temp.):
188 g. egg whites
280 g. (~10oz) whole milk, divided
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
360 g. cake flour
350 g. sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick + 6 tablespoons (200 g) unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 360 degrees.  Grease and line with parchment two 8-inch round cake pans.

In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup milk with eggs and vanilla.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine all dry ingredients and mix on low for a few seconds.  Add softened butter and remaining milk and mix on medium for 1 1/2 minutes.  Add egg mixture in 3 parts, starting on low speed then turning it up to medium and beating for 20 seconds after each addition. 

Scrape batter between prepared pans and bake in center of oven for 35-45 minutes (mine need 43 minutes).  Let cool 10 minutes before turning out onto cooling racks.

High altitude yellow cake


This strawberry and lavender buttermilk cake from Sweetapolita was heavenly.  More importantly, the yellow cake baked up beautifully with no collapsing!  This is a big deal.  The layers were moist, fluffy, buttery, and perfect.  Here it is with my high altitude adjustments:

High Altitude Yellow Buttermilk Cake (adapted from Sweetapolita)
Makes three 8-inch round layers

Ingredients:
5 whole eggs, room temperature
2 egg yolks, room temperature
1-1/4 cups (297 ml) buttermilk, shaken
2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
3 cups (345 g) cake flour, sifted
2 cups (400 g) sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
7/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (227 g) unsalted butter, cold and cut into small even pieces

Preheat the oven to 360° F. Grease the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch round cake pans, line bottoms with parchment round, and grease the parchment.

In a large measuring cup with a spout, lightly whisk the eggs, yolks, 1/4 cup of the buttermilk and the vanilla. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. With the mixer set to low speed, add the cold butter and mix until all of the butter has been blended and has a sandy consistency.

Add the remaining 1 cup buttermilk to these dry ingredients, and mix on medium speed for 2 minutes. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure all of the ingredients are well incorporated. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the egg mixture; once the mixture has been added, increase speed to medium and beat for 20 seconds. Gently fold batter once or twice to ensure the egg mixture has all been incorporated.

Divide batter evenly among the 3 prepared pans. Bake two of the layers until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few crumbs but no batter, about 35 minutes. Repeat with the final layer. Let the layers cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then loosen sides with thin metal spatula or knife, and carefully turn out onto wire racks, peel of the paper liners, and let cool completely.

The perfect high altitude chocolate cake

I'm doing a wedding cake (two, actually) in two weekends - one white and one chocolate.  I've had trouble with all my chocolate cakes since moving to 4500-foot-high Utah.  They always rise up beautifully in the oven, then, in the last 5 minutes of baking or immediately after taking it out, the center collapses.  It's great if you don't mind dense, fudgy cake, but it's been driving me bonkers for years.  So I finally had an epic day of baking, trying multiple recipes, making multiple adjustments to ingredients and mixing techniques.  On my fourth cake I think I finally struck high altitude baking gold!  So here it is, my chocolate cake, adapted from Sweetapolita for high altitude baking.  It's rich and very chocolatey, but not so much that you can't finish a slice.  It's dense enough to stack, but moist and fluffy enough to enjoy without frosting, which is exactly what we've been doing as I move on to testing white cakes!

Chocolate Cake
Makes 2 8-inch round layers

Ingredients:
3/4 cup + 2 T (213 ml) buttermilk, divided
2 T + 2 t. mayonnaise
4 eggs, room temp.
2 t. vanilla
4 t. white vinegar
284 g (1 cup - 1 T) light brown sugar
156 g (1 cup + 1 T) all-purpose flour
60 g Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/2 + 1/8 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. baking soda
1 stick unsalted butter, cubed

Preheat oven to 360 degrees.  Prepare two 8-inch round cake pans with butter/flour or spray and line with parchment.  

In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup of the buttermilk with the mayo, eggs, vanilla, and vinegar.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine all dry ingredients on low speed for 30 seconds.  Add butter and mix on medium-low until sandy, then add remaining buttermilk and beat on medium for 1 minute to strengthen the structure.  Add the egg mixture in three additions, starting on low speed until combined and then beating on medium for 20 seconds.  Scrape batter into prepared pans and bake for 35-45 minutes.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

May 23-June 5: End of school * Zion National Park

May 25 was the last day of school.  Samuel graduated kindergarten the day before.  There was a nice little ceremony and Sammy just loved it.  Then later that day we harvested the very first strawberries from our garden!  It was glorious!

 This picture isn't our first harvest (it was taken a couple days ago) but we needed to show off our strawberries.  So much better when they're from your own garden.

On Friday May 27 we drove down to Cedar City to stay at the Tkochs' cabin.  This time we didn't spend the whole time lounging around.  We got out!  We were active!  We grabbed the bull by the horns!  On Saturday we went swimming at the Cedar City pool and then went to our new favorite Cedar City restaurant: Centro Wood-fired Pizzeria.  It was some of the best pizza we've ever had!  And silly us we took no pictures.  But it's well worth the visit.  It's at 50 W Center Street (near the corner of Center and Main).

We saw lots of deer while we were up there.   I think at one time we saw nine all at once in the backyard.  Here's a pic with six of them (one is hidden in the bushes on the far right):
On Sunday we drove over to Zion's National Park.  Silly us we decided to go on Memorial Day weekend and it took over an hour to actually get in the park but it was worth it.  At Zion's if you want to go on any hikes you have to take a shuttle in from town - the main road is blocked off to outside traffic.  So after waiting in a long line in the heat we were off on the 40-minute shuttle drive up the canyon to the hike that begins "The Narrows" - one of the most popular hikes in Utah.  The boys fell asleep on the way up but the girls did great. 
After arriving there's about a 1-mile hike to get to the spot where the Narrows begins.  We finally got to use the old hiking baby-carrier that we got for free many years ago.  Daisy loved it. 

After a long trek in the heat we arrived at a nice shady oasis on the river where people generally begin their hike up the Narrows. 
 
  
 
 
 
We drove back home on Memorial Day and left early enough to beat the traffic.  It was a nice drive, the kids did pretty well, and we had a wonderful weekend.  We're on the fence about taking Daisy on longer road-trips.  She did okay but we definitely had to make a lunch stop and get out of the van for a bit in order to stop her screaming.

Last week we noticed that there was a snake in our chicken coop - it appeared to be a "Western Yellow-bellied Racer".  It didn't harm the chickens and the chickens just kind of stayed away from it.  I decided to leave it in there on the off-chance it might prevent mice from getting in but it ended up finding a way out. Maxine named it "Charlton Hisston". 

 So now that summer break is underway the kids have really hit their stride.  They've been getting along together wonderfully and the boys are very good about keeping Ellie involved in their play. 

 On that note, Ellie has also been very good about involving Daisy in her play.
This picture should have gone in our last post but it was on my phone and I forgot to transfer it to the computer.  So here you go.  Hope it was worth the wait.

Epic Daisy Pose.  

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Update, May 22, 2016

It's been a really cold and wet May.  We've gotten hail a couple of times, several thunderstorms, and a few 80-degree days.  Such weird weather.  My veggie garden is a little confused by it all, but at least the skies are pretty in between storms.
The boys each had their class plays in early May.  Isaac's was an opera - the 2nd grade works with the Utah Opera Company in writing their own opera (which the opera company puts to music) and design and paint their own sets.  It's pretty amazing, and they did a great job.  Isaac said he got a bit of stage fright as the play went on.  Here he is with his teacher, Mrs. Davies. 
Sammy's play was only slightly less musical.  He was the best monkey there!  ;)  Here he is with his best friend Jordan.
Isaac has done great this school year.  He's reading so much now - he loves all of Collin's old Calvin and Hobbes books, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Geronimo Stilton, Big Nate, Captain Underpants, and Notebook of Doom. Sometimes he'll even go to his room to be alone and have some quiet reading time during the day. I just finished reading The Indian in the Cupboard aloud to him and he loved it. It was wonderful to bond over our love of a book. Isaac is such a great help to his siblings.  He's the peacekeeper between Sammy and Ellie, and often the only reason those two will play together.  He shows such genuine affection for Daisy, too. 
I've been doing a ton of baking this month.  Here's a lavender and strawberry buttermilk cake (buttermilk cake layers, whipped cream filling with strawberry-lavender compote, and lavender flavored Swiss buttercream).  I actually made a larger version for an order and this was the "leftover" smaller version I saved for us to eat.
Sprinkle sugar cookies - the kids had so much fun helping with these!  Dinner was late that night and totally worth it!
Another special order cake: strawberry cake with strawberry swiss buttercream.  She wanted a messy frilly look.
Pies!  Not special orders, but just because summer fruit is starting to go on sale and I love my new Four and Twenty Blackbirds pie cookbook.  The first is a sweet cherry streusel pie and the second is a peaches and cream custard pie.  Both were delicious.
Ellie doesn't like taking naps during the day, but she almost always falls asleep in the car whenever we go somewhere in the afternoon.  When she wakes up it's usually with a mighty tantrum.  Here she is after a particularly mighty one.  I had to take a picture because I thought she just looked so beautiful.
Ellie still rarely lets me put her hair up.  It's a big deal when she does, so I have to document it.

Ellie is super into dancing.  Almost every day she asks me to put on some music so she can shake her groove thang.

Daisy turned 10 months old yesterday!  She loves feeding herself, her favorite foods are cheese and sweet potatoes, she's super fast at crawling, pulls herself up to standing and is just starting to cruise a bit, babbles all sorts, still wakes up a few times each night, loves shaking her head 'no' and clapping 'yay!' and putting her arms up to show she's 'SO big', will maul you if you're lying on the floor, gives kisses (she even pulls Collin in by his beard to give him kisses), and is the best hugger.  She also loves to swing!  The higher the better!  Here are a bunch of Daisy pics and vids:
Last but not least, Sammy turned 6 on the 16th!  He's been planning this birthday since the day after his 5th birthday.  He was so excited for his birthday the week leading up to it that I'm pretty sure he didn't talk about anything else.  We sure love this crazy kid!  He's a rascal, to be sure, but underneath that sometimes maddening exterior lies a heart of pure love and sweetness and nighttime cuddles.  He has the brain of an engineer with the eye of an artist.  His Lego creations seriously blow my mind.  As in, I couldn't recreate what he comes up with if I tried.  The boy thinks only about Legos all day every day, with only occasional breaks to play outside or do hotwheels car races.  We gave him a large Lego set for his birthday that was rated for ages 8-14.  He completed the set entirely on his own in 5 hours and was glowing with pride when he showed it to us.  He is best friends with Isaac, loves Daisy to pieces, and is doing much better getting along with Ellie (they'll be friends when she stops pushing his buttons on purpose).  He has figured out how to read with a fair amount of fluency, understands language and spelling concepts, and has his math facts memorized.  I'm just in constant awe of Sammy.  My favorite quirk of his: Sammy constantly repeats whatever he hears in a bare whisper, almost subconsciously.  I think it's his way of internalizing information, but it's super cute to hear (and you only hear it if you know to listen for it).
For his birthday Sammy requested a neapolitan cake (he came up with the flavor combination on his own) with green sprinkles.  What can a mother do but deliver? 
 
He wanted to have a small birthday party this year with three of his school friends.  One of them couldn't make it, and another didn't show up after a sort of miscommunication about Sammy being sick (he woke up sick the day before but was fine the morning of), so it was just Sammy's best friend Jordan that came.  It actually worked out really nicely.  The kids had so much fun playing together!  Instead of slaving away with another cake, we just did a donut "cake" for the party. Add in a piƱata and you've got yourself a party!  Awesome!

 Here are some random pictures of the boys jumping.