Sunday, April 28, 2013

The making of her birthday cake

Months in advance of her birthday I started wondering what I would do to celebrate it. I knew for sure I wanted her to have a cake for her birthday photos but I wasn't too thrilled with the cake options out there. Most birthday cakes out there are loaded with artificial colors and sinful amounts of sugar that are too much for even my adult teeth to handle. In fact most commercial birthday cakes don't even have much cake, they usually have teeny layers of cake smothered in frosting, filling, icing and ice cream that I end up having to scrape off. As I searched the internet for healthy first birthday cake recipes I realized that many other moms before me had found a way to put a healthy spin on the traditional birthday cake. I found all kinds of healthy cake options ranging from "cakes" carved out of fruit to recipes that didn't require sugar, eggs or even flour!

After going back and forth over several ideas I finally decided to bake her a cake myself. Based on other recipes I had found online I put together my own recipe which basically had no sugar or sweetener other than banana and applesauce.  I originally wanted to bake her a carrot cake with banana and applesauce but  ultimately decided to leave out the carrot because of my choice of cake pan. Once I decided on the type of cake, I had to choose the style, shape and size.  I definitely wanted something fun for the photos and considered a cake in the shape of the number one or a Disney character. In the end I opted for an over sized cupcake because I was advised that the number 1 shaped cake would only photograph well from certain angles.

Once I got it into my head that I wanted to bake the giant cupcake, there was no going back. I searched on amazon and found the Wilton giant cupcake pan and fell in love with all the awesome customer photos. My mind was more made up than ever about going forward with this cake. 

As you can see from the photos, the cake pan is in two halves, one side is for the bottom of the cake and other side bakes the top of the cake.

I decided to bake the cake the night before her birthday so it would have enough time to cool down before I added the frosting. Based on the instructions that came with the cake pan it stated that crumbly cakes like a carrot cake were not the best for the pan and the cake might not stay intact when it came time to remove it from the pan. The instructions advised that a denser cake like a pound cake would be best. Based on that, I made a banana-applesauce pound cake using the following recipe

1 cup all purpose flour
1¼ cup organic whole milk
3 sticks of veggie spread
1 cup organic applesauce
5 ripe bananas
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon, 
½ cup raisins

Several things went wrong with the cake but I still ploughed ahead and made the best of it. 
Firstly I couldn’t find ripe bananas anywhere! I didn’t want to buy them too early to avoid them getting too ripe but in the end the ones I did find were only slightly ripe and not as soft as I wanted them to be. Anyway I started out by mashing the bananas with my potato masher 

and then I added in the sticks of butter substitute and used my hand mixer to get it creamy. Then I mixed in the applesauce.  Once that was nicely mixed in it was time to add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt cinnamon.  

When the cake batter was done, I sprinkled in some raisins.

Because of the complexity of the cake pan, and based on all the reviews I had read. I decided to bake the cake in sections.  I think this cake pan would be much better if the two pieces were separate, that way you could take out one half of the cake if it cooked faster than the other side. To avoid the issue of one side being overcooked while the other was still raw in the middle, I decided to follow the advice of other reviewers and give the "bottom" of the cake a head start in the oven . So I sprayed the bottom section of the cake pan with Pam baking spray. I don't really like Pam spray and usually try to avoid it but I was so paranoid that the cake wouldn't release from the pan if I didn't use it. My first mistake was over spraying the pan, which caused the cake to look much darker and have a much harder crust than I would have liked. Once I had sprayed it, I poured cake batter into the bottom section, I only filled it about 60% full because I was so sure it would rise and didn't want it to bubble over. This was my second mistake. I forgot that since I was making it such a dense cake with all the banana, fruit and fat, that the cake would not rise very much.   So anyway I popped it in the oven and after 12 minutes exactly, I took it out, quickly sprayed the "top" compartment and again filled that about 60% with batter.

 Then I waited over an hour for this cake to bake. It took forever, much longer than most cakes I have baked. When I checked on it after about 40 minutes I realized that the cake was not rising and it occurred to me at that point that I should have put more cake batter into the pan to get it to be the full size I wanted. But it was too late at that point!!

So as you can see in the photo below instead of getting a giant cupcake I ended up with a medium sized cupcake, but my darling baby didn't know the difference so it all worked out! I will attempt this cake again some time soon with the same pan now that I have the experience with it.

I let the cake cool on the rack and then wrapped it and placed it in the fridge.

The next day I made cream cheese frosting by whipping up cream cheese, applesauce and butter with my hand mixer. 

I started out using a Wilton cake decorating bag and tip to entirely frost the top of cake, but I decided I didn't like how it looked and scraped all the frosting off until the ridges of the cake showed through which added a nice touch to it.  Once the cake was frosted I added a polka dot candle to it and declared it mission accomplished!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

"525,600 minutes... How do you measure, measure a year?"

In two days my little baby from above will no longer really be considered a baby anymore. She is turning a year old!!  I have always loved the  Broadway hit song Seasons of Love By Jonathan Larson and I think its the most accurate reflection of how I feel about the year thats just gone by:

"525,600 minutes, 525,000 moments so dear. 
525,600 minutes - how do you measure, measure a year? 
In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee. 
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife. 
In 525,600 minutes - how do you measure a year in the life?
How about love? How about love? How about love? Measure in love."

 I can’t express in words what a journey it has been for me; watching her over the last 12 months transform from a precious sleepy little newborn into a spirited energetic toddler. It feels like it was only yesterday she was first placed in my arms at the hospital, who would have thought a year would go by so fast? When we first brought her home from the hospital she was so small and it seemed like she would be a newborn forever, but somehow 12 months flashed by in what feels like 12 seconds and she is all grown up and ready to tackle the world of toddler hood.

Since my last update so much has happened! She started crawling at 8 months, and then started pulling herself up and cruising around shortly after that. She has the sweetest little giggle that warms my heart to no end and a strong personality that already reminds me of myself

Hobbies: She still loves clapping, and will clap whenever she hears music that she likes. She also likes to dance and "sing" little tunes. Now that she knows how to pull herself up and cruise around she always wants to be on the go. She will soon be walking unassisted!

She now has 5 teeth and a head full of long and thick curly hair. She loves “talking” using the funniest made up words with a dead serious expression on her face. Her favorite thing to do is to feed herself finger foods. Her second favorite thing to do is to throw all the food on the floor and laugh at me while I clean it

Favorite foods: she really enjoys trying new foods, especially finger foods that she can feed herself. Her current favorites are; whole wheat bread, black olives, shredded cheese & prunes. She loves drinking water and can't seem to get enough of it. Once she turns a year we will begin weaning her off breastmilk and formula, and eliminate her bottles. We have already started introducing organic whole milk in a sippy cup and will soon be trying almond milk as well.

Up until recently her favorite toy was the Imaginarium activity walker which had a xylophone in the front of it, but it was recently recalled which is a shame! She loved making music on the xylophone and would push this walker around endlessly within her play yard.  Toys R Us are offering a full refund for the recalled product but they always have the absolute worst customer  service so I dread taking this toy back in for the refund they are offering.

Overall, the biggest change for her this month is that we moved her crib into her own room! This is awesome because we no longer have to tip toe around our room to avoid disturbing her sleep; hell hath no fury like a baby woken up from sleep.  Now that she has her own room I will be putting up some wall art to brighten up the place and I will be sharing that soon.

Happy Birthday to all the April babies out there.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Road trip with a 7 month old

When my daughter was 7 months old we decided to take a 12 hour road trip. And when I say we decided what I really mean is that my husband suggested it and I freaked out. I liked the idea of the trip in theory, it was going to coincide with thanksgiving weekend and we would be driving across state lines to visit my  brother and his family. But the thought of driving 1400 miles round-trip with an unpredictable infant made me queasy to say the least. I started looking for advice and  tips for traveling with an infant and to my dismay there was so much contradictory information. Ultimately we had to filter out all the advice we got and make it work for our situation.

Travel time: This was one of the areas I was the most nervous about. I felt that the key to having a successful trip was to choose the perfect travel time. Some people told us it was best to travel during the daytime and make lots of stops and keep taking the baby out of the car seat so she wouldn't get tired. But others swore that nighttime was ideal for driving long distance with a baby as she was guaranteed to sleep through most of it. We decided to try the nighttime travel because it seemed like the best option especially since we knew there would generally be less traffic at night. We started the journey the day before thanksgiving around 8.30pm when all the rush hour traffic had died down, she was a little cranky for the first 10 or so minutes but once we got on the highway she fell asleep and pretty much slept the entire 12 hour journey.

Luggage: Several people told me to pack really light and not take too many things but I didn't quite understand why! I was told that I could always just buy anything I needed when I arrived at my destination, but again I didn't see the advantage of this. We were only going to be there for 3 days and I didn't want to have to spend time going from store to store trying to find familiar brands and products.  I decided that I would totally disregard the advice to pack light and instead I would pack every single thing I might possibly need. I literally packed everything, from her grass bottle rack, to my mash and serve food bowl! I even carried fresh carrots and avocado for her meals. For me, this made the entire trip so much simpler than it would have been if I had arrived empty handed. I was able to keep up the same routine as usual and feed her the same food she was already used to without having to be an inconvenience to anyone. I made heavy use of the Hefty jumbo 2.5 gallon bags  to organize and pack anything that would fit in them. These bags are awesome, firstly because they are airtight so I can pack in clean bottles and feeding gear and not have to worry about them getting dirty in transit. I also love that they are clear so it is really easy to find things in them at a glance without needing to open or unpack them. They are also surprisingly strong!

I decided to pack enough clothing & wash cloths to last her the entire trip so I wouldn't have to worry about doing laundry while I was there. And it all worked out, I only had one small suitcase for her, and several hefty bags with all her gear. We even took along her Fisher Price booster seat for meals and her Fisher Price rock n play sleeper. for bed time. Yes we probably could have done without them but it was so convenient to have handy all the gear that she was already used to. If I had to do it all over again I would still take everything!