Mum To Mom

Musings of an Aussie Mother Living in the USA

Category: Recipes

Bits and Pieces: Cake Recipes, Book Recommendations, and more…

Birthday Cake Recipes

From the middle of May to the first week of July my 3 girls each celebrate their birthday. This means we have 7 weeks of birthday cake! It has become something of a tradition for the girls to help me make their birthday cakes, and for the 9 and 10-year-old, this year was no exception (A-Age-12 decided that she could not possibly tear herself away from her stack of birthday books to help make her cake). We have always made our cakes from scratch. It was how I was taught and the idea of buying a boxed cake mix never occurs to me. It doesn’t feel like real baking to me (Sorry!). However, of the many, many cakes that have been baked in our kitchen, not all of them have measured up to the flavor found in your favorite boxed or store bought cake. But this year’s birthday cakes (found on Pinterest of course) were so moist and packed full of flavor that they rival any store bought cake.

G-Age-9 loves strawberry cake and has requested it for her birthday for 2 years in a row. This strawberry cake recipe is full of strawberry flavor and is light and fluffy.

Last year’s cake.
Strawberry Cake

Last year I made the buttercream frosting per the recipe. It tasted great but did not hold up well for any length of time at her outdoor party in the Florida heat. The butter quickly separated from the strawberry puree and I had to keep it in the fridge the whole time.

Strawberry Cake Slice

This year I altered the buttercream recipe to a cream cheese frosting. I replaced 1 cup of butter with cream cheese. It was delicious and held up well, although I think I will add more icing sugar next time for a thicker consistency.

E-Age-10 requested a vanilla cake.

Vanilla Cake

Vanilla cakes can be challenging because if you don’t get the flavor right they can tend to taste eggy or not have much flavor at all. Again, Pinterest did not let me down with this recipe. I had so many people tell me that they thought this cake was as good as, if not better, than any they had had from a store. When coming from a 13-year-old boy, this was high praise indeed!  Again, I used a cream cheese frosting with a bit more vanilla added for taste.

My biggest tip for baking a light and fluffy birthday cake is to use cake flour. It is much finer and lighter. Trust me, it makes a difference.

My second tip is not really my tip, it is my cake decorating friend’s tip. Add a tablespoon of Meringue Powder to your cream cheese frosting. It will get a slight crust and help to stiffen the frosting. Thank you, friend!

Kids’ Reviews

I have a new tab on my blog called Kids’ Reviews. Do you see it at the top there?  A-Age-12 is a voracious reader and freakishly fast. It would be nothing for her to finish 2 novels a day. I cannot possibly keep up with what she is reading so I rely heavily on review sites, particularly Commonsense Media. I have a number of aspects that I like to know about a book before I’ll let her read it. My daughter also knows what I’m looking out for and discusses her books with me, including these aspects. Sometimes she can be quite insightful. But for all her wide reading, she hates to write.  As a secret ploy by me to engage her in more writing, I encouraged her to write a review of the books that she likes, including helpful points for parents, with the promise that if she wrote them I would put them on the blog. I do not know how many of these she will do, but you can find her reviews at the top of the blog under the tab Kids’ Reviews.

Charlotte Mason 20 Principles Study

I am going to begin blogging through my study of Charlotte Mason’s 20 Principles next month. I will use Brandy Vencel’s Start Here Study GuideStart2BHere2BPage2BGraph. The study guide contains links to all of the sections in Charlotte Mason’s volumes (free online) related to the particular principle studied, as well as the relevant chapter in For The Children’s Sake. It also includes links to Parents Review articles and blog posts written by others in the Charlotte Mason community. The plan is to study a principle a month. If all goes according to Brandy’s guide, this will take 15 months. I’d love for you join me. To follow along, get Brandy’s downloadable guide and let me know in the comments!

20th Century History Book Recommendations

This has turned into a long post, but before I go, I wanted to share a couple of books that are worth adding to your free reading pile when studying the 20th Century with your middle school or older students.

Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy. Yellow Star Cover
From the Prologue.
“In 1939, the Germans invaded the town of Lodz, Poland. They forced all of the Jewish people to live in a small part of the city called a ghetto. They built a barbed-wire fence around it and posted Nazi guards to keep everyone inside it. Two hundred and seventy thousand people lived in the Lodz ghetto. “In 1945, the war ended. The Germans surrendered, and the ghetto was liberated. Out of more than a quarter of a million people, only about 800 walked out of the ghetto. Of those who survived, only twelve were children. “I was one of the twelve.” —Excerpt from interview with Sylvia Perlmutter, March 2003

This true account written in poetic prose is sensitive and powerful. I read it in 2 days and was profoundly moved by the courage of this persecuted people and full of empathy for those who endured a time that I could never imagine. You may want to pre-read for sensitive children, but the atrocities of this time are told from a child’s point of view, which veils the horrific events to a certain degree.

Out of the Dust by Karen HesseOut of the Dust

Written in free verse and set in the harsh living conditions of Oklahoma during the 1930’s depression, this book highlights life during the time when “Dust piles up like snow across the prairie. . . .” But more than this, it is a story of how one young girl and her father find their way back to forgiveness and reconciliation after terrible tragedy.

Neither of these books are easy to read. Suffering is never easy to read. Yet, there is hope. Through reading and experiencing it within the safety of books, we can help guide our kids through it.

Cooking With Children: Toddlers

From the time they could walk, my kids have helped me in the kitchen. My mum let me bake on my own from an early age, I think I must have been around 9, so it seemed natural to me to have the children in the kitchen with me. If they ask me can they help, my default answer is “yes.” There is always something they can help me do. If I’m baking something, I’ll usually ask one of them to help me. I know that cooking with children can make the task take longer than usual at first, but as they gain experience, skills, and confidence, I’ve found it becomes a help in the long run.

Last week the toddler was all hands on deck.

Cooking with toddlers might sound crazy, but it really is as simple as having them put the chopped or measured ingredients into the pot or bowl; or mash the bananas for the chocolate banana oatmeal; or help you hold the hand beaters as you beat together cookie batter. It might take a little patience from you, but they feel so accomplished. And when you praise their efforts to their siblings, the young toddler, being so proud to have cooked a meal worthy of eating, may even be persuaded to eat the meal himself.

We had extra Kale in our organic box this week. My kids don’t love kale. They don’t like the texture. So I try to find ways of giving it to them without them knowing. Last week I decided to make a kind-of pesto out of it and throw it over some pasta. A proper pesto has pine nuts and parmesan cheese in it, but I didn’t have either so I had to work with what I had, with help from the little man of course.

It was delicious! The kids even liked it and had no idea that they were eating kale.

Recipe

Ingredients:

1 bunch kale, leaves removed
1 medium onion, peeled, roughly chopped
2-3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup of oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt
Pepper
1 box penne pasta
2 chicken breasts, chopped 1-inch cubed
1/4-1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
2 carrots, roasted
2 sweet dumpling squash, halved, roasted (any pumpkin squash will do)

Method:

1. Cook pasta per directions on the packet.

2. While pasta is cooking, combine kale, onion, garlic, and lemon juice into food processor. Blend until a finely chopped consistency. Add oil, salt, and pepper and blend for 5 seconds. If the consistency of the pesto is too dry, add more oil, a tbsp at a time, until it has the consistency of a dip.

3. Heat a tablespoon of oil in fry pan. Once hot add chicken and cook through.

4. Once pasta is cooked and drained, put pasta back into the saucepan and pour the kale mixture over the pasta. Add cooked chicken, chopped roast carrots, roast squash and mix well. Sprinkle grated cheese over the pasta. If you are a cheese lover, add extra cheese to taste. Stir. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Note: I stirred through roasted carrot and sweet dumpling squash because that was what I had. The squash added a sweet creaminess to the dish that helped balance the slight bitterness of the kale, but when I cook this again I think I’ll swap the roasted carrot with grilled cherry tomatoes. They will look so much prettier and be a better match for the dish.

The 2 older girls were also in the kitchen last week.

E-Age-8 made bread (in a bread machine) all by herself. There is nothing like the smell of fresh homemade bread. Especially when it’s made by your 8-year-old.

A-Age-10 prepared and browned the chicken for the chicken goulash. A staple mid-week meal in our home.

She also made my birthday cake on her own from scratch. This chocolate cake is so good! I forgot to take a picture of the cake before we hoed into it, but here is a pic of what remained of it after the birthday celebration.

What have your children been cooking recently?

I’m thinking of making “cooking with children” a regular segment on the blog. If you want to see more recipes and cooking with children posts, let me know in the comments.

Australian Classic Pavlova Recipe

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Earlier in the week my husband attended his first ever Thanksgiving lunch at his work. To give it an Aussie twist he took along an Aussie favourite dessert, Pavlova. This old Australian classic was new and well received by his American friends, so here is the recipe adapted from Donna Hay Magazine, if you think you might like to try it out at home.

Ingredients
6 egg whites
1 1/2 cups castor sugar (superfine white sugar)
1 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar
1 1/2 cups cream (heavy whipping cream), whipped
250g (1/2 lb) strawberries, halved or quartered

Method
Preheat oven to 150 degrees C (300 F). Place the egg whites in an electric mixer and whisk on high until stiff peaks form (hand beaters work just as well). Add the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, whisking for 30 seconds before adding another tablespoon. Once all the sugar has been added, whisk for a further 6 minutes until the mixture is stiff and glossy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Add the vinegar and whisk for a further 2 minutes or until glossy and combined.

Draw a 26cm circle on a sheet of non stick baking paper and place on a baking tray.* Place large spoonfuls of the meringue mixture into the circle. Reduce temperature to 120C (250F) and bake for 1 hour 30 minutes. Turn the oven off and allow Pavlova to cool completely in the oven. Top the pavlova with cream and strawberries.

*The easiest way to do this is to trace around a dinner plate.

Note
It is really important to allow the pavlova to cool down slowly in the oven. If you take it straight out of the oven without it completely cooling first, the sudden change in temperature will cause your pav to crack and sink in to itself. If your pav does crack, don’t despair. Simply cover the cracks with cream and you won’t be able to see it. Trust me, it will still taste good.

Variation
Instead of strawberries, try changing the fruit on the top. Kiwi fruit, banana, rasberries, blueberries, and cherries all work really well. My mum used to shave peppermint crisp over the top. Yum!

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