Monday, April 28, 2014

The Stuff of Life

The last two weeks have been much as the two years have been: a complete blur of speeding time and raucous family.  Two weeks ago I set out to get back to quasi-regular posting here, and no sooner had I rededicated myself, than life took the wheel and had other plans.  

My oldest had a two week spring break that ended today (whew!).  I loved the extra time with him, but just can't hope to measure up to the level of enrichment and engagement that his awesome preschool provides.  He missed his friends and his teachers, and I missed those twelve hours of the week that he spends being challenged and entertained there.  Drop off was especially joyous this morning.

The last two weeks have been a blur of appointments, errands, events and visitors.  We registered the little guy for kindergarten which was both exciting and mind blowing.  We had a little family party for his 5th birthday.  I almost threw my back out making this ninja cake.
In case you don't live with a five-year-old boy, I'll let you know that this is Kai, the red ninja from Lego's Ninjago.  We live and breathe Legos and ninjas these days.
Beyond looking like the head of an imaginary plastic ninja, I wanted this cake to taste delicious, so I made it from scratch, and I must say that it totally exceeded expectations.  I don't have a go-to chocolate cake recipe, as we are mostly a vanilla or yellow cake household, but this year little J requested chocolate, so I did some research into a foolproof, non-fussy recipe.

I can't recommend the chocolate cake I ended up making highly enough: it is the Moist Chocolate Cake from the Foodess blog, and it is incredible.  She promises it is easy enough to make on a weeknight, and she delivers.  No obscure ingredients, no fussy sifting, just tons of chocolate deliciousness.  I doubled the recipe and make two 9x13 inch cakes, which I turned into a massive layer cake with a double batch of this Quick Vanilla Buttercream Frosting recipe.  Then I free-hand cut the massive cake into a ninja-head/mask shape.  Next I used red gel food coloring to get the remaining frosting Kai-colored, with a small amount of it dyed yellow for the mask.  I tried to cut eyes out of black licorice, but gave up after a couple tries and printed some out, then cut them and pressed them into the frosting instead.  I had found these Ninjago mask printables through Pinterest, and used them to make plain balloons from the party store into the whole posse of ninjas...
So, I just quickly printed out an extra set to avert my cake eye disaster.  The real story here is the chocolate cake, though.  My husband has been a diehard yellow cake/chocolate frosting guy for every birthday since I've known him, and he said that he might be changing cake teams after this one; it was that good.  If you're looking for a simple chocolate cake for your next special event try this one: fudgey, moist, easy, and a total crowd pleaser.

This is the third year that I've made a ridiculous theme cake for my little guy on his birthday; they rarely come out looking Pinterest-worthy, and they are always kind of an insane culinary adventure.
Bulldozer Cake for 3
Fire Engine Cake for 4
I like to think that even when we're just doing a little family gathering in our backyard to celebrate, these crazy cakes keep things festive and memorable.  It's our thing.

But, I digress...these last two weeks have been full of the stuff of life that is too boring to write about and that make time fly by: dentist appointments, well-child visits, school paperwork, haircuts.  Oh, and for good measure, everyone got sick.  This time with some sort of laryngitis/bronchitis situation that has rendered us pathetic, hacking, squeaking messes.  I seem to have more or less lost my voice for the time being, and the baby's cough is especially heartbreaking.  Nurse duty on this level really takes it out of a gal.  All of the energy I thought I might throw back at this blog has evaporated.  So it goes in this phase of life.

But, I have good news!  My dear friend Angella found herself energized by my little comeback meal-planning post, and fresh off her own sickbed viewing of that classic bloggy movie Julie and Julia, she proposed a little guest blogging gig!  I love it!

I am really dedicated to bringing back SMJ, and as I hobble along trying to get that rolling, I'm so grateful for some help and tall tales from one of my favorite ladies on the planet.  I met Ang when I was 23 and living in San Francisco.  We were dot-com deskmates and became fast friends.  When said dot-com laid us off with a great severance package, we took that and embarked on one of the great adventures of my life, backpacking together around Southeast Asia and Australia for five months.  Epic.
Ang and me at Angkor Wat, Cambodia in 2001
And feeding some kangaroos in Oz
Angella lives in Portland, Oregon now with her fiancé, Mike.  She has built an amazingly successful massage therapy business called Unwind (PDXers, get yourself an appointment with her, stat... she's the BEST!). And despite the three thousand miles between us, she always seems to make her way out here and show up when I need her the most, like right after J was born and we were flailing, exhausted new parents.
How is he starting kindergarten already?!?!
She also rescued me from this terrifying broken shower in Vietnam with little more than a rain poncho and a hastily procured wrench.

So, it only seems appropriate that she get my back once more and guest blog for me as I get my sick household back on track, and get my blogging wits about me.  Her idea was to try my meal planning formula and a bunch of the recipes on this site and call it "DO Try this at Home".  Love it, love it!  We'll kick off tomorrow with her foray into a Friday food shop and a dinner of Sushi Bowls.  I hope you enjoy reading her post as much as I did.

And I'll be back soon as well with some more recipes and life stuff to share.  Coming soon: a baked tofu tutorial (per my sister's request) and Adventures in Anxiety Management.  All this and more!