Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Best Chocolate Birthday Cake Ever

As I've stated previously, birthdays (for me and Gary at least) are becoming less and less of a big deal. Obviously, Gary's birthday was almost two weeks ago and I haven't even mentioned it. As the big day got closer and closer (as in all of the sudden it was JUNE - when did that happen??) I found myself wondering what to do for a cake. Last year's Tour de France cake was a total disaster, the year before we didn't even have cake, he really doesn't even get excited about cake period...but then I had a piece of leftover cake at a friend's house and just about died. Literally. Even Gary raved about it. I hounded her for two weeks straight until she gave me the recipe. Was this cake as much for me as it was for him? Why yes, yes it was. Maybe even more. Nothing like a labor of love. For yourself.

So I just caught myself sticking my finger in the leftover bowl of icing (now almost 2 weeks old) and I decided it was high time to share these recipes with you. Typing will also hopefully distract me from going back to that bowl until it's gone.

I rarely make a cake from scratch. I've even almost completely given up on baking cookies from scratch. But let me tell you. This one is worth it. The icing is even more worth it.

Both recipes are from Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey Treats for Kids, by Jill O'Connor.

The Best Chocolate Birthday Cake Ever
3/4 c. natural cocoa powder
1 c. boiling water
3/4 c. sour cream
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 t. pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
Melt-In-Your-Mouth Chocolate Frosting (see below)

- Preheat the oven to 350. Coat two 9-inch round cake pans with nonstick spray and line with parchment paper rounds. Set aside.

- Sift the cocoa powder into a small bowl and stir in the boiling water to dissolve and make the cocoa "bloom." Whisk together until completely smooth. Let cool completely, and then whisk the sour cream into the cocoa mixture.

- In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugars together with an electric hand mixer set on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then beat in the cooled cocoa mixture and the vanilla.

- Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt over the batter and fold in gently, using a rubber spatula, until the flour is completely combined into the batter.

- Divide the batter between the two prepared pans and spread evenly. Bake until a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 25-30 min. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

- To frost, invert one layer onto a cake plate, and remove the parchment circle. Spread 1 cup of frosting over the surface of the cake. Invert the second layer over the first, and remove the parchment paper. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining icing.

Melt-In-Your-Mouth Chocolate Frosting (makes 3 1/2 cups)
1 c. semisweet chocolate chips
1 c. milk chocolate chips
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
1 c. sour cream
1 t. pure vanilla extract
Large pinch of salt
1 pound confectioners' sugar, sifted

In a large microwave-safe bowl, combine the semisweet and milk chocolate chips with the butter. Heat on high for 1 minute. Stir the mixture together. If the butter is not completely melted and the chocolate chips do not easily stir smooth, heat again at 15-second intervals, stirring until smooth. Using a hand mixer set at low speed, beat in the sour cream, vanilla and salt. Gradually add the confectioners' sugar until the frosting is smooth and spreadable.

And there you go.

I think we all cried a little when the last bite was gone. I'm already looking forward to Maggie's birthday.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Baby vs. Grinch - One & Two Months

So even though my blogging habits have been horrendous, I have indeed been keeping up with the Baby vs. Grinch pictures. I have to include his 5 day pic in this, too...I can't believe how much he has changed in just two short months!!

He is (as you can see) growing into his looks quite well. It's amazing how fast they grow (I know, stupid Mom cliche, but REALLY...) and change. I'm also astounded at how much of his personality we are already able to distinguish.

Much like his arrival, Howard's presence is for the most part rather unassuming. Other than his very loud and very agitated grunting and groaning (more on that in a minute), he is completely laid back, super happy and so pleasant. This is a good thing, as his sister tends to be quite the Attention Seeker. (A result of both age and personality, I think.)

His smiles started appearing around a month, and have just exploded in the past few weeks. He is seriously one of the smiliest babies I've ever seen. I love when I look down when we're not even trying to get him to smile and he's just wide eyed and grinning from ear to ear. My favorite is when I've caught him smiling at me as he's falling asleep. My heart has been melted on this account more than once.

Also in the heart-melting category is how often he will smile for Gary. I love watching them talk together! Speaking of talking, yes, he is a coo-er. Maggie may be the talker now, but I never remember her coo-ing like this. He makes the sweetest sounds that are so soft, yet can turn every head in a room.

He also makes some not-so-sweet sounds. Almost from birth the kid has been a grunter. To the point we were rather concerned about it, and even discussed it with the doctor. The grunting seems to be letting up with time, though, both in intensity and frequency, which is causing us to relax a little bit. His worst time of day tends to be around 6 a.m., and once he makes his first poop of the day, everything is smiles and sunshine from there on out. Unfortunately, 6 a.m. tends to be the time that I'm trying to squeeze in one more hour of sleep before Mags wakes up. (sigh) Such is life right now.

Maggie's best time of day was always first thing in the morning. Howard's is generally right before he goes to bed at night.

He's still a sleepy baby, and falls asleep so easily. Loves to be rocked, yet will fall asleep just about anywhere...sitting in your arms, in the car, even just laying in his crib watching the mobile! This has been a huge grace to me, as I don't know what I would do if he had to be walked to sleep up and down the stairs like his sister. He also sleeps pretty soundly, which helps, as Maggie is still learning to be quiet.

He's an excellent (fast and efficient) eater, which also helps me keep up with our Very Busy little gal.

I've delayed posting this for some time now, as I have a slew of pictures from the past two months on my phone, but somehow they failed to upload when I synched my phone the other night. I am quite frustrated, but have put off posting this long enough (we're pushing 11 weeks now!), so I will do another post with all of the "daily" pictures sometime soon.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Fifteen Years in the Making

We had some VERY fun visitors this weekend! My dear friend RaeAnn and her family recently moved to Pittsburg from Texas. While Texas felt like the other side of the world, Pittsburg feels like we're practically neighbors! They asked if they could make a pit stop at our house on a road trip to a wedding they were attending and we were delighted to welcome them!

Maggie and Collin (only 5 days apart) got along splendidly, and had so much fun playing and even getting ready for bed together.

Crazy to think in less than two years we've gone from this:

to this:

And here's everyone!

Amazing to think of the impact Rae had on my life starting 15 years ago when we were in high school, and how fun that we can continue to be a part of each other's lives today.

Monday, June 6, 2011


An update on the kids is coming...I promise. In the meantime, I wanted to jot down (mainly for my memory) some of the things Maggie has said and done today.

1. The day started with this:

Howie was being so cute and Maggie wanted to hold him so I thought Great! It will be like the last morning on the bed photo shoot. Only Maggie refused to look at the camera. She flat out ignored me in fact (something she's becoming quite good at). And see that mischievous look in her eye? That's because she knows that she should be smiling and not poking her brother in the nipple. Apparently that's hilarious.

2. The past couple of weeks I've enjoyed going to the library on Monday mornings. We have a great library that is full of games and trains and toys (oh yeah and books), and it's always a nice default for me when I'm not sure what to do to get the week started. This morning when I was trying to convince (read: bribe) Maggie to get dressed with the promise of the library she kept saying "Yipes." I was very confused. "Yikes?" "No, YIPES." After several rounds of back and forth I finally figured out she was saying "LIBES." As in short for library.

3. Our local grocery store is called Heinen's. Maggie LOVES to go because she almost always gets a cookie. Most of the time I just ask her if she wants to go to the grocery store with me...I can't ever remember calling it Heinen's to her. Anyways, after asking for Daddy for the 300th time before 10:00 (he didn't leave until 9), she followed "Daddy" with "work." "Yes, Daddy went to work." "Heinens." "What??" "Heinens." "Daddy went to work at Heinen's?" Nod. "Yep."

4. For lunch she told me she wanted a "hammieburger." (Lately she's been adding -ie to everything) I told her I didn't have any hammieburgers but asked if she would like a fish burger. Nod. "Yep." I then gave her the option of peas or mixed veggies and she picked "mixed". (Have I ever mentioned her strong aversion to vegetables?) Amazingly enough she ate a half a bowl of veggies, half a salmon burger and some apple slices. Everything dipped in ketchup (or "dip") of course. I give all credit of this remarkable lunch to VeggieTales.

5. We've been talking up our upcoming trip to Chicago big time around here. "Ca-co" is how she pronounces the big city, and we've been practicing all of the names of everyone we will see there - Grandma, Papa, Laura, Hannah, Big Papa and Mamaw (my grandparents). I must also mention here that Maggie's most recent favorite word is HUGE. I write it in all caps because that's how she says it. Here's how the conversation went.
"Yes, we're going to Chicago. Who will we see there?"
"Gramma and Papa are huge??"
"Papa is huge??"

This was the point that I figured out that she wasn't saying Papa was huge - she was replacing Big with Huge for Big Papa. So Huge Papa it is!

6. Her HUGE vocabulary is becoming even funnier as her little imagination is starting to blossom. Today she wanted to pretend that we were tigers. So we crawled around on our hands and knees and went to the kitchen to discover and pick up all of the crumbs, as tigers naturally do. Naptime came shortly after this and as I picked her up and began to sing on our way up the stairs she requested, "Tiger." So I ended up singing four rounds of "Jesus Loves the Little Tigers."

Where DOES she come up with this stuff?? And this is all before 1:30 today! Yikes. Or should I say "YIPES."

Happy Boy

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Memorial Day

It really was a Memorial Day week for me rather than weekend, as we had two awesome visitors back-to-back. Both my dear friend Rachel and my dear sister (and friend) Laura came out to meet the baby and hang out with us. Little did they know how much they would be helping and working! The timing of their visits could not have been more perfect, as I have been feeling particularly overwhelmed with Two these days.

As usual, my camera did not get the use that it should, but we managed to snap a quick shot (self-timer, thus the off-centered orientation) before Rachel left. She is truly a great and selfless friend. Maggie is STILL asking about her over a week later!

As for Laura, we were ALL thrilled for her to come out again. I think Maggie's names for her evolved at least four times while she was here, finally settling on "Ya-Ya." This is strange to me, as she can totally say her R's, and was saying "Wah-Rah" before she came. But whatever. It's cute. Once again, the camera did not come out nearly enough. The one picture I took of the four of us was before we worked out one day and I don't think she would speak to me if I posted it. It's a good thing that we will see her again in just a few weeks!

Here are some shots of our FUN weekend together:

Friday night we went to see the hot air balloons lift off from the parking lot of a local high school. Little did we know what a hit this would be with the Mags. Here she is talking to Gary about the HUGE balloons. She is still talking about them, and just about with the same enthusiasm that she had that night.

We had a fun cookout on Sunday. The food was amazing as usual, and we enjoyed a perfect spring/summer evening.

Maggie, playing in the backyard pool. (It was a HOT HOT day!)

Swinging, currently one of her absolute favorite things to do. This was a particularly fun moment to capture, as she got in the swing and burst into a huge smile when she saw all of us watching her.

Watching "Up." Based on Friday night's events, you can imagine how riveted she was by a movie about giant balloons. The concern on her face here is due to the thunderstorm the house had to travel through. (Have I mentioned that I am practically giddy thinking about introducing her to her first full length feature film on our upcoming road trip to Chicago?? My head is spinning with all of the possibilities!)

Monday we went to the local Memorial Day parade. Only about 100 times more fun with a kid!

Maggie would NOT smile at the camera. She would not even look at the camera, in fact. So I had to settle for an action shot.

Uncle Paul and his sweet girlfriend Heather. Did I mention it was a week of wonderful visitors??

Howie really enjoyed the parade.

Maggie and Mimi watching the parade from the curb.

A (rare) picture of me and Howie, waving to all of his adoring fans.


I think this is the Bops Signature Hold for the babies. I caught him holding Howie like this over the weekend and it instantly reminded me of this pic with Mags - ironically they are almost exactly the same age!


Maggie's love for all creatures great and small continues. I bought a pass to the Akron zoo a few weeks ago, and it has turned out to be quite the hit. It is a really small zoo, and doesn't have a lot of "big" animals, but it is just perfect for Maggie at this age. I love that she can go right up to the glass and be just inches away from the animals!

We went a few weeks ago with our friends Nichole and Blaire (I know, I know, I am extremely behind with this blog thing)...and thought I'd share a few pics of the sweet girls. (Did I mention it was HOT that day?)

We've heard about the "Pengins schwimmin" almost every day since.

I think the girls were almost more interested in going up and down steps than actually seeing the animals.

Checking out the sheep and the goats.

Maggie is getting REALLY good (or should I say scary?) at smiling for the camera.

Maggie and Blaire checking out the tiger (Maggie's other favorite animal). I love that you can see Maggie in the background saying "Where did he go?"