Monday, April 13, 2015

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

A carrot cake is one of my all-time favorite desserts.  It's sweet, crunchy, warm topped with a creamy cream cheese frosting - what's not to love?

Every year for the last 5 years or so, a family friend has brought us a carrot cake for Christmas.  I look forward to it every year, as she makes the best one I've ever had.  This year, husband's mom asked if there was anything I wanted them to bring from home when they came for Christmas (assuming I'd request BBQ...again).  I (half-jokingly) said "Please tell Debbie to make me a carrot cake!  The clan decided to not disappoint the brand new mamma, so Debbie baked a cake and the Alfords drove it to Boston!  What love.

This Easter, I was asked to bring a carrot cake to dinner.  I knew just who to call for a recipe.  Debbie was kind enough to share her recipe with me - and agreed to let me share it with all of you!



Ingredients

Cake
2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 cups self-rising flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp vanilla
1.5 cups vegetable oil
3 eggs
3 cups grated carrots
1 cup roughly chopped pecans (toasted optional)

Icing
1 stick butter, softened to room temperature
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 box (1 lb) powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
2-3 Tbsp milk (add a little at a time to get the right consistency)
Optional: 1/4 cup roughly chopped pecans (or more if desired)



Directions

Cake
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cut wax paper to fit bottom of 2 round cake pans.  Grease pan & place wax paper in bottom.
Mix sugar, baking soda, flour & cinnamon in large bowl or mixer.
Make a well in the dry ingredients.  Add oil.  Add eggs 1 at a time.
Add vanilla, nuts and carrots and mix well.
Pour batter evenly into pans.
Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, testing for doneness with toothpick.
Cool in pan on rack for 10 minutes.  Flip layers onto cooling rack.

Cream Cheese Icing
Mix wet ingredients (except milk) together until smooth.
Add powdered sugar.
Add milk a little at a time until you reach desired consistency.
Optional: Stir in pecans, or sprinkle on top

Once cake has cooled, ice between the layers, top and sides of cake.

Optional: sprinkle top or around the rim with chopped pecans or grated carrots.


Enjoy!


Friday, April 10, 2015

Quick and delicious cornbread recipe - half homemade!

Last week, I made our last stock pot full of chili (check out my recipe here!) of the season.  Husband has been craving it lately, and I decided that since i snowed the day before, it would still be acceptable.  I split the pot between us and my friend Robyn, who had a baby a few weeks after us!

In our house, cornbread is basically a requirement when enjoying chili.  With a newborn, I'm looking for faster ways to do things, so I decided to "soup up" some boxed mix.  It turned out SO well, you won't make yours from scratch anymore.  Gotta love half-homemade!  I added canned corn, cheese and sour cream - the best of the best. 

It sweet, soft, and tastes homemade!  


Ingredients

Box of cornbread mix (for 8x8 or 9x9 pan)
Ingredients to prepare boxed cornbread as directed
1 cup canned corn, drained and chopped
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese


Directions

Prepare boxed cornbread as directed.

Add corn (drained and chopped), sour cream, and shredded cheese, and mix.

Grease 8x8 or 9x9 pan, and pour mix in.  Bake as directed on box, or until toothpick comes out clean when inserted.




While cooking, play with baby.


Enjoy!




Wednesday, April 8, 2015

How to make a diaper cake

After having our own baby showers for little Owen, I realized how coveted diaper gifts were for parents-to-be.  Diaper gifts were going to be especially important for our friends Barb and Dave, since they're having TWINS (any day now!).  Instead of giving them a box of diapers, I decided to make a diaper cake!


Diaper cakes are incredibly easy to make and really cute.  They look great on your food table and are an easy way to add height to the table and tie in your theme!  If you can roll diapers and use rubber bands, you can make a diaper cake.  I have confidence in you!

You'll need:

60-75 diapers (mostly white)
Rubber bands (~100)
Paper towel roll
Ribbon
Straight pins (6)
Cake Stand
A section of a plastic tablecloth (or fabric) approx 3-4 foot square (depending on how large your cake stand is
Assorted decorations

First, roll up your diapers.  Roll them so any graphics across the front stay on the inside (you want a white outside) from bottom to top.  They should be snug, but not super tight.  Wrap each with a rubber band around the middle to keep in place.  You don't want the rubber band so tight it indents the diaper, so loosen if you need.



Once you've rolled 60 or so diapers, it's time to start assembling the bottom tier of your cake.  Start by surrounding the bottom of the paper towel roll with your rolled diapers.  Once you've formed the first layer, put another rubber band around the group to secure.


Then surround that layer with another, and secure the group with another rubber band.  Continue with a third layer to finish the bottom tier.  (Tip:  As you get to the second and third layer of rolled diapers, it gets easier to put the rubber band on first and slide the rolled diapers in as you go.)

Once the bottom tier has three layers of diapers, you can start on the second tier.  Construct in the same way, only this time just do two layers of diapers.  Then move on to the top tier and do one layer of diapers.


Isn't it nice that a paper towel roll is the same height of three rolled newborn diapers stacked on top of each other?  Works out perfectly!

I stuck rolled up diapers inside the paper towel roll at the end too, so the top wouldn't be empty - you don't want to see a hollow tube at the top of your cute cake!


Next up - the ribbon!  You'll want to select a ribbon that is about 1/3 the height of the diapers you're using.  You'll be wrapping it around the middle of each tier, covering the rubber bands.

Secure the ribbon in the back with pins.  One pin in the top corner where it starts, and a pin in the top and bottom corners where it ends to hold in place.  If you have pins with tops the same color as your ribbon, awesome!  If not, just make sure they end up in the back.


Then I made a simple bow to put on top of the cake and secured it with another pin through the back.

Next I covered my cake stand.  The glass cake stand is nice for some things, but didn't fit the "feel" of my diaper cake, so I decided to cover it.  I used the end of the tablecloth I didn't need (you'll need a 3-4 foot square depending on the size of your base) so it would tie in nicely with the rest of the table.

Lay the cake stand upside down in the center of your fabric.
Gather the ends around the entire stand.
Tie a ribbon around the top of the pedestal, close to the plate.  You could also use a rubber band.
Cut away the excess fabric, but leave enough so it will hang to cover the entire pedestal.



Now put it all together!

I wanted to keep the other decorations on my diaper cake simple, so I went with a monkey, giraffe and passie.  "Monkey" and "giraffe" are the nicknames given to each of the baby girls we were celebrating that day.

Turned out pretty nicely!


All the parents-to-be have to do is unroll the diapers as they need them!  Talk about a functional decoration.

Have you made a diaper cake before?

Check out other baby shower posts:

Baby shower activity - make a wish tree!
Marshmallow Baby Rattle Shower Favors
Chocolate covered pretzel giraffes
Baby shower overview - complete with a "cravings corner"



Monday, April 6, 2015

What to pack in your hospital bag for mom, dad and baby

Before I had Owen, I read a lot of posts about what I should pack in my hospital bag when having a baby.  There are a bazillion things people say you NEED. Some you do...others you don't.


I'm going to give you two lists - things we used and what you should leave at home.  Why not bring everything just in case, you might ask?  You'll be moving hospital rooms at least three times (not counting any possible "false alarms" where you're sent home to continue laboring), so you really don't want to be lugging around lots of heavy bags.  My biggest piece of advice - PACK LIGHT.

Must-haves:

The paperwork - Insurance card, ID, hospital forms, birth plan, ID etc...

Bedroom slippers - with grip on the bottom (that you don't mind getting messed up) - you'll want to have something besides hospital socks to wear...and don't you dare put your bare feet on the floor!

Socks (several pairs) - hospitals can be cold!

Lip gloss/ chapstick - all those breathing exercises you learned will dry your lips out!

Ponytail holders and/or headband - bring extras...this is work!

Cell phone & charger(s)

Overnight bag - with all the fixin's, including your own (travel size) shampoo...it's worth it!

Shower shoes - because ewww....

Camera - a good one!  You'll want better-than-cell-phone pictures.  Make sure your battery is fully charged and memory card is blank.  It'll surprise you how many pictures you take of your brand new baby.  We brought an extra battery and memory card, but didn't need it.

Nursing gear - nursing bras, pads, creams, etc

Comfortable clothes to go home in - or more if you hope to wear them after the birth.  Think mid-maternity clothes

Sweets for the nurses - yeah...I know I said pack light, but this should be on your must-bring list.  Bring some caramels, cookies, peanuts...something yummy for the nurses' station.  They're going to be your best friends, and they work their butts off for you.  They'll appreciate it and probably show that appreciation by loading you up with free stuff as you go home.

An extra bag (or three) - for all those freebies!  We went home with FOUR BAGS of free stuff...our nurses stocked us up!  Formula, diapers, several blankets, "Soothie" passies, breast pump extras...and that's just the start!


Optional:

Bathrobe and/or comfortable clothes - for after labor, if you don't want to wear the hospital gowns

iPad/Kindle & chargers(s) - I doubt you'll be bored...but who knows?

A few snacks - We brought lots of snacks, but only ate one of them.  I think a lot of this will depend on the food situation at the facility where you'll deliver.  Our hospital had GREAT food that could be delivered any time you wanted (and options on the floor itself) so we just had food brought up.  If you hear the food there is bad (or don't know)...bring some of your own.

Bathtowel - hospital towels are rough and tiny.

Music - and whatever device you plan to play it on if you want it for labor.

Something special - my mother-in-law had Husband's baby blanket repaired for Owen to use, so we brought that to the hospital for Owen to go home in.



For husband:

Comfortable shoes - he'll be standing up a LOT...

Instant coffee - if he's a coffee drinker, bring some instant coffee packets.  Our nurse made husband a pot because she felt bad for him.  Buying coffee for that period of time will really add up...

The "long weekend" usuals - pack for a few days (2-4...you never know if it'll end in a c-section, so bring a few extra shirts just in case!)...just make sure to pack light.

Cash - for the vending machines



For baby:

Car seat - leave the carrier in the car until you need it,.  Just make sure you bring it inside a few hours before you leave...especially if it's winter!

Going home outfit - or two, if your baby is estimated large (don't want to bring something too big or too small!)

Blanket - for going home if it's cold!



Things to leave at home:

Your breast pump - use the hospital's...they'll have a better one than you do!  (Confirm they'll have one for you to use during your tour)

A pillow - just ask for extras if you're not comfortable.  And again...you won't want to lug it around.

Diapers, wipes, creams, baby shampoo, etc - The hospital has all of that for you.  Save yours for later!

Anything you can't live without - things get lost and messed up.  You're in a hospital...birthing a baby...feeding a baby...changing a baby...in a hospital...



What "must haves" would you add to the list?



Friday, April 3, 2015

Easy Cranberry-Raspberry Margarita

I'm not a drinker.  I don't like wine, beer, or any of the "regulars" most people would go for, so I maybe have 3 drinks a year.

My therapist (who I've been seeing for postpartum depression) told me that I should find some kind of alcoholic drink that I like from time to time to help calm me down when I'm anxious.  I didn't even know where to start, since I have almost zero experience, so she sent me to the store to buy a bottle of Skinnygirl Margarita.

I tried it straight (since it has everything you'd need in one bottle), but it was way too strong for me.  Travis and I have been making sparkling berry drinks (using juice and tonic water), so we had some Raspberry Cranberry juice in the refrigerator.  I decided to add a little of the juice to the margarita, and bam!  I'm in love.

It's sweet, sour, and diluted enough that I can both "complete my homework" AND enjoy it.


Here's what you need...

3 oz Skinnygirl Margarita
3 oz juice (I used Raspberry Cranberry juice)
Ice

Just pour the two over ice, swirl, and enjoy!


It'll be perfect for a warm summer day...if we ever get one of those here in Boston!

Enjoy!



Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Owen is 15 weeks old - lots of "firsts" and a visit from grandparents

It's been a big few weeks since my last "Owen update".  Our little guy is now 15.5 weeks old - I can't believe it!

Travis's parents came up for a long visit a few weeks ago.  It was so much fun to see them - Owen especially enjoyed it!  We spent a lot of time playing with the little one, and Travis and I even got to go on a date!  Thaaaaaank you, Grandparents, for the night off!







Owen is becoming a very active little guy!  A few weeks ago, he rolled over from his belly to his back.  Well...now he's able to flip from his back to his belly too!  He'll just roll and roll if we let him - he's so proud of himself!

He's enjoying sitting up in our laps, and he "found" his feet this weekend.  He's spending a lot of time curled up tugging at his toes.  Owen's also getting pretty good at grabbing toys with both hands.  He moves slowly and carefully until he's close to the toy, and then BAM...he's got it!

We've also had a fun few weeks of "firsts":

First time in his Bumbo Chair!  He did great!  We're just doing short stints for now, but he loves it.


First time sitting in an exersaucer - we made another trip to Children's Orchard on Friday and decided to see what Owen would think about one of these fun contraptions.  I think the picture says it all - it blew. his. mind.  He loved it.  I'm so excited for him to be sturdy enough to play in one!


Owen also had his first visit to our church here in Boston, Park Street Church.  He loved meeting all our friends, and he did SO well during the service.  We sat on a pew against the back wall in case things got loud, but thankfully he didn't need to be whisked away!  He loved the music, and the choir's anthem put him to sleep.  Since he was snoozing, I laid a blanked on the floor and he slept at my feet for most of the sermon (hahaha...).  Eventually he woke up and played with his friend Hannah (10 months old) and his lion toy.  I'm so relieved things went smoothly!



While Trav's parents were in town, we let Owen have his first "splash bath".  Until now, we'd been using the little hammock that came with his bath tub.  He has officially graduated to a tub of water...and thought it was SO much fun!  This little baby loves the water.  He splashed, and splashed, and laughed, and splashed...and sent water all over our dining room.  It was awesome.  He especially liked watching water drip on his belly from a washcloth above.






I just can't get enough of this baby!




Monday, March 30, 2015

Easy Crock-Pot Beef Roast

A tender beef roast is one of my favorite comfort foods.  I remember being SO excited when my mom would bring out a roast with carrots and potatoes!  My brother and I ate as many of the carrots as we could - my poor parents probably never got any.  I guess that's the plight of the parent...if your kids are excited about eating carrots...you let them eat all the carrots.

This past weekend, we made a roast while Travis' parents were in town.  Now that I'm involved in the cookin', it's important for the preparation to be quick (since we have Owen).  That's why the Crock-Pot is your best friend.

This roast takes about 10 minutes to prep (it's all "open and dump") and 5 hours to cook.  Can't get much easier than that!


Ingredients

Beef roast
1 pound baby carrots
18 ounces sliced mushrooms
Large onion, chopped
Large red pepper, chopped
2 pouches Lipton dry onion soup mix
1 can Cream of Mushroom soup (10.5 ounces)
1 can Cream of Onion soup (10.5 ounces)
1-2 cans water (use empty soup cans), depending on how much you need
Salt & Pepper


Directions

Place beef roast in bottom of Crock-Pot.
Add carrots, sliced mushrooms, chopped onion, and chopped red pepper.
Add Cream of Mushroom and Cream of Onion Soups.
Sprinkle in 2 pouches of dry onion soup mix, salt and pepper.
Pour in 1-2 cans of water, depending on how much liquid you need.  (Start with one and see if more is needed later.)
Cook on high for 5 hours or until beef is cooked through.
If serving directly from Crock-Pot, cut beef into slices and return to pot.


We served ours with half a baked potato (it's yummy to spoon over the potato!) and broccoli!

Enjoy!