Sunday, March 13, 2011

Cupcakes and Scrambled Eggs

We had a birthday in the house this week.  My sweet Eli turned 4.  If you know him personally you are now saying the same thing I said, "Halellujah!  It's a miracle!"  And it's true, I can't believe he made it!  If you don't know him personally, he is extraordinarily active, has a penchant for trouble, and like Houdini, cannot be locked in.  Every single one of our doors has a hook and eye lock near the top, and he still gets out without my knowing about twice a week.  Fortunately, we have very understanding neighbors.

Abby's birthday is in the summer, as is mine, so this was my first time dealing with a birthday during the school year.  I always suspected, but can now safely say, that I was cheated out of dozens of double birthdays.  That's right, I just discovered that if your birthday happens to be during the school year, you get a party at school and at home, which means double duty for mom!  My mother always made us whatever cake we wanted for our birthdays, which I loved and wanted to do for my own children as well.  I asked for a Boston Creme Pie nearly every year, and I know that my mom secretly groaned inside every time I made the request.  She doesn't know how easy she had it.  The first time I asked Abby what kind of cake she wanted she answered back, "A dinosaur cake."  Being the slight over-achiever that I am, I went on-line and found instructions for a 3-D dinosaur cake.  I didn't think it would take that long to make, but I had to stay up way past my bedtime decorating that cake.  Eli was an infant at the time, so I was exhausted the next day and probably didn't enjoy her party as much as I could have.  Since then, my kids have actually requested cakes from the store and ice cream cakes.  So, when Eli said he wanted cupcakes for school and a dinosaur cake for his party, I secretly groaned inside wondering how I was going to accomplish it all.

I recently learned that because of nut allergies you should either use Pillsbury mixes or make your baked goods for school parties from scratch.  Since I'm not interested in teaching my kids to cook from a box, we opted for cupcakes made from scratch.  You might remember the heart cake from a few weeks ago.  It was very yummy, but a bit dry.  I needed to try and redeem myself.  Instead of buttermilk cake batter, I decided to go with a yellow cake instead.  This cake used 4 egg yolks, surely that would help combat the dryness!  Jonah has been watching his siblings crack eggs for months and chose this project to let his voice be heard.  He insisted on cracking the eggs.  I know I've said that little kids are surprisingly good at this, and they are, but not the first time.  Jonah is big for his age and a typical kid, which is to say that he tries to do something first and then asks for help later.  Before I had even finished saying, "Yes, you can crack the eggs this time," he had snatched an egg from the carton and "cracked" it into about a thousand pieces of shell and slimy egg mess.  It all happened so fast I could only stand and watch in horror.  Without giving any more graphic details, I am sad to say it took 7 eggs to get 4 egg yolks.  I don't have an egg separator and I only had 10 eggs, so I didn't try to teach either of the boys the delicate art of separating eggs.

Eli helped make the heart cake batter, so much of what we did was a repeat for him.  This repetition is good, especially since there wasn't much time between the two projects.  He remembered a lot, and so required a little less supervision and instruction.  For instance, he remembered that we needed to beat the butter until it was light and fluffy.  Without my telling him, he slowly increased the speed of the mixer and reported to me about every 10 seconds, "It's getting bigger mom!  It's getting even bigger mom!  It's really big now mom!"  And then came the inevitable question, "Can I taste it?"  My heartbeat still creeps up a bit when I think of him sticking his finger in the bowl with the paddle still furiously rotating.  Everybody has a different reaction when they see their kids about to do something that could really injur them.  Mine is to lunge toward them while bellowing "NOOOOOOOO!!!!" at the top of my lungs.  This has happened to Eli so much it doesn't even phase him anymore.  It's not so much that I've over used it, as that he regularly does stuff that warrents such a reaction.

Believe it or not, these cooking sessions are a learning opportunity for me too.  For the most part I'm learning to relax a bit and let my kids explore and discover their own abilities in the kitchen instead of being so controlling.  It is very difficult for me to let my kids try to do things I'm not entirely sure they are capable of doing.  So every time Eli asks me if he can dump the cup of sugar in the bowl, I can feel my whole body tense up as I envision an entire cup of sugar being dumped all over the counter and floor.  I literally have to force myself to breathe, keep my eyes open and say with a smile, "Of course, go ahead!"  We all know that part of learning is making mistakes, but it's almost physically painful for me to let my kids make a mistake that is as messy as sugar all over the place.  In the end I could only relenquish a little control.  I let him dump the sugar, but I stood right next to him with my hand up against the bowl blocking any possible spills.  Of course this made him angry, but he quickly got over it when I reminded him that we needed to start the mixer to mix the sugar and butter together.  I let him report to me again while I got the flour and milk ready.  We had another round of "Can I taste it?" and "NOOOOO!!!" before we could move on to alternating adding the flour and milk.  Once the batter was finally mixed and ready to be made into cupcakes Eli finally got his taste.  I remember watching with dismay as my mother would practically clean all of the batter off the spoon and the beaters before she handed them to my brother and I.  It seemed like such a tease to only allow enough for one little taste, so I'm always sure to not be too thorough when scraping the spatula and mixing paddle.  Besides, it keeps him and his brother occupied long enough for me to get the batter spooned into those little paper cups.  I feel like I should be trying to teach them to do this too, but I'm just not yet ready to relenquish that much control.

Ninety percent of my days are hectic and over-scheduled.  More often than not, I feel like I am about two steps behind.  I was able to get the first batch of cupcakes in the oven, but then I had to leave the rest for my mom to finish.  I finally returned home that evening to 24 cupcakes waiting to be frosted and no frosting.  There was no time to make a frosting from scratch, so I asked Eric to get some on his way home from work.  Everytime I ask him to stop at the store for me, he never sighs or does an eye-roll that I can hear in his voice or feel through the phone, he always says, "Sure" and I'm very grateful for that.  I had grand plans of making little bugs on the top of each cupcake from assorted candies, but time ran short so they each got a quick sprinkle of blue sugar instead.  Never the less, Eli was very proud to present these cupcakes to his class the next day, and from what I hear he had a great party at school.

The longer I am a mother, the less I try to be super-mom.  A few years ago I would have not only stayed up into the wee hours of the night making those little candy bugs, but I also would have practically killed myself making a fantastic 3-D dinosaur cake for his birthday party at home.  As luck would have it, we went to Dairy Queen the night after Eli's school party, and the open page of their cake book showed a great looking T-Rex with a volcano in the background.  I figured it was a sign and ordered one right on the spot!  Eli didn't even miss the cake I didn't make.

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