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Posts Tagged ‘birthday’

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Sunrise from my flight’s gate in Amsterdam.

After one very early flight from Cologne to Amsterdam, another flight from Amsterdam to Oslo, a four hour wait in Oslo and a five hour train ride through Norway, I finally arrived at the train station to be greeted by Sarah and her husband.

I was so happy to see them that the exhaustion from traveling over 14 hours was instantly wiped away.

Thursday was practically over by the time we arrived back at their home, but we made the most catching up over a traditional Norwegian evening meal before calling it a night.

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Friday morning presented the opportunity to follow Sarah through her school day. We ate breakfast, she packed a lunch, then we met with her two neighbor boys to take the bus to school.

Want to know another example of what a great human being Sarah is? She learned and then taught Braille to the younger brother who has become blind. Yeah, she’s awesome like that.

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It was such a privilege to be welcomed into Sarah’s schools and get to learn about the Norwegian school system. One of the interesting differences is that the children have a short break time between each and every lesson. I imagine every child I’ve ever taught could benefit from a short break between lessons.

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I spent the first lesson of the day in Sarah’s 4-5th grade English lesson before heading across the school yard to the preschool.

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After playing in the preschool and gymnasium with the little kids, we all had a nearly identical lunch of bread or crackers with either cheese or sliced meat. Sarah got all fancy and even packed us vegetables and hard boiled eggs. Apparently, Norwegians like to eat alike.

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The school day ends early in Norway so as Sarah carried on with after school supervision, I walked back to her home, taking photos along the way.

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When I arrived Thursday night, it was too dark to see the landscape, but in the light of day, I felt absolutely dwarfed by the greatness of the surrounding mountains.

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Sarah’s school is probably about 1km away from her home. It was a bit drizzly and overcast on the walk back, but the atmosphere was peaceful and calming.

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Lucky for Sarah and Aug, they were able to find a beautiful home right beside the water.

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As if waking up every day to this amazing kitchen wasn’t enough, check out the view!PA282134

Sarah and Aug have done such a wonderful job creating a warm, cozy, welcoming home. A lovely home to accompany their lovely personalities!PA282131

Once Sarah returned from school, we appropriately dressed for my first ever “real hike.”

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What I’ve been calling hiking all my life is a walk in the park compared to the hiking Sarah does in Norway.

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See that big waterfall coming down from the mountain? That’s called Haremdalen, and it was our first hike.

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Did I mention that Sarah is 29 weeks pregnant? After working all day, this lady was hiking up mountains like a goat. As Sarah put it, she was active before she became pregnant so it has been easy to have an active pregnancy.

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We climbed through mossy trails and even had to cross the rushing waterfall at one point, but Sarah expertly guided me along.

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The trail was very steep, but she encouraged me the whole time.

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A few times along the hike, I had to ask my pregnant friend to slow down so I could take a breather.

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Sarah kindly obliged each and every time.

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As we climbed higher and higher, the view became more and more amazing.

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Before I knew it, we were able to look into the valley at the miniscule town below, and take in the massive mountains rising in every direction.

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Although the sunlight started to fade and we needed to head back down before reaching the book at the tip-top, I still feel proud to say that on my 26th birthday, I climbed a mountain with the most fit soon-to-be-mama in Norway!

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After our hike down the mountain, Sarah made a delicious traditional fish dish for my birthday dinner.

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This baked dish was so yummy, I plan on making it with Sebastian later in the week!

After dinner, we relaxed in their hot tub, watched How I Met Your Mother, then ate cake. A great way to celebrate the day of my birth!

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This Sunday, my friend Matt’s son, Oskar, celebrated his 3rd birthday.

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After two weeks of rain, the skies finally cleared and the sun shone down on the park picnic.

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It was a beautiful day, full of happy children, good food and time spent with friends.

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Earlier this week I saw an adorable cookie monster cupcake idea on a new-to-me blog called applejacks. A few days later, Annie of Annie’s Eats wrote about the Sesame Street themed birthday party she threw for her son.

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Inspired by both bloggers, I combined their ideas and created my own version of Sesame Street Cupcakes.

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They were a hit, even with the Elmo-loving birthday boy!

Although these adorable cupcakes ended happily, they began with a very sad state of affairs.

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My very first cupcake flop.

Although the recipe for funfetti cupcakes came from a website that I’ve used lots of times, for some reason, these cupcakes just didn’t work for me.

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So, I stuck with what I know and made the perfect vegan vanilla cupcakes.

Light, fluffy, vanilla deliciousness!

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I find it a bit ironic that the ‘traditional’ recipe was a disaster but the untraditional recipe worked like a charm.

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Earlier in the week, I prepared the eyes and colored coconut flakes.

The eyes were made by melting white chocolate, placing spoonfuls onto parchment paper, then sticking a chocolate chip in the middle of each dollop.

The eyes took several hours to completely set so making them ahead is a good idea.

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I’ve always been a bit partial towards died coconut flakes.

When I was young, my mom always made a 3D Easter basket scene by shaping rice crispy treats and coating them in beautiful Easter colored coconut.

I found a powdered food dye that created really vibrant colors.

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For the frosting, I stuck with my vegan vanilla buttercream frosting, minus the vegan part… I only had real butter left.

So I guess this was straight up vanilla buttercream then.

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I generously frosted the cupcakes…

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then placed them upside down in the coconut flakes.

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After a few rolls in the coconut flakes, the fuzzy ‘fur’ was stuck and ready to go.

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Although Annie’s cupcakes were adorable with their skillfully piped frosting fur, I love the way the coconut looks so fuzzy and puppet-like.

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In addition to the chocolate eyes, I used gummy treats (which are a cinch to cut,) chocolate chip cookies, oreo cookies and nutella to decorate the cupcake characters.

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Introducing the Sesame Street Characters!

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Cookie Monster (my favorite)

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Big Bird

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Oscar the Grouch

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Elmo

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Although Big Bird looks a bit out of proportioned and fearful for his life, I’m really happy with how the cupcakes turned out.

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They made everyone at the party smile.

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Well, everyone except Big Bird that is.

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Tomorrow is my friend Rachel’s birthday.

Rachel comes from New Zealand and one time, a long time ago, she mentioned that she really misses pavlova.

I didn’t know what pavlova was.

My kind friend informed me that pavlova is similar to a meringue and that it is always topped with fruit and whipped cream.

Filed away but not forgotten, I knew that Rachel’s next birthday treat would be pavlova… I just had to figure out how to make it first.

Luckily, a few websites guided the way, and I was able to put my own spin on a classic, New Zealand tradition.

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Although this treat is a bit time consuming, there isn’t much hands-on labor involved.

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The ingredients are quite simple. From a few household handy food items, something great can be formed.

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As a meringue-based dessert, egg whites are the star. I used organic, free range eggs.

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Pavlova is always topped with fruit. Since strawberries are in season right now, they made the most logical choice.

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Being my mother’s child, I put my own twist on the classic by including dark mint chocolate in the recipe.

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First up, mix the vanilla and white wine vinegar in a small bowl and set aside.

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In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and sugar then set aside.

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Using a kitchen scale, measure 6 oz of egg whites; about 5-6 eggs.

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Add a pinch of salt to the egg whites and begin to beat over low speed with a hand-held mixer.

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P5106288P5106291   Gradually increase the beater speed to medium and beat the egg whites for a few minutes.

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Once the bubbles become very small and uniform in size and the egg whites form soft peaks, you’re ready for the next step.

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With the beaters running on medium speed, gradually add the sugar mixture to the eggs.

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Keep beating the eggs over medium-high speed until all sugar is well combined and absorbed.

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After a couple minutes of further beating, your meringue will resemble the photo above.

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Next, add the vanilla/ vinegar mixture and beat for another 2-3 minutes.

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The meringue will really start to thicken.

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Do you see a heart or two swans?

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Next up, melt your dark mint chocolate in a double boiler (or microwave) and drizzle a couple spoonfuls over the meringue.

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Take a large spoon and scoop out a heap of chocolate-marbled meringue.

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Plop and scrape the mound onto a prepared baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

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Using the back of the spoon, make a well in the mount to hold the fruit later on.

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Continue to make meringue mounds, adding more chocolate drizzle with each new layer of meringue.

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You’ll end up with some really cool marbled designs.

Place the meringues in the preheated oven then immediately turn down the temp. These will bake for about an hour. While they’re in the oven, move on to whipping the cream and making the strawberry sauce.

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To prepare the strawberry sauce, simply place 1/2 pound of cleaned and de-greened strawberries in a blender with the powdered sugar then blend.

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Voile!

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You will know the meringues are cooked when the shell is hard to the touch. Turn off the oven and allow the meringues to cool in the oven. I’ve read that it’s best to allow them to sit and firm-up overnight before moving them.

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This may be advisable as several of my meringues cracked and crumbled when I took them, only slightly cooled, out of the oven.

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For quality control purposes, I set aside the ugly, crumbling duckling for Sebastian and me.

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As you can see, the shell is crisp but delicate…

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but the inside is soft and spongy like a marshmallow.

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To assemble, place a pavlova meringue on a clean plate, place freshly cut strawberries in the well, top with whipped cream and drizzle with the strawberry sauce.

Light, fresh, sweet and delicate.

I hope this birthday treat is a taste of home for my friend.

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Chocolate Marbled Pavlova with Strawberries

Adapted from Shuna Fish Lydon at simplerecipes.com

INGREDIENTS

Meringue:

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup (6 ounces, about 6) large egg whites, room temperature
  • Pinch salt
  • 50 grams dark mint chocolate

Topping:

  • 1 lb fresh strawberries
  • 2 Tablespoons powdered sugar
  • Whipped Cream for topping
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla sugar
METHOD
  1. Place rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 275°F (135°C). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Pour the vanilla and vinegar into a small bowl and set aside. In another small bowl, stir together the cornstarch and the sugar.
  3. In a large, impeccably clean bowl, whip the egg whites and salt using a hand mixer set to low speed. Incrementally increase the speed of the mixer to medium speed until soft peaks start to become visible, and the egg white bubbles are very small and uniform, this will take approximately 2 to 3 minutes.
  4. Increase speed to medium-high, slowly and gradually sprinkling in the sugar-cornstarch mixture. A few minutes after these dry ingredients are added, slowly pour in the vanilla and vinegar. Increase speed a bit and whip until meringue is glossy and stiff peaks form when the beaters are lifted, about 4 to 5 minutes.
  5. Melt the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Dribble a few spoonfuls of the melted chocolate over the meringue mixture.
  6. Scoop large spoonfuls of the swirled meringue onto the prepared baking sheet and with the back of a spoon, create an indentation in the middle of each mound. Keep dribbling more chocolate into the bowl as a new layer of meringue emerges.
  7. Place baking sheet in the oven. Reduce oven temperature to 250°F (120°C). Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the meringues are crisp, dry to the touch on the outside, and white — not tan-colored or cracked. The interiors should have a marshmallow-like consistency. Check on meringues at least once during the baking time. If they appear to be taking on color or cracking, reduce temperature 25 degrees, and turn pan around.
  8. Once fully baked, turn off the oven and allow the meringues to cool and harden in the oven over night. Gently lift the meringues from the baking sheet. These will keep in a tightly sealed container at room temperature, or individually wrapped, for up to a week in a non-humid house.
  9. While the meringues are cooling, make the strawberry sauce by placing half the strawberries and the powdered sugar into a blender and whizzing until smooth.
  10. Whip the cream and vanilla sugar until soft using a hand mixer in a very cold bowl.
  11. To serve, place a meringue on a plate and dollop a spoonful of cream over the top. Scatter over a handful of sliced strawberries and then pour over the strawberry sauce. Now enjoy!

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As I type this, a friend of mine is cooking in Umbria, Italy. After returning from my cooking vacation in Italy, I passed along the business card. What do you know, he booked!

PA210617 I can not wait to hear about his vacation. If his stay is anything like mine, it is going to be one his favorite vacations.

All this reminiscing is going somewhere, I promise.

Pizza Dough.

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On the first day of my cooking course, I learned how to make real Italian pizza dough. It was so easy and tasted simply divine.

I promised myself I would make homemade dough from then on out.

No delivery.

No frozen pizza.

Homemade pizza all the way.

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Well, to say that I didn’t hold to that promise is putting it lightly.

As a matter of fact, I’ve been ordering more pizza lately than I’d care to admit.

You see, Sebastian and I have started a bit of a bad habit. For the past 3 weeks, we’ve ordered pizza every Tuesday.

Gross, I know.

Yesterday, I put a stop to this dirty habit by preparing enough homemade pizza dough to last us 6 weeks.

Here’s my step-by-step to homemade pizza dough and how to use fresh yeast.

Let’s get started!

P2273571 Simple stuff here: 1 kg of all-purpose flour, 2 tsp. sugar, 2 blocks fresh yeast, 2 large pinches of salt, 2 (+) cups of warm water.

P2273570Here’s what a block of fresh yeast looks like in Germany. It is kept in the refrigerator section of the grocery store and costs about 20 cents.

P2273572Pull back the paper and this is what you get. A dry, crumbly block of yeast. You can already smell it by now.

P2273577The bowl contains the sugar and 2 cups of warm water. All you have to do is break up the yeast and drop it into the waiting water.

P2273579Fresh yeast has a strange texture, one I’m not quite sure how to describe. Sort of rubbery and spongy all at once.

P2273582    Stir the yeast and water, breaking up any yeast chunks and allowing it to evenly dissolve. Then, set the yeast off to the side and let it do its thing.

P2273584  Meanwhile, mix the flour and salt.

P2273588 After only a minute or so, the yeast will begin to foam.

P2273589It’s alive!!!

P2273600  Make a well in the flour and pour the yeast mixture in.

P2273603 Now put your camera down and get in there with your hands.

P2273605Mix, mix and mix some more.

P2273608  Add more water as needed to form an elastic dough. I added about 1/4 cup more water.

P2273609Once the dough looks like this, it’s ready to be turned onto a floured surface.

P2273611 Now it’s time to kneed.

P2273613  Kneed the dough for about 7 minutes, or until it is smooth and stretchy.

P2273615 Almost there, feel free to add another dusting of flour if the dough begins to stick to your surface.

P2273617Looks good!

P2273622  Place the dough into a large floured bowl. Flour the top and sides of the dough as well.

P2273624Slice an X into the top. You will literally be able to see the dough rise in front of you. 

Fresh yeast is the way to go!

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Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and let the dough rise in a warm place. My sunny radiator worked great.

P2273629 Here is what the dough looked like about 20 minutes later.

P2273630 1 hour later.

P2273631 After an hour of rising, punch the dough down.

P2273632 Kneed the dough again for a few minutes.

P2273634Cut the dough into 6 even portions.

P2273637Individually kneed each of the dough balls.

P2273639Roll each ball around in flour to prevent sticking in the bag.

P2273638    Place each pizza dough into a freezer-safe bag.

Close the bag and freeze until ready to use.

To use a frozen dough, simply remove from the freezer a day before you want to make pizza. Allow the dough to thaw in the refrigerator. 1 hour before making the pizza, place the dough in a large bowl in a warm place and let it rise once more. Punch down, kneed and bake as usual.

With plenty of pizza dough ready to go, I really have no more excuses

Frozen pizza is a thing of the past.

To see more about my experiences taking cooking lessons in Italy, visit the links below.

Learning about Umbria from other Bloggers

Welcome to Italy and Florence

European Chocolate Festival

Cooking School Day 1

Cooking School Day 2

Cooking School Day 3

Cooking School Day 4

Leaning Tower of Pisa

Before going to bed, I wanted to wish my big brother, Ben, a very happy birthday.

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I admire your positive attitude and jovial nature.

P4073225 I’ve been thinking about you all day.

Just so you know, there are 18 little kids from all over the world, currently living in Germany, who heard about 15 Brother Ben stories today.

P4073223 You’re awesome and I’m so lucky to have you for a big brother. I love you, Boy.

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Birthday Surprises

I have had a wonderful birthday today. From breakfast in bed to flowers and homemade cards, today has really been special.

PA280909 I was called to the office first thing this morning and in the three minutes I was away, the room mums came in, decorated the class with streamers, lit birthday candles and had a birthday chair and cupcake tower ready for me. As I walked into the classroom, everyone started singing. The kids really got a kick out of “tricking me into the office!”

PA280919 I got a kick out of tricking them into eating worms and dirt cake.

Being a teacher is the best job in the world. I wish every human being could feel the overwhelming love and excitement that spills over from little kids on a teacher’s birthday.

It really is the best feeling.

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Make Your Own Dirt Cake!

My face hurts from smiling all day!

Thank you to everyone who helped make today so special.

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Today we’re celebrating the 40th birthday of our friend Simon. He’s organized a birthday bash on the banks of the Rhine.  My birthday gift? Pioneer Woman’s Strawberry Shortcake Cake.

Far from the prairie scene, there are times when I feel like a pioneer woman.

Traveling to places unknown.

Trying to create something out of nothing.

Cooking in a poorly equipped kitchen.

When undertaking a rather large project, it always become apparent just how poorly equipped my kitchen is. On days like today, I dream of being back in my mother’s kitchen, using all the appropriate gadgets and gismos to effortlessly create a 40th birthday cake for which dreams are made of. Luckily, my mother taught me how to be resourceful– no gadgets or gismos required. My mama taught me to look around and use what you’ve got.

Fingers for flat batter even-outer

Grill grating for a cooling rack

Spatula for a frosting thingy

See, I don’t even need the real names I’m so resourceful.


The Pioneer Woman’s Strawberry Shortcake Cake

To see the original recipe with PW’s beautiful photography and step-by step photographic instructions, click here.

Ingredients

Cake

  • 1 and ½ cups flour (190 grams)
  • 3 Tbsp. corn starch
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 9 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 and ½ cups sugar (300 grams)
  • 3 whole large eggs
  • ½ cup sour cream, room temperature (150 mL)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Icing

  • ½ pound cream cheese, room temperature (225 grams)
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter (227 grams)
  • 1 and ½ pounds powdered sugar, sifted (680 grams)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Fruit Filling

  • 1 pound strawberries (450 grams)
  • 5 Tbsp. sugar, divided

Method

  1. Grease and flour an 8-inch round cake pan which is at least 2 inches deep.
  2. Sift together flour, salt, baking soda and corn starch.
  3. Cream 9 Tbsp. butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well each time. Add sour cream and vanilla and mix until combined.
  4. Add sifted dry ingredients and mix on low speed until just barely combined.
  5. Pour into prepared cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees (180 ° c) for 45 to 50 minutes, or until no longer jiggly. Immediately remove from cake pan and place on a cooling rack and allow it to cool completely.
  6. Stem strawberries and slice them in half from bottom to top. Place into a bowl and sprinkle with 3 tablespoons sugar. Stir together and let sit for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, mash the strawberries in two batches. Sprinkle each half with 1 tablespoons sugar and allow to sit for another 30 minutes.
  7. Make icing: combine cream cheese, 2 sticks butter, sifted powdered sugar, vanilla, and dash of salt in a mixing bowl. Mix until very light and fluffy.
  8. Slice cake in half through the middle. Spread strawberries evenly over each half (cut side up), pouring on all the juices. Place cake halves into the freezer for five minutes, just to make icing easier.
  9. Remove from freezer. Use a little less than 1/3 of the icing to spread over the top of the strawberries on the bottom layer. Place the second layer on top. Add half of the remaining icing to the top spreading evenly, then spread the remaining 1/3 cup around the sides.
  10. Store the cake in the fridge and serve slightly cool.

Enjoy the process!

Don’t look too closely- you might see my batter-flatter-even-outer finger prints

De-stemming the berries.

The pointed end of my grapefruit spoon works best.

I lined up my stemmed berries into columns and rows, this makes slicing super simple. Just drag the knife down the row.

Oh, sweet Heaven!

How to flip a cake

Pioneer Woman warned that the cake would get pretty golden… I hope mine didn’t cross the golden meets burned borderline.

Place a large hand towel under your hot cake pan. Put your cooling rack or grill grating upside-down over the cake pan.

Tightly wrap the towel over top, hold firmly, and flip!

The cake will then plop right out.

I’m not sure how many people will be at the party, so I made one cake like Pioneer Woman’s and then made a second batch of cake batter for cup cakes. The recipe made 24 cup cakes.

Since the cup cakes can’t be filled with the delicious strawberry layer, I made a strawberry torte gelatin, poked holes into the cup cake with a chop stick, and drizzled a little of the torte juice over top.

Think jello cake.

As far as the frosting goes, think Grandma’s cream cheese frosting on crack. (That one’s for you, Ben.)

I then frosted the cup cakes using the above recipe and decorated them with fresh strawberry slices.

Ok, back to the cake.

I used the upturned Tablespoon to guide my cake dissection.

It worked really well!

The berries were smashed and juicy!

Ready to be added to the cakes!

Then build it up!

Before you know it… voila!

A lovely strawberry shortcake cake!

Now the birthday treats are just chilling out until it’s time to go.

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Remember those awesome coloring books that helped every youngster look like a junior Monet simply by painting by numbers?

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As long as you were equipped with a wide range of colors,  could stay in the lines and tell the difference between 24 and 42, you too were capable of creating a masterpiece.

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When trying to make your eating into a nutritional masterpiece, follow the same theory and eat by colors. The most nutrient dense foods are those with the brightest colors. No mixing the paint pots here, that means fruits and vegetables.

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Mixing up bright, vibrant, fresh ingredients will give your system a vitamin bang and keep you full for longer.

Why not start your morning with a dense omelette, loaded with fresh veggies?


Red peppers, spinach, mushrooms, vegetarian “ham,” and eggs. Wheat toast with strawberry jam.

If you’re running late and have no time to cook, simply do your best at getting as many different colors on your plate as possible.


Beans in tomato sauce, sweet potato, sautéed spinach with garlic and lemon juice

And don’t worry, if all this eating by colors starts to shake up your system a bit, there’s always paint by number toilet paper to pass the time as you pass your business.

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This special number was saved just for you, dad. Happy Birthday! I love you!

For those of you who do not know my father, this was saved just for him due to his sense of humor, not because my father deserves a dedication ending in a dirty deed for his birthday.

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