Friday, April 29, 2016

Staying up Late, a Bounce House, and a Sheet Cake



"That summer they started having picnics.  At first the picnics were not real picnics; not the kind you take out in a basket.  Betsy's father, serving the plates at the head of the table, would fill Betsy's plate with scrambled eggs and bread and butter and strawberries, or whatever they had for supper.  Tacy's father would do the same.  Holding the plate in one hand and a glass of milk in the other, each little girl would walk carefully out of her house and down the porch steps and out to the middle of the road.  Then they would walk up the hill to that bench where Tacy had stood the first night she came.  And there they would eat supper together.

Betsy always liked what she saw on Tacy's plate.  In particular she liked the fresh unfrosted cake which Tacy's mother often stirred up for supper for her big family.  Tacy knew that Betsy liked that cake, and she always divided her piece.  And if baked beans or corn bread or something that Tacy liked lay on Betsy's plate, Betsy divided that too."

-from Betsy Tacy, by Maud Hart Lovelace

Hugo has been staying up in the evenings.  For years he's been eagerly awaiting the day that he gets to go to bed with the big kids, and the other week we realized that he was ready (meaning, he was staying up an hour past his bedtime anyway, so why not make it official).  After the twins and Hugo are in bed has been our read aloud time with the older girls, so the fact that he is staying up with us means that our literature has to be adjusted to be interesting and understandable to an 8 year old, a 7 year old, and an (almost) 5 year old.  I've been looking through and some old favorites and realizing that I really miss the books, the characters, the stories.

Have you read The Betsy Tacy Treasury?  It's a heartwarming story of the friendship between three girls over the course of their childhoods, and it's very charming and sweet.  I love the storyline of Tacy's family, partly because they are a big, rambunctious, joyful family, and I hope that our children will remember their own childhoods in much the same way.  Whenever dinner at Tacy's house is mentioned, they talk about these sheet cakes that her mom is aways making to feed all of those hungry mouths, and somewhere over the many years we've been reading these books, Ben has started suggesting that maybe it would be a good idea to make some sheetcakes around here?  I mean, it's the practical thing to do, right?  Sheetcakes are humble-- they are generally served straight from the pan, no flipping and elaborate decorating, no extra cupcake wrappers.  Just a plain desert, and if you're feeling fancy you can always put a simple frosting on top, but it's not even necessary.  And if your family is anything like my family, even a simple cake, when made at home, is devoured with relish.

I found a recipe called "Texas Sheet Cake" and have modified it over the past months to the point that it is a foolproof go-to for our family.  Whenever I make it, I feel just like Tacy's mom.  I originally tried this recipe from a magazine, and still pull out that torn and stained magazine each time I make the cake, so I figured it was time to immortalize it here on the blog for easy future reference.  I always seem to have the ingredients on hand, and whenever there is a special occasion, the kids beg for me to make it.  I hope you enjoy it, too!

Texas Sheet Cake

Cake
2 sticks unsalted butter
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1/2 cup regular milk with a splash of vinegar)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Icing
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
6 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups confectioner's sugar

Cake:

1.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Lightly butter a 9 by 13 inch pan (line with parchment paper, leaving a 2 inch overhang if you have parchment paper on hand).

2.  Whisk together flour, granulated sugar, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in large bowl.

3.  Melt butter in a saucepan over medium low.  Whisk in cocoa, then 1 cup water.  Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, whisking occasionally.  Pour over flour mixture and stir to combine.  Stir in eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla.

4.  Pour batter into prepared pan; smooth top with a spatula.  Bake until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, 22 to 24 minutes.

5.  Transfer cake in pan to a wire rack; let cool 15 minutes.

Icing:

1.  In a small saucepan, bring butter, cocoa, and cream to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat; whisk in vanilla and confectioners' sugar.  Let stand until warm before using.

2.  Pour glaze over warm cake, and allow to cool before serving.

(And our darling Lily turned 7 last week, complete with our first ever birthday party featuring a bounce house, or moon bounce as we call them back East, which was a huge, exciting, energy-expending hit.  All of these years of early childhood are so magical, I just love each one of them, and Lily holds such a special place in all of our hearts.  Looking back on pictures of when she was born makes me so happy and thankful!)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Intensity and Calm


As I look back upon our nearly 9 years of parenthood, it is clear to me that parenthood is composed of intervals: intensity, then calm.  The intensity of adjusting to the very first baby (which I still think is the very hardest part of it), followed by the calm of enjoying a new baby.  As new babies have joined the family, there have been periods of intensity during the end of pregnancies, or during the toddlerhood of twins (yes), but there have also been periods of calm in there, and when they come, they feel like the most welcome respite.

After a year of intensity, unlike any we have known, we have settled into a marked calm.  Zosia and Lily are old enough to be meaningfully helpful both around the house and with the other kids, the twins have blossomed into communicative two year olds, Hugo is happy to play with whoever comes his way, and Josephine is along for the ride.  Sometimes I find myself sitting in the sun drinking a cup of coffee and reading a novel, and think to myself, "Would I even believe this could be my life six months ago?"  No way.  (But to keep it real, we have a serial book ripper in the house who remains at large.  We really love books, so this is kind of a big crime.  I am not letting it get in my way, and have used the ripped off back cover of my novel as a book mark.  We will offer a reward for any information that leads to an arrest.)

So picture me, enjoying my "noticeable calm," opening the door to our property manager just after dinner one night, exchanging a few pleasantries before being informed that the owners of our house are selling it.  We have two months to find a new place and move in a real estate market that is so challenging for renters that it has been written about in national news.  If you are looking wide eyed and shocked, that is exactly what my face looked like as I ducked behind the door and, in my most sweet voice which probably actually sounded somewhat shrill called, "Sweetheart, I think you should come to the front door."  Because there are no houses for rent around here.  We learned that when we moved, and no way are we buying a house in this crazy housing market.

But I guess God has a good sense of humor, because just as I was busy casting myself as Mary in a depiction of the Holy Family, riding a donkey from door to door with all six of our kids in panniers, our property manager mentioned, "You know, there's this family I know who has to break their lease because they bought a house.  Their house is right up the street, and big enough for your family.  Do you want me to contact them?"  So fast forward a few weeks, we went by the house, we have signed a lease, and we will be moved to our new diggs before the kids finish the school year.  It has a seventies galley kitchen which I sort of love, is walking distance to all the kids' schools (because Hugo will be in kindergarten next year, you guys!  And the twins will be at preschool two mornings a week), and closer to "town" which I'll have to tell you more about one of these days, because it's pretty cute.  So all in all, we're feeling fortunate.   And we're moving in a month.  Which gives me a good excuse to do a thorough spring cleaning.  We're always up for an adventure these days.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Easter Song


Happy Easter!  As I was lying in bed last night, after a full day of preparations and mass and company and so many gleeful children running around until past their bedtimes, I was thinking about the day, wondering if every guest felt welcomed, and if maybe the lamb wasn't a bit underdone (it was.  My meat thermometer tricked me!), and if only I could have kept the twins in their pretty Easter dresses for a little bit longer (they changed into their ragtag favorites about five minutes after getting home from mass).  You know, just the typical awareness of all of the imperfections of this boisterous family life we have embraced.  And I caught myself a minute into this train of thought, and laughed at my own ridiculousness, because isn't the ultimate lesson of the Lenten season that God can do something beautiful from our most humble efforts?  Wow, there is such comfort in that, especially when even our best efforts are kind of messy.

We were blessed with an incredibly present Triduum, where we not only went to church, but were able to go without some of the littler kiddos, meaning that we could participate and focus in a way that is truly special.  And I think that for all of us, but especially Ben, in this first Easter season after having lost his brother, there is healing in liturgy of the Triduum.  Because in taking us through the last days and death of Jesus, all the way to the miracle of his Resurrection, it is also taking us through what God has promised for us.  I am thankful for all of it, and thankful that the Church freely gives us this beauty and meaning.  I had my feet washed on Holy Thursday for the first time in my life (along with my sweet eldest daughter Zosia).  Hugo punctuated the utter silence on Good Friday after the readers  loudly exclaimed "Crucify him!  Crucify him!" by helpfully announcing "That was loud!"  And the twins somehow came to believe that a little girl wearing bunny ears in mass on Easter morning was the Easter bunny, and they tried to hug her.  And Josephine slept through just about every minute of it.  And then we hung out with friends and the full compliment of my West Coast family on Easter.  It was all pretty great.

I hope you had a beautiful Easter, too, and will feel the joy of the Easter season throughout the entire year.  This song was my brother in law's favorite, and he used to blast it through his house on Easter morning.  He's risen, halleluja.