Friday, January 27, 2012

The Naked Bear Cake

Our big girl Anna turned three last week (sniff sniff).  A few weeks ago, while driving her home from preschool, I asked her what kind of cake she wanted this year.  "A fire truck," she replied.  I reminded her that we did that last year, and perhaps a new type of cake would be nice.  Read: please pick something that requires less frosting, less red food coloring, and fewer toothpicks than this.

"Okay," she mused, "I want a cake of a guy."
"A guy?"
"Yeah, a guy with no shirt.  Just pants . . . and undies."

I had to do a double take to make sure I was still talking to a toddler and not a Bieber-fevered teenage girl.  A half-naked man birthday cake?  Seriously?  At this point, I did what any other mama would do: I pretended not to hear her.  I pulled a classic, "Hey, look at that airplane" maneuver and hoped she would forget by the time her birthday rolled around.  Unfortunately, no such luck.  Anna reminded me over and over that she wanted a "guy with no shirt" cake.  Try as I might, I just could not make myself create a bachelorette party-worthy cake for my daughter's 3rd birthday party.  I know, go ahead and call me chicken.  In the end, I made a likeness of her lovey, Anais bear.

I got the idea here and used a chocolate cupcake recipe sent by my friend Kristin.  Using two metal mixing bowls, I made the bear's head and torso, then used cupcakes for the ears, arms and legs.  He is decorated with coconut pecan frosting, Thin Mints, and Almond Joy candy pieces.

I know, it's no shirtless man.  But hey, at least the bear is naked, right?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Pumpkin Everything, Take 5: Pumpkin Snickerdoodles really isn't supposed to be a food blog, but I just can't help myself with this abundance of pumpkin and so many recipes to try.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Goodwill Treasure: $6 espresso machine

This little puppy doesn’t look like much, but it is without a doubt the best $6 we ever spent at the Goodwill. We stumbled upon it several years ago when we were just what we like to call “recreational” coffee drinkers. It has since unlocked the genetic trait of coffee addiction that runs deep in both sides of the family. A certain unnamed member of Jeff’s family has cut down from 20+ cups a day, but certain other unnamed members probably drink at least that much to this day. Jeff, though nowhere that extreme, now drinks a latte each morning, and I partake in a decaf latte a few times a week. I could calculate the savings compared to walking down the street to Starbucks and purchasing a latte a day for four years, but I don’t pretend to deceive myself. If not for this little devil, we probably wouldn’t drink coffee at all.

Which reminds me,  Jeff recently unlocked the recipe to a decadent holiday drink:

  • 1/2 cup pumpkin eggnog, steamed

  • 1/2 cup milk, steamed

  • 2 shots of espresso

Look out, Pumpkin Spice Latte!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Grocery Shopping Checklist

I love grocery shopping.  Is that weird?  Back in our pre-kid days, I used to love lingering at the store, leisurely reading labels, analyzing choices, and imagining new meal ideas.  Jeff and I would sometimes go together and make an event out of it.  Many of our early dates were spent studying at the U Village QFC, which is where we learned that it is indeed possible to eat a whole pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream with a pair of plastic knives.

Then along came the kids, and suddenly grocery shopping wasn’t so fun anymore.  It became more of a race to get in and out of the store as quickly as possible.  No more lingering in the aisles.  And if I made it to one end of the store but forgot to pick up an item from the other end, we’d just have to live without cheese for the week, or whatever else it was.  I needed to get organized.

Based on the suggestions of other wise shoppers out there, I created lists of our staple items, broken down by aisle or section, for the three main stores we frequent: Safeway, Trader Joe’s, and Costco.  When we run out of something, we draw a little box next to the item on the list (hearkening back to my residency days of endless checklists).  This serves two purposes:  (1) at the store, I check things off as I go, aisle by aisle, and I don’t need to dash back to the start for a forgotten bottle of mustard and (2) it jogs my often foggy memory to recall whether we might be running low on a staple, such as garlic or . . . canned pumpkin :)

How do YOU manage grocery shopping with kids?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

AC Powered Baby Swing

In my childhood home, certain otherwise nondescript items were treated as precious commodities (tape, thumbtacks, postage stamps), but none more highly than batteries.  Oh, the coveted battery.  In fact, my dad even charged us for each battery on the order of 50 cents, if my memory serves me.  So it’s only rational that this vaunted view of batteries persisted to my adulthood.  Jeff is equally stingy with batteries, and until we had kids, we never thought a thing about it.

Enter parenthood, and suddenly battery-powered doodads are everywhere.  The cashiers at Babies R Us even seem to be required to ask, “Would you like some batteries with that?” even if you are just there to shell out cash for an overpriced diaper pail refill.  For the most part, we tried to do without.  Mobile with battery-powered lights and spinning toys?  Replaced by a hand-crank mobile.  Bouncy chair with battery-powered vibrating?  Became bouncy chair with manual vibrating (aka jiggle it with your foot while you try to eat breakfast).  Battery-powered bear that says a bedtime prayer?  Well, there was just no salvaging that one.  We celebrated the day that bear ran out of batteries.

However, certain pieces of baby gear were too essential in the early days to go power-free.  Like the baby swing.  But could I really spring for batteries, and not just batteries but multiple D batteries???  I think not.  Time to bust out the trusty soldering iron.  Using a spare AC adapter from an old cell phone, Jeff converted the swing from battery-powered to plug in.

Instructions: (pictures to come soon.  We loaned the swing to our good friends Matt & Brenda, who had a new swing-loving baby on 9-10-11.)

  • A 5-volt DC charger replaced four 1.5V D cells (6 volts).

  • Cut and remove the phone plug end and strip the two wires found there.

  • Temporarily connect the red wire to the positive battery terminal and black wire to the negative.

  • Plug in the adapter and see if the swing operates sans batteries.

  • If all goes well, solder the connections to make them permanent.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Diaper Genie II Elite Refills

Aside from the wedding industry, few sectors manage to be as overpriced and overblown as the baby industry.  Both industries capitalize on high emotions and raging hormones to trick people into paying way more than necessary for things they don’t even need.  (Can anyone say, “Ice sculpture swans?”)  Alas, despite our best efforts to cling to reason and frugality when preparing for our first baby, we caved.  We bought this:

This little plastic monstrosity, also known as the Diaper Genie II Elite, really does its job in containing diaper odor, which is key since we live in a townhouse with a greatroom, and 99% of diaper changes occur in our living room/family room/office/dining room/kitchen.  It wasn’t terribly expensive, but we soon realized it was like one of those deals that sucks you in with a free printer that requires pricy ink cartridges.  Every time I’d shell out $7 a pop for a refill bag (basically a plastic tube-shaped bag), my frugal self took another step in its slow, painful death march.

Little did I know that you can make your own Diaper Genie II Elite refills.


  • an old empty Diaper Genie II Elite refill ring

  • a tall garbage bag


Insert the garbage bag through the center of the ring

Tuck the edges of the bag into the ring

Insert the ring into the Diaper Genie and thread the bag down the hatch

If the bag doesn't quite reach the bottom, stick an object at the bottom so the heavy diapers don't fall down and pull the bag out of the ring.  We used an old quart-sized yogurt tub, but you can improvise with whatever you have: a small box, coffee can, crumpled newspaper, etc.

That's it!  So cheap and easy that I'm kicking myself for not doing this before.  We’ve since moved on to cloth diapers, but for the occasional festering disposable diaper that comes its way, the DiaperGenie and its homemade refills remain.