Monday, November 21, 2016

Ephraim's Birthday + My Favorite Chocolate Cake Recipe

Our little buddy turned 3 yesterday! 
He is still just the sweetest, most easy going, content kid. I just love him.
But, his latest trick is to make messes and then come tell me and say, "Ha ha, Mom!"
Equal parts adorable and frustrating ;)

I don't like to get too creative with birthday cakes. Art in the form of food or crafts is not really my forte. Ask me to write something or take a picture and I'd be happy to take a stab at it! ;) Anyway, a long time ago I saved this cake idea on Pinterest in hopes that someday I would have a boy, and also knowing that it was on my skill level. Luckily, this little boy loves trucks so he was elated with his cake!

I made one of my favorite cake recipes. This is a chocolate malt cake, but if you're not a fan of malt, don't worry. You won't eat it and say, "This is a malt cake," most people won't even be able to tell. It just makes it moist and yummy. Are you saying, "What is malt?" Have you ever had Whoppers candies? That is what malt tastes like. I fell in love with malt when I worked at an ice cream shoppe when I was in junior high. Oh for the good old days. Malts used to be "the" milkshake back in the day, but for some reason they've fallen out of popularity.

A couple of tips I've noticed:
* This is a three layer cake, but I've made it a two layer cake before.

*One of the keys to a good cake is that it is cooked for the right amount of time. Nobody wants dry cake (unless you're my dad and you're pouring half-and-half on top of it.. right Dad?). It will take some trial and error, but don't overcook your cakes!

*On the note of dry cake, use more frosting!! If you are making this cake as three layers you should be using ALL of the frosting called for. Especially in the middle layers, and make sure you go all the way out the edges. You're probably thinking, "This is too much frosting!" If you're worried about the calories, just have ONE piece of cake. You (and everyone else) will enjoy that piece oh so much more than two subpar pieces because you were worried about putting too much frosting on.

*After I've made all that frosting, I don't really want to make any more. I used pre-made frosting to write Ephraim's name, with the smallest tip I have. It turned out great!

*Using good cocoa powder makes chocolate things taste better. I used Ghiardelli brand.

*Did you know that they make specific flour just for cake? It's called cake flour. It has a finer texture and makes cakes taste better.

*You can fix bad cake!! When I cooked this cake, there were a few parts that were overcooked. I just ripped them off and cut the top to even it out. The rest of the cake was super moist (My oven cooks unevenly).

*You can freeze the cake layers to make them easier to frost (this is especially great if you are having to rip off overcooked cake). They don't have to be completely frozen, but the colder they are the easier it is to spread the frosting.

*On that note, chilled cake (putting your completed cake in the fridge) tastes better than if you leave it out on the counter until it's time to eat.

*I didn't have this skill 5 years ago. You are not going to make an awesome cake your first time. If you make a cake and it's a dud, don't say, "Well I guess I'm not a baker." I am no amazing cook, but I am way better than I was. If you want to get better at something, it takes practice. The next time you eat a piece of cake you like, note what kinds of things you like about it. Try and look for a copycat recipe. Food bloggers have demystified a lot of the tips and tricks around making great food, learn from them. You CAN make and eat great food in your own house! Also, it brings me a lot of joy to create something so delicious that other people like to eat. Try it!

What are your tips??

Chocolate Malt Cake

Recipe from Bakergirl (if you want to see some seriously mouth-watering pictures of this cake, click over to her blog!)

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 cup malted milk powder (you can often find this in the hot cocoa/Nesquick section of your store)
1 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chocolate Malt Frosting
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup malted milk powder
5 cups confectioners' sugar
Garnish: malted milk balls

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour 3 (9-inch) cake pans.

In the bowl of an electric mixture, combine flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and malt powder.

Add milk, oil, and eggs to flour mixture, beating at medium speed until smooth. Add sour cream and vanilla, beating just until combined. Pour batter evenly into prepared pans, and bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool in pans for 10 minutes. Remove cakes from pans and let cool completely on wire racks.

To make the frosting, in a large bowl, beat butter and cocoa powder at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy.

In a small bowl, combine cream and malted milk powder, stirring to dissolve. Add cream mixture to butter mixture, beating at low speed to combine. Gradually beat in confectioners' sugar until smooth.

Spread frosting between layers and on top and sides of cake. Garnish with malted milk balls, if desired.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Scripture reading ideas for kids who can't read

I have fond memories of reading scriptures together as a family when I was growing up. Every morning before school we would gather in the family room and take turns reading verses. Even at a young age, we all participated in scripture reading. When I was little, we lived in a big, older house that was chilly in the mornings. After Dad gently shook me awake, I would bring my blanket out to the living room and sit on top of one of the vents to keep warm as we took turns reading scriptures. We had a set of cheap paperback versions of the Book of Mormon that Dad would hand out to us. Dad had a specific copy with a record in the back of which verse we had last finished reading, and would let us know where to begin. Then, in age order with our parents, we would each take a turn reading verses from the Book of Mormon for 15 minutes.

By the time I had gotten to high school, the family scripture reading had been ever constant. Every morning before school, without fail, we would read the scriptures. By this time I had come to see the importance of scripture reading. That's not to say I enjoyed every minute of it, or that our scripture reading sessions were perfect (they were far from that!). Nor can I say that I could recall what we had read later that day. But the only word I can think of to describe what family scripture reading meant to me is protection. I felt protected throughout the day because our family read scriptures together every morning. I want desperately for my children to experience that same peace that I felt because of family scripture reading.

As the eighth child in my family, I have no idea what scripture reading looked like when my parents started out. I have no idea when they decided to begin, or if it took a while before it became a consistent, 5-days-a-week thing. But we've been trying to add it to the routine of our day with our very young family.  Our oldest is only 5, and she can't really read, so we've had to be a little creative at the start of our family scripture reading.

Two ways to read scriptures when your kids can't read

We have two habits that have worked really well. Neither of these are earth-shattering. I think simple ideas are the things people actually end up doing over complicated ones. More than anything, I think, the key to successful family scripture reading has been to make it part of what we already do each day.

1. Read one verse per person, have them repeat the words. Each night before we go to bed, the kids each "read" one verse. Or in other words, we say a few words and they repeat it back, for the whole verse. This works for a lot of reasons: it's not super time-consuming, you can still do it if somebody's grouchy, and it's hard to not do it because it so easy.

-A lot of the times as part of the scripture reading, we then "define" one of the words for the kids. Since our kids are so little, a lot of the language is foreign to them. So after they've read the three verses (our 5, 4, and 2-year-olds all do the "repeat after me" thing), they're pretty good about asking, "So what's the word?" Then we'll explain to them what Atonement means or something like that. It quickly bumps up what would have just been a rote memorization into real study for the family.

-It's always coupled with our family prayer. Like I said, it's so easy and fast, it's hard to say, "The kids are going crazy, let's not do scriptures tonight." You know you're going to pray as a family, and it just adds three minutes to that.

-We don't do it in the morning. Mornings are stressful for me as the mom. Ben heads out the door sometimes before all of our kids are even awake, and I feel like there's too many other things that have to be done.

-I think this works because we have a "critical mass." Our 5 and 4-year-olds 90% of the time are willing to participate. Our two-year-old, it's a hit and miss as to if he will repeat everything you say or will focus enough to do it.

-Sometimes are kids are running around or being noisy during the whole thing. We still just do it.

2. Read the scripture stories while you wait for the bus. We've owned the Book of Mormon Stories for a long time and I've read it to them here and there, but I've never been very consistent with it. Now that Cheyenne has to go to school everyday, it's a lot easier to fit it in. I'll read the kids a story or a page while we wait for Cheyenne's bus. I've been amazed at how well they remember the stories, how enthralled they get with them, and how they love reading it.

-With this activity, I'll often tell them something I think they can learn from the story. One time I read the story of Enos and I told Cheyenne how she could pray if she ever got lonely at school or missed us or something. Several weeks later, she told me that she had, in fact, done that.  Another time, Cheyenne told me in great detail the story of Alma the Younger, just completely out of the blue. Sometimes when I read it's so chaotic with all the kids or the baby crying, or the stories/language are a lot different than a storybook and so I imagine a lot harder to follow, and I am amazed they can remember the stories from the Book of Mormon Reader! When they still remember the stories despite all of this, it reminds me that they are teaching me. Often when I'm reading to them, they are so attentive, eyes glued to the page and the story. It gives me the feeling that spirituality is natural to them, like it's woven into the fibers of their being. It reminds me of the scripture that talks about the day that the babes' "tongues shall be loosed" and they shall "utter marvelous things." They know and understand so much inherently, it's just their station in life that limits them from being completely understood by me.

We are certainly not a perfect family or even a model one. And we've failed a lot before we found something that works for us and is now something we do about 80% of time. But you've got to keep trying. As a parent, I believe this is my most important role, helping my children become familiar with and understand God's word. Don't give up. God wants them to learn too, He will help you.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Instagram Update 11/13/16

A photo posted by Ashley D (@ourgoldtoharvest) on

A photo posted by Ashley D (@ourgoldtoharvest) on

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The good you do as a stay-at-home mother

"Oh you're a stay-at-home mom? It shows with your daughter. You've done a good job."

That one piece of formal validation has been a boon to me the last several weeks following my first parent-teacher conference with Cheyenne's teacher. Was I making a difference? So often as a stay-at-home mother I've let self-doubt rule my mind and trick me into believing things about myself that aren't true.

I've thought, I'm completely failing at this thing, and, somebody can do this better. I yell too much, and there are lots of moments I don't like being with my kids, and I can't handle it, and on and on and on.

But but this one comment from Cheyenne's kindergarten teacher has been rolling around over and over in my mind, coming back to me often. Usually when this happens it's an indication to me that this is a thought that can help me learn and grow. And I'm beginning to see its significance. I realized that giving in to those those earlier thoughts of inadequacy have not been constructive, and they can lead you to believe one of Satan's best lies, that you are not enough. I have, I am making a difference being a stay-at-home mom.

While I still have much to learn, I do love my children. I love them more than a stranger. I love them more than my neighbor or a daycare worker or my friend. These people are all nice people, and there are people who are blessed to love little children who are not their own. But I am my children's mother, and I love them very most of any adult on this earth.

I believe that the most important thing for a child is to be raised by someone who loves them. There probably is somebody who could be more patient with them. Probably somebody who could be more kind and gentle. Probably somebody with better parenting techniques. But no matter who that person is, you are still their mother, and you care about them more than anybody else.

I don't think that women who work are somehow less, or not good mothers. Those children are still being raised by a mother who loves them. As a stay-at-home mother, however, I have sometimes wondered if I am making a worthwhile difference in my kids' lives.

The good you do

I have realized that two things make a mother unique and important in raising small children.

1. You want your children to improve. You are actively seeking for ways to help their behavior, their thinking, their growth and learning. Different from a teacher or a caretaker, you're not trying to teach them skills, you're trying to make them a better person.

2. You are trying to improve. I get down on myself sometimes for not having enough patience with my kids, for losing my temper, for not putting them before myself. But you know what? I am trying to be better. I am always trying to be better. I am always trying. And that makes you a good mother. And you do get better over time.

Don't let Satan fool you-- you do make a difference, and you are doing better than you think you are.