firstbirthday

Eli Smash Cake 1
A few weeks ago my dear friend Laura asked me if I would be interested in making her son, Eli’s, first birthday smash cake. Laura and I have been friends for years and she has the most amazing blog about life as a stay-at-home mom and DIY/craft expert. Seriously, some day I hope to do half the projects she completes around her house.

Joe and I both agree on the fact that Laura and Mike’s son, Eli, is one of the cutest kiddos we’ve ever seen. He has this adorable little natural mohawk hair and the sweetest personality. So of course I was trilled to be asked to make his cake!

I was also excited to do a little blog collaboration with Laura, something we’ve wanted to do for a while. So I made the cake, and Laura made the adorable flags/bunting on top of the cake. In fact, if you want to know how to make the flag, hop on over to Laura’s blog, Oakland Avenue, today to learn how!

Unfortunately we were planning on being out of town for the actual birthday party, but I made the cake in advance and gave it to Laura a few days before the party. Which, now that I think about it, is a great make-ahead tip for moms who are busy with other party details and want to make their cake in advance. It can be done!

EliCharles_1stBirthday_April2014 (95 of 95)

Laura didn’t have a lot of requests for the cake, but she did want it to be slightly healthier in nature. That said, Laura didn’t want to sacrifice having a beautiful cake just to have a healthy cake, so the goal was really to fall somewhere in the middle. For the cake, I made a lower-sugar yellow cake with mashed banana in the batter to add natural sweetness. Since I wanted the cake to still be “smashable” I decided not to use whole wheat flour since that adds denseness.

For the frosting I focused on lower sugar content and went with a Swiss Meringue Buttercream. This type of frosting isn’t healthy by any means, since it does have plenty of butter, but it is much lower in sugar, in fact the entire batch only had 2/3 cup sugar. And since I used organic butter, I figured a little fat is good for babies, right? This is by far my favorite frosting for decorating because it’s so smooth and spreadable, resulting in a very beautiful cake.

Eli Smash Cake 2

Eli’s First Birthday Smash Cake
 
Recipe type: Dessert

Ingredients
  • Cake
  • Cooking spray and flour for the pans
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 medium ripe banana
  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2¼ cups milk
  • Swiss Meringue Buttercream
  • 4 egg whites
  • ⅔ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1½ cups butter, softened and cut into tablespoon-sized pieces

Directions
  1. Heat oven to 350F. Grease and flour two 6-inch round cake pans. Set aside.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the sugar, banana and butter until smooth and well combined, about 2 minutes. Add in the vanilla and eggs, one at a time, beating until combined after each addition.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Add some of the flour, followed by all of the milk, finishing with the remaining flour mixture. Beat until just combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
  4. Bake 28 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the cake and remove from pans. Cool completely on wire cooling racks, about 1 to 2 hours.
  5. Cut rounded tops off cakes with a serrated knife. Cut each layer in half horizontally to make four total cake layers. Refrigerate cake layers 45 minutes for easier handling.
  6. Meanwhile, make the buttercream:
  7. In small saucepan, combine the egg whites and sugar. Cook, stirring frequently, over medium heat until sugar is dissolved and mixture reaches 160F (food safe temperature) with a candy thermometer. If you don’t have a candy thermometer, the egg white mixture should be very warm to the touch and sugar completely dissolved.
  8. Transfer egg white mixture to an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat egg whites on high speed about 8 to 10 minutes or until bowl of electric mixer is no longer warm to the touch. Add the vanilla and the butter, one pat at a time, until the mixture is smooth, creamy and has the texture of buttercream frosting. If the mixture separates while adding the butter, don’t worry. Just keep on whisking on high speed until it comes back together.
  9. Place one cake layer on cardboard cake round. Top with some of the buttercream. Repeat with remaining cake layers until you have a four tiered cake. Use a small amount of buttercream to coat entire cake with a crumb coat, about ½ cup buttercream total, just enough to create a smooth surface on the outside of the cake.
  10. Reserve ⅔ cup of buttercream for decorative detailing. Use remaining buttercream to coat outside of cake with a smooth layer of buttercream.
  11. Color reserved buttercream your desired shade of blue, pink or other color. Place in a pastry bag fitted with a ½-inch tube tip. Pipe a dollop of frosting on the top edge of cake. Use the back of a teaspoon to pull the frosting into a petal shape. Repeat with dollops and pulls around the entire top edge of cake.
  12. Use a small round pastry tip to make small dots around the bottom of the cake where the cake meets the cardboard cake round.
  13. Make Ahead Tip: This cake can be made ahead and frosted up to 3 days in advance. Simply make and frost as directed, then store in the freezer. I recommend freezing the cake uncovered for 3 hours first, then lightly covering with plastic wrap and storing in a plastic cake container/carrier in the freezer until ready to serve. To de-thaw, remove from freezer 12 hours in advance and allow cake and buttercream to come to room temperature.

 

Cheesy Farro Broccoli Bake 2 | Espresso and Cream

Let’s be honest, the amount of cooking that’s been going on in our house lately has been minimal. But as life slowly transitions back to “normal” (and no, it still doesn’t feel normal if you really want to know) it feels good to do things that come naturally, to create something out of raw ingredients and nourish the body. Plus, eating take-out and snack-y type foods can only keep you going for a certain amount of time. Sometimes you just have to get in the kitchen and cook.

I didn’t grow up in a house where we ate a lot of casseroles, and consequently I don’t cook a lot of casseroles to this day. However, there is something about being able to toss all your ingredients together and throw it in the oven when hunger strikes that I find so comforting. Dinner is ready when you need it to be, cheesy and comforting and semi-healthy, too, minus the cheese part. The cheese is absolutely not healthy, but makes this dish taste amazing.

My favorite use for a casserole is to make it on Sunday and have lunches for Joe to take to work for the rest of the week. I grilled up a package of chicken breasts and made this casserole, then divided the chicken and casserole among four containers, a complete meal ready to be tossed into a lunch container when we’re busy and running out the door in the morning.

Cheesy Farro Broccoli Bake 1 | Espresso and Cream

Cheesy Farro-Broccoli Bake
 
Prep time

Cook time

Total time

 

Make this dish a meal by topping with grilled or baked chicken breasts.
Recipe type: Side Dish/Vegetarian Entree
Serves: 4

Ingredients
  • 1 cup farro, cooked according to package directions
  • 2 cups broccoli florets, blanched
  • 2 cups Italian blend cheese, divided
  • ⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup 2% or full-fat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (optional)
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Crushed red pepper flakes, if desired

Directions
  1. Heat oven to 350F. Spray a 9-inch pie plate or square baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the all the ingredients until well-combined. Spoon mixture into baking dish.
  3. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly. Serve immediately.
  4. Alternate method: If you’re looking for a more traditional casserole-type dish, I would suggest substituting the Greek yogurt for a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup.

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I’ve mentioned this before, but the way our community has loved and supported us this last week has blown me away. It’s been so healing to be able to walk through this with support and to talk about our experience instead of keeping it silent. Since miscarriage is such a personal thing and not everyone has experienced it, I’ve found that a lot of people are at a loss as to how to respond in the wake of such an event. This list, of course, is personal, but I wanted to share some ways that you can support a friend who is going through pregnancy loss (or a prolonged battle with infertility, for that matter.)

1. Say Something (Anything!)
When you haven’t experienced something first-hand, it can feel super awkward not knowing what to say. Before this year, I was in that camp, too. I’ll admit that I read a few posts about miscarriage and had a hard time understanding or empathizing with what those women were going through. I’m ashamed to admit that when I don’t know what to say, sometimes I don’t say anything at all for fear of saying the wrong thing. But being on the other side I can say that every word and acknowledgement of what we were going through meant the world to both of us.

2. Provide Hope
If you’ve experienced a miscarriage or multiple miscarriages, share your story with your friend. In the wake of our experience, the most helpful thing anyone could do was to share their personal story and give us hope. After a miscarriage it’s incredibly easy to feel hopeless or scared about the future. The women who reached out to me and let me know that I wasn’t alone and that they, too, had walked that path gave me so much hope for our family’s future. Yes, everyone’s journey is different, but miscarriage and multiple miscarriages can feel very lonely. Your story, if you have one, could be of great encouragement.

3. Bring Flowers
I was shocked, truly shocked, at the number of people who brought us flowers over the past week. Our house feels like a floral shop, and it’s beautiful and joyful. Seeing those flowers has been a tangible reminder that God makes all things new, that He creates beauty from ashes and gives us hope for tomorrow. Flowers are also a small way to say that things are going to get better eventually and they gave me a reason to smile.

4. Insert Yourself Just a Little
I got a lot of e-mails from friends saying “If you need anything, just let me know.” And while I know that they all truly meant that, it was hard for me to cash in on any of those offers. I was still able to cook dinner and my mom came to clean my house, so I felt silly asking for any of those things. Many friends simply said, “I’m coming over, just for a bit, to drop something off. I won’t stay long.” It was just what I needed. I wanted to see people, I wanted a hug, I wanted someone to shed a few tears with me, but I didn’t want to say that. I needed people to insert themselves into my personal space just enough to know they cared.

5. Be Honest & Sensitive
As I’ve mentioned before, both of my sister-in-laws are pregnant, and we were supposed to be having our babies at the same time. Hearing my sister-in-laws, Amber and Ali, cry with me and say, “This sucks. This isn’t fair,” really helped. I don’t blame either of my sister-in-laws for being pregnant when I no longer am, but it doesn’t mean it’s easy. I feel left out and it’s hard to think about this fall when their babies will arrive and our baby should have been born. Hearing both of them express their own sadness and frustration helped ease my own pain and made me feel less alone and left out.

6. Bring a Gift Card
Joe and I haven’t been having much fun lately, as is to be expected. We’ve been grieving and trying to take steps forward and processing what has happened. Life feels pretty serious lately, and at one point I think I went a full 3 days without showering. When Amber and Jake brought us a gift card to Cheesecake Factory it was such a bright spot in our weekend. We needed an excuse to go out, get dressed up and do something fun. Although it feels strange/wrong to have fun when we’re so sad, I’m looking forward to the date we now have scheduled on the calendar. Having little things to look forward to makes a big difference.

7. Do Normal Things Together
Saturday night we had a group of close friends over to watch the Final Four and eat snacks. It was my idea and Joe liked the idea of having something normal to get our mind off what we were feeling. With close friends, it’s nice to feel that you can do something relatively normal without having to pretend that you’re anything but normal. Our friends showed up, cried a little with us, then took the topic off the table for the rest of the night and acted like nothing had happened. It wasn’t avoiding the topic, it was just giving us a little reprieve from focusing on our miscarriage.

8. Keep Thinking of Them
The first few days after a miscarriage are a flurry of activity. Lots of notes, texts, calls, etc. I even had a surgery on the horizon that I was preparing for which occupied some of my thoughts. It wasn’t “exciting” but people were thinking about us and grieving with us, which was nice. But days later it can start to feel lonely again. Life moves on when you don’t feel like moving on yet. Friends who called or texted or e-mailed on the day I returned to work or a few days later just checking in really helped me along the way, both last time and this time. Let them know that although life is moving on, they are still on your mind and their pain isn’t forgotten.

9. Remember Everyone is Different
These are just my personal experiences, and the way each individual person deals with miscarriage is different. Some women may find it hard to be around pregnant women or little kids, or find it hard to talk about their experience. Personally, I want to talk about it. I want to process and share, but not everyone may feel the same. If you’re in doubt, just be open and ask your friend what helps, what is hard and what would be most useful for them. I guarantee that just making the effort will mean the world.

If you’ve experienced miscarriage and have anything to add to this list, I would love to hear your thoughts below as well.

Madison

Super Easy Sugar Cookies (1) | Espresso and Cream

First off, thank you so much for your kind words about our recent miscarriage. I plan on responding to each and every comment and have done my best to stay up-to-date with e-mails. I so greatly appreciate each word you’ve said to me and cherish each one. This post, a baby shower for my friend Stephanie, was planned months ago. Although the timing feels a bit forced in light of our recent news, I want to be able to celebrate with Stephanie in her time of joy. -Madison

One of my blogging friends turned real life friend, Stephanie of Girl Versus Dough, is having a little baby girl and today I’m getting together with a bunch of other bloggers to throw Stephanie a virtual baby shower. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend Stephanie’s real-life baby shower since I was out of town but I wouldn’t miss getting in on the virtual celebrations!

It’s been so great getting to know Stephanie in real life now that we both live up in the cities. She is, without a doubt, one of the sweetest people I know and that little girl is going to be born into such an amazing family!

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The cookies I made for Stephanie’s shower are my new go-to sugar cookie recipe. I love baking that doesn’t require a lot of fuss and these cookies certainly fit the bill. One of the things I hate most about sugar cookie dough is the fact that you have to refrigerate the dough before you bake it. I struggle with patience, so refrigerating dough is a challenge for me.

Thankfully, this recipe doesn’t require the dough to be refrigerated before you bake it. Major win in my book! And it requires just a handful of ingredients you probably have on hand, which is another major bonus. For those of you out there who don’t consider yourself much of a baker, I would suggest starting with a recipe like this. Adding a few colored sprinkles on top gives these cookies a decorative touch without much extra fuss.

Super Simple Sugar Cookies (2) | Espresso and Cream

Check out all the other ladies who are participating in the shower:

Mini Strawberry Cheesecakes from Sarcastic Cooking

Lemon Blueberry Coffee Cake with Lemon Drizzle from Greens & Chocolate

Super Chewy M&M Blondies from The Realistic Nutritionist

Strawberry Cinnamon Twist Knots from A Kitchen Addiction

Lemon Shortbread with Salted Chocolate Drizzle from The Lemon Bowl

Chocolate Cherry Ice Cream from A Zesty Bite

Blackberry and Mango Curd Pie from Joanne Eats Well With Others

Pecan Sticky Buns from Warm Vanilla Sugar

Strawberry Rhubarb Muffins from Garnish with Lemon

Chocolate Chip Pancakes from Susie Freaking Homemaker

Super Simple Sugar Cookies from Espresso and Cream

Raspberry Acai Frozen Margarita from Nutmeg Nanny

Berry Coconut Frozen Yogurt from The Law Student’s Wife

Pretty in Pink Buttercream Cups from Keep it Sweet Desserts

Broccoli Salad with Honey Toasted Walnuts from The Roasted Root

Neapolitan Baked Doughnuts from Climbing Grier Mountain

Giant Pink M&M and Raisinette Cookies from Steph’s Bite by Bite

No-Bake Rhubarb Cheesecake Parfait Cups from Hungry Girl Por Vida

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp from A Cedar Spoon

Freckled Strawberry Rhubarb Lemonade from Take a Megabite

Vanilla Anise Cupcakes from Blahnik Baker

Mini Vanilla Bean Layer Cakes from The Baker Chick

Mini Blackberry Hazelnut Meringue Cakes from Eat Your Heart Out

Super Simple Sugar Cookies
 
Prep time

Cook time

Total time

 

This sugar cookies come together quickly and don’t need to be refrigerated before you slice and bake them. That’s a major win in my book! This makes about two dozen small cookies, but feel free to double if you want a bigger batch!
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: 24

Ingredients
  • 1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2½ cups all-purpose flour
  • Colored sprinkles, if desired

Directions
  1. Heat oven to 350°F. Spray a large cookie sheet with cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. In bowl of an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add egg and beat until just combined. Add in the vanilla, salt and baking powder and beat until combined.
  3. Add flour to butter mixture and beat until just combined. Transfer dough to floured work surface. Roll dough to ¼ inch thickness. Use cookie cutter to cut shapes from dough, rolling and re-rolling as necessary to use up dough. Top dough with colored sprinkles, if desired.
  4. Place cookies on baking sheet, about 1 inch apart. Bake 8 minutes or just until light golden brown around the edges. Do not over bake. Remove immediately and transfer to wire rack to cool completely.

photo (11)

Although I may not be one for planning ahead, I’ve had this day marked on my calendar for the last 10 weeks. Ever since we found out just a few days before Valentine’s Day that we were expecting a baby due in October, I’ve had this day circled on my planner as the day I would publish a blog post announcing our good news. But as you may have already guessed, I won’t be sharing that happy news today. Instead, it’s with a sad and heavy heart that I’m writing about our second miscarriage in the last eight months.

It took me months to get up the courage to write about our miscarriage last time, when the emotions weren’t as raw and I had more time to process what we had experienced. This time I feel comfortable sharing about our experience in the hope that it helps others down the road in the same way that I’ve benefitted from hearing the stories and experiences of others. I’m not sure why miscarriage is such a hush-hush thing in today’s tell-all society. We talk about cancer, irritable bowel syndrome and the like in public forums but those who suffer miscarriages, or in our case recurrent miscarriage, are left to suffer silently. I refuse to fall prey to the lie that miscarriage is something to keep secret, and I think it’s our responsibility as Christian women to bring it into the light.

When we first found out we were expecting again, I was both elated and terrified. The idea of suffering another miscarriage so soon after our last was practically crippling. On the flip side, we had been trying to get pregnant for close to five months (temping, ovulation kits, the whole nine yards!) so that first positive pregnancy test ushered in a wave of pure joy. I knew the statistics: Only 5% of women have two consecutive miscarriages and only 1% have three or more consecutive miscarriages. In fact, your chances of a healthy pregnancy after a single miscarriage is actually better than if you had never had a miscarriage in the first place.

In the first few weeks of pregnancy I clung to those statistics, probably more than I should have. Additionally, I was feeling incredibly sick, something I didn’t feel with my first pregnancy, so I took it as a sign that everything was progressing as it should. As a precaution, my doctor put me on progesterone supplements to be safe, although my blood tests didn’t indicate any issues with low levels. We had an early ultrasound around the 7 week mark and saw a strong, healthy heartbeat and baby, which is, by many, considered a huge milestone and indicator that the pregnancy is progressing as it should. We felt comfortable enough to tell our family and some close friends and co-workers about our news and allowed them to share in our joy.

I continued to feel sick, went on a work trip, got sick some more and although I felt terrible I reveled in the sickness and the feeling of being pregnant; sickness was a small price to pay. Both of my sister-in-laws announced they were pregnant, meaning all of us Hofmeyer girls would be having babies within a six week span of one another. We texted frequently about our symptoms and how we were feeling, forming an even deeper bond over our shared experience of being moms together.

I started to write weekly pregnancy updates in the drafts folder of this blog. Weeks 6 through 11 are chronicled and tucked away, never to be published or shared like I had planned. There I detailed my symptoms and emotions week-by-week, wanting to remember every little detail, sure that I would be able to publish a post all about “pregnancy after miscarriage” instead of talking about that ugly phrase, “multiple miscarriages.”

Joe and I waited with great anticipation for Friday. We would be just shy of 12 weeks and at the appointment they would look for a heartbeat using a doppler. A healthy heartbeat and check-up would put us in the clear to tell everyone our news. I had no signs of miscarriage, no cramping or spotting or anything out of the ordinary. I had started to feel a bit better in the last week, but that’s to be expected as you near the end of the first trimester so I didn’t think much of it.

Our doctor, who is the most caring and gracious doctor I have met, eased my mind when she couldn’t find the heartbeat on the doppler. She said we could just head to the next room and she would do an ultrasound. The baby was small and probably hiding, and an ultrasound was more fun, anyway. But instead of hearing a heartbeat, I knew from the second she looked at the monitor that something was wrong. At 11 weeks it should have been easy to find and distinguish the baby, but instead our doctor squinted her eyes and said she only saw a baby that measured 8 weeks with no heartbeat.

My deepest fear realized. Life and our future changed in an instant. A big huge question mark about what this means going forward. It didn’t take long for the waterworks to begin as I sat in shock, our doctor holding my right hand, Joe holding the other.

I so deeply wish that I had a different story to tell, but I’m learning now more than ever that we don’t get to write our own story. My story and Joe’s story and the way our family will eventually come together is proving to be rockier than I had ever dreamed it would be. I’m heading in for surgery in the morning, and, quite frankly, looking forward to beginning the physical healing process. We will do tests this time around, pretty much all the tests we can do to identify the underlying cause of our miscarriages. During this time, I would so greatly appreciate your prayers, words of encouragement and, if you have them, your personal stories of pregnancy after a battle with infertility.

Over the next few weeks I plan to post a series of posts around the topic of miscarriage and my experience. Thank you so much for allowing me to grieve, process and share with you all. Your support, encouragement and uplifting words and prayers have meant everything to us over the last two days. The blog community (and our real-life community) never cease to amaze me. Thank you, thank you.   -Madison

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