3 Cake Decorating Tips

Three tips to wonderful cake.



1. If you are baking a cake mix, add 1/2-3/4 cup of pudding. The flavor could be any you choose. Here are a few combos I like:

  1. German chocolate cake mix/chocolate pudding
  2. Dark chocolate cake mix/cheesecake pudding
  3. Fudge chocolate with chocolate chip cake mix/vanilla pudding (this is the combo I used in the cake pictured)

2. Use a cake syrup to keep your cake moist longer or to add another layer of flavoring

  1. Combine 1/2 cup sugar with 1/2 cup water. Warm over medium heat until the sugar dissolves – do not boil.
  2. Add 1 tsp flavoring (I used coconut in the dark chocolate cake – so good).
  3. Brush over cooled cake before frosting.
  4. The taste of the syrup is more pronounced the second day. I like to make my cakes 24 hours in advance so the flavors have time to mellow together.

3. Presentation. Presentation. Presentation

    1. If you are going to go to all the work to make a cake taste good – you should take the extra steps to make it look good too.
    2. Cut off the tops of your layers. This evens out the cake and helps to keep it level when you stack.
    3. Use the parts you cut off to decorate the sides. Crumble the tops to small pieces, frost the sides of the cake. While frosting is still moist, press the crumbs into the sides. It looks so professional and it’s soooooo easy.


  1. I like to do swirls or some other decoration on the top of the cake. But if you want to do random peaks that works as well. The important thing is to not skimp on the frosting. It’s always better to have too much than too little.

Hope this helps in your decorating! Now, I’m going to go eat cake.


5 Essential Kitchen Lessons for Kids

There are several reasons to teach kids how to clean. But that’s a whole other blog post. For this one, I want to share some of the cleaning skills kids can learn as early as three and four years old. The earlier they learn them the better. That way, when they get older it’s second nature to clean up after themselves. (I hope!) So far it’s worked. My kids still leave messes but they don’t leave these messes around anymore. 

1.     Milk Contains Sugars and Sugars are Sticky.

When my kids would spill their cereal at breakfast or milk at lunch I’d dutifully clean it up. However, one day as I was on my hands and knees mopping the floor I looked up at my 5-year-old and thought, “Why am I doing this?” I handed him the wet rag and told him to get to work. From then on, he was responsible for cleaning up his own spills. A couple days later I went into the kitchen to find white smears all over my dark wood floor.

Me: Gasp! What happened?

Boy: I spilled but I cleaned it up. (With a proud look on his face. Honestly, one of the trickiest parts of being a mom is correcting a child without destroying that confidence.)

Me: Did you know milk has sugar in it?

Boy: No. (His pride is slipping. My insides are sinking.)

Me: Sugar is sticky and has to be cleaned with a wet rag and then wiped again with a dried one.

Boy: I didn’t know that. (Curiosity replaces pride.)

Me: Let’s try it together this time and then you can do it on your own next time.

Boy: Okay. (With a smile on his face. He can handle this. Whew!)


2.     Sweep Toward You

Have you ever watched a kid try to sweep on their own for the first time? It can be comical if you’re in the mood for comedy and it can be a tragedy if you were really hoping to walk into a clean kitchen. They spread things around more than they gather them in. Ugh! So I had to teach my kids to pull the dirt and crumbs toward them with a broom to make a pile that can then be swept into the dust pan. It helped to show them the angle of the broom bristles and explain how they work.

Me: See? If you press the broom down that side pokes out farther and can get into the corners.

Child: But no one sees in the corners.

Me: I see in the corners.

Child: Whoa! You have eyes that can see around corners?

Me: If you only knew…

Child: That kind of explains a lot. 


3.     Putting Things Where They Go


When my kids hit about 2 ½ I started them on emptying the silverware out of the dishwasher. I figured it was good sorting practice and since I’d removed all the sharp knives before I let them work it was safe too. When they get a little bigger I start having them empty the whole dishwasher. Usually by 5 they can put almost everything away. If they can’t reach the shelf for the plates then I have them stack them on the counter under the cabinet where the plates go and I put them up as I walk by. Unfortunately, there are some things that don’t get washed in every load and kids have a hard time figuring out where these go. Instead of asking, they shove them in the nearest cupboard or pile them in the pantry. Dinner would take twice as long to prepare while I hunted down my frying pan. So we had lessons on where things go.


Me: Honey, you need to put all the casserole dishes on this shelf.


Kid: But it slides off.


Me: So you have to pull out the small ones and put the big one under them. See? It works.


Kid: Do I have to do that every time?


Me: Yes, every time.


Kid: What happens if I don’t?


Me: You’ll grow hair on your chest like dad.


Kid: So that’s how it happened.


4.     Scrape Your Plate


By the third time I had to reach my hand into disgusting sludge and pull out pieces of olives, onions and who knows what else to get our dishwasher to drain properly I knew something was up. Why did it keep clogging? Did we buy a piece of junk? It wasn’t that old and yet I had the same problem three days in a row. The reason became clear as I watched the kids take their plates from the table to the dishwasher and drop them in – pizza crusts and all.


Me: (Jumping to my feet.) Whoa, whoa, whoa. You can’t leave all that food on there. You have to scrape your plate.


Kid: Hu?


Me: Like this. (I scrape my own plate over the garbage using my fork to push the pieces off. Shoot, I wasn’t done.)


Kid: But it’s already in there.


Me: Well get it out.


Kid: (Gives me a “are you gonna make me” look.)


Me: (Deep breath) Remember how I had to fix the dishwasher because it was a plugged up? (He nods but keeps his mouth shut so as not to be incriminated. Anything he says at this point can and will be used against him in a court of Mom.) It’s getting clogged by the pieces of food. Food will clog the dishwasher. If you scrape it off, then the dishwasher won’t get clogged anymore. (Did I use the word clogged to often there? Maybe I should have mentioned how clogs are bad things that rear up out of the drain and make Mommy scream and sometimes gag and sometimes cry.)


Kid: Fine. (He reaches in for the offending crust, shrugs and takes a bite.)


Me: (Shudder) You probably shouldn’t eat that?


Kid: Why? The light said it was clean.


Me: (Stunned silence – I don’t even know where to go with that.)  


5.     Refrigerate It


After a long hard day of being mom, working, writing, planning an activity for our church’s women’s group  all I wanted was a hot shower and to find my bed. “We’ll clean up the kitchen,” said the kids. Dare I dream? I was pretty sure they could handle the dishes and so I agreed. Hubby came home while I was in the shower and offered to tuck everyone in. After a quick prayer of gratitude for my wonderful family I slid between the sheets and hit the off button. The next morning I walked into my kitchen to see the table full of food. Sour smelling milk, limp lettuce, half a pan of lasagna and stale bread greeted my eyes and nose. However, all the dishes were sparkling clean in the dishwasher. (They’d even remembered to start it bless their little hearts.) As I gazed at my would-be lunch now full of all sorts of mean bacteria the kids clambered down for breakfast. 




Them: What smells?


Me: Dinner


Them: Ew!


Me: Yeah – this stuff should have been put in the fridge last night. (As I held my nose while chunky milk made its way down the disposal.)


Them: Hey! That’s the only milk we have.


Me: You can’t drink it, you’ll get sick.


Them: (Contemplative silence. Breakfast isn’t looking so good right now.)


 They didn’t feel too bad about losing the lasagna (it was kind of dry) or the salad (not their favorite side dish) but they did feel bad about the milk. Instead of rubbing it in and making them feel worse I showed them where the aluminum foil, plastic wrap and Tupperware were housed. They looked like the little green aliens from Toy Story who go, “OOOOOOOOOoooooohhh,” as I showed them how to pull off a sheet and cover a clean lasagna dish.




These are the five main lessons I’ve had to teach my kids on daily kitchen maintenance. They aren’t perfect and there are some things I have to remind them to do. But for the most part, once they got these down, clean up ran a lot smoother than before and I wasn’t doing all the work. 


S’Mores Cheesecake


Cheesecake is actually a pretty easy dessert to make. Don’t laugh! I’ll explain why in just a second. This cheesecake was inspired by the ever-popular dessert: S’mores. I don’t know if it was invented by the Girl Scouts, but they were the first ones to print the recipe.


I have a lot of fun memories of sitting around a fire pit with my family, making S’mores and telling stories. It is amazing how long children – even the little ones – will sit still if there is a fire going. One summer we had a Fire Night every Monday night. Hubby and I used that time to share stories from our family history as well as some funny ones from when we were growing up. The kids soaked it up.


Why is cheesecake so easy? 


1. Kids love to break things. If you hand them a zip-top bag full of grahm crackers and tell them to break them into little pieces they will be entertained for quite some time. 

2. The batter for cheesecake is mixed in one bowl. One Bowl!!! Easy clean up.

3. There are very few ingredients – under eight for the basic cheesecake.

4. There are no real fancy skills required. All you have to be able to do is mix stuff together and kids can learn to do that on their first try.


Breaking Eggs with Kids

 Since this recipe calls for four eggs, it’s the perfect recipe to have your kids practice their egg-cracking skills. Even young kids (mine start as young as three) can break an egg into a bowl. When you are first teaching them how to crack an egg, use a mixing bowl instead of a small bowl. The larger their target, the easier it will be for them to hit it. 

 Have them crack the egg on a flat surface. The countertop works great. Tell them they only want to hit it hard enough to crack the egg not hard enough to destroy it. Most kids are nervous and will crack too softly the first couple of times. 

 Then, have them place their little thumbs over the crack and push in as they pull the egg apart. When the egg lands safely in the bowl do a little celebration dance. They did it! Check for shells before dumping the egg into your cheesecake batter and start again. There’s no rush so let them take their time. Be sure to have them wash their hands when they are done. 

 S’mores Cheesecake

Click here to print this recipe.





2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1/4 cup sugar

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted


1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

2. Spray a 10-inch springform pan with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.

3. In a small bowl, mix together the crumbs, sugar and butter.

4. Sprinkle the crust mixture over the pan and use the bottom of a cup to gently press the crust down into the pan and make a flat surface.

5. Bake for 5 minutes.

6. Allow the crust to cool while you make the rest of the cake.


4 (8 ounce) packages of cream cheese at room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

4 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup marshmallow fluff

1 cup graham cracker crumbs

1 cup hot fudge sauce


1. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Don’t skip this step. This is what makes your cheesecake smooth and not lumpy.

2. Add the sugar and beat well.

3. Add the eggs one at a time; beat in between additions.

4. Add the vanilla extract and marshmallow fluff.

5. Pour half the batter over the crust.

6. Drizzle the hot fudge sauce over the batter.

7. Sprinkle the graham cracker crumbs over the hot fudge.

8. Pour the rest of the batter into the pan.

9. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.

10. Remove the foil, reduce the heat to 350 and continue to bake for 50-65 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

11. Allow to cool on the counter for one hour. Cover and store the the fridge for 4-6 hours or overnight before serving.

Spritz Cookies

This week’s helpful tip is for all you moms and dads out there trying to teach some useful cooking skills to your exuberant children. (That’s the joyously unrestrained and enthusiastic kind of child. Like the ones I have.) 


Here it is:

Let Go of Perfection


I see adults struggle with this all the time when they try to teach kids to make cookies of equal size, or put the perfect number of sprinkles on brownies, or even squeeze cookie dough out of an impromptu cookie press.



(She points her finger at the photo below.)




Pressed cookies have always amazed me. They come out the same every time and never bake into each other. I even tend to enjoy eating a good Spritz every now and again. (They don’t have chocolate and therefore aren’t for regular consumption.)


The kids wondered why they were so crispy. I generally tend to make my cookies on the moist side of cookie-dom. To me, a hard cookie means it’s an old cookie. Not so with these little beauties. With a Spritz, crunchy is acceptable.



I had visions of perfectly shaped, little Spritz Cookies that tasted as good as they looked. Yeah, that didn’t happen.


 If I’d had a proper cookie press (hint hint) I would have let them keep trying with that. But alas, I am press-less. Therefore my Spritz will never be perfect. (I watch my dreams float away like purple balloons against the winter sky.)


Moving on!


When all else fails, improvise, right? In the case of the cookies above the kids couldn’t get the dough out in a pretty shape. The dough was too thick and they have small hands. So I let them destroy the look of the dough to get it out of the bag and then they pressed shapes into the tops of the blobs.


So while they didn’t turn out as uniform and beautiful as I had envisioned, we did have a really good time together in the kitchen. 


Through this experiment, I’m hoping my kids picked up on the idea of persistence, thinking outside the box (or cookie press,) and enjoying the benefits of seeing a project through to the end. I was reminded that it is more important to enjoy our time together and the creative process than it is to bake the perfect treat. If nothing else came of the night, least we got to eat cookies.  


Click here to print this recipe.




Spritz Cookies

makes 24 cookies 



2/3 cup sugar

1 cup butter at room temperature

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon almond flavoring

2 1/4 cups flour

Sprinkles (optional)



1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, mix the sugar, butter, egg, salt, vanilla, and almond flavoring together until it is light and fluffy. 

3. Add the flour. Mix until well incorporated. 

4. Use a cookie press to form your cookies. Or, roll them into balls, flatten them with the bottom of a cup and stamp with a pattern. 

5. Bake for 7-9 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned.

6. If you wish to add sprinkles, put them on right after you pull the cookies out of the oven.

Ice Cream in a Bag

Our TV died in a power surge a couple of months ago and since then we’ve looked for alternative evening activities to keep the kids from getting bored and bugging each other. Not that we were huge TV watchers before, it’s just always seemed to come on around the time of the evening news and then it was a battle to get it off again. 

Confession: I haven’t missed it once!

So last night was a low-key night. Kids did chores and homework, we ate dinner, and then there was a pause. It was almost like we’d come to a fork in the road and had to figure out which path to choose. I nearly panicked trying to come up with something that would take up the short amount of time between dinner and bed and then it came to me – ice cream!


I pulled out a couple industrial-strength zip-top bags and we got to work. The kids were intensely interested. Except for the kinder gardener who had done this about a month ago. He assumed a managerial roll and was in charge of telling us when the ice cream was ready to eat. 



To print this recipe click here.

Ice Cream in a Bag Recipe


1 1/5 cup 2% milk

1/2 cup evaporated milk

3 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Ice to fill a large zip-top bag half way.

2 tablespoons table salt.


1. Put the milk, evaporated milk, sugar and vanilla in a quart-sized zip top bag. Press the air out of the bag and zip closed and make sure it is sealed tight. You don’t want the salt/water to mix with the ice cream.

2. Put the ice and salt in a gallon-sized zip-top bag.

3. Place the milk bag inside the ice bag. Close the top of the gallon bag making sure you get most of the air out of the bag.

4. Agitate the bags. You can’t throw them around, zip-top bags aren’t that sturdy. We settled on a spin motion. We’d pick up the bottom corner of the bag and pull it to the top. This seemed to work well. Do this for about 10 minutes or until the ice cream becomes firm.


PB&B Sandwiches

Oh the weather outside is frightfully cold! I’m not kidding. The other night when I went for groceries after dark, the car thermometer read -11 degrees. (That’s a big ol’ negative 11 – wow!)

When it gets cold like this, my whole family longs for warm meals. One of the challenges for me is to come up with a warm lunch. Soup is always a good option but there are very few canned soups my kids will actually eat and not just load up with crackers to try and cover the taste and textures of canned veggies and small chunks of meat. 

Because of the picky eaters around here, we’ve turned into sandwich lovers. Grilled cheese is always a favorite. As is a grilled tuna. That one’s fantastic. I’ll have to post it here one time because it is unreal how good a grilled tuna can actually be. Anywho, this grilled sandwich is a classic. 


Grilled PB&B 

(peanut butter and banana) 



What? You’ve never had a PB&B? Mock horror is written all over my face. Actually, when I was a kid, we would eat cold PB&B sandwiches. Though delicious, I always thought the PB was a little goopy and tended to stick to the top of my mouth. However, once I decided to heat it up, the PB melted and was delightfully drippy instead of sticky.


Teaching your kids to make a grilled PB&B couldn’t be easier. If you aren’t ready for them to tackle the stove top on their own, then have them sit down with some peanut butter and a knife and practice spreading the peanut butter across the bread slices. For some reason, being able to spread evenly is a hard skill for kids to grasp so the more practice the better. 


To print this recipe click here.


Grilled PB&B

Serves 2




4 slices of bread

1 banana

4 tablespoons peanut butter

2 teaspoons of butter




1. Set your sandwich pan or skillet on the stove and set the heat to med-low.

2. Spread 1/2 teaspoon of butter on one side of each piece of bread.

3. Spread one tablespoon of peanut butter on the other side of each piece of bread.

4. Once the pan is warm, set all four slices of bread into the skillet -butter side down.

5. Cut the banana in half, then cut each section in half lengthwise.

6. Set two banana pieces on one slice of bread and two on another slice. (The remaining pieces of bread will be the tops for your sandwiches.)

7.Cook for 5-8 minutes, or until the bottoms of the bread are nicely browned and the peanut butter has melted.

8. Using a spatula, pick up the sandwich tops and place them on the bottoms with the butter side up.

9. Transfer the sandwiches to a plate and eat!



P.S. I want to throw out a big thanks to my dad for help with my photography. I love the way these photos turned out and it’s all thanks to his camera knowledge. Thanks Dad!

15 ways to say I Love You

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner our thoughts naturally turn to those we love and how we can express it. Here are 15 ways you can let your kids know you love them.



  1. Say, “I Love You.” There are no substitutes for hearing those three magic words. They can instill confidence, calm a troubled mind, and lift a sad heart.
  2. Read with them. Time spent together is always good but quality time is better. Entering a new world through stories can create a bond between you. It increases yourunderstanding of one another and gives you more topics of conversation. It also allows you to gage your child’s reaction to different situations as well as explore multiple outcomes in the safety net of imagination.
  3. Ask them how school went and listen totheir answers. You may have to prod a bit to get past the cursory, “fine” that they throw at you but asking follow-up questions (like –How’d your math test go?) can provide them with the opening they need to discuss concerns or celebrate accomplishments. As you listen and respond, they will know you care about what is going on when they aren’t with you.
  4. Watch a movie that they pick. It could be pure torture but letting them choose the movie – even one with talking animals or moving Legos – allows them to feel comfortable being themselves around you.   
  5. Eat lunch with them at school. (If allowed.) Thankfully our school does allow parents to check in through the office and spend lunch with their child. I’ve gone in on birthdays and some holidays just to surprise my kids. They love having mom over for lunch.
  6. Check them out of school for lunch. Sometimes it’s just nice to have something special and a lunch date can be just that. If your child is struggling in school or just feeling down about things then taking them out for lunch is a good way to break up the day and let them know you understand.
  7. Try something new together. It doesn’t have to be rock climbing but it certainly could be. The important thing is to try something both of you haven’t done before. I took my first ski lesson on the same day as my kids. They progressed much faster than I did. I’ve had to work harder at displacing my fear and increasing my speed on the runs but it’s been worth the effort. Now we all look forward to family ski days. I could have taken lessons on my own but then we would have missed out on all the times we fell down and laughed at ourselves. Learning together has created an environment where we encourage effort.
  8. Buy their favorite flavor of ice cream. It’s not so much the ice cream that’s important but the factthat you know their favorite flavor. Taking time to notice the little things about a person lets them feel as though they are important to you.
  9. Do a service project. It could be as simple as making cookies to take to the neighbors or as involved as collecting coats for the local homeless shelter. Accomplishing good things together can create a positive bond between the two of you. When you’re in the planning stages, listen to their ideas and incorporate as many as you can. This will show them that you value their opinion and you believe they can make a difference in the world.
  10. Forgive them when they do something wrong. This is huge. Of course they should have consequences for their actions and many times you will be the one to set those up. This can make you look like the bad guy when in reality you’re teaching them one of life’s biggest lessons before they have to learn it the hard way. However, constantly holding their failures over their head doesn’t give them any room to view themselves in better light. Showing them how to forgive will not only let them know you love them unconditionally, it will set an example they can follow in their own families. 
  11. Tell them about God and that He loves them. The world is going to beat your kids down. It will tell them they aren’t good enough, that they’ll never be good enough and that they should just stop trying. Knowing that there is a God in heaven, that He loves them, and that He hears their prayers can bring great comfort to your child throughout their whole life. One of the best gifts you could ever give your son or daughter is a knowledge of their divine potential.
  12. Hug them every time they come home. It doesn’t matter if they are 4 or 40, welcoming a child with open arms will provide a level of confidence and security they can draw on when out in the world.
  13. Kiss them goodbye every time they leave the house. A simple little kiss can mean the world to a kid. It doesn’t take long and it takes nothing away from you so pucker up and share the love.
  14. Make them follow through with their homework, chores, or on their sports team. As much as it stinks to be the heavy, holding a child accountable for their commitments, grades and work assignments tells them you see them as a person whose word means something and that you see their contribution to the group/team as important.
  15. Play! As often as you take on the parent roll remember to shrug it off and just have fun once in a while. I’ll never forget my son’s face when the coach was late for basketball practice and I organized a game of Lightning. Not only did I teach the kids how to play, I took my own turn shooting. The boys and I were soon laughing as they tried to knock me out of the rotation by sinking a shot faster than me. Play releases the tension that can build between an authority figure and a child and allows the two of you to have fun. So often parents have to say no to a child that they forget to find reasons to say yes.