The Ninjas’ Last (Not-So-Much) Challenge

The Ninjas’ Last (Not-So-Much) Challenge

We’ve reached the end of our summer adventure! School is back in session, and the pace of life has started to pick up again. When I look back on my list of cooking challenge ideas for the Ninjas, I giggle a little: Croque En Bouche, Sea Scallops, Souffle…. I had high aspirations. Reality doesn’t always meet our aspirations, does it, now? But overall, I’m pleased with our results, and I learned some things along the way, as I’ll share with you after recounting our final adventure.

First of all, let me tell you that I wanted to do something fresh for our last challenge, a salad perhaps, but as our Ninjas only enjoy their leafy greens blended up in a smoothie, I figured it wouldn’t go over so well. About the time that we were planning our final mission, Sammi over at Grounded and Surrounded posted the prettiest little fruit salad you ever did see. You need to check it out to fully appreciate the rest of our story. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Did you see? Did you see the perfect little watermelon stars and the melon flowers? Couldn’t you just taste the plump juicy blueberries? I figured that this would be a big hit in our family, since we all adore fresh fruit.

That’s when the dreams began…. no joke, I actually dreamt about this fruit salad. Happy dreams? Unfortunately, no. In the dream I was using my tiny cookie cutters (yes, I really have them) and trying to cut these beautiful shapes except they were all coming out wonky. The star only had four points, the flowers were crooked, etc. Did I heed this warning from beyond? No, I did not. I dismissed it as start-of-a-new-school-year anxiety and proceeded with the plan.

Confession time… I never buy watermelon. I hate the mess it makes when you cut it, I never know how to pick a good one, and where in the world do you store it?! My poor children are terribly deprived and really only get watermelon at picnics and church potlucks. (Or Grandma’s… always at Grandma’s.) But I was bound and determined for us to make this beautiful salad, so I stepped out of my comfort zone and brought home a watermelon. Upon cutting a nice, even slice to create a perfect canvas for my beautiful little star cutters, the entire middle of the watermelon flopped out on the counter. It was so gooey and mushy on the inside it was inedible. This, folks, is why I don’t buy watermelon. I will head right back into that comfort zone, thank you.

So now what? We needed something fresh to go with our Thai Chicken Satay dinner. We also needed a task for the Ninjas to tackle. Friends, I, frankly, am done. We are onto new things this fall, and I wasn’t about to go searching for a new recipe, so I decided to raise that white flag then and there. We would make that fruit salad with whatever we had on hand.

Mark used his “up and over, soldier” knife skills to cut all the grapes in half.

IMG_4646

Then, into a big bowl went: a jar of pineapple, all the grapes, a carton of raspberries, and a carton of blueberries. Done, y’all, done.

IMG_4647

Now I will share with you the wisdom I gleaned from this summer’s adventure: cooking with kids can be great, but you need to let it come naturally. If you’re forcing them to sit down and cook with you, it will be more of a punishment than a lesson. Let them want to help! If you make it fun, they’ll think it is fun, too. Also, when they ask to help, let them! And don’t worry about things not being as perfect as you would do them. Mark is a legitimate help to me now in the kitchen – I can say, “Mark, can you peel and chop these potatoes while mom pounds out the chicken?” And he will do a fantastic job. Chase is still learning, but I can see his skills improving all the time.

And as for my adventure in blogging? It was fun, but more work than I had anticipated! I like writing, but I don’t like HAVING to write. I will leave blogging in the capable hands of others for now.

Thank you SO much for joining us on this adventure. It was such an encouragement to us to get your likes and comments. Chase even said, “Mom, we’re famous now, right?” 

Much love to you and yours as you head into the fall. May your lives be filled with peace, grace, and lots of pumpkin-flavored desserts.

-The Ninjas and their Mom

It’s my party, and I’ll bake if I want to

It’s my party, and I’ll bake if I want to

Baking my kids’ birthday cakes from scratch is something I’ve done since the time my eldest had his first birthday. I’ve often regretted setting that bar when birthdays fall in the  middle of stressful weeks, but when the candles are blown out, I’m grateful I went to the extra effort. That being said, I am NOT a cake decorator by any means. I do the very best I can to create the cake they have requested, and I don’t stress about the fact that every one comes pretty close to a #nailedit on a #pinterestfail Facebook article.

I usually grant their cake wishes, no matter how strange… but this year I had to alter it a bit. When Ninja Chase asked for an American Ninja Warrior cake, I was originally inspired by thoughts of slicing into a giant warped wall. After doing some research and looking at a lot of other people’s attempts, I decided this one was just too much for me. The construction was a bit more than my culinary giftedness would allow. I asked him if he could settle for a Ninja Turtle cake, which he was just as excited about. #momsavestheday.

Usually, I try to keep the kids’ cakes a surprise until they’re all done, but they wanted to help me with this one, so I tried to throw in a couple new skills to make it a Ninja challenge.

The recipe I found ended up being just ok, so I won’t link to it. It was quite a lot of work for a relatively mediocre result. Chase had requested vanilla cake with chocolate frosting, so here’s what we did:

First, we prepared the pans for baking, and the boys learned about parchment paper, greasing and flouring.

IMG_4558

Then, we got out the sifter, which proved to be very tedious for the Ninjas. They kept having to switch as their hands got tired. (If you have ever sifted three cups of flour, you can relate. When they weren’t looking, I dumped the last cup of flour in un-sifted. Please don’t tell Ina Garten.)

IMG_4562

The next step is where we strayed from the recipe a bit to learn about a new ingredient and a new skill. I have had half a vanilla bean in my spice drawer for several years now, just waiting for the perfect recipe. I figured this was the day for it to fulfill its vanilla bean destiny.

IMG_4561

In addition to the vanilla extract, we cut open the vanilla bean and scraped all the seeds into the batter. That smell is amazing. We put the leftover bean into our sugar bowl to make vanilla sugar. Yum.

IMG_4563

A ridiculous amount of butter was placed into the batter… 1/2 Tablespoon at a time, every ten seconds.

The batter for this cake was just gorgeous. So light and fluffy – like angel food cake batter!

IMG_4564

After the cakes baked, I was really impressed with the loveliness of them… so high and golden.

Now comes the fun part… the decorating!! As I’ve mentioned in the past, there are some ingredients we really try to stay away from. One of them is artificial food coloring. For me, it triggers migraines, and studies have shown that it really affects behavior of kids. Usually we find it pretty easy to stay away from food coloring at home, but birthday cakes are challenging. I want my kiddos to have a fun cake that dazzles them…without it making them (and their mom) sick. The solution we’ve found to this is to use candies to decorate the cake instead of frosting, or in this case, just to cover the top with toys! It’s like a bonus birthday gift!

I used a couple ingredients on this cake to make it fun that were easily removable. “Fruit” strips for the ninja turtles roads and a small stripe of green frosting around the outside. Here’s the finished product!

IMG_4579

Like I said, the flavor of the cake was good, but not really worth all the extra effort of scraping vanilla beans, timing out individual pats of butter, and whipping egg whites. But I don’t think it made his birthday any less special.

IMG_4581
He likes sweatbands. Can you tell?

I’m so proud of this little Ninja. 

Next week the Ninjas get a break because we’ll be out of town. But the following week we’ll be back with something a little more healthy than chocolate chip cookies and birthday cake! 😉