Wednesday, December 17, 2008

New Challenge is Coming!


The new Household Challenge is coming. This one is a total non-kitchen/non-cooking one. We'll be announcing it on Monday, the 22nd, so be sure to check back!

In the meantime, we are looking for blogs to host the Household Challenge in 2009. If you are interested, please drop us an email at lotsofkids123[at]aol.com.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Cake in a Cup

     

If you are looking for good and inexpensive gift for teachers, the mailman, beauticians, or the other people on your list, a Cake in the Cup may be your answer. You can use dollar store mugs, a few inexpensive ingredients from the store, and with a little time and effort, put together some really nice gifts. Best of all, the recipe makes a truly delicious and decadent treat.

First of all, I want to warn, this is NOT the standard recipe that is widely circulated on the internet. If you are unsure, here is the one I am talking about. I started with that recipe and, after extensive testing, have come up with a modified version. I have made a couple of small but significant changes. I don't want to bog down the post for people just coming in for the recipe, but if you want to see my reasoning for the changes, they are at the end of this entry.

I have 2 versions of the recipe. One is the traditional version which requires the gift-recipient to add their own egg. The other only requires the recipient to add oil and/or water. You can get powdered egg in your grocer's baking section; you can use powdered egg whites if they don't carry powdered whole egg. Note, powdered egg is a bit expensive, so that may determine whether you use it or not. However, while a can is pricey, it usually contains a lot of eggs, so it can be used for a while.

Cake Dessert in a Cup -- Basic Recipe

1 cake mix any flavor
1 (4 serving size) instant pudding mix (not sugar free), any flavor

Place dry cake mix and dry pudding mix into a large bowl and blend well with a whisk. This will be about 4 – 4 ½ cups dry mix and will make 8-9 coffee cup cake mixes. Place ½ cup dry mix into a sandwich bag. Place mix into a corner of the bag and tie it there with a twist tie. Continue making packets until all your dry mix is used.

Cake Dessert in a Cup -- Powdered Egg Recipe

1 cake mix any flavor
1 (4 serving size) instant pudding mix (not sugar free), any flavor
Powdered egg (equivalent to how much the cake mix asks for--usually 3 eggs)

Place dry cake mix, powdered egg, and dry pudding mix into a large bowl and blend well with a whisk. This will be about 4 – 4 ½ cups dry mix and will make 8-9 coffee cup cake mixes. Place ½ cup dry mix into a sandwich bag. Place mix into a corner of the bag and tie it there with a twist tie. Continue making packets until all your dry mix is used.

Glaze mix

2 heaping tbsp powdered sugar
1 tsp dry flavoring, such as powdered lemonade mix, powdered orange breakfast drink mix, cocoa powder (optional)

Place the glaze mix ingredients into a sandwich bag and tie into corner of bag. Label this bag “glaze mix” and attach it to the other bag with a twist tie (snack-size bags work well for this too).

Cake Flavor Combinations

I found that a yellow or white cake with pretty much any complimenting flavor works well. But here are some combinations to consider:

• Lemon cake mix-lemon pudding
• Yellow cake mix-chocolate pudding
• Devils food cake mix-chocolate pudding
• Pineapple cake mix-coconut pudding
• Butterscotch cake mix-butterscotch pudding
• Yellow cake mix-butterscotch pudding
• Orange Supreme cake mix -vanilla pudding
• Strawberry cake mix-vanilla pudding
• Yellow cake mix-pistachio pudding
• Chocolate cake mix-pistachio pudding
• German Chocolate cake mix chocolate pudding*, use shredded coconut in glaze
• Chocolate cake mix-banana pudding




Putting together the Cups
Select a large coffee cup. It should hold at least 1 ½ cups of water. Make sure it doesn't have any metallic paint on it as it will be used in the microwave. Place one bag of cake mix and one bag of glaze mix in each coffee cup. Place a copy of the instruction card in the cup, then wrap in plastic and secure with a ribbon. In the photo above, I simply used clear plastic kitchen wrap. I prefer using multi-colored yarn to tie gifts instead of ribbon, since it is much easier to work with, costs much less, and is still pretty. Also, I have to admit I didn't label the bags. It might have been a nice touch, but I didn't think it was necessary, especially since the directions make it clear which bag to use for each step.

I have created instruction cards which you can print out and use for this project. There are actually 3 sets. One for the original recipe (with my modified cook time), one for the powdered egg recipe, and one for a water-only recipe (using powdered egg, and great for students and others who may not have access to oil and eggs). I created a version with a graphic for color printers, and a B&W version as well. If you want to make your own cards, the text instructions are under each version.

Traditional Version
Graphic Tag: Single Tag, Multi-Tag
Black & White Tag: Single Tag, Multi-Tag

Bake a Cake in a Cup
Generously spray inside of coffee cup with cooking spray. Empty contents of large packet into cup. Add 1 egg, 1 tbsp water, and 1 tbsp of oil to dry mix. Mix 15
seconds, carefully mixing in all the dry mix. Microwave on full power for 1-1/2 minutes (2 minutes for low wattage microwaves). While cake is cooking, place ingredients from "glaze mix" into a small container and add 1 tsp water. Mix well. When cake is done, pour glaze over cake in cup. Enjoy while warm!


Powdered Egg Version -
Graphic Tag: Single Tag, Multi-Tag
Black & White Tag: Single Tag, Multi-Tag

Bake a Cake in a Cup
Generously spray inside of coffee cup with cooking spray. Empty contents of large packet into cup. Add 2 tbsp water, and 1 tbsp of oil to dry mix. Mix 15
seconds, carefully mixing in all the dry mix. Microwave on full power for 1-1/2 minutes (2 minutes for low wattage microwaves). While cake is cooking, place ingredients from "glaze mix" into a small container and add 1 tsp water. Mix well. When cake is done, pour glaze over cake in cup. Enjoy while warm!


Powdered Egg, Water Only Version -
Graphic Tag: Single Tag, Multi-Tag
Black & White Tag: Single Tag, Multi-Tag

Bake a Cake in a Cup
Generously spray inside of coffee cup with cooking spray. Empty contents of large packet into cup. Add 3 tbsp of water to dry mix. Mix 15
seconds, carefully mixing in all the dry mix. Microwave on full power for 1-1/2 minutes (2 minutes for low wattage microwaves). While cake is cooking, place ingredients from "glaze mix" into a small container and add 1 tsp water. Mix well. When cake is done, pour glaze over cake in cup. Enjoy while warm!





Design Variation - Cake in a Bowl

This was actually inspired by my sister who is a school teacher. When I thought about giving out this gift to her, I cringed knowing she gets dozens of coffee mugs every year from her students. It then occurred to me that a small bowl would work just as well. You can usually get nice small candy dishes at the dollar store. I thought this would be perfect and would be different than ordinary mugs. There is no change to the recipe at all. Now, I'll admit, it's not a "cup", so technically the tags above don't fit, but I didn't want to make a whole new batch since the majority of the gifts I were giving *were* mugs. So, if you use this idea, you can make your own tags, or simply use the ones provided above.




Changes to Original Recipe

As I mentioned above, I tried this recipe before making it for gift. And I'm glad I did. Our testing was wide and pretty thorough. In fact, we turned it into a big science/home-ec homeshool project, so if you want the details of the scientific aspect of our testing, you can check out this post here.

The first and foremost thing I found with the recipe is that the 2 minute cooking time was WAY too long. I ended up with a badly burnt cake. I have a high powered microwave, and I tried a variety of times and 1-1/2 minutes was plenty. Mind you, I do believe the 2 minute time would be perfect for a low wattage microwave (the original recipe warns that 2 minutes might not be enough for a low wattage, and I disagree with that) I found the version with the whole egg too was just a wee bit too eggy. At the suggestion of another LOK blogger, I substituted powdered egg--the equivalent of the 3 eggs the cake mix calls for. With the powdered egg, I needed to up the water to 2 tbsp or else it was too dry and would not cook right.

As for the glaze, 1/3 cup of powdered sugar was just WAY too much. I mean, I know people like glaze, but this would make so much, the cake was swimming in it. Not to mention cost and waste. After trying a variety of measurements, I settled on 2 heaping tablespoons of powdered sugar and 1 tsp of water. I tried the powdered flavoring, but honestly it was just a bit too much. The cake was very rich, almost like a brownie, and didn't need a contrasting flavor. However, I could see where someone might want to use it, so 1 tsp worked well.

When we got the core recipe down, I will tell you the cake was fantastic. Aside from making this just for gifts, I could definitely see myself making a batch and keeping it in a container for quick snacks. I mean, how awesome is that? Cake anytime, in just a minute and a half. Awesome...and dangerous!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Learning to Love our Fake Tree

We used to have a real tree every year, we would go out to a Christmas tree farm, choose the tree and then chop it down as a family. The last time we did it, we spent $50 on the tree. That tree was beautiful for about 2 weeks, then dropped all it's needles on my carpet and cost us an additional $25 to dispose of after the holidays. That experience helped us to make the decision to switch to an artificial tree. We paid $100 for a 7 ft prelit tree. This will be our 4th yr using it & although we have to put additional strings of lights on it because some of the built in ones don't work anymore, I feel like we are getting our money's worth. Realistically, I can see us using this same tree for at least another 4 or 5 yrs, maybe longer.

I fought the idea of a fake tree for many years. Hubby's family had been using one for years, but when we got married I insisted that we absolutely must have a REAL tree. We developed a routine of waiting until the weekend before Christmas to get the best price. Those first few years we bought trees that were already cut, being sold on a lot or even outside the grocery store. We tried to never spend more than $10 on our tree and our city public works dept took the tree away for free as long as you put it out New Year's week. When our oldest 2 sons were 4 and 6 we discovered the Christmas tree farm. It was an amazing place. We got to ride on a tractor and go out into a field to pick out our very own perfect tree. When we had found the right one, we got to cut it down with a little saw and then the tractor would haul it back to a barn where there was a bonfire. We drank hot chocolate by the bonfire while a man with a chain saw measured our tree and cut the stump off straight so it would fit in our tree stand. That first year we spent $30 on the tree and another $25 on the tree stand. For the next 11 yrs we returned to the same tree farm every year and each year we paid a little more for our tree until that final year when we paid $50. Our city also cut back on services and started charging a fee for picking up the tree at some point in there.

The first year we used an artificial tree was after our big move from California to Tennessee. We moved the first week in November and wouldn't have been able to find a tree farm if we had wanted to. Hubby and I were both working full time, our kids were still adjusting to the move and time was at a premium, so to make things easier and cut down on clean up we decided to go with a prelit artificial tree from Target. At the time, I think that Hubby and I both thought it would be a one time deal. We had every intention of going back to our old routine when life was less hectic, but instead we discovered how much easier it was for us to simply take the tree out of the box every year & set it up. No pine needles on the floor, no pine sap in the carpet, no removal fee. We were instant converts. The kids complained a little, but even they were happy to not have the chore of keeping the tree watered and the needles vacuumed up. The youngest kids have never seen a real tree in someones house.

Over the years I estimate we spent about $500 or more on live trees. None of those trees were in our house for more than 3 weeks....that now seems like such a waste.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Decorating for Christmas

Decorating for Christmas is challenging in a house with small children. It is made even more challenging when you have a large family in a small space & have to figure out where you are going to put a tree. Adding to this for us this year is the fact that we will have 2 one year olds running around (and wanting to pull things off the tree). Our living room is literally wall to wall furniture. On the longest wall, we have a couch with end tables at each end. We have decided that one of those end tables will temporarily be relocated to make room for our tree. That corner is closed off by the side of a chair & the side of the couch, hopefully this will be enough to keep the babies from trying to actually climb the tree. I had considered putting the tree on top of the end table, but our artificial tree is 7 feet tall & the ceilings are only 9 ft. We won't be buying any new decorations this year & a smaller tree is definitely not in the budget. We will also be limiting the amount of time we keep the tree lit to save electricity.

We have tons of decorations, so making the house festive is something that we can do that the kids will enjoy. I find it very helpful to move all the furniture out away from the ways & vacuum all around the walls before starting the decorating process. This way I can do a mini deep clean of the living room and the kids are enthusiastic about helping because they know when it is done we will get to put up & decorate the tree. The trick is to not trash the rest of the house while getting the living room done, some years we have more success with this than others. I've adapted the basket method of cleaning to try to help with keeping things under control.

I start by locating & emptying every laundry basket we own. We currently have 8 serviceable good size baskets. Each basket is designated for a particular room in the house. One basket for each of the kids rooms, one basket for the kitchen, one for the garage, etc. As we find things in the living room that belong somewhere else, instead of our old method of sending a kid to put away that one thing, we put it into the basket for that other room & we continue working until either the living room is done or the baskets get full. When it is time to put the things in the baskets away, I've had the best success when the kids & I take one basket at a time & put everything in it away together. I don't do this with things that belong to my 18 yr old, he is the oldest at home & he usually isn't home to help much, so we just put his basket in his room & I insist he "do something" with the contents so I can have the basket back. We don't do this as often as we should, but it does work very well when we do.

I keep my Christmas decorations in 2 large Rubbermaid totes. These totes are a shade of green that is different from any of my other totes & they are stored in an under the stairs closet that only contains holiday decorations and coats. In years past I had to search for days to find the decorations, so a few yrs ago I switched to this plan & it has worked wonderfully. The tree is in the original cardboard box from when we bought it & it is always the first thing to go up. Next we open the totes & start decorating the tree. Our ornaments are a variety of styles. Each child has a few that belong to them individually and then there are some plastic ones & stuffed toy ones that are for the youngest kids to put on the lower branches of the tree. All the glass ornaments go toward the top out of reach of little fingers. My porcelain angel goes on the top as the last decoration & then we light the tree. The kids only really care about the tree. I usually wait a few days after the tree is up & then put the stockings & other decorations out while the babies are napping and the older kids are at school. I keep the decorations the kids make at school every year & try to use as many of them as possible as well.

I put lights up in the windows that face the street. I find this easier than putting lights up on the roof line, the kids like it and we only keep them lit from after dinner until bedtime. Having them inside also means we can use less expensive light strings. We do have a few strings of outdoor lights and we may put them in our bushes the weekend before Christmas. Spreading out the decorating saves on electricity and also seems to keep my kids enjoying the progression up to the holiday itself.

This year we will be emphasizing enjoying our family time and helping others in need. I'm hopeful this focus will compensate for the fewer gifts under the tree and the elimination of some traditional activities that are just too expensive for our budget this year.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Hands full & Loving It (Mostly)

Hi! I'm new here. Don't I look cute in the avatar to the left? It's fun to have an avatar because if I had to use a picture, I'd have to track down one of my children, get them to take a picture of me that's not too fuzzy, then photoshop out the messy house in the background and the spit up on my shirt to get such a good likeness of myself.

But seriously, I'm cute in real life, too. My name is Christina, and I'm a busy mom (like you!) with a house full of fun and quirky kids that keep me on my toes. I've been blogging at my own site, Hands Full & Loving It (Mostly), for several years and thought it would be fun to be here as well. My life revolves around the chaos and joy of seven little ones, ages 9, 8, 6, 4, 4, 2, and 3 months. I have 5 girls, 2 boys and one set of identical twin girls. People comment often about my family's size, question my sanity (I'm not crazy. Really. I'm totally normal), and tell me I have my hands full. They are pretty full, but I'm loving it. We plan on more children, but we don't know how many yet.

I'm pretty laid back (aren't we all after a certain number of kids?), and I look forward to getting to know you better. I like to be organized, but I don't obsess about it. I like routines and order, but I also know there's times when plans have to change and routines don't work. I don't take myself too seriously and neither should you.

When I'm not strategizing some new way to keep chaos from reigning supreme at our house, I enjoy reading, blogging, and digital scrapbooking.