Shortly before we moved, we had my 20 week ultrasound, known to many of you parents and parents-to-be as the anatomy scan. This is the BIG ultrasound. The one where the tech or doctor will ask, “Would you like to know the gender or your baby?” I had been very undecided about finding out – leaning towards not, but Kyle knew he wanted to know. Combined with two votes from the girls, his vote won out and we answered, “Yes.” Within moments the doctor asked, “Do you have a name picked out for him?” HIM! A BOY! To be completely honest, I’m still trying to wrap my head around it, and that was a full month ago! It’s not that I thought it would be a girl, it’s just that having a boy feels very… unreal. For a while there I was coasting along on other people’s excitement, but now I’m getting genuinely excited about having a son!
Kyle and I had attended the appointment without Gigi and Lulu because, as exciting as finding out the gender can be, the rest of the anatomy scan is rather boring in relation… especially if you’re not the parent of the baby. Seeing the spine, heart, fingers, kidneys, and toes can be intriguing and wonderful when it’s your baby, but this somehow doesn’t translate with it’s your sibling.
We’d decided that having some surprise for our family would be fun, so I set out to make a gender reveal cake to share the exciting news with the girls. I’d bought both pink and blue food coloring, and had all of the ingredients lined up and ready to be whipped into a “surprise, you’re going to have a brother/sister!” cake. After we came home from our appointment, Kyle took the girls off to play at the park so that I had plenty of time to cook, cool, and frost a bright blue cake… or, to be more accurate, a four layer blue ombré buttermilk and champagne cake frosted with crème fraîche frosting flecked with pink and blue chips. I got the idea of the chips from my friend Ashley, who has a brilliant version of a rainbow chip cake in her cookbook and on her blog.
Gigi had been “wishing for a brother”, while Lulu would empathically declare that it was “a girl who’s name was going to be Pippi Longstocking/Cinderella”. When Kyle and the girls returned home from the park we got right to the point, enjoying a slice of the cake for snack. Before we cut into the cake I explained, for Lulu’s sake, that the cake was either going to be PINK! or it was going to be BLUE! and what each of those colors would mean. Lulu said, “Actually, it’s going to be pink or pink.” Luckily, at the last moment, as Kyle had the knife poised to slice through the creamy frosting, into the delicate, blue layers, Lulu changed her allegiance and decided she’d like to a have a brother, too.
The kids were ecstatic, although Lulu informed us that she was more excited about the cake than the baby (fair enough), that this baby is a boy. While there’s still a part of me that wishes I could have been surprised too, it’s been so much fun knowing that we’ll be welcoming a little boy into our family. With all the major changes going on in the months since learning I was pregnant, and that will be continuing up until he’s born, it’s actually been really nice to know the gender. Getting to surprise the girls was a wonderful way to celebrate, and I’ll take any excuse to bake a cake.
This particular cake has four layers each increasing slightly in color, so the bottom layer is pale blue, and the top is a dark, bright blue, and the layers are flecked with blue white chocolate chips. The cake batter is made with buttermilk, and spiked with champagne to make it really celebratory, as well as making the cake itself light and delicate. The alcohol from the champagne is cooked out, leaving behind a wonderful wine-y flavor that is perfect for an expecting mom to enjoy.
The cakes are frosted with a sweet, tart, creamy frosting that borders on rich buttercream, but is slightly lightened by the addition of crème fraîche. The frosting is also studded with colored chips. You could substitute the crème fraîche for room temperature cream cheese (8oz. should do it) if you don’t feel like making crème fraîche, can’t find it, or would simply prefer a slightly more traditional frosting. The frosting with it’s bright chips and playfulness, is the perfect compliment to a rather sophisticated cake. It’s enough to feed several friends and family members, so if you’re planning any sort of gender reveal celebration, it would be plenty of cake to share with a room full of people squealing, “IT’S A _____!!!!!”.
A quick note on the food coloring. The amount of coloring that you use will depend on a number of factors: the brand, the type (liquid vs. gel), and the depth of color you’d like. Gel coloring goes a long way and is much richer, but requires some forethought to get a hold of. I used Wilton brand blue and magenta gel coloring for this cake – which I found at Safeway, but there are loads of different brands, higher quality kinds, and hundreds of great colors available online.
OMBRE GENDER REVEAL CAKE
pink (or magenta) food coloring or coloring gel OR blue food coloring or coloring gel
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature (plus more for greasing the cake pans)
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups cake flour
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup Champagne or sparkling wine
1 cup buttermilk
4 oz pink OR blue chips
canola or vegetable oil spray
1 cup crème fraîche (or you could substitute with 8oz of room temperature cream cheese), at room temperature
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
7 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 oz pink chips
4 oz blue chips
Pink and Blue Chips Ingredients.
12 oz white chocolate chips
pink (or magenta) food coloring or coloring gel
blue food coloring or coloring gel
Pink and Blue Chip Directions.
Lay out a large sheet of parchment paper.
Split the white chocolate chips into two glass microwave safe bowls. One bowl will have 8 oz of chips, the other will have 4 oz. You’ll color the 8 oz pink if you’re having a girl, blue if it’s a boy – and the 4 oz will be colored for the gender you’re NOT having. You’ll need to work quickly once the chocolate is melted because it will start to set right away.
Start with the bowl filled with the 8 oz of white chocolate chips. Microwave in 5-10 second spurts, stirring the chocolate after each spurt in the microwave until it’s just melted – being careful not to overheat it. Quickly stir in the desired amount of food coloring (matching the gender of your baby) until thoroughly combined, and spread out the melted, colored chocolate into a thin layer on the parchment paper and allow it to cool.
Next melt the 4 oz of white chocolate chips following the same method, but this batch will be the opposite color (the color matching the gender that you’re NOT having). Spread out the melted, colored chocolate into a thin layer on the parchment paper and allow it to cool.
Once the chocolate has cooled and set, chop it up into small chip-size pieces, keeping the colors separated. Set aside 4 oz from the 8 oz batch, these will be folded into the cake batter. Combine the remaining 4oz of pink and 4 oz of blue, tossing to mix. Set aside.
Prepare two 9” round cake pans by greasing them with butter and lining the bottoms with parchment paper. Lightly flour the sides of the pans after the parchment is pressed into place. Preheat the oven to 350oF.
Sift together the flour, cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a bowl. Set aside.
In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment cream together the sugar and the butter until the mixture is pale in color, and fluffy in texture.
With the mixer running on low, add the eggs, one a time, allowing each to fully mix in before adding the next. Scrape down the sides if needed.
Add the vanilla.
Add 1 cup of the dry ingredients, allow to combine.
Add the buttermilk, allow to combine.
Add another cup of the dry ingredients, allow to combine. Add the Champagne, allow to combine.
Finally, add the remainder of the dry ingredients, allow to combine, being careful not to over-mix.
Use a kitchen scale (or measuring cup) measure out four equal parts of the batter, dividing the batter into four bowls. Color each bowl in increasing shades of blue, starting with the palest one and working your way up in saturation.
Pour two of the batters into the two prepared cake pans. Smooth the batter evenly in the pan. Place the pans in the oven on the middle rack and bake, rotating them 180o once halfway through baking, for 20-25 minutes. They’re done when the center is set, and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean except for a couple crumbs.
Transfer the cake pans to cooling racks and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes. Line two cooling racks with parchment paper, and lightly spray the paper with canola or vegetable oil, before carefully inverting the cakes onto the cooling racks. I place the greased parchment and cooling rack on top of the cake pan before flipping the whole lot over to release the cake from the pan.
Re-grease and line the pans before filling with the remaining two batters, baking, and cooling the final cake layers as directed above.
Allow to cakes to cool completely before assembling your cake. While the cakes are cooling, prepare your frosting.
In a stand mixer combine the butter and crème fraîche, churning them together to combine as much as possible, slowly increasing the speed to avoid splattering. The nature of the crème fraîche won’t allow them to thoroughly combine, but once the powdered sugar is added it will come together. Turn the mixer off, add in all of the powdered sugar, and slowly increase the speed until the frosting is a light, pale white, and is fluffy and airy. Reduce the speed to low, add the vanilla, and the combined pink and blue chips. Mix until thoroughly combined.
Line your platter with four sections of parchment leaving a space the middle for the cake to go. Place a small dollop of frosting in the center of the platter to hold the cake in place. Place the first (lightest) layer of cake down in the center of the platter. Using an offset spatula, place about half a cup of the frosting in the center of the cake, slowly spreading outward towards the edges. Remove excess frosting, ensuring that it’s level, before adding the second (slightly darker) layer of cake.
Repeat the frosting and layering method until you get to the top (darkest) layer. Place this final layer on upside down so you have a nice, flat surface on the top of your cake. Place lots of frosting on top of the cake, spreading out with the offset spatula and over the edges, down the sides, to completely frost the cake. Take a moment to ensure that
every bit is covered so as not to spoil the surprise color inside! Carefully remove the four sections of parchment from the platter.
Enjoy the cake with loved ones!
We’ve been here in England for just over a week now, and we are slowly settling in. It feels very fall-like this morning; drizzling and chilly. Kyle headed off for his second week of work at his new job as a head brewer for a smallish brewery close by the house, and the girls and I are finding our footing in our new house, on our new street, in our new town, in this new country. We’re spending the day the way we’ve spent most of our days here so far: eagerly awaiting orders from Amazon and IKEA. We are about an hour outside of London, and where we live feels very similar to the Pacific Northwest. It’s nice and familiar-feeling: lots of trees, and green, and rain, and grey, and coffee. We don’t have a car yet, so most of what we’ve seen and explored so far has been by foot or bus. There are lots of parks and paths, and everyone we’ve interacted with has been incredibly warm and welcoming.
The story of this move is still taking it’s time to catch up to us… there was no way that if you’d asked me six months ago I could have seen this on the horizon. In the beginning of March, Kyle came home one day and declared that he needed a job change. As soon as he said it, it completely made sense. We’d been not entirely happy for a while, having a hard time in general, and when he said that it all seemed to click into place. He was just wrapping up a long stretch of school to finish his Masters’ degree, and even though his job was great and steady and wonderful, we needed a change. Fast forward through several interviews with a number of breweries in different areas of the US, and a few abroad, and we found ourselves committing to this particular brewery here in England.
We’ve always wanted to move abroad. We’ve always wanted to travel with the kids. We used to sit in our one bedroom apartment and scheme and dream about selling all of our belongings and moving to Europe. But then we got a kitty, and then we had Gigi, and then Lulu, and we bought a house, and we slowly became a part of our community, and we loved where we lived, and we made wonderful friends, and we had a garden, and furniture that we liked, and a routine, and health insurance, and family within driving distance. We had everything we wanted, but our last, challenging year, Kyle’s need for a job change, and that deep-seated longing to see more and taste more and experience more pulled us out of our life and into this one.
It has been exciting, but also incredibly hard. I underestimated the physical and emotional challenges of this kind of move – especially while pregnant! It is absolutely an adventure, but it’s not been easy. The process was slow and stressful, and Kyle spent three months without working before we got here. As I sit this morning in our new house, that doesn’t yet in any way feel like or resemble a home, waiting for our orders of things like: a mop bucket, a pair of scissors, a baking sheet, bath mats, garbage cans (or bins, as they’re called here), pots and pans, and laundry baskets, I can’t help but feel set right between feeling excited, and feeling homesick. Letting go, it turns out, is equally liberating and heartbreaking. Embracing change is equally thrilling and scary. I’m equally happy that we’re here, and wondering, “What the $!@£ have we done?”
It feels great to be wrapping up the “Moving To England” to do list that we chipped away at for the past few months, and to be settling in here even as everything feels… well, foreign. As we settle in, get utilities installed, furniture delivered, rooms deep cleaned, and laundry done, I feel like we’re slowly embracing this space as ours – maybe it won’t ever feel like “our” home, but it will certainly work as a good, cozy, home-base for the adventures and experiences we’re going to have while we’re here. This move is, at the very least, an opportunity to wake up and engage, to be open where I’ve been rigid, to be brave, and to say yes to as many new experiences as I can. That will include exciting things like trips to Paris to visit family, weekends in Sweden, and taking the kids to the zoo in Amsterdam, as well as simple day to day things like making our house feel like a home with cheap IKEA furniture and candles, and dedicating myself to being a home-educator.
I’m not sure what all of this change will mean for this little space I’ve dedicated to writing in for the past several years; there will still be plenty of recipes (once I figure out the grocery store, Celsius, grams, and those pots and pans and baking sheets arrive), but I imagine there will be more about travel and exploration. I’m looking forward to sharing about our journey here. Most of these photos are copied over from Instagram, where I’ve been sharing quite a bit.
“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
Well, it’s official! We’re moving to England… TODAY! Our visas came through just one week ago, and as you can imagine our life has been totally crazy since those stamped and sealed passports arrived at our door. We are leaving today, and arriving in England tomorrow. In some ways it feels like it’s happening really fast, in other ways it’s been such a work in progress. We’ve spend so much time working and organizing and cleaning, and now we are ready for our new adventure! x
Yesterday was a long day, and I ate garlic bread for dinner. The girls had a bath at 4pm, and oatmeal with blueberries for dinner. They’re now cuddled up on the couch watching a movie that I hope will carry us right up to the cusp of bedtime. Yesterday was challenging, today was easy… so it goes with parenting… so it seems to go with life. We are chipping away towards our new adventure. I know I’m being coy about where and when we’re moving but mostly that’s because I don’t want to say anything until it feels more real. If that makes sense. But what I can tell you is that part of our new adventure will include a new family member. We are expecting our third babe this winter and we’re so, so happy.
Menu planning has been a little interesting lately since my brain doesn’t seem to be working properly (for obvious reasons) and all my beautiful cookbooks are temporarily residing with my sister. I called my sister up for advice about planning a simple menu since I tend to make my menu based on my mood, and our current living situation doesn’t make that a very reasonable option. My sister wisely recommended that I make one menu plan for one full week, and then just repeat it for the next few weeks.
The creative cook in me cringed mildly at this idea, but my frayed nerves cheered at the opportunity to cross something significant off my daily to do list. I immediately texted a few of my closest friends to ask them, “What are your easy, go-to dinners?” I got great suggestions and pulled together a simple menu that included things like soba noodle salad with fried tofu, teriyaki chicken with jasmine rice and a side of quick pickled cucumbers, and, of course, breakfast for dinner. When I laid out my breakfast for dinner plans I didn’t exactly mean that I would be making the kids oatmeal at 4:30pm, but that was just what the day, and especially the afternoon, called for.
Keeping the menu prepped, the freezer and pantry stocked for the exact meals on that menu, has freed me up to spend my days making fun desserts which have been making me, and the kids, pretty pleased. This new baby is all about desserts, and gummy bears. I made a super simple, but pretty decadent version of bananas foster (minus the booze), and we made a delicious Blackberry and Blueberry Pie after a couple of days of berry picking with my Mom in town.
We spent about two hours picking blackberries, seeking out the ripest ones we could find and spitting out many tart ones along the way. The girls would pick their berries and plunk them into small containers to be added to my bigger one, and before long we had two full pounds of plump, warm berries. The following morning we loaded up nice and early and headed to our favorite local blueberry farm where we picked another couple pounds of blueberries. The girls had dropped theirs a fair number of times so by the time we got home their blueberries were bleeding juice through their paper bags, practically screaming to be made into pie.
I made up a basic pie crust before we’d left for the blueberry patch, so by the time we returned it had been resting for a few hours and was ready to be rolled out. I prepared the base, wrapped it tight and returned it to the fridge to chill while I prepared the berries. I used about half of the blueberries (basically all the ones the girls had pre-macerated), and all of the blackberries we’d picked. To them I added a fair amount of sugar to sweeten the still-tart berries, some bright lemon zest and juice, a bit of salt, warming nutmeg, flour and cornstarch to bind it all together, and on a whim I added a splash of fragrant almond extract. Lulu and I mixed the berries together with all the other filling ingredients roughly together in a large bowl. Once it was fully combined I let it sit for about 20 minutes so that the flavors could meld together and the berries would release a bit of their juices.
With the base ready I ladled the filling into it just shy of the brim, rolled out my top and cut it into two inch lattice strips. After a quick egg wash and dusting of sugar, the pie went into a nice hot oven. An hour later it emerged – fragrant, flaky, and perfectly summery. I ended up with a bit leftover filling that I poured into a small casserole dish and topped with an excessive amount of crumble topping. The crumble is now tucked away in the freezer for a rainy day, and the pie is long gone, have been enjoyed for a couple of desserts and a couple of breakfasts.
BLACKBERRY AND BLUEBERRY PIE
2 1/3 all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling surface
1/2 cup (1 stick) very cold unsalted butter, cut into 1” slices
1 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 cup ice water
2 lbs fresh blackberries
1 1/4 lbs fresh blueberries
zest of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon fine salt
1 cup granulated sugar (plus more to taste, and more for assembling)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 tablespoons corn starch
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 tablespoon water
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
To make the pie dough, put the flour in the food processor along with the salt. Pulse briefly to combine. Add in the chilled butter and pulse to combine, until the butter is broken up and the dough looks like sand. With the food processor running, slowly pour in the ice water just until the dough forms a ball. Transfer the dough to a floured surface and form it into a ball, being careful not to overwork it. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and chill it in the refrigerator for at least four hours, up to overnight.
While the dough chills, combine the blackberries, blueberries, lemon zest and juice, salt, sugar, nutmeg, corn starch, flour, vanilla extract, and almond extract in a large bowl. Mix roughly with a wooden spoon to combine and slightly macerate. Taste for sweetness and add sugar as desired until it’s just as sweet as you like. Set aside to settle and meld for 20-30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 425ºF.
Sprinkle about 1/2 teaspoon of sugar into the base of your pie dish – this will make it easier to maneuver you dough in the dish. Remove the dough from the fridge and cut it in half. Wrap what will be the top crust back up tightly and place it back in the fridge. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the bottom crust to 1/8th inch thick. Carefully transfer it to the pie dish. Fill it nearly to the brim with the filling, dot it with the 1/2 tablespoon of butter, and pull out the remaining pie dough to roll out. Roll the top dough to 1/8 inch thick and cut it into two inch strips for a wide lattice top, or simply roll it out for a basic pie crust.
Using a pastry brush, dampen the exposed rim of the bottom crust before adding the top crust to the pie. Crimp the edges by hand or with a fork. Trim the excess dough from the edge of the pie. Whisk together the water and 1 egg and, using a brush, lightly coat the top of the pie with the egg wash. Sprinkle the wash with a bit of sugar. If you have chosen a basic pie crust, as opposed to a lattice top, be sure to cut slits into it to allow the steam to escape.
Place the pie in the oven on the center rack, on top of a baking sheet in case it spills over a bit, and immediately turn the oven down to 350ºF. Bake the pie for 45 minutes – 1 hour, until the crust is golden and flakey, and the filling is heated through.
Allow the pie to cool completely, or at least as cool as you have the patience for, before slicing it and serving it with vanilla bean ice cream or fresh whipped cream. Keep it wrapped and stored in the fridge. It makes for a great breakfast served with a splash of heavy cream.
BLACKBERRY AND BLUEBERRY PIE
I’m sitting in our bed right now, which is just our mattress on the floor of our room, surrounded by moving boxes and clothes slopped into large plastic bins rather than dresser drawers. I can hear the girls waking up in their room which echoes the same interior design theme. We are at that odd moment in packing and moving when we’re down to lots of miscellaneous things. Our office is packed with things we’re planning to sell at a garage sale, and a relatively small portion of our belongings have been allocated to storage. My to do list is filled with things like: pick up a quart of paint, pack up pantry items for my sister, get notarized and official documents from the county office, etc. It’s all starting to feel really, really real.
In the midst of the errands, and packing, and feeling incredibly excited and overwhelmed, I have forced myself to stop and cook. There’s been moments where I’ve dreaded it, like when I’m in the middle of organizing a box or emptying a drawer and I look at the clock and it’s 4:45pm and I know there’s nothing in the fridge and we end up eating salads with lettuce from the garden and hard boiled eggs. But then there’s been moments where I crave it, where I just want to drop my paint brush and packing tape and retreat to the kitchen where things feel somewhat normal and I can carve out room for my cutting board and just focus on a meal… or more likely these days, a dessert.
My stepmom gave me a large bunch of rhubarb from her garden and, since the strawberries were popping up in ours, I decided to make a classic rhubarb and strawberry compote to which I added a Campari syrup. Campari is a bitter, herbal, sweet, unique liqueur, generally considered an apéritif that hails from Italy. Once concentrated down with quite a bit of sugar to cut the bitterness, I added it straight to my simmering fruit. The result was a slightly tart, sweet, bitter, tannic, compote that cut perfectly through the richness of a simple vanilla bean flecked panna cotta.
When I told Kyle that I was making a Vanilla Panna Cotta with a Strawberry Rhubarb Campari Compote he looked at me with his eyebrows raised and said, “Isn’t that a lot to do?” I assured him that, in spite of how lovely and fancy it sounds, it’s actually one of the simplest things I could make. I mean, sure, it’s not as simple as picking up a pint of ice cream and grabbing four spoons, but it’s really pretty simple… and sometimes you just have to ignore everything that’s going on and make something delicious and indulgent to remind yourself that stillness can exist amongst wild chaos.
VANILLA BEAN PANNA COTTA WITH STRAWBERRY RHUBARB CAMPARI COMPOTE
1/4 cup Campari
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
2 packets gelatin (.25 oz each)
1/4 cup cold water
4 cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup granulated sugar
pinch of salt
5 oz hulled strawberries, cut in half or quartered depending on size
15 oz diced rhubarb
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
zest and juice of 1 large lemon
pinch of salt
In a small saucepan, combine the Campari, sugar, and water and bring to a low boil, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Reduce to about 1/2 cup of syrup.
In a small glass dish stir together the gelatin and 1/4 cup cold water and set aside for ten minutes and allow it to bloom.
Prepare six glass dishes on large rimmed baking sheet.
Split your vanilla bean lengthwise and use a sharp paring knife to scrape out the vanilla beans. In a large, heavy bottomed sauce pan combine the heavy cream, vanilla beans, vanilla pod/shell, vanilla extract, 1 cup sugar, and salt. Bring to a low simmer, whisking constantly. Remove from heat, discard the vanilla bean, and whisk in the gelatin until completely dissolved.
Carefully pour 3/4 cup of the panna cotta mixture into each of the glass dishes. Set the baking sheet in the refrigerator to chill for two hours.
In a medium non-reactive saucepan combine the rhubarb, sugar, water, lemon juice and zest, Campari syrup, and salt and bring to a simmer. It will take somewhere between 5-7 minutes for the rhubarb to cook. You want it to have a little bite left in it, like al dente pasta. When it seems nearly done, stir in the strawberries and cook until it’s perfectly done. Carefully transfer the fruit to a glass bowl using a slotted spoon, leaving the syrup/liquid in the pan. Turn the heat up and reduce the liquid to 3/4 cup before adding it to the fruit. Stir together and let it cool to room temperature while the panna cotta sets.
To serve simply spoon the room temperature compote onto the chilled panna cotta and enjoy.
If you have leftover compote you can keep it in a sealed container in the refrigerator and serve it over yogurt or ice cream. It will keep for about a week.
VANILLA BEAN PANNA COTTA WITH STRAWBERRY RHUBARB CAMPARI COMPOTE