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Monthly Archives: August 2010

Birthday Cake Boss

That first Elmo cake laid the groundwork for two late nights and lots of profanity every year.  I’ve made all of the birthday cakes for my kids’ birthdays. Twelve in all.

Don’t get me wrong, I really like the personal touch that I can put on their birthdays.  The problem is that I’m not an accomplished decorator so making a cake is not a simple endeavor for me.  I get plenty of compliments for the cakes that I’ve made and I’ve been told that I should start a cake business.  Well, first of all, it takes me 4 hours to do a cake that is simple by comparison to a cake that you see on TV.  I couldn’t make any money at it.  Second, I’m not that good.

That’s fine.  I already have a job and eating cake all day would require me to wear stretchy pants.  I don’t like stretchy pants.  I do it for the kids and that’s good enough for me.

My youngest just had her 5th birthday, so in honor of raising Monarch butterflies this summer, we made a Monarch butterfly cake.

Butterfly Cake

For my oldest daughter’s 7th birthday, we planned a science party where we had about 20 kids with little lab coats and goggles.  The kids moved from station to station, staffed with family and friends, where we had fun little experiments set up for them to participate in.  As we had them do the experiment, we explained the science behind what just happened in a simplistic fashion.   For this party, we had small lab beakers placed with colored water around the room and would drop dry ice pellets in the water to make it look like boiling water.  Becasue I had dry ice, I decided to make an erupting volcano cake.  It wasn’t my best visual effort on the cake, but when the eruption happened, the kids didn’t care what the cake looked like.

Volcano cake dry ice eruption

I learned to use fondant a few cakes ago rather than frosting the entire cake.  It’s much easier to work and looks cleaner on the cake.  Here is a gallery of a few of the cakes that I’ve made over the years.  The gallery is not complete becasue some of the cakes were made before we owned a digital camera.  Luckily, a few of the images were taken by friends that owned digital cameras at the time.   Not sure what’s next, but I’m sure it will come with a few four letter words while I’m making it.

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Harvesting the Pesto Tree

Every year, I dedicate a giant planter on my deck to growing basil. I use basil quite a bit when I cook and even more for something as simple as lettuce replacement on a sandwich. However, the prize for growing a giant bundle of basil is making pesto twice per year with the kids.

Making pesto from fresh grown basil is a labor intensive process. This makes it the perfect project for me to utilize my in-house child labor. The kids love to water the plants outside and getting dirty with my wife while weeding. It’s a great way to keep them outside while chipping in. They see the progress of the basil growing over the summer and get to participate in making it into foodstuff.

As I said, making pesto is labor intensive. After clipping back all of the branches, the leaves have to be picked and sorted. I usually get two cuttings of a plant per summer, so I don’t cut it back too far. Picking through them to remove the really rotten leaves takes a while but the kids like the process because I give little rewards for finding bugs on the leaves. You wouldn’t taste it because it’s pulverized in a food processor, but this isn’t Man vs. Wild, so we’ll leave the bugs out of our meal.

Labor that's able and willing

These plants get huge and usually yield about 10 cups of leaves.  It’s hard to believe that the small amount of stems can produce a large amount of leaves.

Fruits of her labor

At this point, I have my oldest bow out because she has a nut allergy and the pesto contains pine nuts.  There is sketchy information on whether or not pine nuts cause allergic reactions in people with nut allergies, but why take the chance.

Once we have all of the leaves, I wash them in a salad spinner to get excess moisture off of the leaves.  At this point, it’s everyone into the pool (food processor) using this recipe:


  • ¾ cup parmesan cheese (grated)
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup pine nuts
  • 4 or 5 cloves of garlic
  • 5 cups basil leaves (washed and dried)
  • 1 dash unsalted butter

Remove basil leaves from stems and wash and dry. Place all ingredients in a food processor and mix until well combined and smooth.


With 10 cups of leaves, I get two batches using this recipe.  That’s ok, it freezes very well.  I place about three spoonsful into a baggie as a portion and freeze for later.  Just place it on the counter to thaw naturally.

I get really jazzed up when I make this.  Its fantastic tossed with pasta, used on a pizza instead of tomato sauce, or, just pull up to the bowl with a spoon and start shoveling.

Awww, yeah!

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Spider Girl

We have a place near us that has a public rock wall for climbing that’s a great place to go when the kids are climbing the walls at home.  There’s a bike path that runs from a few blocks from our house right past the back of the place with the rock wall.  Between the 6 mile round-trip bike ride and the climbing, it’s a great way to bust some excess energy.

It’s really the first time that I’ve seen my youngest tackle something like this.  The gym in the kids’ school has climbing holds on two walls that they can practice on, but it only goes about 5 feet high since they don’t belay.  However, she is the daredevil of the two kids, so I really shouldn’t be surprised that she would try.

The climbing wall is about 50-60 feet and is attached to a 75 foot observation tower.  She stepped right up to get her helmet and harness on, took some instruction, then got on the wall.  She struggled a little bit to get used to the holds, but came on strong at the end.

I really like encouraging my kids to take risk.  I think risk taking forces them to think on their feet and problem solve more than your normal childhood problem solving requires.  If they fail, there’s a lesson in that.  I understand that there’s calculated risk vs. reckless decision making.   My challenge is to teach them how to use the calculator.

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