October 8, 2018

Autumn In a Sheet Pan Caramel-Apple Cake


I've confessed here before that Pinterest intimidates me, because it makes me feel like an underachiever. 

"How is it possible you've never done a pallet project?" or, "What do you mean you store your desk supplies in a plastic caddy you bought at the office supply place instead of in a repurposed tissue box you decoupaged with pictures of your children? What's wrong with you?"

Happily, Pinterest inspires my daughters, and they often send me links to things they've found there that they think we should make together. Even more happily, these things are usually baked goods...which is a language I speak.

The other day, in fact, my high schooler sent me a link to a caramel apple cake and asked if we could bake it together. I thought about it for possibly 1.1 seconds, because when your teenager wants to do pretty much ANYTHING with you, you jump on it. Also, I love caramel and apples. (And also, I love my teenager.)

I was completely on-board with the idea behind the recipe she sent me but not with the four sticks of butter it called for, so I set about coming up with my own version. My daughter and I baked it up the other day, and as soon as we tried a piece, we were very inspired—to eat more. So, Pinterest, I believe I owe you an apology...and a thank-you.

Autumn In a Sheet Pan Caramel-Apple Cake {print}

Cake:
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), cut into pieces
1/2 cup water
2 cups all-purpose flour 
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream (NOT fat-free)
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
2 medium apples, peeled and grated

Icing:
1 cup brown sugar, light or dark or a combination
2 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) milk or half-and-half, plus additional as needed
2 cups confectioner's (powdered) sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 

What to Do:
1. Round up a sheet pan approximately 9" by 13" in size. You can fudge a little on these measurements...7x11 or 10x15, for example. But don't try to cram this quantity of batter into a 9-inch square or stretch it across a half-sheet pan. Butter the pan or spray it with nonstick cooking spay.

2. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees (yes) and make sure your rack is in the middle position.

3. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg with a fork or whisk. Set aside.

4. In a large saucepan, bring the 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter and the water just to a full boil, stirring once or twice while waiting for this to happen.

5. As soon as the butter/water mixture boils, pull the pan off the heat. Dump the flour mixture into the pan, followed by all the remaining cake ingredients in the order listed. Stir everything together with a wooden spoon, scraping the sides a few times, just until everyone is in the party and you don't see any rebellious pockets of dry flour mixture.

6. Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and bake for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake emerges with moist crumbs clinging to it. Be careful not to overbake this cake. You want the aforementioned moist crumbs—not wet batter, but not a totally clean pick, either. A minute can make a difference here, so start checking early and keep checking often. As my mom always says, you can add cooking time, but you can't take it away. Remove pan from oven and set on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes.

7. When your cake has cooled for 10 minutes, make your icing by melting the 1 cup brown sugar, the 2 tablespoons of butter, and the milk or half-and-half in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook (keep stirring!) until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool for 3 minutes, then add the confectioner's sugar and the vanilla extract and beat with a wooden spoon until smooth and/or you have worked out all your frustrations, whichever comes first. If the icing looks too thick to pour easily (it will set up quickly once you pour it on the cake, so you don't want it too thick at this stage), add a little more milk or (even better) half-and-half, a few drops at a time, until you have a pourable but not runny consistency.

8. Immediately pour the warm icing over your warm cake and spread it evenly and without delay from edge to edge. (This will be much easier if you don't pour all the icing in one spot in the middle of your cake but rather bake and forth from end to end, nearly covering the entire surface just in the pouring.)

9. Allow the icing to set up for at least 20 minutes, then enjoy your cake warm or at room temperature. If you have any to store, be sure to cover your pan tightly with plastic wrap or foil so it doesn't dry out. Eating the entire cake the day it's made also solves this problem nicely. But I will say that this cake keeps well. I'll leave it to you to work out that paradox.



**This post may have been shared at some of these blog link parties.**

September 7, 2018

Now I Can See What Really Mattered As a Mom



When my first baby was in preschool, my husband and I agonized over when to start her in kindergarten. Okay, fine: I agonized. My husband rarely agonizes over anything. He is Mr. Calm-and-Steady to my reactionary nut-job self. But the point is, there was agonizing. Our daughter’s fall birthday put her right on the line for starting before she’d even turned five or waiting until she was almost six.

We went back and forth. We weighed pros and cons. I cornered teachers who went to our church and asked for their expert opinions. I was convinced we were staring down The Right Door and The Door That Would Ruin Our Daughter’s Life. What if we picked the wrong door?

Happily, our second daughter made the decision for us before she was even born by having a due date that was pretty much the same day as her big sister could have started kindergarten as a young five. Since I couldn’t handle two epic life events in the same day and baby girl REALLY needed to be born, we waited on kindergarten. And of course quickly figured out that both doors had pros and cons behind them and that it was our job to make the best decision we could at the time, open that door, and walk through it.

My point (and I do have one) is that one of the blessings of being a mom with some mileage on her is that I can look back and see what really ended up mattering in the overall scheme of things and what I could have saved myself (and, ahem, my family) a lot of agony about.

It didn’t matter, for instance, that we default-decided when to send our first child to kindergarten. It did matter, as it turned out, that once she started school, we tried our best to support and encourage her and to do what we could to help her be a successful student all the way through.

It didn't matter that I never got around to sending my kids to summer camp. It did matter that we filled their summers with other moments they cherish to this day: camping with grandparents and trips to a family cottage on a lake and time spent building lasting relationships with cousins from out-of-state.

It didn't matter that the hula girl cake for my oldest daughter's eighth birthday party looked like part sumo wrestler and part alien but almost no hula girl. It did matter that we tried to make the birthday person in our house feel cherished and celebrated on their big day, even if “all” we did was spend the day together.

It didn't matter that my house was never particularly clean. It did matter that it was home.

It didn't matter that Sunday mornings almost always felt like a war zone and that it seemed we never liked each other less as a family than at that time of the week. It did matter that we got our girls and ourselves to church almost every Sunday—not so we could force-feed them our faith but so that they could find their own faith.

It didn't matter that we never took elaborate vacations or had lavish Christmases. It did matter that we spent time together as a family, doing simple things that turned into sweet memories.

It didn't matter that I often didn’t know how or what to pray for my children. It did matter that I did pray for them, even if it was just, “PLEASE, God!!” (Which it often was. I'm banking on the truth of this quote from Max Lucado: "Since the power of prayer is in the One who hears it and not in the one who says it, our prayers do make a difference."

And it didn’t matter (thank goodness) that I am a wildly imperfect mom. What mattered—and what matters still—is that my children know I love them wildly (if imperfectly) and that they know they matter to me, always and forever.


Okay, mama…now it’s your turn! What matters to you and your sweet ones? 
And for that matter, what doesn’t?
I'd love to have you share about it in a comment or over on my Facebook page.
Thank you so much for being here!




**This post may have been shared at some of these link parties.**


September 3, 2018

Note to Self: Stop Saying You Are "Just" a Wife, Mom, and Homemaker

My 30th high school class reunion came and went recently. I didn't go for lots reasons I won't bore you with here (chief among them: that whole "leave the house and talk to people" thing), but if I had gone, I know I would have needed to have been ready to answer The Question. 

"So, what do you do?"

The Question is tricky, because into it I read a deeper one: "who are you?"

Who I am, in large part, is a wife, mom, and homemaker. I am other things, too—school volunteer, Bible study facilitator, church worship team member—but these are the big three.

What I do, in large part, is take care of my husband, our children, and our home. I do other things, too, but again, these are the big three.

I don't have another answer to The Question. I can't say that I'm a teacher or engineer or nurse or administrative assistant or electrician (though I wish I could on that last one, because this old farmhouse sure could use some new wiring).

Not having an answer other than "I'm a wife, mom, and homemaker" doesn't bother me. What bothers me is that I feel like I need one...

  
I'm so honored to be over on Ruthie Gray.Mom with the rest of this post. I'd love to have you make the trip over there and check it out.❤


                  

Mentoring Moms; Capturing Joy