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Rainbow Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream

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These little beauties started as a white cake box mix and some tubs of gel food coloring. It’s easy as can be:

  1. Make cake mix according to directions (it’s better if it’s white and not yellow cake).
  2. Separate about 3/4 cup batter into six bowls.
  3. Add desired amount of gel food coloring (colors will be dull with regular food coloring – gel is the way to go!)

Layer in cupcake liners and bake!SONY DSC SONY DSCSONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSCSONY DSCSONY DSCSONY DSC

Vanilla Buttercream:

  1. Soften 1 cup (1 stick) salted butter.
  2. Cream butter in a stand mixer with 2-3 cups powdered sugar (I prefer mine less sugary and more buttery).
  3. Add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and 2 tablespoons heavy cream (Sometime I up the cream to cut the sugar, too).

Layered Chocolate Cake with Funky Neon Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting

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This cake makes me think of some beautiful, undersea algae or anemone. It’s a bit garrish with the neon icing, but certain things are allowed on birthdays that might not be allowed on other days.

Better-than-Boxed Chocolate Cake (borrowed from StyleatHome.com)

  • 3 C all-purpose flour
  • 2-2/3 C granulated sugar
  • 1 C cocoa powder, plus some for dusting pans
  • 1-1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1-3/4 C warm water
  • 1 C vegetable oil
  • 4 tbsp melted butter, plus some for pans
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350. Lightly butter two or three* 9-inch round cake pans. Line bottom with parchment/baking paper. Butter the parchment. Dust the inside of both pans with cocoa powder and knock against the side of the counter to settle a thin dusting of cocoa inside the pans; discard extra cocoa.
Whisk together the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add 1 CUP of the warm water, oil and melted butter and mix on medium speed until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and make sure all the ingredients are fully incorporated. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well between additions. Add the remaining 3/4 CUP warm water and vanilla and beat until smooth and aerated, about 2 minutes. The batter will look loose and watery, about the consistency of heavy cream or hot fudge.
Divide evenly between the prepared pans and tap lightly on the counter to smooth the top. Bake about 40 minutes. Remove the cakes from the oven and let cool on a wire rack until they are just warm to the touch, about 15 minutes. Slide a knife around the edges and flip the pans to unmold the cakes onto a rack to cool completely.

*I used two nine inch pans and had to slice off a very large dome from both cakes, wasting a lot of cake. The layers will be thin (and therefore need less bake time) if you use three pans, but I think it would be more resourceful and the layers would be naturally more flat, requiring less shaving.

My key to layer cake: refrigerate overnight before slicing and icing.

Whipped Cream Cheese Icing

*I love this recipe – not too sweet, very creamy. It’s decently sturdy but needs to stay refrigerated, so you will have to pause in your icing process to put it back in the fridge. I’m still searching for a better sturdy icing recipe for form icing projects like this.

  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 1/2 C white sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 C heavy cream
  • several colors of food dye

I made a time and a half of this recipe (using 12 oz cream cheese, 3/4 C sugar, etc…) in order to do the project featured in this blog post.

Beat together everything but the cream until smooth and fluffy. Add cream in a slow drizzle on medium speed. Allow to beat for two minutes or so until the mixture holds stiff peaks.

Assembly and Icing:

Slice domes off of cakes and layer with about 1 cup white icing. Separate remaining icing into five separate bowls and dye using food coloring. I recommend investing in several star piping tips and bags if you decide to do this project – I had to wash out and reuse the same icing tip each time I changed colors and it was very laborious. Pipe random stars all over cake until covered.

Happy birthday to my dear old friend Kristina!

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Valentine Red Velvet Cupcakes

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Suddenly, I have mastered making cake from scratch.

I don’t know what happened. Maybe it’s just this awesome recipe, but these cakes were tender and moist and actually velvety.

Red Velvet Cupcakes
1-1/4 C all-purpose flour
3/4 C sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 T cocoa powder
3/4 C vegetable oil
1/2 C buttermilk
1 egg
1 T red food coloring
1/2 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp vanilla

Sift dry ingredients. Whisk wet ingredients in mixing bowl. While mixing on medium speed, slowly add dry mix to wet mix until just combined. Fill cupcake liners (if you want to make the heart window pictured above, I recommend overfilling the liner so the top is large enough for the cut-out). Bake at 350 for 25 minutes.

Marshmallow Fluff Cream Cheese Icing
4 oz cream cheese
1/2 stick butter, room temperature
1-1/2 C confectioner’s sugar (optional – gives the icing more body)
1 jar marshmallow fluff
1 tsp vanilla

Cream together cream cheese and butter. Add fluff and vanilla and (optionally) sugar. Beat until smooth.

Decorations:
I cut out a paper heart, wet it and laid it on the cupcake before dusting with powdered sugar to make the heart shadow. For the heart window, I cut off the top of the cake, cut out a heart from the top, then glued the top back on with icing.

Kindergarten Money Lesson

Objectives
Literacy Objective: Student will read and write names of coins and their worth.
Economics Objective: Student will recognize coins and their numerical value.
Mathematics Objective: Student will practice multiplicative addition skills using coins.

Materials:
Nickel, quarter, dime, penny, dollar
Euro piece and all euro cents: 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1
Money worksheet

Process
1. Present the child with the coins and ask what they know about them.
“So, these are the ones I don’t know and these are the ones I do. These are euros.”
Where have you seen these before? (Euros)
“In the game we play with money. [We had been "buying" supplies to make drawing then "selling" the drawings for a profit with her older sister.] Mom uses them to buy stuff. “
Had you seen these before you came to Spain?
“No.”
Well, euros are a special type of money you can only use in the European Union, which is a group of countries including Spain, France, Italy and lots of others. But in the US, you can’t use this money! So, what do you think these coins you don’t know might be
“American money! Oh, like this might be a quarter? (holds up dime) and I know this is a penny.”
Nice! You already know a lot. Here’s the quarter. What’s a big difference between the euro cents and the american cents?
“Well, the American money has a huge seagull on it! (Points to quarter) And the euro cents don’t have any seagulls.”
Well, this is actually an eagle, but good observing, the euros don’t have any birds on them do they?
“Well, if you add an “s” to eagle it becomes “seagle”. (I LOVE HER)
It sounds like that doesn’t it? I like the way you think about words. So, what’s another big difference between these coins? Do the American ones have numbers on them?
“No!”
It makes it harder to see what’s what, doesn’t it?
“Yeah.”
Let’s look at the words on the coins with our magnifying glass and try to read the words.
(P sounds out quarter, dime, penny… no word on the nickel)
Okay, now we know that this is American money and we’ll return to it later. Let’s start with working with our euros, because you already know so much about them. Can you draw these for me and copy the number words for each coin?”

2. Child will complete worksheet, identifying coins from the word on the worksheet, drawing the face of the coin and rewriting the number word and number. P did the multiplicative addition without a problem by drawing a picture of 5 twenties and adding them together to make 100.

Assessment: Worksheet.

Literacy & Science Lesson: “How to Make a Hovering Bee”

Learning Areas:
Literacy Objective: Child will use the reading strategy of consulting pictures to decode words. Child will demonstrate understanding of directions by adapting directions as needed. Child will identify action verbs in directions.
Science Objective: Child will learn identifying characteristics of bees and butterflies.
Life Skills: Child will practice resourcefulness by coming up with new materials for missing ones.
Math: Child will observe and understand shift from flat half circle to 3 dimensional geometric cone.

Materials:
Yellow paper (or white)
black marker or paint (or other colors)
scissors
glue (tape)
black tissue paper (paper towels)
string
directions for making a hovering bee

Process
1. Gather materials, inviting child to adapt as necessary for missing materials. “What can we use instead of a black marker? tissue paper? glue? How does this change our project?” Invite conversation about what identifies a bee and how our project can shift into a new one when we are resourceful.
2. Read and follow instructions. Discuss shift in directions and differences between butterflies and bees, including reason for changing product.
-Evidence of learning in the form of identified differences: “Butterflies have no stinger, bigger wings, more colors,” said V. When we get to instruction about painting stripes on bees, P asks, “Technically, do butterflies need stripes?” When we get to instruction about adding legs, V says, “Butterflies have the same number of legs as bees, all insects but spiders have 6 legs.”
-P reads, “white” as “wit” until consulting the picture. “Straight” as “stra-igut” until consulting picture.
3. Hang butterflies, fill in Venn Diagram.

Assessment: Venn Diagram, successful butterfly

Extension: Multiplication problems for bees/butterflies with six legs. Write your own instructions based on how we made the butterfly.

Spanish Calendar Lesson

Learning Areas:
Mathematics: Child will calculate days between two dates using counting and subtraction.
Life Skills: Child will read and understand a calendar.
Language: Child will learn and recite names of months, numbers and weekdays in Spanish. Child will understand questions about calendar in Spanish and respond in Spanish. Child will trace words to improve handwriting.

Materials:
Number cards with numerical number and blanks.
Month cards with English name of months.
Weekday cards with English word for weekday.
Scaffolding: Some cards will have Spanish word written in pencil for child to trace.
Question signs with blanks: Cuantos dias hasta la Navidad? and Cual es la fecha de hoy?

1. Pass out number cards (respecting scaffolded materials). Allow children time to fill out answer in Spanish. Count chorally in Spanish, flipping through cards as you go.
2. Go over days of the week in Spanish, chorally and individually. Pass out weekday cards and allow children to fill out. Flip through cards and say weekdays several times. Ask children to hold up a card while you say the weekdays and vice versa.
3. Repeat process with month cards. (Perhaps separate lesson into multiple days.)
4. Daily consult of questions, allowing children to practice words orally, read words and paste words on the question signs (tactile learners – P was much more interested in reading the words and saying them correctly when it meant she got to paste them into the blanks onto tape).
5. Continual recitation of months, weekdays and numbers in Spanish. Having children stand in the correct order of numbers or days after passing out the cards accommodates tactile learners.

Science Lesson: KWL Chart on Favorite Animal

Child will
-gain familiarity with KWL chart
-explore prior knowledge about chosen topic
-identify/learn research methods

Literacy Objective: Child will use verbal and written skills to document currrent knowledge and curiosities about chosen topic. Child will alphabetize unknown words.
Language Objective: Child will identify words they use but cannot define.
Science Objective: Child will explore and identify research methods by which they can obtain information. Child will gain familiarity with animal behavior and biology (cats and dogs, incidentally). Child will make predictions.

Process:
1. Identify child’s topic. “What animal do you want to know more about?”
2. Draw and explain KWL chart and purpose.
-Evidence of learning: P asks about the word, “know”, compares to the word, “knight”
3. Have child fill in chart with current knowledge and curiosities. Scaffold for early writers.
4. Identify undefined words or misspelled words: underline and rewrite as list. Extension: alphabetize for defining.
5. Identify methods of research through discussion.
-“How can we find the answers to the things we want to know?”
Violet: “Books, the internet…”
“What if we didn’t have either of those?”
“Go to school.”
“What’s happening at school?”
“People are telling you stuff.”
“Okay, so we can use other people as a resource for research, people who know more than we do. Like experts. What would we do if we didn’t have books, internet or experts to talk to? How would we learn about cats?”
“There’s lots of strays outside… we could go observe! And study!”

Extension: Use internet to research questions and dictionary to define words (further experience with alphabetizing and dictionary). Use written and vocabulary skills to demonstrate learning by filling in L section of chart. Get children to pair up and create Venn diagram about their two animals, carry into conversation about animal kingdom, species, genetics.

Assessment: Finished KWL chart, vocabulary/spelling list

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