Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Easy Eight Layer Pumpkin Cake

This recipe was inspired by the Pumpkin Torte recipe in A Taste of Home 2010 Fall Baking Cookbook, but of course I can't leave anything alone so I changed it a bit!

This impressive cake is as easy to make as mixing and frosting any boxed cake mix! I know I am a big advocate of making things from scratch, but this season can be hectic enough. With everything else that I've been making in the kitchen, I opted for the "easy-out" for this recipe. I'd rather spend time with my family than worry about dessert!

1 box yellow cake mix
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup milk
4 eggs
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp ground cloves

preheat oven to 350 F. Mix all ingredients together. Beat for two minutes. Divide between two 9 inch round cake pans that have been greased and floured. Bake for about a half hour, or until inserted knife comes out clean. Cool for ten minutes then turn the cakes out of the pans onto a cooling rack. Allow to cool completely.

2 container cream cheese frosting
1.5 cup pumpkin puree
1 tsp nutmeg
finely chopped pecans

Combine all ingredients except pecans. Slice each 9 inch round horizontally, to make four layers of cake. On the serving plate, layer cake, frosting, pecans, cake, frosting pecans. On the top, leave the pecans off. Frost the sides of the cake (the picture in the cookbook did not have the sides frosted, but I thought it would look better and taste better completely frosted)

fresh cranberries
caramel sundae sauce

sprinkle the cinnamon over the top layer so that it appears to be lightly dusted. Place the cranberries around the edge of the cake. Use the caramel sauce for decorating the plate, or serve it on the side with each slice.

Easy Peasy Pumpkin Pie! um, I mean cake!

Monday, November 22, 2010

My Favorite Things

I love:

when I'm feeding Eve and she starts using her free hand to stroke my neck.

when Jonah randomly stops what he is doing and leans over to give me a kiss.

when I have a plate prepared for Jonah's meal, and he comes running into the kitchen and exclaims "mmmmmmm! Yummy!" upon seeing what is in front of his chair.

When Eve sees her brother, smiles as big as her face, and tackles him for a hug. Even though he tries to get away from her. I love that too.

When Jonah says "I love you."

When Daryl comes home from work and everyone is so happy to see him.

when Eve is getting hungry and I pick her up to feed her, she makes a noise that is half laughing and half panting while I'm trying to get situated to nurse her. Then she makes happy humming noises once I finally get her to breast.

when I am rocking Eve to sleep and Jonah comes over and strokes her little head, gives her nose a kiss, then looks at me and says "shhhhh" with his finger to his lips.

when story time becomes cuddle time

Friday, November 19, 2010

Sausage and Gnocchi Soup

2 lbs italian sausage (sweet or spicy depending on your taste)
three tbl extra virgin olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
few cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1/2 green pepper
1/2 can stewed tomatoes, drained
32 oz box beef stock
1 can navy beans
1 package potato gnocchi (can be found near the pasta in the grocery)

In a skillet, brown the sausage over medium heat until it is cooked through. Drain off grease.

In a pot, heat oil over low to medium heat. Add onions and garlic. Heat while stirring until onions begin to appear translucent. Add the pepper and tomatoes, continue to heat until peppers become slightly tender. Add beef stock, sausage, and navy beans and turn up the heat. Stirring occasionally, bring to a boil. Add gnocchi and boil for about seven minutes, until gnocchi is tender.

Serve hot with a side garden salad and garlic bread.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Farm and Fall Songs

Of course we try to teach Jonah where our food comes from year round, but it seems to be especially appropriate this time of year. I feel that being thankful for our food includes understanding and respecting where that food comes from. We've been talking and reading a lot about farms, and so I've also tried to incorporate that theme into our music time. I thought I'd share two of Jonah's favorites.

Down in the Barnyard (to the melody of "Down By the Station")

Down in the barnyard,
early in the morning,
see the little turkeys
standing in a row.

See the busy farmer
giving them their breakfast.
gobble gobble, gobble gobble
there they go.

(repeat using other farm animals and their respective sounds, as long as your child keeps interest!)

This one isn't so much about farms, but about the seasons of fall and winter. Jonah really enjoys dancing to it! I use the ASL signs for change, leaves,  orange, brown, and snow.

Changing Seasons Song (to the theme of "I'm a Little Teapot")
I'm a little person
who's aware
of the changes in the air.

First fall the leaves
orange and brown
then the snow comes gently down.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Thankful Book

Thanksgiving is next week. Where did the year go? It seems like we just finished the holidays, and now here we are getting ready to celebrate again!

Jonah is old enough this year to understand a lot more than ever before, and I am enjoying teaching him about different aspects of the holidays. One of Jonah's favorite TV shows is Blue's Clues. I often let him watch it while I'm preparing dinner. We have Netflix on Demand, and so I can pick which episode to let him watch. We've been watching the "thankful" episode. Steve created a "Thankful Book" and goes around to all of the characters, asking what they are thankful for. Then he reads the book at the fall feast.

I decided that this was a great way to teach Jonah about being thankful! I have been talking to him a lot about what makes us thankful. I started by telling him that when we are thankful for something, we mean it makes us happy. Then I talked to him about all of the things that make me happy. I used the ASL signs for "happy" and "thankful." during our conversation, since he seems to absorb more when we use signs, even though he is becoming more verbal.

Then we talked about things that make Jonah happy. Basketball, football, Gigi and Papaw(my mom and dad,) Grandma and Grandpa (Daryl's mom and dad,) his gorilla Hank, books, the leaves outside. I wondered when I was talking to him if he was getting anything out of it, but he seemed engaged, and later in the day he picked up his basketball and said "Thank you! Basketball!" and signed "thankful" and "happy" so I think he understood at least the concept of what I was talking about.

Then we started our book. The very first thing we needed to do was make the cover. I cut a turkey shape from a piece of brown 12x12 scrapbooking paper. Then I let Jonah paint it with paints that he chose.
While we waited for the paint to dry, I cut feather shapes from construction paper. When the paint was dry, Jonah used the squeeze bottle glue to sick the feathers to the turkey.

 (the second picture is sideways and refuses to be turned!)

Then I cut the head out of gray paper, and finished adding the details such as eyes and a beak etc. We will take pictures of things that make us thankful and print out the pages using our computer. I will use clear contact paper to laminate the pages, and then bind them together with a binder ring. When it is done, I will share the finished product here!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Fantastic Foto Friday

This was our yard a week ago.

Yes, that is snow. About an inch of it. Today is 66 F, sunny, and we are going outside without so much as a jacket on. Love living in the Lake Erie snow belt!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fall Prints

Every morning, Jonah looks out ofhis bedroom window and points to the bright yellow and red sugar maple. "liffff!"

He has really been noticing all of the leaves this fall. When we are out and the wind blows, he stops to listen to the dried leaves blowing on the pavement. He repeatedly shouts "lifffff!" to let us know he hears the scraping sounds. Out in the yard, he picks his feet up and stomps through them. I've been teaching him to say "crunch crunch crunch" when he does this, but it comes out more like "ba ba ba."

We went to the library, and Jonah found two books about leaves. Both of them are written and illustrated by Lois Ehlert. One is called "Leaf Man" and the other is called "Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf." While Jonah does not care for the story of "Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf" he really likes to look at the pictures. Both books use leaves to make up the pictures! He loves reading "Leaf Man" and whenever we get to the line "a leaf man's gotta go where the wind blows!" he makes a blowing sound.

Looking at all of the textures and beautiful illustrations in these books, inspired us to collect different textures from our yard. We brought home different kinds of leaves, and my personal favorite fall texture- osage oranges, also called "horse apples" (my preschoolers called them the "big green brains.")We used the fun textures we found, to create our own colorful fall pictures by dipping them into paint and pressing them onto paper.

For the leaf prints, we pressed the leaves into paint, and wiped excess paint off. Looking back, it probably would have made more sense to have Jonah apply the paint to them via a paintbrush, in a thin layer.

Then we pressed the leaves to the paper and lifted them up to see our beautiful picture!

We decided to make a separate picture with the osage orange, on a different day, but you could certainly use all of the textures in one painting for one single art project rather than breaking it up into two!

We rolled the osage orange in the paint. I let Jonah pick two colors to paint with, and we rolled the osage orange in both at the same time, so we got a marbled effect.
Then we rolled the osage orange onto our paper. This was a bit of a challenge for Jonah, because he did not like to push hard enough on the osage orange to make the print. Every time he would try, he would get upset because the paint got on his hands.

Both activities were great sensory activities for Jonah. Even though he was reluctant to touch the paint, he really enjoyed making art with the leaves and exploring their different shapes and colors. He also really liked that we were using something that looked so much like his favorite object- balls!

And, we now have some beautiful fall colors to adorn our fridge:

Monday, November 8, 2010


This is a conversation I recently had with Jonah about going to the potty.

"Do you want to wear a diaper or underwear today?"

"WEARS! Bakeetball wears!

"If you wear your basketball underwear, you have to tell Mommy when you need to use the potty! Or you'll get the basketballs all wet and you can't wear them anymore."


(as I'm helping him put his underwear on) "So you'll tell mommy if you have to pee, right?"

"yep!!!...... uh-oh..... pee-pee... wears..."


Some days are better than others when it comes to using the potty. Strangely, there is a distinct correlation between how many accidents/misses we have, and whether or not Jonah is wearing clothing for the day. There are days when he absolutely refuses to wear clothing. He strips them off every chance he gets. On these days, he takes himself to the potty 100% of the time. When he is wearing clothes, it can be hit or miss, and we have to remind him to stop what he is doing to go to the bathroom. He definitely gives us some distinct cues though. He will suddenly want to stand up and not sit down. He will look down at his pants with a panicked expression. He will rock from foot to foot on his tip toes. And he will also tell us he has to go, either verbally or with the sign "potty."

For now, we are doing what works and letting Jonah go naked in the house. Hopefully soon he will learn that he can also go to the potty with his clothes on too. We are working on pulling our pants up and down, so I think that will help.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Caramel Apple Jam

We picked a lot of apples this year. Although it has taken me a while to take care of them, I finally was able to get them turned into apple sauce! Making applesauce is honestly probably the easiest thing, I don't know why more people don't do it rather than buying the corn syrup laden jars in the grocery store!

I used a food mill, which I borrowed from my wonderful, generous, beautiful sister. All I had to do was cut my apples in half, steam them until they were soft, and put them through the mill. applesauce came out one end, seeds and skins out the other. It took about an hour for me to do all three bushels of apples that were waiting to be cooked.

If you don't have a food mill, there are a couple of extra steps required. Peel, core, and slice the apples. You can find apple slicers/corers in most stores for $5-20, and I think it is well worth the investment. Especially if your kid is a fruit-lover! Steam the apples until they are soft and put them in a food processor, or mash them with a potato masher or large fork.

voila, applesauce! If you like chunky applesauce, and are using a food mill, you can make the majority of your applesauce with the food mill, saving tons of time, then make the chunks as described above, to add to the food milled apples.

As Evelyn gets closer to eating solids, I am looking forward to having apple puree to give to her, so I did not add any sugar or spices. I will add all of that right before serving it to my family, that way the applesauce remains versatile and I can use it for bland baby food or family food with a bit of flare. I will be preparing the pears that a friend gave to me from her tree, in the same way. This way, Evie can enjoy foods that were picked and preserved in season, while they were ripe and full of nutrients.

But there is only so much applesauce a family can handle. So here is another recipe that I am going to be using my apple and pear purees for. If you want to use pears, just substitute the apples for pears cup for cup. And yes, that was me you saw licking the canning funnel when we were done! This spread is absolutely decadent if you like apple and spice flavors!

This recipe was inspired by one I found on allrecipes.

Caramel Apple Jam:
5 cups applesauce
1 cup apple cider
1 package pectin
2 cups brown sugar
3 cups sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

In a bowl, combine sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, and pumpkin pie spice. Mix with a fork until ingredients are even throughout.

In a large saucepan, combine applesauce and cider. Slowly mix in the pectin and bring mixture to a rolling boil, stirring constantly. If you begin to see brown specks, you are burning the applesauce; turn down your heat.

When the apple and pectin mixture are boiling and you cannot stir the bubbles away, add the full amount of sugar and spice mixture while stirring. Bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly. Boil for one full minute.

Ladle into jars, and follow the manufacturer's instructions for placing the lids on the jars. Process in a hot water bath for ten minutes (15 minutes for higher altitudes)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Game Day Starters

Disclaimer: The majority of this post is written as A JOKE. If you are from Cleveland and take offense from me saying our sports suck... well, hun just look at our records.

Clevelanders do not have a history of being "good" in sports. I'll come out and say it: all of our sports teams suck. I mean they really stink. The Indians were okay for a while, when I was in high school, but I think that like the rest of the fans I just got tired of setting myself up for disappointment. We had Lebron for a while, but honestly, Cleveland, do you blame him for wanting to get out? Personally, I think Cleveland is jealous that he did get out of town, while the rest of us are stuck here for whatever reasons. Cleveland is like that- you can spend your whole life wanting to leave. I say good for Lebron, he was one of the lucky ones! Then there was the whole Browns fiasco. It isn't spoken of very much around these parts. Cleveland, for much of my adolescence, had no football team. Google "Art Modell+Browns+Baltimore" for that whole story! And once we got them back, we couldn't help but ask ourselves why it was a big deal that we lost them in the first place.

I think as a side effect of growing up in the Cleveland area, I could care less about football. As a matter of fact, the NFL could declare that they are disbanding, and I would go about my life perfectly content. Ohio State could make a public statement that they are cutting their athletics program, and I would remain completely unaffected.

But there is one thing that I do enjoy about game day. Socialization! Whether Daryl has friends over for the big game, or the extended family is gathered for kickoff, or we're meeting old friends at my alma mater for some hot chocolate and memories, for whatever reason, football brings people together.

And there's another sport this time of year that does grab my attention more than football. Baseball. We're in the thick of the World Series, and so far it's panning out to be an exciting one!

No matter what sport you are having a gameday party for, whip up some of these easy to make poppers to munch on. Word of warning though, I did not say they are in any way healthy! Please enjoy in moderation, and don't send me the bill from your cardiologist.

velveeta cheese or cream cheese- your choice
bacon, uncooked

Cut the jalepenos lenghtwise and use a spoon to remove the seeds. Please take it from me, YOU NEED GLOVES FOR THIS. I once thought "jalepenos are a girly pepper, not even hot! I don't need gloves!" two days later, my hands were still on fire. Cut the velveeta cheese into chunks that fit inside the jalapeno= about an inch long, half inch wide, and half inch tall should do it. Or use a spoon to fill the jalapenos with cream cheese. Wrap the cheese filled jalapeno with the bacon and place in a baking dish. DO NOT use a cookie sheet, as the bacon grease will drip down into your oven and catch on fire.

Bake at 350F until the bacon is crispy. Drain grease and serve the poppers warm, with ranch dressing and salsa.

My brothers have pointed out to me that these can be deep fried, or battered and deep fried, but I have no deep frier and enjoy the ease of using my oven. Just keep a close eye on the grease in the oven, and probably you should familiarize yourself with your fire extinguisher! (says the girl who caught her scrambled eggs on fire last week!)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Trick or Treating with an Autistic Child

So, I'm done asking the question "is he really..." I'm done answering it to. People ask me, almost constantly, "Since he has been diagnosed with 22q deletion, is he *really* autistic?" The quick answer is: We don't know. He could outgrow the tendencies he is showing, he could learn to control certain behaviors and sensory issues. We don't know. But, my child has been, for the time, diagnosed with autism. And, he responds very well to the therapy and techniques that are used with autistic children.

The thing about "autism" is that it is almost purely diagnosed based on a set of behaviors. It is not like an illness where certain germs can be tested for, or like an ailment where physical abnormalities like swelling etc can be seen. It is a list of behaviors and mindsets. And my son has those behaviors and mindsets. He is autistic.

I just wanted to get that out of the way, because I know that I'm going to get some flack from family members for "labeling" Jonah as autistic in this post. But I am coming to terms with this label, and I hope that other family members and friends do too, so that they can begin learning what Jonah needs from us in varying situations..... like trick or treating.
Trick or treat with a typical two year old can be challenging. The sugar high, dealing with strangers, seeing scary costumes, fatigue from having to walk. Multiply these times a thousand for an autistic child.

I still decided to "test the waters" and see how he would react to a situation like trick or treat. Halloween is a holiday when I see children running around, having a good time. I want my son to have a good time too, even if the good time is a different kind of good time then the other children. I wanted to see what parts of the holiday he could handle, and what parts we will need to look out for.

We've been prepping for the day since about the first of October. I've been showing him costume catalogs, talking to him about playing dress up and make believe, going down the halloween section at the store and showing him various items.

Most of our preparations have been simply talking to him. Telling him about the special day, when we say "Trick or treat!" at our friends' houses, and they give us something yummy. We watched Dora's halloween episode, and all throughout we talked about costumes and trick or treat and saying thank you.

We wore his costume around the house, making it a normal part of our day. He actually chose the costume completely on his own (I know in a previous post, I had said that I wanted him to be a lion, but it worked out that it's the costume he wanted!) He didn't like to wear the hood most of the time, but that's okay. I can't say that I would be too thrilled with it either.

On Halloween day, we practiced saying "Trick or treat!" all day long, as well as "please" and "thank you." His trick or treat sounded more like "Get go get!" but he was saying it nonetheless.

We went out into my parents' neighborhood and I described to him everything he was seeing. "Look at all of the people wearing COSTUMES, bugsy! Look, a little girl dressed as a fairy!" and "ooh, look at that guy. He has a mask. His face is behind that mask!" I really tried to stress that everyone was just wearing a costume.

Going to people's doors was interesting. He never said trick or treat, despite having been saying it all day. He said thank you once, and at one door demanded "chockeet!" at which point I decided we had done enough. He was really confused about why we were just knocking on people's doors, greeting them, and then leaving. It upset him quite a bit that we were not going into the house to visit the person. It helped a lot when the people handing out candy were simply sitting on their porch, or in some cases they came out to the sidewalks to meet us. This helped with the confusion of not going inside after the neighbors answered the door.

Actual trick or treating was not so bad. He had minimal melt downs, and the only sign that he showed of being overwhelmed by all of the people was that he stopped talking and started signing more rather than vocalizing. When I began begging him to say thank you, he would get melty on me, look away and revert to his "noodle legs" and then I'd remember that I can't really force him to say anything to a stranger.

I think it helped a lot that I took the kids to a neighborhood where I knew the people. It was where I grew up. They were my childhood neighbors. I think it really helped Jonah see that I was being friendly with them, chatting with them, they knew my name etc. It wasn't just a stranger, it was one of mommy's friends.

I think in the future, if we keep things in mind like his sudden tendency to not talk around strangers and keeping costumes simple, and something familiar to him, and if we keep his time limit in mind, Jonah will really enjoy trick or treat in the future!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Spiders in Webs

Another creepy crawly craft that Jonah and I did this past week was "handprint spiders."

We've been working really hard on using a pencil grip on crayons, and pressing hard enough to leave a mark, as well as drawing a variety of marks like circles, horizontal lines, and vertical lines. By "working hard" I mean that we've been doing a lot of play activities to incorporate different aspects of drawing/writing.

So, for the first step of this craft, I thought I'd have him draw the web with a white crayon on gray paper. I also gave him black and dark gray so that he would have different contrasts to work with, and because he kept asking for purple, I gave him that crayon too. I was very happy to see that he has not only mastered the pencil grip on the crayon, but he was also pressing hard enough that I could see the white marks on the gray paper. He also scribbled in circular motions for the first time! So we hit a lot of "milestones" with this project!

After he was finished making the spider web, I helped him dip his hand into purple paint (black would create a better illusion that it is a spider, but the kid insisted on purple!) and he put his handprint on the spider web. I then helped him dip his other hand in the paint, and guided him to put this handprint so that the thumbs of both prints are overlapping. Younger children will need a lot of help and guidance on this. Where the thumbs are overlapped is the head, and each finger is a spider leg. You can add googley eyes to polish off the look. Here is our spider before I added a face. Daryl said it didn't look like a spider at all, but he has no imagination.

With the face drawn in (I just drew some eyes and a smiley face with a sharpie) it looks like a spider.

I paired this with an activity called "tickle spider," a book from my preschool teaching days called "Don't Squish the Spider!" Which apparently is no longer available anywhere (it is a british children's book) but I'm sure that your local librarian would have something up her sleeves if you asked for a children's book about spiders. And of course, "The Itsy Bitsy Spider."

We counted the spider's legs when we were done making it, which is something Jonah enjoys doing a lot. Sometimes he'll stand in front of the fridge and point, saying syllables as if he is counting the legs on his spider!