Minnie Mouse Birthday Cake

Minnie Mouse Cake

When my daughter told me she wanted a Princess Sofia birthday cake, I thought…uh oh. That sounds like a stretch. 

We’ve had trouble finding a nut-free bakery, so I have been making birthday cakes in recent years. So far, they’ve turned out fine, but Sophia is far beyond my limited skill set.

I was grateful a week later when she decided she wanted Minnie Mouse instead.

Minnie Mouse? Phew, I actually think I can do that.

My talented best friend made a Minnie Mouse cake last year for her daughter’s first birthday. She sent me pictures and it was so pretty! It was her cake-making skill and encouragement that gave me confidence to make this cake for our daughter’s Ballerina third birthday party. With a little practice under my belt, a Minnie Mouse cake seemed reasonable to attempt.

The process is pretty straight forward. Bake, freeze, assemble, and decorate. I carefully took a ton of photos while making it only to have my trusty camera memory card meet its untimely and frustrating death…along with those photos. Ugh. Such a bummer!  But, I think you’ll be able to figure it out from the description below and I’m happy to answer any questions.

The birthday girl couldn’t decide between Funfetti or Chocolate cake, so I made a two-layer cake. One layer Funfetti, one chocolate. I am so grateful to Rose Bakes for her Crusting Cream Cheese Buttercream Recipe {Great for Decorating}. It is quick, easy to work with and tastes delicious.

You guys, you need to make this Buttercream. It’s fantastic.

One box of each cake mix was divided between one 10″ pan (head) and two 6″ pans (ears).  After cooling, each baked cake was wrapped in cling wrap and frozen overnight. Freezing makes them easy to handle. Cutting a semi-circle from each 6″ cake so they fit snugly against the 10″ cake was easy. The bottom layer was Funfetti, the top Chocolate.

A generous layer of frosting was used to secure the ears, head, and layers together. For a little extra flavor, Santa Cruz Seedless Red Raspberry Fruit Spread was added between layers with the frosting. Who would have thought a little jar from the jelly section of the grocery store could taste so decadent?

So far, so good.

Then I started to decorate the cake and things got a little messy. Literally, frosting was getting everywhere. The cake board is a mess (see those greasy spots?). Next time it will be covered while decorating since I’m apparently incapable of not making a mess.

That is when I began to panic. It had been a while since I piped frosting and I was quite rusty.

I decided this was going to be the ugliest cake attempt that ever was.

At that point, I may have asked, er…demanded that my husband remove the children from this house. He may be a saint because he patiently and kindly obliged, asking no questions and reassuring me it was going to look great as he swept them out the door. True story – he’s awesome.

20 minutes later in a silent house, I stood looking at a finished cake feeling foolish for freaking out.

My husband was right, the cake did turn out fine and was delicious.

In the coming weeks I’ll post the Minnie Mouse party decorations but in the meantime…

sunshine girl 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Birthday Sunshine Girl.

It Takes A Village To Raise A Child With Food Allergies – Thank You For Keeping Our Kids Safe Even When You Don’t Understand Allergies

It Takes A Village To Raise A Child With Food Allergies - Thank You For Keeping Our Kids Safe Even When You Don't Understand Allergies

During a recent grocery store trip, I overheard a fellow mom on her cell phone. She was asking what on earth to buy in the bakery section for her child’s class room birthday treat. It needed to be peanut free.

She went on to say she didn’t understand why, if peanut wasn’t on the label, she couldn’t buy it. Then she mumbled something about the equipment.

I could tell she was in a hurry. Intending to point her in the right direction, I made my way to the display of Lofthouse Nut-Free frosted cookies. I planned to hold them up and just point to the ‘Nut-Free’ label. I didn’t want to interrupt her conversation but knew it can be hard to find a peanut-safe option in the bakery section – especially if you aren’t sure what to look for on the label. It would be easy to unknowingly buy a treat that isn’t safe.

Or maybe just give up.

As I walked up, she released a loud sigh of frustration and exclaimed into the phone, Why can’t those kids just be normal so I can buy a box of cupcakes“. 

Sigh. Normal? Ugh.

Now what?

I felt my face flush. What ran through my head was to educate her – you know, with strong, emotion-filled, angry words. 

But I could see that type of ‘education’ would not do either of us much good. She was already frustrated, and heaping my anger on top of her anger isn’t likely to produce much understanding.

I’m also not real keen on starting an argument in the bakery section of the grocery store. With my kids.

Plus, here she was, trying to read the labels, and trying to pick something all the kids could enjoy. Despite what she said, her actions were those of someone trying to do the right thing. 

She just didn’t understand why.

She didn’t need anger, she needed grace. So instead of marching up with a lengthy defense of children with food allergies, I walked up, smiled, and pointed at the Nut-Free label. She looked, paused and looked up at me.

Relief. Gratitude.

She told her friend ‘just a minute’ and put her hand over the phone. She whispered ‘Thank you. I have no idea how to make sure what I buy is right or not. Last time it wasn’t. They wouldn’t serve it in class and my daughter didn’t have a treat for her birthday‘.

Wow.

As a food allergy mom, I know all-too-well the disappointment when my child can’t have a treat. This might be the first time I realized it also happens to children without food allergies.

I see how this could cause frustration in parents whose children don’t have an allergy.

Sometimes, as an allergy mom, I just wish other parents could put themselves in my shoes – maybe they’d finally understand what its like.

This time, I put myself in her shoes. There was a time when I knew very little about food allergies and food allergy labeling – before I became an Epi-Pen carrying mom and had to take a crash course in keeping our own child safe. If I had gone to the store with good intentions, it would frustrate me if I still bought the wrong thing. Food labeling even confuses food allergy parents sometimes. If I tried to buy something safe for all the children, I’d be so hurt to hear they didn’t serve it because it still wasn’t safe.

Yeah, that would make me pretty upset. And it would make me easily frustrated the next time I’m in a store, again, trying to do the right thing. Especially if I’m still not sure what to actually buy.

So, as she looked up at me, I smiled back and nodded. I whispered that the frosted Lofthouse cookies that say Nut-Free are always a safe option.

And then I said, Thank you for doing your best to keep children like mine safe.

She smiled back, and then looked slightly embarrassed, probably realizing I overheard her comment. But I chose to give her an encouraging smile, a little wave, and move on.

This encounter wasn’t about me. Or my child. It was about simply doing something small to educate another mom who was actively seeking a way to keep other children safe while giving her child a special birthday. Now she knows a safe option for the future. And she has been thanked by one allergy mom for her efforts.

Are you one of the parents out there who try their best to keep all the kids safe?

Thank you, to each of you, who don’t understand food allergies, but try to buy safe options anyway.

Thank you for trying to learn about food labeling, and for asking questions about what to buy. If you ever have questions about what to buy (or why it matters), I’m happy to help.

Thank you for taking time out of your day to make your best effort with good intentions.

I’m sorry when those good intentions have not been rewarded. Please know they are appreciated nonetheless. 

Thank you for doing your best to keep all of our kids safe. We will happily do the same for you in whatever challenge your child or family may face now and in the future.

As I’ve shared before, it truly does take a village to raise a child with food allergies.

Thank you for doing your best – from this grateful mama to you.

A Ballerina 3 Year Old Birthday: A Homemade Ballerina Birthday Cake

Our 3 year old girl loves to twirl. I think she spends a quarter of her day spinning.

So, when she saw one video of a ballerina, she was hooked. This made it no surprise that she wanted a ballerina birthday cake.

Order one, right? Wrong. We have food allergies in our family and have trouble finding a bakery that guarantees a peanut and tree nut free cake.

This ballerina cake needed to be homemade – a tall order.

Baking is not my strong suit. But I’ve been making an effort to learn and develop the skill because baking safe birthday cakes will be my job for years to come.

After much research, I decided to make this chocolate cheesecake layer cake from Recipe Girl. The recipe was well written, easy to follow, and the cake is delicious!

The recipe was modified to fit our needs as follows:

  • Line the pan with Parchment Paper: After reading reviews of how to ensure each layer of cake releases easily from the pan, each pan was lined with parchment paper. Not only did it work well, it was less messy than greasing and flouring the pans.
    • To line with parchment paper, spray the pan with cooking spray (I used PAM), then trace and cut out a circle of parchment paper to place in the pan. Finally, spray the top of the paper with cooking spray.
  • Freeze all layers: Due to time constraints, all cake and cheesecake layers were baked 3 days in advance and frozen.
    • Once cool, wrap each layer individually in a double layer of plastic wrap followed by one layer of tin foil. Place them in a freezer bag and store in the freezer until ready to assemble the cake. NOTE: To avoid freezer burn, don’t freeze in a frost-free freezer (that heats and cools to remove frost). I used our chest freezer.
  • Use a decorator cream cheese frosting: Instead of the recipe’s chocolate sour cream frosting, this cake was decorated with this fantastic crusting cream cheese, butter cream frosting. With so much chocolate, the cake is plenty rich so skipping the chocolate was ok. Plus, decorating with sour cream frosting won’t work – the designs will just melt away. This cream cheese frosting is great for decorating a ‘girlie’ cake.
    • FYI – my hand mixer started smoking and died while mixing the frosting – it gets thick before it is thinned out! My off-brand mixer wasn’t a very good one. I sprung for the Kitchen Aid hand mixer because it happened to be 20% off and similar in price to the one I had before. I was amazed by how much better it worked. If you feel like YOU are doing all the work when mixing this stuff, I recommend borrowing or buying a better hand mixer (or use a stand mixer). Your arms will thank you and it will cut the prep time in half.
  • Assemble with frozen layers: Handling frozen layers is a cinch – they stack easily without crumbling, frosting is easy to spread, and the cake turns out super moist.
  • Decorate with rosettes: After watching this Cake Trend video, I was able to decorate the cake with rosettes. The process was really forgiving! When things don’t look perfect, you can cover the edges with the next rosette. And because this cake used only one color, it was easy to blend and fill any gaps after finishing.
    • This cake was assembled and decorated one day before the party and stored in an airtight container overnight in the fridge.

Rosette cake

Now, didn’t I say she asked for a ballerina cake? Well, drawing a ballerina with frosting is simply beyond my skill level, so I needed something to stick in the cake.

I bought two sheets of glittery cardstock from JoAnn Fabrics (one gold, one pink). Then I traced and cut out ballerina figures. Each figure was taped to a wood skewer and stuck in the cake the day of the party.

Approval.jpg

I think she liked it and it was delicious!

Trust me, if I can make it, so can you!

 

I am THAT Allergy Mama – Ice Cream Truck Ignorance Is Bliss

ICE CREAM TRUCK

As our son was standing at the window yesterday I heard him exclaim, “Mom! There’s a short moving van driving in circles. And it plays MUSIC!

Over and over, it drove by our house, announced by its cheery songs.

It triggered memories of childhood joy upon picking a treat from a similar mobile merry-maker. What child isn’t excited to hear the ice cream truck? Longing to share such summer joy with our children, I briefly considered running barefoot to flag him down.

I placed my hand on the door knob only to be stopped by a mind filled by an urgent stream of questions.

Food allergies sometimes throw a monkey-wrench in spontaneity.

How many of those treats contain nuts? How many are cross-contaminated? How many have original manufacturer labeling? Does the driver know these answers?  If not, is it OK for me to make a phone call to a manufacturer while he waits for me to buy a popsicle for $1?

What if I blow our son’s mind by telling him the ‘van’ is an ice cream truck and then have to him he can’t eat anything on it?

Sigh.

I just couldn’t take the chance of squashing his joy. Going home and giving him the band aid of a ‘safe’ popsicle from our freezer just wouldn’t have been good enough.

Suddenly it was a relief that he doesn’t know what that so-called ‘musical moving van’ is really up to.

Today I didn’t have to explain to him why we could not buy those treats. It was a blessing that he did not see excited children lining up enjoy ice-cold goodness.

This ice cream truck innocence will not last forever. The odds of the truck rolling through our neighborhood again without delighted children spilling-the-beans seems slim. I’m sure next time we won’t be so lucky and our son will discover its true purpose.

I know his eyes will widen with wonder and eager delight – it is very important to me that I not have to tell him we can’t eat anything on it because we already avoid so much.

SO, I decided to be prepared before the its inevitable return. Planning ahead is an allergy mama’s most powerful and necessary tool – joyful childhood memories depend on it. As our children marveled at the music, I scribbled down the name of the company and its phone number (helpfully displayed on the side of the truck). I found the business online will call them in the morning to pepper someone other than the ice cream truck driver with allergy-related questions.

Assuming something is safe (nut-free), I cannot wait to introduce our children to the ice cream truck. And yes, I’m prepared to deal with crying when the truck goes by and we decide not to participate for reasons other than food allergies (already had a treat, no cash, haven’t eaten dinner yet).

Today, our children’s ice cream truck ignorance was bliss for me.

Next time, equipped with allergen info, the revelation of the ice cream truck’s true identity will be bliss for our children.

On Peanut Allergy and LEAP – Why The Conflicting Emotions Among Allergy Parents?

I have been anticipating the LEAP study findings since hearing it was in progress almost 3 years ago. Our son was diagnosed with a peanut and cashew allergy in 2012. In the initial shock of the diagnosis, I started looking for any answers I could find.

WHY did he have this allergy, and what could we have done differently? Was it my fault for eating my body weight in peanuts while pregnant? What about while nursing? Was he too exposed? Underexposed?

When I stumbled across it, I was disappointed that the findings had not yet been published. If you aren’t familiar with the study, visiting the About LEAP page will explain the design better than I can. In general, the LEAP study looks to answer the question of whether avoidance of nuts or consumption of nuts at an early age makes a person more or less likely to develop a peanut allergy.

The site has been bookmarked on my computer since 2012. I’ve checked back often to see if there was any indication of when they would publish their findings. Results were expected as early as 2013, but it wasn’t until February 2015 when results were released.

I’m not the only one who anticipated the study, as is evidenced by the intense media coverage it is receiving in the wake of its release.

When the results were released, I read them with anticipation and excitement. You could check out the summary of results on the LEAP website but I would recommend reading the New England Journal of Medicine article for yourself. All children included in the study were classified as high-risk for a peanut allergy if they had an existing egg allergy and/or severe eczema, and no strong preexisting peanut allergy (strong was evidenced by a skin wheel (or hive) from skin testing larger than 4 mm).

In the LEAP study, of 834 potential participants, 76 had wheels over 4 mm before the study began and were excluded. This means these children were 4 to 11 months of age and already had significant allergy (See Figure 1 – Methods section of the journal article). 76 may sound like not very many, but is close to 10%, albeit from a high risk group of children sought out for inclusion in the study. Groundbreaking study or not, LEAP may be of little help to parents whose children are high-risk for an allergy and developed a strong peanut allergy before they were 4-11 months of ageWhile we embrace that knowledge about peanut allergies is increasing, we are still waiting on and longing for answers as to why these children are at such high risk in the first place.

But there is certainly valuable and solid information here for those children who are not highly allergic before the age of 4 months.

As summarized on the LEAP website, the study yielded these exciting results:

Of the children who avoided peanut, 17% developed peanut allergy by the age of 5 years. Remarkably, only 3% of the children who were randomized to eating the peanut snack developed allergy by age 5.   Therefore, in high-risk infants, sustained consumption of peanut beginning in the first 11 months of life was highly effective in preventing the development of peanut allergy.

A difference of 14% of children developing or not developing an allergy is significant. It means if your child doesn’t already have a strong early onset allergy, but is at risk of developing one, giving them peanut products at an early age may (no guarantees) help prevent an allergy. And, if they have a minor allergy (wheel less than 4mm), they may still be helped by feeding them nuts, although would require supervision and care of a medical professional.

Results like these give parents something they CAN do to help their high risk child. To give them their best shot. There is no mistaking that the results hold very important truth and tangible results for the right circumstances.

It is going to change the recommendations. It is paving the way for further study as we speak. A biochemist by training, MORE information is always a good thing, right?

Not necessarily.

The study leaves me with conflicting emotions. I feel like I’ve been on a roller coaster all week.

When you look at the allergy community, the study has received acclaim, praise, frustration, and resistance.

Why so emotional?

  • Too little too late: Information is power, but now my daughter is 2 and has never eaten a peanut. We are a peanut free household. Our allergist told us she has a higher chance of developing a peanut allergy than other children because of our son’s allergy (a.k.a. our family genes). We were told to use caution introducing peanuts. When I asked if it was OK to wait until her 2nd birthday, there was no indication it was a bad idea. According to this study, we may have now waited one year too long to do the only thing that has been shown to possibly prevent development of a peanut allergy. So, although the study is relevant, groundbreaking even, the findings may not be able to help her. Yet…we pray she may never develop a peanut allergy.
  • We may be resistant: Defensive even. Information published on the internet can be simply false, or taken out of context. The first statement I saw did not mention the LEAP study name, but stated that we should ALL feed peanuts to 4 month old infants to prevent peanut allergy. It was out-of-context and missing important cautions and caveats. Alarming – and dangerous. The post left me feeling skeptical and defensive. It is my duty to read information for myself, and to draw educated conclusions with an open mind. It would be a grievous error to rely on someone else’s write-up, emotions, or opinion. We should be excited that people are spending their time studying peanut allergy and to read their findings, whatever they are. When I actually read the entire LEAP study, I agreed that this study is impressive, important, and demonstrates something we didn’t already know about peanut allergies. It is nothing to scoff at and needs to be taken seriously. But it needs to be viewed and written about within the proper context.
  • We feel attacked:  There are some who think we caused our children’s allergies and aren’t afraid to share it all over the internet.  I read this article and it describes very well how parents can be bullies too and requests empathy – it is well worth your time to read. But  the LEAP study does not say parents are to blame. It says feeding children peanuts early may help, but it will not help all of them. There is no way to go back and see which child would or would not develop an allergy. And guess what? Many of the children in the allergy community had life-threatening reactions before 4 months. Their faces swelled up and maybe they stopped breathing after being kissed by peanut-butter tainted lips. Many children had severe eczema, or reactions to breast milk after their mother ate peanuts.
  • We feel guilty: Although the LEAP study does not point blame, we blame ourselves. We cannot help it. Finding out now that feeding our children nuts at an earlier age could have even POSSIBLY prevented our child’s peanut allergy brings a disturbing and painful pang of mama-guilt. It feels awful, warranted or not. No one else needs to point a finger at us because we’ve had it pointing at ourselves since day one. We wondered if those nuts we ate (or didn’t eat) while pregnant made this happen. We wondered what we did wrong and have assumed we did something wrong.
  • We are frustrated: The LEAP findings contradict how I and many other parents fed our children at early ages. We followed recommendations of trusted allergists and pediatricians. Many of us were aware of food allergy dangers and consulted reputable sources like the American Academy of Pediatrics and American Academy of Asthma and Allergy. Avoidance was recommended in 2000. Recommendations were slightly modified in 2008 and furthermore in 2013, but that doesn’t mean all pediatricians and allergists were on board. Infant nutrition and care books were not up to date. We did research these things, but just didn’t know what we and the medical community did not yet know.
  • We have questions: While some answers have come to light, 100s more have popped up in their place. There is much left to learn, and we don’t fully understand what this all means yet. The LEAP study is great, but long term effects are yet unknown (awesome that they are continuing follow up in the LEAP-ON study as we speak).
  • We are grateful: In wake of the amazing developments of potential therapies like the Viaskin(R) peanut patch, the LEAP study findings, and more, science is making huge advancements in understanding how to help the allergy community. We are grateful. We are grateful for parents and children in the clinical trials and studies. We are grateful for those investing their time, careers, and funding. The knowledge is increasing, and the understanding being gained is invaluable. It is bound to change the allergy world forever. And soon. Thank you.
  • We are hopeful: Even if the LEAP study shows results that are too late for many of us to use the information, those having babies now will benefit. We hope allergy rates will go down. We don’t want ANY child to have a food allergy, even if our child does already. We hope the therapies will be effecive. We hope for science to find answers, causes, and cures. We anticipate these things and cling to hope for tools that will change our children’s lives.
  • We are forgiving: We are also frustrated that with all the new findings, there is still no concrete way to prevent infant peanut (and other) allergy. For many of us, even if we’d known and fed our child peanuts at 4 months, it may not have changed anything. We accept where we are now, where we’ve been, and instead of pointing fingers we look forward to future advancements. We forgive ourselves for our part as we forgive the medical community who is learning about allergies with new revelations, just as we are. And, we choose to forgive the community of ignorant people who feel the need to blame us.

 

It is important to note that not everyone within the allergy community has these feelings. But the care of our children and loved ones, and their safety is so important, that emotions are bound to run high. If it seems like some of us are conflicted, we are.

I am.