Belly Cakes: Cupcakes in Baby Food Jars

Posted by Carly Morgan

Remember how I mentioned yesterday that I’m a huge fan of recycling and repurposing baby food jars? About two years ago, we had a bunch of baby food jars and I used them to hold cupcakes for Eva’s first birthday:

Princess and the Frog cupcake tower for Disney birthday partyMardi Gras cupcakes in jars for birthday party

The cupcakes turned out so cute and fit perfectly in the jars, so I had the idea to create a blog called “Belly Cakes” just for baby-food-jar-cupcakes and some other fun baby stuff. Like many (many!) of my blog ideas, it didn’t pan out…partially because recipe testing meant I was eating cupcakes around the clock and that didn’t do much for the baby weight problem. Still, I thought I’d share the few recipes that did make it to the blog just in case you were looking for some picnic-ready desserts.

PS – I’m including the peanut butter banana one because it’s incredible, but naturally I now have to warn you not to send this to your kid’s classrooms and to ask that you please don’t stick this in any lunchboxes. Peanut-allergy moms like me live in perpetual fear of this delicious peanut butter frosting. Even the fact that I had this stuff in the house at one point gives me heart palpitations. (Allergies aside, it’s amazing!!)

 

This belly cakes micro-recipe is very easy and really hits the spot when you can’t decide if you’re craving cake or candy. I used Easter candy for this one, but you could sub in any chocolate candies and I’m sure it would be equally delicious!

Prep time: 10 min

Bake time: 20 min

Makes: 12 cupcakes (6 belly cake jars)

Ingredients:

1 1/3 cup yellow cake mix (Note: boxed cake mixes are generally about four cups, so one cake mix can make three different belly cake recipes. If you want to use the whole box, multiply all the other ingredients by three.)
2 Tbsp and 1/2 tsp vegetable oil
1/3 cup water
1 egg
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
Roughly one cup of chocolaty Easter candy
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup chocolate chips
6 empty baby food jars

 

(1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place 12 cupcake papers in a cupcake pan.

(2) Using a medium-sized mixing bowl, mix egg, water, cake mix, vegetable oil, cocoa powder, and candy together. Pour into cupcake papers, filling 2/3rds of the way.

(3) Bake 20 min and set out to cool.

(4) To make chocolate ganache, heat heavy cream until bubbling and remove from heat. Immediately add chocolate chips and stir to coat. Let melt for about five minutes and then stir until smooth.

(5) To make the belly cakes, put one unwrapped cupcake into the bottom of the jar, add a layer of ganache, add another cupcake, and top with ganache. Add more candy to the top if you want decoration. Enjoy!!

This is a favorite in our house and if you only ever make one cake from this blog, go with this one. The cake is insanely moist (almost like it was steamed) and the chunky peanut butter frosting is so good you could pretty much eat it by itself. Heaven!
Prep time: 10 min

Bake time: 20 min

Makes: 12 cupcakes (6 belly cake jars)

Ingredients:

1 1/3 cup yellow cake mix (Note: boxed cake mixes are generally about four cups, so one cake mix can make three different belly cake recipes. If you want to use the whole box, multiply all the other ingredients by three.)
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/3 cup water
1 egg
6 oz jar of Gerber 3rd Foods bananas (If you don’t want to use baby food, you can skip this ingredient or sub in an extra half of a banana. That being said, there’s nothing but bananas and water in Gerber’s baby food and the moisture it adds to the cake is phenomenal. Plus, this is a great way to acquire an extra baby food jar if you’re still pregnant and sans baby food!)
1 very ripe banana
6 empty baby food jars (you can use the one from the bananas above)
1/3 cup cream cheese
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
1 cup confectioners sugar
Mini Nutter Butter cookie (optional)

 

(1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place 12 cupcake papers in a cupcake pan.

(2) Using a medium-sized mixing bowl, mix egg, water, cake mix, vegetable oil, baby food, and banana together until mostly smooth (small chunks of bananas is fine). Pour into cupcake papers, filling 2/3rds of the way.

(3) Bake 20 min and set out to cool. The cakes will look spongy and a little less risen than usual cupcakes, but as long as you can poke a toothpick into the middle and bring it out clean, they’re fine.

(4) To make the chunky peanut butter frosting, use an electric mixer to blend cream cheese and peanut butter. Slowly mix in the confectioners sugar and mix until smooth. If it’s too powdery, add water a tablespoon at a time until you get the consistency you want.

(5) To make the belly cakes, put one unwrapped cupcake into the bottom of the jar. Using a pastry bag or a Ziploc with the corner cut off, add a layer of peanut butter frosting and top with a second cupcake. Pipe more frosting and finish it off with a mini Nutter Butter if you’d like. Personally, I think these cakes are amazing but those little Nutter Butters still manage to add something special…

 

Prep time: 10 min

Bake time: 20 min

Makes: 12 cupcakes (6 belly cake jars)

Ingredients:

1 1/3 cup yellow cake mix (Note: boxed cake mixes are generally about four cups, so one cake mix can make three different belly cake recipes. If you want to use the whole box, multiply all the other ingredients by three.)
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/3 cup water
1 egg
2 Tbsp sour cream or greek yogurt
Lemon extract
6 empty baby food jars
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
Lemon zest (optional)

 

(1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place 12 cupcake papers in a cupcake pan.

(2) Using a medium-sized mixing bowl, mix egg, water, cake mix, vegetable oil, and sour cream (or greek yogurt) together. Add a few drops of lemon extract to taste…a little bit will make the cake fresh, a lot will lemon it up enough to keep morning sickness at bay. Pour into cupcake papers, filling 2/3rds of the way.

(3) Bake 20 min and set out to cool.

(4) To make the buttercream frosting, use an electric mixer to blend softened butter and confectioners sugar. If it’s too powdery, add water a tablespoon at a time until you get the consistency you want.

(5) To make the belly cakes, put one unwrapped cupcake into the bottom of the jar. Using a pastry bag or a Ziploc with the corner cut off, add a layer of buttercream frosting and top with a second cupcake. Pipe more frosting and finish it off with little bit of lemon zest if you’d like. You can eat them right away or, even better, refrigerate them and they’ll be a refreshing snack on a hot day. The frosting hardens up, but it’s still delicious!

 

These little cakes were inspired by Petite Lemon, a company that offers the most darling customized children’s goods. Prepare to fall in love…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Start a Blog: Don’t Let Your Photos Ruin Your Posts

Posted by Carly Morgan

start-a-blog-bad-photos

This is the third part of my series on blogging. The first post is about starting a blog, which you might want to check out if you don’t have a blog or if you have a blog on Blogger or some other hosted network. From here on out, I’ll assume that you have a WordPress blog that you’re self-hosting through Bluehost or another hosting company. The second post was a 10 point checklist for good blog content.

I told you in the last post that large images or graphics are really key to successful blog posts. A lot of media is visual and people are more likely to stop and read your post if you have a lot of pictures with short paragraphs instead of big blocks of text. Of course, the tough thing about this is that some bloggers are also great photographers (or have photographers on staff like A Beautiful Mess) and some bloggers have great ideas for blog posts but they don’t have the photography skills to execute their visions.

Bad photos can sink your posts. Here’s an example: these are both posts about lunches I had while I was traveling (one from 2009 and one from 2013). The first is a post that I had made private, but I opened it back up to the public so you can see all the awful. See how committed I am to improving your blog skills?

lunch-photo-1

In my head, I saw a photo of a regional meal representative of my trip. The execution, of course, is a bad cell phone picture with bad lighting that makes the food look gross (ick – those fries!). The photo is also too small, off-center, and not accompanied by any text that would help anyone out. (Where did I get the food? Why am I at PDX? What magazine am I reading? WHY DID I BLOG THIS?) You can see why I made this post private. This is the kind of thing that makes your blog look bad.

Next example: another regional meal representative of my trip, this time from Napa:

lunch-photo-2

This is another cell phone picture of food, but there are a couple of big differences. For one, the lighting in this photo is a lot better because I’m outside and not under weird fluorescent airport lights.Two, my camera is better and picked up more of the detail. Also, I edited the photo with a cheap phone filter app (PicTapGo)  and when I posted it I made sure that it was 600 pixels wide so it fills up the whole blog post area. Finally, I added details like where I was, what I was eating, and other things that might actually interest/help readers.

Do you have bad photos on your blog? If you answer yes to any of these, the answer is…well…yes:
/// The photos on your blog are smaller than the width of your blog post area AND off-center. (Centered small photos are better than nothing.)
/// The photos are blurry or badly lit.
/// The photos don’t illustrate what you’re blogging about.
/// The photos include undesirable things along with your subject (such as a plate of food + your messy kitchen, your new dress + your dirty bathroom mirror, the craft you just made + all the bad versions of the craft that didn’t work out…).
/// WORST: The photos aren’t yours and you don’t have permission to have them on your blog.

The good news is that it’s not impossible to get good photos for your blog posts, even if you don’t spend a lot of money. If you look at the list of gear I use for my blog, you’ll see that I do own a big fancy camera, but I’d say that most of my blog photos are actually cell phone pictures that were edited with an app. (Check out my list of phone photo apps here.) Quick note: you want the photos to be big but you don’t want them to be TOO big or your blog will load really slow. Assuming you’re using wordpress, try a plugin like this one that resizes your images automatically when you upload them.

Here are 5 quick tips, no matter what kind of digital camera you’re using:

(1) Lighting is important and it’s the hardest thing to fix no matter how many app filters you add to your photo. The best lighting is outside when it’s cloudy or inside near sunlight coming in from a window.

photo-too-dark

(2) Take a ton of photos of each thing you’re photographing so you can choose the best one when you’re picking illustrations for your post. This is especially true for taking pictures of kids! I have so many bad photos of the kid, you wouldn’t even believe it.

take-lots-of-photos

(3) Check your background. If it’s in the shot, people will look at it, so clear away any mess or distracting junk. Even if the background isn’t messy, you might want to make it as blank as possible so people look at what you want them to look at.

kid-background

(4) The best bloggers have a fairly consistent look with their photography. I’m all for experimenting, but pay attention to the look you’re drawn to and try to stay in that general area. I could list a ton of blogs that do this well, but one that comes to mind is Bleubird. (Although she married a photographer, like a ton of other successful bloggers. If I could consider it a reasonable tip, I would have just told you to marry a photographer and this would have been a much shorter post.)

(5) Getting your blog posts pinned on Pinterest is a great way to boost traffic, so keep Pinterest in mind when you’re adding photos. Pictures that get pinned more often have a lot of red, descriptive text, and/or are slightly taller and thinner than regular photos. The pin below is one of my most popular, even though I’d pinned the photo by itself before and barely gotten any repins.

Put text on your photos to make them easier to pin.

 

If you really aren’t up to using your own photos, you can use Getty images. As long as you follow their rules for social media, they don’t mind if you use their pictures. They have a TON of images. I used some recently for a post about homeschooling.

Have fun with your pictures! They’re my favorite part of blogging. Let me know in the comments below if you have any questions. I know I promised that we’d cover how to get more eyeballs on your blog, but I wanted to make sure your photos were pretty first. We’ll do eyeballs on the blog next time.

 

Family Bedroom: Why We All Sleep in the Same Room

Posted by Carly Morgan

Family Bedroom - King size bed and kid bunk bed from IKEA with white bedding. See the rest of the photos at http://everclevermom.com/2014/03/family-bedroom-why-we-all-sleep-in-the-same-room/

We all sleep in the same room.

You might have figured that out already, if you followed the transition from “Eva’s room” to “shared office/playroom” and realized that our lovely house is teeny tiny. With only two bedrooms, there were limited options.

The funny thing is, we don’t sleep in the same room simply because of space issues. Starting about a year ago, our family sleep pattern went down the drain. I was incredibly sick in the middle of my pregnancy, so I spent most nights wandering around trying to feel better. Then we entered the bed rest portion of the pregnancy and Kyle was booted out to the living room so that I could stay up until all hours. With the bed rest summer and the new sleeping arrangements, Eva’s sleep schedule got all thrown off.

By the time Calvin was born, Eva was awful about going to sleep. She’d wander around in her room in the dark or turn on her library light (unfortunately reachable via bunk bed) so we’d find her reading until all hours of the night. She’d get yelled at and threatened and pleaded with and promises of rewards and she’d nod or cry or smile and as soon as the door was shut she’d go back to playing/reading/not sleeping.

We actually weren’t faring much better in our room. Calvin threw off our sleep schedule, of course, but we would also toss and turn and get up to see if Eva was ok. At the worst of it, nobody was sleeping and the only person who really had an excuse to be up was Calvin. Something had to change.

I finally decided that we needed a restful space. Our room was crazy crowded with mess and baby stuff and some work stuff and also cookbooks(?) and some old magazines. What I really wanted was one of those oasis rooms that just makes you want to crawl into bed and close your eyes. So, I did it.

Family Bedroom - Why we all sleep in the same space. See the rest of the photos at http://everclevermom.com/2014/03/family-bedroom-why-we-all-sleep-in-the-same-room/

We moved all of the not-sleeping stuff out of the room or into a drawer/closet/bin under the bed. Then we moved Eva’s bed in so the room is basically just our beds. I got rid of our decor (leaving only a guitar Kyle uses sometimes when he sings to the kids) and changed out our colored bedding for plain white stuff we could bleach.

IKEA bed in the family bedroom. See the rest of the photos at http://everclevermom.com/2014/03/family-bedroom-why-we-all-sleep-in-the-same-room/

We have a dresser in the room, but we try hard not to let clutter accumulate. The only permanent stuff is an iPad base for the sleep sounds we can’t sleep without, a diffuser with some lavender oil, and a humidifier with star projections.

Creating a sleepy space in the family bedroom. See the rest of the photos at http://everclevermom.com/2014/03/family-bedroom-why-we-all-sleep-in-the-same-room/

I did keep our large mirror to make the space feel a little bigger and we put the blue toy box in here so that Calvin’s corner does have a bit of that nursery feel. I do wish that I could have made him one of those Land of Nod boy nurseries that rule Pinterest, but I have to admit that I don’t wish he was in another room. I also don’t wish Eva was in another room. I love (love) having us all sleep in the same place.

Guitar hung over the crib in the family bedroom. See the rest of the photos at http://everclevermom.com/2014/03/family-bedroom-why-we-all-sleep-in-the-same-room/

Surprised? I admit that it’s kind of a nutty idea and we weren’t sure that it was going to work out. We have had some rough nights, but only due to the kids having coughs and waking us up. To be honest, whenever Eva was sick in the past we used to check on her about every 30 minutes because we’re crazy, so it’s nice to have her right there now. It’s also been impressive how well the kids have slept through each other’s sounds. If anything, I’m hoping this will make them better sleepers.

Would we have a family bedroom if we had more space? Well, maybe actually. I love the idea of a designated sleeping space and since we made it a no-reading, no-tech area it has led to better nights of sleep. (OK, I admit that Kyle and I have been sneaking our iPads in but we’re totally paying for it by not sleeping as well. We’ll learn eventually…) Eva is also sleeping more, partially because she has nothing to get up and play with if she gets up and also because she doesn’t wake up feeling like she’s missing something.

As for Calvin…I don’t know. He’s great, but I think he came that way. But for the sake of supporting my decorating, let’s just say that my bedroom plan has led to his insane amount of inner harmony.

Sharing a bedroom with your kids. See the rest of the photos at http://everclevermom.com/2014/03/family-bedroom-why-we-all-sleep-in-the-same-room/

Recipe: Lemon Lavender Donuts with Honey Buttermilk Glaze

Posted by Carly Morgan

Recipe: Lemon Lavender Donuts with Honey Buttermilk Glaze

Donuts!

We’ve been on a huge donut-free streak. Ever since Eva got diagnosed with her nut allergies, we’ve steered clear of bakeries and donut shops since it’s pretty tough to avoid almonds and peanuts in a place like that. I have made cookies and other sweets here at home, but donuts seemed a little impossibly hard.

Turns out, not hard! I bought a Norpro 6-Count Nonstick Donut Pan and it’s just like using a muffin pan except you don’t have to use those annoying muffin papers and also donuts are so much cooler than muffins. I am deeply happy that our nut-free family is entering the donut world again, so I made a little “Welcome, Spring!” batch to break in the pan.

Recipe: Lemon Lavender Donuts

Lemon Lavender Donuts with Honey Buttermilk Glaze

/// 1 cup flour
/// 1/2 cup sugar
/// 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
/// 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
/// 1/4 teaspoon salt
/// 2 lemons (whole thing, not just the juice)
/// 1/2 cup greek yogurt
/// 1 large egg
/// 3 Tbsp lavender
/// 1 cup powdered sugar
/// 2 Tbsp buttermilk
/// 2 Tbsp honey

Heat your oven to 350 degrees and grease a 6 capacity donut pan. Zest one of the lemons in a medium bowl. Add the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk together.

Juice both lemons into a small bowl. Add the greek yogurt, lavender, and the egg and whisk together. Combine the wet ingredients with the dry and stir until well mixed.

Fill the donut pan with the batter and bake for 10-12 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of one of the donuts comes out clean. Let cool slightly before removing to a rack.

Once the donuts are cool enough to handle, you can glaze them. To make the glaze, add the buttermilk and the honey to the powdered sugar and whisk together. Dip the tops of the donuts into the glaze and then let drip dry on the cooling rack.

Honey Buttermilk Glaze

Easy donut recipe

Easy Doughnut Recipe: Lemon Lavender Donuts with Honey Buttermilk Glaze

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