Chickpea Chocolate Cake with Beet Cream Cheese Icing

Chickpea chocolate cake

So . . . I’m pretty sure “chickpea” and “beet” are not two words you typically see in a birthday cake recipe. But what makes this recipe so interesting is that it looks and tastes like a totally normal chocolate birthday cake!

I baked this cake for Lydia’s third birthday this last weekend, and no one could tell there was anything unusual going on. In fact, our guests raved about how moist and chocolatey is was, and asked for the recipe. It’s dense but springy and rich. It’s a little less sweet than conventional or store-bought cakes, but that was intentional — I usually find birthday cake WAY too sweet, and I didn’t want to serve a really sugary dessert to our tiny guests.

As I mentioned in my last post, I was looking for a cake recipe that was somewhat nutritious, not too sugary, and didn’t contain artificial food dyes, which can make children (and adults) cray-cray. This one fit the bill perfectly.

birthday cake

A Note About the Cake:

The recipe originates from Nigella.com and is full of odd ingredients. I’ve made it many times over the years and have always been happy with it. I’ve doubled it here to make it a double-layer cake.

This cake happens to be grain-free and gluten-free (if you use the right ingredients), even though we don’t generally eat gluten-free. I just think we typically eat too many grains in general, so it’s always advantageous to cut back when we can. Thanks to the chick peas and eggs, it’s quite high in protein.

It works out really well for a double-layer cake because it has a flat top — they stack on top of one another beautifully.

If you just want a single-layer cake for a casual gathering, halve the recipe, add a handful of chocolate chips, and serve with homemade maple-sweetened whipped cream. Decadence without damaging your body.

A Note About the Icing:

I got this recipe from Joy the Baker, but I cut the sugar in half. It was still PLENTY sweet — I could have done even less, if it was just for our own family. And I boiled the beet rather than roasting it, since I only needed one (I wasn’t using beets in the rest of the recipe and didn’t want to heat up a whole oven for one beet.) The beet flavour doesn’t come through at all — just the lovely magenta colour. Who needs FD&C Red No. 40, anyway?

On the the recipe!

birthday cake slice

Chickpea Chocolate Cake

  • 2 cans chick peas (a.k.a. garbanzo beans), or 4 cups home-cooked
  • 8 eggs
  • 1 1/3 cups orange juice (or pineapple)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup coconut palm sugar (or other granulated sugar)
  • 2/3 cup honey
  • 1 1/3 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda

Butter two 9-inch round cake pans, and line the bottoms with cut circles of parchment paper to make sure your cakes come out nice and easy. Preheat oven to 350.

Blend the chick peas and 4 of the eggs in a large blender or food processor until smooth. Then mix in all the rest of the ingredients until well blended. (They may not all fit in your blender at once. You may need to transfer to your mixer bowl and beat it with your mixer, after the beans are blended smooth.) Batter will be very runny, but don’t fret — it’ll fluff up like magic when you bake it.

Pour batter into prepared cake pans.

Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes, or until top is firm and a toothpick comes out clean. Remove cakes from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes.  Invert cakes onto a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting and assembling the cake. Carefully peel off the parchment paper.

Beet Cream Cheese Icing

  • 1 small beet
  • 2 tsp milk
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 8 ounces (1 brick) cream cheese, softened
  • 2 to 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar (preferably corn-free)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract or seeds of one vanilla bean
  • 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • pinch of salt

Wash and trim the beet, and boil in a small pot of water until you can easily pierce it with a fork, about 10 minutes. Remove from water and allow to cool. When it’s cool enough to handle, peel it and grate it with a microplaner or the finest grating plane on a box grater. Measure out 2-3 Tbsp for the icing; eat or discard the rest.

In a small food processor, blend together the grated beet, milk, and a small amount of the butter and cream cheese. This is just to get the beet ground up really fine. I didn’t want any of Joy’s “beet sprinkles” in my frosting.

Put the remaining butter and cream cheese to the bowl of your mixer, and beat with the paddle attachment until creamy and smooth. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl as necessary.  Beat in the beet mixture, powdered sugar, vanilla, lemon juice, and salt.  Beat on medium speed until smooth.  Refrigerate the frosting for 30 minutes before frosting the cooled cakes.

Assembling the Cake:

Place one layer of cake on a cake stand or plate.  Top with a generous amount of pink frosting and spread evenly.  Place the other cake on top of the frosting.  Top with more frosting.  Work frosting onto the sides of the cake until evenly covered.

Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving, to make the cake easier to slice.

finished birthday cake(I am not a pro at frosting a cake but I got the job done!)

Lydia’s (Handmade) Third Birthday Party

Third birthday

This weekend our Lydia turned three.

In recent weeks, I’ve been going around telling people what an absolutely delightful age this is. Lydia is utterly hilarious, imaginative, talkative, and smart. She’s been going to the potty all by herself, dressing herself, napping predictably, eating well, playing quietly and independently for hours on end . . . it’s been heaven with her. I couldn’t believe we finally hit our Golden Age.

And then this last week she decided to show us that three isn’t all cute conversations and walks to the park and pretty sundresses.

It’s also climbing onto the roof of the van in busy parking lots; refusing to nap and being miserable for the rest of the day; refusing to eat beloved meals and then complaining about being hungry all day; stealing snacks from friends at the park (and maybe hitting them a little bit when they don’t want to share); and wanting to sit on my lap every second of the day.

So just like every other age before it, three is full of delight and wonder and frustration and exhaustion. And I still wish she slept more.

Anyway, here’s how we decided to celebrate this snuggly, infuriating, energetic, independent, creative little girl.

I wanted to keep it simple, surrounding her with the people who love her most, and making her feel special with carefully-chosen items made with love.

Because it was the weekend and summer, we had our families over for a barbecue, as well as another young family. So grandparents, aunties and uncles, one little cousin and one little friend were all there to enjoy grilled kabobs, salad, and watermelon from my parents’ garden.

About a month ago, I started putting together some reusable, handmade birthday items in order to begin some birthday traditions which I hope we’ll carry out for years to come. Among these items were a personalized felt crown and a fabric birthday banner.

I’m really drawn to many elements of Waldorf education, including the traditions and overall aesthetic. I’ve been inspired by a lot of the felt birthday crowns I’ve seen from families with similar inclinations.

For the crown, I ordered a wool felt bundle online (I’d never used wool felt before, and it was HARD to find it in dimensions large enough for this project) and did some searching on Pinterest for ideas. I used the template found in Amanda Blake Soule’s The Creative Family.

I wanted something that wasn’t too childish or girlie, so she’d still like it in future years despite inevitable changes in taste. I also wanted the size to be adjustable, to be used (hopefully) for years. I liked the idea of using elastic in the back. Here’s what I came up with:

Felt birthday crown

felt birthday crown with elastic back

I wanted to include the letter L to personalize it. I added yellow flowers with black button centers after the black-eyed susans that are always blooming around her birthday. It’s not NEARLY as charming as many that I’ve seen, but I’m new at this. It made her feel special, so that’s the important thing.

birthday girl

Next on the list: I wanted to make a reusable fabric birthday banner. I was inspired by a friend’s Instagram picture of one such banner, and immediately set out to create one just like it.

Reusable fabric happy birthday banner

After I’d made it, I discovered the original designer was Marissa, an online friend who is a thousand times more talented than I am. She gave her blessing for me to offer a tutorial on how I made it, which I’m hoping to put together later this week (if folks are interested!)

And then for the gift.

I’d been planning on buying Lydia some art supplies from Hobby Lobby when we were in the U.S. a few days prior (I wanted to get liquid watercolours and some big watercolour paper), but it didn’t work out. So when my mom offered to watch her for an afternoon, I decided to sew a new dress for her Waldorf doll, Etta.  I picked out some cute fabric from my pile of quilting scraps. I didn’t have a pattern to go by, so I had to make up my own. Because I am slow, meticulous, and inexperienced, it took me five hours to put this together:

waldorf doll dress(If anyone is curious, this is a Bamboletta Little Buddy, which Lydia got for Christmas. I am completely IN LOVE with their dolls.)

I also threw in a couple of thrift store dresses I’d recently bought. So I spent a total of $3 on her birthday present this year. But she was thrilled, especially about the doll dress, and immediately got up to go put it on her.

new dress

new doll dress

And then came the cake!

If there is one thing that is overrated these days, it’s professional cakes. TOTALLY NOT INTERESTED.

Instead, I wanted something reasonably healthy and not too sugary. No artificial food dyes, either. These are little kids we’re talking about. Their behaviour gives us enough trouble when they’re functioning perfectly.

I went with a grain-free chocolate cake that I love (made with chick peas and sweetened with honey!) and a low-sugar cream cheese icing . . . dyed with beets!

birthday cake

birthday cake slice

I loved the beautiful magenta colour I got.

Again, I’m hoping to share the recipe later this week. It was a big hit. No one could tell there was anything unusual about it — in fact, they raved about how moist and dense and chocolatey it was. I will definitely make it again.

Another blessed year with this beautiful and maddening little girl. I am blessed beyond measure.

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7 Screen-Free Travel Activities for a Three-Year-Old

7 screen-free activities for a preschooler

We recently went on a trip with our extended family that took us six hours north of our home.

I really, really hate traveling. I get every kind of sick (carsick, seasick, airsick, you name it), and I just hate being strapped down for hours at a time.

We were traveling with our almost-three-year-old, which I knew was likely to make the experience even less enjoyable; but I really wanted to make the drive as tolerable as possible for all of us.

We don’t own any electronic devices (apart from our outdated Androids), so I knew I’d have to be a little creative to keep her occupied for so many hours in her car seat. Naturally, I also wanted these activities to be as mess-free as possible. (But I was not about to prepare elaborate handmade activities for two days. I am just not that productive.)

I looked through Pinterest for a few ideas, and headed to the dollar store for a few supplies. I think I spent about $13 in total, and most of the items I bought can be reused indefinitely. In fact, I decided that all the items would remain in a “travel bag” that my daughter would only get to use when going for long trips, to keep them special and interesting.

To my amazement, these few activities kept her perfectly content throughout the trip — both ways. She didn’t even nap on the way there, so that was about 11 hours combined.

The advantages of screen-free activities?

  • No annoying noises for us to listen to while we drove. Just delicious silence for us to enjoy as she concentrated on her tasks.
  • No post-screen hangover. I know from personal experience how hard it can be to go from staring at a screen to doing . . . anything else. And I imagine that transition is even harder for little ones. You know how miserable and whiny most kids get after extended time staring at cartoons or hunched over an iPad, right?
  • We avoided feeding the monster of screen addiction. (It’s a real thing.)

Here’s what we did instead:

Water Magic Colouring Book

Water Magic Book

I found a book like this one at our local Dollarama for $3. (It was a Carebear one).

I normally don’t buy gimmicky things like this for my child — this activity doesn’t foster any creativity, skill, qualities or knowledge whatsoever. You just make the page wet and colors magically fill in the pictures. And I generally dislike registered characters. But I made an exception for the trip.

Totally worth it. She played with it for a full 45 minutes on the way up and an hour on the way back. She would “colour” in every page, one at a time; and by the time she was done the last one, the first had dried enough that she could start all over again.

We actually found she liked it better to use a damp cloth rather than the magic water pen that came with it.

The only downside was that she so saturated the pages that by the end, some of the white coating started to scratch off. So it might not get much use after this trip.

Foam Clay

Floam

I found some generic “Floam” at the dollar store. It wasn’t as big a hit as the Water Magic book, but it was novel enough to intrigue her and keep her occupied for about ten minutes each way. I wonder if the name-brand stuff would be better — this stuff stuck to her fingers and came apart a little too much.

On the upside, it was quite tidy; and when I showed her how to use a big clump to pick up the little balls that were sticking to her fingers, she enjoyed working at that.

Stickers on a Sketchpad

stickers on a sketchpad

I got a couple of sheets of stickers and a good-sized, coil-bound sketchpad for her to stick them onto as she pleased. She LOVED it. Again, this kept her occupied for 45 minutes each way.

Stickers are great for strengthening manual dexterity, and the activity was great for exercising concentration.

New (To Her) Books

new book

I believe novelty is key when it comes to keeping little ones entertained on a boring trip.

I had pulled out a book from the closet where I keep thrift-store finds that I want to save for later. I intentionally chose a completely unfamiliar book full of detailed illustrations to captivate her attention. She enjoyed examining the images for a good 15 minutes.

Looking out the Window

looking out window

Remember when we used to do this? Before handheld video games were common?

I imagine this was no big deal for Lydia since she’s used to doing nothing in a vehicle.  (Half the time we don’t even have music playing when we drive.)

When she got tired of the above activities, simply looking out the window occupied her for a good hour. It’s my belief that kids CAN and WILL sit and look around quietly if their world isn’t normally dominated by screens.

Drawing on Sketchpad with Special Crayons

colouring

Again, I don’t normally buy this kind of thing — I generally avoid plastic as much as possible for environmental reasons — but I wanted to get my daughter some kind of new and interesting colouring utensils, just for the trip. So I got her a pack of Crayola Twistables (they were only $2 at our dollar store). The point is just that they were something she hadn’t used before, so they seemed special. They also don’t have caps that will get lost and don’t need to be sharpened. She used the same sketchpad she’d used for the stickers.

She coloured with them for about half an hour each way, and also used them during shorter trips while we were out there. They will remain her special travel pencils.

Snacks!

snacks

Okay, this isn’t really an activity, per se. But they kept her occupied and happy.

I bought bottled juice from the grocery store (something she never gets at home) and packed homemade popcorn. Add a straw and you have a happy little traveller!

 What are some of your favourite screen-free activities for little ones?