An Introductory Note: Owen turned two last week, and we celebrated his birthday with a bunch of friends and their kids last weekend. In the weeks prior, Owen and I had perused Pinterest together, and out of dino, dog, and truck cakes, he wanted a tractor cake. The design of the cake came from this pin, but I figured out the cake & frosting combination and assembly. And this post? It’s portions of my regular letters to my kiddos (you can read the whole letter & all the others) here.
You’re two. You. My baby. You’re two. How did that happen? Your baby rolls and dark hair have been replaced by a little boy who is muscular and lean and summertime blonde all year long. A boy who climbs on the furniture and runs down the sidewalk and talks from morning until night. We are beginning to see who you are, and we say this at least once a day: you are passionate. Your days are full – of emotions, energy, experiences – your highs are high and your lows are low, Owen Bowen.
You’ve been throwing 2-year-old tantrums since you were one-and-a-half (your very first one was over a graham cracker, your precious), and they are loud. You know what you want, and you let us know when you don’t get it. Coming in from outside, you act like we are dragging you to your death. At times, you get totally overwhelmed when you’re around a lot of other kids, and you cry and get crazy emotional. But it is not all negative. Sometimes, your sympathy astounds me; we were watching a Wheels on the Bus music video in which some cats were crying together with the babies on the bus wah-wah-wahing, and you cried bitterly about the cats for at least 10 minutes and brought them up at least once a day for weeks after. When you are hurt or sad, you (still) rub your hair, and say “sah-ee Owen, sah-ee Owen” and “I know I know I know” just like I do when I’m picking you up from a tumble. The littlest things excite you – the anthill on the sidewalk, the squirrel running up the tree, the passing firetruck, the BIG GRILLA! and GIAN TURTLE at the zoo that you couldn’t wait to tell your dad about.
Your curiosity is endless. All day long you ask me, “What’s that sound make?” and “Where’s Dad/Mom/Elsa/Estella/Archie/Bumpa go?” Our walk down the block takes forty minutes because we stop every two steps for a “Whas this, Mom?” You are distracted by bugs and dandelions and loud engines and somewhat phobic of stray hairs and “specka dirt” in the bathtub. You are communicating so much these days, and when a listener finally gets what you’re saying, you squawk “oh!” as if to say, “yes, that’s exactly what I meant.”
Your waterfall of words mostly lands on me throughout the day, but occasionally I hear you, alone in your room, with your imagination evident. I hear you say, “Okay, Murf, we go!” to your Smurf as you walk her up the castle stairs. Murf and Monkey have conversations, and I overhear you talking to Bear, Monkey, Lambie, Lambikins, and Elmo in your crib, gathering them under your arms like a mother duck. When Elsa would cry those first few months, you would sometimes roar in frustration, but you’d often start saying, “I’m a hippo! ROAR! I’m a lion! ROAR! I’m a peacock! ROAR! I’m a Elsa! ROAR,” making me and you laugh. You are forever fishing these past few months, picking up every stick we pass, and “cyast!”-ing it, waiting a moment before you inform us that “I gah a BIG one!” (It’s possible that your passion for fishing rivals your passion for snacks).
You still are an amazing eater, only really turning your nose up at feta cheese, which I can live with. Though you definitely have your preferences and would eat goldfish crackers all day if we let you (as well as juiwce! wif ice!), you’ll happily eat what we put in front of you (Thai curry, lasagna, you name it).
You are a boy on the go. It takes you about a half hour to wake up in the morning and after nap, as you sit on the couch, drinking milk and stroking your hair. But once you’re up, you’re moving, on and off the couch, on top of the couch, climbing into Elsa’s crib, on the stool, running like a madman through our house, sprinting down sidewalks, and yelling “RUNNING GAME!” the minute your dad walks through the door at night. (Running game is sort of like tag, hide and seek, and purposeless running and screaming all rolled into one fabulous game, only rivaled by “Getchya-Ball” in which the element of your Dad trying to knock a ball out of your hand with your stuffed Elmo is added.) I hear you from the kitchen, “Ready? Go. SET!” as you jump from the ottoman to the couch or throw a ball towards your basketball hoop in another round of Elmo Dunk. You have also taken to baseball this past month, much to your dad’s pleasure, and you could play “bichaw” by swinging your “bichaw” the entire day. You’re getting pretty good at hitting off the tee, and even hit a pitched ball at times; you throw like a pitcher and catch like…a pitcher.
For as many moments when you are making life difficult or throwing rice on the floor or yelling “no!” we have a lot of sweet moments too. On April 15, out of nowhere, as we drove down Minnehaha Parkway, you said, “Love you, Mama!” and my heart melted. You are gentle with Elsa, and tell me “Elsa be cute!” as you stroke her head. You bring her toys. You love your grandparents and are always wanting me to draw pictures of Bumpa Joe and Bumpa Ron, or to call them on the phone so you can talk. You give hugs like it’s your job, and big wet mouth kisses before we lay you in the crib to “rubyerback?” before leaving.
Owen, spending my days with you is the most exhausting fun I’ve ever had. I am completely spent by the end of each day, after your dad and I put you and Elsa to bed, my brain and body are done for. But you make me laugh; we have dance parties and sing songs “ageder.” We play games like “neaky neaky” over and over to your screaming laughter when I finally “find” you. We read books and you notice the most unassuming details about them. We cook together, take walks together, and tell our one and only inside joke, “mmm-hmmmmmm” while nodding and smiling hugely. You propose preposterous things, “Me drive a car?” and then shake your head, laughing, “nooooo!” Your smile lights up your face, the room, my day. I love being your mom.
I pray all the time that the Lord will harness your energy, emotion, and passion for good. That you will grow in wisdom and maturity and peace. And I believe He will do these things. You are gifted, my dear boy, and how blessed am I to have a front-row seat to what you’re becoming.I love you more than I ever thought possible; you have made these last two years so rich, full, and abundant.
(cake recipe from Smitten Kitchen )
(frosting recipe from Savory Sweet Life )
(cake idea & assembly by Carpé Season)
Tips: Both frosting and cake can be made days before serving. The frosting can be kept in a covered container in the fridge and then brought to room temperature before icing your cake. Once your cakes are cooled, I recommend placing your cakes on a sturdy piece of cardboard or cake board cut to exactly fit the bottom of the cake and triple wrapping them in plastic wrap before freezing or refrigerating them. Frozen cakes are so much easier to frost; I highly recommend doing this!
Also: You may be wondering why I chose to bake two 8x8" cakes instead of one 9x13" cake. I did this because initially I'd intended to cut both cakes in half and add a frosting layer to make a double layer cake. But I found this step hard to do even after freezing them, so I changed my mind. However, I still recommend two smaller cakes as opposed to one bigger cake so your cake top doesn't puff or sink in the middle like it might with a 9x13" cake.
Cake Ingredients (makes two 8x8" cakes):
2 cups cake flour
2 cups sugar
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup freshly brewed coffee, cooled to room temperature
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened (but not melted!)
5 1/4 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon table salt
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 tablespoons milk or heavy cream
Other Items Needed:
2 cake boards (or 1 cake board + 2 pieces of 8x8" sturdy cardboard)
two 7-ounce "giant" Hershey bars, roughly chopped
1 large Wilton's can of green frosting with the 4 tip options
ziplock bag for piping frosting
1 road construction vehicle - app. 5" long at max
(optional: once assembled, I stored my cake in my refrigerator in a rubbermaid bin this size just to make sure it didn't take on any refrigerator smells)
Bake the Cakes:
Peheat the oven to 350*F. Butter two 8x8" square cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment - cut to fit the bottom - and then butter the top of the paper too. (The butter underneath acts as "glue" to hold the parchment paper in place.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. With an electric mixer on low speed, blend for about 30 seconds. Add the butter and buttermilk and blend on low until moistened. Raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.
Whisk the eggs and coffee together, and add to the batter in 3 additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beating only until blended after each addition. (You seriously want to be thorough when scraping - all the way down the sides and in the bottom of the bowl - don't be lazy here or you'll find clumps of flour later) Divide the batter among the two prepared pans; each pan will take about 3 1/4 c. of batter.
Bake for 38 to 40 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool until the pans are cool enough to handle without oven mitts - about 15 minutes. Use a knife or spatula to loosen cake from the sides of the pan if necessary; then carefully turn them out onto parchment-paper-lined* wire racks and allow to cool completely. Remove the paper liners only when they are completley cool. (*the parchment paper keeps the cake from sticking to your wire racks, which one or two of mine did).
See note above about preparing cakes ahead of time.
Cream butter for a few minutes with a mixer on medium speed. Turn off the mixer. Sift 4 1/2 cups powdered sugar and all the cocoa into the mixing bowl. Turn your mixer on the lowest speed (so the dry ingredients do not blow everywhere) until the sugar and cocoa are absorbed by the butter. Increase mixer speed to medium and add vanilla extract, salt, and milk/cream and beat for 3 minutes. If your frosting needs a more stiff consistency, add a little more sugar. If your frosting needs to be thinned out, add additional milk 1 tablespoon at a time.
See note above about preparing frosting ahead of time.
Assemble the Cake:
Allow frosting to come to room temperature. Divide frosting in half and place in separate bowls. In one bowl of frosting, mix in all but 1 1/2 cups of the chopped chocolate. Set aside the unused 1 1/2 c. chocolate.
Unwrap frozen cakes and use a bread knife to level the top of the cakes. Use a pastry brush to try to brush off any crumbs (don't be too maniacal about this; if some of the cake crumbs get mixed in the frosting it's okay - you're making a dirt road!).
Place cake on cakeboard.
Frost the sides of the cake using the chopped chocolate / frosting mixture.
Frost the top of the cake using the smooth frosting, using more frosting in some areas to create a level surface. (If you'd like, you can use some of the chopped chocolate/frosting mixture on top too for a more rough-road look, like I did).
(Optional: Place the remaining smooth frosting in the bottom corner of a small ziplock, and cut a small hole in the ziploc to pipe small round circles all around the base of the cake.)
Use a butter knife to outline the shape of your road; we did a #2 because Owen was turning two, but do any road shape you like.)
Once your road shape is outlined, pipe green frosting from the can all around the non-road part of the cake top using the star tip.
Place your road construction vehicle somewhere on the road. Place some of the reserved chopped chocolate in/on the construction vehicle (we placed ours in the backhoe loader bucket; if you have a dump truck, place some in the dumper). Place the rest of the chopped chocolate in a pile as if the construction vehicle had moved the "rocks" into a pile.
This cake can remain out until serving, but will get a little wilty in hot weather. It's best kept covered in the fridge until serving if possible, but it CAN remain out and no one will get sick.