The Shared Chocolate Birthday Cake by Amy Cantu

I'm just going to start with this apology, rather than end with it, (so you know what you're getting into and can just skip to the recipe link at the bottom of the page if you want): I'm sorry, but my eldest son turned five, and I melted into this puddle of sad, emotional mush. On the morning of his birthday, he crawled into bed with me, and I cuddled his no-longer-tiny body as tightly as I could. "Mom, I can't breathe!" "Oh, sorry." "I still can't breathe!" I sighed deeply and loosened my death grip. I ran my fingers through his thick straight hair, (what mine used to feel like before losing half my hair after each pregnancy—a testimony to the many changes and ahem, sacrifices it takes to be a mom.) I intertwined my fingers with his; thank goodness, his hands were still tiny in my adult-sized ones. He's still small, still a child. I inhaled and took in his little boy scent that no bath could ever completely erase—earthy like the dirt he spends all day digging, a little salty from all the endless running around, and sweet, the way that only a child can smell to his mom. Silently, I thought about the first time I held his tiny, fragile body in my arms. I remembered the twisted face he made the first time he tried mashed avocados, how proud I felt the first time he completed a puzzle on his own (boy-genius!), his determination to line up and sort all of his cars by size and color, and most recently, his favorite piece of trivia: Did you know that the longest flight is from Columbia to Singapore?! "Happy birthday, Sweet Pea!" I whispered to keep my voice from cracking. He turned to me with a wide grin and exclaimed, "Today we make cake! Any cake I want! Chocolate with chocolate frosting AND SPRINKLES!" He was standing on the bed now, waving his arms above his head, and shouting. "I want to pick all the things to put on top of it, OK?! And cupcakes too!" My wistful reflection came to an abrupt halt, and I cocked my head to the side, "You want to bake a cake AND cupcakes today?" "Yep! It's my birthday!" I couldn't deny him anything in that moment, and so we did.

Follow us to the recipe:

Chocolate Birthday Cake with Chocolate Frosting (Perfect for a layer cake, cupcakes, or a bit of both!)

The Shared Summer Picnic by Amy Cantu

I packed for efficiency and speed, with each item carefully curated: one carry-on suitcase filled with just enough clothes for the number of days I would be away on my girls' trip, no liquids in bottles over four ounces (so as to not anger the TSA gods,) slip-on shoes for the security line, boarding pass pre-printed and tucked neatly into the front pocket of my small travel purse, (no kids = no giant tote bag masquerading as a purse to hold the ten snacks, extra diaper, wipes, and water bottles). I tapped my foot nervously. I have not been away from the kids for five days EVER. I both wanted to bolt out the door and also start feigning illness to get out of going. Of course in this moment, their cherub faces were adorable and their good-bye hugs tugged at my heart strings. Can I do this? Can I be someone other than "mom" for the next five days? Yes. Yes, I can. I gathered up my littles for one last squeeze and pulled the door shut behind me. I could hear them wailing on the other side of the door, and my husband holding them back. "Maaaamaaaaa! MAMA!" I flinched and kept on walking. Five days. Five days of feeling like an individual again, releasing myself from the worry, guilt, and refereeing of small children . . . and also missing those same small children like crazy.

What does a getaway girls' trip have to do with a shared summer picnic? It's all about balance - in cooking and in life. If there's one thing that I've learned (and continue to learn), it's that too much of anything is just that: too much. I felt torn as I left for that trip, but when I returned, I felt renewed and ready to wrestle with the boys and cook for everyone again. This summer picnic is a metaphor for that revelation - a vibrant salad filled with summer vegetables and protein-packed beans balanced with a luscious, rich chocolate pudding. It's a picnic that is both nourishing for the body and nourishing for the soul because really, we all need a little of both to center ourselves in a world that too often feels so one-sided and stressful. When Cynthia and I shared this meal with each other, I just thought, how lucky are we to be able to balance our mom-lives with the love and passion we have for sharing food. I hope this Bean Salad and Easy Chocolate Pudding bring some much needed harmony into your lives too.

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Two Bean Summer Salad

Easy Chocolate Pudding

The Shared Cookies by Cynthia Raub

One of my nearest and dearest friends is having a baby! YAY! YAYYYYY!! YAAAAAAAAAYY! To celebrate her and her highly anticipated bundle of joy, her sister-in-law, neighbor, and I threw her a BBQ baby shower for her and 80 friends and family. Mama-to-be loves sweets especially a variety of them, so that was an important aspect in planning for the shower. In addition to the sheet cake, Jell-O cups, brownie bites, palmiers, and beautiful fruit platters, we made cookies. There is no better dessert to follow a BBQ than cookies (except maybe popsicles . . . ) and with that many guests, I wanted to make sure we had a variety of sweets to suit everyone's tastes. Amy and I decided to make double batches of our two favorite cookies for the dessert table for this very special occasion.

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Lemon Poppy Seed Cookies

Salted Tahini Chocolate Chip Cookies

The Shared Valentine's Day by Amy Cantu

Chocolate Strawberries Red Velvet Brownies

Last Valentine’s Day, my then 3-year-old woke up and slipped into my room to cuddle, like he does most mornings. He whispered into my ear, “Happy Valentine’s Day! I love you, Mommy. But, I love you ALL the days.” And I melted into a wet puddle. I gave him an extra snuggle, and stored the memory away for the inevitable moments when I’d need to remind myself that he is more than a crazed, tantrum-monster. He’s absolutely right though; love is something we should acknowledge every single day with hugs, our time, words of kindness, and my favorite - with food.

This Valentine’s Day, Cynthia and I wanted to surprise the kids, the best way we know how - with food. Let’s have an (early Valentine's Day) party! I made to-die-for Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies and easy Chocolate-Covered Strawberries. Cynthia found cute paper straws that we cut up into “beads”, and the kids laced them together with pipe cleaners to make bracelets and necklaces. She also had adorable mini milk bottles with striped red and white straws that the kids drank from with giddy glee. Honestly, the enormous smiles on their little faces was the best Valentine’s Day gift I could have imagined. Nothing’s sweeter than that!

Follow us to the recipes:

Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies

Chocolate-Covered Strawberries