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Skid-steering our cake in the right direction

No one seemed exactly sure how to serve the oatmeal or when to eat it, unfamiliar with having it on the table alongside the chicken and green beans. It doesn’t really work on the plate since it needs milk, so we set out a stack of little bowls; the necessary brown sugar and cinnamon fit great beside the oatmeal pot, the plate of sliced cheese, and the jar of salsa, even if it felt a little weird.

To be fair, I don’t think any of us had eaten a bowl of oatmeal as a side dish at Sunday dinner — but then again, we’d also never celebrated Benson’s second birthday before.

Well, actually, we did have oatmeal for family lunch after church once before, but it went thematically with the “breakfast for dinner” pancakes and eggs a little better. And what do you know, that was exactly a year ago, on Benson’s first birthday.

What can I say, my son loves oatmeal. And we love him, so oatmeal it is!

The rest of the birthday meal we compiled of some of his other favorite foods wasn’t necessarily cohesive, but it was delicious: chicken drumsticks (he loves chewing on bones), roasted green beans (he has gnawed on them since before he even had teeth), chips and salsa (he is his father’s son), cheese (one of the cutest words he says), avocados (he ate half of one in like three minutes flat the other day), and of course, ice cream (he pulled the scoop out of the dishwasher and pointed it at the freezer before we even sat down to eat).

I’m a little embarrassed admitting I wasn’t even really planning to make a cake. I considered it, but then my schedule dictated that I would either have to stay up super late or get up super early to bake one. My love for Benson knows no bounds, but also, you can just eat some ice cream, kid.

Fortunately, Brian and Big Sister and Brother picked up the slack from my mom-fail. While I was gone catering, Brian not only kept all three kids alive and well, but he helped them bake Benson a chocolate cake! He even cleaned up afterwards (mostly); the man is a rock star.

We whipped up a quick fudgy frosting before church the next morning, and the kids were so excited/hopped up on sugar. We used his new birthday skid-steer as the main decoration, and the kids loaded the “mud” frosting with mini-wheat “snowy hay bales” and sugar clump “rocks.” That is my kind of cake decorating! I’m so glad he got a cake after all, and such a fun one. Benson’s face says it all.

But his “wow!” doesn’t even begin to match my soul’s. Brian and I were married for eight and a half years by the time I became pregnant with Benson. I had prayed Psalm 115:9 for years, but my hope was getting tired: “He settles the barren women in her home as a happy mother of children. Praise the Lord.” I knew I didn’t have to make the children for me to love them, but we had also lost a potential adoption and were even having setbacks getting our foster license. Our home was too quiet.

That is not the case anymore. We got our foster license certified when Benson was 17 days old, and rarely has our house been quiet since. Like any parenting journey, ours has been filled with ups and downs and all the things in between — sometimes all within a span of two minutes — but when we celebrate Benson’s birthday, I also celebrate the grace of the God who in the perfect timing settled me in my home as a happy mother of children.

Happy birthday, sweet Benson James.

Quick Fudgy “Mud” Frosting

Even if your cake doesn’t feature toy power machinery, this frosting works great, especially in a pinch. No mixer required, just a whisk and a saucepan — and something to protect it from kids’ fingers. Since we’re not creaming the butter, it isn’t as fluffy as a buttercream (now the name makes sense), but it is dense and rich. You do want to pay attention to the timing of spreading it, as too hot and it melts everywhere, and too cool and it starts to clump it instead of spread smoothly.

Prep tips: this makes enough for a 9 x 13-inch pan, so adjust as necessary for different size cakes. Try different chocolates for variety, or a dash of cinnamon if you want to add oatmeal vibes without the actual oatmeal.

4 tablespoons butter

2 ounces milk chocolate (or dark, or white, etc.)

2 cups powdered sugar

a good pinch of salt

¼ cup cream

a good splash of Mexican vanilla

Melt butter and chocolate in a saucepan over low heat. Whisk in powdered sugar, salt, and cream thoroughly, and bring just to a simmer. Remove from heat, whisk in vanilla, and beat until cool enough to spread — and then do spread right away.

Amanda Miller lives with her husband, almost-two-years-old son, and whoever else God brings them through foster care on the family dairy farm in Hutchinson. She enjoys doing some catering, teaching cooking classes, and freelancing, but mostly chasing after her kid(s). Reach her at