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30.11.11

Party on down: Cake


Cake. Caaaaake. The very word sends most children into raptures, so it's no surprise that even with all the ridiculous fussing we parents do for kids' parties these days, the caaaaake still rules the day.

If it pleases you and makes life easier, you can buy in every decoration and every single other item of food at your child's party, but you better believe that a home made cake is a necessity. It doesn't have to be a difficult cake and it absolutely doesn't have to be perfect, but you've just got to have a go. Bringing out the shining cake at the end of the party and seeing the shining faces that go along with it - that's parenting nirvana to me.

Logistics. Depending on complexity of cake, start the day before, if not even earlier. Bake the cake(s) you need, cool them and then freeze the cake. Yes, freeze it. It thaws absolutely fresh and a cool cake is a lot easier to ice than an out-of-the-oven-on-the-same-day cake. Just make sure you allow it to completely thaw before you ice it. Condensation makes icing slide right off. Not that I would know...

Aim to serve the cake a good half hour before party closing time. It takes longer than you think to light up a cake, deliver the cake to much fanfare, sing the birthday song, do the X claps for luck, blow out the candles, take out the candles, search for the knife, cut the cake, fight off the many little fists that go grabbing for the bits with the most icing and serve the cake. Yes, longer than you think.

One more thing... remember to cut more pieces than you need so you can offer them to the parents at pick up time. It's a nice gesture and a great way of moving all that excess cake!

Easy cakes

Maximum impact can be achieved with no skill whatsoever. The key is packet cakes and lots and lots of lollies.

Easiest party cake I ever made.

No, wait, this one was... see, marshmallows are the king of cakes.





Fondant icing cakes

For Capper's mermaid party back in the day, I forgot I had no cake skills whatsoever and attempted modelling with fondant icing. Do not attempt modelling with fondant icing for the first time on the morning of a 2 o'clock party. It's sticky and it's hard to colour (I don't care what the books say) and it just doesn't act like clay at all. Don't worry, you'll get there in the end, just make sure you keep putting that icing back into the fridge whenever it goes gooey and do leave enough time to finish the fish...

The mermaid and the blobs.

Ah, that's better... Unfortunately, it had nothing to do with me... [Source]

Little cut-out shapes seem like a much more sensible approach to fondant... [Source]



Smoke and mirrors cakes

The 'smoke and mirrors' approach to cake decorating. A pretty banner, multiple sparklers, a well-chosen candle... tah dah!

When in all else fails, stick appropriate figurines on. They almost (almost) look like you might have made them along with your melting castle. A flag or two is also very handy for diverting attention away from epic fails.



Shut the front door cakes

Some people are just uber talented and produce the sort of cakes that no-one wants to cut. These are the kind of cakes that we bookmark on pinterest with full intentions of rolling up our sleeves and having a go. And then we look really closely at the masterpiece in the picture and then go out and buy a Pattinson's Patisserie cake instead. It's not so much inspirational as depressing, you see. Divert your eyes...

This is also a Harry Potter cake, no figurines required... it's just tear inducing, really... [Source]

Do you think they were having a 'I'll take your Everybody's Doing It Rainbow Cake and raise you a Very Complicated Matrix Cake' moment? [Source]

Yeah, yeah, but does it taste good? (How's my life: I'm heckling cakes forgodsake). [Source]



Of course, you could just go with the smoke and mirrors approach and stick a toy Buzz and Woody on top of a Greens Vanilla...  [Source]

Ah, never mind. Cake is cake, right? Caaaaake... you can't go wrong, I promise.

You'll find loads more party cake porn on my pinterest board. If you need an invite to join pinterest, just drop me a note and I'll figure out exactly how one does that...

Next time: Tables

[First image found here]

28.11.11

Use the force

I mentioned something in the comments of my post last night that got me thinking... but before I think the think some more, a word on last night's post.

I've noticed that whenever I write a post that has any negativity in it directed at myself (either me slaying myself or me quoting someone else doing it) you all rally around me like a hen protecting her chick. It's a beautiful thing.

At the same time, it makes me wonder if when I get a bit philosophical, do I sound so particularly bereft and heartbroken that you feel the need to pump me back up to Pollyanna-land? I ask because by the time the comments roll in on my darker posts, they kind of look like Fishing Posts.* And nobody really wants to go fishing around here. As much as I love them, compliments just make me sort of tense.
But back to last night's comment. Remember when I described blogs as Tables? I liked that analogy so much that I've got a new one. Star Wars.

It just had to be.

Szroom, szroom (that's my light saber szrooming, in case you were wondering).

Okay, so this Star Wars analogy is somewhat laboured. See, in Blogging Star Wars there are no evil teams, we are all fighting on the same team. So, it's kind of not like Star Wars at all but... well, there is definitely the Dark Side of our team and... the others. What exactly are the 'other' guys in Star Wars called? The Boring Lukes?

I'm a Boring Luke blogger and I'm calling us the Lightweights. I blog about nice stuff happening in nice places and while I do like to dabble in social commentary from time to time, generally it's of the being mean to yummy mummy variety, rather than anything especially meaningful or world changing.**

The crafty blogs, the beauty blogs, the fashion blogs, those pesky award-winning motorbike blogs and many of the mummy blogs all make up the Lightweights. You better believe the 'stylists' blogs are over here.

Lightweights are definitely the kind of people who hang their smalls behind the sheets on the washing line. And, if you're anything like me, your pegs are nicely colour co-ordintated with each pair of knickers as well. Even though no-one can see them.

The Dark Siders are the gutsy bloggers who 'blog raw' and have no problem hanging their knickers anywhere they darn well please. They probably don't even wear them. The Dark Siders are compelling and their words can be life-changing. They dig deep trenches to get at the heart of life. Sometimes dark things have happened to Dark Siders and they let us in to feel their pain and anger. Sometimes not. Sometimes they just prefer to wear sunglasses.

It is no surprise to learn that I find the Dark Side utterly fascinating and I get all itchy wondering what it would be like to experience life on their level. But I'm far too much like a flappy little moth, drawn to light and annoying at BBQs, to ever really know what it's like.

Which is exactly why the blog world needs both the Dark Side and the Lightweights.Together we use the force Luke and save us all from ourselves. Access to the 'other' type of person is something that we rarely get in life. We don't tend to hang out with people who are different to ourselves and we often don't talk about the minuate of daily life and frustrations when we do. So more than anything blogging allows us to be challenged by the amazing insights of others and to share in so many lives that enhance our understanding of the world and our place in it. To somehow experience the unexperiencable. It is an opportunity like no other.

Use the force, indeed.

Are you a Dark Sider or a Lightweight? Do you dabble in the other side?

* Note to the kind people: This is not a Fishing post.
** Although one of my dear readers did happen to mention Mandela on my blog yesterday, so that's gotta count for something, right? Right?

[Image found here. There are so many cheesy but hysterical Star Wars spoofs out there, finding this image was a... blast.]

27.11.11

The Heavy Lightweight


Some things you don't necessarily want to write about, but they kind of make you. This is one of those things.

I'll apologise in advance that this post is all over the place. I am sure that a critic of my blog would say "can't seem to stick to one topic. Crams too much in." Does anyone want to become my Editor?

A lot of the posts I write come from my cheerful, sunny-side-up, grass-is-plenty-green kind of nature. I don't dwell, I play well with others, I basically just get on with things. It goes without saying that I have had times in my life that have seen me dipping in the depths of despair and I have felt burnt to a crisp many times. Memory makes my toes curl as as I write that. But not lately. It's fair to surmise that I have lead an essentially charmed life. I've yet to establish if that's because I've actually had it really easy or if I was just born looking for easy. Perhaps I'll never know.

But tell me this. Why does being an optimistic person mean that many, many people seem to write me off as being a lightweight? That being optimistic and cheerful equates somehow with being disinterested and unavailable. As if another person's shoes won't fit me.

Worse than that, is the attitude that the only people who could possibly be happy in this world are the ones who don't 'get it' (ie, I'm too stupid to see the world for what it really is) or that my life is so much easier than a less-happy person's (ie, the 'perfect' life myth). And then there's the perception that somehow I don't count as much as people who have "truly lived".

I'd never considered this before I started a blog. It never came up. But blogging means I'm open and an email address means Come in. So, the "truly lived" above is a quote from an email I recently received. The writer said "your views on the world are not as meaningful as people who have truly lived". All the other perceived attitudes I mention above are also from emails I've received as Maxabella. Others include:

"I can't tell you about it because you won't listen because you've had a nice life."

"It's alright for you to say you don't aim for happiness when you've never experienced how tough life can be."

"Just because you're living the good life, doesn't mean you have to rub people's faces in it, intentional or not."

"People like you are sometimes the reason that people like me feel bad about myself."

Ouch.

These are emails sent by people who don't actually know me - I may have escaped relatively unscathed, but I have lived a full life, oh yes, yes I have. But ignoring that, I want to point out that the overall tone of all of these notes was not necessarily aggressive or mean. I have been lucky (there I go again!) to not have had many 'haters' visit my blog or email me. At least, I choose not to view them in that light. Again, perception or reality?

What I simply want to know is... are they right? Do you think you have to experience something to be able to empathise? Most importantly, are you able to help people who suffer from sadness, grief, anger and frustration if these are not emotions that you experience very often? Can you be there for someone with depression? I'm bewildered because all my life I really thought I could.

And do you think that bad things happening to good people makes them more 'real' somehow?

[Image found here]

25.11.11

This week I'm grateful for... being grateful x 200


Today marks an amazing 201 things that I've been grateful for since I started this grateful thingy on my blog. I posted my first 100 things a while back, and today I'm celebrating the next 200. Next week I'll post my 101 - 200 list.


Hi you. Thank you for being a part of the grateful thingy (I think that's it's new name...). Maybe you read along each week and visit the links, maybe you're one of the grateful ones, maybe this your first time here and you're wondering WTF?... whatever you're up to, I thank you.


This week I'm grateful for...


199. Regulars - my lovely grateful regulars, you have become my friends and online community. I look forward to seeing you every week and sharing a special moment or two in your life.


200. Newcomers - I may have 200 things down on the grateful thingy list, but every week is an opportunity for someone to begin at one. Being grateful as a regular thing slows you down and makes you reflect on what's good in the past and the present, rather than always thinking about what's around the next corner. There is something in that. The past and present are full of memories and feelings, the future is full of maybes and perhaps.


201. Number celebrations - I have no idea why we are all so obsessed with celebrating groups of 10, 100, etc, but we are. And don't you think it's funny how we still celebrate our 21st when 18 has been the new 21 for over 50 years? Regardless, counting down the numbers with a celebration here and there is fine by me!




So, what's making you smile today? Add your post to the list below (and please, we love you, but it really does matter that your post is a Grateful one and not just a random) and pretty-please add a link back to this linky. Then pop over to visit other bloggers who are spreading a little sunshine.




[Image by Reny Photography]

24.11.11

Party on down: Food


I need to get the sugar monkey off my back straight away. The ratio of sweet to savoury at a children's party is a hard one to master. I'll talk more about the timing of parties in an upcoming 'Kid Wrangling' party post, but I think if you start late afternoon you are not as obliged to do a full lunch or dinner option than if you scheduled the party earlier or later in the day. A two o'clock start is my favourite, ending at 4.30 pm. My thinking is that parents generally feed their child a nutritious lunch in advance of a 2 o'clock party and I run with that notion.

At each party I put out some kind of fruit option and some kind of healthy savoury option (home-made sausage rolls, mini-quiches and meatballs are all stand-bys) and the rest is just plain not-good-for-anyone party fun. That's how we party at this place. So, apologies, but I'm not going to be a font of healthy party food options, although I might explore this at some stage.

Party food doesn't have to be complicated, but for me it needs to tick three boxes:

1. It's fun and not 'every day'
2. It's simple to put together on the day or can be prepared in advance.
3. It ties in with the theme I'm working.

If you're not a baker, you don't have to bake. Party centres don't bake - they just throw frankfurts and chicken nuggets down into the centre of a table ladden with lollies and chips and the kids go nuts. You could do that.

I like a 'half and half' approach. One half baking: the cake, cupcakes and biscuits and, formerly, cake pops. The other half: no baking. I can't bring myself to do chips, franks and nuggets, but no-bake items with maximum impact include lollies stacked by colour in a bowl or 'fairy wand' breadsticks dipped in chocolate and rolled in sprinkles or 'things on sticks' like marshmallows or fruit. It is also a tradition of ours to have cheezels at every party, mainly because we love cheezels so much we need to ban them from the house on all other occasions.

Depending on your theme, here's a round up of some other really fun, really easy party foods that are special and delightful. Oh, and we'll talk about making food look good (aka 'tablescapes') in our 'Tables' party post.

Cakepops
I used to love them, but now I hate them with the passion of a thousand burning suns. Or something like that. Regardless, there is no denying that these little morsels should be part of your go-to foods for parties. They are fiddly, but achievable and with a few tweaks they will work with any theme. Bakerella is your goddess of foodspiration here.

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Cupcakes
Nothing wrong with a cupcake. They are simple and classic and you can work them into any theme you like. Not surprisingly, Bakerella is amazing at cupcakes too, Hello Naomi isn't half bad either.

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Biscuits
Biscuits can be as easy or as complicated as you like. The Decorated Cookie has lots of step-by-step tutorials for making amazing bickies, so you might surprise yourself! You can go the plain biscuit / fancy icing route or make an amazing flavour of biscuit or even a macaron. On a biscuit / cookie random note: these days I find myself calling chunky-style biscuits by the American 'cookies' and the more delicate types are still biscuits. What about you?

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Stuff On Sticks
Portable, easy for little hands... Stuff On Sticks are awesome party food. Things you can put on sticks include kebabs, scrolls, marshmallows, sausages, swirls of chocolate, fruit, rice balls, meatballs, cakepops, slices, cheerios... let's face it, pretty much everything tastes better on a stick.

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Jars, cups, cones
If you've got the fridge space, this is the easiest party food to serve. Make individual portions of chocolate mousse, cheesecake or jelly or fill cones and cups with servings of lollies, fruit, little biscuits... Personalising the cups and jars makes it very special.

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Push Pops
Latest craze on the party scene seems to be push pops. Cake, lolly, ice cream, jelly, frozen drinks... fill them with whatever you fancy. Australians can order the cups here, you can reuse them after the party as handy carriers for snacks.

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One of a kind
Whatever your theme, there is the potential to create something unique and amazing. Think outside the bread slice and come up with something perfect for your party.

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Phew. I could do this for hours as there are so many ideas out there, but we'd better move on. There's more inspiration at my Party On Down: Food pinboard. I promise there are far more savoury options on there. Can you tell I have a sweet tooth?!

Next time: Party cake



[Raspberry macaron recipe and image by Tartelette]

22.11.11

Me and my gal


On Wednesdays during school time, it's just me and the Badoo. We potter about doing reading in the classrooms, lumbering through chores and paying visits. We are very chatty.

At the moment, she won't listen, won't do as she's told and wants to rule the world. Her nickname is Badoo, but I want to change it to Badon't. She whines and she grumbles and she pushes and she shouts. She makes me yell stupid things like 'stop yelling' and 'if you don't stop pushing your brother around I'm going to... I'm going to...".  What I'm going to do is the dreaded countdown. 1, 2... don't make me get to 3... I'm going to say it... I'm nearly there...  yes I am... don't make me get there... you don't want me to get there... I'm almost at thr... ah, there you are. We get there... eventually. She pushes, but I hope she never really calls my bluff because I've got absolutely nothing.

A couple of weeks ago I had my annual eye test (I am so short-sighted I think I'm about -0.25 away from needing man's best friend as a constant companion). The Badoo just loves an accessory and had a complete meltdown about 5 seconds after this photo was taken because she wanted the glasses, had to have the glasses, wasn't leaving without the darn glasses.

She is so loud and so horrific in melt-down mode that she radiates a kind of nuclear heat. The optometrist was fanning herself and looking at me in sheer terror. I was sweating.

In a desperate move to appease her, I gave her my own glasses to wear and triumphantly stumbled my way out of the store with a smiling Badoo in tow. I walked into a pole and insisted she give me back my glasses. She quickly consented, mainly because she realised she couldn't see anything while wearing them. What a pair we made.

I love that little Badoo. She's full of charisma and joie de vivre. She lights up a room with her party-light smile and she dances on tables as she walks up the street. She is loved wherever she goes.

Oh, she gets under your skin that one. Just not always in a good way...

Got any management tips for threenagers?

21.11.11

Dear Agony Aunts: The Looming Cabinet


I have an ethical dilemma that I am struggling to work through.

Every now and then you find yourself in a situation that's just a doozy with too much to work through on your own. This morning I thought 'I should write into one of those agony aunt columns for assistance' and then I realised that I had something much better on my side... the great blog community!

So, if you don't mind...

Here's the thing.

Months ago my boy was at a play date at a certain parent's house. About two days later I had the following conversation (shortened, so you don't fall asleep):

Me: Hello?

She: Oh, hi there Bron.  I just thought you'd want to know that when Maxi was here on Tuesday, he broke the cupboard door of our games cupboard. I thought you'd want to know.

Me: Oh? He broke a door?! He didn't say anything. How did it happen?

She: He was leaning on it when they had the door open to get the games out.

Me: So it was an accident?

She: No, not really. He was leaning on it. I'd consider him to be at fault.

Me: Well, he's six and to be honest, the 'leaning on cupboard doors' conversation hasn't really come up at our place before, so he wasn't to know that the door might break. What are you asking of me here? Do you want us to replace the hinges?

She: The thing is, it's an antique cabinet that was a wedding present. It's worth thousands of dollars.

{Pause while I quietly gag}

Me: Really? Oh my! {Pause} And you were storing kids' games in there?

She: Yes. It's in the living room... {Pause} I think we need to source the hinges from a specialist and then get a craftsman carpenter to fit them... if we can't find the hinges, I think we'll need to replace the cabinet. {Pause} Do you know of any hinge specialists?

Me: What? Oh, um... no... can't say I do. You know, it really does strike me as an accident waiting to happen storing kids' toys in a precious cabinet like that... But, um, gee, anyway you can see why I'm a bit taken aback by this phone call. Are you really just ringing to 'let me know'? What are you asking of us?

She: I don't know what I'm asking. I will need to think about it.

Me: Okay, well, have a think about it and let me know when you're ready. We can talk about it then.

It's been months and she hasn't mentioned it since, but whenever I see her around the place, the Expensive Cabinet Incident lurks in the background, waiting to pounce.

On Sunday Maxi went to a birthday party at her place and when I dropped him off, there stood the Expensive Cabinet, still full of games, minus doors. It was looming right in front of me, its presence so dominating I could hardly breathe.

Nothing was said. I felt incredibly guilty even though I don't really think I should have felt that way.

Help!
Was it an accident?
Should we have to pay to replace the cabinet when she was clearly negilent stocking it with kids' toys?
Who pays for accidents anyway?
Should I say something to her or wait for her?

[Image from here]

20.11.11

Sulking over servitude


I want to be the kind of mother who finds sweetness in servitude... but, alas, I am not. No matter how much I try to sweeten it up, the drudgery of housework, chores and routine just gets to me every single time.

Recently I've realised that this might actually be more of a problem than I think it is.

I've always known that an easygoing friendship with mess is critical when you're a mum of three. I'm an organised, mostly tidy sort of person but I've always had a reasonably high tolerance for disarray (you should see my car!) because I really don't like cleaning up very much.

All fine, you say. We're all a bit like that.

Well, lately I've found myself aborting family moments because I am already loathing the thought of cleaning up afterwards before life even happens.

No, you can't get the paints out.

No, I'm not getting you a kit with 1000 beads for your birthday.

No, you can't add water to the dirt.

No, you're not getting rice for dinner.

It's terrible! Where is my sweetness in servitude when I need it? Why can't I relish the paints and the beads and the mud and the rice and then feel great about cleaning up afterwards because I allowed my family good times and good meals? Can't I put their needs first and worry about my own, er, cleaning issues later? Do I need to just grow up or something?

Why aren't I feeling joy in serving my beloved family?

What the hell is wrong with me?

Questions!

[Image via weheartit]