When Summer froze over for a fifth birthday party

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I think I blinked and suddenly Bubby was turning the big five. Bubby had been so desperate to turn five, that for the months leading up the big event, it was her first topic of discussion upon meeting anyone. “Did you know I’m nearly five?” she would inform them. “Really?” they would respond in mock surprise, as though this was not the third time they had not been informed of this momentous occasion that month. Next up would be the party discussion. “An Elsa party” she would excitedly inform them. “Really?” they would respond hiding their smirk at the pained look on my face.

Since I mistakenly created an (awesome) backyard carnival party instead of the preferred Elsa theme, Bubby has been talking up her ‘Elsa party for number 5 birthday’. There was no escaping it. That’s meant a whole year of Pintrest stalking, recipe planning and losing all the screen shots of Frozen inspired tips and tricks. Grand plans of sugar dusted snowflakes and blue crystal blades at the start of the year became frazzled post-christmas/new year exhaustion turned into heat effected splotchy chocolate Olaf arms and a sparsely decorated ‘snow’ cake. And I don’t know about you, but I also discovered there’s a serious lack of naturally bright blue food out there, so sugar and blue food dye were used unashamedly. It was a party after all.

Note: if anybody has a blue lemonade recipe that doesn’t consist of Blue Curacao (apparently not suitable for a fifth birthday party) or Koolaid please send it my way. Against my better judgement, the recipe I followed complete with image of a bright blue lagoon looking drink, did not in any way come near blue. Purple or reddish maybe. Blue? Not a chance. But in hindsight, I should have known there was no way blue & blackberries would have without some extreme artificial assistance (insert face palm).

frozen jelly

frozen snowman

frozen bread

frozen cupcake

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frozen crown

frozen table

I pulled out my favourite Sweetapolita lemon cake recipe for the birthday cake interior. White chocolate ganache held the cake layers together, with royal icing and topped with my own last minute blue-glass-shard-design-failed-so-threw-on-lots-of-silver-things styling. The rest of the food was coloured or covered blue glorious blue!

Blue layered jelly with sugar snow
Olaf yoghurt
Blue ice crystal bread
Lemon blue ice cupcakes
For the first time in forever sandwiches

And for our little Elsa’s to take home, a simple chocolate snow freckle and Pipla custom crown.

Obviously a Two Houses party isn’t complete without some piñata action. For this party we created a silver geo piñata for the kids to let loose on.

frozen pinata

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Onion Jam

Onion Jam (or relish or marmalade or whatever you would like to call it) is a staple in our house. We get a bit panicky when we look in the cupboard to find there’s a only a couple of jars left. It’s slathered on everything from toasties and pizzas to dainty canapes and cheese platters. Onion jam is decidedly ugly but if you can get someone to try it, they never look back. Jars of this sticky brown goodness are given to close friends only. The reason being that the recipe requires slicing an absolute shitload of onions. And I could never do that for someone I only liked a little bit.

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The following is a basic guide to making six jars for your nearest and dearest this Christmas. You can tweak it to your own taste and add extra things like ginger or other spices. Up to you. One hot tip: if you don’t have a wide-mouthed funnel suitable for filling jam jars, then get one. Without it, spooning warm onion jam into glass jars and not making a huge mess, is impossible. You’ve been warned. Maybe ask Santa for one.

Ingredients  (makes 6x 500g jars)

4 kg brown onions (peeled, halved and sliced)
1 1/2 cups balsamic vinegar
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 cup red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups brown sugar
Small bunch fresh thyme (or one tablespoon dried thyme)
4 cloves
10 ground pepper corns
1 teaspoon salt
Wine – red or white – to drink while you stir and also to top up liquid levels if they get a bit low

To make

There’s no getting around this: you have to peel, halve and slice 4 kilos of brown onions. Just do it and get it over with. Listen to some music. It won’t take as long as you think. Keep the slices on the thickish side. Say around 1cm. No need to get too fussy, you just want some of them to retain a little shape when they’re cooked.

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Heat the olive oil on a medium-high heat in a thick bottomed stock pot. Add enough onions to fill a quarter of the pot. Fry the onions for about fifteen minutes or until softened and then add the rest of the ingredients. Stir for another ten minutes and then as the mixture collapses and makes more room in the pot, you can start to add the rest of the onions slices. Stir constantly until all the onions have softened. There should be plenty of liquid at this point. Turn the heat down and simmer for the next 2 hours. Stir every now and then and check that there’s enough liquid. This is where you can add some wine if it looks like it’s getting dry.

After 2 hours the onions should be dark, sticky and jammy.

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Divide into your six sterilised jars (hopefully you’ve been collecting jars for this very reason all year). Tie some tags on them with cute string. And then decide who has been good enough to get one. Merry Christmas.

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A Spring birthday party for Boo, with lots of lace…

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Our delicious little baby Boo turned two. From finding her mid-bookshelf climb to ‘singing’ at the top of her lungs whilst standing in the swing starkers, this cheeky, stubborn bundle of love has us all on our toes.

Organising a birthday party to celebrate Boo’s second birthday may, or may not have slipped to the bottom of the list amongst the many other ‘busy life’ things we had going on at the time.  I’m sure most would just say to skip to the party altogether. But the guilt of an adult Boo reminding me year after year of how she didn’t have a second birthday party meant she was having one, even if it was a week late and most guests received their invitation as they were leaving the party.

‘Busy life’ was not going to stop Boo’s birthday, but my efficient/lazy Mama tactics did set in. A simple menu, simple activities and simple decorations. Efficient/lazy shortcuts adult Boo will not be able to hold against me.

The weekend before we prepped EVERYTHING we possibly could. The cake was baked and frozen ready to be decorated, biscuit mixture was stored in the fridge and sausage rolls were rolled and ready in the freezer. This left a little preparation the day before for a few food items that needed to be completed closer to the big day, and bit for on the day too. I even sneakily asked Lex to make her delicious mini Beef Wellington pies to take the pressure off!

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Framed by a fabric lace, cream and gold garland, and floral arrangements hurriedly grabbed from the garden, the party table spread included…

A whimsical cake based on Sweetapolita’s lemon cake finished with white chocolate ganache, royal icing and floating clouds, topped by a golden number two (which unfortunately on certain angles also looked like golden poo – sigh)

Floral sparkling apple jelly

Cheesy biscuits

A mini version of Sausage rolls for superstars

Apricot marshmallows (that ended up very pink due to some guidance from Bubby)

Peach lemonade

Thank you gifts of homemade Origami Flower Kits and gold painted macrons.

We kept the littles busy with decorating their own spring headwear and of course a Two Houses party isn’t complete without a whack at a lacy number two pinata!

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Photo credit and a huge thank you to Oliver Bain Photography for capturing the day.

Banana Pancakes with extra happiness

For six languid days we shared a house in Ubud with our friends, Lozzie and John. The house was perched precariously on a steep slope above a rivulet that was so far down we couldn’t see it. The surrounding gardens clung to the slope and and were full of the soothing ribbiting of frogs and birds and geckos. Once I’d grown accustomed to the worrying amount of steep stairs and my (completely rational) fear that the house would slide off the slope if it rained, it was wonderful. I gave up wondering how on earth they had built any of it in the heat and settled in.

This was the part of our holiday where we forgot what day it was.

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There was a cooked breakfast every morning served by our hostess, Ketut. Hotels that we later stayed in, tended to serve a blander, rolled version of bananas pancakes. But Ketut’s were the ones that Lozzie and I raved about. They were deliciously lacy, served flat and topped with freshly grated coconut mixed with a little salt. Even Glenn, who doesn’t care much for pancakes for breakfast, succumbed to their buttery banana goodness.

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Ingredients (makes 8 pancakes)
For the batter:
2 large eggs
1  1/4 cups plain flour
3/4 milk
1 pinch salt
1 tbsp melted butter

To serve:
2 bananas thinly sliced
1/2 cup of fresh grated coconut mixed with half a pinch of salt
Honey (for drizzling)

Method
Whisk the eggs in a large bowl. Add the rest of the batter ingredients and mix til smooth. Cover and rest for at least 30 minutes.

To cook, have your banana slices ready. Stir up the rested batter. If it seems too thick, add some more milk. It needs to be thin enough to spread in the pan when poured. Use a non-stick frying pan over a moderate heat. Add 1/2 tsp of butter. When the butter foams, use a serving spoon to pour mixture into the pan. Let it spread a little, then place 6 – 8 slices of banana evenly across the pancake. When you can see that the mixture is just about cooked through, use a large spatula to flip the pancake over. Let the banana side sizzle for a minute and then remove.

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Serve banana side down, topped with the grated coconut and drizzled with runny honey.

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Floral Sparkling Apple Jelly

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Watching Nigella ooze “curiously pleasurable” gooey gelatine leaves between her fingers, seductively describing the clarity of jelly instantly inspired me to create towers of delicate boozy jellies. In reality every time I felt the urge to make a stunning wibbly wobbly castle, the mysteriousness of using gelatine has made me instinctively reach for a packet of Aeroplane. A decade later, I’m finally making my attempt at this curiously pleasurable act and am pleasantly surprised at how easy it is. Unfortunately, as this jelly is in preparation for Boo’s second birthday party, there’s a distinct lack of booze. With or without the pretty fruit and flowers, the fizz in the sparkling apple juice adds a delicious zing to this jelly. Of course, by all means substitute the sparkling apple juice with Prosecco if you can’t handle your jelly without the booze.

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Ingredients

8 leaves gelatine (approx.13g)
140ml elderflower cordial
425ml sparkling apple juice (chilled)
250g blueberries or other berries
Edible petals/flowers

Glass serving dishes (individual serving size or a larger single mould)

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Divide the fruit and petals (if using) into your serving dishes and refrigerate. If using individual dishes, placing these on a tray makes it easier to move them around.

Soak the gelatine leaves in a small bowl of cold water as per the instructions (for McKenzie 5-7 minutes).

Place the cordial in a bowl over a saucepan on medium heat. For this recipe, I’ve used my homemade clementine elderflower cordial which results in a deeper colour than plain elderflower.

Drain the gelatine leaves and stir into the warmed cordial until combined into a smooth syrup and remove from the heat. Let sit at room temperature for a few minutes.

Very, very slowly pour in the sparkling apple juice and stir gently. Scoop the froth off the top and discard.

Remove the dishes from the fridge and slowly pour in the jelly mixture. Use a skewer to manoeuvre the fruit and petals so they look pretty through the glass.

Refrigerate until set.

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Chicken and Prawn Spring Roll Pancakes

One childhood memory that won’t ever leave me is the time a shitty little neighbourhood kid had me utterly convinced that his real parents were aliens. He told me they were due to come back for him at any moment and would probably blow up the earth when they left afterwards in their spaceship. I believed his story. The way a child truly believes in Santa and lucky dips.

Soak your mushies for at least half an hour in hot water. When you chop them - remove the stems
Soak your mushies for at least half an hour in hot water. When you chop them – remove the stems

It was the middle of summer and we were sitting in a cubby which was actually an empty water tank. It was unbearably hot in there but I was terrified that if I moved I’d get zapped by the approaching alien parents. The smartest strategy seemed to be to stay out of their line of vision. Even if it meant not breathing fresh air for an unspecified amount of time.

And then Mum called me inside the house to eat spring roll pancakes and I instantly forgot to be scared and ran off to join my family for dinner. The point being, your favourite foods can distract you from anything – even impending alien attack or the end of the world.

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Spring roll pancakes (warning: some waiting required)

Pancake mixture:

3 cups plain flour
6 eggs
1 1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons peanut oil
pinch salt

Combine in a large jug or bowl. Blitz with a hand mixer until smooth. Cover mixture and leave to stand for at least 4 hours. Mix again. Add more water until the mixture is the consistency of thin cream. This is important. The mixture needs to spread easily in the frying pan to create large thin pancakes. Like crepes, only stronger and able to hold a decent amount of filling without breaking.

Cook your thin, crepey pancakes in a non stick pan on one side only. If you have a crepe maker, use that. Set aside.

Crepey pancakes - thin but strong
Crepey pancakes – thin but strong

Pancake filling:

500g chicken thighs (thinly sliced)
250g peeled green prawns
1/2 cup dried Chinese mushrooms soaked in hot water for an hour and then chopped
500g bean sprouts
1 bunch spring onions chopped

Marinade:

4 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice wine
2 teaspoon sesame oil
half teaspoon cinnamon
2 clove minced garlic
pinch white pepper
pinch salt
1 teaspoon raw sugar

Marinate the sliced chicken for at least two hours. Use a large frying pan or wok to fry chicken slices until almost cooked. Add prawns and chopped mushrooms. Stir until prawns cooked then add spring onions and beans sprouts. Keep tossing the sprouts through the mixture for two minutes or until the bean sprouts are cooked but not soggy.

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unnamed (8)Take a thin pancake and place a heaped tablespoonful of filling in the middle. Wrap like a parcel and place folded side down in a pan and shallow fry on both sides in peanut oil. Mum actually used to deep fry them briefly in a wok. Either way is very very good. Don’t be alarmed at the size. The filling is delicately flavoured and the pancakes make them weighty enough to have for dinner.

Serve with oyster sauce, beer

and a tall tale.

The Lunchbox

I have a child who loves her food. So much so, that Bubby has been known to out-eat any other children, and sometimes even adults. Two breakfasts, morning tea and elevenses is not uncommon for this child. Her passion for food is one of many things I love about her.

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The lunchbox

Bubby recently started one day a week at a new little pre-school. It’s a beautiful little school with the loveliest of staff who welcome you at the door in the morning, and escort you and wave as you leave through the garden gate. The educators are all dressed in beautician style uniforms that make them appear as though the children are actually attending a day spa for a relaxing pamper session – not a day filled with messy fun. It makes me wish I was four again.But with this oasis of glorious play, came the reality of having to prepare my own child a ‘lunchbox’. Dave and I have had a pretty easy ride on the whole lunch thing where mostly we rush out the door on a weekday morning with a coffee from home and fork out for a yummy lunch from the local takeaway. The girls are usually sorted by day-care with their nutritionist approved healthy menu and as a result, my lunchbox making skills have rarely been called upon.

I was terrified of not sending Bubby with enough food. Or what if she decided she didn’t like something new I’d put in and was starving because I had misjudged my child’s taste buds for that particular Thursday?

I would be the mother who let her child go hungry.

I held this anxiety for months as the start of the school term came near. In preparation I sussed out the sea of lunch packaging options and settled on a trendy stainless steel two-tiered lunchbox with matching small snack container and some reusable lunch sacks in two sizes. If she went hungry, at least she would be eco-friendly.

Obviously I immediately then felt bad that there wasn’t enough Disney paraphernalia included and picked out a hot pink ‘Frozen’ drink bottle* and matching spoon and fork set. For school only though. Can’t go too crazy on that stuff or I’ll never see the end of it.

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The anatomy of a lunchbox

I pored over articles on inspiring lunchbox ideas full of cut-out faces and freshly made sushi.  ‘I could do that. I’d love to do that’ I’d say. Then I’d look over at the washing that hadn’t been folded for a week and think, ‘Or I could finish my coffee while it’s remotely warm for the first time four years’.

In the excitement of Bubby’s first day, I did pull my finger out and make a batch of mini-pasties with her. Cute mini-cheeses and other essential small snack foods were in the fridge ready to be prepped for the big day. But I was still anxious about the logistics of ‘the lunchbox’. To calm myself down I sketched out how to pack the containers. Yes you heard me. I drew which items were going to be put where in the lunchbox assembly.

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Yoghurt and last seasons frozen blackberries with a side of apple for morning tea
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A warm pastie for lunch (for full disclosure the actual plastic lidded container for sauce just wasn’t pretty enough for this picture)
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And because all of the above still isn’t enough to fill her little belly, an assortment of snacks…

The next morning, thanks to my trusty diagram, the lunchbox was assembled with maximum efficiency and prettiness. I had made my first school lunch with pride. Turns out I put too much curry in her pastie but her smorgasbord of little food had kept her happy and my child had not gone hungry.

I’m a couple terms in now and no longer feel the need to sketch out what my child has for lunch. Unfortunately the ‘Frozen’ drink bottle met a dire end when it slipped out of my hands and split open during a ‘does-this-drink-bottle-leak’ test. Because, despite the ‘leak-proof’ promise on the label, it did leak. Bubby and I are now very happy with her new drink bottle with Robots on it.