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

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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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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.

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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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.

Szechuan Tomato Prawns

My relationship with Chinese cuisine has been one I’ve taken for granted. Our Australian-born Chinese mum was a passionate and naturally superb cook. We grew up with whatever style of food Mum decided was her latest obsession and Chinese food was just one of many cuisines that had just always been a part of my life. Until I left home, it wasn’t ‘Chinese’ food to me. It was just food.

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When I moved interstate away from my family (and Mum’s cooking), I had to not only learn to cook better, but try and understand what it was I was cooking. Family favourite dishes had become my substitute for time with my family. I’d grown up surrounded by Mum, my Aunties and Grandmum who were all excellent cooks. Sure I’d helped prepare meals and certainly helped eat them, but I hadn’t paid enough attention to how they were created and often my first attempts at making them failed miserably.

Szechuan Tomato Prawns, or Tomato Prawns as we know it by, was one of the first dishes I tried to re-create. My Aunty gave me the basic recipe over the phone while I was standing in the Chinese grocery store trying to decipher random cans. I’m not sure if I was disappointed or relieved to hear that the magic ingredient was actually plain old tomato sauce, but regardless of its simplicity, this dish has wowed many of my friends into thinking I am a much better cook than I am. I’ll also add here for the purists freaking out that real Chinese cooking would never have tomato sauce – as with many home cooks, Mum’s cooking was always a version of something else and she would add random things as she felt like it. Her Chinese food was no exception.

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300g whole king prawns
4 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp tomato ketchup
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tsp cornflour
1 red chilli finely diced
½ Tsp honey
A slice of fresh ginger
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
4 spring onions, sliced
3 garlic cloves, smashed
Salt and pepper to taste

A few notes before you get started…

  • The dish is cooked quickly on a high heat, so make sure you have everything prepared ready to go. Its also best made just before you’re ready to serve it.
  • This recipe is for king prawns, but if your husband comes home with tiger prawns like the day I made this to take pictures of, just roll with it.
  • Mum always kept the prawns whole saying the head and shell gave the dish extra flavour. I still prefer the dish this way, but if you’re like my siblings and don’t like getting their hands dirty to eat them you can substitute with peeled prawns.
  • If your fresh chilli isn’t a hot one, add a small pinch of dried chill while you’re frying up. For children, I find the fresh chilli adds flavour without the heat.
  • I’ve used walking onions instead of spring onions. No biggie, it’s just what we had growing in the garden.

Slice your spring onions across the round for the white part, then length ways up the green in about 5cm lengths.

In a small bowl, whisk together the water, tomato ketchup, soy sauce, cornflour, honey, chilli and ginger.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large wok or frying pan over a high heat. Test the heat with a bit of spring onion. If it bubbles quickly, its ready to go. Add the spring onions, chilli and garlic and fry off gently for a minute.

Add the prawns to the pan and toss a little, coating with the oil until they are starting to turn pink. Add the sauce to the wok and heat gently until the sauce thickens and the prawns are prink all over and cooked through. Very large prawns take a little longer to cook and if your sauce starts to dry up, add a little more water but not too much.

Serve immediately with a good helping of freshly cooked rice and Chinese broccoli.

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Lemony Pasta

w_lemony pasta birds eyeMy twenties were spent working and socialising. Probably in the opposite order.  Until I met Dave, my dinner menu usually consisted of beer, chicken and sweet corn soup, dumplings, pub meals, wood-fired pizza or a drunkenly-made pasta dish I call ‘Lemony Pasta’.

I would make my way home after a lovely evening of playing pool and perhaps a beer or two, fumble about my tiny 50’s kitchen which consisted of a bench with sink and a fridge shorter than me, and voila Lemony pasta would appear. I would always make extra thinking I’d take it to work the next day. But somehow all that was ever left in the morning were the sticky dishes I’d forgotten to rinse before falling into bed. Don’t worry…it was just a phase we’ve all been through right?

Lemony Pasta came into my life from watching a Nigella DVD during a stint of house sitting and so the recipe has been adapted from the original through the countless times being made from memory. The best part of my version of this dish is the creamy ultra- lemony flavour. I purposely don’t add extra salt or pepper to the sauce to keep it soft and let the butter round out the tartness of the lemon juice.

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Ingredients

500g spaghettini
Salt
3 egg yolks
½ – ¼ cup cream
Juice of 1 small lemon
A large knob of butter
Grand Padano
Roughly chopped flat leaf parsley

Get your pasta water boiling in a large pot and add a big spoonful of salt.

In a bowl, gently whisk your egg yolks then add the cream and lemon juice. Gently whisk until combined.

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Now add your pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente. Drain and put back into the pot. Stir through the nob of butter until the pasta is thinly coated, then stir through the creamy egg sauce.

Serve garnished with finely grated Grand Padano and flat leaf parsley. Devour. And don’t forget to rinse your dishes.

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How to: Make a canvas storage bag

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Mess glorious mess. I’d like to pretend our home is as neat and tidy as our Instagram photos, but we all know that’s a big fat lie. We do however have the amount of stuff shown in this picture and then some. And then some more. This canvas storage bag helps keep it in check and looks pretty good while it’s at it.

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To make this approximately 32.5 cm square x 50cm high storage bag, you will need:

Primed artist canvas
Fabric for appliqué
Scissors
Pinking shears
Pins
Pencil
Sewing machine
Matching thread
Tape measure or ruler
A 15cm bowl or other round object to use as a template

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Measure out and cut a long rectangle 130cm long by 50cm high and a 32.5 by 32.5cm square.

Trace a circle using the bowl or other template on your appliqué fabric and carefully cut out.

Measure along the rectangle about 49cm and 20cm high and make a small pencil mark. This should be roughly the centre of what will be the front of the bag. Pin your circle to the canvas, adjusting the alignment if you need to and sew.

Pin the bottom edge of the rectangle along the edges of square until it meets itself. Pin the ends of the rectangle together.

Stitch down along the ends of the rectangle down to the square to form the side seam, then stitch along the bottom seam.

Trim the side seam with the pinking shears before turning the bag right side out. Roll over the top edge to form a double fold at your preferred height. Fill with stuff.

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