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

frozen sandwichesfrozen white choc

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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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.

A backyard birthday carnival

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Birthday_03My Bubby has just turned four. That’s four years of this amazing little girl being in our lives and well, four years of being her parents is definitely worth celebrating. And so a party we had.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I love party themes – it helps inspire me with cake, food and decorating ideas. Last year when I asked Bubby what kind of party and cake she’d like, the most I could get from her was ‘a pink one’. Not very helpful on her part, but she got her pink(ish) party. This time around, knowing her answer would still be the same, I couldn’t bring myself to ask her. I’m sorry Bubby, but pink was so last year.

A visiting circus was in town, and after a bit of Pinterest stalking, a carnival theme quickly became a great idea. I’m still not ready to completely let loose on bright colours so compromised with myself on ‘Vintage Carnival’. With gorgeous costumes, decorations and spread of activities, we had a fun-filled day of Carnival chaos!

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Despite several years of hard work, our backyard is still very much a work in progress but with the help of the trusty family marquee and a few decorations, this landscaper’s delight was transformed into a magical Carnival. Dave came through with the goods on a carnival stand and ring toss game constructed using part of our back fence, his stash of homebrew bottles and some rope. And we’ll just pretend the overgrown grass and dandelions was part of the ‘field’ look…

Bobbing for apples quickly became lets throw the apples in and see them splash!

This classic Clown Pinata was developed from my  How to: make a Rose Pinata using felt, white tissue and crepe papers, a clown nose and paper hat with felt balls.

Popcorn for sale at the Carnival stand.

Party hat making with all the trims.

Bringing back our 80’s childhood hoola-hooping expertise!

Balloon making by Lex and Glenn

Party bags – a tassel wand, gold dusted seal biscuit, animal pencil and a clown nose

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A Carnival Cake – based on Sweetapolita’s birthday medley, the cake was constructed with raspberry jam between layers of blue funfetti stars, pink amarena cherry and rich chocolate. Fondant icing was decorated with hand painted green, blue and gold and finished with handmade flowers and elephant cake topper.

My favourite Nigella biscuits finished two ways – Elephants and stars dipped in coloured melted chocolate sprinkled with pearlescent drops and seals in gold dusting.

Freshly cut watermelon stars and blueberries

Strawberry jelly with blue chocolate shooting stars

Mini hot dogs with mustard

Sausage rolls with homemade tomato sauce

Medley of candied and buttered popcorn

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

“Brekbest” Crunchy Cluster Muesli

Breakfast is the number one meal in our house
Breakfast is the number one meal is our house

Breakfast is the number one meal in our house with both girls able to go through several courses without drawing a breath. Whilst a good fry up is probably Dave’s and my favourite, Bubby goes mad for muesli – or as she calls it, ‘brekbest’. But not just any ‘brekbest’ will do. Her muesli needs to have the right balance of raisins to oats and must be not too chewy or crunchy. She even recently went through a phase of not wanting to eat nuts so I started chopping them in the Fooderator (aka the Thermomix) to get a finer blend of chopped almonds. Much to our delight, this unintentionally resulted in yummy crunchy little clusters being formed amongst our homemade toasted  muesli.

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Checking out the chopped nuts

My base recipe can be modified so you can add as much or as little of the dried fruit, nuts and seeds as you like. I also tend to vary them so we’re not eating exactly the same each time. For the dried fruits I like to include a mix of raisins, currants, cranberries, blueberries, pear and peach. For the seeds I usually just stick to pumpkin or sunflower seeds.

I like to vary the
I like to vary the mix of dried fruit and seeds, but love using our local Sweet & Raw honey

Ingredients

750g rolled oats

1 cup olive oil

1 cup coconut sugar

1 cup honey

1-2 cups of dried fruit, finely chopped

½ -1 cup almonds, very finely chopped in a food processor

¼ – ½ cup mixed seeds

½ cup dried coconut

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees. Line 2 large deep baking trays with baking paper. We make this muesli is a regularly so I like to use the silicone ones and re-use.

Mix the oats, almonds, seeds and coconut in a large bowl and set aside. Gently heat the olive oil, slowly stirring in the coconut sugar and honey until the olive oil is combined into the sugar and honey. Pour half into the bowl with the oat mixture and stir through as much as possible, then pour in the last half to coat the rest.

Spread the mixture out onto the baking trays and pop into the oven. After 10 minutes, pull the trays out and toss the mixture with large spoon. The honey should be quite runny and easier to finish mixing through. Put back in the oven and check after another 10 minutes or when the oats have turned a golden brown, but not burnt. Pull the trays out and stir lightly to mix the honey a little again, being careful to leave some clumps. Leave to cool.

Once cool, the oat mixture will have formed some crunchy clusters amongst the rest of the muesli. Stir through the dried fruit and store in an airtight container.

Store in an airtight container
Store in an airtight container

 

Quality control
Quality control

 

Déjeuner escargot

On one of her many adventures scratching around our overgrown mucky backyard, Bubby came across a snail. Nothing special, just your average brown slimy garden variety. I don’t recall why, but this snail sparked Dave into telling Bubby that she had eaten snails as a baby in Paris. She looked as though she didn’t believe him. Snails aren’t for eating.

Making bread the no-mess way
Making bread the no-mess way

But since that day Bubby has been talking about eating snails, parroting that she ate them when she was a baby in Paris. I wondered if she would like them as much as she had then, or if the concept of eating a creepy creature from the garden might override her curious nature. So I asked her if she wanted to have snails for lunch. “Yes” she said, “like when I was a baby”. We baked some bread while Boo had her morning sleep. I’m a fan of Jamie Oliver’s Basic Bread, but for the sake of keeping my hands mess-free I tend to stick with the one that comes in the Thermomix book.   A quick ring around to check which shop had snails in stock resulted in loud sobs from Bubby as she overheard the first shop were out of snails. I grabbed my shopping basket on the way out of the house and Bubby her mini basket she had packed with a few necessities for the trip (a cardboard roll, her Alice mouse and a bib for Boo). And she added a stick she found on the pavement as we got out of the car. She’s a collector at heart.

Bread punching
Bread punching

Bubby looked a bit confused when I handed her a small tin can in the shopping aisle instead of a handful of crawling snails, but then spent the rest of the time looking at fellow shoppers through her cardboard tube and bumping into things because she was too busy spying on people instead of looking where she was going.

Simple ingredients
Snails in a can

Back at the house we opened up the can and she peered in. “Where are their shells?” was all she asked. Not a peep on how disgusting they looked all blackish brown and wrinkly, or their faint might-be-off odour. Escargots à l’ail Ingredients 1 can of approx. 24 snails 2Tbs chopped butter 1 large finely chopped clove of garlic 1Tbs finely chopped flat leaf parsley Salt and pepper Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Empty the can into a waiting ramekin large enough to fit all the ingreadients.  I’m going to admit that I can’t finely chop to save myself, so feel free to roughly chop, it really does taste the same. Sprinkle the snails with the garlic, parsley and butter. Pop in the oven for about 20 minutes ’til the butter is melted and bubbling away. They’ll still look a bit unappetising and even I get squeamish about how they look despite how fancy ‘escargot’ sounds. But I do find the simple, buttery garlicy-ness of this recipe is perfect for their melt in your mouth texture and subtle taste.

Lets face it, they're not the prettiest meal.
Lets face it, they’re not the prettiest meal.

Too hot straight out of the oven, Bubby and Boo dug into some bread while we waited for them to cool down then Bubby tentatively took a little bite of one. ‘Mmm’ was all she murmured. Then some more bread. Pretty sure she didn’t really like them, but she didn’t let on and finished two big snails and a whole lot of bread. Her determination reminds me of the first time I ate an oyster fresh off the rocks. It was too massive to swallow in one go so I was forced to chew this warm muscular bit of slime and I too, keen to look sophisticated swallowed it and smiled. Have since learnt to make sure they haven’t been sitting in the stinking hot sun all day before eating… At least I enjoyed finishing off the rest of the snails, dipping the bread into that delicious garlic butter! When asked if she likes snails Bubby still says yes, but strangely enough hasn’t asked for them again…

Eating snails
Eating snails

 

Think before you pink

Bubby, Little G and I were off getting an ice-cream after a morning’s play in the local park. Little G who was experienced in ice-cream selection quickly chose the flavour ‘Rainbow’ for himself and then announced that Bubby, who was not yet experienced in ice-cream selection would like the ‘Pink’ one. “Because she’s a girl”, he added. Ever looking up to her older cousin Bubby quickly parroted Little G’s choice of ice-cream for her as her own and they happily devoured their treats on the bench outside until they were covered in a lovely sticky mess.

Pink (aka strawberry) ice cream is a must.
Pink (aka strawberry) ice cream is a must.

Bubby had never expressed a preference for pink before this. She was quite happy with all colours equally, however from then on, pink was the go-to choice when given one. For her birthday I asked her what kind of cake she would like. “A pink one” she replied. She then told her Papa she was to have a pink birthday party. I needn’t tell her answer to what type of present she thought she might like… That’s right, a pink one.

And a pink cake it is!
And a pink cake it is! Photo credit Kat Barrington Photography

I’ve previously written about my position on pigeon holing girls into ‘girl’ colours and have ensured a range of boy, girl and unisex toys has been at her disposal since birth.  Bubby used to love to wear anything that been part of Little G’s wardrobe despite the ‘boy’ colours, but now she is irresistibly drawn to pink and anything that resembles a tutu (but that’s another tale to tell).  I realised that even through a simple ice-cream suggestion of ‘pink’ instead of ‘strawberry’ my daughter’s belief that girls should like pink had begun. Not just that they might like it, but that it was the colour for girls.

This desire for pink did not come from either of our houses – nor had Little G’s opinion about girls wanting pink ice-cream. So where had it come from? Maybe she does really genuinely like the colour now, or is she in autopilot thinking she’s supposed to like what all the other little girls at care were wearing? Was I concerned because I wanted my girls to explore outside the box? Or did it really only irk me because this monochrome loving mama would like her daughter to have more appreciation for the rarely-pink-but-still-ever-so-stylish clothing and play-things that I’ve carefully selected for her, rather than the garish and glittery mass-produced pink plastic stuff she is drawn to?

Pink. Pink. Pink.
Pink. Pink. Pink.

But no, it’s not just me trying to be a trendy, new-age mum (at which I fail repeatedly). There is some serious campaigning going on around this topic. One such campaign Let Toys be Toys, has recognised how the gender stereotyping for girls and boys has regressed over the years. Instead of liberating our children to be who they want to be, this relatively recent marketing for toys and clothing by colour-coding them into extreme ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ colours is hindering their choices by stereotyping the available selections.

Toys and play are essential to our kids learning development. By marketing toys with gender colours it limits the appeal to not just either sex, but the many parents and relatives whom are reluctant to by buy a gendered toy for the opporsite sex. Melissa Hine, a Professor of Psychology at Cambridge University, outlines in her article ‘There’s no good reason to push pink toys on girls’, that by limiting their choices, we’re impacting the development of social, verbal, writing and spacial skills  for both girls and boys. Hine firmly agrees that “Parents are right to be worried about the obsession with pink for girls”. So the next time I have my internal struggle about which colours to buy, I’ll know its not just about my own personal taste (ha) as I reach for the trendy, unconventional option and Bubby can just thank me later.

For the record, Little G’s favourite colour is Black.

If you're going to go plastic..
If you’re going to go plastic..

More on Pink at the Two Houses…

Baby on a plane

Ever been on a plane where a child cried the whole way? Well that child was probably mine. Oh you cursed us I know, don’t worry. I cursed us too.

Whilst pregnant with Bubby, my best friend announced he was getting married. In London. And then doing it all over again in Melbourne. And I would be his bridesmaid. In London. And again in Melbourne. It was exciting and I was ecstatic for them. We’d be travelling with a nine month old baby and everyone knows they just sleep on planes. Don’t they?

Bridesmaid duty calls!  Photo credit Nada Photography / Nad'a Stankova
Bridesmaid duty calls!
Photo credit Nada Photography / Nad’a Stankova

And so after being blessed with the honour of being his bridesmaid, I was then blessed with a baby that hated to travel. She hated the pram, she hated the car and unsurprisingly as we found out on our long, long journey to London, she hated planes. Well, she hated trying to sleep on them and on such a long trip that amounted to a lot of hate.

The short trip from home to Melbourne went smoothly and we confidently convinced ourselves that the rest of the trip would go swimmingly.

The journey started off happily...
The journey started off happily…

I’d come prepared. I had boobs, a dummy, food, books and toys, but we soon realised it wasn’t going to be enough.

On the first long leg out of the country we did ok. I managed to feed her to sleep and then back to sleep again when she woke every 45 minutes. Horrendous as that was, I told myself she would eventually get tired enough to sleep the rest of the way. On the second leg it was ‘daytime’ so we wearily managed with a combination of feeding her to sleep and standing up with her in our baby carrier. It’s ok we told ourselves, we would be in London soon and she could sleep.

Tiring times...
Tiring times…

And finally we did arrive. In the wee hours of the morning, we stood in the long, long queue waiting to pass through Customs. The airport was eerily quiet when suddenly she woke and let out the long, ear piercingly loud wail that our fellow passengers had become accustomed to hearing during the journey. I could see them all flinching and instantly a customs officer came hunting for us as I tiredly tried to jingle around to quieten her, fearful we were about to be told off for breaking the peaceful silence. But to our surprise, the officer cleared a path through the long, long queue of passengers and waved us over to the next available desk. I have never been so happy to hear my baby cry. Whilst still cursing us, I think the other passengers were probably glad to see the back of us…

Bubby explores Paris and London by bus and train...
Happier times as Bubby explores Paris and London by Double Decker bus , Paris Metro and London Underground…

Needless to say we were not looking forward to the trip back where the boobs no longer sufficed to get her to sleep and Dave and I  took turns in wearing her in the baby carrier having to stand when she woke every 45 minutes. That’s right, for both legs of the flights back to Melbourne.

Before this journey, it was I, who cringed as children screamed and kicked the back of my seat. I probably always will. Only now, I do it with a sympathetic smile for those stressed out parents and mentally apologise again, and again to all those passengers who travelled with us.

For the last and final leg back home we gave ourselves a pep talk. It was only a short trip and after everything else we could manage it easily. Of course it was this leg, the shortest and easiest to endure that our little angel slept the whole way and we were congratulated by our fellow passengers on what a good baby she was.

We could only smile wearily and accept their praise.