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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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.

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.

Beetroot savoury cupcake with creamed goats cheese and horseradish frosting

One of my favourite dishes roasted beetroot and goats cheese with horseradish cream dolled up into a cupcake.
One of my favourite dishes roasted beetroot and goats cheese with horseradish cream dolled up into a cupcake.

Ok so firstly let me apologise for the overly long descriptive name of this blog. Lex rightly pointed out ‘Beetroot Savoury Cupcake’ just wasn’t very enticing, so the full shebang ‘Beetroot savoury cupcake with creamed goats cheese and horseradish frosting’ it is.

The world of Instagram and Facebook with their picture perfect images of food, fashion and homes are a never-ending source of ‘I want’ for me. A few months ago I tried out the new social blog app ‘Pippit’ and whilst the app itself is too cumbersome to use regularly, I did come across this photo of three pretty little cupcakes by user lingyeungb. Chorizo, paprika, potato, smoked salmon – these were not the ingredients of just any cupcakes, but delish savoury cupcakes. I had never heard of savoury cupcakes before. Here they were dressed up to the nines as though they were as temptingly sweet on the palette as their sugary partners, but as if they were off for martinis instead of high tea. It’s had me dreaming about them ever since.

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The photo by Pippit user lingyeungb that inspired my quest to make savoury cupcakes.

Searching for the ultimate savoury cupcakes recipe, I came across a lot of chunky muffins and just stick-another-recipe-in-a-patty-liner recipes, but these didn’t satisfy my idea of what these perfect looking treats should be made of. I imagined them to have the delicate texture of my favourite Nigella vanilla fairy cakes but well, savoury. I hadn’t had one before, and I wanted it to be perfect. The general theme for savoury cupcakes seemed to be turning already successful dishes into a little cake. One of my favourite savoury dishes is roasted beetroot and goats cheese salad with horseradish cream, so I thought I’d start there. For this recipe I’ve modified a basic beetroot muffin with some basic cake baking tips I’ve picked up from Rosie Alyea’s Sweetapolita site, to create a Beetroot cupcake with creamed goats cheese and horseradish frosting. The resulting cake is subtle, sweetened only by the natural goodness of the roasted beetroot and the sharp and peppery-ness of the goats cheese and horseradish blends into a soft cheesy frosting. The cream does tend to soften quickly so I recommend keeping it in the fridge and decorate your cakes just before serving.

Beetroot - my favourite vegetable.
Beetroot – my favourite vegetable.

Ingredients
200g beetroot
2 baby beetroot
1tsp winter savoury
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 egg
50g butter
300mls + a little extra milk
270g cake flour
1tbsp baking powder
150ml cream
60g soft goats cheese
¼ – ½ tsp horseradish

Preheat oven to 200 degrees celsius. Peel the beetroot and chop into cubes and place in a bowl. Finely chop the winter savoury and add to the beets with a very small drizzle of olive oil and light seasoning of salt and pepper. Toss through. Line a tray with foil and add the beet mix then wrap it up tightly. Bake for 20-30 minutes. When cooked, place in food processor and puree. Set aside.

Roasted beetroot gems.
Roasted beetroot gems.
Give it a whizz until you have a smooth puree.
Give it a whizz until you have a smooth puree.

Thinly slice the baby beetroot and lay flat on another tray between two sheets of foil. Bake in oven on separate shelf below the beetroot mix. Bake until firm and most of the moisture is gone – roughly for about 10 minutes, checking after the first 5. Take out and set the beetroot discs aside to cool.

Beautiful patterns are created in the beetroot discs as they bake.
Beautiful patterns are created in the beetroot discs as they bake.

Lower the oven to 175 degrees celsius.

Beat the egg in the mixer for about 5 minutes until light and fluffy. Add the butter and mix until soft on medium. Slowly add the beetroot puree then the milk. Increase the speed for 2 minutes to mix thoroughly.

In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking powder and a pinch of salt. Slowly add to the egg-puree mixture with the mixture on medium. Add the extra milk a tablespoon at a time until you have a smooth cake batter.

Divide into about 24 cupcake holders and smooth off the tops. Bake for 20-15 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean. Leave to cool for 10 minutes before removing from liners or tray. If your cakes end up looking like volcanoes like mine always do, remove from the liners and trim the tops off ready for decorating.

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Fill your liners about 3/4 full.
If your cakes end up looking like mine ALWAYS do - remove them from the liners and trim ready to decorate.
If your cakes end up looking like mine ALWAYS do – remove them from the liners and trim ready to decorate.

Put the cream and goat’s cheese into a bowl and blend with a hand mixer until combined and it begins to thicken. Add the horseradish a little at a time until you reach your preferred peppery-ness.

Transfer frosting into a piping bag with a no.1 tip and do your best big fat swirl, topping the mound with one of your pretty little beetroot discs.

Who's ready for a martini?
Who’s ready for a martini?

Quasi Day, Making New Traditions

Growing up, Dave and I both had friends of our parents that were just that little bit extra special to us. Letting us hang out at their place talking, feeding and looking after us as though we were one of their own. They were simple relationships, but ones that even now as adults, we look to  with love, trust and respect. As parents, we’ve chosen to foster similar relationships between a few close friends of ours and our girls, so that they too may have the opportunity to grow up with strong and varied role models in their lives outside our immediate family.

Quasi Cake
Quasi Cake

We started it off with Bubby, and that was when the term ‘Quasi-parent’ was coined by one the friends we’d asked to be one of these special people, and we loved it. It was fun and light-hearted, but with the right amount of sentiment towards the relationship. Others might call it a ‘god-parent’ situation, but as our family and  friends are a diverse bunch, this fits us and the relationship it represents perfectly. We celebrated these friends and officially welcomed Bubby into the family with a day at the amazing property at Armytage House, including a warming lunch of wood-fired quail and pizzas in the middle of a freezing cold and drizzly Hobart winter.

So a couple of weekends ago it was Boo’s Quasi Day. This time around our family has grown and seeing as we now have a lounge room bigger than a shoebox and not to mention the awesome new deck in our backyard, we decided to host her special day at home. We try to keep these intimate so invited our usual family members (grandparents, siblings, partners and kids), some friends and the 2 couples of Quasi Parents-to-be (one couple all the way from London) and their children.  So just a small, intimate luncheon for 20 odd.

Quasi-Matt and Boo entertain the guests
Quasi-Matt and Boo entertain the guests
Mama takes a quick selfie with the party girl!
Mama takes a quick selfie with the party girl!

I’d had my hopes up after days of glorious Hobart winter sun, but unfortunately when the day came, the weather decided to be particularly cold and wet so we were forced indoors for the most part. It didn’t stop us from enjoying a delicious lunch of Felicity Cloak’s Perfectly Pulled Pork recipe, Martha Stewart’s Tofu Scramble with Cotija Cheese, barbecued garlic prawns on skewers and corn on the cob served with a red cabbage coleslaw, fresh baps and mayo.

Perfectly pulled pork and calendula flowers
Perfectly pulled pork and Calendula flowers

To finish up, Dave gave a little speech to introduce and thank our newly appointed Quasi-Parents Matt and Paulette, and Craig and Jon and we welcomed Boo into the family with a rather larger-than-expected layered ombre Pandan cake with palm sugar icing, accompanied by Elsie’s delicious chocolate slice with coconut and brandied kumquat. Yummo.

And that’s how we celebrate Quasi Day, or as Bubby and Little G seemed to think,  there was a whole day to just for their favourite Ocotnaut “Kwazi’…

Papa gives a speech
Papa gives a speech
Bubby enjoying the many layers of ombre pandan cake
Bubby enjoying the many layers of ombre pandan cake
Glenn kindly let me steal some of his succulants for the cake decorations
Glenn kindly let me steal some of his succulents for the cake decorations
Succulants from the other house pretty up the cake
succulents from the other house pretty up the cake
Bubby sneaks in a story from Quasi-Craig
Bubby sneaks in a story from Quasi-Craig
Farewelling London Quasi-parents Craig and Jon
Farewelling London Quasi-parents Craig and Jon

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…