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).

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frozen bread

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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.

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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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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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Crispy Chicken Strips

w_crispy chicken on plateI’m particularly partial to finger food and delicious little morsels like these crispy chicken strips, made on the pretence they’re for my  kids make me very, very happy.

We don’t own a deep fryer. Mostly because I’m afraid it’ll unleash my not-so-secret desire to deep-fry the fuck out of everything and anything. And in this instance, shallow frying doesn’t achieve the balance between cooking the chicken thoroughly and keeping the outside crispy enough for my liking. So oven baked it is. They’re probably healthier this way too if that makes you feel better. In this recipe, the kefir milk adds a slightly creamy sour flavour and can be substituted with yoghurt or buttermilk.
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500g chicken thighs
2 eggs whisked
1-2 cups kefir milk or natural yoghurt
2 ½ cups bread crumbs
2 tsp finely chopped thyme
Salt
Pepper
Olive oil
Baking trays
Baking sheet

Preheat the oven to 200ºC

Trim any excess fat off the chicken and slice into diagonal strips. Place the chicken in a bowl and pour over the kefir milk. Gently mix the milk through until the chicken is thoroughly coated. Add more kefir milk as needed and leave to marinate for about half an hour.

Pour the flour and eggs into separate bowls and set aside.

Mix together the bread crumbs and thyme, season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with a little olive oil and mix through until all the crumbs are very lightly coated.

Line your baking trays with baking sheets. I like to use the reusable silicone ones as I find they let the strips cook through without the bottom burning, but if you have a ‘cool’ oven, you may need to adjust the oven temperature up a little to make sure the strips still get crunchy.

One by one, dip the chicken strips into the flour, then the egg and then into the crumbs for the final coat. Make sure each strip is covered all over at each step. Lay the strips on the tray leaving a small gap between each.

Bake for 10-15 minutes, until golden brown and crispy.

Serve up straight away. If you must, share them with the little ones, but otherwise they’re perfect with beer and mayo.

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Dave’s Slow Roasted Lamb

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Dave’s slow roasted lamb is so delicious it had party-goers at a recent birthday we went to licking the juice off their fingers instead of politely wiping off with a napkin. That’s our kind of party guest and definitely our kind of meat. I’m probably supposed to put something in here about the weather turning cold and it being the time for warming comfort food. But to be honest, you’d find this at our dinner table at anytime during year so don’t wait for a cold day, just cook it.

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2kg shoulder of lamb on the bone

1 Tbsp cumin seeds

2 Tbsp paprika

½ Tbsp salt

½ Tbsp sugar

1 Tbsp fresh oregano finely chopped

1 Tbsp fresh flat leaf parsley roughly chopped

2 cloves garlic finely chopped 

Olive oil

Roasting pan and rack

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Dry roast the cumin seeds in a small fry pan over a low heat, then mix with paprika, salt, and sugar in a mortar and pestle, crushing the seeds gently. Combine the dry seasoning with the fresh herbs and garlic. Score the fatty side of the lamb and drizzle generously with olive oil. Run in the oil with the seasoning all over the fat and meat. Cover and marinate in the fridge overnight.

Preheat oven to 100°C. Lay the lamb over the rack (in the roasting pan). Put the pan into the oven and roast for 8 hours, basting several times. The meat will shrink, but should pull beautifully away from the bone when ready. Drizzle with the meat juices and wrap neatly with foil before leaving to rest for at least half an hour.

 

At this party it was amongst a mouth-watering smorgasbord of potatoes 3 ways, foraged salads, vegetables, local cheeses, homemade coppa, cultured butter, Pigeon Hole bread and a haunch of home-grown roast pig. Yes. Home grown roasted pig accompanied Dave’s slow roasted lamb. By a bonfire. With a live band. It was a good night.

 

At home we keep it much simpler and like to serve it with creamy mash and seasonal vegetables. For our dinner guests the other night, we swapped mash for cous cous and added a side dish of home-grown red cherry and mini yellow pear-shaped tomatoes that we drizzled with meat juices and popped in the oven to roast with for the last half hour.  If you’re lucky enough to have any, lamb leftovers are perfect for cold lamb and salad sandwiches and when shredded, it makes a great pizza topping.

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