Friday, July 25, 2014

How to Make a Sleepover Birthday Cake (step-by-step)

Right now I'm feeling so proud of myself I couldn't wait to share my efforts with you all. I've wanted to have a go at making one of those "heads in the bed" cakes for a sleepover party like, forever. This morning I began with a plain, round, white layer cake. Within a couple of hours it had been turned into the cutest sleepover cake ever, complete with bed, quilt and six little sleeping beauties.

Here's my Sleepover Birthday Cake, with step-by step instructions.

First, start with your favourite cake recipe as a base. The birthday girl requested "a vanilla cake with white icing, please", so I used Meredy's easy vanilla cake recipe, and made a double mixture, baked in two layers in a greased springform cake tin.

  • 1 1/2 cups of flour
  • 3 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 125g butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
Throw all ingredients in a bowl and beat on medium for five minutes. bake at 180oC for approx 30 minutes (or until cake springs back when lightly touched)

Once the cake has cooled spread with white buttercream between the layers and all over the cake.

I made my life super easy by asking in the bakery department of my local supermarket if they would sell me half a kilo of "mock cream" (a.k.a. buttercream). They were more than happy to oblige and even put it into a piping bag, charging me just $1.50 for the lot! It saved me time and money, and helped me avoid my least favourite task - beating butter to within an inch of its life.

For the "bed" base I baked my favourite easy peasy brownie, and split it in half once it cooled.
Smother the bed base with a bit more of that white buttercream.

(The extra half of the brownie has been cut up into chunks for our sleepover dessert bar).

Next we begin on the bed details. To create the "bodies in the bed" I used chocolate finger biscuits. there will be six girls at the sleepover, so we lay out six biscuits "bodies".

To make the "pillows" I slice white Mr Mallow marshmallows in half, lengthwise. These are the perfect shape for pillows, once we cut them down a bit.

Now we make the heads...

Use white fondant (available from any supermarket in a packet), and add colour by working it in with our fingers. It's just like playing with playdough, truly.

Once you've mixed your colours (see the graphic for details) pinch a bit of fondant and roll it between your palms until you have a nice round ball. Do this for each of the "heads".

For the hair, break off a bit of the hair colour and pinch it between your fingers into a round-ish shape (you don't want it took perfect looking). Wrap each piece of hair around the "head" ball as shown in the picture. It's actually really easy to do! (I figured it out while giving it a go today; much easier than I thought it would be).

Now we lay out our heads on the bed...

Next, we make the blankets.

First, The Quilt.
Break off a largish piece of white fondant and rub it between your palms to make a sausage shape. Now roll it out using a rolling pin. To avoid the fondant sticking to your surface or your rolling pin, sprinkle some icing sugar on both surfaces..

Once your fondant is rolled out nicely, trim one edge off nice and square with a sharp knife (this is the top of your quilt) but you can leave the other edges wavy (they look nice once draped on your "bed").

Mark the quilt squares by laying down a metal skewer and pressing lightly to form a grid pattern.
Carefully move your fondant quilt to a flat plate or board "floured" with icing sugar (so the fondant doesn't stick). You can now start colouring in the quilt.

I used my edible metallic liquid paint pens from KiwiCakes to colour in the squares in a random pattern, sticking to soft colours (pastel lilac, pink, baby blue, light gold and pearlescant white), but alternatively you could paint food colouring on with a brush.

So pretty. See how that grid pattern gives it a slight 3-D quilted effect?
Before placing your quilt on the bed, first make a "top sheet" by rolling out another piece of white fondant. It needs one nice sharp edge, but doesn't need to cover the whole bed as only the folded top will be seen.

Place your "sheet" on the bed, half covering the heads. It will be folded back in just a moment...

Now carefully drape your "quilt" over the bed and fold back the top sheet. Isn't that grand?

Time to make the headboard.
This was ridiculously easy. I used chocolate covered wafers (Pams brand) and some more of those chocolate fingers for the posts...

Simply cut the wafers to size and then poke them into the cake. Easy peasy.

Around the sides of the cake I scattered fondant stars, coloured with the same edible liquid pens as the quilt...

Now all that remains is to add faces onto the heads...

To do this, simply dip a non-toxic pencil into black food colouring and draw eyes and mouth - much better control than with a brush.

You should have seen Miss Fab's face when she came home to find this birthday cake waiting for her. There was squealing (and fake fainting).

I think this is quite possibly my BEST BIRTHDAY CAKE EVER.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Mountains, Motherhood and Me

Mountains have always been metaphors for life.
Mountains and problems both loom over us, just begging to be conquered.
Once the mountain is climbed, the view from the top is amazing; the climb, well worth the effort.
Once the problem is surmounted, the victory is deeply satisfying; the struggle is worth every tear shed.
Isn't that true?

We went to the mountains last week. Its kind of a family ritual; go to the snow, freeze your face off and experience deep family bonding 2700m above sea level.

Last year Dash learned to ski. This year Daddy upped the ante. Everybody - EVERY BODY - was going to have a go skiing, including Miss Fab, Scrag... and me.

I haven't skiied in fifteen years, and even then I only attempted it once - maybe twice - but Daddy said it would be good for the kids to see me having a go instead of just taking photos.
Plus it would be good for family bonding.

It's hard to argue with that logic, so I found myself wrestling my nervous feet into hired ski boots and getting measured up for skis. At this point I was still in denial.

(DENIAL: Not unlike the way I grew a human in my belly for nine months but was blissfully unaware of what was about to hit me once that squawling infant made his debut on the planet. Parenting: Nothing Prepares You For It.)

[On the chairlift: blissfully unaware]
Anyhoo, back to the mountain...
We get on the chairlift clutching our skis, swing out over the abyss... and the chairlift grinds to a halt. Down below us, they are loading an injured skier on. We hang suspended in the air while they strap down her stretcher, then the lift starts up again and the injured lady on her stretcher swings up past us...
At the bottom, the cheerful Englishman who helps us leap clear says breezily, "Don't be alarmed by what you've just seen. It happens every day, but I'm sure you'll do just great..."

(Thanks for that vote of confidence, pal.)

Meanwhile Daddy has forgotten that it's been fifteen years since I clipped into skis. He's under the impression I know what I'm doing (cos he taught me 15 years ago), so he leaves me and Miss Fab in the vicinity of the kids lesson and skis merrily away with the boys.
Miss Fab is joining in with the kids lesson, but where does that leave me? I don't even remember how to put my skis on.
I stand like a deer in the headlights clutching my skis and poles. I don't know where to start. I am clueless.

(CLUELESS: Kind of like sometimes as a mum, when one or other of your kids is struggling and you have no clue how to help them. When you feel paralysed, swamped and overwhelmed, and you wish with all your heart somebody handed out instruction manuals with babies).

Feeling like a bit of a dufus, I watch what the kids are doing and I see how they clip into their skis. I watch as the instructor gets them to practise with just one ski on, one ski off.
"I can do that," I think, so I try it; I'm scooting around in a circle on one ski, the biggest dork in Happy Valley.

At last I spot Daddy and screech out his name. He comes over and is perplexed that I am so clueless, helpless. Haven't I done this before? Don't I remember what to do?
Um, apparently not.
Some things just don't come back to you naturally, this is not like riding a bike. We are halfway up a steep mountain, I have long slippery skis stuck awkwardly to my feet, I've never been known for my athleticism or coordination and gravity has always been out to get me. I'm afraid this could turn ugly.

(TERRIFYING SPEED: Kind of similar to the way the childhood years are sliding away from me in an ever-increasing rush, while I'm still trying to get a handle on how to do this this parenting thing properly. As the teenage years hurtle towards us, I'm afraid things could get messy...)

Daddy decides that the best way for me to remember what to do is to copy him. After parking Scrag on the side of the hill (he's had enough already and just wants to go sledding), my hubby begins my ski re-introduction, pulling me down the hill behind him by my ski poles.
The ground races by, my life flashes before my eyes, gravity is poised to strike... but somehow I reach the bottom relatively unscathed, sliding past my hubby and landing a heap; to add insult to injury there's snow down the back of my neck.

I hated every second of it. I want off this mountain. The ski boots are hurting my ankles and I can no longer feel my toes. Skiiing, shmee-ing. Get me outta here.

"I don't want to do this," I tell him. "I CAN'T do this. I'm too old, too unfit, too un-co. Flippin heck, I'm 44 years old! Too old to learn. Can't I just go sledding with Scrag...!?!?"

Daddy is not fazed.
"You're not too old, and you CAN do this. You NEED to do this. Your kids need to see you giving this a go and not giving up. This will be good for you. You have to try. You can't quit cos then they'd think they can quit (plus, I paid all that money to hire your gear after all)..."

I sigh. There's that logic again; there's simply no arguing with it. I have to suck it up and persevere.

(SUCK IT UP: Kind of like how some days as a mum you feel like you are simply the worst-equipped person to be these children's mother and how you are completely lacking in the necessary patience, skills and insight and how if someone had told you what you were in for... well... but you can't go there and you can't quit so you just have to suck it up and do the best you can. End of Pity Party.)

In the end I sign up for a lesson. There are three of us, all women, all nervous and equally un-co. We are in good company. Our instructor takes it slowly, and she says something which makes all the difference to me.

When you are scared of falling you pull back, shifting your body weight backwards, which means your centre of gravity is wrong and you lose control of your skis, making you more likely to actually fall.
The boots are designed for you to lean forward. When you lean forward and relax you will have greater control.

Don't pull back in fear (and therefore lose control). Lean forward, relax... and the rest will follow.

(Do I need to spell out the parenting metaphor or do you see it too?)

I got it.
I leaned forward, did my best to relax... and found that I DID NOT DIE (or get stretchered off the mountain in a helicopter).
Gravity did not get me. In fact, after I learned to lean forward, I didn't even fall once.

[wonderful to watch brother and sister skiing together]

Not only did I get it, but Miss Fab got it too, confidently swishing down the slope like she was born to it.
And since Dash learned to ski last year, now everyone but Scrag can ski. (He'd had enough after an hour and went sledding; Next year will be his year; he just needs to learn to lean forward. And relax).

At the end of a very long, trying but triumphant day, Daddy couldn't resist asking me, "So aren't you glad you didn't quit?"

Oh yes I am. Glad for so many reasons.
I proved to myself that I could do it.
I showed my kids their mum can learn something new.
I modelled perseverance.
I learnt (again) how to ski.

It was a day on the mountain full of memorable moments and blog-worthy metaphors.

So we celebrated with high tea and hot chocolate at the Chateau...

And next year we'll all be back here on skis, defying gravity.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

School Holiday Fun: The Book Party (with free printables)

Any excuse for a party, I say, and School Holidays is reason enough.
It's become a bit of a habit, throwing an impromptu party-for-no-reason when school is out; a chance to gather friends, and kids-of-friends, eat food and drink coffee. We've had themeless parties-for-no-reason, a Lego party, garden parties and last school holidays, Book Club: Kids Edition.
This led me naturally to the idea of throwing a Book-themed party this time. Invite the kids to dress up, and the mums to bring book-themed food. What could be simpler, right?

I have to admit, I had fun coming up with the ideas, and was pleasantly surprised how fun and easy this theme was. It might be that I went a little overboard...? (No, surely not, Simoney! that doesn't sound like you at all, did I hear you say...)

The Book Party Decor was super easy. I used what I have plenty of,  i.e. books of all shapes and sizes. My best bit of inspiration was trying out the idea of books as bunting. I tied up some strands of (strong) string, hung up a range of small books and VOILA! Book bunting...

For the table, I laid out thin paper-backed picture books and covered them with a $2 white plastic tablecover. Too easy, and cute.

The food was the fun part. To make sure that nobody missed the book-association, I made little labels...

The labels were made ahead of time: black paper stuck onto old business cards, with a mini picture of the relevant book stuck on it. I wrote the food's title with chalk and then sprayed each one with hairpsray, so the chalk didn't smudge. (Mini Book cover printable is at the bottom of this post)

But what you really want to see is the food, right??!

MR HAPPY COOKIES (from Mr Men books): plain packet biscuits topped with circles of rolled out yellow fondant; the face drawn on with chocolate squeeze-tube icing.
TRUFFULA TREES CUPCAKES (from The Lorax): a squirt of green buttercream on a choclate cupcake, topped with a wafer tube and a ball of candy floss (held in with a toothpick)
OREO SPIDERS (from Charlotte's Web): Oreo cookies split in half, with slivers of licorice poked in for legs; the Oreo gets sandwiched back together and squirty tube icing eyes applied
CHEESE TOUCH CHEESE N CRACKERS (from Diary of a Wimpy Kid): cheese and crackers!
MAX'S JELLY BOATS (from Where the Wild Things Are): blueberry jelly set in cups; a mandarin segment spiked through with a toothpick and a paper triangle.
CATERPILLAR GRAPE SKEWERS (from The Very Hungry Caterpillar): green and red grapes, on a skewer
SCRAMBLED SNAKE (from The Gruffalo): Home Brand Sour Worms
RINGS (from Lord of the Rings): Burger Rings! (could also use Cheezels)
EDMUNDS TURKISH DELIGHT (from The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe): Turkish Delight. From a packet.

[books and christmas lights provided a cute background for the food on my hutch dresser]
There were so many bookish food ideas, most of them so simple (and I've always wanted to try making these Truffula cupcakes). I collected all the ideas I found on a Pinterest Board if you need more inspiration...

To drink we had NIGHTLOCK BERRY PUNCH (from The Hunger Games) and LASHINGS OF GINGERBEER (from Famous Five; grab the free printable labels below).

There were no book games or activities (though I did briefly consider a Book Quiz); this is not a birthday party after all. It's a chance for the mummies to get together and drink coffee while the kids rampage through the house with their friends on a rainy day, where they might otherwise be stuck inside, bored.

Can you figure out who they are dressed up as???

So at out school holiday book party we ate book themed food, drank book themed drink, and hung out with our friends while the rain fell and the wind blew. It was loud. It was crazy. It was messy.
But it was so much better than being stuck inside on our own.

Have you ever thrown an impromptu party? You should try it sometime. It's fun.

If you want to host your own Book Party, here are my printables to help you get started...
[Right click to save images to your computer then print, trim and use. Both are set up on an A4 page]

[mini book labels]
["lashings of gingerbeer" Famous Five soda bottle labels]