29 July 2014

A Fabulous Girly Sleepover Party

I now have a ten year old daughter, and this is how we celebrated - with a Fabulous Girly Sleepover.
All my girl wanted was "a sleepover with my friends from school and a chocolate fountain..." so I did my best to make it special. Ten is, after all, a pretty big milestone. Double digits and all that.

With daddy and big brother out of town for the weekend, we arranged a sleepover for little brother too, so it could be "just the girls". I also arranged for my brave friend Linda to join me/help me, which she was more than willing to do (once I bribed her with the promise of a chocolate fountain).

The birthday girl wanted the decor simple "just bunting, mum", so I ditched the elaborate schemes for chalkboard murals and  silver star strands that I had tortured myself with.

I made everything pretty, soft and on-theme with bedding. Flannelette sheets, vintage pillowcases, woollen blankets and lots of pillows. Everything was pastel and pretty and made you think of SLEEP (girly sleepovers should really be called wakeovers, but one can always hope??!)

After I made a giant cosy bed on the floor with dragged-in mattresses, the couches were swathed in sheets, the vintage-sheet bunting (made by the lovely Deb) was strung and every pillow in the house was called into service, along with my Typo lanterns, old teddies and a brand new photo board...

It's a sleepover party. It could be as plain or as pretty as you want (I choose pretty;  no surprises there).

Our guests started arriving at 3pm and that's when the squealing started. Horrors - I could see my friend Linda looking at me thinking, "What have I got myself in for?" and I must admit, I was wondering the same. (A bunch of excited tween girls can be ear-shatteringly loud and I was just grateful we'd trimmed the guest list from ten down to six). I made coffee and hung out with my mummy friends while the birthday girl squealed and bounced around with hers...

We had afternoon tea, to kick things off properly.
My take on Red Velvet Cupcakes (Miss Fab's fave) and strawberry milk. The icing roses are made by me, oh yes they are. Aren't they pretty? Deceptively easy too.

Miss Fab, her friend Yaz and I made the roses after school one day, just for fun.

One of the best things about sleepover parties is the chance to simply hang out with your friends for a nice satisfying chunk of time. 
Really, all girls of this age want to do is hang out - bash each other with pillows from time to time, sure - but mostly just hang out.

I had a bunch of games up my sleeve, games we play around the fire like "truth or dare" "circles and triangles" plus "indoor spotlight", just in case the girls got bored. They didn't. We didn't play one single game.

But there was A LOT of Looming... (thank heavens for looms, I say. Once the looms came out the noise level went from fever-pitch to blissful, which reassured poor Linda that she wasn't completely mad for agreeing to help me).

I provided a gazillion loom bands and had asked the girls to come with their looms. I had a few cheap $2 looms lurking too just in case someone forgot theirs (which some did). The room was a hive of industry. 

I'd labelled paper bags with each girl's name for them to collect their creations in. Inside was also a "friendship" loom band made by Miss fab for each of her friends, along with a little handwritten note...

While the girls "loomed" me and Linda drank endless cups of tea and hung out; I made the pizza dough in a very relaxed fashion. It was all so positively civilised that it gave me hope that maybe - just maybe - I might actually get some sleep tonight.

Dinner was homemade individual pizzas, with my favourite pizza dough recipe as the base. After the dough had risen, I cut it into eight lumps for each of the girls (plus me and Linda) to shape into our own pizza base.
The mini-pizzas were laid out four-to-a-tray lined with baking paper, with each person's name written beside it, so there'd be minimal mix-ups.

The girls came into the kitchen two-at-a-time and created their personal pizza with their choice of toppings. (We had shaved ham, pineapple, salami, chorizo, olives, anchovies, spinach and basil with tomato puree spread on the base and grated mozzarella cheese sprinkled on top.)

After dinner, while the girls prepared a "show" to dazzle us with, Linda and I prepared Miss fab's Dessert Bar - complete with chocolate fountain...!

After researching the cost to hire one of these gadgets (horrific), I spotted one on super-special in Stevens (for $30), and figured it would get plenty of use. The question was, would it work?
Linda and I melted the chocolate in a bowl over a pot of boiling water (750g - 3 blocks - of Whittakers milk chocolate plus 3/4 cup of canola oil). Nervously we turned on the chocolate fountain and poured in the melted chocolate... would it work? IT DID!!!! Eek. (Now it was my turn to shriek just a little bit).

There was more shrieking when the girls saw the chocolate fountain. The birthday girl, hugged me and declared that this was THE BEST BIRTHDAY PARTY EVER.

Then we sent ourselves into a sugar coma.
Two kinds of icecream, homemade berry coulis, squirty cream, lollies, oreos, grapes, berries and cherries... topped off with that decadent flowing chocolate. It was dessert heaven.

I cut them off when their eyes started to glaze over and declared the dessert bar "CLOSED".
Off they staggered to get into their PJ's.
(At some point they did put on their show for us - a dance starring my birthday girl and her cheerleading pal, Yaz, with the other girls all filling roles as DJ's, MC's, lighting and security. Miss fab was in her element).

Time to snuggle down into sleeping bags and watch the movie ("Johnny English" as requested by Miss fab, a suitably silly film) and Linda headed home. She's not silly. Six giggly girls and chocolate fountain does not bode well for shut-eye.

I cleared up the kitchen while the girls watched the movie; it took awhile. I've never disassembled a chocolate fountain before (it was easier than I thought).

After the movie the girls were still wide awake... surprise surprise. I figured they wouldn't be sleeping anytime soon and our best bet for calm and peace was another movie...
This time an inspirational true story, "Soul Surfer" about Bethany Hamilton whose arm was bitten off by a shark while surfing; she made a comeback and ended up becoming a professional surfer. It's a wonderful inspiring  movie, and it put the still-not-sleepy girls into a reflective mood so after the credits rolled I turned off the lanterns and made the girls promise to "only whisper" and if I had to knock on the wall too many times (my bed being right through the wall) I'd hate to have to separate them...

Would you believe it if I told you that by 11.15pm there was not a peep? Everyone was sound asleep, despite the sugar rush. Horror stories about girls having pillow fights all night and girls up talking til 3am and parents getting NO SLEEP... did not happen here. Woop!

They woke up gosh-darned early though. 6.15am (I checked my alarm clock). It was still dark outside.
I tried to ignore the noise and stay asleep-ish, but in the end, gave up and went to make breakfast...

Waffles (the toaster kind), juice, hot chocolate in a jug. Maple syrup, berry coulis, squirty cream. Marshmallows. What can I say, they loved it.

I'd asked the parents to pick their girls up by 9am, because I had to pick up Mr G and Dash from the airport at 10am so we had to get moving after breakfast, quick smart, don't dally. Then I got a call from hubby saying he'd messed up the times and it was 10PM not A.M.
Panic over. Relax. Txt the parents and say, "No need to rush and pick up your daughter because we are all having such a wonderful time". Truly.
Who'd have thought?

Finally I couldn't put it off any longer. It was time for the birthday cake. (I really didn't want to destroy my work of art but it had to be done).

[Note the addition of a "throw rug" on the end of the bed disguising a hole.
Scrag got curious and poked his finger in. Grrrr]

We lit the candles and I snapped a pic of the girls, in the order they appear on the cake...

We enthusiastically sang the song. Happy birthday, Miss Fab, Happy birthday to you! and after the wish was made and the candles blown out, we began to destroy enjoy the birthday cake bed. Using a long spatula I was able to slide the whole brownie "bed" off the top of the cake, remove it to a platter and give each girl "themselves" - which tickled them immensely.

We hung out, looming and looking at old photos, until the mums arrived one by one. 
Miss fab pronounced it her best party ever, and I have to say - I rather enjoyed it myself!

Happy Birthday Fabulous Miss Fab. I had such fun making this party to celebrate your ten fabulous years on the planet.

(P.S. We had a family dinner with our "boys" and Nan and Grandad last night on her actual birthday; a repeat of homemade pizzas and a dessert bar with all the party leftovers. Special.)

25 July 2014

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

Right now I'm feeling so proud of myself that I just couldn't wait to share this creation 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.

23 July 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.