Children’s birthday parties are exhausting

That’s it. The milestone I was dreading has come and gone. We have a lot of ‘seven’ left to go, but that initial mountain has been climbed and conquered.

Not made any easier by the organisation of the birthday party, because some bright spark thought that’d be a great idea.

For some reason, when I do stuff like this, I don’t like to do it by halves. Why buy a couple of frozen pizzas, some biscuits and sausage rolls when you can make your own pizza dough, bake your own mini quiches (that none of the kids will eat anyway), dip pretzels in chocolate and create breadstick ‘sparklers’..?

sparklers-and-pretzels

And indeed, why stop there? If making your own party food isn’t hassle enough, why not spend 3 days building an elaborate rainbow layered My Little Pony birthday cake featuring fondant icing that you will inevitably roll too thin so will fall apart when you try to put it on the far-too-tall birthday cake…

img_20161117_140452

Still, I’m nothing if not a show off. And we got through the party without death, disease or tragedy, so it’s a win for a month that has been otherwise pretty crap so far.

And I only drank 4 glasses of vodka & lemonade to get me through it.

Recipe: Eton Mess Cake

Yesterday was Gaz‘s birthday and in true birthday tradition (AKA any excuse for cake) I decided to bake, with the “help” of the kids. Normally for this sort of occasion I would find a recipe weeks in advance and fail attempt to make something spectacular. However, with work and kids to contend with, time was not on my side, so I thought I’d modify my basic victoria sponge and turn it into Eton Mess in cake form. Here goes…

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 200g butter
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp baking powder

For the filling / decoration

  • 1 tub of mini meringues
  • 300ml (ish) double cream
  • 3 tbps icing sugar
  • 300g (ish) strawberries
  • A tablespoon or two of seedless strawberry jam or some nice strawberry coulis

Equipment

  • Two 8″ or 9″ round cake tins (I can’t find my tape measure)
  • Bowl and spoon or your nan’s Kenwood Chef
  • Greaseproof/baking paper OR butter for greasing

Top tip!
You can make a fantastic, rich & tasty sponge for the majority of occasions by using equal parts butter, flour and sugar with 1 medium egg for each 50g. Don’t be afraid to experiment: e.g. make a chocolate cake by replacing 50g flour with 50g of cocoa powder.


Method

Is it just me that thinks ‘method’ makes it sound like a science experiment?

  1. Stick your oven on to pre-heat at around 150-170C.
  2. Either by hand or with a magic mixing machine, combine the butter and the sugar in a bowl until it turns into a creamy soft sugary goo. Fish your childrens hands out of the bowl and remind them that nobody wants to eat cake that’s had fingers poked in it.
  3. When combined, slowly add the egg, mixing gently as you go. Remove the chunks of broken shell from the mixture. When the egg and buttery mix is combined, add the vanilla extract.
  4. Sieve in the flour and baking powder.

baking-eton-mess-cake

  1. Gently stir the flour into the mix until smooth and delicious looking. Fish your childrens hands out of the bowl and remind them that nobody wants to eat cake that’s had fingers poked in it.
  2. Line your baking tins or grease with butter. If I’m making a cake with butter as the ‘fat’, I just grease and don’t usually have any problems getting the cake out of the tin.
  3. Divide the mixture between the two tins roughly equally and using the back of your spoon, level it out as best you can. Give the spoon and bowl to the children for “cleaning” duties.

cake-mix-in-tin

  1. Pop the cakes in the middle of your pre-heated oven with the kid’s fish fingers that they’re having for tea, and cook for around 20-30 minutes. To test if the cake is done, stick a skewer / cocktail stick / piece of dry spaghetti into the middle of the cake. If it comes out clean it’s cooked. If it’s black, you’ve burnt it.
  2. Let the cooked cakes cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. Answer the question “is it cool yet?” 500 times a minute with the word “no”.
  3. Remove the cakes from the tin and allow to cool on a rack. I cheat at this point and stick the rack in the fridge because the cakes cool quicker, and cold cakes are much easier to trim…
  4. When completely cool, remove any bumps and lumps from the top of the cakes as best you can (it doesn’t have to be perfect, nobody is going to see it under the cream anyway) using a sharp knife or cake trimmer thingy (posh git).

cooked-cake

  1. Whisk the shit out of your double cream. As it begins to firm up, whisk in the 3 tablespoons of sieved icing sugar until the cream is fairly stiff and leaves a hole when you stick your finger in it (for “testing purposes”). Don’t tell the people eating your cake it’s had 3 pairs of hands in it.
  2. Slather your jam or strawberry sauce on the top of one of the trimmed sponges and then chuck a few dollops of cream on top. Spread it around using the back of your (now washed) spoon — or a palette knife if you’ve got one. If you’re really fancy, you could also pipe the cream on to the cake at this point. Snob.
  3. Break 2 of the merginues over the cake, sending lovely crunchy meringue bits everywhere.
  4. Chop up a handful of strawberries into quarters and chuck them on top of the cream meringue layer, resisting the urge to dip spare strawberries into the cream as you’ll need that later.

strawberry-layer

  1. Stick the other sponge on top, pressing it down slightly to make sure it’s not going to slide around (but not so hard that your middle cream layer spurts out the sides)
  2. Dollop lots more cream on the top, vaguely attempting to spread it round. Decorate with several mini meringues and whole strawberries. If you were able to buy strawberry coulis you might consider drizzling it over the top cream layer. I did not think it’d work quite as well with blobs of jam…

finished-eton-mess-cake

Tada!

Birthday, Budgeting and Business

Oliver turned 1 last week, and Karl and I took a week off work each to celebrate. We didn’t do much, just spending time together, in the garden, that sort of thing. Had a birthday BBQ with family this weekend to celebrate and managed to spend half the day on the loo and the other half alternately shivering or sweating while my body had a laugh at my expense dealing with some bug. Still, everyone helped out and everything went fine, although I’ve probably just infected my family with some dodgy 12 hour mystery illness.

With June having now arrived I’m cringing at 3 months worth of blown budget due to various big purchases and not keeping a tight rein over additional “just because” spending. Back to it this month – I’m going to try and drag out what’s in stock as long as poss to keep that food bill low this month, using whatever’s left to stock the stores back up and get the meal planning on the go again (having only been doing it half-heartedly for ages). I’ve got a post in the works about making money with ebay (or not) so that will give you something exciting to read :p

This month sees the end of my first year in self-employment. I am really pleased to say that it has gone better than I expected (financially) as well as being fairly draining, exhausting, frustrating and annoying at times. A bit like kids in that respect. Hopefully to celebrate I’ll be launching a new site at some point in the coming months over at my professional site along with getting some of my finished client work up there (assuming I get some of it finished ;))

June. Bugger. You know that means we’re nearly halfway to Christmas? Hahahahaha.

Rainbow Sock Monkey

I’ve been struggling to think of something to buy for Oliver’s birthday present. What do you buy for the boy who already has it all (by way of a sister with a large quantity of toys, books etc). I’ve asked relatives who enquired to buy him clothes (in size age 2-3, ha!) but have been umming and ahhing about us. I was going to not buy him anything but then I didn’t want him to ask in the future “mum, what was my first birthday present?” and not have an answer. Not that it’s likely to happen, but you know, mum guilt and everything.

So anyway.. to celebrate the launch of a client’s site, I decided to use it to find something nice for Oliver. Perfect test case, supporting a small business and the opportunity to boost a client’s profile? Win win all round I say.

So here we go, this is what I found:

rainbow-sock-monkey

Very cute, & as Oliver has a thing about toy monkeys will hopefully go down well. I bought the rainbow coloured one just because I like rainbows ;) Cheap enough to not break this month’s budget too, which is probably going to get blown on food at the end of the month, eek.

Chillin’ out relaxin, filofaxin’

Karl bought me a steam mop for my birthday.

I like to lead with that line because for some reason it shocks people. “He bought you WHAT?”

But it’s ok, because he also bought me a Filofax, which is funny because I was looking at them myself before Christmas. Which means he’s either been flipping through my Amazon history (probably to see what I was getting him for Christmas) or he’s a psychic genius that knows me so well. After nearly 12 years I can say with certainty that it’s probably not the latter.

Anyway, Filofax. I had no idea that these things had such loyal followers. I’ve found blogs, dedicated purely to the Filofax. People who write every day about what they’ve put in their Filofax, stationery they’ve used, how they organise it, free bespoke add-on papers, etc. You name it, someone’s done it AND blogged about it. Nerds.

Apparently this thing is like… the SAHM (stay at home mum) organisation bible. Every doctors appointment, play date, meal plan, shopping list, todo list. I’m thinking if it’s that good, then I can use it for both my homely duties (you know you’re a feminist if you winced at the word ‘duties’, FYI) with my nifty shifty home business thing? And what better way to do so than by documenting every step on my blawg. I can hear the applause from here.

Lego: the exception to the rule

With Isabel’s birthday approaching in the next few months I’ve been window-shopping for ideas for something cool, something that is going to ‘top’ Boris (last year’s gift). Looking at Tesco’s range of Lego sets it occurred to me that Lego & spin off brands are a brilliant exception to my no-plastic ‘toy snob‘ rules. Lego has all the qualities I look for in a toy: endless possibilities for play, encourages use of the imagination, stands up to rough handling, and something I’ll enjoy playing with after Izz has gone to bed.

We have a big bag of Karl’s old Lego cleaned and ready for action in the utility, but I’ve not yet plucked up the courage to get it out. I have visions of Isabel eating pieces and us finding little Lego men heads in the bottom of the potty; the endless chore of tidying up stray bricks so they don’t end up the vacuum cleaner; and, of course, the perfectly rational fear of discovering the one brick I will have inevitably missed as I creep to the loo in the middle of the night with nothing on my feet.

I’m not generally in the habit of sticking to arbitrary age limits — most of our existing toys are labelled for 36 months+ for example — and I like the idea of a huge box of Lego keeping Izz occupied for hours, but I have a feeling it’s still too early. Best to stick to the Mega Bloks for now…

Feeling Better

It’s amazing the good a decent night’s kip can do. Feeling much better this morning, much less emo. I’m flying through work stuff and none of the home stuff is worth making myself ill over, so I just need to take it steady and get through it one bit at a time.

On an unrelated note, happy birthday to my brother Kris :)

Happy Sappy Birthday to Me!

Just wanted to thank everyone who e-mailed, texted, tweeted and facebooked me birthday messages, as well as those who left messages on Snark with cute cake piccies in.

My mum bought me a giant french fancy cake with over 3600 calories in, and Karl bought me a lovely bunch of flowers. Lovely jubbly!