October 31, 2012

a robot party

A weekend of celebrating Ollie's 4th birthday.  The party on Saturday was absolute chaos but good fun.  The kids all had a fantastic time in the robot boxes we made, the robot cake* went down an absolute storm and for our first attempt at a cake that was meant to be something, it was not too shabby. The robot party favours (made from mini noodle boxes ($6 for 24) with mini torches (which every parent has told me so far were a hit), balloons, mini horns, sultana boxes with googly eyes and chewy candy feet) got the kids pretty excited and the storm that hit at 5pm meant everyone left pretty quicksmart, which in turn meant the kids were fast asleep (after refusing their lunch time naps) by 7pm.

And then, after an hour of mad tidying, Will and I cracked open a nice bottle of pinot to celebrate that other little milestone... 4 years of broken sleep muddling through parenthood.

Happy birthday kiddo.  You have no idea how much we adore you.

*Note to self re cake:  We made the vanilla cake I've written about before, sans sprinkles and with about 20% less sugar.  1.5 x the quantities of this recipe worked just fine for the 12" x 8" brownie pan but it took about 50 mins to cook and I had to cover it with foil to stop it browning too much.  The frosting quantity was just about right too for a decent crumb coat and frost.  The grey was achieved using a few pin pricks of AmeriColor Super Black and a touch of blue and it was decorated with chocolate wafer squares, coconut, smarties and oreo cookie wheels.  Those are Chupa Chups antennae.  There wasn't a scrap of cake leftover, which is a shame because it was delicious.

October 26, 2012

knight grey

When we moved into our house, almost exactly 6 years ago, it was almost perfect.  We didn't need to do much, apart from replace the counter top in the kitchen, add a few shrubs to the garden and replace the window dressings.  We'd hoped for a fixer-upper and while it would have been sensible for us to add value to our first home for an extra hike up the property ladder, with hindsight, we did the right thing by buying something we were able to walk into without any fuss.

In the six years that have passed, we have added another dog, two three children (I keep forgetting) and the once perfect walls and floors are now marked with paw/toddler prints from the ground up.  Little dints scatter our hoop pine floors and the walls... well, for about a year now we've been talking about painting them.  What better time to do it than after the arrival of a newborn baby?  We couldn't think of one.  So we embarked on Project Paint The Entire House (The Inside) when Hugo was about 4 weeks old with the aim of painting a room each weekend.

And ta DA! We're DONE!  Exclamation POINT! Will took a couple of days off last week when the boys were at kindy to paint their room.  We put their mattresses in Hugo's room while he continued to bunk in with us after we painted his room over the weekend (keeping us awake from close range), and now it's all done and crisp and new and fresh and white, except for this one wall in Hugo's room which we painted this fantastic Knight Grey colour, which I gotsta say looks very smart.

It actually feels like an age since we finished because we've been in the throes of organising Ollie's birthday party and doing you know, the usual (including continuing the instagram obsession).  But in 9 weeks we managed to do it all, including sanding and finishing our decks, and given our situation and that we've been squeezing it all into the weekends... it wasn't a bad effort in the end.  Not bad at all.  Exclamation POINT!

October 18, 2012

coconuts and strawberries

The last two weekends have been pretty good.  Hard work, but good.  We've made more progress on painting the house (only one room to go!) and the weather is really quite deluxe at the moment, so we've been spending time in the garden before it gets too hot and mosquito-ey.

A particular highlight has been the barbecuing we've been doing on our makeshift coal barbecue, fashioned from some breeze blocks, 'borrowed' bricks, some disposable foil trays and the grills from our gas barbecue (pfft, who needs one of those) and actual coal.  Every since moving to Brisbane, it's been a bit disappointing that barbecuing here is about gas fired barbecues.  They're fine and all but you don't get that smokey taste of barbecue/summer on your food with a gas barbecue and frankly, I don't see the point.  You may as well stick your food in the oven and not have to clean a barbecue up afterwards.  For ages I've been going on about building our own little coal pit, one on which we can cooked spicy skewered meat, potatoes in foil straight on the coal and sweetcorn on the cob over the flames.  And then when all that's done, you take the grill off the coal, throw a few little logs on and have yourself a summer camp fire on which to toast marshmallows and get a bit tipsy next too.

We did it a lot as kids.  My parents, especially my dad and his brothers were very keen on the art of the slow, sit-around-it barbecue and most summers we'd be together with our cousins every weekend, cooking outside.  Spicy chicken, lamb kofta kebabs, potatoes in foil, big bowls of rice... the dads would drink cold beers and then whisky and the warm days seem to go on and on and on (they do in the English summer) and the vibe was great.

So a couple of weekends ago, I suggested to Will that we build a little coal pit.  We did.  Sure it took a bit of work to keep the dogs from the skewers of tandoori chicken that were at dachshund nose-height and the kids needed to understand they weren't to go anywhere near it, but it was worth it.  My waning enthusiasm for all things new in the kitchen was alight again, enough that I then made this exceptional coconut cake with strawberries and cream cheese frosting.  After searching and searching for a recipe for the aforementioned that didn't involve strawberry flavoured jelly or boxed cake mix, I found and adapted this one, though I didn't do much to the recipe as just work out the right proportions for a smaller cake than the recipe suggests, mainly because if you're going to renew your gym membership to get fit for the summer, you shouldn't eat a lot of cake.  (This is contrary to my husband's view on exercise, btw.)  So yes, this is a keeper.  We all loved it, including my children, but that's not saying much.

Try it.  You'll spend all day making it but you'll be glad you did.

270g cream cheese, at room temperature
120g unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
250g icing sugar
500g strawberries

310g plain flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
200ml unsweetened coconut milk
180g unsalted butter, at room temperature
240g granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup desiccated or shredded coconut (I used desiccated because it's what I had)

Beat cream cheese, butter and vanilla with an electric mixer until whipped and fluffy. Add confectioners' sugar and mix until fluffy again.  I would suggest that a drop of Malibu might work here instead of the vanilla.

Preheat oven to 180°c. Lightly grease and line two 8-inch round cake pans.
Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda into a large bowl. Beat butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment 5 minutes or until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, with mixer on low speed, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Add vanilla. Alternately add flour mixture and coconut milk in several additions before stirring in the coconut.
Spread batter into cake pans and bake for 35 minutes or until golden and cake tester inserted into center of cakes comes out clean. Cool completely.

Place one cake layer on a cake plate or stand. If cakes have rounded tops, gently trim with a serrated knife and present the off cuts to your children.  Spread a thin layer of frosting on cake layer and top with chopped strawberries. Place other cake layer on strawberries, with flat side up and press down gently to secure. Frost top of cake with remaining frosting and decorate with remaining strawberries.  Eat a slice immediately, and then every time you open the fridge, which is where it's intended to be kept.

October 4, 2012

four balloons

We were a little hasty with this year's invitation to Ollie's birthday party and I am now finding myself thinking of other ways we could have done it.  But, I love this Wall•E inspired card just the same, and yet again it's all thanks to the husband in my life  (it's no surprise that yet another year has gone by and my lllustrator skills are still non-existent).  Later this month, our Ollie will be four years old.  It'll be four years since we started this wild ride that is parenthood.  It'll be four years since we had no idea he'd be into robots, that he'd be such a chatterbox and that he'd be so good at Lego.  Not to mention his puzzle prowess and strange obsession with crushing things and smashing things up.

I'm not entirely sure what the robot themed party is going to be like, and I'm a little concerned that my usual formula of the outdoors and food isn't going to be enough to entertain the children and parents that will be in our tiny garden, but not so worried that I'm stressing about it.  Well, not just yet anyway.

October 2, 2012

middle child

Max is now my 'middle child'.  I don't know much about middle child syndrome, nor am I sure it's real, but it's got something to do with being forgotten because you aren't the overachieving first born and you're not the baby that gets away with everything (we have one and possibly both of those by the way).

More than being our middle child, Max has now taken on the mantel of big brother to his darling kid brother Hugo.  He's not the baby of the family anymore, and he's relishing his role as mentor to Hugo.  I catch him stroking Hugo's hair, giving him a gentle rock in the bouncy chair and he always wishes Hugo a 'bless you Hugo' when he sneezes.  He asks to hold his little brother and tries to calm him when he's crying.  It makes me well up with pride and love and contentment and that feeling I get when I eat cake with my coffee.

Max has an enthusiasm that I never saw in Ollie, whose focus on the detail amazes me.  Ollie's methodical, thoughtful and logical way of building and creating is the opposite of Max's wild, imaginative and adventurous approach to play.  I compare them, yes, I do, but it's natural that I should and I like that it makes me wonder what makes them tick so I can be a better mum.  What works with Ollie doesn't necessarily work with Max.  They are so different and yet they are so great together.  Max adores Ollie, his first question when he wakes is 'where's Ollie?' and his face lights up to see his big brother.  He won't do anything unless Ollie is doing it first.  When I went to collect them from kindy last week, they were sitting together, reading a book while the rest of the kids were having story time.  I stopped and watched them be oblivious to their mum's presence, talking so sweetly to each other before Max jumped up, ran around at top speed, laughing hysterically.  Only he'll know what was so funny.

Lately, I've been losing my temper with them both more frequently than I would like, resorting to yelling sooner than I should.  Max's reaction is often one of tears, and he even says 'no mummy, be happy, be happy!' with such conviction, it's hard not to immediately feel rotten for raising my voice in the first place.  It's such an apt reaction though.  He is such a happy fellow, it's all he wants to see and feel in return.

Sure, he can be tempestuous, stroppy and demanding and the whinging is beyond bearable at times, but Max is very passionate, adventurous and loving too.  He wants to laugh and to make others laugh.  I imagine it's probably way to early to predict anything, but I know this kid is going to follow his big, brave, loyal heart and break some along the way too.  I adore this guy.  He's no middle child.  He's our nutty little sweetheart.
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