29 days till Christmas…

Cover of The Christmas countdown… yep, that freaked me out too! But in my house, we have the Energizer Bunny version of the Festive Season: with all four of our birthdays falling like dominoes each month from October to January, and our Wedding Anniversary on Christmas Eve (not to mention a dozen or so birthdays in the extended family) the festivities just keep on going and going and going.

The best (and worst!) thing about this crazy time of year is planning the kid’s birthday parties. I love the baking and cake decorating, the planning and searching of the interwebs for party ideas. But I don’t do anything by halves! On party-eve, I’m always up at some ungodly hour of the morning, still working my magic on the sugar-and-food-colouring on chocolate-cake masterpiece that will become the birthday cake. Sometimes the magic is less than forth coming. Stressful? You bet! Rewarding? Absolutely!

cover of Step by step Kids' birthday cakesWith a just-turned-six-year-old, and a nearly-thirteen-year-old, I’ve had plenty of birthday parties to plan and pull off. But last year, for some reason, with the momentous occasion of the Young Lad’s 5th birthday looming (which was to be his first “proper” party, with friends from preschool and all the hoopla) I felt at a complete loss as to what to do. I’d never planned a party for little boys before. What do they do at a party?? I took home book after book on party games, party foodparty themes, and of course party cakes. But the clock was ticking, and I still hadn’t figured out what to do-oo when (miracle of miracles) Step-by-step Kids’ Birthday Cakes fell into my hands.

I showed the Young Lad the Pirate Cake, and everything finally fell into place. Funnily enough, after all my angst, we ended up with pretty traditional games like pass the parcel, pin-the-tale (or in this case the treasure chest), and a treasure hunt (with actual pirate treasure – well, OK, cardboard pirate chests full of chocolate coins). The cake turned out pretty good, I reckon.

pirate cake

I’ve certainly come a long way since Miss Missy’s third birthday, when she requested a Peppa Pig cake. I looked in horror at the amazing creations on the interwebs, and decided that I could probably pull off a picture of Peppa piped atop the cake. The midnight drama that year was the red icing for Peppa’s dress. I added more and more red colouring, the icing turned pinker and pinker, stubbornly refusing to turn red! Then I had an a-ha moment, added some chocolate icing, and came up with perfect Peppa red.

Cover of 50 easy party cakesSince then, I’ve turned more to the library for inspiration, and have created my own versions of cakes from several of the books in the catalogue.

I love Debbie Brown’s books, the instructions are really easy to follow, and I’ve used quite a few of her designs now. I found the perfect cake for Missy Missy’s pony party in  Debbie Brown’s 50 Easy Party Cakes. It really was easy! Honest! And it survived the near disaster of having the oven door slammed, which jarred the mane off one of the ponies (and I’d put it in the oven FOR SAFE KEEPING!)

pony cake

The kids and I drooled over More Cakes for Kids and the Young Lad chose the fire engine cake. It turned out almost too good, because he was desperately upset when we cut it up and ate it!

fire engine cake

Cover of Celebration CupcakesThis year’s wonderful discovery was Tamara Jane’s Celebration Cupcakes. I used her royal icing recipe to make Gingerbread Hulks, and her floodwork instructions to create superhero cupcake toppers. I had a lot of fun making them, but when the Young Lad saw the Hulks, he informed me “I can do it betterer than you, Mum!” and proceeded to amaze me with his piping skills. Our top tip from this year’s cakery is to use little zip-lock bags for piping the royal icing. That way, the icing stays where it should (inside the bag, not squirting out the back and all over your hands) and the icing stays nice and fresh, even while you wait for things to dry before adding more details. We just snipped the corner of the bags, but I imagine you could put a piping nozzle in it if you wanted to.

superhero cupcakes

OK, I’ll admit it – this blog post was mostly an excuse to show off, and redeem myself after sharing the story of my culinary failures. But a little bit of shameless self-promotion is alright now and then, right?

Whanau fun – celebrate Aranui at AFFIRM on 5 December

AFFIRM is a family festival organised by ACTIS. The local community sets out to celebrate and share its talents with the rest of Christchurch. AFFIRM14 takes place on Saturday 5 December 2015 at Wainoni Park from 9.30am to 4pm.

10AFFIRM
AFFIRM10 Flickr CCL-2011-12-03-AFFIRM December2011 DSC02813

There will be food stalls on site and more entertainment for the whole whanau:

Ki o Rahi, Giant Bouncy Slide, Water Rollers, 4’n’1 bungy, Info stalls, great giveaways, full days stage entertainment which includes: local schools, Jah Mana, The Byllie Jean Project plus many more. Featuring: T J Taotua and Donell Lewis.

Our Aranui Library is right by Wainoni Park, and is open on Saturday from 10am to 4pm. There will be a free giveaway book stand at AFFIRM, and there will be information available outside the library. We will also have 3D printing on show.

Aranui Library holiday activities
Aranui Library. January 2014. Flickr: 2014-ar.hols2

Go to the Aranui AFFIRM Facebook page to find out more and see photos from previous events.

Bookish Books

Cover of The Truth According to UsI confess I picked The Truth According to Us based solely on the fact that Annie Barrows was involved in the writing of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which has been one of the few book club style books that I’ve really enjoyed — it’s light and funny in tone despite its occasionally grim subject (some World War Two anecdotes), and it includes my favourite trope: characters who love to read. Generally this will catapult it onto my list of comfort reads, and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was no exception.

12 year old Willa Romeyn, one of the main characters in The Truth According to Us, is obviously a kindred spirit. Throughout the book she surreptitiously re-reads her aunt’s copy of Gone with the Wind several times, and she has to visit the library every day in order to replenish her reading material. Willa is also unspeakably nosy, a trait I’m afraid I share. Being on the cusp of adolescence she is starting to notice the half-truths and lies adults are telling, and she sets about finding out their secrets for herself. (This always ends well, right?)

In 1938 senator’s daughter Layla Beck arrives in the Romeyn household as a boarder, a new member of the Federal Writers’ Project, having been cut off from her allowance for not marrying her father’s choice of husband. Initially she sees her time in the town of Macedonia as an ordeal to be got through until her father relents and lets her come home; however, she is soon captivated by the town, the Romeyn family, and, to her own surprise, the history she is writing.

While it’s not a slim read and the point of view does jump around a bit, Jottie Romeyn (Willa’s aunt and caregiver) won me over. Witty and clever and betrayed by the past, she tries unsuccessfully to protect her family from the judgement of the town. I wish I could invite her over for a big jug of iced tea.

Cover of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society Cover of The Collected Works of A. J. Fikry Cover of 84 Charing Cross Road Cover of The Uncommon Reader

I’m in the mood for another comfort read, so I’ve compiled a list of Bookish Books. Are there any I’ve missed that I should add? Or, if you’ve read The Truth According to Us, what did you think? It reminded me a lot in tone of Crooked Heart, so if you liked that (or vice versa) perhaps try the other.