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?

Neighbourhood Week 2015

Neighbourhood Week 2015 PosterNeighbourhood Week is happening again this year from Friday 23 October to Sunday 1 November, and it is a fantastic opportunity to bring people together, build stronger communities and get to know those around you. It is also a perfect excuse for a party!

In this day and age it is a bit hard to keep track of the people around you. We all work or have too many commitments and, before you know it, you are surrounded by strangers! This is the perfect time to go and meet your neighbours without them thinking you are a bit strange. 😉

There are many ways you can participate, from organising a street party to hosting a dinner or a sports day to just going and introducing yourself to your neighbours.

There are heaps of tips and ideas on the Neighbourhood Week page, from how to organise a party to how to ask for a grant for one (although applications for this year have closed, it’s never too early to start planning for next year) and you can even print invitations for your event.

We also have some wonderful books at Christchurch City Libraries that will give you ideas. You can

You can also find out about what’s happening in your library by browsing our events calendar. Chances are you’ll meet people that live in your area and that have similar interests to you… win win!

Cover of Tiny Food Party Cover of Game Night Parties Cover of The Everything Big Book of Party Games Cover of Barefoot Contessa Parties

Get your party started

Retro luauThe party season is well and truly upon us and the weekends between now and New Year’s Eve will have many people hosting parties and soirees of many different kinds. Traditionally writers like Martha Stewart, Nigella Lawson, and locally, Jo Seagar have been the obvious choice for hosts looking for tips for entertaining. Our Southern hemisphere festive period also makes BBQ-ing a popular choice for an informal gathering.

Don’t be lead into believing that these mainstream takes on entertaining are your only options however. Check out these titles for a more quirky look at party-throwing – Continue reading