When the cake fails…

I don’t normally wait until the day of the party to make a birthday cake, but due to a number of circumstances, both in and out of my control, that is what happened. Big L helped out by making up the cake mix ready to cook. Usually this works well, in that he cooks the cake(s) and leaves it to me to decorate, which, depending on what the kids have asked for, can sometimes take hours.

The crumbled mess of chocolate cake.

The crumbled mess of chocolate cake.

Except this time, the cooking of the cakes didn’t exactly go to plan. When I went to tip them onto the cooling racks, the cakes didn’t come out easily. With a bit of a shake, I got the square cake out, except that the base and the middle of the cake were still stuck in the bottom of the tin! Big L had a go at removing the second cake, which was in a loaf pan. After a bit of effort, this cake¬† slid out of the tin, also leaving behind its bottom half, and broke in two. I sat at the table and stared at the crumbled pieces of rich chocolate cake. With only hours until our guests arrived, I had to think of a solution fast!

Big L told me to go out and buy a cake from somewhere, anywhere! But I couldn’t just waste all this chocolate cake. Luckily inspiration struck and I rushed to the store to obtain some extra ingredients, to create a dessert which I was thinking of as a chocolate trifle, but I think really deserves the name ‘chocolate heaven’! I might even make this again on purpose next time :)

'Chocolate Heaven' - a bowl of chocolatey, creamy yumminess.

‘Chocolate Heaven’ – a bowl of chocolatey, creamy yumminess.

Hastily gathered ingredients.

Hastily gathered ingredients.

First I placed further crumbled pieces of the cake into the bottom of a clear bowl. Then I layered thick chocolate custard over the cake. This was followed by another layer of crumbled cake, and a second layer of chocolate custard. This filled the bowl I was using about three quarters of the way up. If I’d been using a deeper bowl, I would have made more layers. Over the last layer of custard I spread a thick layer of freshly whipped cream, smoothing it out with a spoon. To finish, I carefully grated some Toblerone chocolate (which I happened to have in the fridge) over the top of the cream. I refrigerated the dessert until we were ready to serve it.

Crumbled cake in the bottom of the bowl.

Crumbled cake in the bottom of the bowl.

Covered in chocolate custard.

Covered in chocolate custard.

As to the birthday cake, while I was out collecting the chocolate custard and thickened cream, I also grabbed some slabs of plain sponge cake. We placed these side by side and iced them in green butter cream, with silver cachous sprinkled all over the top. It was a very simple, practical and plain cake, but it held the candles for L to blow out, and the kids didn’t mind.

However, the real taste sensation was the ‘chocolate heaven’ dessert! It was soooo good!

So, if you’re like me and have the occasional cake disaster, don’t dismay, throw some custard, cream and chocolate at it and all will be fixed! Please share some of your cake or food disasters and fixes. It always makes me feel better to know I’m not the only one that sometimes has less than stellar moments in the kitchen ;-)

(PS. Never, ever, lean over the open grill with a tea-towel slung over your shoulder, it just might catch alight!)

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The Angel Tree by Daphne Benedis-Grab

IMG_3011The Angel Tree by Daphne Benedis-Grab, paperback novel, 246 pages, published by Scholastic Press in 2014.

Pine River is a small town with a tight-knit community. For the past twenty-five years, the town has had an amazing Christmas tradition, the Angel Tree. Each December the tree arrives in the town square in the dead of night. People tie their most heartfelt wishes to the branches of the Angel Tree and other townsfolk and the big boss angel make those wishes come true. No one knows who erects the tree and co-ordinates the wishes every year, it has always been a mystery.

Four kids who each need something granted from the Angel Tree come together to uncover the secret and thank the person that has been bringing dreams to life in Pine River for so long. Max, whose house burnt down recently, Lucy, whose guide dog needs life saving medical treatment, Joe, who is lonely and isolated and missing his mum, and Cami, who loves her violin, but wants to make her grandmother proud even if it means not being herself. Together they unravel the mystery of the Angel Tree, and learn a lot about themselves and each other along the way.

The Angel Tree is a heart-warming holiday read suitable for primary school children and up. The mystery of the Angel Tree is interesting, and I liked following Max, Joe, Cami and Lucy along on their detective mission (or spy mission, as Max thought it should be). I tried to work out the clues along the way too. The story was well written, and the ending was not given away too soon.

I quite liked the characters, they seemed very real, with real worries and doubts, flaws and capabilities. Joe was written as the most hated student at school, and he read like he deserved this title at the start of the book, while Max was the class clown. As the story progressed, the reader learnt more about Max and Joe, gaining an understanding of their true selves, and the reasons that allowed these boys to be pigeon-holed into these roles. It felt so real. Cami and Lucy were similarly pigeon-holed as the musical and blind girls, for obvious reasons, but they are so much more than that. They both overcome their fears and doubts to track down the great benefactor of Pine River. They are strong and special girls, capable of so much. The four kids were the focus of the story, but the adult characters were also well-written, and easily pictured.

It was very nice to read a Christmas story that was about real giving and generosity. This story is a reminder to us all that Christmas in not just about marketable wares and consumer spending, but about people. People helping one another, coming together as friends and family, kindness and generosity of spirit.

The Angel Tree was a very enjoyable read, helping me to get on my holiday cheer!

 

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Santa Koala by Colin Buchanan and Glen Singleton

IMG_3007Santa Koala by Colin Buchanan and illustrated by Glen Singleton, paperback picture book, first published by Scholastic Australia in 2010, this edition published in 2014.

Santa Koala is a Christmas song set to the tune of Waltzing Matilda. While Santa sleeps by the billabong, Koala decides to help out by delivering all of the presents for him. Along with his Australian animal friends, Koala sets off to do Santa’s job, what could possibly go wrong?

I found Santa Koala to be an amusing book. I especially liked the ending, very funny! It really is best sung, so get out your awesomest singing voice and go for it!! My kids loved the singing, even though they were totally out of tune. They also asked me to sing it while they followed the pictures.

Santa Koala is a bit of Aussie Christmas fun best suited for younger children, though I think all ages could do with a bit of upbeat Christmas singing at this time of year!

 

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The Twelve Cats of Christmas by Kevin Whitlark

IMG_3004The Twelve Cats of Christmas by Kevin Whitlark, paperback picture book, first published by Scholastic Australia in 2010, this edition published in 2014.

The twelve days of Christmas, cat style. On each of the days of Christmas, my true cat sends me something kitty related, such as “eight felines fishing”.

My kids like this twist on the old Christmas song. They like singing the book, and laughing at the quirky pictures. The story is simple and repetitive, so it’s easy for the kids to learn all the words too. I like the “cats a’ clawing” best, except when my own cat wants to join in!

Enjoy some Christmas entertainment with this fun Christmas book for toddlers, preschoolers and lower primary school children.

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What does Santa do When it’s not Christmas? by Heath McKenzie

IMG_3000What does Santa do When it’s not Christmas? by Heath McKenzie, hardback picture book, published by Scholastic Australia in 2014.

When Christmas is over for another year, does Santa and all his helpers get a good rest?

This humourous rhyming book is an excellent read for Christmas, we just love it! It is my new favourite Christmas book to share with the kids. The story is very clever, and is a delight to share with children of all ages (though teenagers may feel “too old” for such a book!)

The illustrations are beautiful with so much detail, and plenty of funny things to spot, like the elves’ shopping¬† and the reindeer’s plans for greater efficiency. My absolute favourite page is where the gingerbread men are making themselves less delicious using hot mustard, fish paste and asparagus heads, it’s just ingenious. Every time we read this book we find more interesting things within the illustrations. There are also Christmas mice throughout the book to spot, which was a fun activity for us to share whilst reading.

For us Where does Santa go When it’s not Christmas? is the Christmas book to have this year. Read it and laugh with your children. It will inspire Christmas cheer and reinforce belief in Santa and all the Christmas magic that surrounds the North Pole.

 

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Star Biscuits

A starry biscuit.

A starry biscuit.

I recently bought a set of star cookie cutters, containing stars in five different sizes. I was very eager to try them out.

 

 

 

Cutting the cookie dough.

Cutting the cookie dough.

I used a basic cookie recipe from The Organised Housewife, it is the best cookie recipe ever! I rolled it out and then used one of the larger star cookie cutters to cut out the biscuits. I found it a little difficult to move the cookie dough in its star shape onto the baking tray without damaging it. To solve this, I carefully used an egg flip to lift each shape and slide it onto the baking tray. I cooked them until the were golden.

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Coles ready-to-roll icing.

Making the biscuits plain allowed me to decorate the top of them without going overboard with the flavours. From Coles I had purchased some pre-coloured ready-to-roll icing (fondant), which I used to make smaller stars to decorate the top of the biscuits. I used green, yellow and red, and made stars in three sizes using the smallest of the cookie cutters. To attach the fondant stars, I used a basic white icing mix (made with icing sugar mixture and milk). I iced each biscuit, and then carefully added some of the fondant stars to each one before the white icing could set.

It was a little fiddly working with the icing shapes as I hadn’t done much like that before, but I really liked the finished biscuits. They looked just how I had envisioned them.

Some of the finished biscuits.

Some of the finished biscuits.

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Paper Doily Angels

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Laying out the wings.

Laying out the wings.

Doilies make pretty angel wings and skirts. We cut a triangular section from a doily, and used this piece as the angel’s skirt, while the rest of the doily was turned upside down and became the wings. We glued the pieces of doily to an oversized pop-stick (like the tongue depressors the doctor uses to look in your throat). This formed the body of the angel.

Attaching the skirt and face.

Attaching the skirt and face.

I cut out circles of white felt to use as the angel’s face, and a third of a pipe cleaner (chenille stick) was bent around to form a halo. The halo was glued to the back of the felt head piece. The kids decorated their angels with glitter glue and glitter paint, and added little googly eyes. The middle angel in the picture above is actually covered in glitter, but it can’t be seen in the photo.

Painting an angel.

Painting an angel.

We stuck the angels up on the window next to where our Christmas tree is.

A halo.

A halo.

The doilies are quite light and will not stay up on their own, and will droop without further support. We used blu-tack to stick the wings to the window, but we could have added another pop-stick (or two) onto the back of the angel to support the wings independent of where the angel was being displayed.

A's angel.

A’s angel.

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Spotty Dotty Christmas Wrap

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Foam dabbers.

Foam dabbers.

It’s easy and fun to make your own Christmas wrapping paper, as long as you don’t mind a little mess along the way! We used glitter paints in silver, gold, green and red, and white paint mixed with glitter. The kids applied the paint using little foam dabbers, basically a foam piece attached to a handle for easy use. We could have done similar painting using pieces of round sponge, but I find the handled variety a little less messy for the kids to use.

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L painting a tree.

L painting a tree.

A painting.

A painting.

L used the dabbers to make spotty Christmas trees and lines, while A just put random spots all over the paper. A also made one picture of flowers out of spots, which we won’t use as wrapping paper, we will place it up on the wall instead.

A's lovely flower picture.

A’s lovely flower picture.

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Christmas Cookies

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We had a Christmas baking session over the weekend, and the kids helped me make some Christmas cookies.

We used a tried and tested cookie recipe I found on The Organised Housewife ages ago. It is the best cookie recipe we have ever tried, and it makes lots of cookies in each batch. We have added many different things to this simple recipe, but my favourite addition is caramel choc chips!

Shaping cookies.

Shaping cookies.

Adding m&ms.

Adding m&ms.

I let the kids shape the cookies, and then add red and green m&ms to the top of each cookie. The kids hid m&ms inside some of the cookies too. The cookies ended up being all different sizes, but mostly round. I had to keep an eye on them in the oven so that the littler ones didn’t burn.

 

Ready to mix the sprinkles into the dough.

Ready to mix the sprinkles into the dough.

We also added red and green sprinkles to some of the cookie dough to make other cookies. We got the sprinkles from Woolworths in a handy Christmas pack that included the sprinkles, silver cachous and little sugar candy cane sprinkles. Once I had mixed the sprinkles into the dough, the green sprinkles pretty much disappeared, but the red sprinkles were still visible. The kids shaped the cookies, and made some of them very large!

The first batch ready for the oven.

The first batch ready for the oven.

After the cookies had cooled, the kids picked out the ones that they wanted to give to their teachers, and we wrapped them up in pink cellophane. We finished each bundle off with curly coloured ribbons, and gave them to their teachers for Christmas presents.

Teacher presents.

Teacher presents.

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Pop-stick Christmas Decorations

Pop-sticks are so versatile, and they can be used to make simple and fun Christmas decorations. We made stars and trees using the regular sized pop-sticks, and some small stars with mini pop-sticks.

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Gluing the pop-sticks together.

Gluing the pop-sticks together.

Triangles ready to be glued together.

Triangles ready to be glued together.

For the larger stars, we made two triangles with the pop-sticks by gluing the ends together. Then we placed one of the triangles on top of the other one, so that one triangle was point up, and the other one was point down. We glued the triangles together like this, and got our star. To finish them off we added glitter glue and once they were dry, I tied a loop of string to one of the points so it could be hung on the tree.

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Christmas trees.

Christmas trees.

Adding glitter glue.

Adding glitter glue.

The Christmas trees were made with a triangle of green pop-sticks, and a natural coloured pop-stick glued behind the triangle to form the trunk. We had coloured pop-sticks, but natural pop-sticks could be easily painted green before construction. Glitter glue finished off the trees. Later, a loop of string was added so the tree could be hung up.

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Gluing mini pop-sticks together.

Gluing mini pop-sticks together.

The little stars were made by stacking the mini pop-sticks at different angles to produce eight points. A small dab of glue was all that was necessary to keep the pop-sticks together. Once dry, we tied some string around the stars to hang them from.

These decorations all look great hanging on our Christmas tree!

 

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