Party {Can} Bags

28 March 2014

Whenever I throw a party I always look for inspiration on the party blog Oh Happy Day. They never fail to set my creative juices flowing. Last year it was their crepe paper flower tiaras, but this year it was their 'birthday in a can'. 

I purchased a dozen tins of chopped tomatoes (decanting and freezing the contents) and made these party 'can' bags, which I filled with sweets. I'm glad I didn't have more than 12 to make, but they were a fun and unusual party bag. They would also work just as well as a ceative way to 'wrap' a birthday gift if it was small enough. You can see a step-by-step guide of how to make them over at Oh Happy Day.

Birthday No. 9 - The Cake

27 March 2014

This year Lily asked if she could have her birthday party at a 'venue'. To date, I had always held any birthday parties for her at home. It was great when she was younger, but now I'm not so sure how our home would weather 12 nine year old girls. 

I've always throughly enjoyed organising the kids parties: picking a theme, transforming the room, creating invitations, planning games, sourcing treats and preparing the food. So it was with the combination of a heavy heart and light relief that we booked up a Pizza Party for her and her friends. 

However, my only condition to allowing Lily her 'venue' party was that I made the cake and party bags. So for year No.9 I made a 4 layer Chocolate & Vanilla Marble Cake, filled and covered with a Chocolate Chip & Cream Cheese Frosting. I selected bright blooms for decoration along with the 'Lily Biba' cake topper that I made by painting wooden letters and sticking them onto wooden skewers. 

As the children made their pizzas with the restaurant chef, we sat on a table-for-two across the way watching on with a glass of wine, unperturbed by all the flour flying around. 

I think it's fair to say that I have been converted to the idea of 'venue' parties. 


24 March 2014

Nine years ago today my life changed forever when Lily was born. It only seems like yesterday, yet I can't recall life without her - it seems she has always been here. But no matter how the passing of time plays tricks with your mind, the fact she is nine is somehow hard to fathom. I am all to aware that those innocent years are now in short supply. Next year will be 'double figures' and before we know it she'll be a teenager. 

Nine. I've been trying of late to remember what it was like. For me that would have been 1981. It was the year of the royal wedding with street parties and union jacks. It was also the year that saw Bucks Fizz win the Eurovision Song Contest and their glossy poster was blue-tacked to the back of my bedroom door. My life was full of visits to grandparents, playing outdoors, hair ribbons, The Multicoloured Swap Shop and The Muppet Show, 10p mix bags from the corner shop and a pirouette clown obsession. Looking back now, 1981 also saw serious riots and hunger strikes, but that seemed to surpass the nine year old me. At nine life was still uncomplicated.

Much of Lily is still that little girl: she still looks sweet in her pretty hair bands, she still wants bedtime stories read to her and she'll still willingly hold my hand when walking down the street. But somehow nine is different: that little bit older. This year I signed off her birthday card with 'Mum & Dad', not 'Mummy & Daddy'. For a moment that saddened me.

So is it any different being a nine year old in 2014? Well, children today don't have the freedom we once had and computer games and 24 hour multi-channel TV weren't part of our everyday lives. We were recently explaining the concept of the Top 40 to Lily and how we would buy 7 inch singles in Woolworths and listen to the radio on a Sunday to catch who had made it to the number one spot, pressing 'play' and 'record' down on our radio/cassettes to capture our favourite tunes. Then come Thursday evening, if we were lucky, we might be able to stay up and watch Top of the Pops. Our enthusiastic musings must have sounded prehistoric to her young ears.

But swap the colourful hair ribbons for Weevz bracelets, Diana for Kate and Bucks Fizz for Olly Murs and I think that maybe being 9 hasn't changed all that much.

 Happy Birthday Lily - you make life sweet. xxxx

A Weekly Bake + English Apple & Cinnamon Cake

14 March 2014

I'm rather chuffed at the moment. I've been contacted by a new cafe that is to open in a local park here in Hove and they've asked me to make some cakes for them. Now, people often ask why I don't sell my cakes. The initial idea brings about all kinds of romantic notions, but having given it some realistic thought I'm not sure I would just want to produce sponges day in, day out - that could become dull. I love baking when I'm preparing something for my family or friends - that is something altogether different.

However, I went along and meet one of the cafe owners for a chat with an open mind, and I'm glad I did. Knowing my other commitments they have asked if maybe a couple of cakes a week would be manageable. Yes, I believe it would. But the best bit is that they have given me complete creative freedom to bake whatever cakes I like. I can bake my favourite tried and tested recipes as well as delving into my stockpile of new recipes I'm longing to try. Far to good an opportunity to turn down. What's more with regular baking comes regular blog posts. A win-win situation.

The cafe is due to open sometime in a few weeks time, but the owners are doing a promotional prelaunch pop-up this weekend. Due to the basic set up of the pop-up, my first couple of bakes had to be a cake with a bit of stability, the kind of thing you can eat holding in a napkin, rather than on a plate with a fork. You can't launch a cafe without a good chocolate cake so I made this Easy Chocolate Cake and as an alternative, this Apple & Cinnamon Cake.

English Apple & Cinnamon Cake (pictured with the pink rose decorations)

300g self-raising flour
1½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp salt
250g demerara sugar
125g butter, melted
2 large eggs, beaten
175ml milk
250g English apples, peeled, cored and chopped
icing sugar for dredging

Preheat the oven to 180℃ / 350℉ / Gas Mark 4

Grease and line the base of a 23cm circular cake tin. 

Sift the flour, cinnamon and salt into a bowl and stir in the sugar. Mix in the melted butter, eggs and milk, followed by the apple. Beat until smooth.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 40 mins, or until the cake springs back when lightly pressed and it is golden.

Place on a wire rack to cool, before removing the cake and dredging with icing sugar.