Sunday, 29 January 2012

Jungle Birthday Cake

Remember when I last made a birthday cake (the Tinkerbell number here) I talked about how I frustrate myself leaving everything to the last minute?  I stayed up til the early hours of the morning finishing the Tinkerbell cake and vowed that next time would be different.  

It wasn't.  I excelled myself this time (grrrr, not in a good way) and didn't start it until 7pm on Friday evening.  (The party was at lunchtime on Saturday.)  I beat my personal best and stayed up until 3am on Saturday, this time making monkey faces.  (Snorted with laughter to myself as I wrote that last line.  Sounds like I was up until three in the morning pulling faces.)

Want to see?

This cake was for my niece.  It was her birthday last week and she had her party yesterday.  My sister asked for a jungle-themed birthday cake and 20 cupcakes to match.

I was like a one-woman production line.  Leaving everything to the [very] last minute meant I had to be uber-organised.   My beloved KitchenAid mixer was pushed to its limits too:  making an 8" sponge a 5" sponge and two dozen cupcakes requires a lot of batter.  At one point it had a nine-egg mix in it but didn't make grumble once and happily got on with the job of mixing whilst I perched on my kitchen stool fashioning jungle animals from sugarpaste.

I was listening to ClassicFM the whole time (my radio station of choice when I want to listen to music but need to concentrate) but in my head I was singing a number of jungly songs.  Obviously I was singing The Lion Sleeps Tonight as I made this little chap.

Hey Hey, We're the Monkeys!  

Off she went with a trumpety trump. Trump! Trump! Trump!

Spot the lovely birthday bunting from Jooles? 
Before I stuck the ears on these monkeys looked as though they had afros.   Cue a lot of giggling and 'Jungle Boogie' singing/dancing by Drew and me.  (It was the early hours of the morning.  He stayed up to provide me with tea and moral support - we were getting delirious.)

And here are the cupcakes, all boxed up at the party, ready for the children to take home as party favours.  My sister made the decision to eschew the traditional 'loot bag' party favour thing and simply gave the children one of my monkey face cupcakes and a monkey-shaped balloon, which they all loved.  

(And off they all went, swinging their cupcakes around by the pretty ribbons...  deep breath, Nicki...)

My mum had a brief 'moment' at the party where she almost ran out to the shops for party bags (and plastic tat) after chatting to one of the mums who said to her "...and of course, you have to get the party bags just right, they're the most important thing of all...".  She came rushing into the kitchen (where I was making tea for the parents/gossiping with dad) all breathless and slightly panicky.  Poor mum; it was very funny though.  She had another 'moment' when one or two of the monkey-shaped balloons started to deflate prematurely.  'What are the children going to go home with?!' she hissed.

You know, there is so much pressure to do 'the right thing' and the children at my niece's party just had a bouncy castle and a few toys to run around playing with.  They all had a fab time and went home with rosy cheeks and droopy eyes.

There was only one casualty of the day.  Poor old Nelly:

The cake was displayed on a low table so that the children could see it.  Every single child immediately reached out for one of the animals but, as we all know, parents have lightening-fast reactions and managed to swipe little hands away.  One little boy's parents weren't quite quick enough... Ha!

I'm recuperating today with an afternoon in front of the fire with the Downton Abbey boxset and an easy chilli for dinner this evening.

Have a fab week! 



PS.  The cake was all made by me with the help of a great 'sleepy lion' tutorial by Lorraine McKay.  Lorraine also helped with the monkey faces.  Check out her website and her brilliant tutorials on youtube.  She rules (and has a lovely voice, too).   

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Poorly Peepers, Crochet and Faffing with China

My eye has finally healed and I'm back to normal.  I have my life back! 

It has been a busy weekend.  I've been making up for lost time dashing here, there and everywhere.  Meeting up with family, shopping, eating out and generally having fun.  I feel free!  

I'd started to feel a bit low - not quite myself.  Usually I'm quite chatty and cheerful but I lost interest in everything and just wanted to sleep.  Not anymore!  

I am pleased to report that I am once again belting out songs from my favourite musicals (Julie Andrews style, of course), faffing around with china and chattering with anyone who will listen.  On Friday I was only working from home but, for the first time this year, I put on a full face of make-up, blow-dryed my hair properly and wore a nice little tunic dress with tights.  I even wore a stack of gorgeous bangles and bracelets (which really irritate me when I'm working because they bash on my laptop but, hey, I was BACK!)

I've had a sudden surge of motivation to finish the blanket I started on holiday last year.  It's just a giant granny square and although I'm in my fifth month of working on it, it hasn't actually taken me that long.  It has been languishing in my crochet bag and I'd just do  a few stitches here and there when I felt like it. I got a bit too caught up in Christmas and redecorating the dining room towards the back end of last year.  

I'm just doing the edging now... 

Can you see, there's a row of not-very-impressive-but-extremely-complicated flat-X-stitch in red.  It is preceded by a couple of rows of double crochet.  (Mental note to self to use a larger hook for a double-crocheted edging in future - because the stitch is a little tighter than the trebles the blanket doesn't quite lie flat when outstretched.  The red edging is also frilling a little (too many stitches/too large stitches?  who knows) - it's completely accidental but I rather like it.)  I'll do a proper 'reveal' (!) when it's all done but I am so pleased with the colours - I think they all work really well together. 


We went to my MIL's for lunch today.  She is a keen gardener (her gardens are beautiful) and we got talking about my plans for our little garden this year.  I want to have a go at growing my own flowers, specifically because I'd like to be able to cut flowers for the house.   Andrew gave me this lovely trio of books for Christmas:  

The Ten Minute Gardener collection.  There's one for flowers, one for fruit and one for vegetables (I don't think there are more but I could be wrong).  They are such good books for an absolute novice like me, advising what I should be doing each month in really straight-forward language.  We have the tiniest patch of grass but I'm going to reduce it further and chop another border into it, specifically for my cut flower patch.  It will be a tiny space but one that I can experiment with.  I'm so excited to get started.

I've been fiddling about with little bits and bobs in the house today.

The utility china on the dresser in the dining room had been bothering me for a while.  I still absolutely love it but the dresser just looked messy to me, and not in a good way.  The china didn't seem to fit with the room.

So I've had a move around.  My utility china collection is now stacked tidily (and prettily) in the sideboards and a few favourite jugs are displayed neatly in the living room:

I've moved my chunky neutral 'every day' china onto the dresser and I'm pleased with the overall effect.

Creams and earthy tones with the odd piece of glassware feel calming and restful.

Nothing fights for your attention in the room any more, it all just blends together harmoniously.  I'm glad I did it and had a lovely time fiddling about.

This is the quiet before the storm.  It's my niece's birthday party next weekend and the cake making begins this week.  Andrew has already joked that he won't expect any sleep on Friday evening (as I've said before, it's usual for me to stay up until the early hours at the last minute making final tweaks!).  I'm making a jungle-themed two-tiered cake with 20 matching cupcakes.  My niece is only three but her party is set to be the social event of the century! I can't believe the parties that children have these days - I used to be happy with a few friends to tea and a game of musical bumps!  I think there is a bit of pressure on my sister for Izzie's party to match up to everyone else's.  (Also, she loves planning parties so she is in her element!)

I've decided to make a simple cake for my Grandma's birthday at the end of the month and have some gorgeous cake bunting that I bought from Sew Sweet Violet last year.  It will be perfect atop a simple frosted cake with a few sugar roses.

Have a happy week, everyone, and thank you for continuing to pop by this little web space of mine.

Speak soon!



Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Fairy Lights and Geek Chic

I've said it before but I love fairy lights.  I have them all around the house.  In fact, I think there is some kind of fairy light arrangement in every room apart from the kitchen and the bathroom (must rectify that).    

These cotton ball lights were a gift from Santa.  I'm so happy with them and they are doing a grand job of putting a smile on this grumpy old boat race of mine at the moment.  

I am currently sporting a huge new wrinkle which I am quite certain is nothing to do with my advancing years and everything to do with me squinting and/or frowning for the majority of the day due to my gammy eye.   The second the Doc gives me the all clear, I will be back behind the wheel and whisking myself off for a Guinot 'lifting' facial.  That's a promise, sista.

I picked up these Belle & Boo postcards in Paperchase the other day.  I love these illustrations; absolutely fist-clenchingly LOVE them.  So I went online and ordered more, together with some gorgeous little notebooks.  I like having a nice pile of pretty, fresh new notebooks ready to use.  A stash of notecards and postage stamps in my desk drawer makes me feel super-organised and like an all-round better person.

This lovely little fella was another gift from Santa.  I know - it looks like my gifts got mixed up with a three-year old's.  In fact, I bought the same lamp for my nearly-3-year-old niece who is currently scared witless of the 'big mouse' coming to get her in the night (from The Gruffalo's Child, I think).  

Fact is, I'm a bit scared of the dark too.  I don't mind admitting it.  If I wake up in the night I like to put a light on and Andrew (bless him) wakes up with a bit of a start if I switch the bedside lamp on.  And then he tells me off.  This little rabbit gives a lovely low, warm light that I find comforting and doesn't disturb the sleeping beauty beside me.  (Plus I think it's cuuute.)

It would be remiss of me to exclude my lush pearly fairy lights that I've pictured before, given that this is a post about my fairy light addiction...


And here's my current 'Face Of The Day'. New glasses, bed hair and no make up.  I'm getting bored of this geek chic thing already.  (I realise that the 'chic' bit needs some work.)

I don't wear a lot of make-up but I do like a bit of black mascara and smoky eyeliner.  Can't wait to wear it again and give myself a proper blow-dry.  I've bought a few new things to wear for work (I really need to go into the office once or twice a week this year - I usually work from home).  I've got three pairs of skinny trousers, a few loose chiffon blouses, a smart new coat and two gorgeous pairs of nude patent courts that I can't wait to flounce around in.  

I'm not the only one with a new look - the pooch had a short back and sides last week.  She is now uber-soft and smells so clean.  The perfect snuggle companion right now. 


This post was only going to be quick but it turned into a bit of a novel.  Sorry about that.

I've got a busy time coming up - my family birthdays are all within the next six weeks and I have at least three cakes to make including a jungle-themed cake and matching cupcakes for afore-mentioned niece's 3rd birthday party.  It's my grandma's 80th and my dad's 60th so I really want to make something special for them too.  Ideas are running riot in my head but I've learnt from the hippo cake mistake last time (see previous attempts here) and will make my grandma something sober with flowers on this time!   

Thanks for popping by - hope you're having a lovely week.  



Saturday, 7 January 2012

Baking Gingerbread

A little while ago I was contacted by online store Find Me A Gift ( to see if I would like to review this Joseph Joseph food preparation set.

Yes please!  I had been looking at the set for a while (to the point where I have once actually popped the box into my shopping trolley before becoming consumed with guilt - I'm supposed to spend our food money on sausages and things) so I was excited to finally give them a try.

Postage was fast - I emailed on the Friday evening with my address and the postie was knocking on the door early the next morning with my parcel in his mitts.  Super speedy.

I love this set.  Aside from the fact that the colours are gorgeous, the stackability* of it appeals to the [currently AWOL] neat freak in me and saves valuable space in my already groaning kitchen cupboards.

Look at those zingy colours! 
mixing bowl, colander, sieve, pouring bowl and measuring cups
The large mixing bowl is a good size and could take a six-egg cake batter quite comfortably.  I made gingerbread and it was easily big enough for a good wodge* of dough.  The bowl also has rubber feet to stop it slipping when you get busy with the hand mixer.

If you've fancied picking up some of these bowls, it's worth having a look at Find Me A Gift.

Link here

So.  Want to make some gingerbread men, too?  Gingerbread biscuits are enjoyed all year round in our house and not just at Christmas.

It's a dead simple recipe and makes perfectly tasty biscuits.  I have used other recipes involving a longer list of ingredients but this is most consistently enjoyed by people of all ages in my experience.  I found the recipe on the internet a few years ago - sorry if it's yours! (If it is, let me know and I'll do a link back to you).

You will need
125g butter
125g soft light brown sugar
200g golden syrup
1 egg yolk
425g plain flour
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon bicarb of soda

Cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.  Beat in the golden syrup and egg yolk.  Sift and stir in the dry ingredients in two batches, press mixture into a ball and knead on a lightly floured surface until smooth.  Cover and put in fridge for about 30 mins.  

Roll out to about 5mm thick (I always roll onto a sheet of greaseproof paper because the dough can be a bit sticky).  Cut into shapes and bake on gas mark 5 (190C) for 8 - 10 minutes.  The longer you bake, the crunchier they will be.  Their colour doesn't change all that much when baked - they are quite pale biscuits.  If they turn brown they are burning!  I bake for the shortest amount of time because we like our gingerbread men to be quite soft. 

Leave on the baking tray to cool for a few minutes then transfer to a wire rack.   They will still be quite soft at this point but they will crisp up.   Once completely cooled, decorate however you fancy.  I use strawberry buttons, mini chocolate beans, jelly tots and all kinds of small sweets.  You can also, of course, get creative with the royal icing.  A gingerbread man wearing Y-fronts and a bow tie is super cute.

Keep your eyes peeled because next time I'll be stopping by with a baking-themed giveaway!

Speaking of keeping eyes peeled, I've injured my left eye.  A torn cornea which has developed into an ulcer.  AN ULCER ON MY EYEBALL.  How gross does that sound?!   Quite the most painful and irritating experience.  I am applying eye drops on an hourly basis and even have to set my alarm three times throughout the night to use the drops.  Morale is low.  I'm wearing geeky glasses and a grimace most of the time.  

Sympathy around here is in short supply.  I think the husband's patience started to wane when I woke him up at 4am on Wednesday wailing that I was going blind.  I am a bit of a drama queen but, man, it was scary! :-)

Have a good weekend! 



*I don't think these words are in the dictionary, but they should be.  Probably just an oversight.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Goals for 2012

Thank you for the birthday messages!  Was lovely to have them pinging through on my ipad yesterday.  I had the best day.  Mum and Dad joined us and it was so nice to spend the day with them. We had a long wander around Liberty (I didn't know they had such an amazing haberdashery - I could have spent a fortune there) and then made our way to Cafe Rouge for lunch.  The Wizard of Oz was awesome - I really enjoyed it.  Toto was the star of the show in my opinion; such a cutie!  We finished the day with a little rickshaw race along Oxford Street to check out the Christmas lights.

We've taken it easy today and spent most of the day snoozing.  I think I'm coming down with a cold.  Boring!

So, with a brand spanking new year ahead of me I thought I'd make my 2012 goals public.

1.  Bake more.  I'm aiming for a weekly bake, here.  Last year I decided not to bake so often because I thought it was unhelpful to my diet to have such tempting calorific goodies hanging around the place.  As it happens, it made no difference.  It turns out that if I don't bake we have shop-bought treats anyhow, so I may as well dig my pinny out.

2.  Lose my muffin top.  There are three ways that I will achieve this - preferably through exercise as I plan to get fit this year.  I'll diet if I have to but if that doesn't work I'm just going to buy a bigger pair of jeans and get over myself.

3.  Get fit and increase my strength.  By the end of the year I will be able to do at least 10 (proper) press-ups in a row and I'll be able to run for 30 minutes without stopping.  Currently I simply cannot do a proper press-up and get puffed after approximately one minute of jogging.  This goal might be a bit ambitious....

4.  Walk the dog alone.  In the last year I've developed a fear of walking the dog on my own.  Lizzie was pounced on by an over-enthusiastic labrador a few months ago and it frightens me when dogs fight. I've let that put me off walking her on my own but I'm going to man up now and take her during the day whenever I work from home.

5.  Make my health a priority.  My smear test is at least a year overdue and my dentist thinks I might need root canal treatment.  I haven't been back to see him since he said that.

6.  Develop a routine.  A daily routine falls by the wayside when you work from home.  I think that sticking to a routine will help me to achieve more in my week.  No more lunches at 3pm and working at 9pm.  I'm getting strict with myself.

7.  Slow down.  I used to meditate daily and practiced yoga four times a week.  I got so much out of it so I'm going back to my yoga class.

8.  Get creative.  I want to crochet another blanket, some cushions and some jar covers.  I would also like to crochet a cuddly toy for my niece.  I'd like to cover some notebooks and box files with pretty paper or fabric.  I'd also like to get busy with my sewing machine.  There are so many things I want to do!

What are your goals for 2012?  I'd love to know.