Birthday bakes

 

img_6059One of my delights in being mum is in planning, baking and decorating celebration cakes throughout the year.  The children are both summer babies so its been a busy time in the kitchen getting ready for birthdays.  My cakes are not the picture perfect images of those on Pinterest but real cakes made by an amateur baker who stirs in love, happy memories and positive thoughts into every cake.

This year, the children were both very decisive in what they wanted for their cake, Little Man wanted a Minecraft cake and Little Miss a watermelon cake.  I took my inspiration from Pinterest whilst being realistic about what I could manage.   My cakes are not simply about decoration, as I choose their flavour very carefully too.

For Little Man’s Minecraft cake, I chose to make a citrus cake, choosing an orange cake with a lime cream cheese filling.  It was a very refreshing cake and helped to counter the sweetness of the icing and decoration.  Although I had several ideas on how to decorate the cake, I ended up with a very simple ‘Creeper’ picture surrounded by random Minecraft tiles.  His name and age were made from black icing and created by using alphabet cutters.

For Little Miss with a brief of watermelon I wanted to do all I could to make her cake look and taste like the fruit.  I was able to find watermelon essence online and it was a quality product.  I added it to a simple sponge mix, with some red food dye to make it look like the watermelon fruit and also added some chocolate chips to the mix as ‘seeds’ This was definitely a cake with an impressive wow factor when you cut it open (although I managed to forget to take a photo of the inside of the cake!) The sponge was filled with a water melon cream cheese filling.  Again I was considering different ways to decorate the cake with icing but chose simplicity; a bright pink icing base with more choc chips as seeds.  I really liked the unusual flavour of this cake, it felt like a taste of summer.   I’ve since tried cupcake variations of this cake for a cake sale which were well received.

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It is one of my simple pleasures to bake my children a birthday cake, its just one of those little things I do, along with the birthday breakfast table (think balloons, lights, banners etc..) to make them feel very special on their big days.

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Easter 2019

I’ve written in previous years, more detailed posts about Easter, our traditions, memories and it’s importance to me for spiritual and religious reasons.  This year, it seems Easter was a long time coming … It’s the last weekend of our two week holiday, so we did lots of Easter activities at school in the last week of term and then had a long wait for the festival.

In the last week of term we made Easter bonnets for the school parade.  This is a big local tradition going back more than a century and as it was Little Miss’ last parade we wanted to do something special.  Little Miss has always wanted chocolate to feature on her bonnet and upto this year I’ve always refused, however with the promise that she would share the chocolates with her friends, I allowed her some eggs,  We came up with a nest on a fascinator, with the nest full of small chocolate eggs.  It worked well.  Little Man went for a farmer theme, we used his straw hat from last year and glued on fake grass and carrots.

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Around our home I have used many of my favourite decorations, the fireplace and side window of the lounge are decorated, whilst I also have a feature window in the kitchen with my beautiful Easter wreath.  I did treat myself to a few new pieces which were presented on a table in the lounge.  I love my new table cloth, it’s hand embroidered and I picked it up in a vintage shop at a very reasonable price.  I’ve been looking for something similar for years so am delighted with my find.  The other new decorations are from a local store in town, it seems that there’s a rabbit theme to my designs this year.  The rabbits with the creme eggs are labelled with the children’s names and from a little shop on Etsy. I thought this was a more lasting gift than a bigger egg and it’s safe to say they’ve both had lots of chocolate today.

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As it’s been a late Easter, we have also celebrated my Father in Law’s 87th birthday this weekend.  We met up with him and other family members on Saturday, enjoying a meal in a country pub and then having a little potter around Lyme Regis, in the most gorgeous sunshine. We all wore our new Easter outfits yesterday, I love the look Little Miss was wearing an embroidered blue skirt and simple white daisy top with some fabulous rainbow pumps.  Little Man was really pleased with his sequin skull tshirt, though I’m not sure if it was quite in keeping with the joyful celebrations.

After such a long day for Easter Saturday, we did a lot of travelling, we were all a little tired and we kept things simple at home today.  The children enjoyed the sunshine playing in the garden and paddling pool, our neighbours popped over and we had our traditional Easter egg hunt.  For the first time we had to be careful with the hiding of the chocolate as it was so hot and shady spots were needed.  I created my hand drawn instructions again this year. I’m not an artist but it’s just something I’ve been doing every year and it wouldn’t be Easter without my sheet. I also created a playlist of suitable songs for the hunt and dinner, I love having the music to complement the celebration. Our day finished with an Easter dinner, a red onion and goats cheese filo tart accompanied by seasonal Spring vegetables, I enjoy planning  a special menu for special days. For me Easter is about celebrating with good company, delicious food and treats and this year it has been a lovely weekend of family and simple pleasures.

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Christmas 2018

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As I was looking back on this blog, I noticed how little I have posted this year about Christmas.  So here is my Christmas post for 2018 to be a little record of our Christmas celebrations.  Reflecting now, I realise the big emotional impact on what happened to my Father in law late last Christmas eve when he was taken very poorly at our house and was rushed to hospital, it was an incredibly scary 24 hours.  I now understand that I needed this Christmas to be a happy, peaceful time to stop the feeling of dread, worry and panic from last year.  Fortunately, we achieved this and I also got a new happy memory for late Christmas eve, the news of my friend’s new baby boy.  We are off to visit Grandad tomorrow for a few days as although recovered he is frailer and its easier for us to go to him than vice versa.

This Christmas has been my daughter’s last at primary school.  I’ve been warned that the secondary school does not have as many parent events so I’ve been enjoying every opportunity to share Christmas with her.  She sings (beautifully) in the school choir so I managed through a few favours at work to see every public performance.  There was a private performance at the old people’s home and I got a special message on how kind she had been to the residents, I was very proud.  There is one song which really stands out this year, a new carol, Love Shone Down, its got an encore every time and within the song, Little Miss and a friend sang a verse together that made everyone tingle.

As well as lots of carol services, I’ve also done a couple of Christingle services, one was where the school choir performed, the second for the cubs.   One of my special memories is everyone making a circle around one of the churches and in darkness, holding our lit candles, it was a moment of reflection and peace.   The cubs service was also a candlelit service, there were around 200 real candles burning and it looked so beautiful in the church. I do believe that the religious and spiritual message should always be part of our celebrations.  The childrens school carol service was another joyful celebration, it started with the story of the nativity and then developed into some of our Christmas customs. Little Miss’ class sang ‘Starry Night’ and Little Man’s ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’

We did two new events this year.  The first, we went to a big town for their winter wonderland where in the central park they had one hundred trees all lit and decorated.  It was stunning and awe inspiring, I have so many amazing photos and really they still don’t reflect the beauty and atmosphere from the evening.  I really hope that the town does it again next year as it was definitely the most Christmassy and fun thing we did this year (and free!!)  I also got tickets to see the Snowman with a live orchestra.  The first half wasn’t so suitable for my two as it was a musical version of Little Red Riding Hood and a bit young for them.  However the Snowman was brilliant, we were all transfixed by it, the live orchestra make it something special and the soloist was perfect for Walking on the Air, I had all the festive feels when we left.  I would definitely try to see it again with the live orchestra (although I might skip act 1)
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We have also done our old favourite activities this December.  The Christmas tree festival is the perfect way to start Christmas and as usual the church was full with other 40 trees.  Whilst I am proud of our school’s tree, my favourite was so simple and beautiful, a tree dressed in red with handmade poppies and the name of the 99 local soldiers who died in World War 1.  After the solemnness of the commemoration of November, it just felt really right that they were at the centre of this joyful celebration.  The children enjoyed spending their pocket money at the town’s Christmas market which is so festive and a real community event, although incredibly windy this year.  The school where I work had a stall this year and we sold some delightfully crafted wooden plaques the students had made.  As from previous posts, Tommy the elf returned and showed once again that he is one of our favourite new traditions.  We made our gingerbread decorations and again, this is something which started off as just a fun activity to do on our first Christmas but on the children’s insistence has become an integral part of our Christmas. Its also one of those Christmas photos I have from every year to chart the passing years.  On Christmas eve we tracked Santa on Norad, this is so emotional and magical for me, the children in new pyjamas, showered and cuddly, talking about their hopes and wishes, its one of those emotions you want to bottle for those tough days.  Whilst Little Miss is beginning to question Santa she still believes and I think that this was our final Christmas of such magic as she’ll be at secondary school next Christmas.  I am grateful that it lasted this long and we got 9 Santa Christmases.  Personally, I still believe.

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At home, I decorated the house throughout.  I concluded that I prefer making the little tableaux around the house than the main tree.  I’m not sure what it was about our tree this year, new position, fake rather than real, the childrens’ paper chains but I didn’t get the wow factor from it as I like.  I think its time to sort out the decorations for next year and perhaps a new fresh tree.  I loved the wreath, again another make from my students at school.

This has been a Christmas to create new memories to counter the scary ones from last year.  Christmas day was just the four of us, with our neighbours popping over to see the children and exchanging gifts, a delicious meal, family games and then when everyone had gone to bed Call the Midwife which I sobbed through!  On Boxing day, we walked down to the prom to watch the Boxing day swim and then welcomed my cousin in the afternoon whilst Mr S followed the boxing day football.  It was just perfect for us.

 

Tommy Weeks 2 and 3

A quick update on the adventures of Tommy who has been busy this year. My favourite set this year so far is the skittles rainbow 🌈. It worked brilliantly. Some of the scenarios also relate to special events of the day, thus Tommy bringing Christmas jumpers for a trip out to The Winter Wonderland, hidden in the school bags with hats for the school Christmas lunch etc.. I still write a letter from Tommy everyday so have a lovely little memory bank of each Christmas.

Happy times in my kitchen …

 

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Despite the quality of the photo, the icing was duck blue and the stars silver and purple.

One of my favourite things to do in anticipation of birthdays and special events is to plan the cake. I love baking, the flavour and filling are just as important as the decoration and I am always looking on Pinterest for inspiration and tips. Baking in the kitchen listening to my music is one of my happy times and my cakes are baked with lots of love. Mr S thinks it would be easier and cheaper to buy a shop bought version but that’s just not me, baking a cake for my family brings me real joy and satisfaction.

It’s been birthday season in the Sparkles household so here are our birthday cakes for this year. Little Miss had a glitter ball cake. It was an orange and almond sponge with a white chocolate and orange filling, covered in a turquoise icing decorated with purple and silver stars. A simple but very effective design and delicious flavour.

For Little Man, I made a football cake with a football figure, no 9 Harry Kane who was his world cup hero.  His cake was a lemon and lime marble sponge topped with a green icing and white icing for football pitch markings.  He loved it although I would have preferred something less plain as to me it did look like it was missing a little something.

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Whoops I forgot to get a good picture of the cake and most have my Little Man in blowing out his candles.  This is part of the cake, imagine a football pitch with cut out icing letters spelling out his name and age. 

Whilst birthday season is now over, I’m already planning a Halloween cake with a spicy orange flavour and then a special design for Christmas.  I think this has to be the year when I finally make a Christmas cake!

Easter Sparkles 2018

With Easter falling so early, I felt that I had not quite had the build up and excitement to the season this year.  Easter is one of my favourite times of the year, I find it a very spiritual time and to me the religious celebration is at the heart of our Easter.  Easter is a time of homemaking, a spring clean, followed by decorating the house and a time to enjoy new recipes and menus.  It has less of the pressure of Christmas and the lighter days and glimpses of spring make it a more inspiring holiday.

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Easter decorations for 2018

 

 I have only bought a few new Easter decorations this year as I’ve not really had the time to shop for Easter as I normally do.  I did discover HomeSense and am so pleased with the wreath, bunny plate and basket I purchased there, I also got a new Happy Easter garland in Waitrose.  The wreath and garland are hung in my kitchen feature window and of all my Easter decorations this window is my favourite.

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New for 2018, basket, plate and wreath Homesense, Easter garland Waitrose. 

 

This year we have followed our family traditions, the Easter bonnet parade at school (recycled bonnets from last year, Easter simply arrived too early for inspiring craft times!) hot cross buns bought on Good Friday from our local baker and our Easter egg hunt with a hand drawn clue sheet by me.  I’m a rubbish artist but I love doing this, I look back on every year’s sheet and am proud of the care and effort I made with each one.   We’ve also tried new things this year.  This morning, we rolled eggs at the Downs.  I had experimented with the nail varnish marbled eggs flooding Pinterest boards, but they were a disaster and Little Miss and I still have the stains on our hands.  We ended up decorating our eggs with Sharpies and they looked just fine.  The fun of the activity was in the egg rolling, it was simple good fun and the children loved it, definitely one to do again nest year.  I sent my mum a short video and she was reminded of her childhood Easters too.  The other new activity was an Easter piñata.  We do have the most amazing neighbours so this morning we discovered a bunny piñata hanging in our garden, a present from them.  When we told Little Man there was a rabbit in the garden he wouldn’t believe us, thinking it was an April fools.  Our neighbours came over this afternoon to see the piñata being bashed, it was so funny and again one to enjoy again.

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Easter egg hunt and piñata ( and yes in this dreary winter/spring we’ve had that is sunshine in the garden) 

I wanted to create a fresh, spring menu our Easter lunch.  I will often make a nut roast, or pastry main course for special menus however Mr S asked for a simple Quorn roast.  Initially I was a bit hesitant as it seemed a bit like cheating but it meant that I spent more time focusing on the flavours of the vegetables and a special pudding.  The honey and nutmeg glazed baby carrots were stunning whilst fresh, perfectly cooked asparagus is always tasty and a star of any meal.

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Easter Sunday lunch menu

 

Little Miss and I set ourselves the little challenge of making a meringue dessert from scratch.  Little Miss really enjoys cooking with me and we do like to try more demanding recipes; we got the meringue recipe from the Good Food website and it was a 5 star recipe rating from us.  I am really proud how much of the recipe Little Miss was able to do independently, she is a great little sous chef and its lovely to be in the kitchen working together.

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Meringues filled with a berry cream

With Easter starting our holidays, we now have a fortnight to enjoy some spring sunshine and inspired activities.  We’re off to see Peter Rabbit at the cinema this week and some local attractions have Easter themed trails for us to enjoy too.  I’ve checked the calendar for next year and its a much later Easter in 2019, so we will have the time to prepare and be inspired by Easter.

Happy Easter x