Now You Are Three.

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It’s an odd thing, your baby’s birthdays. Elfie’s are one thing; as the eldest she’s the birthday trailblazer, demanding parties in village halls or Pizza Express and spending hours wondering if she’s going to dress up as Anna or Elsa.

Hux is different. He still doesn’t ‘get’ birthdays so mama makes the decisions (as well as the cakes). Feeling slightly bittersweet this year as I scrolled through pictures of him as a wrinkly newborn, I savoured every last moment of planning my little baby boy’s (“I NOT A BABY, MUMMY, I A BIG BOY”) special day.

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Last year was a slightly chilly garden picnic, this year we went for a dinosaur-themed day of fun with stacks of pressies, playtime outside, a trip to the trampoline park and a small family meal. Despite me feeling ruined now after a weekend of birthday-related activities, we had a blast 

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So, Hux. Now you are three.

You are very different to your sister. She’s Miss Independent, Miss ‘I don’t need your help mummy’. You like me to carry you down the stairs, to give you a hand lugging your favourite toys round Waitrose or IKEA (it’s a good thing Buzz Lightyear likes the inside of my handbag) and to give you a cuddle at the end of every day.

You really love your mum and the amount of smackers (that’s kisses, not punches ;) you give on the regular makes me happy. These big, sloppy, often snotty kisses that you plant on me – if I go for the lips you stick your hands on my ears, twist my head round and shower my cheek with them. They’re sticky but lovely. Never stop. Your affection and ‘I love yooooo’s are just the highlights of my days.

11267612_847722575319817_775364792_n 11282823_827968037272772_196288906_nYou love not only your mum but your sister fiercely. You two share a room which I think is so good for you both; it’s turned you into best friends and co-conspirators, giggling into the night as your mum sits downstairs and pretends to be cross. You argue like cats and dogs (or brother and sister…) but always make up with a kiss and a cuddle and a ‘love you, Elfie’.

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You have your favourite toys and it’s generally the biggest, loudest, most plastic flashing piece of licensed tat you can find. Awesome. You take your toy of the day everywhere with you and I’m forever turning up glow-in-the-dark balls, Spiderman figurines and Woody dolls in my car. Today I drove to work to the soundtrack of a talking helicopter in the back seat; I couldn’t hear the news but I wouldn’t have it any other way (and when I say news I obviously mean Taylor Swift on Radio 1). You have the most vivid imagination though, and it’s a pleasure to watch you make-believe. Today you pretended for half an hour that you had a cat living on your shoulder called tiger and kept making me kiss it. I obviously obliged over and over again.

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You used to have this trick of sneaking into my bed in the middle of the night, sometimes so stealthily that it wouldn’t wake me up until 6am when it was time to get up for school. But, probably sensibly, I decided you should probably spend more nights sleeping in your own bed and now that is what you do. Cos if I ever get a boyfriend it might be awkward when you’re 15 and still spending your nights snuggled up to your favourite woman.

I miss you every night, though!

IMG_2258 IMG_2261One thing we argue about is food. You have your favourite foods (pasta, peas, cucumber, sausages, CAKE!) but you’re really not fussed about eating anything else. Which obviously isn’t entirely helpful on the days I spend hours slaving over a roast dinner, only to have you pick at a pea before asking for milk. I try not to let it worry me – you’ll eat when you’re hungry and I don’t want to stress you out over food – but goddamn it’s annoying. We had a breakthrough last week when you ate a lasagne so that’s what I’ll be cooking for the forseeable future.

We have a lovely time, you and me and Elfie. I hope you are always as happy as you appear.

Happy third birthday, darling buddy.

PS: Hux turns one / Hux turns two

 

The Story of a Rainbow Cake

Rainbow Cake

Will had his 30th birthday in May and because I’m an overachieving sort of wife I decided I wanted to make him a rainbow cake. You know, the one that’s all over Pinterest that looks like it was made by leprechauns or fairy party planners? That one. I bought some fancy pans and then realised I was 39 weeks pregnant and more suited to watching repeats of The Real Housewives. So the rainbow cake idea was shelved for the time being.

For Elfie’s first birthday last year I mastered cupcakes so I thought it would be nice if I upped the ante and re-visit the rainbow cake idea for her 2nd birthday which we celebrated along with my Dad’s birthday this weekend (a little early as Will has to work on the day itself). A bit of a tall order for someone who really dislikes baking – I hate how you have to be SO EXACT with everything – but I love a challenge.

So I decided to make the cake last Friday. I had my trusty assistant Elfie who I set up with colouring pens and Hux who was not so trusty and wanted to be worn on my front the whole time. Luckily I seem to be able to carry out all my daily tasks with a baby on my front these days (including peeing), so we were good to go.

I got hold of my birthday party supplies used this recipe from Whisk Kid which appeared to be the ‘original’ rainbow cake, as seen on Martha Stewart’s TV show. I read the recipe over and over again and studied this tutorial for Swiss Meringue Frosting – most helpful. And so it began.

The one thing about this recipe is that it takes A LOT of ingredients and cake making supplies. 18 egg whites (no yolks!), 4 packs of butter. Nearly a kilogram of sugar. It’s not one for dieters, that’s for sure. The cake gets its vibrant colour from gel food colourings and this is one thing that is non-debatable; liquid colours just won’t cut the mustard. I bought mine from this seller on eBay and they worked really well. The recipe specifies lemon flavourings but I used vanilla in its place.

Another point I didn’t scrimp on was the greasing and lining of the baking tins. When I’m making a normal victoria sponge I usually don’t bother lining the tins with baking parchment (probably why they always stick) but this time I greased the tins, lined them, then greased them again.

As per the instructions I weighed my mixing bowl before beginning to put together the white sponge. By doing this you’re able to find out how much finished mixture you have, therefore dividing it equally between six bowls ready to colour. My bowl was 600g and I would need 260g of batter per portion. I measured out 255g each to allow for a little wastage (this was a wise move).

I then added my colours (TOTALLY the best bit), half a teaspoon-ish per bowl, and mixed well. It was pretty awesome to see how vibrant the colours were, all ready for the oven.

I only had three baking tins so I cooked the cakes in two batches. The recipe specified 15 minutes at 350 degrees F but I found they needed 17 minutes at 170 degrees C. As I’m so terrified of baking going wrong I watched the sponges like a hawk until they were JUST done. When they came out of the oven I let them sit in their tins for 10 minutes before turning them out onto a wire rack to cool.

And this is where it goes a little bit wrong. The recipe specified popping the sponges in the fridge to cool so I piled the sponges one on top of the other so they’d fit. This was a bum move; the purple and red layers completely melded to each other and I had to do them again. Luckily I knew I needed my 255g of batter per portion so it was easy to whip up another batch but it was bloody annoying to say the least. I’d recommend cooling the layers on a wire rack and not putting one on top of another until you’re ready to build the cake.

 This was about the point when Will came home to find my trusty assistant tearing up newspaper in the lounge one and a half hours past her bedtime. He was not impressed with my mothering skills then, but goddammit MY CAKE HAD BROKEN. This is when I had to pour a glass of wine.

I was planning on storing the sponges overnight ready to ice in the morning, but with no idea how to do this best I decided to frost the cake to the crumb coating – which I discovered is when you put a very thin layer of frosting all over the cake which stops crumbs coming away and ruining the rest of the top layer of icing (thanks, Martha Stewart).

Surprisingly enough I managed to proudly make the Swiss Meringue Frosting without incident and fill the cake. I can’t say enough times how great this tutorial was and it worked brilliantly. Someone commented on Instagram that it might be a good idea to weigh out the frosting as I did with the batter so all the layers are equal which I initially thought would be a bit OTT but I think I’d definitely do this if I made the cake again.

The next morning I drove to my Mum and Dad’s house to borrow a palette knife, slapped the icing on and sprinkled some coloured sugar on top before piping ‘Happy Birthday’ on top. Icing letters are HARD. I transported it in the car on a chopping board, thinking anything else would be a bit too slippy and risky; I would’ve been heartbroken if anything had happened to it and all plates and cake stands I could get my hands on were too shiny. Apparently a good way to ice the cake without making a mess is to lay some sheets of baking parchment on top of the surface you are using.

The wow factor when the cake was cut into was A-MAZING. Nobody expected to see a multicoloured cake and the vibrant colours were wonderful. Here are the token hipster Instagram photos I took at the time:

 

It tasted pretty good: there was no hint of the colourings in the flavour which was my main worry. The sponge was nice and fluffy and the frosting creamy and delicious. It was very very sweet – how you would expect an American cake to taste I guess – but everyone seemed to like it.

Would I make this cake again? Definitely. It’d have to be for a person I liked a whole lot – it’s not for the faint hearted – but it would to be great to improve on a couple of things (like the slightly cracked yellow layer you can see in the above photo, and more frosting on the orange layer so the red one doesn’t dip as much). I’d love to try it with Delia’s all-in-one sponge recipe with a reduced amount of sugar in the cake and frosting and would also like to try the cupcake versions as well.

But then again, I’m the girl who hates baking. I might just stick to slow roasting meat, though a joint of pork belly with a birthday candle in doesn’t have quite the same wow factor.

Rainbow Cake Sponge 

226g butter, room temp
426g caster sugar
5 egg whites, room temp
2 teaspoons vanilla
426g plain flour
4 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
355 ml milk, warmed for 30 sec in microwave to bring to room temp
Red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple gel food coloring

1.  Preheat the oven to 170C degrees. Oil and line how ever many 9” cake pans you have (I have three and I just washed and reused them).
2. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
3. Cream the sugar and butter, then add the egg whites a little at a time. Add the vanilla and mix until fully incorporated. Then, alternating between wet and dry, add the milk and flour mixture in two parts.
4. Divide the batter amongst 6 bowls: weigh your mixing bowl before you begin adding ingredients and then subtract the weight of the bowl from the final measurement after the batter is completed. Divide that number by six and add that weight of batter to each bowl leaving a little over for wastage.
5. Whisk about half a teaspoon of food colouring into each bowl. Keep in mind that the color of the unbaked batter will be the color of the baked batter. Pour into the pans and bake for 17 minutes each.
6. When you remove them from the oven, let them rest on the cooling rack, in the pan, for ten minutes. Then flip on to the wire rack and leave until cool.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream
This makes A LOT of Buttercream so it’s best to make it in two batches, the first to fill and crumb coat and the second to frost.

To fill and crumb coat:
9 egg whites
350g caster sugar
452g unsalted butter, room temp
2 tsp vanilla extract

To frost:
5 egg whites
200g caster sugar
226g unsalted butter, room temp
1 tsp vanilla extract

Cook the egg whites and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the sugar is completely dissolved (test by rubbing some between your fingers. If it’s completely smooth, it’s done). If you want to pasteurise the egg whites make sure they’re cooked to 160 degrees C. Pour into another bowl (a stand mixer is preferable) and whip on high speed until room temp. Then, on a medium-slow speed, add the butter, waiting until each piece is completely incorporated before adding the next. Refrigerate the frosting for about ten minutes. Turn the mixer back to high speed and whip until the frosting it has come together and is fluffy, about five minutes. Add the extract, beat briefly and then use.

Assembly
Stack the layers in your preferred order and fill and frost.

Once frosted, the cake can be left on the counter without any problems, but feel free to refrigerate it. I put it in the fridge to make sure the frosting was robust for the journey to my parents house. Just be sure that the cake is at room temperature when serving or the frosting will be hard, not smooth.

Alice Harold, age 26

It’s my birthday today!

I must be growing up; I normally do a relentless 3-month countdown to the 25th July but with one thing or another (motherhood, mostly) I didn’t get the chance.

The weekend has been amazing, I spent it with some of my favourite people doing my favourite things. Eating, drinking, receiving presents and sleeping. And today Elfie had such a good time at the pool that she took a nap on me for half an hour, something she hasn’t done since she was a tiny baby. Best present ever, if I’d have known she was planning it I definitely would have counted down for three months.

Will won Husband of the Year award by surprising me with a 3-day trip to Paris in August (I’ve never been), The Good Food Guide (and a promise to tick off the top twenty before the end of the year as well as all entries in the closest three counties), some books and a year’s family David Lloyd membership (which I’m sure we would have got anyway, but we did all the paperwork today…). He waited on me hand and foot – I took TWO naps and he’s just returned from the chippy – and has been all-round wonderful. Elfie amazingly knew I wanted a magic trackpad for my iMac, what a superstar, my BFF came to see me for lunch and champagne yesterday, my Mum and Dad have promised new trainers for the gym (and gave me an amazing Union Jack guitar-shaped cushion in the meantime) and my Mother In Law sent some gorgeous flowers. I love my birthday.

 

On a roundabout-toy in the park with my Mum, Dad and daughter on my birthday. No big deal.

 

Will made this – it’s a Parisian postcard with my face on it! What a winner.

David Lloyd has an outdoor pool. Perfect to enjoy the dizzying heights of 20 degree british summertime.

The Birthday Girl

Elfie’s Birthday party fell on a beautiful day. We decided to keep it family only so there was only 20 of us (!!!). We drank Mango Bellinis, ate slow-roasted pork baps with apple sauce and my magnificent cupcakes and enjoyed all the beautiful presents Elfie received. The Birthday Girl herself was feeling slightly under the weather as she’s been recovering from a cold but she held it together after a bit of a nap.

I spent a fortune on Party Pieces… it’s a shame we had no actual kids at the party. I think the grown-ups appreciated the hard work though.

We all loved the bubbles and Auntie Josie was an excellent bubble blower.

Grannie Snip bought a ride-on wooden trike from Hamley’s that she’s not quite a fan of yet – we’ll get there. It kind of reminds me of the toys in Santa Claus.

 

 

A Beautiful Birthday Card

For Elfie’s first birthday I wanted to give her something special that she could keep and treasure forever. I failed on the present front (we gave her books and a decorated nursery) so I bought her a hand-drawn birthday card that would be framed and hung in her room.

I first saw E Custom Cards by Erin Human on Dooce, and I knew straight away that she would draw the perfect image.

I asked for cartoon Elfie to be accompanied by elephants (she has so many elephant toys…) and two dummies as she loves to sleep with one in each hand. I loved the result.

Elfie was also given a birthday card by my brother and his girlfriend which I will also be keeping forever because of the awesome poem he wrote:

Happy first birthday Elfie Pooh,
Before we even know it you will soon be two,
By then you will be walking and we won’t know what to do,
But for now just sit still so we can look at you.

By Josh J-T, aged 24 and a half

(I’m not using his full name for fear of future employers Googling his name)

Happy Birthday, Will!

My husband’s birthday last weekend was everything a good birthday should be: friends, a full wine rack, food, babies, go karting and Eurovision.

A birthday treat to himself was a membership to The Wine Society. Our wine rack couldn’t hold three cases of wine, so we had to get a new one. Then there were spaces in the rack so we had to buy more wine. You get the picture: we have a lot of wine right now.

I’m not sure there is more of a decadent starter than steamed asparagus and homemade hollandaise (recipe will follow when I drag my face from the mixing bowl. So good).

This is Rupert. Rupert’s a fan of my hollandaise.

The gorgeous Sea Bass main course was cooked by the Birthday Boy as his wife was drunk and too absorbed in Eurovision to spend 30 minutes in the kitchen.

There is nothing like a massive load of cheese for breakfast to get over a hangover.

Stilton. Red onion marmalade. Bliss.

Even Elfie got involved (Organix cheesy wheat puffs). Let’s ignore the fact she’s still in her pyjamas at midday.

Basically it was an amazing weekend but hangovers continue to increase in their brutality. Will it ever end?