Saturday, May 8, 2010

Let me pull a rabbit out of this hat!

We promised Luc a birthday party when his grandparents arrived. The poor boy's birthday coincided with SO much snow, that we didn't get around to organising anything in February. Running out of time, before Mum and Dad left, we had a very small and intimate party with good friends and family. I was about to make Luc's 'magic' cake with a wand and stars (as requested). As Luc was walking out the door, I told him I would make the base of his cake a carrot cake. His face fell and he looked SO disappointed, saying he would actually, prefer a lemon cake. A moment of panic. A change of plans. Perhaps, If I made a lemon sponge cake, I could make a rabbit popping out?!? I quickly whipped up some sponge cakes (actually a whole lot easier than a carrot cake). I figured I could make the hat taller if I layered the sponge layers with fresh strawberries and cream. I set to working out how to make a rabbit. I threaded some tiny marshmallows onto wooden skewers. These ended up looking way too long for ears. I wished I had a foam ball to make the rabbits head - thinking I could frost this. Instead, a brainwave: blow-out the eggs we had left over from easter decorating- these were after all, a very bright white, and would match the color of the marshmallows. Trial and error led me to covering the eggshells with halved marshmallows stuck on with an icing sugar 'glue'. The first ear attempts became arms and I made less lengthy versions for ears. I added a face using glacé cherries, raisins and silver cachous. Luc came home and was super happy with what I had achieved. He told me he wanted the hat iced in black frosting with the top (bottom) of the hat to have a purple band.

Paul and I went out to dinner and a large part of our evening was spent discussing how we would ice the cake. I thought black icing or frosting would be a little off-putting due to the color to icing ratio: a bit overwhelming for a simple sponge. Paul suggested that we convince Luc to go for a 'brown' cake - therefore enabling us to use chocolate. We both knew he would be willing. On the way home from dinner, we ended up in the baking aisle of the supermarket, reviewing our options. We thought chocolate drops / morsels glued on with cream, grated chocolate, ready-made chocolate frosting, chocolate cream... We read the ingredients on the ready-made frosting packets, and immediately put these back: artificial everything, trans fats - We couldn't possibly feed this to our guests!

The morning of the party, I had a brain wave: use a chocolate 'collar' around the cake. I had done this before and it is relatively simple with dramatic results. I measured the height and circumference of the cake, cut a strip of baking paper just a little larger, painted this with melted chocolate drops and then wrapped this around the cake, chilling it to harden. Once firm enough, the baking paper is carefully peeled away. I cut a ring from cardboard, wrapped this in glad wrap and then painted this too with chocolate, affixing it to the top of the cake with more melted chocolate. Having melted far too much chocolate, I dipped some strawberries - these later became decoration.

We served a very simple and easily prepared lunch using lots of fresh 'summer' foods: fresh berries, homemade lemonade, steamed asparagus, baby spinach salad, baked baby red potatoes, hard-boiled farm-fresh free-range eggs (including some lovely 'green' eggs), rotisserie chicken... all followed by the 'magic hat' birthday cake.
The kids had a post-cake crash and spent some time watching the cartoon version of the Wizard of Oz.

Luc concluded the party with his very own magic show. He really 'wowed' his audience and showed a new-found professionalism: resisting the temptation to reveal his tricks or perform them twice, and limiting his magic tricks to his four or five best.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Our first visitors

What a tumultuous few weeks we have had! It began with my parents arriving in early April, friends Pete and Ry visiting a week later, Paul having several 'procedures' and then being told that his research position is no longer being funded (i.e. he would be losing his job!). We also threw in some sight-seeing and a belated sixth birthday party for Luc.

My parents were our first visitors after around 7 months being in our new abode. In Chicago we had visitors after our first month! We now have a spare bed in a dedicated guest bedroom (well, my office too... hence the lack of blogging over the last month). Hopefully we will have some more visitors in the future. We have to. Our garden is SO beautiful and relaxing. People have to visit before we may have to leave it! Hopefully my sister and her family's move to Santa Barbara will encourage more family visits.

Thank goodness Mum and Dad were here to keep things running while we were going out of our heads with worry... actually, we still are, but a little less so as some options are beginning to present themselves. We welcomed the opportunity for the kids to become more connected to their grandparents, and visa versa. We are missing the company, the baby-sitting on request, miraculous dishwasher stacking/unstacking and the magic laundry. Mietta is really missing her cups of tea on demand: lovingly and efficiently being provided by her doting Pa-pa.