Friday, 27 September 2013

Top Chick!

A little while ago, I was chatting to the owner and designer of an upcoming fashion brand, Top Chick. She was in the process of organising the launch of her label, a dream she's had for a long time of designing sassy clothes for plus size women.

It was always Vickie's intention to present the guests at the launch a party bag, full of all sorts of goodies like vouchers from various companies, soaps, chocolates, flyers, discounts, and, a deliciously, home-baked custom designed item of mine! How exciting to be asked to be a part of a new fashion brand's special night.

After meeting with Vickie about a month before Top Chick's launch, we together decided that biscuits were a better choice over cupcakes, as biscuits still taste fresh the next day. To be unlike anything else, the idea of a biscuit representing the Top Chick logo was suggested, so that whenever people see those stylish red locks (and bite into them), they will know that Top Chick is the place to go for sassy plus-fit styles.

First, I needed to make my own cookie cutter, which I did! My friend brought home a strip of aluminium from his work, and said that it's flexible enough to bend with my hands, and curl around Vegemite jars, etc... After putting off making it for weeks, crunch time came the weekend before the launch, and I just had to do it... And, I've got to say: it was pretty straight forward. I had printed out the Top Chick head, traced around it (which would be the shape of the cutter), and got bending and shaping.

Because of the tricky inner parts, where I would have needed to double back onto the cutter, risking both snapping it, and slicing my arm off, I made 2 separate parts:

Which I stuck together with sticky tape! :)

I was now ready for the production line of making these custom Top Chick biscuits...

After a kilo of sugar, 2 kilos of butter, and 5 kilos of flour, I had shortbread biscuits. Heaps of shortbread biscuits, in the shape of a Top Chick head.

I wasn't sure quite how I was going to ice them. My mind hadn't gotten that far yet. Thoughts flashed from using fondant, to using royal icing, back to fondant, and then, somehow, to chocolate? Mmmm, chocolate...

My cravings for chocolate were clearly getting the better of me, enticing me to do things that I wouldn't have originally planned to do! But, it worked out well. I knew (from experience, maybe, but probably more from reading a cake decorating magazine) that if I made runny royal icing, it would smooth out  to the edges and not appear piped. But before that, with some dark chocolate, I piped the outlines of the Top Chick hair and face.

With some "red red" coloured royal icing (which I got upset* at when it didn't look 'red red' but more 'pinky red') I began the 10 hour process of filling in the hair and lips on the biscuits... I was up to about 50 when I was tempted to call Vickie and cancel the order, claiming I now suffered from back injury, and schizophrenia. But the little voices told me that I needed to just keep going, and that therapy was a waste of time; I just needed more chocolate.

* Husband sees it differently. By "upset", he says that on a scale between 1 to 10 of crazy, I sat quite comfortably at 16 as I raged around the house, and slumped in despair that it wasn't RED red...

Once the red icing was on, I melted some more chocolate and added the all-important eye lashes. It was about this time (I'm certain it had nothing to do with the fact that it was 2am at this stage) that instead of Top Chick heads, all I could see were pirate faces. Aarrrrrrrrrr, my back. Aarrrrrrrrrr, cramp in my hand. Aarrrrrrrrrr I hate dieting.

The process of sliding the biscuits into cellophane bags, and then tying each one up with ribbon, was potentially the fiddliest of the whole thing, but maybe I'm exaggerating out of excitement of almost being finished.

With some sticky dots (that I searched for because of an impulsive decision to stick cards to the biscuits instead of threading them onto the ribbon**), I attached cards to the back of each cookie bag, so that people knew who had made them, and, of course, where to go to read a blog post about how it was done!

** Best decision ever! I would have easily jumped to level 25 of crazy had I threaded each card on individually!!

These were the front and back of the little cardboard cards I attached:

So, after 20 hours (or thereabouts - I eventually lost count) of mixing ingredients, cutting out shapes in shortbread dough, baking, melting chocolate, colouring icing, piping chocolate and icing onto each cookie, wrapping, tying, and labelling 120 of these delicious cookies, my job was finally done!

They were placed in a box (well, in 2 boxes), ready to be delivered for the launch. I added an extra 3 (good thing I had spare, in case some turned out c-aarrrrrrrrrr-ap), for Vickie, her husband, and her son, because why should they have to miss out? :)

The launch was a success, the biscuits were loved, the remainder of the chocolate has been eaten (oops), I think I've caught up on sleep, and, with time and therapy, I will be able to look at another shortbread biscuit once again!

Wishing Top Chick a huge success in the fashion industry.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Balancing elephants??

If you grew up with Play School (seriously, though, who didn't?),
you'd surely be familiar with this song:

I've been thinking a lot about elephants lately, because today was the first day of Ropes Crossing Church's annual school holiday program. This is the 4th year it's been running, and we've had a different theme each year. No, the theme this year isn't "elephants", but it is "BIG" - BIG things that God has created.

Day #1 (today) was BIG animals that God has created. And elephants happen to be one of them!

As organiser for craft and DIY morning tea, I came up with some things for the kids to make, create, and enjoy. First, we decorated cupcakes to look like elephants:

I had an instruction sheet handy, just in case my 'demonstration' was lost in translation because I panic when 50 sets of eyes are on me, or, if kids were so entranced by my sensational presentation, they weren't listening at all to what I was saying regarding how to make the elephant (not that it really mattered - cupcakes, icing, lollies, and chocolate in any order is delicious!!)

I know my own kids enjoyed making the cupcakes! I was impressed that even Jonathan tried to make it the way it should have been... I'm lost as to what Tamara was trying to do - be an elephant, maybe?

My demo cupcake still sits in my house, watching me... Taunting me. Wanting me to undo all the hard work I've been doing at Boot Camp...

Next up was an elephant craft. Why, oh, why I chose to use paint with children is somewhat beyond me. I can only put it down to a lapse in considering potential consequences during an exciting rush of creative energy.

But, it actually worked out alright. I only needed to change the instructions 4 times to make it work in the least messy way. Craft started with paint on each table, and ended with children making one line and having one child at a time do their handprint, and then quickly wash them.

This is me, demonstrating the elephant handprint craft:

This just screams entrancing, right?
Must be the fact that my top was the same colour as an elephant...
After the children had been patient with the paint (and with me), here's some of the finished elephant handprint crafts, hanging out, chilling, drying their skins... Y'know, usual elephant craft kinda stuff:

The children were also entertained with an anaconda craft* while they waited for their elephant handprints to be made, and then dry :)

* Coloured penne pasta threaded onto string, with a bottle lid tied to each end :)

Did you know that elephants:
- Are the largest land animal in the world.
- Can't see very well, but have a great sense of smell and hearing.
- Cool down from the blood that circulates through their ears (which can be 5 feet long).
- Can't jump (But they can swim).

Elephants are marvellous creatures. Personally, though, I don't think they were created to be good at balancing on string...

The God who made the world and everything in it
is the Lord of heaven and earth.
Acts 17:24

Thursday, 19 September 2013


"Change": Noun. Verb. Idiom. Song.

Things I can change:

- My thoughts and attitude towards people, life, and cleaning the toilet;
- Where I shop for groceries;
- A light bulb (if I stand on a chair, table, or small child in my house);
- How much chocolate, junk food and take-out I eat;
- My underpants, and entire outfit. All by myself! <so proud>

Things I can't change:

- How much chocolate, junk food and take-out other people eat;
- My 3 year old's all consuming obsession with Ben 10;
- Who the prime minister is;
- How other people express their feelings on who the prime minister is;
- Car tyres.

God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the Courage to change the things I can,
and the Wisdom to know the difference.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

It's a love story, baby, just say "Yes!"

About a month ago, a lady, lets call her Jane, wanted to surprise her husband for their anniversary. She asked me to make a small heart shaped cake for her family to have to celebrate their special day.

About a week ago, Jane asked if I could alter the cake, to make it big enough to feed a few families, adding to about 25 people. I was totally able to do it, but as ingredients and time costs went up, Jane re-evaluated the need for more sugar, butter, and fondant, and decided that she would just surprise her husband with a cake another year. She thanked me for my time, and apologised for changing her mind.

The day before their anniversary, I receive a call from Jane's husband! Lets call him John. Now he wanted me to make a cake to surprise her for their anniversary! Late notice, yes, but how could I say no to such a sweet couple. John wanted to make sure that I did not tell Jane about his plan. See, it turned out that Jane had mentioned to John that a cake would be nice, but they should probably save money and could easily do it another year. He nodded in agreement, and then totally went behind her back and organised it anyway! It was sweet.

I made it the way I would have made it for her, which is as follows.

I loved the heart tins that my local cake shop had, with a wispy tail to them. Very modern. I chose the two smaller sizes, knowing that I'll be doing two tiers, and knowing that I needed to feed 25, not 5,000.

Once they were filled with chocolate cake, baked, and cooled, I sliced them in half (lengthways) to add a layer of ganache, and then covered them with chocolate buttercream icing - ready for the fondant.

I knew (as I always do) that once the fondant was on, I could take a step back, maybe even make a coffee, look at the edible 'canvas', and decide what to do next. Red was the base colour, as per Jane's original request. I decided to add a strip of white on the bottom of each heart for a simple, elegant touch... And to cover up some of the parts that pleated and looked, well, unprofessional.

While I was cake tin shopping earlier in the day, I also bought a pre-made edible flower. I knew that my own skills are no where near making one of these myself, and I wanted to add something to the cake to make it extra special. I had all three kids with me, a time limit because the cake shop was closing, and decisions to make very quickly in between separating three tired and wriggly children, despite being bribed with KFC on the way home if they just sit down and let me do what I need to do.

With royal icing, I attached the rose in the top corner of the smaller cake... Then, knowing the design in my head, I wanted the names on the top, smaller heart, and then the anniversary wishes on the bottom cake. I 'spose now is as good a time as any to stop calling them Jane and John. The lovely couple's names are actually Noshi and Adil.

I'm quite certain they would have both gotten a huge surprise if I had written Jane and John on their cake!!

Leaving the two hearts separate for as long as possible (because I didn't want the weight of the top to crush the bottom tier), I used the cake tin as a guide for where the top cake would sit, and again, with royal icing, wrote what Noshi ("Jane") originally wanted me to write:

I had rolled out some extra little hearts to decorate the board, and used the side of (the heart cutter) to make a wispy tail on them to match the cake. When they were set, I sprayed them with some silver mist to make them just a bit glittery and anniversary-looking, and set them to the board with a dot of royal icing. I had also, by this time, attached the top tier with chocolate buttercream, and sealed around the bottom of each cake with royal icing.

Here it is! The finished cake from the back and side:

And here it is from the front:

It was such an honour to play a part in a lovely anniversary surprise!
I came home happy knowing that the cake was adored,
and that the surprise was successful.

Next time, though, I'll have to think quicker when asked who's at the door.
I may even give myself a pretend name, and say that I'm "Taylor Swift."
Somehow "Natalie? Why is Natalie here" doesn't have the same ring to it.

Happy anniversary Noshi and Adil! :)

Friday, 13 September 2013

Feelin' superstitious!

It's Friday the 13th! Oooooooooooooer...

If you're really a superstitious kind of person, you'll have counted the number of 'O's above to make sure it was 13. If you didn't, then you're probably not superstitious... If you went back and counted them now, then you may suffer from a little Obsessive Compulsive Disorder... Just like me.

Friday 13th is considered unlucky in Western culture. Why?? Apparently, it potentially goes back to Biblical times. Some folklorists have linked it to the 13th guest at the Last Supper who betrayed Jesus and caused his crucifixion (which was on a Friday). By the late Middle Ages, both the day Friday, and the number 13 were considered unlucky...

I think that bakers are to blame: they changed the number in a dozen.

Do you freak out on Friday 13th?? Here's some freaky/fun facts about this day/date:

- In 2012, there were 3 Friday 13th's (January, April and July), which all fell exactly 13 weeks apart. The next year to have 3 Friday 13th's will be 2015 in February, March and November.

- Fear of Friday the 13th is called friggatriskaidekaphobia.

- Alfred Hitchcock was born on the 13th. August 13th (Friday), 1999 would have been his 100th birthday.

- I made cupcakes, and didn't burn down my house, kill anyone, or slice my finger off!

Of course, I themed them for Friday 13th (the movie, the date, the superstition behind the date - whatever)!

I had this 'mask', also, to follow as I dotted my fudge frosting onto the fondant circles. After a little while, they just looked like dots randomly put on top of a cupcake, but I had good intentions.

Mini Friday 13th "Jason" cupcakes!

The local youth group loved them, and said they were delicious!! Dead serious.

Keep calm! It's almost Saturday.
Here. Listen to Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" while you wait :)

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Creative exercising...

Everyone loves ecards. Even if you don't want to admit it, you love them.
Can't say the same about exercise, though...

Spring time is generally the (only) time I re-think the diet and exercise decisions I've made over Winter (and, well, my whole life!). The weather is warmer, and I can no longer wear a big jumper to cover up the belly I've been feeding chocolate, cupcakes, lollies, hot chips, and raw cookie dough almost daily... I don't eat very well during Winter. Or exercise, like, at all. I'm pretty sure my exercise has been limited to (minimal) housework, and baking... Hey. I have a really heavy oven door, and it takes a lot of effort to open and close it, okay!?

Earlier this year, in preparation for my husband and I going to America for our anniversary, I was obsessed with exercising and eating right. That was only 6 months ago!! I was in the gym (which is, no joke, in. our. garage) every morning and also some evenings. I was eating (and enjoying) salad, drinking litres of water everyday, and the weight I wanted to lose was being lost! I loved it.

Since coming back to Australia, though, I haven't quite gotten back into having health and fitness as priorities. And we were seriously only there for two weeks!! Of course, throughout Winter, I dug myself further and further into a rut of eating poorly, making excuses for not exercising, and refusing to change, yet still expected results as if I was eating healthy and exercising regularly. And then becoming disappointed in myself and depressed. We all look at ourselves and see areas that need improvement (well, if you don't, then congratulations! Thanks for stopping by, but there's no point reading the rest of this post).

I mostly missed the enjoyment of feeling great because I was exercising regularly! Yet, I still made excuses, and refused to walk 10 metres to our garage and work out. Instead, I felt that I deserved that cupcake. And that block of chocolate. And another coffee. And some lollies. And on that note, I may as well sit down and watch TV because I'm feeling depressed 'tired'. I needed to 'rest'*. I'll eat properly as of next week, so let's have KFC for dinner before my diet starts. Mmmm, secret herbs and spices.

* Rest, n. - The refreshing ease or inactivity after labour or exertion.
Laziness, adj. - Averse or disinclined to labour or exertion.

I knew exactly what I needed to do to lose weight. I just. couldn't. get my sorry arse off itself to actually do it. All I had was (totally and completely valid at the time) excuses.

Up until last week, when a good friend encouraged me to join a local Boot Camp with her. Over two days I jumped in and out of commitment to it, but, in the end, I JOINED! I agreed with my head that I desperately needed to get excited about exercise again, which I knew included having others around me (not Husband, because that clearly didn't work very well, did it) motivating me to get off my butt, come to training sessions, and work hard. I needed fresh air, and the scenery of yoga mats, sweaty backs, and people getting fit together.

Boot Camp started bright and early Monday morning. I was so excited that I was up and dressed before my alarm went off. I actually surprised myself with how quickly I snapped back into it again after being away from exercise (and salad, and water) for so long. I had forgotten all the excuses I had for why now just 'wasn't a good time to jump into intense training'. I was ready to change my life again!

And, so, I wanted to share some of my first day at Boot Camp.

As our trainer is tracking progress, we all partook in a wall-sit, and planking challenge. Note, this is different to the other kind of planking, which I'm also probably no good at - but to be honest, I haven't had the guts to try it. Pun intended!

As we were then jogging (and sweating) to warm up, our trainer said "after this warm-up, we're going to play a card game." Part of me was like "what? I thought we were supposed to work out?" and another part thought "maybe it's a get-to-know-you type of game... Sure, that could be fun."

I was pleasantly (but painfully the next day) surprised!!

Drawn onto a mini white board was something that looked like this:

Oh, it was a card game, alright!! And I got-to-know a few of the exercises that people hated! <cough-burpies-cough>

The 'rules' were basically- if you picked up:
2 of Hearts = 2 burpies
8 of Spades = 8 sit ups
10 of Clubs = 10 push ups
5 of Diamonds = 5 lunges (on each leg).

I thought this was brilliant! It was fun, it kept changing, and it was an enjoyable form of exercising with others. It can be changed with other exercises, such as russian twists, crawl outs, tricep dips, leg raises, squats, star jumps, somersaults, cart wheels, etc... You name it! Just write down your exercises, pick up a card, and do it! :)

I will certainly (at least I hope so!) be continuing this creative way to exercise long after Boot Camp finishes. In the meantime, I am loving Boot Camp. Admittedly, it's only DAY 3! But, I am trying to encourage my body to keep up with my motivation to be fit and healthy once again. As an impulsive person, I find it hard to stick with anything long term*. So please, if you know me and see me in person, ask me how I'm going with this! Or, come around and play a game of cards with me! ;)

* Except maybe for baking... Mmmm, cupcakes.

What creative ways have you found that have helped you get
excited about exercising?? I'd love to hear!

Friday, 6 September 2013

Political poetry!

'Twas the week before the election,
And spread all over Facebook:
Political articles, videos, and pics,
Captioned: "Before you vote, you must look!"

I did not want to be attacked or ashamed
Of yet another big decision in life.
Who I vote for will be directly related to me:
As a mother, as a blogger, as a wife.

So I have not liked, or commented, or shared
Anything relating to the election.
I actually haven't even clicked on the links
Because it may force me to ask certain questions.

Like: When will Wet 'n' Wild be finished?
And, will my kids still go off to school?
Can I still purchase bandaids at the local shops?

'Twas the night before the election.
And my mind has already been made.
Please stop shoving in my face all your views on
'Marriage equality'; carbon taxes; foreign aid.

In 24 hours it'll be over.
And politics, once again, classed 'taboo'.
So keep calm, and just vote for Pedro!
He'll make your wildest dreams come true.

Authorised by Natalie Rose,  NSW.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Father's Day Fail.

Father's Day: A day to celebrate fathers and fatherhood.

For me, Father's Day is a day full of pressure. The pressure to have a really great present (wrapped perfectly, of course, not that he would care if it was instead presented in a suitcase, or wrapped in mysterious see-through material called 'air'), the pressure of making sure the day is perfect - starting with a sleep-in (for him, obviously), ending with a really special dinner, and in between filled with well-behaved children, morning cuddles in bed where that perfectly wrapped present is opened, and the school-made 'artworks' are adored and placed in a prime spot for future adornment. It may even include a peaceful bike/car ride, a lovely picnic in the park, and warm, loving hugs and kisses. Sounds great, right?

I felt this pressure start a couple of weeks ago, when I knew this day was approaching, and time was running out to find that 'really great present'. See, Husband is a present person. Sounds easy? Totally not. Not in my case, anyway, since I'm not a present person. I discovered this in our early years of marriage when I merged his love of cooking with his love of Nando's, and bought a sauce and BBQ tool Nando's gift set. It was met with a sickly grin and "Aw, thanks. Promise me you won't get me anything like that ever again." The pressure is on, because it seems easy for him, but for me, it's like pushing water uphill to find out that once the water is there, the person really just wanted a Coke.

I also get distracted by things, and then organising is hard. For our 10th anniversary, Husband secretly recorded a song, got me a tattoo, and took me out to dinner. I had realised later that when he had said "we're going to America, don't worry about presents" meant that he was still totally going to do something. At the last minute, the night before, I went to Coles and bought him something special. Imagine his surprise the next morning when he got to open a box of Pizza Shapes and a Turkish Delight. That lucky, lucky man.

Of course, I got distracted with the immediacy of every day life with three children, and before I knew it, Friday arrived. I hadn't organised anything for Father's Day, or for Kids Church, which I was leading for the next 3 weeks.

To make matters worse, the Internet was against me. Facebook was covered in a bazillion status updates directed at fathers, poems, photos of lovingly-prepared food, kids cuddling, super-special presents, and all my favourite mediums (like Pintrest) where I usually go for ideas- were also chock full of pressure. And on top of all that, the irony of ironies, I married a man who doesn't even like cake.

It's so easy to get caught up in the idea of a 'perfect Father's Day'.

At the very least, I decided, I would make sure Husband got to sleep in, but meant that I spent the whole morning shushing my children (and having them shush each other) which, true to form, became a battle of Who Could Shush The Loudest. I couldn't win.

I did make Husband breakfast in bed, though. Which is about as romantic as I get. It doesn't have a pretty Instagram border around it, though. Thankfully, Husband doesn't care about Instagram.

It (the food, not the photo) was delivered to Husband in bed, bordering on being cold because in order to prove to the Internet that I, too, loved and adored my husband, I had to spend 20 minutes clearing space on the kitchen bench, cleaning it up, and trying to get the photograph exactly right. But then I couldn't post it to Facebook because we were now running late for church.

For Kids Church, I'd organised a Father's Day craft. Which took up the entire lesson. Not sure if that was good or bad, as my whole point of making the lesson about Father's Day was so that we could talk about our Father in Heaven, and how He is the perfect dad for us, and loves us more than our earthly fathers ever could...

After church, I staggered home determined that now was going to be lunch and present opening time. The kids took the bag of gifts and totally dropped it and then fell on top of it. It was at that moment that I decided that Mother's Day wasn't that important, and that I'd end them all. Right now.

Husband, using his uncanny sixth sense that something might be bothering me at that point (I believe I was standing on the table waving a rolling pin, threatening immediate death) sent me toward isolation in the bedroom for almost 4 hours. I watched a movie and had a nap. When I awoke, feeling in a better position to try again to make Father's Day perfect, I took the kids on a bike ride to get some photos that I had wanted to have done and printed before Father's Day. Fortunately for me, I had told Husband that I had planned to do these and he'd said "Yeah, no. I have a million photos of the kids at work, why would I want more?"

Um, because it was my freaking idea of a great gift, jerk!

Husband had a chance to record a song he'd written yesterday. I got some nice shots of our kids, and to limit more mess in the kitchen (except for the one tiny part that is now clean), he took us all out for dinner. Evidently there's an upper limit to mess. I didn't think that was possible, until I washed up plates in the bathroom sink.

I do really appreciate all the love and effort Husband puts in as both a great husband and father... I'm just not a present person! And, I also happen to have very poor organisational skills.

Happy Father's Day, Husband :)