White Chocolate Cigarello Birthday Cake

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I have a lovely friend who is celebrating a birthday today. She’s one of those rare gems who is as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside. She spends so much time looking after everybody and is so generous in every sense of the word she definitely deserves to be spoilt on her birthday. I wanted to make her a cake that reflects her: beautiful, elegant and very special. Cue the cigarellos…

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These rolled chocolate straws instantly add a little sophistication to any cake. I used these from the Chocolate Trading Co.

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I like making cakes that have three thin layers of sponge as I think they look lovely when cut, and allow for more filling (which incidently is very forgiving should you accidentally over bake them. The extra filling helps moisten the sponge). I just used a basic Victoria sponge recipe which you can find here, on the BBC Good Food website. If you’re doing three layers I suggest reducing the oven temp to 160oC, and the time to between 12-15 mins.

Once cooled, fill your cake with whatever you want. I used seedless raspberry jam this time.

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Now you’re ready to proceed with the decorating. Make a generous amount of buttercream using a pack of unsalted butter, icing sugar, a couple of tsps of vanilla bean paste and a few splashes of milk to loosen. The consistency should be spreadable, but still fairly stiff. Secure your cake to the cake board using a dollop of buttercream. I find it easiest to pipe the buttercream onto the cake, starting with the gaps around the edges.

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Once you’ve filled the gaps in, continue piping until the entire cake is covered with a thick layer. This doesn’t have to be neat.

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Now take a palette knife and smooth the surfaces down. Again, don’t worry about getting perfect edges as it’s all going to be covered with the cigarellos and fruit.

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Wipe away any stray smears of buttercream off the board. Now you’re ready to start attaching the cigarellos by gently pushing them into the buttercream, which is effectively used as glue to hold them in place. Start at the back of the cake if you’re adding any additional decoration to the front (a name on the board for example). You will end up with something similar to this:

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I decided to top mine with strawberries and raspberries. Wash and hull them and dry well on paper towels. Take the largest strawberry and cut the point off the end. Push a candle in and add a dollop of leftover buttercream to the bottom before securing it to the middle of the cake.

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Now add the rest of the fruit, strawberries first to avoid crushing the delicate raspberries. Crush a couple of cigarellos in your hand and sprinkle over the fruit as a final flurry!

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The birthday girl was happy!

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Growing the Gift

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Hattie May Wiatt

Have any of you heard of Hattie May Wiatt and the story of the 57 cents? Hattie was a young girl who lived in Philadelphia in the 1880’s. She attended a baptist church not far from her home, but the Sunday school room was so full of children she was afraid to go in for fear of being trampled. Often tickets were issued before the services to avoid overcrowding, imagine that! On voicing her concerns to her Pastor, Russel Conwell, she was told that one day, when they had enough money, a new, larger church and Sunday school room would be built. Sadly, in 1886 Hattie May died. After her death, Hattie’s mother gave Pastor Conwell a little purse with 57 cents in it, explaining that Hattie had been saving to help the church build a larger premises. Pastor Conwell was moved. He changed the 57 cents into 57 pennies and sold them to his congregation.  Church members made donations, and cheques came in from far and wide. The 57 cents turned into $250.  The Wiatt’s Mite Society was formed and was dedicated to making Hattie’s original 57 cents grow further.  The amount of money raised was a sizable investment towards the building of a new Sunday school and church building, and eventually a university and hospital too.  It’s amazing what can come of 57 cents and faith! Today Grace Baptist Church is still going strong and you can check out their website here.

Why am I telling you this? This weekend, out of the blue, a friend of mine gave a gift to our church to put towards hosting a team of people from Pulse Ministries, who we’re partnering up with to run a holiday bible club for local kids in August.  This gesture blessed us immensely.  The family doesn’t attend our church and their children aren’t at the age where they will be old enough to attend the club in the summer, yet they chose to bless us with a gift. It humbled us.  It encouraged us. However, most importantly of all it revealed their compassionate hearts and kingdom building mindset. They’ve realised the potential this bible club could have in our community. 70 children, many unchurched, being taught the gospel, for 5 hours a day, for 5 consecutive days…that is bound to be a game changer. This isn’t just about a week. Foundations will be laid for lives being built and lived out on solid biblical truths, seeds will be planted which will sprout and grow into blossoming relationships with Jesus Christ. This is kingdom building folks, and that is powerful stuff.

22317_imPOSSIBLESo, we’re asking you to invest: Not in Ste or me, not in Full Life Church or Pulse Ministries, but in growing God’s kingdom here on earth, in the wider church. We’ve changed our friend’s gift into £1 coins and we want to sell them, just like Pastor Conwell did with Hattie May’s 57 cents, at a profit. We’re in the process of setting up a Just Giving Page where you can donate an amount of your choice in exchange for one of the original £1 coins (If you’re not local, message me your address via our Facebook page if you’d like me to post you your £1 coin!). Alternatively you can do a bank transfer into the church account.
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Interestingly, the Bible is full of stories about investing and multiplying, the parable of the talents being the one that springs to mind in this instance. The Message version of it is below for you to read, but for now I’ll say thanks, in faith, for buying a £1 and investing in the bigger picture!

The Story About Investment – Matthew 25: 14-30

14-18 “It’s also like a man going off on an extended trip. He called his servants together and delegated responsibilities. To one he gave five thousand dollars, to another two thousand, to a third one thousand, depending on their abilities. Then he left. Right off, the first servant went to work and doubled his master’s investment. The second did the same. But the man with the single thousand dug a hole and carefully buried his master’s money.

19-21 “After a long absence, the master of those three servants came back and settled up with them. The one given five thousand dollars showed him how he had doubled his investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.’

22-23 “The servant with the two thousand showed how he also had doubled his master’s investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.’

24-25 “The servant given one thousand said, ‘Master, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways, that you demand the best and make no allowances for error. I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money. Here it is, safe and sound down to the last cent.’

26-27 “The master was furious. ‘That’s a terrible way to live! It’s criminal to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least? The least you could have done would have been to invest the sum with the bankers, where at least I would have gotten a little interest.

28-30 “‘Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of this “play-it-safe” who won’t go out on a limb. Throw him out into utter darkness.’

 

 

Meringue Christmas Trees

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We had a text from school today asking for cake donations for the kids Christmas party in two days time! There’s nothing like a bit of notice is there?! Anyway, it was our day off, and I happened to be at home, so I had time to rustle something up. I wanted something easy, and straightforward, which didn’t require many ingredients, but at the same time, something the kids would love, and that looked festive. These simple little meringues were just the ticket.

When making meringue my general rule of thumb is 1 egg white to 50g caster sugar. I whisked 2 egg whites until frothy before adding in 100g caster sugar a dessertspoon full at a time. Halfway through adding the sugar I added a couple of blobs of green food gel.

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Once the meringue was stiff and glossy I put it into a piping bag with a large nozzle and piped little Christmas tree shapes on a lined baking tray. I got 17 out of this batch.

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I put them on the middle shelf of the oven, which I’d preheated to 100oC. The key to these meringues is to cook them low and slow. That way they’re crispy and light all the way through. I cooked these for two and a half hours, then turned the oven off leaving the door shut until they were completely cool.

Once cool, I melted 50g each of milk and dark chocolate in a bain marie and dipped the bottoms of the trees in. Now, had I had any rolos in the house, I would spooned a little melted chocolate on top of an upturned rolo, and stuck the tree on top to give the effect of a trunk. But, I didn’t have rolos, so dipping had to suffice.

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I put the remaining choc in a pipping bag and used it as glue stick on little decorations. Edible glitter and dust gave them a final flourish.

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No doubt the kids will love them…not sure the same could be said for the parents come bedtime!

Naff off Nits! Natural head lice repellent

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Here in the UK the kids have just started back at school, and no doubt it won’t be long before word of “an outbreak” is given. Head lice, or nits, have always grossed me out and I’m scratching my head just thinking about them. As the old adage says, “prevention is better than cure” and with that in mind I’ve concocted a balm which can be dabbed behind little ears which should repel those itchy little critters. The rationale behind this is that the lice hate the smells of certain essential oils.

I made a huge batch, but to make your own manageable amount I suggest using the following:

1 tablespoon unrefined coconut oil
1 tablespoon shea butter
1/2 tablespoon beeswax
Tea tree, lavender, camphor and eucalyptus essential oils to your liking.

Put the wax and oil ‘s in a ban marie and heat gently. Remember, I did a huge batch, you’ll only have a tiny amount so it won’t take long!

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While the mixture is melting prepare your container/s. I chose lip balm tubes which are pretty hard to fill, so to make life easier, I covered a shallow baking tray with foil, made little slits with a knife and pushed a tube into each slit to stop them toppling over.

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Once the oils have melted they’ll be a rich amber colour.

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Now add your essential oils a drop at a time until you’re happy with the fragrance. I added more tea tree and lavender than the others, but it’s personal choice really.

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Once you’re happy with the aroma, fill the tubes or pots… I ended up using a piping bag to do this but it was messy (and rather hot)! Think I need to rethink my method!

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Let them set, then put the lids on and label.

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Dab behind your child’s ears each day to help keep the lice away.

If you liked this post, check out my Frankincense and Cinnamon Winter Balm post for another homemade, natural idea.

Homemade fire starters

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In two more sleeps (yes, I’m almost as excited as my four year old), we’re embarking on our second family camping trip, but what I lack in camping experience I make up for in fire starting, which, I hope you’ll agree, is an integral part of a camping holiday. For me, it’s all about the bbq-ing, toasting marshmallows and singing around the camp fire, wrapped in cosy blankets with your nearest and dearest. On removal of the rose tinted glasses, this is, of course, all dependent on the Great British weather not putting a dampener on things, however these nifty little fire starters will definitely get things hotting up.

You’ll simply need a cardboard egg box, enough lint from the dryer to put in each egg compartment and a couple of candles.

Share the lint out between the egg cavities.

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Cut up the candles into little pieces, put in an old container you don’t mind throwing away afterwards, set it in a shallow pan of water and simmer until the wax has melted.

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Pour over the lint and leave to set. Once you’re ready to start a fire, tear a couple off and use them along with your kindling before adding coals/wood. Viola! Easy, cheap and effective!

Elsa doll cake

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When I look at this cake the words “never” and “again” spring to mind. It probably would’ve been a lot easier had I had enough fondant to roll it out slightly thicker. As it happened I didn’t, and the result was that the skirt kept splitting, so under that white cape is actually a complete mess, hence there aren’t any pictures of the icing process. My hands were too sticky and my head to stressy to think about pics! Anyway,  here’s the link to the tutorial I was following, although you’ll notice the end results are pretty different due to the icing saga! I used three quantities of a basic Victoria sponge recipe and baked two in round springform tins and the third in a Pyrex bowl.

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Slice each cake in half and fill with seedless raspberry jam

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Stick each cake on top of each other using buttercream as the glue

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Wrap Elsa in cling from the waist down

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Carve a hole out using a knife

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Stick Elsa in up to her hips.

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Shave bits off the cake to create a skirt shape.

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Cover in buttercream and chill for an hour.

At this point the disasters started so I’m afraid the next pic I have is this one…

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I used flower paste to make the cape, and royal icing for the snow and snowflakes. The main thing is that the little one loved it!

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Here’s what it looked like inside:

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If you’d like to see the last Frozen cake I made (for her last birthday) you can check it out here.

Princess bedroom makeover

Firstly, apologies that I haven’t posted for a couple of weeks. Things seem to have been busier than usual with Easter and a certain little girl’s 4th birthday. Anyway, I’m back now and ready to show you what we did to the little one’s bedroom for her birthday. The only specification she had given us was that she wanted the walls to be purple. From my point of view I wanted to give her a room that was functional, had a decent amount of storage and could easily be adapted to grow with her. My favourite bits of the end result are the beanbag with all her stuffed toys in it, and the Ikea kitchen utensil tubs as storage for her art and craft supplies. The dressing table us the one I revamped with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint and you can see that post here if you want.  Enjoy the pics!

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Before

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Before

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Before

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First coats of paint going on.

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New bed going up. Boy it's purple in there!

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Starting to come together

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Art station come dressing table

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Reading nook. Her stuffed toys are in the beanbag

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Drawing on an outline of a tree

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First coat

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First coat done

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Three coats later!

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Fairies and butterflies

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Princess canopy

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Waiting to see her new room

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It's a hit!

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Enjoying a birthday breakfast in her room!

A fast (cheat) way to recover a stool

Last week last repainted an old dressing table using Annie Sloan Chalk Paint and wanted to recover the stool too. I’ve finally got around to doing it, but am showing you a real cheat version. This will be your best friend:

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Firstly, press your chosen fabric to remove any creases. Lay the old stool seat on top of the new fabric and cut to size ensuring it’s 2-3 inches larger that the seat. Now make sure the fabric is face down and spray the back of it evenly with the adhesive, before spraying the top of the seat with it too. Lay the seat onto the fabric, obviously making sure the fabric is completely flat and free of creases before you do.  Spray one corner with the glue and fold up and over the seat like so: 

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Continue around the seat until all four corners are done.

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Now spray one of the sides and fold up as if you’re wrapping a parcel.

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Continue all the way around until your corners look something like this.

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Now at this point, if you have a staple gun go around the edges to secure it further. I don’t have a staple gun so am relying on the base to give extra holding power to the fabric as there’s enough fabric to go under where the base will lie.  See pic, as I’m not doing a great job of explaining!

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Screw the base back on and there you go; probably the easiest way ever to recover a stool!

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Annie Sloan dressing table makeover

When it comes to upcycling things, I’m a bit of a late starter.  Bar a blind in our downstairs loo and a very bad job on a dressing table mirror, I’ve never really taken on a project.  For Pb’s birthday we’ve decided to give her bedroom a bit of a makeover and as part of that I thought I’d paint my old dressing table which has been my sewing table since we moved house a couple of years ago. With every Mary, Martha and Mildred raving about Annie Sloan chalk paint on Pinterest and Instagram, I wanted to see what all the hype is about.  After watching various tutorials on YouTube I was left wondering if there’s anything you can’t give the Annie Sloan treatment? Wood, metal, plastics and even upholstery, you could even slap a bit on your granny to take her from drab and outdated to vintage chic. Ok, maybe that’s a step too far, but you get the idea.

A friend very kindly passed on some paint she had left over.

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Here’s a before pic:

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What I love about this is that there is no sanding or priming. You quite literally wipe the piece down to get rid of any dust or grime and paint away. I gave the sides, stool and draw fronts two coats and the top three. I think I may have applied it too thickly but the paint really is forgiving and anyway imperfections can be beautiful.

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Three hours later I was ready to wax. This really is a simple process. I simply used a lint free cloth to wrote the soft clear wax on in circular motions. I’ll leave it to cure for twenty four hours and then apply another coat of wax to seal the top. Et voila! Easy peasey! I can’t believe I left it so long before having a go. Now I just need to recover the stool cushion using the fabric in the photo and it’ll be ready for a certain little almost 4 year old!
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Sweetie cone party favours.

I don’t know about you, but I reluctantly admit I’m not a fan of traditional kids party bags. I’ve done them for P’s previous birthday parties but can’t help feeling like I may as well be setting fire to my cash as I fill my shopping basket with bags of plastic tat, party poppers and those horrifically irritating party blower things. Eurgh!

Bah-humbug you may cry, but this year I’m going down the sweetie cone root. Yes, I realise there’s a huge sugar debate going on at the moment and yes, I admit to feeling a pang of guilt as I think back to a TV documentary I watched last week about five years old having to have their teeth pulled out.  That said, it’s supposed to be a treat, an occasional thing, and it’s up to the parents to implement some sensible rationing (as I attempted to do as we merrily filled piping bags this afternoon.  It was hard when I had this little excited face asking me for,  “just one more” every three seconds!).

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Anyway, here are the finished products. Easter themed as her party falls on Easter Weekend this year.

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