On your marks, get set, Bake!

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How to Throw a Junior Bake-Off Birthday Party

I recently organised a Junior Bake-Off party for my daughter’s ninth birthday, and I thought I’d tell you about it in case you might want to do something similar.  If not, then at least in six year’s time I can read this blog post and do it again for my younger daughter.

I’ll say right off the bat that this was quite a tiring thing to do, and there were lots of little bits to remember.  However, I actually enjoyed it and much more importantly, the children loved it.  It actually felt like the real thing! Plus, a great big, huge, enormous thank you to the unsuspecting mums who came along and ended up helping with a lot of clearing up – not to mention rescuing burning bakes from the oven.

There’s a list below of everything you’ll need to prepare and buy in advance, but first I’ll tell you what actually happened.  It looks more complicated than it actually was because I’ve tried to write absolutely everything down.  Please don’t be put off!

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What we did:
We set it up like the real Bake-Off, with a Signature Challenge, a Technical and a Show-Stopper:
Signature: Pizzas
Technical: Fork Biscuits
Show-Stopper: Cupcake Decorating

For the Signature, I emailed the parents in advance to ask what toppings the children would like.  I bought pizza topping sauce (although I could have made some), grated cheese (lazy, I know) and whatever toppings they’d chosen.  I made the dough the day before (but you could buy bases).

For the Technical, I used Mary Berry’s Fork Biscuits recipe, which is available online.  I halved the recipe, so each child made eight cookies.  They could choose whether to make chocolate or plain.  I then needed to prepare a tray each with margarine, sugar, flour and the recipe.  (The optional cocoa was a the front of the room.)  This is a recipe that all the children (aged 7-9) could manage.  They found it challenging, but they enjoyed it and they came out well.

For the Show-Stopper, I made cupcakes in advance (I used Nigella’s Christmas Cupcake recipe but you could use any), and bought icing and sprinkles. I provided disposable piping bags and cutters for ready-to-roll icing.  You should really have trays ready with all of the stuff they need for this.  I didn’t, so it became a bit chaotic at this point.  (Cue helpful mums.)

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At the end, we put the cupcakes onto a cupcake stand, stuck candles in it and sang happy birthday.  They ate their pizzas and a cupcake each, and I gave out prizes.  I’d come up with four prize categories as we went along, so that everyone got an award for something, (such as ‘most imaginative Show-Stopper’).  For the prizes, I bought personalised wooden spoons from Not on the Highstreet – see pic below.  If you wanted to do something cheaper, you could try getting plain aprons from Baker Ross (£5 for two), and ironing on a star or something.  But since the party on the whole wasn’t expensive, I didn’t mind paying £20 for the prizes (£5 each).

To prepare in advance: 
Email the parents to ask for the pizza toppings and give them an equipment list to bring. This will depend on what you have at home, e.g. I had enough rolling pins, but you might not.  Also, ask them if they can stay to help their child if possible.
Find a judge or two.  They need to be fun, or at least pretend to be.
Try to find some people to help with the washing up!
Make pizza dough
Make cupcakes – we gave them four each
Print out recipes for Techincal
Print out timings for yourself, otherwise you’ll get confused.
Save margarine tubs and other containers because each child will need their own margarine, sugar and flour

To buy:
Pizza toppings
Enough flour, butter/margarine, sugar and cocoa for everyone in the Technical.  The quantities are not huge.
Greaseproof paper (we used this for pizzas and biscuits)
Butter icing, ready to roll icing, various sprinkles, disposable piping bags.  (My daughter went through three piping bags and I’m sorry but they’re a pain to clean.)
Salad and fruit for the meal, if you wish
Candles if you don’t have any
Prizes.  If you’re keeping costs down, I’m sure some biscuits or pretty cupcake cases or something would be just as lovely.

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To set up:
I used four long tables and put all the equipment and the pizza toppings on top, ready to use
If you have enough trays, get the trays for the Technical and the Show-Stopper ready before the party starts
Have a table at the front of the room for the judging of the Technical. I got them to write their names on little cards which went in front of their bakes, so that they knew whose were being judged, but the judge couldn’t see.  (On the show they have photos for this.)
I put a big bowl of soapy water and some flannels at the back, for hand washing

Equipment List:
Aprons
Rolling pins
Kitchen scales
Sieves (for cocoa)
Piping nozzles (if you’re using disposable bags, you probably can manage with just one set of nozzles as you won’t need the collar)
Mixing bowls
Wooden spoons
Cutlery
Small scissors – one pair each
Ask each child to bring a box to carry their goods home in
Cupcake stand (or just use a plate)

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Running Order:
Write name cards
Introduce Signature – give them 10 minutes.  Remember to say, “On your marks, get set, bake!”
Pizzas in the oven
Technical – they need about 20 minutes for this. You can give them longer if they need it!
Biscuits in – meanwhile, judge the Signature.  Put the pizzas on the benches and the judge goes round and tries each one and gives feedback.  Remember to say, “tell me about your pizza.”
(There may be a pause here while the children try their own pizzas/wash their hands/wipe down their benches)
Now judge the technical by putting the biscuits on the front table and getting the children to sit in a row while the judge makes comments about each one.  They could choose a winner for this, although my judge didn’t.
Showstopper – decorate four cupcakes. I thought this would be quick but they spent ages on it.  Allow as much or as little time as you wish!  Tell them they will be marked purely on presentation, and that they can do them all the same or four different styles.
Judging – get them to bring up their four cupcakes on a plate and comment on them.
Now put the cupcakes into the stand and light candles, sing happy birthday etc.

Eat!

Prize giving.

Now do a lot of washing up.

If you try this, please let me know!  I do hope it helps somebody else to have a happy birthday.

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Thanks for Coming

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Christmas is so messy.

I’ll let you into a (non)secret: I’m not so good at housework.  Right now I’m supposed to be cleaning, but as you can see, I’m not.  And at Christmas, there’s more stuff around, plus there’s more stuff to do which in this home takes priority over housework.  So our already-not-exactly-neat home is now even more messy.  It’s littered with Christmas crafts, envelopes, scraps of wrapping paper and ribbon, and pine needles.  Yesterday I had several ribbons sellotape to the sole of my slipper for longer than is reasonable before I addressed the issue.

It’s messy in other ways too.  Around about mid October I begin to dread the Christmas fair.  This year it lived up to my dire expectations, once again.  It’s not that I disagree with it in principle, but rather it is too overwhelming for me and my kin.  We cannot cope with it at all.  This year, only half of my children cried throughout.  I left in such a hurry that when I realised we had one toddler welly missing, I refused to go back in.  “I’ll buy new wellies if I have to!” said I.

Here is a text I sent a friend the week before the Christmas fair:

“This week we had to bring in a cup of sweets each on Monday, email the school some photos of us doing some ‘extreme reading’ (but safely), bring in some bread from our culture tomorrow and a gift for the school fair, wearing our own clothes, on Friday… I’m always aware it would be less mad if I only had 1 or 2 children at school, so it’s not really the school’s fault.  Plus it’s fun.  Although the other parents seem confused too.  ‘This time do we wrap it? Do they wear spots? Have I missed the shoe box deadline?’ (yes)…”

I will inevitably drop several balls in December.  Last week I was supposed to watch my daughter’s gymnastics assessment, but I forgot.  She was very gracious about it, but it didn’t feel good.  I wonder what I’ll forget to do this week.  Hopefully nothing life-threatening or childhood-scarring.  And my poor husband is bombarded with crazy text messages as I try to get him to help me to remember everything.

However, the biggest mess I see at Christmas, as I experience this pressure-cooker of festivity and reflect on the year gone by, is in my own heart.  I’m still selfish, I’m still trying to be self-sufficient, I’m still self-centred.  God is changing me, by his grace.  But folks, progress is slow.

And yet, God himself came down to meet me in this mess.

The tragedy of carol services is how overfamiliar we become with the awesome words of Scripture.  I mean, just look at this:

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,[f] because he will save his people from their sins.’

22 All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’[g](which means ‘God with us’). (Matthew 1)

He came down to save us from our sins.  To deal with our mess.  He came to be with us.  I don’t deserve that, but oh how I need it.

Thank you, thank you, thank you Jesus.  Thank you for coming.

Close Quarters, Creative Quarters?

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I’ve been thinking about space.

First, a word or two about the size of my home.  It’s a 3-bed flat, which is quite extravagant in central London, and it’s quite spacious for a 3-bed flat in Central London.  So we’re very grateful for our flat.  Without it, we wouldn’t live here.  That sounds obvious but it’s true.  So please don’t hear the following as a complaint, but rather a reality of our family life.

I think it is fair to say that our home is quite a small space for six people to live in.  I don’t think anyone would rebuke me for finding it crowded – which I do.  I sometimes wonder whether we’re just being completely ridiculous, trying to raise four children in this flat.  I mean, I think my brother’s hallway in Glasgow is bigger than my living room (which also serves as a dining room/craft room/play room/Bible study room/homework room).

I have no laundry room, no second bathroom (master/children’s/guest or other), no mud room, no yarn room.  I only mention these rooms I don’t have because they’re all mentioned in blogs or parenting books I’ve read.  And sometimes it seems hard to apply the priniciples from those blogs/podcasts/books to my own situation, since I don’t have the facilities to which those authors have become accustomed.

So does it matter?  Is parenting basically the same whether you have a games room in the basement or, well, not (i.e. no basement, or loft, or garage, or driveway, or porch)?

Well, one thing I’m realising more and more is that everyone’s situation is different.  Even living in identical houses in the same town, two families are never going to be the same.  This is obvious, almost embarrassing to point out, and yet I think we often worry when we notice differences in our families, as if that’s not a good thing.  So we can take encouragement from other families, but we shouldn’t expect to or even try to be carbon copies of them.  God designs diversity.

I was listening recently to a podcast where two mums were talking about being creative and wanting their children to be creative.  And I agreed with them, and I want that for my children, but I felt a bit sad thinking about how hard it is to be creative when there isn’t any room at home to swing a cat, never mind build one out of papier mache.  When my children want to do something with glitter, or glue, or even just wool, inwardly I groan because they can’t do it far away enough from my toddler, and also it’ll soon be a mealtime and we’ll have to move it all out of the way so we can eat.

And I don’t want to be the inward groaner.

But one thing occurred to me.  I can help my children to be creative, but I need to figure that out for my own situation.  In other words, I need to think creatively about how to enable and encourage creativity in my home, because of the fact that my home is small  (small and lacking in ventilation).  It also occurred to me that it might be a blessing for my children to have a mother who has thought creatively about how to help them with this.  Maybe it will flex some creative muscles in me that will make me a more creative mother. 

And that reminded me that God, our Heavenly Father, actually could give us a bigger home if he thought it would be good for us.  He’s not dismayed or baffled by my home.  So maybe he’s using it for our spiritual good.  And when I say maybe, I mean of course he is.

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6v31-34.

(Or you might say, “Do not worry, saying “where will they sit?” “how will they sleep?” or “what if they want to learn the drums?” For parents in the world run after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them (perhaps not the drums).  But follow Jesus, and teach them to follow Jesus, and things will work out well for you, according to His will. So don’t worry!”)

Win When Your Singing

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Sometimes I have a really bad idea.  Like when I think that my child can travel a long distance on a balance bike.  Or when I think that I can get on the tube in rush hour with a child, a child’s bike and a baby.   It seems that “overreaching” is often my downfall.  Ever the optimist.

But sometimes, less often, I have a really good idea.  My good ideas tend to come in musical form.  I think of a song, usually to help in a difficult situation, and it sticks. And rather than keep these songs to myself, I thought I’d share them with you in case they can be of any use in your family.  And perhaps you’d like to share with us any songs or other useful brainwaves of your own?

My most recent composition (she chuckles), is a teeth-brushing song.  A song for when one is brushing one’s teeth.  Or rather, for when your toddler is reluctantly brushing his/hers.  While I’m helping/encouraging my 3 year old to brush his teeth, I sing this song, to the tune of “I’m gonna wash that man right out of my hair” from South Pacific:
“I’m gonna brush that [weetabix] out of your teeth,
I’m gonna brush those [shreddies] out of your teeth,
I’m gonna brush that [yogurt] out of your teeth,
And send it on its way.”
You just insert whatever they’ve eaten into the song, obvs.  I’ve also discovered that as a bonus, this actually helps them with sequencing!  If we do the food in order (or reverse order), apparently that helps them with maths.  Whoop!  My son loves this, and it certainly distracts him from the fact that he doesn’t want to brush his teeth.

An old favourite of mine was partly thanks to Rachel Jankovic, who I think in her book “Loving the Little Years” writes about having little ropes or ribbons attached to her pushchair for her older children to hold onto while they walked around the shops.  She called them “stations”, but we’re not as fun as that.  Anyway, I tied a red plaited rope to my Maclaren and encouraged my then-2-year-old daughter to hold it while we walked along, to keep her close.  She wasn’t always keen, so I came up with this song to the tune of “Frere Jacques“:
“Red rope, Red Rope, 
Hold on tight, hold on tight,
Keeping up with mummy,
Keeping up with mummy,
Good girl, good girl.”
This worked a treat, as again it made her forget that she didn’t actually want to be obedient.  We still sing it sometimes, and the children fight over the red rope nowadays (sigh).

This one is a bit gross I suppose, so if you don’t have kids yet, stop reading now!  But when I was potty training my eldest and she was too small to sit on a normal sized toilet, but we were out somewhere and she had to use a normal sized toilet, I would hold her over the loo and sing this, to the tune of “London’s Burning
“Mummy’s got you, Mummy’s got you,
Do a wee wee, do a wee wee,
Well done! Well done!
Wipe your bottom, flush the toilet!”
Again, it got me out of some sticky situations if she was scared she’d fall in but clearly needed to go.  I would say, “come on, you’ll be fine.  I’ll sing the song!”  So dignified.

Another song which I’ve found really useful is the “Oh and Don’t forget” song from Show Me, Show Me on CBeebies.  It’s a great one to use on long car journeys.  I can’t find a link to the tune, but if you know it, you can make up verses like this:
“Steering, steering, hands upon the wheel,
Steering, steering, oh and don’t forget:
Windows, windows, wind them up and down,
Windows windows, wind them up and down (back to steering)
Wipers, wipers, swish away the rain,
Wipers, wipers, swish away the rain (back to windows, then steering, then another verse)”
Sorry if I’ve lost you on that one!

Another one I’ve stolen but definitely can’t take credit for is “I wanna hold your hand” by the Beatles, which sometimes helps my children to hold my hand when they really would rather just run in the opposite direction or into traffic.  (They do like to run towards traffic.)

We have other songs, but they’re more family specific, like the song about our door number (in case the kids ever need it!), and songs about our children.  I’ve mentioned before that Mike made up a song about dirty nappies to the tune of the South African National Anthem, but I’m not sure we know each other well enough for me to share that here.  But I would definitely recommend singing to alleviate boredom (such as when pushing your child on a swiiiing), or to cheer everyone up when things are hard (like when you’re not allowed to run into the busy road even though you really want to).  And when everyone’s in a really bad mood, you’ve got to whip out a Seeds Family Worship number or other memory verse song to give yourself some perspective, am I right?

So how about you?