If I Knew You Were Coming I’d’ve Baked a Cake

Tonight I’ve been pondering what to call my blog.  Clearly I can’t keep calling it Escape to New York for much longer.  It’s totally false advertising.  Especially now that Cam has finally unpacked and put away his toilet bag – one month after we came home.

As long as that toilet bag hung on the back of the bathroom door, he was still a little bit on holiday, or at least, just back from holidays.  But this weekend the toilet bag is gone (it was a necessary step, but I am a little saddened at the site of the unadorned door knob) and I have begun to wonder:  How do I find a title to befit my ramblings, which started out as a travelogue, but failed to die a natural death when the holiday ended?  Escape from Glen Iris is a fraction bleak, I feel.  Suburbileaks? Sickyleaks?! Domestic Counter-Terrorism?  Thwarting domestic terrorists, one day at a time…

I Googled it, of course, and found catchyblognames.com, which yielded some fairly pedestrian suggestions.  According to their formula, my ideal titles would include Distasteful Dietitian,  Haphazard Housewife, or, one of my personal favourites: Multitudinous Marnie.  Awesome – they really know their shit.  I can see the literary agents beating a path to my door as I type this.

Further searches caused my eyes to glaze over, with boffins banging on about SEO (that’s technospeak for getting more google hits), and led me to the lowest common denominator: Name Thingy? All you need to do is stare at the screen, as it churns out random two-word combinations.  Mind-numbingly inane, but for a while I found it difficult to tear myself away.  Rather like an Ab-Trainer infomercial for the baffled home blogger.

On reflection, I’ve realised that the key thing I need to decide is what I am actually on about here, and at present, that seems to change daily with the weather.  Last week I was all excited about Operation Out of House (my current OOOH statistics are yet to be filed, but I’m pleased to hear so many of you have taken this mantle and run with it).  This week, I’ve been acting like Boroondara’s answer to Bakerella, churning out cake pops and musing over the merits of non-dairy frosting and disposable piping bags.  Who knows what I’ll be banging on about next time?

line drawingNow that I think about it, I do have a track record for being somewhat faddish in my pursuits.  For example, last year, in a mad ‘must have some me-time’ moment, I signed up for an all day drawing workshop, and surprised myself by producing quite a fetching line-drawing of a botanical scene in nature.  I got all excited.  Maybe this was the hobby I had been missing, which would give me a creative, medititive outlet as well as some awesome line drawings to hang on our wall, and regale visitors with?  Needless to say, the fancy paper and fineliners are now stashed away deep in the corner of the Art and Craft drawer, supposedly for that elusive, rainy day when I find myself with a few hours to spare.

crochetTwo years ago I taught myself how to crochet, and then spent a few months at it like a woman possessed.   Now I never got to the stage of crafting pieces of clothing (which I realise is a good thing, in retrospect), but I do have a collection of granny squares, a passable cushion and a large bag of assorted wool to show for those two lost months.  I’ve also done more than my share of life drawing courses, tried my hand at jewelery reworking, applique, and remember getting a bit excited about decoupage for a brief spell there.  For God’s sake, there is a sewing machine in my hall closet, but I don’t even know how to thread it!

And so there you have it: an easily distracted (if enthusiastic) woman, who finds herself in charge of a household and two endearing yet exhausting mini people.   Work, professional development, the bits of paper that come home from school and need to be read / actioned / signed / returned, the provision of groceries, packed lunches, nutritious dinners…  Is it any wonder I struggle to see most projects through to completion these days?

So with blog name unresolved (feel free to offer any suggestions on that front), I will now segway on to the topic of children – particularly my little boy – who celebrated his fourth birthday this week.  He is fast growing up, and starting to establish his own identity in this world, so I saw fit to throw him his first proper birthday party, with all the trimmings.  Twenty kids, winter, a small house.   I decided to outsource.

Now I did feel a few twinges of middle class guilt in this decision – surely four year old boys are not that difficult to entertain? I hear some of you say.  Give them some cake, some chips and a tonne of Lego to play with, and they’re sorted.  But my accumulated parenting experience over the past six years has taught me that: a) I am somewhat anal, and therefore, prone to run myself ragged trying to throw the perfect party, in a tidy house, whilst trying to look effortless and unflustered (the latter being the hardest part), b) I am not a professional entertainer, nor is my husband, and children have an ability to sense my deep discomfort in trying to pretend otherwise, and c) Sometimes you owe it to yourself to take the easy option and just pay the bloody money.

decorating

Anyway, that decision left me free to go mad on the birthday cake front, which after all, is the most enjoyable part of throwing a party.

I imagine that most of you have thrown your hat in the birthday cake ring at some stage, so I’ll put the question out there: how satisfying is it to pull off a great cake – a WOW cake – to the accolades of your children and their friends?  Okay, and also maybe to your friends?  And maybe put in on Facebook so that your friends’ friends also see it?…  I would venture that it’s one of the perks of being a parent.

So last Saturday, I spent the best part of the day squirting orange icing through a piping bag and trying my hand at crafting cake pop eyeballs from scratch.  There were many tense moments, rather too many unsavoury expletives, and an unholy mess from one end of the kitchen to another, but it was all worth it at the end of the day.

monster

Behold:  The monster cake – made possible by the magic of Google, and the phenomenon that is You Tube.  And it is also the first instance of me using Pinterest for something other than mindless procrastination purposes.  Excellent!

It started with some pyjama-clad family time on the couch Saturday morning – myself trawling the internet and both kids jostling for position to watch nerdy baker types present their craft.  The crumb layer of icing – good, got that.  The correct dipping technique for cake pops being to dip and rock back and forth (you mustn’t twiddle in the chocolate, lest you loose the cake pop right off the stick) – great advice.  And then ‘Mummy?…’  Arlo ventured cautiously, ‘are they called cake pops because they go pop? When do they go pop mummy?….’cake pop

Of course, I am not the only one among my friends who has been seized by the need to go to such lengths to mark their childrens’ birthdays.  It doesn’t seem to matter whether you’re a creative in advertising, a health professional or a home mum – we all feel the allure of the WOW birthday cake.

The swimming pool, below, was my first serious birthday cake, which came straight from the pages of the Womens’ Weekly Birthday Cake cookbook.   Buy a few packets of biscuits, bake a cake, make some jelly, and you’re in business.  But I blame Marteen for turning up the heat.

swimming pool

Charlie's dragon cake

For her son’s third birthday, Marteen did things with fondant that I didn’t even know possible, to produce the adorable dragon featured on the right.

As you can imagine, it blew everyone away, and in my mind, raised the stakes in birthday cakes from that day forward.

Favouring the ‘use a motherload of frosting, then throw a lot of coloured sugar sand and lollies at it’ approach, I countered with the roadworks number three.  Crude, but effective.

roadworks cake

And then, earlier this year, my friend Sally (a doctor of psychology, and a newcomer on the cake decorating scene) also decided it was time to pull her finger out, and dive into the world of themed parties and amateur cake decorating.

Sal watched a few You Tube tutorials, rolled up her sleeves, and set to work on one of her first forays into fontant art.  A pirate ship for her son’s pirate party, complete with individually handcrafted fondant decking planks.  She even decided it was cheaper to make her own chocolate marshmallow fondant, rather than pay for the commercial variety.  Now that’s confidence.  And how awesome is this cake?

Pirate shipI think you’d agree that Sal’s slam dunk with the pirate ship cake is further evidence of  what most of you already know: that women can do pretty much anything they set their mind to.  This is because:

1.  We’re awesome, and

2.  If we’re not sure, we can just Google it.

But how in God’s name did our mothers get by without the internet?!  A topic for another day, no doubt.

And the most sage piece of advice (which Sal gleaned from a You Tubing baker-nerd type, and has since passed on to me), is not to be ‘intimidated by the fondant’.  A simple, but effective mantra, for the modern woman.

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12 thoughts on “If I Knew You Were Coming I’d’ve Baked a Cake

  1. You are absolutely right, the cake is the best part of a birthday party. Kids remember their birthdays by the cakes: 3 was a construction site, 4 a firetruck, 5 lego blocks and 6 a ninjago. The enjoyment starts long before the birthday when discussions start on what the next birthday cake should be (their total faith in mum’s ability is very touching). It becomes a bit like Christmas with all the planning and everyone looking through books/online for that perfect cake to copy. The planning is sometimes before fun than the day with the kids huddled around and everyone involved. Indeed what did we do before the internet to find and show off our creations. And a birthday cake is easier to make than think of a new blog name. 🙂

    • Thanks Katrina! Your family sounds a lot like ours. My copy of the Womens’ Weekly Vintage Birthday Cake cookbook is now completely dog-eared and falling out of it’s cover, it’s so loved.
      My two often take it off and pore over it together, when they’re at a loss for something to do. As a result, their cake selection takes place many times over, and months and months before I’ve even thought about the party. The only cake I refuse to make is the weird, slightly evil looking duck with potato chips for a beak. I draw the line there.

  2. Absolutely! That duck would give anyone the creeps. And what were the four birthday cakes thay had to take out of the anniversary edition – were they considered non-PC?

      • Only just recently have I become the proud recipient of a Women’s Weekly collector’s edition birthday cake book. In the foreword it mentions that four cakes are missing from the new edition, but replaced with other cakes we love. It interesting to see how fondant has become the new ‘icing’. The birthday cakes these days are definitely a lot more fabulous and creative, but nothing beats a blue jelly swim pool with choc-stick sides! And I love Etsy.com for birthday stuff – incredible range and great ideas. Where do you get your ideas from?

      • Interesting… Are the cowboy and indian ones still in there? Perhaps it was just some of the shit ones they gave the boot, eg. the baby in basinet with lace around the edge – did anyone ever cook that?
        Etsy holds a special place in my heart also – it is how I’ve frittered many a night away. WW is the only cake cookbook I have, so really for me it’s Google for the ideas and You Tube for the execution!

  3. OMG Marnie – when I see you’ve got an update on your blog I immediately want to have a read. You write so so well!!! and I laugh because I think exactly the same way that you do about life (trying lots of new hobbies/projects and then having them sit in the cupboard/garage to collect dust-I have a sewing machine too – he he) and birthdays – the cake is!! the best bit!!! the bit about the WOW factor is so true and yes the next one is planned months and months in advance.

    Anyway thanks so much for blogging – it’s a really great read – love it.

    A name or the blog? not sure I like Escape to New York – maybe escape to Marnie’s world??

    • Meta. Thank you sweetness! That’s a very lovely comment from you. One day maybe we will get our shit together and attend an introductory sewing course together. Imagine the pieces we could whip up? Imagine our girls’ delight in the bespoke clothing items we make for them? (well, the first few, before we get distracted by other things). It would be worth it just to use that damn sewing machine that a friend has lent me, and I have never used!
      Marnie’s world… hmmm.. that’s going on the short list 🙂

  4. Marnie, I have to admit that, while returning to bed at 1.30am following a callingout for ‘muuummmyyy’ from eloise, I checked my phone and saw you had posted this recent update. I told myself I would save it until the next morning… And then hid the phone under the doona so as not to wake Jon. I read it all, and, it was fabulous! Thought better than to respond at that moment…. The tapping away at the phone would have woken him up for sure. I doubt he would have understood my want to respond then and there.
    It is all about the planning isn’t it. The WW cookbook. The sharing of google images of cakes. It is all about the joy and the look on their faces when they realise they can demand anything and we will come up with the goods, or at least something close-ish. Or something with sugar at the very least.
    It is here that I would like to quote Hamish after his recent inclusion in the aforementioned 4th birthday party of Arlo’s: ‘mum, when I turn five, I want the same cake that arlo had, the orange one, with cake lollipops on it. And I have to have my party at the dance place, with the balloons and the glowing things’. Enough said. Well done.

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