An “Under the Sea” 5th Birthday Party

This year it was Miss C’s turn to have a “big” birthday party, and she’s been planning it for months. Many months.  First it was going to be a Pirate Party, then a PJ Masks Party, but a little while ago she settled on an “Under the Sea” theme – and we ran with that.

Actually, it ended up being a lot of fun to put together. But then again, kids parties normally are!

Since Christmas we’ve been collecting lots of blue and ocean-themed decorations, mainly from the cheap party shops and e-bay. And with the help of Pinterest, a sea-filled party table came together in no time at all!

The food

The table was laden will lots of sea-themed party food – which despite appearances – were quite easy to throw together.

We had starfish sandwiches (some filled with jam, some with nutella and some with sprinkles) and mermaid munch (honey joys).  There were also blue jelly cups (jazzed up with mandarin boats and umbrellas), clam cookies (chocolate chip cookies filled with buttercream) and seaweed sticks (grapes threaded onto skewers). Most of these I made on the morning of the party so that they would be nice and fresh. I also made a big batch of sausage rolls in advance, which I was able to freeze then reheat during the party.

Oh and my favourite party treat? These adorable ‘crab-wiches’ – mini croissants filled with ham and cheese – made into ‘crabs’ with the help of googly eyes glued to toothpicks.

The Cake

I found inspiration on Pinterest for this grand blue cake, and was a tad nervous about trying the ‘petal’ icing for the first time. I loved how vibrant the buttercream turned out, and though the weather was warm, I managed to pipe something akin to what I had in mind without the buttercream getting too soft.

I “cheated” and bought Dory and Nemo toys as toppers, and then finished the cake with some starfish I made using candy melts and star moulds.

A little rustic, but I think it tied in with the overall theme.

Party Favours

I found some cheap buckets on e-bay and they turned out to be the perfect party favours.

Filled with lollies and some other little treats, and I’m hoping our guests can put the buckets to good use next time they are at the beach!

Entertainment

When I realised that we would have 25+ kids attending, I knew I would need some help in keeping them all entertained. I planned a big pass-the-parcel game, but also hired a party host (a Pirate!) to help with the other entertainment. There were games, a magic show, balloon making and even some face painting – certainly much more than I would have been capable of. And all the kids seemed engaged – so I’m calling it a win!

And so another year, and another big birthday celebration,  came to pass. And, as always, along with the sugar high, I’m left wondering just where the last few years have gone???

Happy 5th Birthday to our beautiful Miss C!  Always full of imagination, a lover of adventures and quite the sensitive soul.

A Very Peppa 2nd Birthday Party

And just like that our snuggly little Jo-Jo went from this…

Then to this…

And now to this!

Yes Little J turned TWO on the weekend and we are left wondering just where the time went (a sentiment that we find ourselves repeating over and over again these days…)

While last year we had a big backyard party to celebrate J’s first birthday, this year was, intentionally, a lot more low key. We are going to alternate ‘big’ parties each year for the girls, and this year it was J’s turn to have a modest party with family only.

But that didn’t mean we couldn’t make it a special day. No sir. It was still filled with pressies, balloons, family, food and all things Peppa Pig.  Not to mention morning games, a scooter race and, of course, lots of birthday cuddles!

And come dinner time, there was no shortage of food. We laid out lots of party favourites – including homemade sausage rolls, homemade chicken nuggets and mini pizzas – plus a spinach & ricotta fritatta and grilled eggplant salad for the grown-ups.

As for the birthday cake – well that was an easy decision. For my Peppa-pig-obsessed girl would want nothing else.

(Vanilla cake, decorated with chocolate biscuits and green icing piped to look like grass. Not forgetting the chocolate ganache ‘muddy puddle’ and a few figurines and flowers to top it all off!!)

The party girl seemed to be a big fan – even if she wasn’t quite sure how to blow out her candles. She did, however, love being sung to – and has requested we sing “Happy Birthday” to her on a daily basis since!

“Two” really has proven, again, to be such a fun age.  Little J is full of personality, and more words are coming every day. She is beyond independent, which both endears me and drives me wild (usually depending on how much of a rush we are in). And even when her tantrums are loud and insistent, it is generally not too long  before she breaks out in a big dimply smile that is simply contagious.

Current loves: yoghurt, milk, her evening routine, Peppa Pig, dogs, gymnastics, bananas and her big sister (and / or anything her big sister is doing, eating, playing with…)

Current dislikes: being told no, veggies as a general rule (!!!), not being able to do things herself.

A very happy birthday to our beautiful, bright, bubbly Little J indeed.

Australia Day 2017

You might recall that last year we indulged in a full tasting menu for Australia Day. Yes, 8 courses that took us on a culinary tour around the Country – celebrating fresh, local and seasonal produce.

And while this year was much more ‘low key’, we still filled the day with family and food, and a favourite pastime – a morning hike!

Needless to say after the morning’s outdoor adventures, we were quite hungry when the afternoon rolled around. Our family joined us for an early dinner – and with the temperature exceeding 30 degrees outside, a BBQ seemed to be the most logical, if not sanest, choice.

On the menu?

Some homemade sausages by our local butcher. Served with a few “Aussie-themed” sides.

Starting with a mango macadamia salad – comprising of salad leaves, fresh mango, avocado and macadamias. Dressed simply with a mixture of lime juice, seeded mustard, oil and sliced red chilli.

I also turned on the oven for 20 minutes or so, in order to make another iconic Australian side…damper! Flavoured with camembert and cracked pepper (and these turned out very moreish indeed).

For dessert we kept things pretty simple. Instead of a large pavlova, I went with mini versions instead. Topped with cream, lemon curd and a fresh raspberry.


And to keep us hydrated, we served a fresh fruit cocktail.

Akin to a punch – I guess you’d say – made with vodka, coconut rum, cooled tea, pineapple juice and ginger ale – finished with some frozen honeydew balls, mint and raspberry.

And so another Australia Day came to pass  – and we retired to bed with full bellies and fond memories of the day.

What about you? What did you get up to this Australia Day?

2016 – A Year in Review

I’ve heard a lot of people lamenting 2016 – and bidding it a quick and eager farewell. For us, though, 2016 was a good year. Sure, there were some less than stellar moments dotted throughout (but that’s generally the case isn’t it?) but for the most part, we finally managed to strike an ok work / life balance. We also made it through the year with good health and in good spirits, such that we enter 2017 with a sense of anticipation for what the new year might bring.

But before I turn to our hopes and aims for the year to come, it seems only fair to recap the year that was. 

January 

Summer holidays continued in full swing. We celebrated a late Christmas linner, devoured a 8-course Australia Day ‘tasting menu‘, and spent time playing tourist in our home town.

February

Josie turned ONE(!), Charlotte started Pre-School(!) and we took a week-long cruise around New Caledonia (see here, here, here and here).

March

Charlotte turned FOUR, we celebrated Easter and took lots of family hikes.

April

We took more family hikes, cheered on the Brumbies, went camping and got all dressed up for a costume party!

May

We celebrated Mother’s Day, took more hikes,  and had lots of little adventures – both indoors and out.

June

With the Canberra Winter having arrived, we had lots of fun indoors. We also took a girl’s road trip down to Melbourne to catch up with family and visit the zoo!

July

We had dance classes, visitors in town and lots of good food.

August

We celebrated Book Week, took a quick trip to Melbourne and then a family holiday to Fiji!

September

We celebrated Father’s Day – Italian Style, painted, created a fairy garden and flew a kite.

October

We took another trip to Melbourne, the girls dressed up for Halloween and the husband and I went on a “Bloody Long Walk” for charity.

November

We baked, we went to the Circus, we visited the Show and we celebrated our dear friends’ wedding in Thredbo (where we played in snow!).  

December

We ate, we drank, we partied.  We took a quick trip to Melbourne to celebrate my nephew’s 1st birthday. Then we had lots of family arrive into town, and celebrated Christmas accordingly.

And so our 2016 came to a close. Filled to the brim with new memories, time spent with family and a seemingly better balance between work and play (well better than in previous years, that’s for sure!!).

Here’s to an even bigger and better 2017!

Caramel chocolate celebration cake

img_1354It’s been a while since I put my ‘cake creation cap’ on. But when I was tasked with supplying dessert at a recent family dinner, well I figured it was well and truly time to dust off the ol’ cap and get to work.  Particularly when it was to be a birthday and “bon voyage” cake all in one.

img_1351I’ve seen lots of layer “drip” cakes doing the rounds, and decided to give one a try. I think my ganache was a little runny (resulting in rather drippy drips that were far from their picturesque pinterest cousins), but the flavour was still there. And I even went so far as to try my hand at Italian meringue buttercream in place of the usually sickly sweet American buttercream – and boy I’m glad that I did. For it worked just beautifully at mellowing out the otherwise rich caramel mudcake hidden inside – and meant that we reserved our sugar overload for the other goodies piled high on the cake – twix bars, jersey caramels, chocolate stars, malteasers and butterscotch popcorn.

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Yes, I think this was very appropriately dubbed a celebration cake – for it had a little of everything!        img_1358Caramel chocolate celebration cake

For the caramel mud cakes:

  • 400g butter, cubed
  • 400g white chocolate, chopped
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 1.5 cups hot water
  • 2 tbs golden syrup
  • 2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups plain flour, sifted
  • 2 cups self raising flour, sifted
  1. Preheat oven to 160C. Grease and line 2 x 22cm cake tins.
  2. Place the butter, sugar, water, golden syrup and vanilla in a saucepan. Stir over low heat, stirring, until the butter and chocolate melt and the mixture is smooth. Remove from heat and cool for 15 to 20 minutes.
  3. Place the cooled chocolate mixture into a mixing bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  4. Add the sifted flours and stir until combined.
  5. Divide the mixture between the two prepared pans, and bake for 50-60 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

For the caramel Italian meringue buttercream:

  • 1 sugar + 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 6 egg whites
  • 500g butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup caramel sauce (or more to taste)
  1. Place the water and 1 cup of sugar in a small saucepan, and stir to combine. Heat over a low to medium heat. Clip on a candy thermometer.
  2. Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add a pinch of cream of tartar if you like. Start the mixer on medium-low to begin frothing the whites
  3. When the sugar begins to boil, increase the speed of the mixer to medium-high. When the whites are at soft peaks, gradually add the 1/4 cup of reserved sugar. Continue beating until they become stiff peaks, then change to the beater attachment.
  4. When the sugar reaches 120C, turn off the heat. With the mixer running on a low speed, slowly pour the hot sugar in a fine stream down the side of the bowl with the egg whites
  5. When all the sugar is added, increase the speed to high and beat until the mixture has almost cooled (this takes a good 5–10 mins).
  6. When the meringue has cooled, start adding the butter, a tablespoon at a time, while the mixer is running on medium.
  7. When all the butter has been added, increase the mixer to high to beat until the buttercream forms and is smooth. Change to the whisk attachment, add the caramel sauce, and whisk for a few minutes until light and fluffy.
For the chocolate ganache:
  • 200ml double cream
  • 200g good quality dark chocolate, finely chopped
  1. Heat the double cream in a saucepan over medium heat. As soon as it begins to bubble, remove it from the heat and stir in the dark chocolate. Continue to stir until the mixture is thick and smooth, without any remaining lumps of chocolate. Place in the fridge until the desired “drip” consistency is reached.

To decorate

  • Prepared buttercream icing and ganache
  • Leftover caramel sauce
  • malteasers
  • butterscotch or caramel popcorn
  • chocolate stars
  • jersey caramels, halved
  • twix bars, halved

To assemble:

  1. Trim the tops off the cakes, so that they are even.
  2. Put a small dot of the buttercream on your serving plate, then place one of the cakes on top. Spread with a good amount of the buttercream, a little caramel sauce, then place the other cake on top.
  3. Using a palette knife, cover the cakes completely in the buttercream, starting with a crumb layer then a smooth outer layer. Place in the fridge for one hour to chill.
  4. Remove the cake from the fridge and pour the ganache over. You can do this using a disposable piping bag , or by gently spooning the ganache onto the centre of the cake and encouraging drips to fall down the sides.
  5. Top the cake with the various edible decorations, and place back in the fridge.
  6. Remove the cake from the fridge about half an hour before serving.

Father’s Day 2016

As has become tradition, we celebrated Father’s Day this year with an internationally themed lunch with Mr BBB’s family. You might recall that we’ve previously done Turkish, Mexican and Chinese themes, but this year it was all about…

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Italy!

A great excuse to fill the table with copious amounts of food. Not that I generally need an excuse though….

Again, like other years, it was more of a late lunch (or linner?), which soon turned into dinner as we ate, drank and chatted our way into the evening.

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The Food
IMG_9625 We started with a big antipasto platter, with lots of favourite items picked up from the markets. Truffle salami, goats cheese, prosciutto, artichokes and chilli olives, just to name a few.

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For main – we also had quite a few dishes on offer.  Veal involtini and baked gnocchi with pancetta and sage were the main stars, with a leafy salad, eggplant caponata, caprese salad and a garlic sourdough served alongside.

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All together now!

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And for dessert – well I couldn’t pick just one. So a selection of Italian desserts it was!

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Cranberry and pistachio nougat, almond biscotti, cannoli (I bought the shells but made two fillings – a vanilla ricotta and a lemon ricotta).

IMG_9661And finally – mini tiramisu cups – for what Italian-themed meal would  be complete without the iconic tiramisu!

To drink

We started with an Italian-inspired cocktail, made with Campari, Cointreau, orange juice and lemonade. Slightly bitter, but very refreshing. IMG_9695

While during the meal, we had Italian beer and this lovely Chianti on offer.
IMG_9637 Before too long, the sun started to set, and it was time to bid farewell to the family.  I don’t know about them, but I’m pretty sure I had to let out my belt buckle a notch or two, which is always a sign of a good family gathering right? Not to mention the smiles all round from these two cheeky monkeys (or is that four!?)
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A very Happy Father’s Day indeed!

Carnival 1st Birthday Party

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This past weekend, we celebrated all things Josephine. For Little J turned the big O-N-E (and therefore we too survived that hard & sleep-deprived first year). And, as is often the case when I start party planning, a rough ‘idea’ soon turned into quite the party DIY extravaganza.

IMG_4145We ended up with over 15 kids at the party + parents + family, so needless to say it was quite a full house! But it was chaotic in a fun way, and Josie is certainly lucky to have so many wonderful people in her life. As are we.

The theme

I can’t quite recall why we decided to have a carnival / circus theme, but it seemed fun and festive and a great way to keep the older kids entertained. For while we had plenty of 3 to 5 year olds, Josie was the second youngest at the party (not having met many new friends her age just yet). That didn’t stop her from trying to follow the other kids around though, albeit crawling, and generally enjoying all the cuddles from family and friends who had come to help us celebrate.

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The food

We set up a food table – with all things “carnival”. There was fairy floss, lolly pops, cinnamon doughnuts, popcorn, marshmallow cones, animal crackers, fruit kebabs, puff pastry pinwheels, clown noses (jaffas) and chocolate sparkles (all of which I could make ahead of time). During the party we served mini hot-dogs, party pies and sausage rolls, with dips / vegetable sticks, chips and lollies also on offer. And while I thought I may have over-catered, there was barely a cracker left by the end. And I’m pretty sure there were quite a few sugar highs being had.

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The entertainment

We couldn’t resist preparing a few carnival-inspired games for our guests to enjoy at their leisure. Ring Toss, Duck Pond fishing and Can Toss (made by covering some old cans in fabric). We also had a balloon darts game which was a lot of fun for the adults later in the day (ps. darts is NOT my specialty it would seem). The kids also had a ball getting their faces painted and having balloon animals made for them, and playing at the little photo booth with props.

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IMG_6503The cake

As for the cake, well it turned out to be quite the monster! My niece helped with the fondant (her skills certainly surpassing mine) and we ended up creating a two-tiered chocolate cake decorated with carnival shapes and colours.

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The idea was that Josie could do a cake smash with the top layer. Knowing how much of an ‘into everything’ girl she is I was positive she would embrace the opportunity to smoosh up some sticky chocolate cake. Alas, as is often the case with kids (who insist on proving you wrong) she wanted NO part in such frivolity and yelled the whole time. Although I must admit that was rather cute too.

IMG_6568 IMG_6581Overall, we had a wonderful time with our nearest and dearest – and I was so lucky to have my family up from Melbourne for the occasion too (including my 8-week old nephew).

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Happy 1st Birthday my beautiful Josie. How is it that you are ONE already??

Our Australia Day ‘Tasting’ Menu

This year we decided to celebrate Mr BBB’s birthday on Australia Day – for the whole family had the day off (and his actual birthday is only a day later in any event).

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It seemed only appropriate to go with a very Australian theme, but I struggled to settle on a menu. For every region of this beautiful Country seems to have its own unique flavours, tastes and influences – and it would be shame to overlook them.

Then I had a lightbulb moment. I would create a menu of ‘tastes’, and take our family on a culinary tour of Australia. Inspired by and hopefully highlighting local and native flavours.

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My big goal was to use only Australian produce and ingredients, and I am pleased to report that with the help of the markets, delis and local stores, that goal was met

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Tasmania

We started our tour in Tasmania – a State that I have never visited but heard so many wonderful things about.

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Our first dish was created using Tasmanian Huon smoked salmon, dill crème fraiche (Yea) and cucumber –  resulting in a lovely little canapé to start our meal.

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From there we headed across the Bass Straight to Victoria, where ricotta and Beechworth honey were the key ingredients in our second dish.

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On the menu? Ricotta crostini with ricotta, pear, walnuts and honey.

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Washed down with a Napoleone & Co apple / pear cider from the Yarra Valley.

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Australian Capital Territory

We headed to my hometown next, and I knew that smoked chicken from Poacher’s Pantry had to feature (yes, yes, I know it is technically located just over the border but we can claim it as our own surely??!).

IMG_6311 Our third dish of the day was a smoked chicken tarlet, with a homemade rocket pesto and bush tomato relish from Posh Nosh (a local creator of all things relish!).

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New South Wales

We then continued our journey north, stopping in New South Wales for a salad.

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Created with spinach, apples, feta and wild cherries, dressed with a tasty black genoa fig vinegar from the Hunter Valley.

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Queensland

Next stop – the Sunshine state. With gorgeous Tiger prawns and an abundance of tropical fruit as our focus.

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I marinated the prawns in a little oil and lemon zest, then they were cooked on the BBQ. Accompanied by a fruit salsa – comprising pineapple, mango, nectarine and mint.

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Served with a Pepper Tree Pinot Gris.

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Northern Territory

Then it was onto the Northern Territory – with barramundi as our key ingredient.

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Seasoned with native lemon pepper from Herbies, and cooked on the BBQ. Finished with a little Murrumbooee mango and tamarind chutney on the side.

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On the side? Some freshly baked wattleseed damper rolls.

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Western Australia

We then headed west for our last savoury dish of the day (letting out our belt-buckles as we went). I couldn’t resist including kangaroo on the menu (and it turns out that Little J is a big fan!).

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Marinated in white wine and ground pepperberry, and cooked on the BBQ. Served on a carrot puree with a red wine and pepperberry jus.

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Enjoyed with a glass of Marmaduke Shiraz.

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South Australia

Our last stop for the day was South Australia. With inspiration taken from its gorgeous wine regions.

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To conclude our meal? Sparkling Shiraz jellies – with raspberries and blueberries. A sweet ending.

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And just like that our culinary trip around Australia was complete. Although not before squeezing in a few games of Australia Day bingo (or should that be Australia Day ‘cooee’).

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It was definitely a fun afternoon, sampling so many unique flavours. Not to mention rekindling a love for local ingredients and suppliers, discovering some new favourite products along the way.

What about you? How did you spend your Australia Day?

Christmas 2015

The title of this post should actually be Christmases 2015, as we were lucky enough to celebrate Christmas not once, not twice, but on three occasions.  And although it is probably a tad late to post about Christmas when we are over half way through January, I figured “why not”?

One

The first of our celebrations took place during the week before Christmas at Gumbuya Park. We met up with my Dad and spent the day wandering the animal enclosures, patting kangaroos and squeezing into the various rides. It turned out to be the perfect venue for a casual Christmas catch up, and visiting on a Monday meant that we had the place pretty much to ourselves. Not even the unexpectedly cool temperature could dampen our spirits!

IMG_5610 IMG_5622 IMG_5639 IMG_5679 IMG_5691 (I love this pic – for it shows J’s current obsession with things she finds on the ground. Although I suspect that 2 seconds after taking this photo she would have put the leaf in her mouth….)

Two

Our second Christmas, well that was on the day itself.  Little J’s remarkably reliable body clock saw us up and out for a walk at 5.30am, and a little while after returning home Miss C woke and excitedly discovered her gifts (she had requested a cash register from Santa!)

Later that morning, we headed to lunch with my sister-in-law’s family, where we feasted on all the delicious Christmas trimmings – meat, salads, prawns, champagne… finished with a layered eggnog + ginger cake that I contributed to the meal.  The day was a hot one, so we even squeezed in a walk to the beach – where Miss C, in particular, had a fantastic time splashing around! A highlight of the day,  was definitely taking all the newborn cuddles I could get – with my gorgeous 13 day
old nephew.

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Returning home from Melbourne, we held a late Christmas “linner” with Mr BBB’s family in Canberra. A casual afternoon, filled with family and food (always a winning combination). We hosted the linner at our place, keeping the menu simple. Mr BBB cooked a turkey roll and some pork  in the BBQ, and his family supplied some delicious salads – meaning there was no need for me to turn on the oven at all! Dessert was a tropical pavlova – topped with lemon curd cream, mango, lychees, passionfruit and coconut.  All washed down with peach bellinis.

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And so we came out the ‘other side’ of our extended Christmas celebrations feeling rather relaxed and perhaps a little more rotund.  The girls had an absolute blast along the way, and were thoroughly spoilt.

A delightful end to 2015 indeed!

A high tea baby shower

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I think it was only a matter of minutes after my brother and his fiancé shared their wonderful news that they were having a baby – before I asked whether I could throw them a baby shower. For welcoming my own two girls into the world has shown me just how magical babies are, and how much joy and happiness this newest addition will inevitably bring to the whole family.

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After finding out they are having a little boy, and that K will soon be inundated with all things trucks, trains and football, I couldn’t resist making the baby shower as girly as possible. An afternoon tea with lots of dainty nibbles, lace and roses. Yes that was the theme of the day.

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So a few weekends ago, it was go-time. We cleared out the lounge-room and created an impromptu cafe. Tables were set, food was prepared and the camera was at the ready.

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The food

Being an afternoon tea, we didn’t go too overboard with food. We filled tiered stands with chocolates, macarons, lemon tarts, scones, sandwiches and quiches (not pictured).

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We made the scones and the tarts, but ‘cheated’ and purchased the other items.  To drink there was a selection of tea, mineral water and champagne.

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The games

I wanted to steer clear of some of the regular baby shower games, so went with a few new ones instead. The first being a ‘pass the parcel’ game, which was a great ice-breaker.

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We also ran a ‘what’s in your purse’ tally along with and old favourite – ‘guess the lollies in the jar’.

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My favourite game of the day was ‘play-doh’ babies – when each guest was asked to model a baby out of play-doh and the mum-to-be chose a winner.

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There were so many creative entries – although a certain 3.5 year old was less than impressed when she did not win….

The favours

My mum had the great idea to order cupcakes instead of a large cake, so that each guest could take one home. The wonderful Sarah at My Little Cake Dream created these beautiful white chocolate cupcakes, that we displayed with pride on the present table.

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I also separately ordered white boxes, which proved to be the perfect carrier for guests to take a cupcake (or two) home when they left.

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And as for the bub, well we had one final gift. Each guest completed a ‘wishes for baby card’ which will hopefully be something nice for him to look back on over the years.

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Overall, the mum-to-be was absolutely radiant, and it was a delight to share the occasion with her and her  family and friends.

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The details…