Succulents in a shoe!

Succulents have never really been my thing; I prefer my plants to be a bit more colourful and flowery. And if they smell good, that’s even better! But after seeing how popular they are, last Christmas I decided to try my hand at propagating some to sell for a little bit of Christmas pocket money.

I found a selection of large teacups, got the Man of The House to drill some drainage holes, and potted up my little plants. I sold some, but here are the ones I have left

succulent teacups 2 (1)

I’ll tidy them up a bit, then see if they will go this Christmas! I have enjoyed having them around ūüôā Continue reading

How to Train Your Dragon Party – The Cake!

I think the birthday cake’s design is much more important to the mum¬†creating it than the birthday child. Well, it is in our case ūüėȬ† While the kids appreciate a good-looking cake, really once you’ve sung ‘Happy Birthday’, blown out the candles and made a wish, the cake gets cut up and eaten. All that work destroyed in a matter of moments!

My son told me he was very impressed with the cake I made, but he says that every year, and I think he would say it whatever I made. I am a lucky mum!

However, I am still prepared to put in an appropriate amount of thought and effort. And he gets to look through Pinterest at examples and see what takes his fancy, so he is happy.

We narrowed it down to three examples, which we then combined. The first one is reasonably simple, and I thought we could replicate it by using a Toothless toy on top of the cake. (Link to pin here.) The second one had a great idea for candles (check out Life is a Party for that one).

But the third idea came to me as we were watching How To Train Your Dragon 2 (for about the 763rd time!). Hiccup’s mother Valka lives on an island, which she shares with the snowy Bewilderbeast. Together they provide a safe haven for other dragons Valka rescues. It seems the Bewilderbeast has provided camouflage and protection for the island by creating ice caves and glaciers.

Here are some images from the movie to give you a bit of an idea. The images are saved on my How to Train Your Dragon Party Pinterest board, which you can check for individual links.

Collection of images from Pinterest

These images reminded me of the beautiful sugar shards which¬†other mums were using to decorate their daughters’ Frozen cakes. Check out Pinterest for many, many examples of those! In fact, one of my friends had done one for her daughter.¬† So I combined the tips she gave me with some research of my own.

Most recipes for sugar shards call for corn syrup which is not a common ingredient here in Australia. I found an English website which substituted golden syrup, but not wanting a final product as golden as that, I continued looking. Since it is¬†only toffee, surely it could be done with just sugar and water.¬†That’s when¬†I came across Martha Stewart’s ‘Broken Glass Cupcakes’ which uses clear shards as decoration on the cupcakes.

I used her recipe, remembering my friend’s tips as well, and I had success first time! I was very excited ūüôā Martha’s recipe is:

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

3/4 cup water

Bring granulated sugar and water to a boil in a small high-sided saucepan, stirring, until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium-high, and cook until mixture just starts to turn pale gold around edges. Remove from heat, and immediately pour caramel onto a rimmed baking sheet. Working quickly, tilt pan to spread caramel to edges to make a very thin layer. Let cool to harden.

In Australia granulated sugar is normal white sugar, the stuff you may use in your coffee or on your cereal. Instead, I used caster sugar, which is finer and dissolves a little quicker.

What I did: stirred my caster sugar and water over high heat until the sugar dissolved, then I turned the heat down and let it bubble away without stirring. I wasn’t sure I would see it start to turn gold at the edges so I went with¬†the tip of getting it to ‘hard crack’ stage. This is when dripped into a glass of cold water the toffee is hard and cracks. It doesn’t squish at all, it goes totally hard and snaps when you bend it. It also goes all squiggly when you drip it in the cold water, which is quite cool!¬†I kept my glass of water in the fridge so it stayed nice and cold between testing. For me, getting to hard crack stage took around 10 minutes.

I was so excited when it got to the definite hard crack stage, that I quickly ran to get my phone to take a picture. Of course the rest had gone quite golden in the 30 seconds or so that took!

Hard crack stage of making toffee sawitdidit.wordpress.com

But that was ok, I¬†stirred in¬†some blue food colouring and poured it on my baking paper-lined trays and watched it set. It was beautiful! I divided the toffee between 2 baking trays so the shards would be nice and thin, and that worked well with this amount. I didn’t have to wait long to see that it was hard, and I couldn’t help myself, I had to snap it. It was indeed like broken glass.

HTTYD cake 1 sawitdidit.wordpress.com

Being that my first attempt had turned golden, adding the blue food colouring made the toffee green. I had read this was a common complaint from mums making these for Frozen cakes, but for this cake it didn’t bother me at all. What I intended to do was make several batches of varying colours. You can see the ice caves and glaciers are colours of blue through to green, so whatever I got would work. I even kept some clear/white. The batches that were beautifully clear until I added the food colouring ended up crystallising. That would generally be considered a failure, but it added to the colour and textures so I didn’t mind a bit!

Crystallised blue sugar toffee sawitdidit.wordpress.com

This crystallised toffee crumbled a bit when I broke it up, but I used those crumbled bits as decoration on the cupcakes that went in to school, and it also went on the actual cake

HTTYD cake sawitdidit.wordpress.com

So you can see all 3 ideas were combined to create this cake. A plastic Toothless figurine atop a square vanilla cake with blue icing, with the various colours and textures of the sugar shards forming the backdrop. I also used the curly candles to represent Toothless’ plasma blast. To save accidents, I added the decoration to the cake at the park, just before it was served. So taking photos of it were not my priority. Special thanks to my friend Melissa for taking these. She was also the one who gave me sugar shard making tips, so she was a great help throughout this process!

Here it is with the candles lit:

HTTYD cake with candles sawitdidit.wordpress.com

Yes, a certain birthday boy couldn’t help but add some extra decoration around the edge of the cake!

Strangely enough, many of the boys asked if the ‘glaciers’ were edible, and declared them delicious when they were allowed to taste. See the big plate of fruit next to the cake? I made whoever come back wanting¬†seconds have some fruit before they could have more cake¬†ūüėČ

HTTYD cake...sawitdidit.wordpress.com

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Keeping your whites white (and other laundry tips)!

First up I have to say that I am in no way¬†a laundry expert. If I see something that needs treating before I wash it, I will do that. But if I miss it, well, there’s always next week. And if there is a stain I can’t get out because I have no idea what it is, or I’ve missed it a couple of times and it is now set, that’s too bad. As long as¬†our clothes are washed I am happy. School shirts that get the odd paint or pen stains on them are fine. But clothes that we may wear out to a function or some other special event need to look good. So it’s best to get into a routine that keeps your clothes looking their best.

I am going to focus on keeping your whites white, because my son’s school shirts are white and¬†I tend to wear mainly white t-shirts (which of course I jazz up with a fantastic necklace from Something special by Fiona, aka me!).

Here’s a teaser for you:

 White shirts

White school shirts

At the beginning of this year I bought new school shirts. So they have been worn a handful of times each. I also bought some at the beginning of last year. They have been worn a lot more than a handful of times. The photos above show four new and four old shirts, can you tell whether the new ones are on the left or the right? Answer at bottom of post.

Here’s an example of how¬†the sports shirt often ends up looking after a play in the park on a Friday afternoon:

school shirts

dirty school shirt

Looks good, doesn’t it!!

In my laundry I have a bucket of water with some generic laundry soaker. All white shirts get thrown in here during the week. On the weekend I spray any stains that I have noticed with my homemade pre-wash stain remover, and throw into the washing machine. I wash generally at 40C, as I read somewhere that you need the water to be at least body temperature to cut through sweat stains. Seems a fair call to me. Towels and bedding I wash at 80C. Then I hang outside in the sunshine (hopefully there is some!). Sunshine is a natural bleach, and often if there is a hint of a stain still on your clothes, it will be gone once it has dried in the sun.

Now, back to the laundry soaker. Most people have a preferred brand that they believe works better than anything else. I read a hint that it pays to look at the active ingredients of these products. So when I went shopping this week I did a little investigating:

Laundry soaker

This is a random selection from my local Aldi and Woolworths. You may not be able to see terribly well, but the active ingredient in all these laundry soakers is Sodium Percarbonate, with a concentration ranging from 25.7% (Napisan Vanish OxiAction Crystal White) to 34.6% (both White King Triple Enzyme Stain Remover, and Woolworths Select Boost). And the price ranges from around $2.50 up to about $10. Remember that this is a just a small selection of products, however I know how much I would prefer to be paying!

For those with sunscreen stain issues, I have found that my stain remover does work on those. Another hint I saw recently was to¬†soak in 1 litre of¬†water with 2 tablespoons of citric acid AFTER washing, not before, then hang to dry. I haven’t tried this one, if anyone has please share if it worked for you ūüôā

For other stubborn stains that you need help with (that my stain remover doesn’t remove), I’ve found Shannon Lush to be rather an expert, so do a search for one of her books.

As for the laundry liquid I use in the washing machine Рkeep watch for my next post!

PS For those still wondering, the¬†four shirts on the left are new, the four on the right are old. While you may have been able to work that out, I was still impressed at the whiteness of the ‘old’ shirts compared to the new.

What are your tricks for keeping your clothes clean?

* Linking up with A Tray of Bliss