Friday, 27 January 2012

Valentine's cards for charity

My husband is running the London Marathon this year for a charity called Whizz-Kidz. He needs to raise £3000, so I came up with the idea of selling hand-crafted Valentine's cards to help add a little towards his fund-raising target. All the money I raise from the cards will go to this amazing charity, who help give disabled children and young people the chance to enjoy a full and independent life.

So far I have orders from my Mum and my Dad (so lovely that I can always count on them to support us!) and a school mum plus promises of a few others - let's hope romance is still alive and kicking and helps Jase raise a bit more money. 

Here are the designs ...

I made some Valentine's cards a few years ago (before baby number two came along) that I sold in a local shop for local crafts people and I managed to sell quite a few which was nice.

© 2012 Nicola Noble: Please observe the rules of copyright and blog etiquette. If you use my ideas or images, please link back to my blog. And do let me know - I'd love to take a look.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Flower bouquet die-cut card

When I got my Ellison Tag-a-long die-cutter (now called Sizzix Side-kick) several years ago, it came with a bouquet die-cut. This cutter looks very complicated and not for beginners and I have avoided using it ever, knowing that it would take a bit of practice to create a decent die-cut.

Anyway, I had a friend's birthday coming up and a free half an hour with both children at school/nursery so I decided to give it a go. I played with different colour combinations and cut some of the different elements out, before realising that I needed a single base to glue the individual flowers on to. I chose to cut this out in green for the flower stalks and leaves, then gradually built up the bouquet a bit at a time. I glued all of it flat except for the large yellow flower and its orange centre which I lifted off with some foam sticky pads. I added a touch of colour to the middle of the lily flowers by brushing lightly with a pink ink pad.

I decided to have the bouquet coming out of a sparkly pink square to add some more colour to the card and added sparkly pink individual flowers cut from the bouquet to the bottom of the card. It was all finished with a pink ribbon and matching bow and a happy birthday stamp that I overwrote to make the the colour stronger. I then edged the card using the pink ink pad.

Overall, I was quite pleased with the end result but it hasn't turned out to be one of my favourite cutters and I can't see myself doing it again that often.
© 2012 Nicola Noble: Please observe the rules of copyright and blog etiquette. If you use my ideas or images, please link back to my blog. And do let me know - I'd love to take a look.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

A quick and easy way to fill cupcake cases ...

I have just discovered the quickest and least messy way of filling cupcake cases. As I've said previously (Feb 2011: Birthday cupcakes) I always end up getting the cake mixture all over the tins when I use a teaspoon or ice cream scoop. I did invest in a cupcake filler bottle which turned out to not be that great: it was good for filling but there was always so much mixture left in the bottle that it got quite messy trying to scrape it out, and the mixture always splurged into the lid when I was filling the bottle.

So what is my amazing discovery, I hear you ask? A simple freezer bag!

Fold the bag into a sort of triangle with one bottom corner as the point, then place point down into a tall jug/pint glass. Open the bag and fold back on itself over the sides of the jug, then fill with the cupcake mixture.
 When the bag is full, squeeze the air out of the top and then seal the bag.
Cut a smallish hole in the bottom corner and then pipe away into the cupcake cases - there is zero mess!
Once all the cake mixture has been piped in, you can scrape the remaining mixture to the corner by laying the bag on a flat surface and gently running a palette knife over the outside towards the corner.
 As you can see from the photo there is virtually no mixture wasted!
Ta da! I am very pleased with myself and my great discovery. I will definitely be doing this again.

© 2012 Nicola Noble: Please observe the rules of copyright and blog etiquette. If you use my ideas or images, please link back to my blog. And do let me know - I'd love to take a look.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Number 6 road cake

My friend jointly hosted a birthday party for her son and another child on Saturday and when at the last minute the other mum changed the cake plans, my lovely friend asked if I could make her son's cake at short notice.

I said yes. My first thoughts were to do a number 6 shaped cake with a road and cars on it but I didn’t have a ring tin, so the next idea was a magic related cake as there was going to be a magician at the party. I asked for inspiration from the ever helpful members of Fans of Cake Baker on Facebook and one lovely lady suggested a top hat with a rabbit coming out and even posted a photo for inspiration. This was perfect and well within my capabilities!
I decided to experiment with the sponge (with permission from my friend) and added purple colour to the victoria sponge mix. From this point on it all went horribly wrong! My oven is very old and really doesn’t bake well, so I should have learnt by now that I can’t bake a double height sponge (ie putting the cake mix in one tin with the intentions of slicing it in half horizontally rather than baking the two layers in separate tins of the same size which I don't have). Instead of taking the 25 - 30 minutes my oven normally takes to bake a sponge, it took over 50 minutes and then sunk in the middle. In the meantime, I should have been collecting Sophie from school and taking her to ballet, so a frantic last minute call to a friendly school/ballet mum gave me a slight breathing space. Then a dash to ballet to drop off Sophie’s ballet clothes then dash back home to bake the other sponge (I needed height for the magician's top hat), which went even more wrong! Another lesson learnt: that you can't mix cake batter and leave it for 40 minutes before baking ... the sponge looked perfect in the oven after about 50 minutes and hadn't sunk in the middle like the last one but when I turned it out the middle was a gooey mess and totally uncooked!

I then went through a whole range of ideas as to how I could make good a cake with a hole in the middle of it: from filling the hole with sweets (I thought Minstrels might work best as they wouldn't be as affected by the moisture from the sponge as, say, Smarties which would bleed colour) as a "magic" surprise; to baking a whole other cake (which didn't happen as I had run out of sugar!).

To cap it all my local cake supplies shop (only my second visit and equally as disappointing as the first time) didn't have any ready coloured black fondant. I didn't want to colour the fondant myself as I know from experience it is virtually impossible to get a proper black from colouring white but I ended up buying ready coloured grey as at least this was half way there!

I then reached a point on Thursday night where I had had enough - I scraped the green fondant off the cake base board and the fondant I had managed to colour very dark grey off the cake board that was going to be used as the brim of the hat and called it a day. I would look at it with fresh eyes on Friday.

Friday morning I realised that I had a cake with a hole in the middle which would suit my original idea of a number 6! I was disappointed not to be making the magician's hat and rabbit but relieved that I did at least have a solution. I didn't have enough fondant to cover the whole cake but decided that I could buttercream the sides and put a fondant road on the top.

My lovely friend volunteered to help: we carved the stick bit of the number six; sliced the cakes in half horizontally and filled the cakes with "white" buttercream; coloured some buttercream bright green and covered the sides and top with the green buttercream; cut a grey fondant number 6 and placed this on top; and decorated with some plastic cars and road sign kindly loaned by Justin. The fondant ripped in one place when I was placing it on the cake but we covered this up with some white marshmallows that were cut into quarters and placed the road sign over the top. I then piped some grass around the bottom edge of the cake, in various places around the road and added the birthday boy's name in grass. We added some more marshmallows as the white lines on the road and some fondant blocks for some indoor sparklers and for the candles. Hey presto it was finished!

For something that threatened to be a car crash (pun intended!) the cake turned out okay. As a perfectionist, I had to accept that there were a lot of things “wrong” with the cake that, had I had more time, I could have fixed/ taken more care over. But the most important thing was that my friend was pleased with the cake and I heard lots of children at the party saying they preferred the car cake to the other cake!

And the purple sponge? It did turn out purple with a (bizarrely) green outer-edge. I will definitely be trying different colours on future sponges. I hope that the children all got a nice surprise when they opened their party bags!

© 2012 Nicola Noble

Monday, 9 January 2012

The Very Hungry Caterpillar cake

Justin had a Very Hungry Caterpillar party for his third birthday and I had to come up with a cake that fitted the theme. I felt it would be hard to beat the creative success of last year's monster cakes and although I had seen various VHC cakes none of them had inspired me. The exception was some cupcakes with fondant toppings of the VHC fruit and "Saturday food" from The Icing on the CakeI love the way she managed to stay true to the style of the book by blending the icing colours. I decided I wanted to make a shaped caterpillar cake and took further inspiration from Icing on the Cake's caterpillar decoration, in particular the way the different colours overlap.
The Icing on the Cake's beautiful fruit
The Icing on the Cake's caterpillar
I prepared various bits over a few days: I covered a large square board with white fondant; I went through my stash of fondant icing, mixing various colour combinations for marbled/mottled effect and Sophie, Justin and I cut out lots and lots of different coloured circles; I made the caterpillar's antenna and feet; and I cut Justin's name out of different coloured fondant. As I've mentioned before, I find the letter cutters a fiddle as I don't have petal paste which gives the fondant added strength, but as most of my fondant was "old" they worked fine. 

I also wanted to be slightly different this year and went for a chocolate sponge with vanilla buttercream filling. I found a vanilla pod at the back of my herbs and spices and had a go at adding real vanilla seeds to the buttercream - delicious! I baked a rectangular sponge and a 7" circular sponge.

My mum always helps with my own children's birthday cakes which makes it fun and a lot less stressful. After cutting the caterpillar shape out of the two cakes I split it into four sections, halved each section horizontally and filled with the vanilla buttercream. I crumb coated the sections, put in the fridge for 20 minutes before putting another layer of buttercream on. I then put the four sections together on the covered cake board with strips of greaseproof paper under the edges of the cake so that the buttercream didn't spread onto the fondant board and make it greasy. The paper then gets gently pulled out from under the cake once the fondant is on the cake and the edges have been neatly trimmed.

I bought two pre-coloured green fondants - dark green and leaf green and then marbled them in different combinations: leaf green with a little bit of dark green; dark green with a little bit of leaf green; various greens with yellow; and various greens with blue. I rolled, pinched and blobbed the different colours together and the outcome was really effective. I worked on a colour combination at a time in small quantities and then cut the fondant into strips/triangles and placed them onto the cake, roughly following the picture on the front of the Very Hungry Caterpillar board book. I made sure that the layers overlapped in different ways i.e. some of the layers were on top of the layers to either side and others were over on one side and under on the other (hope that makes sense but hopefully the picture shows what I mean!)

I covered the head in plain red, added the eyes in yellow and marbled green and the nose in dark green and placed the antenna and feet in place on the board.

I wanted to incorporate the dots that appear in the book, my invitation and the table cloth/paper plates/napkins I was using and so I glued (using edible glue) the lovely multi-coloured circles that the children had helped me make - five rows along the bottom and one row at the top. I fixed a red ribbon around the outside of the board and added Justin's name under the caterpillar. I then finished the whole thing off with the obligatory lustre and this time I managed to use my spray can perfectly by spraying from a distance to cover the whole cake and board - lovely!
© 2012 Nicola Noble

A Very Hungry Caterpillar birthday party

Justin turned three on Saturday (where has that time gone?) and I organised a Very Hungry Caterpillar party to celebrate.

As his birthday is straight after Christmas and New Year I have learned over the past two birthdays to get organised early to avoid unnecessary stress and so I started a board on Pinterest some time ago and pinned a few ideas. In reality not many of them made the cut but it was still fun finding out what other people had done.

I got the inspiration for the invitations here but played around with various VHC images and ended up with something that I was really pleased with.

Somehow the numbers at the party snowballed (no pun intended!) and we ended up with eight 2 to 3 year olds, three older 5 and 6 year old siblings, party guest's mums and Justin's grandparents. Thankfully, it was a sunny day and we were able to use the kitchen, conservatory and garden patio. 

I had lots of plans to make VHC bunting but in the end I fell in love with the paper lantern caterpillar idea found here. I hung the lanterns up with thread suspended between two cabinets and fixed some spotty wrapping paper behind to hide a lovely but detracting picture. It was quite effective (although I couldn't get the eyes quite right) but the lanterns were smaller than I expected and in hindsight I didn't think it was worth the extravagant c.£20 it cost to buy them.
There was no real structure to the party, the little ones were allowed to play with toys I'd left out for them but I did include a couple of games for them. We had the obligatory pass-the-parcel and also a great game called Pop the Bubbles. I found these on the Party Pieces website and they are basically rectangles of large bubble bubble wrap that the children have to jump up and down on. Not surprisingly, they all had great fun popping the bubbles. I will definitely do this again but may buy my own roll of large bubble bubble wrap for next time!

I also planned a version of musical statues with printed sheets of numbers: when the music stops you call a number out and the children have to stand on that number. We didn't have time to play this but I might play it with Justin anyway to help him learn what numbers look like.
The party bags were spotty cellophane bags and I put VHC sticker sheets, a VHC pin badge, a small bottle of bubbles, a small packet of sweets and a multi-coloured colouring pencil and VHC colouring sheet in each.
Sadly I forgot to take many photos, and didn't even manage to get one of the table before most of the food had been eaten.
I did manage get a photo of the older children having a great time eating their food outside as a picnic.
The party went smoothly and most importantly all the children had a great time, especially the birthday boy.
© 2012 Nicola Noble

Thursday, 5 January 2012

A little piece of Christmas past

Our Christmas decorations have all come down over the last week and the last few pieces got put into boxes on Tuesday. Our strategy is to remove a few a day so that it doesn't look too bare and sad when they are finally all gone. We also have the added incentive of Justin's birthday the day after 12th night so that encourages us to get them down earlier.

I love looking at all our tree decorations as I put them away in the box for another year. I take pleasure in the new ones we bought (we always get a couple of new ones each year) but I also love the familiarity of the old ones.

I was very pleased when my mum gave me a couple of her decorations for my tree. They were always the ones I lovingly put on when I was a little girl and it reminds me of all the wonderful Christmases I have had when I put them on my tree each year.

Little reindeer (which is in fact a Babycham deer) always nestles in the centre of the tree (her sibling still lives with my parents on their tree) and I have two tinsel bells that have the most delightful tinkle (a real fairy like tinkle) that get put on branches within reach to surprise us with their lovely sound whenever they get brushed against.

I hope when my children are all grown up they can capture a little piece of Christmas past with their own special decorations that I will lovingly hand on to them for their own trees.
© 2012 Nicola Noble