I'm trying to keep my business, my triplets, and my waistline under control. I excel at one of those, fail at another one of those, and one is a work in progress. Which is which is day dependant.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Shoemaker's Children

Have you ever heard the expression that, "The shoemaker's children go barefoot!" Never was this saying more true than in my house last week. Last week, for anyone living under a rock, was my 33rd birthday. I know, I know, I only look 21. Anyway - given the state of my wallet, er, the economy, I didn't really want any big gifts this year. I ended up asking DH for something useful which would cost him about $10, and a birthday cake. In previous years DH and the kids have baked me a cake (with a bit of unsolicited advice from me.)

This year, after baking hundreds of cakes for everyone else, I asked DH to get me an ice cream cake (because I llluuurrvveee ice cream). I specified the flavours (with back up options) and said I didn't care what store it came from as long as it wasn't Dairy Bell (grossest ice cream ever) and wasn't vanilla (I hate vanilla.)

The morning of my birthday, I say to DH, "Oooh, I'm so excited! Ice cream birthday cake which is not vanilla and not crappy Dairy Bell!" at which point DH looks a little sheepish and says, "Yeah. Well...ummm...about that..."

Those of you who are into foreshadowing will know what comes next, but I beg you to stay with me so I've not written this blog post in vain.

Turns out he outsourced the buying of the ice cream cake to his brother. This alone pisses me off, because I gave DH several WEEKS to get organised. Anyhow, I've already told him off about that so no need to do it again here, tempting as it is. (You all should feel free, though, to admonish him in the comments of this post.)

So DH gave his brother the requirements (only TWO requirements, remember) ...and then when DH called to check that his brother had bought it, his brother says, "Yeah, I ordered it from Dairy Bell!" DH choked when he heard that, but then he found out it was vanilla, DH knew that he should dig out his combat gear. He also hoped like hell that I'd have a sense of humour about this...because let's just say that normally these kinds of things cause me to go, well, TOTALLY APESHIT. Seriously, people. I rarely ask for stuff...and he farked this up as royally as one can.

I should also say at this point that my DH has the dubious honour of giving the most crappy gifts. His heart is always in the right place, but he falls over totally when faced with the stress of having to find something which I might like. Over the years I've gotten all sorts of weird stuff - giant illustrated religious texts (what the...?), all manner of ugly jewellery and so on. I've learned to just tell him straight out what it is I want. Sadly, as evidenced by this story, I don't think that method is working! (Although he did get the present right.)

Back to the story. DH (claims he) was totally befuddled by this, especially since his brother asked about alternative flavours, and told DH he would get it from ColdRock (Australian equivalent of Cold Stone Creamery.) Neither he nor I are entirely sure what went wrong there...and DH is much too nice a guy to let me call my BIL and ask. It should be said that my BIL is a very nice chap, and does all sorts of nice things for us and the trio...and while, for blogging purposes, I really want to know what went wrong, DH didn't want to embarass or upset his brother.

(Fair enough. BIL, if you're reading this, we all love and adore you...but seriously...you think I could let this incident go by and not blog about it?)

By then they couldn't do really anything about it (late Xmas Eve) so they were stuck with it..and DH, well, I like to think he lost at least a little bit of sleep over it. In the end I just laughed and laughed and laughed...because not only was it vanilla, from the crappy ice cream store, but it was the most Mo-Fo-Bugly cake you have ever seen. It was iced with this mint green and cream combo, and on top there was a little swirl of cream coloured icing and two...wait for it... pale blue silk rosebuds and plastic leaves stuck in it. Yes, the kind I've not seen since 1975. The year I was born.

Bwahahahahahahahaha! Worst cake EVER. Falls short of being a cake wreck (because it was at least presentable) but man, it was bad. I haven't laughed that hard in a long time. The cake was not dissimilar to the picture above, which was stolen from the DB website. I was truly heartbroken that my camera was out of comission, because it really needed to be seen to be appreciated in all it's 1970's glory. For those who are curious, I did actually eat it (because I really did feel bad for DH) but I did take the time to slather it in Ice Magic to mask the totally disgusting taste.

Lesson learned - next time, I'm ordering my own cake!


Apparently the new buzzword for those of us too broke to actually go somewhere tropical this festive season is STAYCATION. As in, a vacation where you stay exactly where you are instead of enjoying drinks with umbrellas stuck in them. As in, a way to make us all somehow feel better that we are such shit money managers, we can't afford to actually GO anywhere but to the corner shop for yet another Slurpee.

Here's the part they don't tell you about staycations: they're just as expensive, if not more expensive, than real vacations. Then there is the fact that frankly, there is nothing at all relaxing about sleeping in your own bed and cooking your own food. First there is the inevitable question of, "What the hell are we going to do with ourselves?" In order to figure this out, you need to first find things you like doing. So, as a family, when on vacation we like to:

Go to the movies.
Eat nice meals out.

Let's consider the relative costs of these, shall we?

Movies = 5 tix x (average) $12 = $60. This excludes the petrol to get there, the inevitable popcorn, and the desperation you feel when the kids' movie ends after 90 minutes and yet again you are left with nothing to do.

Meals = 5 meals x (average) $18 = $90. This excludes the petrol to get there, the arguments over the type of food to have, the whining from the kids that they are bored (on the way there) and bored (on the way back), and yet again you are left (after LESS than 90 minutes) wondering what the hell to do with yourselves. Plus there is the joy of DD1 telling the waitress that her lasagna is the "WORST EVER!" (and she wasn't all that far from the truth.)

Swim = $10.70 family swim pass. Relatively cheap, so this one is okay although that price excludes the icy poles, the fortieth pair of goggles your kid breaks, the 5 sets of swimming suits, the time finding the lost swim toys, the endless bottle of sunscreen AND the sixteen bags of fruit and crackers required to keep hungry swimmers happy.

Read = Free, thanks to a library card. This is the cheapest of all, but it excludes the cost of petrol to get there, the fighting over the one TinTin book left on the shelf, the demands for sushi (10 handrolls x $2.50 = $25) AND the cost of the band aids after your kid falls and hurts themselves when they fall off the crappy library play ground.

Ergo, the staycation = the expensive option. If I were at, say, Club Med...well, this would all be paid for in advance, so I wouldn't notice the cost if the kids wanted to eat out (again), go swimming (again), see a movie (again), or read a book (again.)

This staycation, I was determined to get out and about with the kids and do some stuff which I've not had time to do when I am up to my eyeballs in cupcakes. So I can report that we've done a massive house clean up and throw out of random crap, we've done a day trip up to Echuca, we've rented some hilarious videos, we've had a few pajama days, we've visited with friends, been to the beach, and even gotten a few minor house repairs done:

(DH, finally giving in to my incessant nagging about the screen door being broken...and with his beautiful assistant, the self-titled "Handy Girl" AKA DD2.) (and note, this photo was taken with my digital camera, now fixed thanks to the Canon gods. Sadly they cannot fix my shit photo taking skills.)

Things at Casa Verde have been pretty good, actually...as long as you forget about my grandfather passing away,The Neighbours moving away (to a house about 10 minutes away, but it feels like miles and miles), Jewel and her DH moving across the freakin' globe and various other things which have conspired to make my staycation pretty bloody miserable. That being said, I've spent the last week surrounded by a loving husband and kids who use every opportunity to break into song. So it can't be all bad, right?

Sure, I'm broke, I'm bored, I'm tired and frankly, I'm bloody over it..but strangely, I don't really mind. I still wake up every morning with a smile (thanks to DH's, err...waking me up skills...oooh, I think I just over-shared) and my kids are all happy, healthy, and they know all the words to the Mamma Mia! soundtrack. Life is pretty good...even if we are enjoying the National Lampoon's version of a staycation.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

In For A Penny

Recently I started reading the blog Badass Geek ... mostly because I love that the title in a total oxymoron. Most of the posts are great, but I was particularly struck by this one, entitled In Which I Change My Ways. The author comes up with some ingenious ways to save money in these uncertain economic times, and his commenters come up with some even better ones. Go on over there and have a look and a laugh.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Love, True Love

So a woman calls me today, wanting to order a cake for her boyfriend for Christmas. She wants the full deal - custom figurines, a 3D Chritsmas tree cake, presents under the tree and so on. Several minutes into the conversation she then decides she wants cupcakes..which is totally fine by me. Her boyfriend, however, is allergic to nuts, eggs and dairy. I explain that our 3D cupcake decorations are in fact made with egg whites, so I'm going to go with something different to what she has seen on the website.

After much ummming and aaahhhing and hmmming, she decides that I SHOULD use the full-of-egg decorations, and that she'll just pick them off before he eats them. "Yes," says I, "But how severe is his allergy? Because for some people, having an egg product touching something they eat can cause a severe reaction. I don't want something to happen to your boyfriend."

"Ummm," says girlfriend, "One of his allergies is, like, really bad, but, like, I don't really know WHICH one it is. He's got a lot, you know, and I can never really remember. It's cool, I'll just pick them off before he eats them."

"Yes," says I, "But what if egg IS the really bad one? I don't want to put him in danger."

"No," says girlfriend, "It's fine. Whatever. His allergies are SO annoying! He'll live."

Bwahahahahahaha...here honey, have some cupcakes, and anaphylactic shock while you're at it.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

It Wasn't (Entirely) My Idea, I Swear

The Neighobours are moving away...and I'm so sad about it that I'm trying to pretend it's not happening. It's not like they are moving to, you know, Perth or anything...but they are moving far enough away that we won't be able to call them "The Neighbours" anymore. *sigh* Might have to keep using that name anyway, since I don't know that I can be bothered calling them "The People Who Live Too Far Away To Be Neighbours."

Saturday night The Neighbour's Wife decided to throw herself a "last night in this house" girls night in for some friends. As usual the twin delights of red wine and French cheese were promised, so you know I was going to be there! A couple of days before the event, TNW told me she wanted it to be a Christmas themed Girls Night...and she wanted an activity to do, to kinda jazz it all up.

Every single idea I came up with, she shot down.

Trim a tree? No - no tree in a Jewish household.

Sing carols in the neighbourhood? No, for 2 reasons. 1) These same girls couldn't handle the Sing Star at the weekend away and 2) as Jews, we all only know the first line of every carol.

Make eggnog? No. Too...just... no.

String fresh cranberries? No. No idea where to buy cranberries, and then she had the gall to get annoyed when I didn't know where to buy them either. Apparently any chef worth their salt knows where to buy fresh cranberries.

Make popcorn strings? Also no. Too messy.

I was up against some serious negative Christmas spirit, which is particularly funny because SHE is the one who invited ME to join the facebook group of "Jews who love Christmas." She also had a friend bringing Bing Crosby Christmas hits, and I was bringing along some Reindeer Food. Yet, she totally put the kibosh on all my good ideas. Harumph, Mrs Neighbour Scrooge.

NN and I had planned our Three Sweeties Xmas Dinner for the same night, and it was over a delicious dinner that I told her how my Christmas cheer had been dampened. NN, who is an all around brilliant person, had the idea that we get a bunch of Xmas decorations and trim an OUTSIDE tree at The Neighbour's house. Brilliant! Where, I wondered, does one find tinsel and other shiny crap, at 9pm, in a mostly Jewish neighbourhood?

Easy, says NN. The supermarket.

Is she kidding me? The SUPERMARKET? What dorks buy Christmas decorations at the supermarket, at 9pm on a Saturday night, in a Jewish neighbourhood? Ahem. Yes. That would be me and NN.

WHO KNEW that supermarkets carry this stuff? Even more vexing, who knew that this supermarket would have actual TREES for sale there, too? Of course, these were Jewish trees! On sale! Marked down by $7 to a whopping $13.99 for a SIX FOOT TREE - how could I possibly let a bargain like that go by? Seriously. Much to my extreme amusement, the supermarket had loads of stuff - tinkly balls, really horribly ugly tinsel...and bereft of an angel, we got a light up Santa hat for a tree topper. In lieu of stringy tinsel (the American sort) we bought a bag of party poppers, for popping onto the tree in the hopes that the strings would stick to the branches.

NN and I managed to use $24 and 10 minutes to purchase everything anyone might need to make an entire Christmas tree, decorations and all. (It was only later we realised we should've bought some lights, too...)

So NN and I rock up to the party, coming not only with BYO reindeer food and drinks, but also a tree and the full decorations. We all then spent a hilarious hour or so putting up a tree and decorating it to the nines...and then breaking open Christmas crackers and listening to Bing give us a bit o' White Christmas. Ahhh, contentment...until of course The Neighbour came home, looked at this tree and said, "OH. MY. God. This can ONLY be the work of emzee. Wait till Wife's Mother gets a load of this!"

The Neighbour's Wife then proceeded to laugh her pretty little ass off about the fact that she was going to tell her RELIGIOUS Jewish mother that the tree was totally acceptable, because THE WIFE OF THE TEMPLE PRESIDENT(e.g. me!) gave it to her.

Fabulous. My entire reputation wrecked because of a little tinsel and shiny balls. Oy! Next time, I'm going carolling!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

So Creepy I Can Hardly Blog About It

First, the backstory: Feet kinda creep me out.

Second, the preface to this story: A couple of weeks ago I noticed my cleaning lady wearing some familiar-looking flip flops. They were, in fact, the exact same design that DD2 has. At the time I didn't think much of it, because I bought these for about five bucks at KMart. I mostly thought it was interesting that they would have the same pair (because these suckers are UGLY). That was it.

The story: Today I get home, and I notice that my cleaning lady is wearing MY SON'S CROCS. I know they are my son's shoes because of the Jibbitz on them. I stand there for a second, and incredulously look at her feet...and then I ran out of the room like a bat outta hell because I was so totally creeped out by this. A stranger is wearing my son's shoes, and she's barefoot in them. Is there anything in the world more creepy and gross than this?

Oooh. *all over body shudder*

Thing is, this is totally different to the kids loaning their shoes to each other, or even to a friend (like at the pool or something.) This is a total stranger, borrowing our personal things, without asking. It should be said that the cleaning lady is very nice, and clean herself. It's not HER per se, it's the whole other people wearing my son's shoes thing. So I hid in the office for a while, but eventually the need to hurl drove me out to confront her. I wander into the kitchen, pretend to do a double take, and say, "Are those my son's shoes you're wearing?"

It took a supreme amount of willpower not to snatch those babies off her feet and throw them in a vat of acid, let me tell you.

Cleaning lady just laughed and told me her shoes were too tight, and HIS looked comfortable, so she put them on. The conversation then just got more and more wierd ...because I mentioned many, many times that he wouldn't appreciate her wearing his shoes...and yet she made no move to take them off. She claimed to have "loads" of flat, comfortable shoes at home, but admitted she can't be bothered to bring them with her to work. She also said she likes "fancy" shoes, and fancy shoes are not comfortable for working in.

Oh. My. God. PEOPLE! This is so horribly, horribly, gross and wierd and YUCK on so many levels, you have no idea.

*more shuddering and arm flapping*

Literally, we talked for maybe 5-6 minutes, me saying, "I REALLY don't think he would like you wearing his shoes..." I'm too much of a wimp to demand she take them off, and I couldn't directly tell her that I didn't think it was appropriate. I kinda thought by the fourth 'I REALLY don't think.." she would get the hint. She didn't. I went on and on about where she can buy the same shoes, how you can get them for not too much money, etc. She just kept smiling and laughing and not seeing it as a problem.

In the end I had to go pick up the kids from school, and when I finally said, "He's really not going to be happy with this," she said, "I'm nearly done here anyway. I'll take them off before he gets home."

OY VEY. Seriously? You think that hiding your creepy shoe borrowing habits makes it OKAY? I did what any self-respecting foot-hater would do and I ran. Again. Like hell. I then proceeded to call both DH and the Neighbour's Wife and screech down the mobile to them about how utterly freaked out I was.

DH's comment was that this really is about boundaries, and her crossing boundaries, and about how it kinda speaks to her reliability in a way. If she thinks it's perfectly okay to borrow stuff (esp something personal like shoes) and not ask...what ELSE is she going to think is okay to borrow?

Neighbour's Wife very unhelpfully commented that shoes...are a mere tiny step away from...underwear.


My heart stopped beating then, too.

There have been a few other bits and pieces about her work which I don't love, but overall she's pretty okay so I was going to stick with her. This was,of course, before THE SHOES INCIDENT. My plan for now is basically to call the agency and tell them that next week is her last week with us. I'm only giving her one more week so I can get my key back... because the last cleaning lady mailed me my key, only to have it 'disappear' in the mail, and thus costing me $250 in new locks for the whole house.

...and of course, while escaping the hell which is the sight of someone else's feet in my kid's shoes...I realised WHY the cleaning lady's flip flops looked so familiar. People, she's been wearing my kids shoes for WEEKS. Months, possibly.

I'd keep writing this post, but I think I'm going to hurl.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Kill 'em With Kindness

I feel I need to admit one of my Christmas/Channukah sins. In the spirit of all that is good and holy and yule-like, I need to come clean.

I love torturing sales people.

Now I don't mean I like to drag them into a small cupboard and make them re-hang six thousand pairs of Size 2 skirts that are too small for the hangers. I just mean that I like to annoy the living SHIT out of them by pointing out (in the most friendly, dripping-with-honey way) that their service SUCKS the big one.

So let me give you an example. The other day when DD1 and I went shopping, there was a sales chick who looked like she wanted to be anywhere other than the kids' shoe department on a rainy Saturday before Xmas. Can you blame her? Probably not, as I can't think of anywhere worse to be, either. Still, she gets paid to do it, and after all nobody forced her to sell kids' shoes. Hell, she could've, you know, worked in a brothel or something instead.

Anyway. So I approach her and I say, "Hi. I'm looking for some party shoes for my daughter, etc etc..." Now I knew she was in for the torture treatment when SHE asked ME what my kids' size was. Yes, of course I know that, because, hell, I measure them every night, don'cha know? She deigns to measure DD1's foot (only ONE) and then tells me there is nothing in the store which will work for DD1. "Okay," says I, going in for the kill, "Can you suggest another store which might have something for her?" "NO, " says ready-to-die saleslady, "I don't. You're not going to have ANY luck ANYWHERE for non-summer dress shoes for girls in that size."

She was just Little Miss Sunshine, let me tell you. This one was totally ripe for the torturing. I say to her, "Well, then let's have another look together, shall we? Maybe there is something which will work. Let's go look together." Ahh, yes, and the torture begins ...because now she knows she is NEVER going to get rid of me, and certainly not as easily as she'd hoped.

The basic torture method is this. 1) Make your voice all sweet and smarmy and oh-isn't-this-fun. 2) Make it really fucking clear you're not going anywhere until you get what you want and 3) pretend to symapthise, while giving them a clear message that their service sucks. So in the above paragraph you can see #1 and #2 in action. Let us proceed to #3.

She reluctantly goes to see if she can find the right size in stock (and believe me, she's cursing me all the way into and out of the stock room.) DD1 sits down, sales lady sits down, I sit down. I turn up the charm and head in for the kill: "You must be SO busy today, what with Christmas at all. It's must be kind of getting to you?"

"Ummm..." OH SHIT, thinks saleslady. I was rude to this lady and my boss is RIGHT OVER THERE.

"Actually, it hasn't been too bad."

"Oh, really? I'm suprised to hear you say that, because when we first came in you looked quite frazzled and stressed out. In fact, you looked pretty OVER IT. *big dramatic sigh to add to sympathy factor* Christmas is just so hard, isn't it?"

ZING! Got her right between the eyes, I did. The key to this is to really sound sincere - to look and act as though you give two shits about this lady, when in reality you're giving her a swift kick up the bum.

"Oh? Did I? No, I...*stammer* *stammer*...were you needing some party tights to go with those shoes? Because they're not on the shelves at the moment but I'm sure we've got some out the back which will look great with the shoes and...."

The girl nearly tripped over herself with trying to be nice. Seriously. She spent the rest of our time in the store being attentive, friendly, overly helpful, and kissing my big white ass. I just don't understand why people get jobs in a service industry when they have no desire to actually give service. Of course even the best sales people have bad days, and have days when they are tired and stressed and they've had enough of screaming children and pushy parents. I get that. Know what, though? When I come into your store, I don't care what your day has been like. I care that you're going to help me get what I need, and then get the heck out of there. I care that you'll do it in a polite fashion. I don't think it's too much to ask, is it?

Now you've got the method. Go on, try it out on some unsuspecting terrible sales person and see what result you get. I guarantee a total 180 turn around in terms of the service they greeted you with versus the service you get after employing the technique...and if all else fails, you can just shove them into a cupboard with the skirts and hangers.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

You've Got To Be Joking

One of the more annoying habits of the kids these days is their telling jokes. Not just one or two, mind, but lots and lots and lots, all in succession. Some of them they don't really understand the punchlines, but they just go ahead anyway. Several of them they have wrong, so the punchline ends up not making sense AT ALL...and yet they persist. Of particular annoyance to DH and I is that they tell the same jokes over, and over, and over, and over again...ad naseum until we beg them to give up. PLEASE. For the love of god, PLEASE stop telling those damn knock knock jokes.

Every once in a while, though, they come up with a fantastic gem. Not unlike my favourite genre of "man with no arms and legs" jokes, this joke is one which makes me giggle and snort like an idiot, every single time. Now I realise you're going to read this joke, and instantly lose all respect for me. That said, I think you should wait a few days, and then come back and comment on how many times this stupid joke makes you laugh when you think about it. Go one, I dare you.

Without further ado, here is my current favourite kid joke:

Q: What's brown and sticky?

A: A stick!

(Bwahahahahahaha...even as I type this I am laughing. Oy. I need to get out more.)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

In Which I Go Shopping and Survive

In case it hasn't already been made obvious, I'm not the kind of girl who likes the shop. In fact, I LOATHE shopping with a similar amount of hatred that I save for people who "forget" to eat. Unfortunately for me, we're headed Up North to attend my nephew's Bar Mitzvah, and this event requires some serious shopping. Actually what this event requires is months and months and months of my Mom annoying the shit outta me (Hi Mom, love you, Mom!) about the clothing for this event. What will I wear? What will the children wear? I will surely DIE unless you tell me you have clothes organised, because OH MY GOD WHAT WILL YOU WEAR? Why are you not shopping yet? YOU NEED CLOTHES, MICHELLE. I AM SERIOUS ABOUT THIS. (Okay Mom. Love you, Mom. Now go away, Mom, because I will not be naked and neither will my kids. Love you, Mom.)

I've been avoiding this shopping business like the plague. Add my avoidance combined with the frenzy which is pre-Xmas shopping, and I'm pretty much curled up under my desk, rocking back and forth and refusing to open my eyes. Today I happened to have some free time (a rarity in my life) and a free child (another rarity) so I thought I would take her to buy some fancy clothes and more importantly, some fancy shoes. She is cursed with the same feet as her mother - e.g. they would do as water skis if you were in a lake and lost your first pair.

In my head, I had a cute little pair of patent leather Mary Janes. In my car, I had a kid with SIZE 4/5 WOMEN'S feet...and a very defined sense of style. Hmmm. Yes. As 007 would say, "Good times, good times." I should also mention that today in Melbourne (and yesterday, and tomorrow) it is raining cats and dogs. It's also cold, windy and altogether horrid ... which means everyone and his asshole cousin is in the mall. After 30 minutes (seriously) of looking for parking I'm hoping not to find (because then I can go HOME and forget this shopping crap) I find a spot. Damn.

It took about 4.5 seconds from the time we hit the front door to the time we paid for DD to find a really cute, dare I say practical, fits her well and a little bit sparkly pair of black shoes. Perfect, right? Get this - leather and all, and forty bucks. DD and I were rockin' the whole party shoe buying business - she liked them, I liked them, they fit, we're buying them. Okay, not quite the Mary Janes I wanted, but pretty close and she loved them, so like hell was I going to leave those babies behind.

Then we decided to go looking for a dress for her, because we need loads of them and I wanted to have a back up or two on hand. Let's face it, 7 year old girls are not only fashionistas, they are fickle as all hell - so what they like on Monday they will hate on Wednesday and then adore on Friday, only to hate it on Sunday. Thus began the dress-finding expedition. Truth be told, there were actually quite a few lovely things to be had, and DD1 is blessed with a gorgeous figure, so most things fit her and are flattering to boot. She had a pretty good selection to choose from. The only real trouble was that everything is summer oriented, and we're heading into the North American winter...but even that can be overcome with a cute cardy, so we're good, right?

Surprisingly, it took only a few dresses to find her something which was truly perfect. It fit her like a glove, it was pink (and thus immediately the "most beautiful dress in the world!") and what's better, it was age appropriate and even within my price range. Better still, it has a lovely floaty swirly skirt which fans out all princess-like and yet does not expose her smalls to the world. YAY ME and YAY her, because we both managed to get through this with a minimum of tantrums (me) and complaining (me) and begging to go home (me) and demands for food (me).

Problem? The shoes don't match the dress, and even fashion-ass-backwards me knows you cannot possibly wear black shoes with a princess pink dress.

Damn. And there I was thinking I had this whole shopping thing...in the bag. (You knew that was coming, didn't you?)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Product Endorsement

You know when you see those ads from overseas with famous actors and athletes promoting stuff? Every time I see one of those, I wonder if the person really likes what they are pushing...or if they just see it as another way to earn money. Does George Clooney really drink Nescafe? Hmmm. When someday I am rich and famous, I think I'll only endorse those products which I actually use. Okay, products which I've actually tried. Okay, okay, products which look like they just might taste okay. Wellll... if I'm broke maybe I'll endorse stuff with cool packaging. Who am I kidding? I have to be rich and famous first!

Today I'm neither rich nor famous, but I'm quite happy to be plugging the recent launch of the local version of allrecipes.com I use the allrecipes website pretty much weekly - as an inspiration for dinner, as a way of checking if the recipe in my head will actually work, and sometimes just for the sheer entertainment of seeing how many things people make with chicken and pineapple. When they asked me to come over and write a guest blog for them, I didn't hesitate. Not only do I actually USE the product, but the packaging is sexy, too.

Go on, endorse ME and go read my guest post.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Happy is as Happy Does

After a crazy busy weekend, I've got at least five things which I am feeling hugely self-satisfied, proud and excited about...I spent most of today just grinning (although I also managed to get some work done!) Since I'm not one to be shy and retiring, you all get to celebrate right along with me:

1) The official site of the Send-A-Sweetie service is now live and operational! After endless requests from customers (and bucket loads of self doubt), I decided it was time to head online with my cupcake deliveries. Go on, you know you want to send some! (If for nothing else than the ridiculously cute name I gave the concept.)

2) This cute little cupcake tower. The client wanted a smaller version of something similar I did a few weeks back. DH and I had to drive about an hour to get to the venue, through some beautiful parts of Melbourne. Well worth it when the chef ran after us (as we were leaving) to tell us she thought it was beautiful. Sometimes it's the simple orders which make me the happiest. In an interesting change, I had NOT ONE single pink cake this week!

3) My gorgeous DD, who has worked so hard to overcome her demons and become not only the recipient of a big school award recently, but also recipient of an award at her gymnastics end of year display. She got an award for "improvement" ...which for her is a HUGE deal and it left her with an enormous sense of pride (as it did for the rest of us...as evidenced by the above photo.) In the photo she's wearing her brand new club t-shirt (sized for sleeping in of course) and her medal, plus she's holding the present her coach gave her and her certificate of achievement. YAY MY DD!

4) My DH, who completed a six month training/fitness thing - it's the first time I've seen him excited about physical activity (other than sex) in a loooonnnngggg time. It was painful, uncomfortable, difficult and often unpleasant - but on Sunday he 'graduated' and I couldn't be prouder (or more amused at his endless complaining about being sore.)

...and finally...

5) I'm proud of me. This is a pretty big thing for me to admit, actually. I'm looking at the year ahead and I'm seeing only positive things - growth for the business, growth for my kids, and just lots of...good stuff! In January I am returning to Los Angeles to see my family - we're taking the kids and heading off for 3 weeks of adventures. This time I'm hoping there will be fewer tears on the flights, no throwing up, and in general travelling with some reasonable children rather than unreasonable toddlers (which is what we had all the previous times.) I'm looking forward to seeing old friends, reconnecting with new ones, and in general having a relaxed time.

That's it. Not the world's most exciting blog post, but it counts as stuff I'm happy about..and as Karen blogged about recently, sometimes the best thing about being happy is just remembering to spread the love a little bit.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Curious Story of the Business Card in the Nighttime

A client came to see me today about making some sweets for her daughter's 21st birthday. Chatter, chatter and she was on her way out the door. As she was leaving, she says to me, "You know Michelle, it's fate that I ordered from you. Fate!"

Fate? Dude, is this lady serious?

"So I had already decided that I was going to order from you, because of the website and our phone conversation. I looked at a bunch of websites, and yet even without tasting I knew you were the one who was going to make our cupcakes for us."

All together now: "Awwwwwwwwwwwwwww!" You just got a warm fuzzy, right?

I nodded politely and thanked her for the lovely comments. She then said, "But that's not the fate part!"


"The fate part is that yesterday I was walking my dog in the park...and while he was running around I noticed something on the ground. I picked it up...and it was your business card! Tatty and muddy, but I recognised the colours and the logo so I knew it was you, as I had just seen your details on the 'Net. So I picked up the card, brushed off the mud, and there it was. A SIGN. Finding your card in the mud at the park was true fate. I was meant to be here, ordering from you."

She then showed me the card - dirty, tattered, and missing about a third of one side. Unmistakably, a Three Sweeties card. Apparently this card has been living as a hobo in the park near this woman's home, which for the record is a good 20 minute drive from my kitchen.

How crazy wierd is that? What are the chances? I asked my IL's (who live in her neighbourhood) if they had started some sort of viral marketing campaign by throwing my business cards into local parks. Apparently not...so this really is a case of strange coincidence. She was convinced it was 'a sign' that she should order from me. Me? I think it's 'a sign' they need to clean up her local park more often. Either way I'm glad for the business...so thank you, business card distribution fairies! Thank you!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A Crisis Of Tiny Proportions

My most favourite cake toys these days are not toys at all, but rather cake bling. I've gotten right into all the edible glitters, shimmer dusts, petal dusts and all things shiny and pretty and ooohhhh- would-you-LOOK-at-the-sparkle! Central to this love of all things shiny and cake is cachous (pronounced 'cashews'.) I adore these freakin' things, and usually have several pots of several colours and sizes. They are an easy, relatively inexpensive way to "zhuj" up a cake or cupcakes.

For weddings I tend to use a heck of a lot of silver ones, so I keep a pretty hearty stock. Several weeks ago I noticed I was running low so I ordered a bunch. I got back a "not in stock" slip from the supplier. I waited a week, ordered again, and again got a "not in stock" list. Hmmm. I ordered them from a second supplier, and then a third. ALL of them had no silver cachous for me. After copious complaining, one of my suppliers said that apparently the importer (of whom there is only ONE in Australia...) "forgot" to put silver cachous on his last shipment. As a result, there is an AUSTRALIA WIDE cachou shortage while we all wait for this moron to get his next shipment. There are no cachous to be had. NONE.

I wish I was kidding, but I'm not. I made half a dozen phone calls to suppliers as I watched my cachou stash grow ever smaller. I spent a lot of time yelling (nicely) at NN to, "Stop being so wasteful with the cake bling!" as she threw them onto cupcakes with gay abandon.

Desperation has start to set in, as I've got 2 weddings and about 10 other clients this weekend alone. I NEED my shiny balls, people. NEED. NN suggested I go to my local supermarket, since they often have small (hideously overpriced) cachous in the baking aisle. I tried two supermarkets and only managed to get ONE little lonely tube. FOR SEVEN DOLLARS. To put this into perspective, I usually pay about $3 for a big pot of them (like the one in the middle of the photo above.)

Lucky for me NN lives and works in a neighbourhood where these things are under appreciated, and her supermarket had plenty. AT SEVEN DOLLARS, but plenty.

I nearly had a heart attack today, over the country-wide shortage of silver balls. Who the hell knew that something so small could bring a grown woman to tears? You know your obsession is bad when you're begging your "supplier" to give you the number of his "dealer" so you can go and break his kneecaps for forgetting to put the order in.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I need to get this off my chest

Dear Bra Manufacturers,

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Michelle, and I have big bazoombas. Yes, I know, you love people like me, because it's people like me who keep you all in business. Let's face it, the flat chested women of the world don't really NEED bras, do they? They can wander around all day in their tiny little t-shirts and tank tops, without a single scrap of material between them and their oh-so-cute spaghetti strapped top. They don't need a bra at all, but they wear one for decorative purposes and to make themselves feel more like proper grown up ladies. These women are the ones who can buy a bra ON SALE. You know the sales where there are thousands upon thousands of cute, fun, colourful bras in a giant display for $9.99 each? Yes, those bras. The ones you put zero support or effort into making. The ones that people can do silly things like colour-coordinate their undies to.

The bras that I wish I could buy.

Don't get me wrong. I understand that bigger bras can never be $9.99, simply because of the amount of man hours which go into engineering them. I'm glad I am supporting the lycra industry. Heck, I don't even mind supporting the lace industry, the hook-and-eye industry, and even the team of Support and Lift Engineers you employ. What I DO mind, however, is that you people seem capable of only achieving one thing at a time. In my own industry, it just wouldn't do to make a beautiful cake which tasted terrible, nor a delicious cake which looked like a cake wreck. I have to go to work, every day, and MULTI-TASK. Yes. I need to have at least two client needs met: taste and appearance. I don't see why highly qualified professionals like yourselves can't do the same.

Let us look at your industry for a moment. For years, us big bazoomba'd ladies had to deal with the world's ugliest (but best engineered) bras. They only ever came in white, that horrid tan colour, or black. They had industrial looking straps, ugly flowers, and even poor old Aunt Beatrice didn't like them...which is funny, as they were designed for 80 year old ladies with hair on their chin (which she is.) Then you all got hip and wise and realised that big boobied women are people too...and so you started to make all sorts of cute, sexy, big bras. Shiny ones, lacey ones, diamante ones, ones with smaller straps and cute colours. You know, for a short while there, I was even PROUD of you all.


Well. It was short-lived pride.

Seems as though you left one one major design flaw behind in all those adorable bras. Comfort. Now I am guessing that a man is designing these over the shoulder boulder holders, so I'm going to try and describe for you what an unfortable but adorable bra feels like. First, I want you to take two small medicine balls and duct tape them to your chest, but only with one piece of duct tape. Then I want you to attach that woolen gardening twine (you know, the hard, painful, scrape-your-hands sort) to the medicine balls at the front. Sling the twine over your shoulders and attach the ends to your back with another piece of duct tape. Now take the duct tape off your chest and let the string hold the medicine balls in place. Great! Now run around - go to work, pick up your kids, go to the gym...tell me how your shoulders feel and look. Red? Raw? Burning? Excellent. Welcome to my world.

Now let's up the ante, because all those cute bras are usually underwire. Take a wire coat hanger. Bend it into a U shape and cut off the ends so there are two hard, sharp metal ends poking out on either side. Now do a second one. Place both of them under your medicine balls. Go about your daily business. How does that feel, especially when you sit down? Isn't getting stabbed in the chest and armpits a great way to stay awake at meetings? I think so!

Here's the thing, Mr Bra Manufacturer man. I want a bra which is BOTH comfortable and cute. I know, I know. Us big bazoomba ladies are SO demanding! Here's the thing, though...it's your job to make bras. It's your job to make bras which fit. Bras which are comfortable. Bras which do not require danger money to wear them.

I know what you're going to say. You're going to say that if I had my bra fitted properly, NONE of these things would happen. Here's the newsflash, buddy boy - I havd subjected myself to stinky old ladies in shops called things like "La Figure" and "Battleaxe Bras" on more than one ocassion. I've even allowed said old dusty lady to touch my ta-tas in ways I don't let my own husband has. I've pushed, pulled, prodded, stuffed, adjusted and wiggled my way into hundreds of bras. End result - either I look cute and feel like a trussed turkey, or I feel good and look like Aunt Beatrice. No, I don't think those are pretty visuals, either! At least we are on agreement on one thing.

Please, please, dear Bra Manufacturer Man, take pity on my big bazoomba'd soul. All I want for Channukah this year is a bra which is comfortable AND cute. I've been a very good girl, I promise!


Michelle in Melbourne

Sunday, November 30, 2008

I made it!

Phew! It's November 30, which means I successfully blogged every day for 30 days! I intended to cover a whole range of topics, but in the end stuck to the things I know best - my kids, my cakes, my life. I hope the few of you reading this enjoyed coming along with me for the ride. While I'd like to try to keep the posting to once a day, reality dictates that I'll probably manage 3-4 posts a week.

For my last post, I'm going to leave you with a meme. This appears in The Age every Saturday, in the Good Weekend magazine. Every week I read it and I wonder what my answers would be, so now I'm getting the chance to actually answer it!

Your Time Starts Now...

My earliest memory is... not early at all, since I have very few memories of my childhood. I really only have clear memories from about the 4th grade, most notably of watching The Challenger explosion on TV at school.

At school I... never lived up to my potential.

My first relationship was... with a boy who gave me a rose pin which smelled like a real fake rose.

I don't like talking about... money. Or weight. Or both.

My mother and father always told me... I was a genius who could achieve anything I put my hand to.

I wish I had... invented post-it notes.

I wish I hadn't... listened to other people so much, especially when it came to choosing a career.

My most humiliating moment was... falling over onstage during a production of Grease. I was wearing a silver hair salon smock covered in small balloons, so as soon as I fell over it was POP POP POP POP POP. The lights came up on stage and I kept dancing, popped balloons and all.

My happiest moments were... laughing with my family on long road trips, and making endless jokes about matza and the unfortunate side effects of eating too much of it.

At home I cook... ridiculously simple things which take 20 minutes or less.

My last meal would be... bread and ice cream.

I'm very bad at... keeping my mouth shut.

When I was a child I wanted to be... married to Billy Joel.

The book that changed my life is... the first one I learned to read.

It's not fashionable, but I love... anything which is not in fashion. If it's dorky, I love it.

The song I'd like played at my funeral is... Michelle by The Beatles, of course!

Friends say I am... loud and loyal.

My greatest fear is... that my husband will die before I do, and then I will be alone.

If only I could... lose 50 kilos before January 15th.

The hardest thing I've ever done was... tell my Dad I wasn't sure I could give him the grandkids he wanted (okay, demanded.)

The last big belly laugh I had was... when DD2 told me, "Remember! Only YOU can prevent forest fires!" which is a line from a Ramona Quimby book. I remember loving that line when I read that book.

What I don't find amusing is... almost nothing, as I use humour to diffuse most situations.

I'm always being asked... do you need a taste-tester?

Cat or dog... dog, and I want one, but I have no idea WHY I want one.

If I wasn't me I'd like to be... thinner, but no less fabulous.

At the moment I'm reading... Henry and Beezus by Beverley Cleary, on the recommendation of my kids. It's as good now as it was when I was seven and reading it.

My favourite work of art is... the drawing the kids and I recently did, which was a hairy monster who had a hairy monster for a pet, who had a hairy monster for a pet, who had a hairy monster for a pet, who had a hairy monster for a pet, who had a hairy monster for a pet, who had a cat for a pet, who had a spider for a pet. All on one long leash.

My worst job was... as a temp, filing for a company who had literally an entire building of filing cabinets. Each of them was packed so tight I couldn't get my fingers between the sheets of paper. I spent an entire day avoiding doing it, and fantasising about mis-filing tons of stuff on purpose. I lasted one day and I quit.

I often wonder... if anyone reads this blog, but then I remind myself that I'm not supposed to care that much.

....and I'm tagging the following...

Claire at Matching Pegs
Ramona at Making Things Pretty
AJ at Confessions of a Fat Girl
Rachel at Contented
Frances at Fleeting Moments

Saturday, November 29, 2008

When Work & Family Collide

This morning I had to attend a mandatory hair and make-up lesson in preparation for DD2's ballet recital. The first part of the experience was shopping for a very long list of things I personally have never owned. Liquid eye liner, white eye shadow, fire engine red lipstick, fake eyelashes...and the list goes on. $80 poorer later and we had an entire collection of suitably diva-esque make up, complete with cute purple make-up bag (which I later discovered has a serious flaw - no mirror!) Truth be told, I wasn't all that confident of my ability to carry this off. It's not a lick of mascara and a swipe of lipstick we're talking about...it's full theatre make-up. One wrong move and your kid ends up looking like the members of KISS.

So away she and I went - with not one but two bags filled with stuff. One for her clothes: multiple leotards, different coloured tights, ballet shoes, jazz shoes, tap shoes...e.g. my last mortgage payment. The second bag was for her accoutrements: hair brushes, hair spray, a bazillion pins, hair nets, aforementioned make-up...you get the idea. There I was with DD2 and what felt like a thousand other Mums and ballerinas sitting the hall, learning step-by-step how to put all this crapola on.

I've mentioned before how un-girly I am, and how my Mom thinks that I was born to someone else because she is as high maintenance as they come. As a kid I would spend HOURS sitting on the edge of her bathtub, watching her get ready for parties. Like a lady-in-waiting I was responsible for helping her do up zippers, putting on earrings, and fixing stray bits of hair. At the time it was fun, kinda like playing dress ups but with an adult human rather than a doll of some kind. This was the 80's, so there was some seriously big hair, even bigger dresses, loads of makeup and of course bling. (Although then they didn't use the word bling...)

This morning, it became obvious that I was one of the only mothers there who was managing to get it on my ballerina correctly. Several curse words were said (particularly in regards to those eyelashes), a couple of kids burst into tears..and so did a Mom or two. I sat there, quietly feeling superior and clever, and said a silent prayer of thanks to my Mom. Clearly all those hours spent watching her prepared me for the hell on earth which is applying a perfectly straight line of liquid eyeliner to a squirmy seven year old. People, I was totally rocking that make-up. I might have to change the name of this blog to "Estee Lauder and the hungry three" because I was totally amazing (and clearly modest as well.)

Now while you might think that watching my Mom and learning from her was the key to my success, I will say that I had a second skill up my sleeve. If you close your eyes just so, and use all the powers of your imagination, you can magic that stupid little eyeliner brush into the point on a piping bag filled with icing.

Voila! A perfectly steady hand and a gorgeous looking girl who is grateful that I didn't carry my secret make up applying skill into writing "Happy Birthday Claire" on her eyelid with liquid eyeliner.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Can you make me an economic crisis cake?

One of the interesting side effects of the economic crisis is watching which businesses are struggling and which are still performing. Not surprisingly, when people feel the crunch they tend to chuck all the luxury items - the new car, the new dress, the new shoes. They hang onto all the essentials - the food, the heating/cooling, the kids (ha!).

I've been very lucky that thus far things are still going well. My theory about this is that people, even in an economic mess, need to feel a little bit happy. So if they've already planned a party, they tend to think, "Oh, well, might as well go all out since everything else is in the shit!" If they haven't planned one, but have an occasion coming up, they'll have it anyway as an excuse to have a bit of fun. Interestingly I've noticed that in recent weeks 'price only' queries have slowed down a lot. Loads of customers are calling and placing orders and not asking or quibbling about price - where previously I'd have a lot of tire-kicker customers calling.

Of course, I'm grateful for the business - but on a larger scale I'm grateful that I made the choice to re-train all those years ago. It was scary to do, and required a massive leap of faith - but a HUGE part of choosing my profession was choosing one which would enable me to work anywhere in the world, NO matter what was happening to the economy. People need to eat, and no matter how broke they are, people will always need OTHER people to prepare it for them.

So, tell me. Now that we're all broke and getting broker, what if anything are you grateful for? It's got to be something you did BEFORE all this happened, which has worked out well for you now.

(Seems apt to be posting this on Thanksgiving, even though it's not an Australian holiday. No, Mom, no Pilgrims landed on Sydney Rock...)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Cake for Me

"I get by with a little help from my friends..."

No truer words were spoken. (or sung, in any case.) This was the cake I brought to my girls' weekend away in Daylesford - not made by me, but certainly enjoyed by me (it's mille fuille, for those who are curious.) Perhaps I should have written, "I eat cheese with a little help from my friends..." as we managed to eat a ridiculously sublime amount of Buche d'Affinois.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Craptastic Corner Cafe

This past weekend, 7 lovely ladies and I all went away for a weekend away filled with good food, great wine, conversation, and debauchery involving a Sing Star. On the Saturday night we planned to actually drag ourselves away from the buttery leathery couches and head into town for a swanky meal out. Given the state of the economy (and therefore the state of our wallets), we had to forgo the much-awarded Lake House and try for something a little more local.

Thus began what I like to call the week of a thousand phone calls. Seems like every restaurant in the greater Daylesford/Hepburn Springs area was booked out, not returning my calls, or wanting to charge me $35 for a plate of biodynamic samples. Several of the places I called recommended a restaurant called The Cosy Corner Cafe & Restaurant - many of them mentioned that it's a place favoured by locals and that their food is delicious and good value. After some faffing about with message leaving and phone calling, I managed to secure a booking with them for Saturday night.

Sometimes I think I should learn to listen to my instincts. Any restaurant which boasts "normal sized servings" in all of it's advertising just...you know...hmmm. Is that your point of difference? Anyway we pressed on, as it seemed to be the only joint in town which could accommodate us (and that in itself should have been another clue.)

The restaurant itself is not on a corner, but we forgive it those minor transgressions because everything else falls into the category of a major transgression. We come in and get seated...and you know, it didn't take long for the problems to start. First was the menu, which was chucked at us. To say we were made to feel unwelcome would be an understatement. The specials board, which according to the waitress was "making it's way around here eventually" was nowhere to be seen. Then Jewel ordered a Macchiato (which was on the menu) and the waitress had NO idea what that was....so Jewel had to explain it to her. People, don't put something on a menu (even something as simple as coffee) if you have NO IDEA what it is. The blank look Jewel got in response to her request was laughably priceless.

We then made the mistake of asking for some water...which we couldn't even ask for until she went to "put some orders in." She basically told us (in fewer words) to shut up and wait. Honestly, this is the point at which we should have left, and I'm not entirely sure why I didn't suggest that.

This wasn't shaping up to be the best meal ever...but we're patient, and we're nice, so we kept hoping against hope that it would all suddenly improve. It didn't. We had to repeatedly ask for the specials board, and once we got it, it was both barely legible and not anywhere where we could read it. Poor NN nearly got brained by the damn thing falling on top of her. Funnily enough, the items on the specials board sounded a lot better than what was on the menu itself. More imaginative, more interesting, more...everything. This wasn't helped by several items on the menu being pencilled in as N/A. I'm all for short and sharp menus, but not if you can't service those items.

Jewel's now-infamous coffee arrives...as a shot of espresso with 3/4 cup of water added and barely a soupcon of milk on top. Macchiato, my arse! Jewel had to explain (again!) what it was. When she got it (for the second time), let's just say that my dog (which I don't own) with one hand (which he doesn't have) tied behind his back...could have made a better coffee. But I digress, because after all we came here for the food.



The waitress deigns to take our order from us.

We waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And...about ten seconds before I decided to go completely mental on these people, it arrived. We're now looking at one hour, 15 minutes waiting time. In a restaurant of maybe 40 seats, there is no acceptable excuse for this...particularly since the food wasn't particularly complicated.

Sometimes, food can be worth the wait. This time? I wish I had cut and run.

Jewel and I decided to share one of the specials - described as a Mushroom Wellington with scalloped potatoes and mixed seasonal vegetables. Please, witness this horror:

Hmmm. 1.2 pieces of (soggy, unseasoned) scalloped potato. Some steamed vegetables (no seasoning there, either.) Some horrifically burnt-to-carbon veg which I think was sweet potato, but I'm not really sure of that. Most of the vegtables were clearly refugees from the Sunnyvale Home for the Elderly, or a local hospital. We are talking retirement home vegetables, people. Soft and without flavour of any kind, and certainly not seasonal. The mushroom...thing...well... here's some more detail for you:

"Waitress! Somebody shat in my puff pastry!"

Oh. My. God. I found myself wishing I was in that pitch black restaurant - the one where it's so dark the waiters need night vision goggles. This thing was HIDEOUS. They attempted a duxelles and got...poo. I'm sorry, but there's no nice way to say it. Flavour wise, it wasn't too terrible although Jewel found it way too sweet for her pallette. I ate it mostly out of hunger and depression more than actual enjoyment. I found if I squinted my eyes as I lifted the fork to my mouth I managed to - just - swallow without gagging.

The Neighbour's Wife opted for the other vegetarian selection. I'd like to be able to tell you WHAT she ordered, but neither she nor I could really tell:

"Waitress! There's a ...something...in my ....something."

007 went for a stuffed chicken breast. This one apparently tasted pretty okay, but yet again the presentation was one step above dog's breakfast. She too had to "enjoy" her unseasoned steamed vegetables from Sunnyvale.

"Waitress! There's an old man named Jeb who is missing his steamed broccoli tonight!"

The Sicilian was brave and ordered a grilled fish dish...her catch of the day was certainly fresh, but only on the day it was caught (which we guessed was some months prior.) We're talking frozen fish here, people...and not just ANY frozen fish, but frozen fish which our friends at McCain's could have done better on.

Look! More scalloped potatoes! Must've been on special.

The various other meals around the table just got worse and worse. Cocoa's lamb had no sauce at all (read: dry), the chips that Poppet's Mum got were clearly from an el-cheapo frozen brand, nothing was seasoned, most things were overcooked and then there were the salads. Ohhh, the salads!

Hmmm. You charge me $28 a main, and yet you cannot actually toss the dressing through the vegtables? You have to just kinda swirl it a bit on top? Seriously? Here's a culinary newsflash people: chucking a little bit o' alfalfa on top doesn't make your salad great. It just makes it soggy and even more retirement-home like.

At this point we all realised that, having waited as long as we did, there was no point in returning the meals...so we all kinda ate them, grudgingly. The waitress clearly did not give two hoots about us - instead she almost went out of her way to make us feel as though we were a burden on her. It took ages for the plates to be cleared, and eventually my patience wore out and I went up to the counter to request the bill. It took several more minutes to actually GET the bill, and I can assure you that the only bright spark of the meal was knowing that we would leave them a HUGE tip.

The tip? You're reading it. Congratulations, Cozy Corner, you've earned it!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Quickie Food Review

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Bread & Muffin Mix

It came from a land far away.
I ignored it, until...
It called to me from inside the pantry.
I mixed it.
I baked it.
The smell made me swoon.
We ate it.
We ate some more.
It's gone.
Only crumbs left.
It was delish!
Go buy some!!

(Translation: Quite possibly the single best baked-from-a-box anything I've ever eaten. No photos because it all got gobbled up too quick! Plus we tried it with the Trader Joe's Pumpkin Butter (which isn't actually butter at all). We found it's nicer on it's own, hot from the oven.)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Pink cakes abound!

This cake was made for another repeat customer. I made them several hundred cupcakes for their christening, and now it's first birthday time. She originally wanted this cake:

Which is made by Lindy Smith, one of my favourite cake artists. Unfortunately the customer had neither the budget nor the number of guests to justify it, and she didn't like the idea of using false tiers. In the end we went with something 'inspired' by the above design. I know the colour of the photo is not great (hey thanks, kids, for dropping the digital camera) but you get the idea. The colours in real life were pretty close to Lindy's although my pink wasn't quite as magenta as hers is. I still think it came out beautifully, and I can see how you could adopt this theme in other ways - with only stars rather than flowers, with only variations on pink rather than the added green and orange, and so on.

Lately I've had a number of clients asking for things which really are a lot of fun to make. This cake, while labour intensive in terms of rolling out and cutting all those flowers, was actually simple to make. I've not seen the inside of this book - so I don't know what her instructions were - but I imagine it's something that the reasonably patient and experienced home baker could manage. I'd love to see what other cakes she has in this book, because if they are anything like this one I'm sure they are spectaular.

In the meantime, hope you are all enjoying all these cake pics - I enjoy sharing them!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Blog Award

The lovely Claire over at Matching Pegs gave me a blog award a while ago, and it's time I acknowledged it! It was a real treat as it is my first! It's the Proximidade award...and unfortunately my foreign language skills only stretch far enough to understand that getting this is a good thing. The basic idea is that you give it to blogs that "extend the hand of friendship around the world" - and I'm meant to choose eight, and then those people are meant to choose eight more. Kinda like those annoying email chain letters, only nicer because you're not pissing everyone off by forwarding it "just in case, because, you know, I don't really believe in these things, but you never know..."

I have no idea if these 8 blogs read this one...but they extend friendship to me by being full of interesting, fun things to read (and in the case of Wrecks, make me laugh so hard I nearly wet myself), so I'm awarding them.

In no particular order:

Consider yourselves awarded!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Cake Engineers

Do you think if I made a cake like this one, my Dad would think I had a real job? Hmmm. I could call myself a Cake Engineer...

...and for those who are as gob smacked as I was, here's the making of:

...but what I really want to know is, who ate it when they finished filming?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Tea & Toast Books

There are only so many chick-lit books you can read before you figure out that:

a) the girl always gets the right guy in the end,
b) there will always be a best friend who is happily married with kids and full of useless advice,
c) the girl will always have either the world's worst OR the world's coolest job, and
d) they always seem to be eating endless amounts of take-out curries (especially for books set in the UK.)

While I have been known to devour chick-lit books by the thousands, they also tend to have a high 'pitch rate' for me...eg I read a couple of pages, get bored, and pitch the book back into the library bag. They are perfect for lazy days by the pool, sunny days on the beach, and on air planes where you want to be anywhere but cramped into a small seat with no leg room. Chick-lit, to me, isn't meant to be read on wintery, cold days. On days when all you want is a mug of tea and some toast slathered with (salted, French) butter. Days when you know you have washing, blogging, working, cleaning to do...but you just can't be bothered. On those days, I have two authors whose books I read over and over again.

The first is the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, by Alexander McCall Smith. A series of (so far) 10 slim novels, the books follow the life of Precious Ramotswe, a "traditionally built" woman of Botswana. She opens the very first (and only) detective agency in town, and these books are all about her professional and personal adventures. While I adore crime fiction (and that's another genre we'll talk about later), I don't really read these for the crime part of it. I read them entirely for the fantastic cultural depiction of life in Africa, and for the extreme affection I hold for the main character. I can realte to her in a lot of ways - from driving a car which is far too small for her, to being married to a kind a quiet man, to being an endless talker - I like to think that Mma Ramotswe is me, African style! I've read and re-read this series too many times to count, and yet every time I find I discover something new. A funny one liner, a description of a person or place which is particularly engaging; something which makes me smile.

I've tried reading some of his other books - notably the Sunday Philosopher's Club series - but I don't find them nearly as enaging. With the detective agency books, it's the whole package which makes it. The place on it's own is fascinating, but the combination of location, story line, and totally beliveable characters make these books into something special.

If you've not read them, I highly recommend them... even if you're not having a tea and toast sort of day.

My second author for tea and toast days is Maeve Binchy. Similar to the McCall Smith books, the atraction here lies in the setting. All of her books are set in and around Ireland, a place which I have wanted to visit for a very long time (and which I'm getting to, in November 2010). I find so much about the Irish culture fascintating, that reading these books really is pure joy for me. I suppose some might dismiss these as mere fluff, because they can be terribly predictable, and nothing earth shattering happens in them - kinda like the chick lit, I suppose! Those reasons are precisely why I adore them - they are the literary equivalent of cuddling into a warm quilt.

I recently finished Heart & Soul, which was a little disappointing but still very much a Binchy book. Among my favourites are Tara Road, Quentin's, Silver Wedding, Evening Class and Scarlet Feather. Most of the ones just mentioned share characters, so I get an special treat when someone I've read of suddenly pops up again. I sometimes wonder how she keeps it all straight in her head! While these books are most certainly pitched at the female market, it's the lovely descriptions of Irish life which keeps them from being in the same pile as the Cathy Kelly novels of the world. In terms of characters, she also keeps from being too hackneyed because all of them are different ages - from the young twins to the young adults to the oldies, everyone is represented. I suppose I feel as though Maeve treats her characters with respect. They are all people you could imagine meeting in Dublin one day.

...and if all those are not reasons enough to love her, Maeve describes her childhood self as "...fat and hopeless at games," and unashamedly dedicates every book to her husband. What I'm really saying is that Maeve is Precious Ramotswe, Ireland style.

So while Australia is busy heating up and getting ready for summer, all my Northern Hemisphere readers out there should be getting ready for plenty of tea and toast Sundays. Here's hoping you enjoy those days with a good book in hand.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

You just never know

Things I never thought I would find myself doing for my children:

1. Spending $80 on make-up, including fake eyelashes and fire-engine red lipstick, for my seven year old daughter. (In my defence, it's for her ballet concert. Still, it kinda makes me want to puke.)

2. Playing Mums-versus-Kids Aussie Rules football and enjoying it so much I briefly found myself wondering it there is such thing as a special league for fat women who cannot run very far.

3. Sewing a dress, from a pattern...and having it come out looking like an actual dress, which both my girls have enjoyed wearing. Not only that, I found myself liking it enough to try it again (yes, photos and a full post-mortem to be posted soon.)

4. Explaining what a blog is, and then having to wrestle the camera away from them as they say, "But Mum! You can post this picture on your blog!"

5. Tolerating their constant threatening to give me a box of used band aids for my birthday. Of all things kid-esque which gross me out (including kids throwing up as I'm a sympathy spewer, dirty toenails, smooth peanut butter and the gagging smell of sweat in DD's gymnastics club) - dirty bandaids are the single most disgusting thing in the entire world. Literally, they give me a gag reflex. My hatred of bandaids (all of them, even clean ones, really gross me out...have you ever smelled them? That plasticky cheap band-aid smell? Ugghhh) has only recently become apparent to my kids, and they LOVE to torture me with this. Ever since DS's banged knee required endless amounts of bandaids which he loved to pick off and leave around the place (including one which The Neighbour's Wife found IN HER MAILBOX!) I am surrounded by the damn things. Please, please make it stop!

...so, tell me. What things do you do for your kids which you never thought you would have to? (and let's try to stay light hearted, shall we?)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Ones That Count

Sometimes you get a customer who really gets to you...and you just can't get them out of your head. A few weeks ago a lady called me asking about cupcakes for a first birthday, as it was shortly going to be her granddaughter's party and they wanted a very specific look for the event. The mother, sister, and grandmother all came in to see me, with baby in tow and a whole lot of reference photos for me to look at. The Mum wanted four different designs, and was really specific about flavours, colours, shapes, etc. She had the cupcakes planned to the very last detail.

Strangely, during the consult the Mum (of the birthday girl) seemed very miserable. Didn't really engage with me, hardly spoke to me ... she just didn't seem like a lot of the (sometimes frazzled) young mothers I see in my kitchen. Most of them are happy and excited to be talking about birthday cake. To be honest, I thought she wasn't at all happy with what I offered her. When they left, I assumed she would go somewhere else - so I was quite surprised to get an email a few days later, asking about paying a deposit.

When I spoke to the grandmother again, the story was revealed. Turns out this young Mum (she is only 21 years old) has brain cancer, and the prognosis isn't looking good. It is a real possibility for this family that she will never see another one of her daughter's birthdays. For that reason, the family was pulling out all the stops for this first birthday party, getting every detail exactly right and making it a real celebration of both of their lives. She was miserable that day because not only was she in the middle of a round of treatment, but she was probably also thinking about the birthday parties she may never get to be a part of.

When the cupcakes were picked up, the Aunt said, "These are perfect! Exactly what was in the picture. She's going to LOVE these! Thank you so much!" She was so effusive, and so grateful...and my heart just ached and ached for this family. I know I can't do anything for them...other than make them exactly the cupcakes they wanted for their special celebration.

You know what? It's not much, but I know it's going to make this Mum happy. For her, at the moment, I'm guessing it's all about the small happiness she can glean from every day spent with her daughter. This pastry biz might not change the world, but if it makes this sick Mum's day a bit brighter, it will all be worth it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Pretty In Pink

This cake was made for a repeat customer - I made their christening cake about 6 weeks ago, and now they are celebrating their little girl's first birthday. On this one I could do whatever I wanted as long as the fairy figurine was on top - the Mum wanted the figurine as a real focal point and a keepsake for her little girl.

I'm posting it just because I really like how it came out. I used elements of other cakes which I like making - the bubble border from the chicken/bubbles cake, the butterfly from the garden cake, and the sugar flowers from all those cupcakes I bake. I also think the yellow works as a good highlight colour with all that pink. Plus I am addicted to cake bling, so of course I had to have a few silver cachous on there, too. While there is a lot of "stuff" on this cake, I just think it came out really sweet and nice. Perfect for a first birthday which is fun and yet elegant at the same time, and it really reflects the family's focus on their pinky-girly little girl.

When the Mum came to pick it up, she said, "Whoah. You must have spent ages on this!" ... and while I did, you know, it was an absolute pleasure. I get a real kick out of spending time on cakes for people who are not only courteous and nice, but also willing to let me do my own thing.

Just posting this because looking at the picture makes me smile...here's hoping it does the same for you.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

More Retro Baking

Surely by now the NordicWare Company would have contacted me and said, "Hey, emzee, thanks for single-handedly bringing back the glory days of Bundt Cake baking. Here's another Bundt shape for you to try!" Sadly, the good people at NordicWare haven't done that, so my poor readers are left with a picture which looks frighteningly similar to those I've posted before.

This time it was DH who got to pick a cake flavour for the week. He's not one for chocolate things (he likes his dark, and prefers to have it unbaked!) - but he loves citrus things of all kinds. I can almost always pick what dessert he'll have - if it involves lime, orange, or lemon, it's an almost guaranteed order. One of his most favourite treats is those horrible orange peels coated in dark chocolate.

Anyway, he picked the Bundt of the Week as Orange Mint Pound Cake. I wasn't terribly keen on the idea, but then I'm not huge fans of either of those flavours. Still, he's a great hubby and he hardly ever asks for something, so I have to throw the man a bone once in a while, right?

In this case he was totally right - this cake is delicious! Really moist, lovely soft velvety crumb, and the sugaring of the pan gives it a really delicate crust which works well against the soft inside. The mint flavour is quite subtle at first, but the after taste is distinctly fresh mint, and we both noticed the flavour got more intense after a couple of days. It bakes very slowly for a long time, which contributes to it's texture and makes your kitchen smell heavenly.

Another fabulous, ridiculously easy cake which works for grown ups and kids alike.

Orange Mint Pound Cake
1 1/4 cups sugar (in Australia, caster sugar. In the US, fine sugar but not confectioner's)
1 cup butter, softened
1 T chopped mint (you could probably double this)
3/4 cup milk
3 eggs
2 1/4 cups plain flour
1 Tbs grated orange peel
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda

Heat oven to 160/300. Grease your Bundt pan, and put in about 1/2 cup of sugar (extra). Over a sink, turn the pan around until the sugar coats the pan. Add more sugar if necessary, but be sure not to leave a big scoop of it. Once the surfaces are covered, tip out the excess.

Mix sugar, softened butter and mint until very light and fluffy. Add milk and mix well. Add all remaining ingredients and mix to smooth, about 2 minutes. Spoon into a pan.

Bake for 60-85 minutes (mine took 60) until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then flip onto a wire rack and allow to cool (or not. Eat it warm as we did.)


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Blogging By Mail

I love the Internet primarily because it makes the world a smaller place, and it opens up so many opportunities, particularly among the food-loving community. It's through the Internet that I've met fabulous people (Hello, DH and hello, Tatonka Family) and had the chance to experience things I would not otherwise have experienced. Recently I took part in a Blogging By Mail exchange, with a foodie twist. Organised by Stephanie over at The Happy Sorceress, the plan was to send 10 food or food-related items to someone. This was not an even exchange, so the person you sent your goodies to was not the person you received it from. I was lucky enough to get a box of treats from Tammy over at Boston Food & Whine.

She sent me a whole lot of Autumn inspired foods and treats from her local area - I adore getting mail of any kind, but getting a themed (to location and season) box was a real treat. Among other things I got the world's biggest container of Marshmallow Fluff, some Pumpkin Butter, a Boston Red Sox Pez dispenser, some candy corn, real Vermont maple syrup, a cookbook...and loads of other delicious, fun things to try. When I got the box it had heaps of quarantine stickers on it - which isn't really unusual to see. As Australia is an island and once bugs get here, we can't get rid of them - quarantine rules are particularly stringent. My niece once sent me some project she made at school and the whole thing was seized because it was in a cardboard egg carton, which is not allowed! Who knew egg cartons were the harbingers of bacterial gloom?

When I opened Tammy's box there was this huge letter with a brochure telling me that an item had been seized. The item was listed as "20g of dried leaves" - so there I was thinking that Tammy was both liberal and brave to be sending me some pot in the mail! I assumed she had seen this blog (because we all got the recipients blog addresses) and maybe she thought I'd make some hash brownies?! Might as well put my baking skills to good use, right?

Quarantine gave me the option of either a) writing and telling them to destroy the item or b) paying to have it shipped back to Tammy. I thought I'd better check with Tammy before I shipped my precious drugs back to her. Turns out the 20g of dried leaves...was exactly that, DRIED LEAVES! She assumed (correctly) that there isn't much here in the way of fall foilage changing colours, so she had collected some leaves from her garden and sent them.

Damn. No pot for me, I guess.

Sadly, you can't smoke a letter from the Quarantine office, no matter how small you chop it up.