Monthly Archives: February 2015

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Carried away in Oz

Confession time: I may have gone a teeny, tiny bit OTT with Little Homebird’s second birthday party a few weeks ago. With flying monkeys suspended from the ceiling, a yellow brick road meandering its way through our hall and a six layer cake in glorious technicolour hidden under some innocent looking icing… well, Toto, we weren’t in Kansas any more.

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I really enjoyed preparing the various elements for my oops, LH’s party and the result was a happy, relaxed afternoon at home with family and close friends.

The idea for a Wizard of Oz themed party came from this rainbow cake by Whisk Kid. It’s amazing, right?

I’m not a talented baker but I really felt inspired and challenged to give it a go.  As well as the incredible colours and its showstoppery interior, part of me loves it because it’s so unassuming  on the outside. Then when you cut into it … surprise!
This cake is so special it’s going to get its very own post. I’ll keep you, well, posted.

But for now, here’s a sneak peek of how it turned out:

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Once I’d found the theme I made lists for food, decor and games.
There are so many ideas for Wizard of Oz themed parties on the internet (I’ve listed a few of the sites I used for inspiration at the end of this post) that the problem was not deciding what to include, but what to leave out.

Here’s what I whittled it down to:

Food

The focal point of the buffet table was The Cake with rows of old school-style milk bottles lined up in front of it.

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To save time I served mainly readymade supermarket party food which were then given Wizard of Oz themed names.
As the party was after lunch I really only needed nibbles.
This is what we ate:
Cocktail sausages – labelled Hot ‘Toto’ Dogs. (I know, poor Toto.):

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Chicken goujons – labelled Scarecrow’s Goujons and served on a bed of ‘straw':

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Sausage rolls – labelled Kansas Twisters.
Crudités and dips – labelled Over the Rainbow Veggie Dippers:

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Bread sticks with cheese  – in the shape of a witch’s broomstick:

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Rainbow Fruit Kebabs:

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Shortbread – labelled Put ‘em Up Shortbread as they were supposed to be in the shape of lions. (I ignored the fact they actually looked like mice.)

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Popcorn – labelled Wicked Witch Toenails and Corns. Yum.
Lemon bonbons – labelled Lemon Drops.
Chocolate hearts – labelled Tin Man Hearts:

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I had intended to fill the bottles with cranberry juice but I wasn’t sure how popular that would be with the guests. I wanted the drink to be red, so what else would work?
I whizzed up a batch of banana and strawberry smoothies with apple and cranberry juice and tiny bit of beetroot to make it as red as possible. Here’s the result: Ruby Slipper Smoothies.

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They went down very well with the kids and adults so I’d definitely recommend them for any family gatherings. I’ll put the ‘recipe’ in the cooking section of the blog soon.

Decorations

This was the most time consuming yet most enjoyable part for me.
I wanted to set the scene at the entrance so I printed out some Wizard of Oz themed posters and stuck them either side of the front door. Then I made a rainbow wreath with tulle and pinned paper letters to read Happy Birthday. (Pics coming soon.)

Once the guests were inside they saw the yellow brick road:011e2f20a77157e7bd35be7e409f5cad50676ddc9c

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This is how it looked from upstairs.

My yellow brick road was made from large sheets of brown paper stuck together.

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Initially I thought of a straight path leading from the front door to our living room where the party was being held but I’m pleased that I decided to try to make it a little more interesting. I used a decorating sponge and some leftover yellow paint I’d used for the playroom to stamp on the brick shape.

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Among the chaos you’ll spot the tulle rainbow wreath on the chair

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I was amazed how quickly this came together. Cutting out the shape took me less than an hour one evening and I got all the painting done during LH’s afternoon nap.

Maximum impact, minimum effort!

I only wish I could say the same about the flying monkeys.01f5283d3eb3fc1e562a9a02bd20308b38f2aedd62
I thought silhouettes were the way to go and easily found what I was looking for via Google images to use as a template.
I made one witch and a troop of monkeys (I love those collective nouns!) from black card and I think they looked really effective.

 

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I would NOT recommend you start these if you’re short of time, however! I was really surprised at how long just the cutting out took – the best part of a day.
I was using scissors – perhaps if I had used a craft knife and cutting board it would have speeded things up. But at the time, I was seeing curly monkey tails in my sleep!

Another time consuming element was the decor for the buffet table. A few days before the party  I realised I needed a colour scheme to tie everything together. (I wish I’d thought of that sooner!)
Choosing was tricky however. There are so many colours associated with the film: the yellow of the yellow brick road, the green of the Emerald City, the red ruby slippers and the blue and white of Dorothy’s dress. And if that wasn’t confusing enough, all the colours of the rainbow of course, thanks to the famous song!
I finally plumped for red teamed with blue and white gingham because it was such a pretty combination.
I bought some gingham fabric to make a table runner and sprinkled some red heart table confetti between the dishes. 01891bd2744f8b0ed204b657af512f34f82ad234cd

The milk bottles and sweetie  jars were decorated with gingham paper with red circles stuck on top and an image of a ruby slipper on top of that. I had seen similar labels from Krown Kreations on etsy and had a go at making a homemade version.

I also decorated a tin can for the cutlery in the same way.

The bunting you may have spotted in the pictures had been made a month or so earlier for my husband’s birthday party but as it was in rainbow colours I decided to use it again. (It’s just A4 coloured printer paper cut into diamonds, folded in half over string and glued together and only took a couple of hours to make.)

One of my favourite elements was the little house, er, housing the popcorn. I’d seen pictures on Pinterest of witch’s legs, complete with ruby slippers, coming out of cakes, or life sized ones emerging from doorways. I was planning to try something similar with the cake but when I spotted LH’s red (red, yay!) fabric animal barn I knew I could use it. I stuck paper on the brown roof and used black and white striped straws for the legs.

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I tried using red acrylic paint on a pair of silver Barbie doll shoes but it just sat in bubbles looking up at me. Instead, I tried nail varnish which worked a treat. I finished off the shoes with some red glitter and used blu tack to stick them to the straws which I taped underneath the little ‘Kansas’ house.

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From silver …

 

 

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… to ruby red.

 

I placed a Tupperware container inside and filled it up with popcorn. Et voila!

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Party games

I love games! I even had pass the parcel as an icebreaker at the guests’ tables at my wedding (that’s a post for another day) so it was definitely on the list. I had planned to wrap each layer in a different colour of the rainbow but I thought this might spoil some of the suspense as people would work out how many layers were left.
Instead, I stuck to the theme by sticking the following message on the last layer: ‘Congratulations! You have found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow’ and wrapping up a little bunch of chocolate gold coins. The music we played was the gorgeous Somewhere over the Rainbow/Wonderful World by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole. Give the girl a theme…

Other games included a treasure hunt and pinning the heart on the tin man.

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I was seriously running out of time when I came to the treasure hunt, so finding this Wizard of Oz free scavenger hunt online was a huge help.

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I gave my nephew (6) and niece (4) a copy each and they went from room to room finding the hidden images. All I needed to do was tell them if they were’ hot’ or ‘cold’. We played this at the very beginning of the party while the food was in the oven.
At the end they found their ‘treasure': little presents for themselves and the younger children, hidden in a basket I’d painted yellow and filled with leftover gingham.

Wow, I feel tired reliving this. Now that I’ve written about it, it seems like I did a lot. But I really only started the preparations about a week beforehand so I think next year I’ll start much earlier and do a little at a time.
I’m just not sure of a theme. The Wizard of Oz was so inspirational I think it will be difficult to find anything as good!

Maybe I won’t have to come up with a theme at all. Something tells me LH will have her own ideas by then. I wonder will she request another rainbow cake?

How have you celebrated special family occasions? I’d love to hear from you!

Websites and blogs I used for inspiration (not an exhaustive list as I didn’t take a note of every website I browsed at the time.)

celebrations.com for the straws-as-legs idea

bnute.blogspot.co.uk for the free printable scavenger hunt maps

kathybslittlecorner.blogspot.com for the flying monkey silhouette

yvonnebyattsfamilyfun.blogspot.com (and too many others to mention) for the Pin the Heart on the Tin Man idea

505-design.com for the free mini bunting printables used on the cake

whiskkid.com for that cake

karaspartyideas.com for general party planning brilliantness

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Easy midweek dinner: Chicken and Peach Bake

Despite my kitchen coming down with cookery books, (I am quite addicted to them) I’m still one of those people who tends to rotate the same eight or nine dishes when cooking for the family.

This really has to change!!! But with everything else in my life, it’s a work in progress.
Every journey begins with a single step they say, but my journey towards broadening my repertoire has started with a Chicken and Peach Bake.
I decided to try this at home after eating it for lunch at a local cafe. There was no child menu available, so picky Little Homebird had no option but to eat from Mum’s plate. I’d chosen it because I thought the chicken and sweet peach might pass the picky test. I wasn’t sure I’d be a fan though, as sweet ingredients in savoury dishes isn’t my favourite thing in the world. Pineapple on pizza? No thank you.
Well, it turns out we both loved it! LH lapped it up and I was happy to hoover up the leftovers.
So of course I turned to Google for ideas on how to rustle it up at home.
The choice of recipes were quite limited but I eventually found one which was posted by Ulster Business School.

Here it is:

Ingredients
1 small leek
1 small tin of peaches
1 tin of low fat condensed chicken soup
Small jar of low fat mayonnaise
1 heaped teaspoon curry powder
50g breadcrumbs
50g low fat grated cheese

Method
Chop and fry leek. Drain off fat.
Chop chicken into cubes.
Layer chicken, leek and peaches in ovenproof dish.
Mix soup, mayonnaise and curry powder and pour over the chicken.
Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and cheese.
Bake at 170*C for 20-25 mins.

That’s the basic recipe but it’s easily tweaked to suit what you’ve got in the fridge. It’s also great for using up leftover chicken. If I’m out of leek I’ll boil up some frozen green beans and peas and perhaps add some tinned sweetcorn. I’ll also fry some onions for extra flavour and go heavy on the curry. I’m guessing mustard would also work if you’re out of curry powder but I haven’t tried that yet.

So, this is recommended if you’re cooking for anyone with a sweet tooth.
I’d love to hear some of your tried and tested midweek dinner recipes! Let’s get sharing!

Ps I don’t have any pictures of this at the moment. I will post some the next time I serve it up!

 

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Why I love ‘Love At First Stitch’

Love At First StitchDemystifying Dressmaking by Tilly Walnes

 

Love At First StitchI’m laying my cards on the table from the beginning with this one: I LOVE this book!
Not only is it visually beautiful with delicious photographs and cheery, custardy yellow pages, (more about these later) but the talented Tilly Walnes has devised a user friendly teaching method which allows readers to learn the basics of dressmaking via seven projects. (It’s actually no surprise to read in her bio that she has a background in designing learning programmes.)

Each project has been given a cute little name and include the Brigitte scarf, Margot pyjama bottoms, Delphine skirt, Megan dress, Clemence Skirt, Mimi Blouse and Lilou dress.
Amazingly, there’s not one item in this book that I’m not aching to make. Tilly is one stylish girl and her impeccable taste is obvious in her designs.

What’s also very exciting is that there are five paper patterns  tucked into a little pocket on the inside back cover (The Brigitte scarf and the Clemence skirt can be made without a paper pattern.) So you don’t even have to print out pages and tape them together before getting stuck in.

I was already aware of Tilly prior to this as she’d appeared on the first series of the BBC’s Great British Sewing Bee. But even before her appearance on national TV Tilly had built up a fantastic reputation as a dressmaking blogger.

Not only did I find the answer to my stay stitching question (it’s a row of stitches on a single layer of fabric to help it keep its shape) but I also learned  that she had just published her first book.

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Look what the postman brought!

After reading about it, I quickly realised it was exactly what I had been looking for and ordered it that day. When the postman delivered it a few days later it was, well, love at first sight. (With the book, not the postie!).

Let me walk you through.
Each chapter has a ‘technique’ section and an ‘instruction’ section relating to the project.
The ‘technique’ element of each chapter appears on a gridded white background while the instructions are on that sunny yellow I mentioned earlier. Tilly explains that she’s done this so that people who don’t want to complete the project can still find the skills easily, or those who have already mastered the techniques can just follow the instructions.
I needed both and decided to work my way through the book from beginning to end, skipping the scarf at the beginning. I thought I already had the necessary skills for that, so I started with the pyjama bottoms.

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A cropped version of the Margot pyjama bottoms.

I purchased a gorgeous cotton in midnight blue with tiny white stars and got started. Sewing is really addictive and it’s hard to stop (or is that just me?) so I ended up cutting out, pinning and stitching the PJs all in one night, working until after three in the morning. This was a terrible idea, as I ended up rushing and making silly mistakes like cutting the hole for the drawstring at the back instead of the front. The resulting PJs are wearable but certainly not perfect. It’s no reflection on Tilly’s pattern or instructions that they didn’t turn out better – in fact I learned a valuable lesson: don’t be impatient and try to enjoy the process rather than rushing to complete.

I will definitely make another pair of PJ bottoms once I’ve finished the other projects but after Pyjamagate I decided to use that sky blue polka dot fabric I’d earmarked for my ‘practice’ skirt to make the Delphine skirt which Tilly is pictured wearing on the book cover.

I saw that Delphine involved inserting an invisible zip which seemed quite advanced for one of the easier projects. I felt that this was something to be feared but Tilly’s book is like having a friend sitting beside you, reassuring you that it is indeed possible.

(The secret, by the way, is to use an invisible zipper foot.)

Tilly mentions in the introduction that she had only been sewing for four years prior to writing the book, which to me is a positive. It’s encouraging to know that she hasn’t been, as she puts it, sewing since she was in the womb. If she’s been able to achieve so much in such a short time, it’s surely achievable for others!

And while my zip isn’t invisible by any stretch of the imagination I was pretty pleased with my first attempt. What do you reckon?

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My first skirt. Thanks Tilly!

 

Considering one dressmaking pattern generally costs over a fiver and Love At First Stitch retails at £20, this is great value before you’ve even read a word! The other thing to bear in mind is that to beginners like me, following a traditional dressmaking pattern is like reading a novel in a foreign language, so to have clear instructions is a huge plus. There are even suggestions on how to make the garment again but with variations such as different colour combinations, button layouts or by adding ribbon or piping.

That’s as far as I’ve got with the dressmaking, although I have bought black and white polka dot fabric for the next project: the Megan dress – so watch this space!

So, my final thoughts on Love At First Stitch? I don’t have a bad word to say about it. It’s a handy reference guide and complete dressmaking course for beginners, while for experienced dressmakers it’s a source of gorgeous, modern patterns with a bit of girly sewing chat and oohing and ahhing over fabric thrown in. It also looks very pretty on the bookcase.
What’s not to love? Buy it!

Hello Homebird rating:

Homebird Rating: 5 out of 5

Love At First Stitch - Demystifying Dressmaking by Tilly Walnes

Published by: Quadrille Publishing

Available on Amazon.

 

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