Home Away From Home

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We went for a vacation in Western Australia in a big party of 7 adults and 4 kids; almost everyone from my side of the family went along.

Not too long ago, this wouldn’t have been possible because of my Dad’s health. With a clean bill of health, he was able to pick up life from where he left off. He was able to join us for the trip though he and my mom probably suffered quite a bit from the chaos and madness created by their 4 grandchildren, all boys, packed under the same roof.

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The last time I visited Western Australia was like 2 decades ago and I seriously don’t remember things being as expensive as now. I was shocked that 4 pieces of sushi cost 10 bucks at the airport. That was pretty much my first impression when we disembarked.

Part of the reason for this trip was for my sis and her husband to relish fond memories of their dating days. This time round they had their 2 boys to complete the experience.

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It was their first time traveling with their teething 10 month old and an active 3 year old. Seeing them brought back memories of our trips when the boys were younger. Frankly, I don’t remember it being such an energy sapping task but then again, my memory for such things can be quite short lived.

I do recall packing lots of snack and books during those trips because they were about the only entertainment the kids would get during long car rides. Bumpy car rides and snacks make a potent mix to lull the kids into lala land.

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Things then were a bit simpler without iPads and electronic games. These gadgets might seem a quick fix to boredom but often rob them the chance to use their imagination and learning how to deal with boredom.

Apart from playing with their little cousins, the boys spent much of their time poring over books we brought along. My elder boy finished more than half a dozen books he borrowed from the library during the 10 day trip and the younger one was in love with his Mr Men books and dinosaur drawing book.

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We drove from Perth down to Albany before heading back to Margaret River and Perth again. The good thing about moving around was there were new things to keep the kids excited every few days.

We had a pool table in one of the houses we rented and a table soccer in another and the space we had was like the best thing for them. They could run and play and play and run.

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It was summer but it was still too chilly for tropical inhabitants like us. We went to the beach and I couldn’t take the cold water. The boys wouldn’t mind though and would have headed for the water if we let them. They love the seaweed strewn shore and fine sandy beach and got all soaked playing with the crashing waves.

Because we went in a big group that needed at least 3 considerably big rooms to sleep comfortably, we decided to rent vacation homes instead of staying in hotel rooms. It worked out to be cheaper and it was so much more convenient and comfortable. It was one of the best decisions we had made for the trip.

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The house that greeted us at Perth was a 2 storey house with 4 bedrooms. It could comfortably sleep 10 and came with a fully equipped kitchen that would have made any housewife drool. There was a small swimming pool in the backyard and a display of colourful surf boards for anyone who was brave enough to ride the surf at the nearby Scarborough beach.

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It also came with an indoor pool table which everyone had fun playing with, including the littlest among us. With 3 mothers in our group, mealtimes were well taken care of. We had home cooked dinner everyday with fresh groceries from the local farmers’ market. It almost felt like we never left home.

Then at Albany, this gorgeous house greeted us. A single storey house that could accomodate 10.

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A dreamy house that was perched on a cliff overlooking the ocean. It felt almost unreal. It was like one of those houses that you only see in Hollywood movies. Marcus called it the long house because it had a long corridor with the master bedroom at one end and the rest of the bedrooms in the other end.

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It was built like a green house with full glass panels in the living room and kitchen area. I was initially worried that we might be baked by the summer heat trapped in the house. Thank goodness it was wet, windy and cold, so the heat was good for keeping us warm at night.

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The fireplace was a good save and we spent evenings crowding near the fire and playing cards. Apart from warming the house up, the boys learned how to set up a wood fire. They even figured out how to cook some food in it and we had tasty sweet corn and sweet potatoes roasted for our drives and hikes in Albany.

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Our last stop was Margaret River. The house at Albany was hard to beat and the 4 bedroom house at Margaret River paled in comparison. It was a decent house that reminded us of our place in the States. It was in a residential area just outside town center and a short drive to everything. But it looked so normal, so regular, and without character.

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Apart from the farmers market, we did the touristy stuff when we were there, such as visit to a brewery, animal farm, cave, chocolate factory and an olive oil soap factory which was the best place to shop for anything made with olive oil.

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My husband and I managed to go for a jog one evening while we were there. We were unfamiliar with the area but we had google map and runkeeper. We wandered off the paved road and onto a trail which led us into the forest. The sun was setting and the light was glaring right into our face. Thankfully the breeze was cool and the air was dry. We jogged for 45 minutes but it felt like a 5 minute jog in Singapore weather.

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This was us, trying to balance on a fallen log to cross a huge puddle of water. It was a refreshing jog and we wouldn’t have had the experience if we hadn’t gone off the beaten track.

And I sort of like it this way. No matter how well planned a trip is, it’s always good to leave some room for spontaneity and impromptu- ness because that’s when you get surprises. And I love surprises. You never know what you’re gonna get … and that’s the fun of it.

Last but not least, I thought it is only right that I include this to make this post complete.

The house in Perth though big and spacious needed a thorough clean up to get rid of the sticky floor and canine stench. The house in Albany needed to have its water heaters replaced so that it could supply enough hot water for everyone to bathe. Lastly the house in Margaret River needed the pest control guy to come in urgently to get rid of creepy crawlies, especially the 8 legged kind.

Although it was good to go on a holiday with family and strengthen bonds, nothing beats coming back to the comfort of our own home.

I guess I am not much of a traveller afterall.

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This is still the best.

 

Our Accommodation in Perth
The Lookout Scarborough Beach

Our Accommodation in Albany
Breaksea

Our Accommodation in Margaret River
Forest Walk

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This entry was posted in Travel.

A Rubik’s Cube Cake

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My little one turned 6 and I baked him a Rubik’s cube cake.

So he was the boy who brings the Rubik’s cube to school every day. He would fiddle with his cube while waiting for me to fetch him after school and was quite sure he wanted a Rubik’s cube cake for his birthday. I tried convincing him into bringing a Minecraft cake instead, since the last one I baked turned out to be quite a hit with the kids. He was agreeable for a while but changed his mind the next day. I went ahead to have something Minecraft prepared, just in case he changed his mind or my Rubik’s cube cake failed!

A week prior to his birthday I started looking for alternatives to baking a full size Minecraft grass block. I found a clever idea to turn rice crispies into blocks without having to bake up a storm. It was as simple as mixing rice crispies with some sticky chocolate and have them chilled in the fridge.

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The recipe uses melted marshmallow and chocolate candy melts to coat the rice crispies and then have them pressed in a baking dish before popping the dish into the fridge. Once chilled, cut up the hardened rice crispies into square pieces and have 2 squares stacked on top of each other to create a grass block. Use green buttercream frosting to pipe on the ‘grass’ and there you have it, a delectable grass block. I was quite sure the kids would love it as it’s hard to go wrong with Chocolate coated rice crispies!

Because I wasn’t comfortable feeding his friends sugary marshmallows that come in big 2 dollar packs, I substituted the marshmallows and chocolate candy melts with chocolate Ganache made from Chocolate couverture and cream. Lined these blocks together to form a bigger grass block and it looks almost as good as a cake at half the effort.

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After setting in place a back up plan, I went on to work on the Rubik’s cube cake, I did a trial bake the week before and I was glad I did. It took me 3 days of baking, frosting and decorating it with fondant and I secretly wished that the birthday boy would change his mind and opt for the rice crispies grass blocks instead.

First look at a Rubik’s cube cake; a cake that is made from multiple square cakes, stacked together to form a cube. There are 5 faces (minus the face that will be sitting on the cake stand) that need to be decorated, each face with 9 squares. It looks pretty straightforward with little imagination required. No fancy idea required to crush cookies to create ‘dirt’ or cover up flaws (unlike the Minecraft birthday cake).

I soon learned that making a Rubik’s cube cake wasn’t about creativity. It was about precision. From choosing the size of the baking tin to deciding on the number of layers required and cutting each squares to fit onto the blocks, everything needs to be precise and it got quite mathematical along the way.

Here are some of the mistakes I made while making the cake and I thought it would be great to compile these lessons learned.

Mistake #1 Do not take short cuts unless you are very sure it leads you to the same result

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Instead of getting 3 cake tins of the same size and baking in 3 separate batches, I did everything in 1 batch with whatever size cake tins I had.

I used a 7 by 7 inch baking pan and a 13 by 9 inch baking pan thinking I could trim the 7 inch cake and patch up a 6.5 by 4.5 inch one (by diving 13 by 9 inch into 2) to get a 6 inch cube. I ended up spending a long time trying to ‘perfect’ the cube coating it with crumb coat.

Tip : Use baking pan of the same size for all the layers. It’s more worth it spending the time baking proper size cake than to spend the time patching an odd size one. The result of the latter isn’t guaranteed.

Mistake #2 Don’t be obsessed with fluffiness

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I needed a cake recipe that was dense enough as I had read how the weight of fondant might crush the cake. I decided to go with a butter cake recipe from here with raving reviews.

I also read how cake flour could make a cake fluffier. I decided to replace self raising flour with cake flour I had and adding a tablespoon of baking powder to it. Bad idea!

My cake turned out soft and fluffy and it was so difficult to handle. The cake broke into half and crumpled into pieces even before I could stack them up!

Tip : A butter cake is a great base cake for a fondant cake because it is dense and could hold the weight of the fondant. So save your soft and fluffy cakes for other occasions.

Mistake #3 Hand painted fondant doesn’t give you even colour

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I thought I could hand paint the fondant like what I did for my Minecraft cake but the end result was patchy colours. A Rubik’s Cube is much less forgiving when it comes to colours. You can colour a Minecraft grass block cake with different shades of green and it will look natural but for a Rubik’s Cube cake, it has to be solid even colours.

I sticked to the conventional way of colouring fondant during the actual bake, ie. by mixing colour gel to white fondant. The colours did turn out smooth and even but in a lighter shade. I thought I could live with that little imperfection so long as I didn’t have to add copious amount of food colouring to the cake.

Tip : Buy ready coloured fondant if you need vibrant colours. You’ll save a lot time trying to get the colour right colouring white fondant. However if you are ok with pastel colours, white fondant is great. There’ll be less wastage, more flexibility and it is cheaper.

Mistake #4 Whipping thickened cream is different from heavy cream

I used chocolate ganache for the icing and the recipe called for heavy cream which I substituted with Whipping Thickened Cream as I can’t find the former in our local supermarket. The chocolate ganache turned out runny. I did manage to frost the cake but I had to leave it in the fridge for the ganache to harden before decorating it with fondant.

Tip : Use Thickened Cream in replacement of Heavy Cream. Whipping cream is different even if it’s the thickened kind

Mistake #5 Fondant ‘sweats’ in humid Singapore weather

I couldn’t decorate the cake with fondant in a go and had to store it in the fridge till I had time to continue. Because of the change in temperature and humidity, water started to condense on the surface of the chocolate ganache when the cake was brought out the fridge. This caused the fondant to ‘weep’ and ‘sweat’.

Tip : Store your finished fondant cake in a cool room, preferably an air conditioned room. Avoid drastic change in temperature as it will lead to condensation and thus cause the fondant to melt.

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Thankfully most of these mistakes were made during the trial bake and I could prevent making the same mistakes on the actual bake. My boys loved the cake and the children in school wiped out every single bit of it.

Will I bake this again?

Probably not.

But knowing how forgetful I am when it comes to painful bakes, it shouldn’t be long before I dive into another arduous bake.

 
Here’s another post I wrote on Tips for making cake pops

 
 

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Our Current Obsession – The Rubik’s Cube

We are currently crazy over the Rubik’s Cube. The boys pack it with them everywhere they go. They play with it during car rides, while waiting after school, in the restaurant and even when they are hiking outdoors. They (we) are totally obsessed with this piece of twistable, rotatable plastic.

I remember playing with this puzzle when I was in Primary School. It was one of those geeky toys that I could never figure out and I had never gone beyond solving 2 faces.

Forward 30 years later, with the advent of the Internet, you can find a slew of Youtube videos on how to solve the Rubik’s cube. The only challenge is to be able to sit through the videos, understand the instructions and follow the steps.

I got inspired after watching a 2 year old solve the cube on YouTube. After a day of staring intently at the screen, I got it solved but could only do it by going back and forth the video many times. There were just too many steps, or what they call algorithms, to memorize.

My boys were surprised to see that I could actually put the pieces into its original position without throwing it, kicking it, jumping on it or blowing it up. Since the least geeky person in the house could do it, it couldn’t be too difficult. So they thought. And that was how it all got started.

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My 11 year old got it figured out after watching the video and he was determined to beat me at the timing. In the beginning, it took me more than 20 minutes to solve the cube but after a few days of playing with it, I could do it in less than 3 minutes (if I got lucky).

We bought more cubes. Now each of us owns one. The new cube is smoother and could turn faster. The quality isn’t as good as the original one but it costs less than half the price. The boys were happy with it and they call it the ‘speed cube’. Within a couple days of twisting and turning, my elder boy improved leaps and bounds and now he could beat me flat. He could solve the cube in less than 2 minutes.

Marcus was eager to join us but even after having sat through the video with us, he couldn’t grasp what was being said. I decided to teach him myself. My husband thought it would be futile for me to teach a 5 year old something a 40 year old couldn’t do. Little did he expect to see him master the cube in less than a week.

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These days, we would sit at the dining table and have a cube race while the Dad watch on. We have officially dethroned Dad as the Geekiest guy in the house. He was totally impressed, humbled and amused.

I guess I would be too, if my 5 year old has to teach me how to solve the Rubik’s Cube.
 
 

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