Friday, 24 October 2014

Birthday Gifts That Count

Some birthdays just seem more momentous than others, don't you think? The kind of birthdays that are milestones in our lives like our first, sweet sixteen, twenty first, thirtieth, fortieth, and then there is the Big 50 (pronounced 5 o as in Hawaii five o!). Well, I know a lady isn't supposed to let on about her age but I'm telling the world that I'm hitting the Big 50 next month.

In truth, the days are whizzing by and I have a mere two weeks of being in my 40's left. WOW, that's a little scary but I'm determined to do it in style (and hopefully grace LOL) and I'm really going for it,  a big party with all the trimmings,  although I did refuse the bizarre suggestion from my husband that we had belly dancers for the entertainment!?! Who knows what he was thinking but I wasn't going there.

And of course there are always the presents to look forward to, everyone loves presents and I'm certainly no exception. But I don't really fancy all the extra special gifts that come with a milestone birthday and truth be known, I have no where to put them with all the craft stuff I'm already hoarding!

For my 40th birthday our family took a life changing holiday to Kenya (so my husband could get out of throwing me a milestone party LOL). Just before we went we discovered a wonderful charity run by a family in the UK (turned out they lived just a few miles from us and we had loads of mutual friends) called The Samson Chivatsi Appeal. They ran a small primary school not that far from where we were staying and so we decided to pay the school a visit and take along some school uniforms, pencils, and exercise books. What happened next forever changed us.

We did visit the school, set in a bush village called Utange on the outskirts of Mombasa. There we were greeted by children of all ages, often dressed in rags, unshod, but so happy to greet us (except for the babies who hadn't seen a white person and thought we must have been from another planet!). The older children had learned to ask for "peremende!" or "Bon Bon" meaning sweeties or candies, a rare treat they knew visitors from afar might have for them.

children from the village of Utange with "Madam" Maureen, the charity's founder
To cut a very long story short, after a very moving and joyful experience, we determined as a family to sponsor two children, Douglas and Saada, a boy and girl from two different families. After a trip out to Utange the following year our eldest son sponsored a third boy, Kelvin, and that's a whole blog piece in itself!
outside of Kelvin's home with his Mother

Kelvin, Douglas, and Saada so happy to start school
Honestly, sponsoring these kids has been one of the most rewarding things we've ever done as a family and costs just £72 per year per child which is less than £1.40 a week, that's less than a cupcake at my local bakery! I can't even begin to tell you the difference it makes to the lives and overall outcomes for children like Douglas, Saada, and Kelvin. I've seen other kids at the school grow into fine adults who stand a far better chance than they otherwise ever would have, have a good education; some have gone on to secondary school, and even university thanks to the support of sponsorship. 
The charity, now known as Educate The Kids , and the school, Jolaurabi private School, have grown and now serve over 600 of the poorest children in the area, yet, the school is consistently ranked in with the top schools in the district. Kids in Kenya know the value of education and that education lifts you out of poverty.

Saada knows this very well. She is a worker, a bright girl, who despite being twice orphaned, is always the top of her class. After the death of her mother she was able to be homed in the charity's orphanage next to the school, the Joshua Tree House. Here she has really flourished and loves her new family.

This year is a milestone year for her too as she takes her final exams of primary school in Standard 8. This is a big deal for kids in Kenya because passing these exams will determine if she is allowed to pass on to Secondary education. I have every confidence she will pass with flying colours.
Saada studying in the library of Jolaurabi School

Secondary education is also much more costly than primary school; the teachers cost more, the exams cost more, and she will most likely have to travel, maybe even board at school. 

It hit me that Saada and I are both having milestone events just around about the same time of year too, her Standard 8 exams and my Big 50. I have decided to open a JustGiving page to help raise the vital funds to pay for Saada's school fees for the next year, and maybe even beyond. The cost for her schooling over the next academic year is £300 and so I'm unabashedly asking people to help get this amazing girl to school. You see, I don't really need any presents for my birthday, not that I'd turn away any nice chocolates or the odd Spa voucher, but what I'd really love is to see her lift her self out of the poverty she was born into; she can do this through good quality education and the opportunities that will bring her. 
So here is the link to my JustGiving page and if you want to contribute or just even share the page on your own social media that would be fantastic. 
If you want to find out more about sponsoring a child like Saada then take a look at and see how you can change a life.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Curing Cancer With Cupcakes

A couple of weeks ago I was baking for England...well, MacMillan really. My plan was to hold a MacMillan Garden party (which ended up as an indoor gathering due to the changeable weather of October in Yorkshire). 

Growing up in the 70's two of my best friends, who lived just doors apart from each other, both lost their Mums to breast cancer. This year another friend learned that she too had developed breast cancer and that for the best part of the coming year she would be doing all she could to get rid of it and regain control of her destiny. She has had a tough time of it and is doing brilliantly; she really rocks a jazzy headscarf it has to be said. So it is probably no surprise that I wanted to contribute in a small way to the fight!

I hadn't baked in quite a while, months even, but I love to bake and create fabulous cupcakes. As I was a little time strapped, and a little less confident of my baking prowess than I should have been, I decided to purchase a couple of Betty Crocker cake mixes and frostings. 

I used the Devil's Food Cake mix for my Terry's chocolate orange cupcakes and a Red Velvet cake mix for the Red Velvet cupcakes (obviously!). I wanted to kind of practice with those before experimenting with what I hoped would be a new cupcake success, a MacMillan Mojito cupcake (virgin of course).
The Devil's Food cake always makes the most amazing chocolate cakey goodness, and when topped with the Betty Crocker Chocolate Fudge icing and a Terrys Chocolate Orange segment (the exploding candy sort) you are on to a winner. To make it extra special I popped a mini Chocolate Orange segment in the center of the uncooked cupcake - uummmmm!
Next for the Red Velvet. Again I reached for the Betty Crocker. I usually make my own Red Velvet but it can be a bit of a faff. You see you need buttermilk and it's not so easy to come by here. It's easy enough to make however;

Combine the milk and lemon juice. Measure 1 scant cup of milk. Stir in 1 tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar.
Let stand 5-10 minutes. Let the mixture stand at room temperature for 5-10 minutes.

I've had some great results in the past but this time I went for the "safe" option. Well, they turned out OK, but my own are better I think anyways. These were flat cupcakes with a vanilla frosting and freeze dried raspberry sprinkles,  topped with a fresh raspberry.

And finally, now more confident, I was ready to create a totally new cupcake from scratch - the MacMillan Mojito. This consisted of a regular plain sponge batter, flavoured with Rum flavouring and a lot of Lime juice. The frosting was a buttercream flavoured with more Lime and a secret surprise ingredient - Sea Salt flakes. Yes, you read correctly - Sea Salt Flakes! It works and added a great sweet/salty contrast with a hint of crunch. lastly I decorated with a Lime green sugar sprinkle by Wilton.

These turned out to be my personal favourite. 48 cupcakes and a messy kitchen later I was ready to go. Guests arrived in a steady trickle throughout the day. We even had a mini Stampin Up class held by my good friend Caroline. You can read more about Stampin Up at her blog page...
When the word got out that there were cupcakes leftover people started asking for boxes to be delivered. I raised around £80 for MacMillan through baking and eating cupcakes with some friends. Not bad for a last minute and half baked plan (see what I did there LOL?).