Tag Archives: parenting

Invisible Fireworks and Burnt Toffee Apples

Every year on 5 November we have a fireworks party at our house, for our extended family. The first time we did so our son was a toddler and found the whole idea completely terrifying. So as it was my husband Anthony’s job to set off the fireworks, it was therefore my job to sit in the house with my son, the curtains closed, distracting him till it was all over.

By the time he grew old enough to enjoy the fireworks, our daughter was around. She was so petrified that she wouldn’t even be in a room with windows. She and I had to sit on the landing, as it was the only window-less room in the house. (Actually, the downstairs loo would have been another option – perhaps I got off lightly.)

This year she was brave enough to watch the display, but our younger son needed looking after…

So, every year we have a fireworks party at our house, but I never actually get to see the fireworks.

This problem pales into insignficance, however, next to the fiasco of the toffee apples. Last year I decided that as it was Bonfire Night, there had to be toffee apples. And buying them from a shop would obviously be far too simple and convenient. Homemade ones were the obvious answer.

Anyone who has made toffee will know that it requires your full concentration as you keep an eagle eye on the sugar thermometer while trying not to scald yourself.

So, with a house full of excitable kids getting ready for the party and asking questions, what better activity could I have chosen?

I got down the 10 litre cauldron we were given as a wedding present, and the satisfyingly enormous wooden spoon that we have to go with it. Into the cauldron went three blocks of butter and two pounds of brown sugar.

Thirty minutes later, I had a cauldron of burnt toffee.

So my immensely practical side kicked in. I realised straight away that it was essential not to let the mixture harden in the pan, making it impossible to clean. And you can’t pour molten toffee down the sink – that would be an immensely stupid thing to do. No, the answer I realised was to pour the whole lot straight into the bin. A cauldron full of caramel at 130ºC, into the bin…

Naturally, the bin bag melted, and as our kitchen bin has no bottom, vast amounts of molten toffee poured on to the floor.

Still I was calm and collected. Clearly, what was left of the bin bag had to be got outside. I doubled it up with another one, then carried it through the house to the dustbin.

What I didn’t realise is that the second bin bag had also melted (obviously), so that as I walked I left a trail of toffee all the way through the house, which stuck to the floor like superglue. The only way to get rid of it was to prise every single drip off with a knife.

Anthony took the bin outside to clean it, and I’m not sure how he did it, but it involved safety goggles. Amazingly, we are still married.

This year I tried again, and… success! The achievement felt even greater, because I managed it despite my daughter marching in halfway through the process and asking brightly, “Mummy, have you burnt the toffee yet?”

Toffee apples

So why exactly do we have a fireworks party every year? I’m really not sure, but it’s possibly something to do with the joyful faces of my older children and their cousins as they oooh and aaah at the magical display in the night sky.

I wouldn’t know – I never get to see their faces – or the fireworks they’re ooohing and aaahing at.

So what are your Bonfire Night experiences – good or bad? Do let me know in the Comments section!

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How to Bake a Middle Class Birthday Cake – a Guide

This is the cake I made last month for my daughter’s 7th birthday. The fact that it exists ticks many of the right boxes in the middle class world I live in:

  1. It took me hours of effort and concentration. This shows what an engaged and wholesome mother I am and how much I love my daughter.
  2. I can post a picture of it on Facebook, allowing my friends and family to say suitable things about how impressed they are. (It doesn’t matter whether they really are impressed or not – this is the joy of Facebook.)*
  3. It allows me to do something fun and creative in a way that isn’t really acceptable as an adult with most other media.So I can’t, for example, paint a picture and stick it on my wall like I could when I was a kid – because I’m rubbish at painting. I can’t knit a scarf with wonky edges and dropped stitches because people would just think it was embarrassing.

    The very act of producing something artistic as an adult carries with it an unspoken implication that you yourself think you’re pretty good at it. But not so with your children’s birthday cakes. They are produced out of love, and therefore people will admire them if they look good and forgive them if they look awful.

  4. AND… and… best of all… this entirely self-serving exercise has the incidental benefit that your child is properly and utterly thrilled with the result. So you can pretend throughout that you’re doing it entirely for her.

A couple more tips:

The taste of the cake itself is, surprisingly, not that important. Though being not only a middle class London mum, but a Jewish middle class London mum, I do mind quite a lot if the end result doesn’t taste good.

You should preferably do the whole thing at night time after your child is in bed, and stay up till the early hours perfecting it – ideally while also having to go to work the next morning. This increases your score in all of the above categories.

The doll on my mermaid cake is, incidentally, a special one designed for the purpose. Her body is just a spike, so when the cake is cut and all is revealed, there is a risk of the more delicate party guests being permanently traumatised.

Doll pick

Good luck, and do make sure to sound suitably self deprecating when people admire the result.

* Any notion that this entire blog has been written in order to show off my cake is entirely false and without foundation. Shame on you for even thinking it.

I would love to hear about your birthday cake-making experiences – triumphant or disastrous. Please let me know in the comments section below.

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