Food is something that can really bring the family together. Mealtimes are important to reconnect, share and enjoy each other. They are also great opportunities to get to know other people in your community, wider family, church or other social gathering a bit better. To make mealtimes something to look forward to, you could try implementing a family tradition or regular food event in your family – something unique that is marked on the calendar and forms part of your ‘family make up’. Lots of great family traditions revolve around food. Some ideas include:

  • Free Food Friday – every other day of the week, the family chooses healthy, balanced meal and snack choices.  But Fridays?  You could instigate Free Food Fridays, allowing the family to collectively choose some treats earlier in the week, and store them up for Friday.  Perhaps you can bake a cake with your children and eat it for afternoon tea, or decide that you will have fish and chips while watching a family friendly movie.  Free Food Friday is a great way to positively keep treats as treats – if members of the family request something treat-like during the week, instead of saying no… you can say ‘we’ll have it on Free Food Friday’.
  • Annual family events.  How about a Midwinter Celebration where the family annually holds a Northern Hemisphere style Christmas Dinner in winter?  You could make invitations together, decide on who you might invite and even divvy up the courses so that the cost and effort are spread around family and friends.
  • Special Plate – Buy a plate that is a little bit different to those you usually use.  Whenever you hear of someone doing something special in the family (a teenager mowing the lawns without being asked, your preschooler sharing their lunch with someone who forgot theirs etc.) they get their dinner on the special plate, and a big deal can be made of that fantastic family member and their efforts.
  • Saturday morning brunch – once a week, once a fortnight or once a month, get the family to hang around home for a little longer together before heading out for their weekend plans.  Make it regular enough so that everyone knows to plan around this special family time.  A little incentive to stay around the kitchen might include our family favourite – waffles with bacon, grilled banana, maple syrup and whipped cream.  Mmmmmmmmmmm!
  • Theme Nights – each last Sunday evening of the month (or similar) plan an international food theme.  This might include Mexican, Spanish, Israeli, South African… the options are endless!   Have the family research the country and write some facts about it – the kids could even create a quiz for the adults about the chosen country, and test their knowledge!  Look into common foods in that nation and put them together for a fun evening.  If you know someone from that country, invite them along and get them to assess how authentic the food is.  Maybe invite them to share some special memories of their homeland.
  • An annual neighbourhood barbeque.  How well do you know your neighbours?  Every first day of summer, or similar, you could hold a barbeque and invite the people on your street.  It can be really simple – sausages, breads and salads, with people bringing a dessert and their own drinks.

A time-honoured tradition in many families is The Choosing of the Birthday Cake.  Often there are one or two family birthday cake books (or faded pages pulled from women’s magazines) that have been dog eared by eager children, flipping back and forth, trying earnestly to decide which is the best option for their next party.

If you’re looking to add to the titles your children choose their cakes from, Chelsea New Zealand’s Hottest Home Baker judge Jade Lipton recently released her book Cakestar: Your Guide to Creating Show-stopping Cakes.  This stunning volume details 25 cake designs complete with beautiful colour photographs.   The author has also added in some recipes and baking basics for those less experienced readers.  The designs are crafted using basic tools so that the home baker can put them together.  Some cupcakes and biscuits are included too.   I doubt the average individual would obtain the finish presented in the pictures – the cakes are fabulous – but they are a great challenge.

One of Jade’s tips in the book is this: cake decorating is actually not that difficult.  Well, in some respects this is true.  I’m a reasonably seasoned cake decorator; my grandmother bought me some basic tools and taught me the art from my formative years.   My sister in law, also a cake decorator of sorts, joined me in putting together one of Jade’s more basic designs for a baby shower we attended recently.  All in all the result wasn’t bad, but with our skills combined, the cake was not as flawless as the one presented in the book.

Here is our effort:












And here is the original:















We’ll keep trying.  And you should too!  Get up your cake decorating gusto, dust off the cake books and see what you can put together for the next celebration in your family. Who cares if your end product doesn’t look exactly like the pictures?  Everyone will be delighted with the effort and who doesn’t love a big slab of cake?

A nice, firm cake is required to decorate adequately.  Here is a recipe for a cake that is very basic to put together and turns out well every time.   You will need some measuring scales for this recipe.  For decorating, you can bake the cake in advance and freeze it, defrosting on the day you wish to decorate.  It is best to bake it at least the day before decorating, as it will be slightly firmer.


Grease a 21 cm tin (or a high edged smaller tin).  Draw a ring around your tin on a piece of baking paper, cut about 1mm on the inside edge of the circle, and place the paper in the bottom of your tin.

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius.

In a medium sized saucepan, gently heat together:

25 grams instant coffee

225 mls water

225 grams chocolate

225 grams butter

450 grams sugar

Until this forms a liquid mixture.

Sift together:

270 grams flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

Whisk together:

270 grams egg (a little over or under will be ok)

90 mls strong plunger coffee (or liqueur of your choice)

Use an electric beater to combine all three mixtures in a large bowl.  Once the batter is smooth, pour it into the prepared tin, bang it on the bench a few times to surface any air bubbles from the beating, and bake until a skewer comes out clean – approximately 1 ¼ hours.

This cake is lovely iced with a buttercream (twice as much weight in icing sugar as softened butter, beaten together until pale and creamy), or a ganache (equal weights of cream and  good quality chocolate,  heat  the cream until boiling point and pour over small pieces of chocolate – beat until glossy).  You can then put fondant/sugarpaste over the top of either icing.

If your family has a foodie tradition that is important to you, why not share it in the notes below so others can benefit from your experiences?

Cakestar: Your Guide to Creating Show-Stopping Cakes by Jade Lipton.  Printed by Penguin Group, RRP $39.99.

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Sally is the Community Manager here at Kiwi Families. She fills her time with her handsome, busy boys and her handsome, busy husband; trying out new recipes and researching and writing about family life in Aotearoa.

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Enthusiastic Novice

Sally, thanks for the encouragement to give cake making a go! I’ve now had two attempts with the above recipe and the cakes turned out perfectly both times, moist and deliciously chocolatey. My cake tin is more like 18cm so the cake was cooked significantly faster (45 mins?) There was some batter left over for a smaller cake so I gave a two tiered cake a go second time round, much easier than expected. Decorating with fondant was a wee challenge but you’re right, people certainly appreciate the effort and you quickly pick up little tips and tricks and also… Read more »

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