I have a secret love for organising surprise parties, that unfortunately doesn't often get to be fully utilised. Some people can't stand the anxiety or the aftermath of surprises (myself included sometimes, it can get daunting!) but whether the surprise is big or small, watching the "surprisee's" reaction is always heart warming for the "surpriser" and I guess I'm a little addicted to creating that feeling. The spirit of birthdays seems to die down with age; gone are the days where we'd all go home with lolly bags in one hand and a ballon tied to the other. I think it's a shame that people don't put effort into birthdays anymore, or worse, think that they're undeserving a nice celebration. With my housemates, it is a very different story - secret WhatsApp groups are created, presents are bought and dinners are arranged. We always try to surprise each other; sometimes it succeeds. Other times, the surprisee is not nearly as unaware of our antics as us surprisers think!
I'm very grateful to have this group of friends in my life and it's even a bonus that at some point in the week, we all happen to stay under the same roof. I don't do nearly as much for them as I would like to, but it's special days like these, that I'm glad we can all come together to celebrate. The known plan was a nice, simple Korean Barbecue and Hot Pot at home...but what was unknown remained so for the rest of what turned out to be, a wonderful evening.
No matter how fancy, or not one's table is - it is advisable if you're doing hot pot or barbecue at home, to cover your surfaces up. We definitely put our circulars to good use and it made for a particularly no mess clean up. Just like any traditional Korean Barbecue, we started off with passing around appetisers. Store bought are fine, although I'd love to one day learn how to make my own smashing kimchi or candied lotus root - what's your favourite Korean appetiser?
These dried fish happen to be a household favourite and are the perfect crunchy and spicy element to whet your appetite on a cold night. The black seaweed is definitely interesting and probably harbours a texture that adventurous eaters would appreciate.
Korean barbecue works with anything; from gorgeous, premium pork belly to the outdoor enthusiast staple, SPAM. You can definitely cook a lot of delicious things on a Korean style grill, including chicken, seafood or even offal. I love the beef tongue at Sinabro, my current favourite Korean Barbecue joint in Perth. There have been a surge in K-BBQ joints in the last couple of months and I can't wait to check them out!
Hot pot is another perfect way to share food amongst larger groups. There are great fish cakes that you can buy in Asian stores and I'm particularly fond of adding enoki mushrooms and udon noodles. Both of which featured in our hot pot. The broth was pre-boiled wih chicken bones, carrots, potatoes and sweet corn - super hearty! The broth gets richer and richer as more goodies are added throughout the cooking process.
Communal cooking amongst friends is definitely one of the greatest joys in life. It was extremely fun to chat and laugh whilst passing around bowls of the "rescued" cooked food and generously dousing our bits and pieces in spicy sauce. There's always plenty to go around and even more to bag up as leftovers later - it's perfect for doing on a weekend night and waking up for a great leftovers breakfast the next day.
Earlier on in the day, we had all split up after brunch to do our respective "undercover antics" in order to make the surprise birthday a success. My delegated task was to get the birthday cake for the night - I don't know about most people, but I find getting a birthday cake in Perth to be a bit of a nightmare! It takes a little research, elbow grease and advanced planning; I have had an amazing cake experience at Francois Patisserie, but other than that, there have been no standouts. We decided to do things a little differently and give Kustom Cupcakes a try.
The winning cupcake for me was definitely the Couch Potato; I loved the salted caramel filling and the sweet/salty characteristic that the chocolate covered potato chip gave. I understand that they don't have it daily, but it's definitely the one I'd go back for. That was closely followed by the Bubblegum and the Kinder Surprise - I liked how a little Kinder was baked into this stuffed cupcake; it's definitely not something you always see around Perth. Unfortunately, the weak link was the Red Velvet; which didn't carry the rich cocoa flavour that is characteristically in a Red Velvet cake. I tend to prefer cheese cheese frosting too, but that more boils down to personal preference rather than it being a bad cupcake.
I know Kustom Cupcakes have copped some flack for their cupcakes and I agree with some of the criticism; they are on the sweeter side but that's cupcake 101 for you and they're definitely not the worst I've tasted in Perth. The staff never mind when I take awhile to pick my 6 cupcakes for the day and are always happy to make recommendations. Oh, and if you're reading and wondering what's the best I've tried, I'd point you in the direction of Uncle Joe's Mess Hall in the CBD - that, would be a Red Velvet and an often poorly executed Peppermint cupcake done right!
If you're not a sweets fan, then cupcakes just won't be your cup of tea - I'm not a Sherbet fan either and I personally find that it's just one of those things that sometimes turn out better homemade. However, no complaints about the Couch Potato, it was right up my alley and I highly recommend it. The general consensus around the table was that the Ferrero, the Musk and the Kinder Surprise were the top contenders for the night. I put it out to any other cupcake specialists out there in Perth - where are you and where's the best? Oh, I may feel another "of Perth" challenge coming along!
A few of us snuck out to the back of the house where we had hidden the cupcakes earlier in the bar fridge. It was a very exciting moment to pair up these adorable candles we sourced out from a store in Vic Park and slowly begin to light each one. The birthday girl was reading aloud from an astrology book and the other half of the party had gathered around to keep her distracted. She actually sat up in slight annoyance when we switched off the light momentarily...until she realised that there was definitely a good reason for doing so. She was elated and all the planning, surprises, sneaking around in that moment became all worth it!
I think my favourite moment was slicing the cupcakes open and revealing the "surprise" inside. There was a definitely "oooooo" and "ahhhhh" moment as the rest of my housemates pointed and gasped over how some of the cupcakes had insides and "guts". We sat around the table, made tea and shared the cupcakes whilst polaroid cameras snapped and the presents began to trickle out into sight. It was a great night and I'm elated that everything came together. Whether birthdays are celebrated simply or extravagantly, I'm still a big believer in making that person feel special and I'm glad I got the chance to this time. Happy Birthday, SL - you're worthy of all our love and so much more!