It’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow (Card manufacturers worldwide are doing a collective happy dance), and my kids and their classmates are having a bake sale at school to support the work of the wonderful charity Little Hearts Matter . So, at the weekend I thought I’d get ahead of schedule and let the boys bake their buns and cut out cute red-icing hearts for decoration. All went according to plan and I was left with the task of icing the beautiful vanilla-flavoured cupcakes they had lovingly baked and delivering them to school today.
After spending a gorgeous morning in town with my oldest boy who has already finished school for the half-term holidays I made myself a nice cuppa and set about making my buttercream icing courtesy of an online web search on how to actually make buttercream topping. Thankfully it doesn’t require too many ingredients and I had them all in the cupboards already. But, somehow I managed to split my first attempt. Mixture too warm? I’ve no idea, but I wasn’t ready to serve up cupcakes that looked like they had been topped with baby vomit…even if they were supposed to be homemade by the kids themselves, that was taking the biscuit and to be frank the buns the boys had made deserved so much better. So, undeterred I scraped the baby puke icing into the bin and rolled up my sleeves for round two. Ever optimistic, I had the marvellous brain wave to try making chocolate buttercream this time, so I added some cocoa to the mix, and crossed everything that it would work. Cupcakes with chocolate buttercream and red-icing hearts would look really yummy, wouldn’t they? Excited by my ingenuity and determined to present delicious buns for the bake sale (who do I think I am, really, Nigella, stop rolling your eyes at me), I set the mixer to a gentle speed and mixed up my ingredients. It didn’t work. Surprise surprise! To be completely honest, what it looked like this time resembled what might come out of the other end of the baby. Not good! I sent my hubby a picture message and he said it looked fine. He is too kind it would seem. It looked truly revolting and there was no way I could expect kids to hand over their hard-earned 25p for a bun with gross brown topping. Even the cute hearts couldn’t redeem it. Into the bin it went while I had an extremely vivid flashback to a 2am meltdown I had over my fourth attempt at a Lego cake for my son’s 5th birthday. Why do I think I am capable of these things when there are professionals out there who can make beautiful cakes and save me a million hours of stress?
So, I was out of butter, out of icing sugar and well and truly out of patience. I hunted in the cupboard hoping for a miracle. Funnily enough, there wasn’t once stashed away in the back behind the tins of beans and half-used packs of pasta. I did find jam and sprinkles though. How long had they been there? No idea. Everyone loves jam and sprinkles right? At least they look like they’ve been made by the kiddies. I dropped them off to school this afternoon and my son’s look of dismay made my heart sink a little, but he smiled graciously as he took them to the bench to add to the beautiful collection of bakes made by his friends. Glad to be rid of them I dusted the icing sugar off my jumper and thought, ah well, I tried my best, and left it at that.
I was on a roll today though. Because not only is tomorrow Valentine’s Day, but today is Pancake Day (who invents these things, like seriously?!). The boys informed me that they had no homework this week, so I thought we could take our pancake batter, camping stove and some flasks of hot chocolate up to a little spot in the country where the boys could run around and play while me and their Dad cooked up some delicious pancakes. The sun had come out today, and while it was cold it was brilliantly bright and we couldn’t not take the opportunity to get outdoors and have some family fun. So, car loaded up with spatula, frying pan and all that we would need for our epic outdoors pancake adventure we were just about ready to set-off when I remembered I had forgot to buy a lemon to squeeze on our pancakes so dashed back indoors to grab the remainder of the jar of jam and sprinkles (everyone loves jam and sprinkles, right?). Off we enthusiastically headed to our designated wide open space in the country for a bit of family fun in the evening winter sun. I should have known things might be about to go a bit topsy-turvy when I took a corner a little faster than intended, probably my excitement getting the better of me, the aforementioned bowl of pancake batter tipping over and spilling half of its contents over the passenger side of the car and my husband’s work boots.
‘It’s alright,’ I chirped up while ignoring the pool of pancake mix at my husband’s feet. ‘I made loads,’ I added, refusing to let anything spoil our evening.
It was blissfully quiet when we arrived and I marvelled for a second at the clear view over Belfast on one side and the clear view towards the Mourne Mountains in the other direction. The boys ran off with their rugby ball to practice their passes and drop-kicks and us parents set-up our al fresco pancake kitchen. It was all looking good until we realised it was just too cold out to get any real heat into the frying pan and the pancakes were going to take about half an hour each to properly cook through by which time it would be pitch-dark and 3 hours past bedtime by the time everyone was served. And then there was the problem of them sticking to the pan. This was not how I had visualised our evening panning out and I was starting to get a bit fed up with my disastrous attempts at Domestic Goddessness. I was so close to drop-kicking the frying pan into the forest when I suddenly remembered a conversation I had had with my husband earlier in the week about a great idea I’d had for a blog post about letting go of perfectionism. As I sat on a fallen tree trunk wondering why my beautiful sourdough pancake mix was determined to stay an anaemic shade of pale I threw my head back and laughed. ‘Are you having an actual laugh?’ I called out to the Universe or anyone who would listen. I don’t know if I had just reached a point of failure-induced madness or what but I truly wondered if I was being tested on my ability to let go of a need for perfection and just enjoy the moment for what it was! To be present, to live in the moment with all my boys and laugh it off when things don’t turn out as expected.
I watched them play for a minute then threw down the now grass-covered spatula (like, how did that even happen, I was holding it the entire time?) and ran to them. We passed the ball to one another, had some timed races, spun in circles and laughed so hard until the sun was setting in the distance. As the sky turned orange we whooped and played and it felt so good. I was suddenly filled with gratitude for my life with my family despite its messyness and my repeated failures. At least I’m trying, I’m giving it a go I thought, as tears streamed down my cheeks. We gathered for a group hug as our feet and hands turned numb with the cold and decided to call our pancakes on the hill adventure a day.
On arriving back at the car we noticed it had a flat tyre (good one Universe!) so as me and the boys chatted my husband sorted out the tyre, the scent of Eau de Cow filling our nostrils, I couldn’t help but laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. Perfection the evening was not, but it didn’t matter did it? We were all together outdoors enjoying time as a family. That’s what truly matters at the end of the day isn’t it? It doesn’t matter that our cupcakes were bit rubbish, we spent time together on Sunday afternoon baking them while snow fell outside and it was just lovely. I’m no baker it turns out. I really should have kept Lego Cake-gate in mind when the wonderful idea to make patisserie-perfect cupcakes for the school bake sale presented itself to me. But alas, I am a trier, and I guess that’s no bad thing as long as you don’t beat yourself up about it if your cupcakes don’t resemble Nadiya’s from the Great British Bake Off. Love her! And it turns out I’m not much of a pancake-maker either. And you know what, that’s ok too. Because I tried. I really really really tried to make them perfect. It doesn’t matter that they were mostly inedible because my boys really didn’t give two hoots. They just loved having me there with them, passing a rugby ball and running round a field trying to avoid potholes. To them, it was perfect. And you know what, it WAS a beautiful perfect mess of an evening that I am quite sure we will laugh about for years to come and no doubt next year when Pancake Day comes around my boys will remind me of that time I tried to be all earth-mother and go to a field and cook pancakes and what a disaster it all was but how much fun we had had together. That’s good memory-making right there!
I stupidly went on Instagram after tucking the boys into bed tonight. Oh my. Way to make yourself feel like a rubbish Mum all over again or what? EVERYONE ELSE’S PANCAKES ARE PERFECT I whined at my very patient husband. I think by this stage he had had his fill of Pancake Day and just wanted to watch River Monsters and drink a cup of tea in peace for once. Good for them I suddenly thought. I’m happy so many people had their perfect flipping Pancake Day! But it doesn’t really matter what everyone else is doing, does it?! I did my best. My best was a teeny bit disastrous, but in the great grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter. The world is still spinning. What matters is that I had the privilege of tucking three happy, healthy and tired-out boys into bed, and for moments like that I will be forever grateful.