Thursday, 10 May 2012

Knowing when to give up

My daughter Liberty is at the age where a lot of her peers are getting married. She is at a wedding this weekend and in a rather nice twist on the wedding present idea, the couple have asked guests to bring a favourite pudding and the recipe. The puddings obviously form part of the wedding feast and the recipes will be compiled into a book which should make a quirky little memento of their happy day.

Liberty's pudding making is limited in a number of ways:
1) She isn't really that interested in cooking
2) Working as a secondary school teacher is a demanding job which leaves her with not a lot of time or energy in the evenings
3) Despite our noble attempt to clean the oven that she inherited with the house she and her boyfriend recently bought, it still spews out toxic fumes and flakes of black nastiness when you turn it on.

I am very happy that when my children need help, they are not afraid to come to me. I offered use of my kitchen, my recipes, my assistance and even my ingredients. When I discovered two half bottles of wine in my fridge, leftover from an event that had kept my husband working late the previous night, the pudding making evening started to look a little bit more like a party. Liberty's boyfriend came over too - drank beer and watched us cook (after reading bedtime stories to little Dylan which was very heartwarming to witness).

We decided on a favourite, practically foolproof recipe for chocolate fudge cake.

Whilst the cake was cooking, there was plenty of opportunity for talking and laughing and the wine did slip down a little too easily. By the time my husband came home to join the party, having been participating in a drizzly, mostly windless race meeting at his sailing club (I struggle to see the pleasure in it sometimes!) the fudge cake part of our reason for being there was almost forgotten. We ordered our favourite Indian takeaway to round off a perfectly lovely evening.

I was left with the task of finishing the cake as Liberty had a parents evening the next day that would keep her late at work. I was more than happy to oblige.

The fudge icing part is easy - I have done it many times before - but I started thinking about how I could add some embellishment to make it look really special.

One of my Cake Decorating Part Works featured a Blossom Cake. Using a petal nozzle and icing bag provided with the part work, it showed how delicate white blossoms could be piped using royal icing.

Blossom Cake

Liberty had seen the picture of the Blossom Cake back when the part work first arrived and said that she thought it was the most hideous thing ever. I  wanted to change her opinion by creating some blossoms to use sparingly on the fudge cake - pure white petals contrasting with the rich chocolate fudge icing and mirroring the abundance of blossoms adorning fruit trees at this time of year. In my mind's eye, this was going to be breathtakingly beautiful in its simplicity.

More often than not in life, things don't turn out exactly how you planned them.

I had a packet of Royal Icing sugar. I thought I knew and understood sugar. I thought it would be a simple task to mix the sugar with water to the required consistency. Wrong. The packet warned: "At no time allow the icing to become too stiff and heavy". Mine seemed to start off too stiff and heavy and never recovered.

My second attempt began more promisingly but simply refused to go to the soft peak stage, no matter how long I mixed it. I added more sugar which helped a little. I was probably overly cautious of  the 'stiff and heavy' warning, convinced myself that this would do the job and proceeded to fill my piping bag.  It soon became obvious that it was the wrong consistency. My petals were at best - blobs!

I thought I had nothing to loose by mixing Attempt A (too stiff) with Attempt B (not stiff enough) in the hope of creating a perfect hybrid. It turned out I had nothing to gain either.

My mum always stands by the old adage "Third time lucky" so I decided to clear up the mess I had so far made and start again with a fresh batch. Attempt C, from a different bag of Royal Icing Sugar which was actually just past its sell by date, turned into a big pliable ball which would have been great for modelling but useless for piping.

I probably should have given up at that point, but much like the repeated (ineffective) cleaning of Liberty's oven, I decided to give it another go. When you have already invested so much energy, the desire to see it through and have it come good can be strong. I wondered if the icing sugar I had used on Attempt C was to blame for the failure so I went back to the original bag and started again.

This was the most promising attempt yet. My flagging confidence was restoring itself and once again I allowed myself to have the fantasy of the finished cake - blossoms that appear to have drifted weightlessly on a warm breeze to settle on the decadent richness of the earth brown fudge topping.

I transfered Attempt D into the cleaned icing bag and squeezed.

What happened next really should have been the sign (neon and flashing) to GIVE UP. The seam of the icing bag spit and the icing extruded through the hole in a thick cylinder.

I can be too stubbornly persistent for my own good.

I fashioned a new icing bag out of greaseproof paper and attached the petal nozzle with an elastic band (too big for the job and wrapped round a gazillion times). With the determination of a woman who knows this is the very last hope, I piped.

With hours of practice and experimentation, I may have gained some proficiency in the fine art of blossom piping. I didn't have hours. It was nearly time to collect my daughter from school. I was creating the odd useable one but far from being delighted by my minor success, I began to see the blossoms with different eyes. I was starting to think that Liberty had been right all along - they were quite hideous!

I thought about the sugar I had wasted and the time I had spent - and for what. That was a huge amount of effort for very little reward.

Liberty has ripped out her unclean-able, unusable oven and ordered a brand new one.

I am letting go of my unhealthy pre-occupation with imitating nature's perfection with out of date comestibles.

I have learned some valuable lessons, and not just with regard to the quality of the free gifts provided with Part Works.

Knowing when to give up and letting go without regret is a good feeling.


  1. as i was reading this i thought.. isn't it funny how true this is? the post is humorous on its own, but it really impacts because its true. I can even recall exact moments, (a couple of them) when i have had this .. revelation, or what have you. when you realize you can just take a breath and let it go, and your life will be a lot easier.

  2. I also subscribe to that magazine, but must admit, I haven't ventured to anything more adventurous than the butterfly cookies! lol.


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