Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Microwave Mama

I know you’ve seen them. On Pinterest or Facebook. Probably even in real life. Perhaps you’ve even made one – and that’s fine, I’m not here to judge anyone. We’ve all come across the magical, wondrous, intricate and delectable birthday cakes that have been made for young children. You know the type I am talking about - The Elsa cake complete with long blonde braid, the rainbow layered cake which upon cutting reveals a treasure trove of lollies, the Kit Kat cake with a fence of chocolate sticks surrounding an abundant pool of smarties, and the Hi 5 cake featuring realistic fondant performers perched precariously on top. These images show us the accomplishments of other mums and inspire (or intimidate) us to create something equally grand for our own offspring when the time comes.

Now, I was this exact type of parent for the first two years of my daughter’s life. I am not too modest to admit that my first two birthday cakes could have even competed with some of Heston Blumenthal’s best work. I know this sounds like a rather grand claim, but I was intense. I ordered fondant tools online, googled YouTube videos, handcrafted fondant daisies complete with sparkly yellow centres, baked individual layers in different colours, layer after layer. I stayed up for hours holding bits and pieces in place until the fondant set. When I stumbled into bed after midnight with icing sugar in my hair, fondant stuck to my face and under my fingernails, and cake crumb smooshed into my clothing from head to toe – I felt in my heart that I was a good mum because of my efforts.

Things changed when my kid turned three in October last year. Due to ‘circumstances’, I had no access to an oven, let alone to all the other goodies required to make the kind of cake I was imagining. Initially, I was devastated that I wouldn’t be able to give my daughter the amazing cake creation that she deserved. What kind of a mum did that make me?
All I had access to was a microwave. My friend (who was well intentioned and thought she was coming to the rescue) reassured me that it was all okay, and that I could just bake my cake in the microwave. Excuse me? Stifling my laughter at this ridiculous proposal, I gently informed my friend of what I assumed the entire universe was already aware of - and that was that the microwave was for reheating and not for cooking. But no. Apparently not. The microwave WAS for cooking. And she was going to prove it to me.
We moseyed through the aisles at Coles until we reached the baking section, when my friend instructed me to choose whichever packet took my fancy. I stopped dead in my tracks – isn’t there a section for the microwavable cake mixes? Don’t I need some kind of special raising agent? My friend just shook her head and shoved a Betty Crocker Devils Food cake mix into my hands. We also purchased lollies for decorative purposes. Decoration! I couldn’t see how we were going to have a cake at this stage, let alone one stable enough to decorate!
When we got back, we got straight down to business. My friend took charge, expertly preparing the batter according to the instructions on the package. To my surprise, in mere minutes, I had one chocolate cake cooked all the way through! Once it cooled, we went on to smother it in chocolate icing, piped my daughters name on it, and carefully arranged an array of lollies on the surface and sides of the cake, pressing them firmly into the chocolate frosting.
I will never forget what happened next. When my daughter saw this cake, she completely and absolutely lost her mind (in a good way). She started squealing with delight about the lollies, and she was already not-so-sneakily swiping the side of the icing with her fingers, delicately shoving them into her mouth. We launched into a rather dodgy rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ – all the while I kept focused on my little girl. She remained completely transfixed on the cake, examining it and when the time came for her to blow out the candles, it took us a moment or two to get her attention. Finally she blew out the candles and afterwards she returned to exploring the wonder in front of her, her expression the epitome of childhood happiness.
It’s more than okay to make intricate and complicated cakes for your children if you so wish, and as you know, I am guilty as charged. But I learnt a little something that day, and it is something that will stay with me for life. My daughter couldn’t give two scones about how extravagant her birthday cake was. She didn’t notice the absence of fondant characters, or the forgotten rainbow layers. I learnt that whether it’s about cakes, cooking, craft or crunches, oftentimes we mums can get so caught up in competing with each other, we lose sight of the fact that our children’s needs are in fact very simple. Love them. Play with them. Feed them. Tell them you love them.
Accept who they are and do your absolute very best by them.
And that is enough.
You are enough.






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