Cupcakes with buttercream icing

I’ve been complaining a lot recently. I know, I’m sorry. It’s just that things have genuinely seemed quite bleak; my whole life has felt like one long irritated thought, or one incredibly long moment holding Sam, while bent at an angle trying to do something for Kitty, one-handed (get out Playdough, cut up a pear, turn on Tom&Jerry, play “birdseed”…???…). I’ve constantly felt like it’s 2.05pm and it’s hours till bedtime and it’s raining and we’ve got no visitors and I’ve been awake since 0430 and I can feel a cold coming on. I’ve just been feeling like that all the time. I’ve felt like a weary beast of burden, or like I’m sitting in Economy on a flight to Australia, I’ve felt so far removed from my old self, my old life that I can’t even remember what I miss about it anymore.

Mothers say “I miss going out to the cinema on the spur of the moment. I miss reading a book for hours in bed,” and I think to myself, blankly “I have never done any of those things. Have I?”

But in the last few days there has been a little shift, imperceptible perhaps to anyone but me. It started with Kitty, who has been going through the day like a real trooper on no afternoon nap. Up until now, if I let her have one, she’d nut out for 45 minutes and then be awake until 9pm. But if I didn’t let her have one, the afternoons were unhappy and strained: I felt so bad watching her droop sadly against the sofa, sucking her thumb, all but dozing off. Now even if I put her in bed she doesn’t go to sleep, but rolls around for a bit and then chirrups to come out. And she is cheerful all afternoon, if a bit quiet at times.

And now Sam, who will be 6 months old on the 5th November, has started to show signs of sitting up. Not solidly – these developments are so slow – but he’s getting the hang of sitting on my hip and hooking his arm around mine to hold on. If I put him in the sacred Ikea Ektorp highchair, he can sit there for maybe five minutes, batting a rattle about while Kitty covers him in stickers, until he yaps to be picked up.

Sitting up is probably the single event that a babyhood pivots on. Sitting up brings with it new abilities to concentrate on objects, to put toys with an interesting mouthfeel in the gob, to drool, gently on the carpet and watch one’s sister caper about going “bler-ler-ler-ler-ler” for your entertainment.

So all of a sudden in the darkness there is distant beam, the sweeping swoop of a searchlight that will, inevitably, pick out my lifeboat.

Don’t wish it away, people say. And I understand that. I don’t want to be flippant about it but, really, there is little about Kitty’s early babyhood that I miss. Not now, for god’s sake! Not now that we have actual conversations and in-jokes and she can tell me what she wants and where it hurts and we can discuss the complicated relationship between Tom and Jerry. We can draw each other pictures, play hide-and-seek. Her favourite thing is to put away the Ocado order. It’s just trippy. Blissful. I thought it would take years to reach the stage that all parents get to where they prefer spending time with their child than with anyone else – but in fact here we are.

Why would I miss a time when we couldn’t really communicate? When she couldn’t tell me what was wrong or why she was sad or angry or frustrated? Why would I miss a time when it was so difficult to have fun?

It is easier to have fun with Sam because I am so much better with babies than I was. The hours with Sam just don’t feel as long as they did with Kitty – even if he is having and off day and being a bit of a jerk. I’ve just done so much time, now, with little kids that I can shrug it all off. Ach, it’s just another day in the nuthouse. If he wakes up early in the morning or from his lunchtime nap I don’t curse the world and feel crushed and ill, I just think to myself that for now I just have to hang on until bedtime and, after that, I just have to hang on until he’s walking – then we’ll be laughing.

So all of a sudden I feel incredibly positive about everything. I am planning a Christmas party at our house and I am going to go WILD and get a florist in and a kids’ entertainer and stuff. I have also slowly started to get to grips with the various horrifying areas of clutter in the kitchen and playroom and it’s quite amazing what having a good clear-out can do for your general mental well-being.

And all the baking I am doing for Kitty’s nursery bake-sales is good for the soul. You do end up making an awful lot of fairy cakes when you have kids for one reason or another and I have grown sick of looking up the recipe. But then I remembered a way of making a sponge that is terribly easy and I didn’t even need to look it up to know how to do it.

It is this – you take an egg (if you want to make 6-8 fairy cakes) or 2 eggs (if you want to make a dozen or more, or a small cake) and weigh it/them. Then you use the same weight of self-raising flour, butter and caster sugar.

Then you make the cakes in the normal way – so you cream together the butter and sugar, add the egg or eggs and then fold in the flour, decant into a baking vessel and bake for about 8-10 mins.

Once you have committed this clever short-cut to memory, you can start being creative with your toppings without it feeling too onerous. I made these for a recent bake sale at nursery and I am terribly pleased with them having, as they do, a topping of piped buttercream.

You make buttercream like this:

Take half a pat of butter (125g) and leave to come to room temperature. Then you beat it together with increasing tablespoons of SIEVED – this is important – icing sugar. The actual amount of icing sugar is really up to you. Just do it and taste as you go along until you have something that is pleasingly buttery-sugary.

Then you can dye it any colour you want, (bearing in mind that combined with the slight yellowyness of the buttercream any colour won’t be wildly vibrant, but I think that is more classy anyway), beating the colour in well – (I use Dr Oetker) – and fill a piping bag with it. Using a star-shaped nozzle, pipe the buttercream in a circle around the cupcake starting from the outside and working in. It’s much, much easier than it seems – I have never done this before and it only took me one or two goes to get something I was really pleased with.

I absolutely love all those toppings you can get in the Waitrose baking aisle – tiny butterflies and pearls and stars and all that – and I attached a selection of those to the buttercream and then chilled the cupcakes until they were needed.

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