Domestic Chaos or Learning to Learn

Flat Fairy Cakes

Flat Fairy Cakes

I am always having to tell my four year old daughter (five year old, by the time you read this in the morning. Eek!) that you can’t do anything on the first go. When she gets frustrated because she can’t skate, or read, or sew, I remind her it just takes practice and it wasn’t that long ago that she couldn’t write her name, scoot or draw people. It doesn’t end the tears and tantrums, but I hope it’s sinking in somewhere.

Seems, as in most things, I’m a hypocrite. All my life, I’ve avoided doing things I wasn’t naturally good at, because I hate being merely okay or, worse still, just plain awful at anything. Studying wasn’t hard, until I got to A Level Maths and, even then, I managed to cram and learn enough to get an A. I passed my driving test first time. I gave up the violin after grade five because there was no way I was going to pass musical theory, as I’m pretty tone deaf.

I’m not afraid of hard work, but I need motivation to continue and I’m driven by praise and good results. Which is probably why I hate to cook. Because I can’t. For as long as I can remember I’ve sucked at baking. My long-suffering family have consumed many a crunchy cake and cardboard biscuit, un-risen sponge or crumbling flapjack. And laughed. So in the end I gave up trying.

Burnt Flapjack

Burnt Flapjack

For some reason I’ve been on a baking spree this week, and mostly it’s been a disaster. Soggy banana bread, brick-like wholemeal loaf, flat fairy cakes and burnt flapjack. My birthday tea for my daughter tomorrow is likely to come courtesy of whichever supermarket I pass on the way home. The thing is, I’m sure I just need to practice. But this isn’t like learning piano. You don’t waste five quid of ingredients if piano practice doesn’t go right. You don’t get fat from eating all your mistakes that no one else will touch. You don’t get grimaces from the family. Actually, I do when I play the piano too, which is why my keyboard skills are about as good as my culinary skills!

I’ve been discussing my failures on Facebook and one friend said “Amanda you are one of the smartest people i know! I KNOW you can do this. If you can read, you can cook! Keep the faith!”

I think that’s the problem, though; it isn’t just about reading a recipe. The recipe I followed for the fairy cakes said nothing about the eggs and butter needing to be at room temperature (two of the reasons suggested for why my cakes didn’t rise.) I feel like Hermione in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince when Harry is using the book with extra notes and making great potions, when hers don’t work. Baking is more science than art. Give me words or paint any day: much more forgiving of mistakes, more scope for being creative! Cooking is creative, but baking is all about precision; it’s chemistry and I was rubbish at science!

This time, though, I can’t give up. I can’t teach my children persistence and the importance of failure, if I won’t follow my own advice. I just have to find a few recipes to stick to, rather than blaming the recipe and trying a new one every time. And stop eating my failures! 🙂

8 thoughts on “Domestic Chaos or Learning to Learn

  1. Hmm, I don’t cook with room temperature eggs or butter, and my cakes rise!

    You’re right though, there are secrets to cake baking that they don’t tell you in the recipes. Off the top of my head, reasons for cakes not rising would be using the wrong flour (or forgetting the bakng soda or whatever makes the cake rise), not getting the cakes in the oven quickly enough after adding the flour (it starts reacting as soon as it gets wet), beating too long after adding the flour (should be just enough to mix the ingredients, no more), any bumping of the oven, or even the cupboards in the kitchen, while the cakes are cooking, or taking them out of the oven before they’re cooked all the way to the middle.

    I did have it easy, my mum cooked a lot, and explained why things happened as she went, so I’m ok with cooking. My piano skills though, are completely non-existent!

    • I did open the oven twice because the bulb has gone. Have now ordered a new bulb. My mission is to bake cakes the kids will eat and say yum yum!
      I can’t play the piano either, but I’ve always wanted to. I used to be really jealous of hubbie’s playing, to the point where he wouldn’t play anymore. I realised how warped that was, so I took lessons while I was pregnant with my first child. But I didn’t keep up with the practice and now any time I open the piano the kids yell, or start hammering at the keys. I’ll try again when they’ve left home!

  2. I know how you feel! For one thing, I TOTALLY thrive on positive reinforcement. If, or instance, I post a chapter of a story I’m working on and I don’t get a single “like” or comment, I feel like there’s no point in continuing. It’s silly and childish, but that’s the way I FEEL.

    Also, I’m actually strangely good at baking, but I’m AWFUL at cooking. I’ve been practicing for a good 7 or 8 years now and I still make three or four meals a week that my husband has to pretty much force himself to swallow. -_-

    • That’s why I try to like as many posts as possible, even though I usually read them in my email, because it’s so important to let people know you’ve enjoyed reading it.

      Cooking’s a funny one. I have a couple of meals I can do okay (bolognaise based meals, like lasagne, cottage pie, and sausage based meals like toad in the hole or bangers and mash) and I do a good job mixing a jar of curry with some meat and veg! But I’m not very adventurous. Thankfully hubbie would happily eat pasta every day forever (as he did when I met him) so as long as he hasn’t had to cook it, he’s good.

      • I don’t “like” things nearly as often as I should. I should start trying to make a habit of that. 🙂

        Haha…it sounds like my hubby is the opposite of yours! He hates pasta and gets sad every time I make it.

  3. My experience of cake and biscuit recipes is that there are always things they leave out. It took me about seven goes to produce ginger nuts and then it was only after calling my mum. 15 minutes was 12 the 180 oven was 160 etc. there’s a lot of experimentation involved.

    They always come out bendy, too, and I always fear they’ll be soggy…. and then they harden. Have faith my paduan learner. The art of biscuitery will not evade you for ever.



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