Friday, 12 September 2014

On trying too hard

This week both my children celebrated their birthdays. S turned seven on Tuesday and N turned four on Wednesday. That as such is a wonderful thing: I am happy and deeply grateful to have had them in my life another year and love seeing their happy and excited faces as they come running into our bedroom in the morning on the great day. But I will not lie to you: I find  everything else that surrounds those birthdays quite stressful. For one thing: there's party invitations to send out. On time. Last year I left this far too late and it turned out a number of the children could not come on the date we had planned. It was all a bit of a fuss. Then there's the party itself to arrange: what time, how long, what to eat, what to do (inside? outside?).  And then there's the treats to be made for taking to school.

Okay. The treats for school. I had decided to make brownies for S and cupcakes for N. Pretty straightforward, you would think. On Monday evening, after a taxing day at school, I made brownies. They were a total failure: rubbery and soggy. For the first time ever (of course). Since I would need three batches in total, I felt I didn't have the time to start over. So I hopped into my car, drove to Albert Heijn (thankfully open until 9p.m.) and bought - much against my principles - some bags of sugary sweets. Back home I put together sweet mixtures, worried and fretted about the botched brownies some more, then went to bed and had nightmares about disappointing my son and damaging our relationship forever (our subconscious minds can really blow things out of proportion). As it turns out, S loved the sweets, and so did his class. Night sweats over nothing.

Then the next evening, cupcakes for N. I dug up a Mary Berry recipe - easy enough, you would think - but because I use spelt flour instead of self-raising flour, I need to add an extra rising agent. Usually not a problem. Only this time I made the colossal mistake of adding a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda (instead of extra baking powder - why, I can't tell you) without adding some kind of acidic fluid (say, buttermilk) to the recipe. Result: disgusting salty aftertaste. I couldn't believe it: what was I thinking?! The only thing I could do was bin the cupcakes after which I - you guessed it - hopped into the car, went to Albert Heijn and bought - much against my principles - some bags of sugary sweets. Got home. Put together sweet mixtures. Worried and fretted about botched cupcakes. Went to bed, had nightmares. N loved sweets. So did class. Etcetera.

When I was reflecting - okay, ranting - to M about never having had to throw out any of my bakes (not because they are perfect by any means, but because they usually at least taste good, even if they do look silly), I suddenly realised this wasn't true. I did once throw something out. A whole cake, in fact, which had turned out dense and soggy. It was a celebration cake I had worked hard on the evening before M's return home after a trip to Berlin and I had wanted it to be PERFECT. I am of course beginning to suspect that this is where the problem lies. Striving for perfection makes me feel stressed and pressured, which in turn causes me to make stupid mistakes I wouldn't normally make if I was doing something for the joy of it, or at least with a relaxed state of mind, one not overly-focussed on the outcome.

This afternoon M and I are hosting The Party. Cake, games with prizes, playtime, and pancakes for tea. Thankfully I have the morning off to plan things, and bake, AT MY LEISURE. Some people perform best under pressure - I am definitely not one of them.


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Now for those muesli bars I promised a couple of posts ago. I love these.  And not in the least because they are refined sugar free and full of good ingredients. S & N love a chunk in their snack boxes, which is what they got this week.




Muesli Bars
adapted from It's All Good, by Gwyneth Paltrow

150g rolled oats (I use gluten-free)
25g ground flaxseeds
0,5 teaspoon cinnamon
0,5 teaspoon ground ginger
50g dark chocolate (I use at least 70% cocoa), chopped
50g dried apricots and/or prunes, chopped
50g walnuts, chopped
60ml extra virgin olive oil
60ml maple syrup
2 tablespoons rice syrup or runny honey

  • preheat oven 180 degrees Celsius
  • line a brownie pan (approx. 20cm by 18cm) with baking paper
  • combine all ingredients thoroughly in a large bowl
  • pour the mixture into the brownie pan and pack down firmly with a spatula (important!)
  • bake for 30 minutes
  • allow to cool completely before using the baking paper to lift the bar out of the pan onto a chopping board and cutting into rectangles
  • the edges may be a little brittle; my kids argue over who gets to gobble up those delicious loose chunks
 




33 comments:

  1. I love the sound of these muesli bars - have bookmarked them to try at some stage! Your baking woes resonate with me Isabelle! The more pressure on me, often the worse the results - cakes that have flopped or I ice them when they're too warm, only for it to drip down the side in a seething mess.

    I have read though, that there are no mistakes in baking and thus recommend turning these treats into something else - unless they really deserve otherwise?! An autumn fruit cake I made, promising all kinds of deliciousness, was one of the driest most disappointing baked goods I had ever made. I chopped it up and ran custard through it and made a kind of 'bread and butter' pudding, substituting the cake for bread - best dessert ever!

    Enjoy! Cheers, Lucy

    PS I've just finished A Homemade Life and loved it! Look forward to tracking down Delancey next. Thanks for such a terrific recommendation!

    PPS I'm hosting a giveaway this week - please come on over and put in an entry!

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    1. Oh yes, icing cakes when they're still too warm - the frightening memories all come rushing back! I love your 'what to do with botched cakes' tip: I once did something similar with a slightly dry chocolate cake. Chopped it up and served it with hot custard for pudding; the guests loved it and thought it was meant that way, haha.

      I had already seen your wonderful giveaway and was thinking about what to write when I saw your comment here. Have now posted my entry :-)

      So glad you enjoyed a Homemade Life. I enjoyed Delancey even more; I loved the whole idea of building a life together. I find it all very enthusing.

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  2. Oh I winced as I read about your baking problems - I've been there too often of late - worried I'd lost my kitchen mojo... but it was, like you, a case of "stressed to be the best". Relax and enjoy the celebrations. (I'm a recent 'follower' and enjoying your blog!)

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    1. A very warm welcome to you, Etta!

      Funnily enough, I thought I'd lost my baking mojo too - then realised it was all just due to stress; I don't work well under pressure at all. Stressed to be the best really is a performance killer, isn't it.

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  3. Hi Isabelle. I'd love to give those muesli bars a go (never made a GP recipe before). I hope you all enjoy The Party and the rest of the weekend. Claire xo

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    1. GP has some great (healthy and delicious) recipes, I thought they were quite a discovery. There are a few here on my site. I especially love the healthy fruit crumble; guests always ask for the recipe!

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  4. I can really identify with this! I find hosting children's birthday parties quite stressful and am always relieved when they are over. And the baking under pressure thing, yes, been there too. I always give the kids sweets to take in for their class mates - thankfully everyone does the same so there is no room for worries or night sweats! x

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    1. What a relief! Believe it or not, I always thought it was some kind of nasty streak in ME that doesn't like hosting children's parties, but I am fast discovering that it's quite normal and I'm not the only one.

      And you're quite right about the sweets. It is what I will continue to do in case of school treats, instead of stressing myself out with late night baking after a day's work!

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  5. I'm not much of a baker. I usually use cake mixes and prepared frosting. I think it's more than good enough. Thankfully, most people in our circle do the same, so I rarely feel stressed over it. I sometimes wonder if the Pinterest-perfect mom is something of a myth because I've yet to run into her in real life. :) I'm sure the party will be wonderful for all.

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    1. And you are right too, Jennifer!

      In my case, baking is something I really love doing - it's a hobby, if you like - but just not under pressure.

      Surely the Pinterest-perfect mum is a myth - I have yet to meet one too. I think as mums, we should appreciate that we all do the best we can, instead of worrying about doing things 'just right' (and, heaven forbid, competing with one another!). And that, after all, is a good example for our kids too. I certainly wouldn't want my kids to stress themselves out striving for perfection!

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  6. I have no kids, but still, I can relate to your story... I think I would go berserk if I were to organise birthday parties & everything related to them ! So thumbs up for you, to keep your calm, even with the baking issues....

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    1. Yes, it's all quite an organisation - alongside all the other daily stuff :-/

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  7. Here in the States no home made goodies can be brought to school to be given out, if you want to send something for your child's birthday it must be from the store.
    Worrying, obsessing, oh aren't we good at it. As I told my husband that if I don't have something to worry about I make something up.

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    1. For a minute there, I was speechless. No home baked goods to school? Wow. It's actually perfectly normal over here.

      And yes, the mind has a way of creating completely unnecessary worry, doesn't it!

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  8. I am not looking forward to my third round of little 'uns birthday parties. Although there is recorded evidence of me whipping several six years olds into a frenzy with musical bumps. And I am famous in St Ives for 'inventing' the blow a paper cup across the floor with a straw as quick as you can game!
    Leanne xx

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    1. Haha! That sounds like a great game - have actually noted it down for next year's round of parties!

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    2. I am adding this game to my idea stash. Thanks Leanne. Actually, I might just go and try it out now.

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  9. Those muesli bars look delicious, I will be saving the recipe for when I'm baking again, thank you for posting.

    When I'm stressed my brain shuts down and I mess up the simplest tasks that wouldn't usually faze me. I have to double check everything when I'm in that state!

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    1. Glad I'm not the only one, Chickpea!

      Hope you are beginning to feel better every day, by the way x

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  10. I do hope The Party went well??

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    1. Thankfully it did - will be posting about it soon :-)

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  11. It was the week for birthdays! We had BigRs party on sunday and I almost demented myself with the pressure of pass the parcel. I'd left her birthday cake (she'd had a shop bought one for the party) until the night before her birthday (after the party) when I was so exhausted I couldn't strive for any sort of perfection! Mary Berry to the rescue! Hope S and N had great birthdays! Those museli bars look good xx

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    1. We did pass the parcel too! As far as all the party fuss is concerned, all I can say is: thank goodness it's over!!

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  12. I have several friends with children whose birthdays are one after the other I think it would make me a nervous wreck too. My children have birthdays six months apart!

    I love the sound of your muesli bars, thank you for sharing. Do you grind the flaxseed yourself or can you buy it ground?

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    1. Good question: I buy them ground. But you could grind them yourself in a small food processor. Someone once told me she uses a coffee grinder in such cases. If I can't find ground ones, I use broken flaxseeds which are easier to find in the supermarkets here.

      I think these homemade muesli bars make such great snacks. No sugar, no strange additives or preservatives. And the kids love them!

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  13. oh dear, I can't bake under pressure either. the muesli bars look delicious x

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  14. We had two birthdays this week, too. Luckily only one had a party. You and I could swap stories of perfectionism and not performing well under pressure! I made fresh ravioli for my daughters Birthday dinner party and the lot I made the day before went soggy at the bottom and stuck to the tray. I nearly cried when I scraped them off the tray but they were still good to eat, luckily 11 year olds are not that bothered about presentation yet... Will post about this trauma tonight :). A good way to reflect. I would love to give this muesli bars to my children for snack time but no nuts of any kind are allowed (leaving them out would be a shame), and no home baking for Birthdays either. The latter one is a godsend.... Two more parties to go in this house of many children.... have a great Sunday. Cx

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    1. Oh, I really feel for you, Christina (ravioli, two birthdays)!!
      I find posting a really good way to reflect - it helps put things in perspective too.

      Look forward to reading your post :-)

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  15. Can't manage a proper evening meal after school sometimes, never mind baking. Recognise my former self here - have now abandoned perfection. Muesli bars sound lovely.

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    1. I am fast abandoning this part of myself too!

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  16. I've just come through a spell of cooking meals that somehow failed - people didn't seem to notice, but I did, and wondered why it was happening so regularly. And realised I was trying too hard, that it mattered too much, and that the results demonstrated my mother's old adage that "Better Is The Enemy of Good". So this week I'm relaxing more; if it isn't perfect, it's still food made with love, good ingredients, and this time with less self-criticism, and so far, no one has been poisoned....

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    1. A warm welcome, Rachel! Totally agree, and I'm going to remember your mother's wisdom: Better Is The Enemy of Good.

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