When my kids first started school, I would look at the all primped and put-together moms and wish I could be even a little bit like them. Will was three, Paige was an infant and try as I might, makeup and hair were rarely on the to-do list before dropping Will off to school. I’d just left my editorial job to focus on freelancing (um, again) and was having the hardest time adjusting to being at home all the time. If my clothes were relatively clean (read: minimal signs of my daughter’s spitup and tossed food), then I called it a win.
But I felt frumpy. And like I wasn’t mastering the whole work at home mom thing at all.
Four years, five classrooms and a lot of soul searching later, I have come to realize something: I won’t ever be perfect. (Hey, no laughing.) It’s a big thing for me, especially since there was a time when I wouldn’t so much as get the mail without doing my hair and makeup. But things change, and so do priorities. While my living room carpet might not get vacuumed daily, my children are well-behaved, well-fed, smart and generous people. They know they are loved. While I don’t always change out of workout clothes before rushing to the grocery store, our dinners are made with love and nutritious. They appreciate good food because it’s what they are used to. While my front porch needs a fresh coat of paint (we’re half way there with prepping it!), my kids appreciate the outdoors and crave activity. They are fit and, most importantly, happy.
I’m not perfect but that’s okay. My family is my main priority, followed closely by my work. It’s no secret that I love what I do. Writing is all I ever wanted to do with my life — and becoming a recipe developer was a happy bonus.
Still, I don’t always win at this life thing. Last week, while I was busy finishing up work, packing for the BlogHer 2012 Conference and waiting to hear about a relative’s surgery, I baked up a batch of cupcakes for a playdate. I’d promised to bring cupcakes to celebrate my son’s birthday (celebration two of three!), but didn’t have time for complication. Or even buying additional ingredients. So, these homemade cupcakes are as simple and basic as they come — and that’s part of the charm. You can literally whip up a batch using only pantry ingredients and frost them without any mixing or purchasing.
They are hand-mixed in one bowl (yes! one-bowl cupcakes!), so you don’t have an onslaught of dishes to deal with. And they are speedy to toss together and into the oven. All big wins, I think.
When I baked them, the tops puffed and domed before taking on a golden hue. Sampling them, I found a lightly sweetened, moist cake. They were just right and ready to be frosted when they cooled. But with so much going on, I never made frosting. At first it was because we were out of vanilla and powdered sugar — the basic of what my go-to frosting is made of. But then, I found us running late, away from anywhere I could buy the ingredients — or premade frosting. And finally, I decided to just do without. We ended up arriving with plain cupcakes.
The perfectionist in me tsked in disgust that I couldn’t just get everything done. I silenced her.
In the end, all was okay. Not having frosting was a blessing of sorts. I’d already planned on taking a couple frosting-free cupcakes since my friend’s son isn’t a frosting fan. These were perfect for him. And my own daughter isn’t a big sweets fan, so she was perfectly happy to be frosting free too. Heck, all the kids oohed over them. Yes, I forgot a big part of the cupcakes. But it wasn’t a disaster. It was just life. And if I hadn’t said a word, this could have seemed intentionally kind (of course, I did tell my friend what happened).
Everything was okay, even though I am not the perfect put-together mom.
Still, cupcakes without frosting? Well, I couldn’t let the last few suffer such a fate. I also wasn’t making any frosting. So I did what made sense: improvised. Hello, Nutella, my dear old friend. Nutella smeared onto the tops of these cupcakes is the perfect finish. It’s sweet but uncomplicated, a lot like the cupcakes themselves. And a sprinkle of sprinkles? A just-right finishing touch. Will and Paige devoured the last few cupcakes as voraciously as the first ones. These are good — with or without the Nutella.
Being perfect? I don’t need it. What I need is a happy family, a happy life and a fulfilling job. And I have that. So maybe my life is a little more perfect than I think.
Do you strive for perfection? Or is it an unrealistic goal?
Basic Cupcakes with Nutella “Frosting”
yields 10 cupcakes
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup canola oil
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line 10 muffin cups with liners and set aside.
In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add the egg, milk and oil to the bowl. Whisk vigorously for two minutes, until smooth.
Divide the batter evenly among the cupcake liners. Bake for 18-20 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean.
Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely. Once cooled, spread the cupcakes with Nutella (how much? That’s up to you!). Sprinkle with sprinkles, if desired.
Enjoy! Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container for up to four days.