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I never understood my mum’s obsession with leftover food. To this day she never throws anything away. We’re talking tiny remnants of meals here, a blob of tuna, a spoonful of potato salad. Nobody ever fancies it the next day. Instead the contents of those small pots and plastic boxes at the back of the fridge would gradually turn putrid before finally ending up in the bin, a few weeks later.

I used to think it was some kind of war-baby thing. You know, she lived through rationing so of course it’s only natural she’d save the lumpy dregs of the gravy, that lonely slice of a boiled egg, those wrinkly three peas. Where was the next meal was coming from, right? It’s only now, when I find myself rescuing my own despondent fragments of meals, carefully placing a spoonful of beans into a tiny tupperware container or plonking one small cooked potato into a pot, that I realise it’s motherhood that does it.

For one thing, once you’ve watched your kids throw most of your hard cooking work onto the floor, “wasting good food” takes on a new meaning. This is personal. Those peas aren’t just any old peas, they’re your blood-sweat-and-tears peas. And they’ll damn well eat them up even if it means adding them cold to their lunch plate the next day. And the next.

Yes. Of course we’re poor too. Dirt poor. We don’t have rationing, but our belts have got damn uncomfortable of late. Just look at the cost of childcare – which has now jumped to a third more since the recession according to a report published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. You eke out each meal because you can’t do a ‘weekly’ shop. Why? Because the weekly shop seems to have doubled in price (like, when did that happen?). So you stretch it out to a fortnightly event with some limp veg bought at Costcutter in between.

And yes. We are digging this whole budget living vibe right? We’re all eco-warriors now. We recycle our food because ‘waste not want not’ is the buzzy thing to do. Yesterday’s spag bog is tomorrow’s chilli con carne. At the very least that old bit of courgette will be going on the compost-heap, right? Oops, I meant the Bokashi bin, of course. We don’t recycle anymore, for crying out loud, we UPcycle. Yeah.

But truly, it’s really because, with a toddler to look after, there is NO TIME. You can’t be cooking from scratch every meal – are you insane? No. You cook one meal. On Monday. And you take their next meal out of its leftovers and arrange it on the plate into a face shape for lunch on Tuesday. Oooooh. Look at the funny man! And you hope by tea-time on Wednesday the kid doesn’t realise it’s the third time he’s been eating from that same batch. Bon appetit!


I don’t think I actually needed to sweep the floor pre-baby. I must have done I guess, but I certainly don’t remember. It must have been the odd occasion, you know – to gather up a random crumb, an errant slice of mushroom, a blip of a tomato leaf. On an otherwise spotless shiny wooden floor. No, dirt didn’t really impact on my life too much.

Now, though. It’s like that’s all my life boils down to. I live to sweep. I sweep to live. Literally. If I didn’t I’d probably sink and suffocate under a pile of trodden-on pasta, squashed peas and slimy carrot. I’m not joking. Perhaps I’m a bit obsessed. But it seems to sum up my life as mum of two small people – a constantly bent-over servant to two small tyrants ruling the roost on their respective thrones. OK, Stokke highchairs, but you get my point.

Yes, I’ve heard of a hoover. But have you heard the one about the terrified toddler who screams whenever you switch it on? And anyhow, getting the hoover out of the cupboard every time the kids have tipped over their raisins for the fifth time that day, is sheer lunacy.

Oooooh. I’ve tried other things. The floor mat for instance (or ‘splash mat‘). Nice idea – keeps the floor clear – but cleaning the damn thing itself is more hassle than it’s worth. Nope. The ol’ broom is the way to go whether you like it or not. It’s probably why these basic objects of female subservience still exist, if you think about it.

Just one thing: whatever you do, don’t attempt to sweep pasta, rice or couscous until it’s gone a bit dry and crunchy, it’ll gunk up your broom and goo the floor even more which is ten times more depressing than having to sweep it in the first place. And hey, while you wait, the toddler might get an unexpected bonus meal out of it. Everyone happy!

If cupcakes purely had an aesthetic function and were not designed for eating, I’d perhaps have less of a problem with them. After all, they do look so pretty. All those lovely pinks and powdery blues, and twinkly sprinkles and pure indulgent frothiness. As the girl whose ex-colleague one day turned round out of the blue, after I’d come in wearing yet another floral frock, and said to me, ‘If you were a shop, you’d be Cath Kidston’ (I was mortified and kinda pleased in equal measure), it would be churlish not to confess to a certain affinity for all things comforting and nostalgic and lovely and girlie and escapist. After years in jeans, these days I only do dresses. I do spend an unhealthy amount of time fantasising about tea cups and teapots. Afternoon tea is my favourite meal of the day. And, yes, I count it as a meal. A day without tea and cake at some point in the day is a sad one indeed. I have watched the Great British Bake-Off unironically.

But tastewise I’m just not keen. For cupcakes patently taste awful. . They reek of awful cloying overwhelming sweetness, the kind that sets teeth on edge, with the icing-to-sponge ratio far too generous in the former and lacking in the latter. Give me a good old-fashioned fairy cake with a blob of icing and a decent buttery base any day of the week.

But more than the mere taste, it’s what cupcakes have come to represent that I can’t bear. Their  representation of a certain kind of awful Sex and the City-spawned female indulgence. They are sickly in every sense of the word. I know I’m clearly not alone in this, as the anti-cupcake movement/cupcake backlash has been going for quite some time now.

It’s also as if there’s a truth universally acknowledged that every women’s latent cupcake gene springs into action once she becomes a mother. That while you might have previously been the kind of woman who subsisted on KFC buckets and Gregg’s sandwiches, or liked to read The Economist, and only had the vaguest acquaintance with lighting the oven, the minute you have a baby you’ll find yourself flouncing into the kitchen in a floral pinnie to rustle up some some butter icing, clearing the cake decoration aisle in Waitrose and spending £300 on a KitchenAid (a contraption that basically does what people have been doing for centuries with a whisk, wooden spoon and a basin bowl, only without the ensuing tendonitis afterwards).

How many new mothers start doomed cupcake-making businesses? How many flyers for cake stalls, and children’s birthday cake makers are there in your local coffee shop? How many times have you bought a cupcake (and some them cost £3.50-plus each), then felt distinctly queasy before you’re halfway done?

I have a confession, however: though I hate cooking, I do like to make cakes. I like to make them, even though I’m totally rubbish at it. I like the fact that you have to follow a recipe to the letter, as I find going off piste from any recipe at all unnecessarily stressful and unsettling.

Even so, despite the following-to-a letter, my cakes still generally burn, collapse, crumble, are raw in the middle and singed at the edges, or have a distinct teeth-cracking, rock-like consistency. I never EVER remember what time I put them in the oven. If they’re initially undercooked I inevitably put them back in and then end up leaving them too long so they burn anyway. They taste of disappointment. They are the embodiment of failed ambition, of slovenly domesic ungoddessness,

They never look remotely like the picture and often they’re not taste sweet enough, because I’ll get to the cupboard and realise that I don’t have one of the ingredients and as I’m too lazy to go the supermarket, I’ll substitute with the wrong kind of sugar (which might work with a curry, but not with a cake, which is all about the science of proportions or so I am led to believe).

I have woefully inaccurate scales and basically just none of the right equipment or Nigella-friendly accoutrements – Bundt tins, icing bags, spatulas, proper vanilla essence, those funny little gold and silver balls. I don’t even have a cooling rack. And I can’t decorate to save my life – I just find myself getting insanely bored and impatient while I’m doing it, making even basic icing sugar, which as we all know any 3-year-old can manage (my icing is always without fail way too runny and thin, like a very cheap paper glue, or mortar-like like an unpleasant yeast infection). I even manage to fuck up those supermarket fairy cake kits where all you need to do is chuck in an egg and stir, while you give your child the fleeting illusion that yes, mummy can cook actually. (A Halloween kit for bat-shaped biscuits by Dr Oetker last year moved both me and my son to tears as the pastry refused time and time again to stick together and roll out. God, I felt like a failure.)

Recently, I had a crazy thought. I saw an ad for a cupcaking decorating class. For a split second, I seriously considered going along, overcoming my phobia of using palette knives, and getting creative with some lovely pastel combinations of sprinkles and buttercream.

Then fortunately my sanity returned. I thought about the cupcakes stands you now get in corporate environments like Westfield Stratford. And I realised I’d rather stab myself in the eye with a silver-plated pastry fork. I’m afraid to say I still can’t endorse cupcakes in any shape or form

I never bought a microwave oven until I was pregnant. For years I resisted, for, I admit, partly irrational reasons. Leaky radiation frying my brain every time I pinged a ready meal. Soggy vegetables. Baked potatoes with sad, floppy skins. Hotspots that took off the roof of your mouth, next to other spots that were still frozen and raw. The fact that they annihilated all those lovely vitamins (like the radiation worries, now apparently disproven). More than anything, the fact it was yet another unlovely gadget to take up valuable worktop space.

But I finally relented, and boy have I not looked back. While the main oven is obviously the main source for proper nice grub (I’m not a complete food heathen), the microwave is undoubtedly handy when you have a baby. Yes, OK, I’m talking mainly making Ready Brek. But not just that. When your baby is howling his or her head off, a microwave requires one dish, two minutes and a button to defrost some bread, to cook some broccoli or some sweet potato, to heat up yesterdays leftovers, or poach a piece of salmon. It won’t get you on the shortlist for Masterchef. But it might just save your sanity. And as I’m far as I’m concerned, that’s better than an Aga.

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This blog is currently dedicated to stuff new mummies like. As opposed to stuff mummies of teenagers like. That's because we don't have teenagers yet. Give us a few years though. We're told it goes pretty quickly...

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