You know those days when nothing seems to go right? Well, today has been one of those days. Despite glorious weather, that I should just have decided to stay out to enjoy regardless of all the chores to do indoors, I didn't, and my day seems to have been frittered away rather disappointingly. The dog and I had a shortish walk and came home so that I could fill in that incomprehensible form the Tax Office has sent me so that they can tax my pension. (So-o-o-o unfair!) This entailed finding all sorts of information about savings and a great deal more. Heaven knows where my ancient Post Office account book is, and I don't recall ever reaching the £60 mark in it, but the powers-that-be want to know all about it. Dispirited, I postponed the tax form for another day and did some baking instead: a large chocolate tray-bake for someone other than me, and a very small, hopefully cute, chocolate cake for Suzy, who is 59 today.
Both were to be topped with a dark chocolate icing, the tray-bake decorated with small piped white chocolate hearts, and the birthday cake with something that would reflect Suzy's interests or favourite colours, or both. Excluding her particular favourites: anything black, and cigarettes.
These modest ambitions have swallowed up my day and left me feeling a dismal failure (well, not really, but let's be melodramatic). The tray-bake was fine, if fairly conventional. Suzy's cake tin had been overfilled, so that it flowed out onto the Experimental Cupcakes beneath. These were supposed to be heart-shaped, as I read recently how if you indent the paper case with a ball of foil, and pinch in the opposite side of the case, the heart shape miraculously results. Ooh, let's try that, I thought, in time for Valentine's Day. Shapeless blobs miraculously resulted for me. They are now in the freezer to press onto visiting children, who don't care so much about the cupcake aesthetic.
Digression: I have a small and delightful team of official Tasters who live in my street, all aged 12 or under, and who sample new things that I've baked. They call regularly and ask if I have anything that needs to be Tasted. Their standards of criticism, constructive or otherwise, are sadly lacking. They just stuff the samples into their little beaks, say "Delicious!", look for second helpings, and that's that. They eat anything. In a former life, they were probably little dogs. I do love them for it though.
Anyway, I cooled and trimmed Suzy's cake, and it looked better, and smelled and felt fine. Catastrophe averted. The dog thought the trimmings were very nice, thank you.
The dark chocolate frosting was going well until I ambitiously added some Bailey's (of which I seem to have 2 bottles, for no good reason that I can think of), whereupon it began to split. This is a disaster, and most sensible people throw it away and start again. Unsensible and undaunted, I ploughed on, knowing that a generous dusting of cocoa powder added later hides a multitude of sins. The piped hearts also looked fine at the time, but stubbornly refused to set on their baking paper - why didn't I pipe them directly onto the cake, you ask? Because piping isn't a skill I possess, really, and indeed there were several decidedly wobbly hearts to be rejected.
Decorating Suzy's cake proved a nightmare. The vision: tiny white tulips in a pale green wrapper, all made of delicately coloured icing sugar. The reality: tulip failure, to be turned into white rosebuds. I can make rosebuds. Then the wrapper proved too delicate and fell apart, and the smidgin of pink blush to liven up the roses looked more like some tiny person had spilled tomato sauce on them.
So in the end, in desperation and with time running out, I cut out little letters in vivid acid green - one of her favourite colours: there is a theme of sorts here, you know - spelling out SUZY OAP-1, (minus 1 - geddit?) wrapped a lime-yellow spotted ribbon round it all, hoping it would look like a granny headscarf, stuck a little striped yellow candle into the whole sorry mess, and took it down to her before her birthday actually ended. I don't think she was impressed, but without knowing the amount of discarded work that came before it, why should she be? Also, she had that wired-into-the-mains look of someone who wasn't quite ready for her own birthday party and was running out of time.
In the end, freshly-piped wobbly hearts were required, and they look fine, in a playschooly sort of way. At such moments I tell myself that home baking should look hand made; symmetry is for mass produced factory cake. (But I would like it to look handmade by a grown woman, not a 3-year-old.)
I had already given my apologies to Suzy, not being party-minded and tending towards doom and despair tonight anyway. Lynn popped in, listened patiently to me moaning, and tidied my table while I made cups of tea. While I haven't yet found all the other papers I need in order to fill in the form from the Tax Office, at least the form now sits amongst a tidy heap of things labelled To Do, without a trace of white chocolate, cocoa powder or tears to be seen.