Motherhood never turns out to be quite what I thought it would be. I walked into this role with visions and expectations, only to find that it’s not about expectations at all.
Take for instance: cupcakes. When my kids were young, I embarked on a journey to make the perfect icing.
I knew what it would look like. It would be fluffy and soft, not too sweet, and it would not taste like shortening. My goal was to create a cloud of perfection floated atop a moist and delicious cupcake.
I would present these confections to groups of adoring children at my kids’ class parties.
I tried many recipes. My first attempt was to ice a cake shaped like an earthworm for my bug-loving son.
The icing was a temperamental mixture of caramel and ganache, and while delicious, it was like trying to ice a cake with a tootsie roll. The recipe went in the “nope” bin.
I moved on to fluffier fare, having some luck with a cream cheese buttercream, replacing a portion of the butter with softened cream cheese.
The flavor impressed, but it remained dense and flat like a regular buttercream, and could not be mounded without creating gastro overload. Delicious, easy, but not quite the aesthetics I was after.
From there, I rolled up my sleeves and tackled swiss buttercream. Now, this is a heightened level of cake-frostery, involving double boilers, thermometers, and a fair amount of fear that the sugar would not melt, or that the texture would end up goopy, lumpy, grainy or otherwise wrong.
The results were grand, in my opinion, but struck some as not sweet enough, and others as slightly waxy. I did not repeat, as it was too much effort to result in complaints.
I soon became a room mom, and watched the room party sweets signups be snapped up first by other parents. With decorations to haul, and games to plan, I let them do the baking while I dragged the foam spiders and pipe cleaners.
Year after year, I watched hours of icing and decorating be barely appreciated before the kids could cram no more into their happy little mouths. The hard work of others ended up in sticky piles in the trash.
Finally, last year, I finally determined that I would elbow my way to the signup and bring the sweets.
After training for 12 years for my big cupcake debut, I froze. The dietary restrictions seemed complicated. The options for icing — too many. The thought of making all those cupcakes and watching them go in the trash —heartbreaking.
I did not make cupcakes.
Instead, I made my standby recipe. Not quite dessert, almost too decadent for breakfast, but always so delicious, I made pumpkin chocolate chip muffins, a recipe I’ve treasured since the first time I made them in my sophomore year of high school.
They’re full of spice and flavor, with cold little nuggets of chocolate buried like treasure in the dense, moist muffin. They are made of pure love.
For the party, I doled sets of three mini muffins into small take-home bags, figuring the kids could take a bite of one, then throw the rest in their backpacks to snack on later.
I had low expectations for their popularity, as they’re not overly appetizing to look at — a treat I figured many simply wouldn’t try.
Yet, that day, my heart soared as the kids devoured their muffins.
“Mrs. Parnell, are there more?”
“Mrs. Parnell, can you send my mom this recipe?”
Being a mom isn’t about impressing. It’s not about fluff and appearances, artificial colorings and putting on a good show.
It doesn’t take practice. Instead, it’s a matter of sharing our best, our love, our comfort with others.
It’s about introducing them to tried and true favorites. It’s about serving up a helping of pure love.
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
Makes about 2 dozen or 48 mini muffins
3 1/3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 sticks melted butter
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 15 ounce can pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 bag semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips
Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. Melt butter, then stir pumpkin into the butter. Whisk eggs into pumpkin and butter.
Stir in the chocolate chips, then pour wet ingredients over dry ingredients, and stir to combine. Fill paper muffin cups, or use mini muffin tins.
Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until fairly firm to the touch. Place on cooling rack. These are good warm, but are even better the next day!