Today’s Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s birthday. One of the greatest poets of the Victorian era, she was regarded as a contender for the post of poet laureate when Wordsworth died. She wasn’t appointed for two reasons: firstly, the other contender was Tennyson, and secondly, she was a woman.
It’s also Mother’s Day in the UK, Ireland and Nigeria. As most of you probably know, Mother’s Day was originally a religious holiday called Mothering Sunday. Its name has nothing to do with mothers and all to do with this day (the fourth Sunday in Lent) being a day when servants would be given the day off to travel to their home area – their mother church – for the feast of Laetare Sunday. It was usually the only day when whole families could be together, as their duties typically prevented them from travelling for other holidays. As a family day, it gained association with mothers and when the festival was revived in the 1920s, mothering Sunday and Mother’s Day became one holiday.
Even as separate concepts, both Mother’s Day and mothering Sunday have at their heart thoughts of being mindful of your origins and what you owe to your existence. Mothering can be one of the most difficult tasks ever undertaken by a person and joyous as it apparently is according to people I know, it’s perhaps a lifelong, frequently thankless endeavour that never ends. So it’s rather deserved that the holiday calendar is littered with different countries having their own special day to celebrate the efforts made by billions of women in raising children.
My relationship with my mother is currently non-existent, given that she’s dead. That’s a far too simple view though, as the ripples of past actions will always echo on, for good or for ill. It’s akin to the lord in Monty Python and the Holy Grail waving at the window (and the curtains) and exclaiming “Some day, lad, all this will be yours!” My mother almost certainly suffered from some form of undiagnosed bipolar depression but somewhat fortuitously, it appears that some day that will not be mine. Small mercies. I would like to think that my mother did her best with the tools that she was given.
There are mothers who are mothers by virtue of giving birth. There are mothers who are mothers by caring for children to whom they did not give birth. There are fathers acting as fathers and mothers. There are mothers acting as mothers and fathers. There are grandmothers who care for grandchildren as though they’re their own. There are daughters and sons caring for aged parents as though they’re mothers to their own parents. At its heart, Mother’s Day is a celebration of love, of respect and of caring. And that’s the best that anyone can ever offer anyone else, up to the limit of their ability.
With that in mind, I selected this poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning to close. While she’s these days better known for her Sonnet 43 (“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…”), that poem’s gentle tenderness was hilariously stolen from me in a re-enactment of Roger Rabbit’s letter reading in ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’. So I’ve selected her Sonnet 14, which embodies love for love’s sake and nothing more. Happy Mother’s Day, in whatever capacity you find yourself.
“If thou must love me, let it be for nought
Except for love’s sake only. Do not say,
“I love her for her smile—her look—her way
Of speaking gently,—for a trick of thought
That falls in well with mine, and certes brought
A sense of pleasant ease on such a day”—
For these things in themselves, Belovèd, may
Be changed, or change for thee—and love, so wrought,
May be unwrought so. Neither love me for
Thine own dear pity’s wiping my cheeks dry:
A creature might forget to weep, who bore
Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!
But love me for love’s sake, that evermore
Thou mayst love on, through love’s eternity.”

Today is Shrove Tuesday (or “Pancake Day”). Many people seem to think that making their own pancake batter to make pancakes from scratch is completely beyond them. As we’re in the middle of a Europe-wide food scandal where everything seems to be made from horse, I suggest that you make your own. It’s comically easy.

You will need: Flour, eggs, milk, salt, toppings of your choice, a frying pan, a spatula or giant spoon, a source of heat (not the sun).

If you make too many pancakes, you may be tempted to do this, before running into the fields to scare cows and chickens. The batter will keep in the fridge for four or five days. Image from

If you make too many pancakes, you may be tempted to do this, before running into the fields to scare cows and chickens. The batter will keep in the fridge for four or five days. Image from

Here’s how I made pancakes earlier today:

1. Put a pretty random amount of flour in a bowl. Then remember that there’s a little weighing scale for these things on top of the set of two 8 inch square cake pans that for some reason I own (which are in turn on top of a box of scottish porridge and a box of weetabix that I didn’t realise I had). Assume that it’s about 225g (or a “half pound” as my granny would say). Sigh and move on to…

2. Shape a little nest-style depression in the middle of the flour. No idea why, it’s just one of things that one does. It has been so since we first discovered nests, some time around 1850. Break two eggs and drop them, minus shells, into the middle. Pause for a moment and then add another egg. For luck. Proceed to…

3. Milk time! Ignore the two measuring jugs and make a guess at what’s probably about 600ml (close enough to the most noble and ancient imperial measurement of 568ml, or as our forebears called it, a “pint”). Pour that into the bowl. Everything looks, erm, pretty awful to be honest but that’s how it goes. Moving on…

4. Carpe diem. Sprinkle a little more flour on top in a most unmasculine way. Masculinity will be satisfied by…

5. … not step five anyway. Pinch of salt. Then another little pinch (also technically a pinch but a light-hearted one, like you do to someone you like rather than the sort of pinch that kindergarten kids do to each other). Man time…

6. … as you grab the whisk, wave it around like a Homeric hero (Hector rather than Paris) and then beat the contents of the bowl to the sort of bloody death that would get the film banned in every country except Russia and, possibly, Serbia.

You are mostly done! Let your batter sit for about ten minutes and then give it another whisk. Congratulations but don’t rest on your laurels as you still have to actually make pancakes from your pancake mix. Besides, you’ve merely made pancake mix, which is barely more complicated than making mud pies at the bottom of the garden. Less complicated if your mudpies have ever included worms. Continuing…

7. Get your frying pan. Let’s assume that you have one because it’s a lot easier if you have. Medium heat on the cooker and a little bit (A LITTLE BIT, DAMMIT) of oil. I have stir fry oil and extra virgin olive oil. Neither of these are ideal so I went for the latter.

8. Just make the darned pancakes already. If your heat isn’t too high (medium heat, remember?) they won’t stick unless you’re incompetent. And, sure, if they do, it’s a pancake, not a wedding cake, get over yourself. No-one is watching – unless you have children, other family members or housemates and, if you have, they should be shooed out of the kitchen because pancake magic doesn’t work if little eyes stare in disbelief. When pouring the pancake mix, briskly pour it until it fills half the pan, then stop pouring. Lift the pan and swirl it around. That’ll give you perfect pancake thickness. Remember to put it back on the stove. You’re making pancakes, not a fashion statement.

9. Making the pancake will involve turning it at some point. A good time to turn it is before it burns. When the bubbles start forming is an excellent opportunity to flip it upside down. Be as daring as you like or, alternatively, as conservative as you like. There is no such thing as “daring conservative”, unless it’s a Tory MP with an urge to do things that his wife just won’t do with him. Anyway, turn it however you like. You will get better as you make successive pancakes, before completely forgetting everything you have just learned in time for next year’s pancake day. After about 40 seconds, you’ll probably want to flip it over again. It’s fun, indulge yourself. When it’s done (i.e. before it’s burned), slip it out of the pan and on to a plate. Cook’s choice, you get the first one. If you live by yourself, you get to eat all of them.

10. Toppings! Whatever you like. I have bananas, nicely sliced. Also lemon (juice is better than a whole lemon – as I have a whole lemon I’ve elected to squeeze out the juice). Lemon is good with sugar. It’s like being in that post-WW2 period where people finally had sugar and children were amazed by lemons.  In Ireland, that lasted until about 1982. Chocolate sauce, ice-cream, nutella, these are all acceptable. Lettuce is not, as lettuce on a pancake is a breakfast food. Maple syrup, that’s also good. Tea leaves… no.

11. The washing up. For those of you with children, that’s why you made them. Look, it’s Lent. Give up the washing-up for Lent. There’s no washing of dishes in any holy book ever written in any religion. That’s why there’s wailing and gnashing of teeth – detaching a day-old corn flake from a bowl will do that to anyone.

I didn’t mention butter. I’m not much of a butter fan (except on scones, where I ladle it on). If you want to include butter, go to a food page made by someone who can actually cook  – apart from the famous people, I suggest following @hecooksalot and @bumblesofrice on twitter. I could have mentioned that at the beginning, but the “random amount of flour” shouldn’t have inspired confidence in you in the first place. My pancakes were lovely though. I wholeheartedly recommend making them with random quantities of ingredients.

You’ll make between six and eight pancakes of normal (not American iHOP) thickness if you follow the ingredient quantities listed . The pancake mix will last for four or five days in the fridge if you feel like keeping some for breakfast (when putting bacon, lettuce and pineapple on your pancake is appropriate).