Recipe Friday: Celebration Cake

MS//Mommy is reaching a milestone this weekend: on Sunday we will be celebrating our one-year anniversary. In honor of this milestone, we asked Michelle Melton to share with us a sugar-free cake recipe – perfect for all sorts of celebrations.


frostedcake

One of my favorite lines from Ray Romano’s early stand-up routine was about his, then 3-year-old daughter, Alexandra. As they were driving along, he noticed that she stared out the window smiling at nothing in particular.  When he asked her what she was thinking about, she replied “candy!”

Even at 60, I remember clearly the joy as a child that was candy, ice cream, and other sugary treats.  My friends and I would walk to the drug store clutching our quarters and stand in front of the rows of candy trying to decide which choices would yield the most pleasure for our money.  Our neighborhood was visited by three different ice cream trucks each day during the summer and though my mother would limit the purchases to occasionally, the sound of bells or a music box-like jingle would send me running home with the hope that, perhaps today, might be the day. A few years later, when a candy company introduced a large-sized lollipop with a sweet side and a tart side, bringing it to school, became the cool thing to do in sixth grade.

With such a long-standing and deep-rooted love of sweets, one would imagine that once I became a mother, I would be sympathetic to a child’s love of candy and desserts.  But nothing could be further from the truth.

As I watched those beautiful new teeth emerge in my infant daughter’s mouth I vowed (successfully) that she would live life cavity-free.  Since sugar-filled treats had been the source of my numerous dental fillings, I chose to limit the introduction of candy and other treats into her life.  If we did indulge, I chose high-quality or homemade confections and desserts.  We enjoyed candy on special occasions and holidays but rather than using candy as a gift or reward, I would instead choose small toys or other useful items like pens and pencils, especially on the annual homemade advent calendar.

It was by coincidence last year when my daughter decided to remove cane sugar from her diet that I had been investigating the idea at the same time.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I was already living gluten-free off and on so the concept of removing sugar seemed daunting. I decided to postpone going entirely gluten-free until after the first of this year and instead joined my daughter in her effort to use sugar alternatives (honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, xylitol) in place of cane sugar.  With birthdays and the holidays approaching at this time last year, the effort to convert favorite recipes to these substitutes was going to be difficult enough without the added trouble of trying to use gluten-free flours.

My first sugar substitute of choice was coconut sugar.  It is readily available at most grocery stores and it is also the least expensive.

It could be substituted one-to-one for the sugar called for in recipes.  However, one of the drawbacks is the brown color which, when combined with foods like fruit give the mixture an unappealing look, though it works well in recipes as a replacement for brown sugar.

The last drawback is one I haven’t read about so I am guessing few people have noticed this but coconut sugar is oily.  It seems to retain some of the oil found in the coconut and therefore, can interfere in the finished product.  For example, when I tried to make homemade chocolate chips, the final product would not solidify properly because of the added oil.  Coconut sugar is a great substitute as long as these characteristics are taken into consideration.  If appearance, taste and setting up isn’t an issue (as when making chocolate syrup for milk) then I use coconut sugar.

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Food and the Toddler

Picky eating and toddlers go hand-in-hand, right?

When we think of toddlers, culturally speaking, we think of “terrible twos” and picky eaters. Every moment is a fight or ramping up to a tantrum of some sort and there’s a parent in the background praying for this stage to end soon.

But it doesn’t have to be like that.

In a nutshell: picky eating is about exerting control over what a toddler puts in their body. It may stem for a genuine dislike for a particular piece of food, an unknown allergy, modeling behavior seen, or just testing to see what they can get away with at mealtime.

With this in mind, a parent can respect a toddler’s need for control, respect their desires, and give them a safe space to experiment without causing food issues down the road.


Note: there are going to be periods of “picky” eating with every child. I am not suggesting that this will stop those moments, but this will help manage those moments so it doesn’t become the norm. Also, consider the personality of your child: some children have a personality that is drawn towards assertive behaviors. Honor that personality type and find ways to work with them to help manage mealtime.

I acknowledge that this post will not help in situations where the child has sensory issues with food. Experts may label it as picky eating for brevity, but that is a separate issue from a child refusing to eat as a means to defy a parent.


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Food and the Baby

What follows is an analysis of my personal experience of introducing solid food to a baby. Please do not take this as medical or expert advice on the matter and always refer to your child’s pediatrician for advice and input on your child’s nutrition. Please refer to my disclosure policy for more information.


Food is extremely important in our house.

Ash loves food. I love food. And it was important to raise Jai to love and appreciate food. I knew that this meant giving him a good foundation when we started solids, but I was nervous when it came time to start.

There are a lot of theories out there about how best to introduce solids to a baby. I knew I wanted to wait until his pediatrician gave the go-ahead, around 4 months, but just because he was physically ready didn’t mean that some experts suggested waiting until he was older.

I was excited to start him on solids but concerned he would choke in the process of introducing solids. I know babies are introduced to solids every day with minimal issues, but I had that parental fear that my situation would be unique and I would cause harm.

I followed my intuition and started him as soon as I could, but made sure everything was smooth enough for him and avoided baby-led weaning. I think if we had to do it again with a second child, with my experience, I would feel more comfortable with baby-led weaning, but because I wasn’t sure what I was doing I wanted to make sure I took small steps until I gained my confidence over the whole matter.

Starting Solids

For all my insecurity, I knew there were a couple of things I wanted to do that was against the expert recommendations: when we introduced solids, I would make them interesting for him. He wouldn’t be expected to eat bland food as a child or an adult, so why should I introduce him to boring and bland food?

He was basted for the final two months in utero with pumpkin spice; I ate a variety of foods and spices throughout my pregnancy; and expanded my foods to what I had to avoid during pregnancy while breastfeeding. All of this impacted his palate before he tasted his first solid food and I knew the research that backed this up. Up to this point in his life, he didn’t consume bland, flavorless food. Everything had spice and strong flavors so I couldn’t expect him to be excited over what was effectively gruel.

Doing some more research, I decided to do the following immediately when I introduced the rice cereal: add in peanut butter, cinnamon, and breastmilk. I made sure the food was thin enough so he wouldn’t choke on it, but it was important that I start the process of getting him used to peanut butter in a safe manner. I didn’t want him to have a peanut butter allergy and because neither Ash nor myself had an allergy ourselves, I was confident it would go well.

It did. And he loved it. He got so used to the peanut butter that on the mornings I forgot to put it in or didn’t have any he was more reluctant to eat.

I also wanted to add cinnamon because it was something I knew I would enjoy if I was eating warm rice cereal. I did all of these additions to his first meal with the understanding that if he reacted badly in any way: breakouts, coughing, diaper issues, etc. I would stop immediately. I just wanted to see if he would enjoy the process of eating solids considering all the foods I ate while pregnant and breastfeeding.

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Food & Love

Food has long been considered a language of love.

My mother expressed her love for her family by cooking delicious dishes and passing her knowledge of cooking and baking to me. I plan to pass this love to Jai as he grows up so he will cook and bake for his family.

But before Jai, there was Ash. And before Ash, officially, there was the dating/courtship period of our relationship. At the time we met and started dating I was taking temp jobs, this was during the depths of the economic downturn, and so my resources were limited for what I could do with him for our dates.

Being a gentleman, he offered to pay, but being independent I refused to let him pay for more than one date in a row without us at least splitting the cost. Rather, I offered to make him dinner at his apartment, for him and his roommates, as often as I could. It allowed us to spend time together, watch some movies/shows we had common interests and keep our costs low. Additionally, I could show him something I was good at to impress him.

Getting to Know You

I met Ash at a restaurant for a mutual friend’s birthday party. We chatted for a bit, I was interested but unable to really pursue him at the time. Several months later we reconnected after hanging out at another friend’s house a couple of times and decided that we wanted to be more serious in our relationship.

Ash’s birthday is at the beginning of the year and at that point in our relationship I couldn’t find work, so I had no money to buy a special present for him. We’d been dating for two months at that point and he told me, as he still tells me, that I didn’t have to get him anything special for his birthday. I insisted, so he suggested making him dinner.

Ash has never been one to hide his love for meat. Specifically, red meat.

I found a recipe for grilled steak with herbed butter, potatoes, and green beans. I spent the better part of the day making it for him because I wanted it to be perfect. Up to that point, I had made what I considered safe meals. These were meals I knew I couldn’t screw up but didn’t really show my range. Here was an opportunity to show my abilities. Fortunately, it was a success and to this day he comments about how much he loved that birthday present.

From then on out, I spent more time expanding my culinary skills to impress Ash. I would ask what he wanted to eat, he would buy the ingredients and I would throw something together in his kitchen for him. Most days we shared with his roommates, but some days we kept it for ourselves while we watched anime.

I had one obstacle in my cooking that I wanted to overcome, because don’t all overly ambitious partners want to do this?

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For the Love of Food

Food plays a huge role in my life and I could list all the cliche ways it’s impacted me.

One of my proudest moments as a child was when I cooked my parents a dinner with minimal help from my mother. I remember being so thrilled that I did most of the work myself and remembering to wash my hands after handling raw meat without prompting.

My love for food comes both as something to be enjoyed and something that nourishes me to survive. I love to look at a plate for how it’s presented to me when we’re in a restaurant, along with how good it tastes. I would like to think I am a bit of a foodie, but I am far from being obsessed. I think I have a passing appreciation over whether or not a dish is good.

I want to pass this love on to Jai, so as he grows older, I plan on teaching him how to cook and bake as soon as he’s ready. He’s already showing interest as our friend, Lady, was kind enough to pass along a play kitchen that he uses and mimics mommy.

Looking Ahead

For the month of September, I will discuss my relationship with food, how food played a role in my relationship with Ash, feeding a baby and toddler so they can start their food appreciation journey, and what to do to help foster a love of food and cooking in little ones. Every Friday will have a new recipe to enjoy that I am looking forward to sharing with everyone.

Before getting started, what are some of your fond food memories? What is your favorite dish to eat alone and a favorite dish to share? Leave your stories in the comments.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton Photography