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 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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Recipe Friday: Pumpkin Spice Latte

Anyone who knows me knows that I love this time of year.

I am very basic when it comes to fall. Fall decorations, fall clothing (even when it’s still 90 degrees out because I live in the South), and fall festivals. 

I am especially in love with Pumpkin Spice Lattes from a certain coffee chain. They introduced the drink around the time I was an undergraduate in Boston. I had to pass this chain on my way to classes every day so when I discovered this delicious beverage, I made sure to grab one every day before heading to class.

I know that this is probably where a bulk of my college weight came from. That and the peppermint mocha drink that follows for the holidays. I really couldn’t resist the two.

I think because I had fond memories of undergraduate, Boston falls, and this drink – it’s a little cup of nostalgia every year. When I was pregnant, I started craving the drink in early August. Every couple of days I would comment how much I wished it was PSL time. I know I drove Ash and my mother nuts with how much I was talking about the drink.

When it finally debuted Labor Day Weekend I bought my first cup of the season and a cute reusable mug to show off my love. Because it was my major pregnancy craving, especially towards the end, I insisted on including it in my weekly bump photos. I joked that I was basting Jai in nutmeg.

If he craves pumpkin spice or hates it, it’s my fault.

pregnantPSL

No, seriously. This was my week 37 bump photo. Exactly 2 years ago today.

Pumpkin Spice Drought

But when I quit sugar around this time last year, I had to give up my beloved fall drink. Unfortunately, no matter how I tried to order it, coffee shops found ways to sneak in sugar. In the sauce and in the milk (sugar is the third ingredient in their coconut milk). I found that I reacted the same way to the sugar-free mixes as I do with the full-sugar, which is to say I get headaches, neck pain, and nausea. I also hate the aftertaste sweeteners give a drink or food item.

I went the entire year without my PSLI made it through, but it didn’t feel like fall for me because it was the first time in 10+ years where I didn’t have the drink at least once.

I didn’t want to go a second year without it. It wasn’t that I was craving it as much as it was wanting it for nostalgia reasons. Fall is my season and if I went another year without really embracing the season I was going to feel a little sad. I know it sounds melodramatic, but I found that the holidays didn’t feel the same because I didn’t experience fall like I normally do.

I tried a couple recipes for making the drink at home and while they were good, they didn’t quite have the flavor I was looking for. I tried coconut sugar, I tried straight maple syrup, but it wasn’t that perfect blend of sweet and spice. I didn’t want to make the drink too sweet, as that was a complaint I actually had of the original, and I had to find the right kind of sweetener that didn’t add flavor.

My mom suggested using xylitol. Xylitol is a wonderful sweetener because it melts like sugar and can function 1:1 with sugar. If you are watching your sugar intake for personal reasons or due to diabetes, it’s a suggested alternative to sugar cane.

I do find it can taste a little sweeter than sugar, but that may just be me. It’s a little pricey, so I don’t use it as much as I do maple syrup, coconut sugar, or applesauce in my baking. But for a drink such as this, it’s a great substitute because you can use as much or as little as you want.

I also threw in some maple syrup because I wanted to thin the sauce a bit, but also add a bit of that New England flavor I love. Below you will find my personal recipe for the Pumpkin Spice Sauce to add to your latte or morning coffee.

I used greater proportions so you can make it in bulk rather than one drink at a time.

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My Love of Cooking (& Baking)

Every superhero has an origin story.

My superpowers reside in the kitchen. I am not going to put on false humility about it: I am a great cook and baker. Are there people who are better? Absolutely, and I am not going to be joining any competition shows because I know there are plenty of people who are better than me. But I am good.

Growing up, cooking and baking was an act of love for my mother. Every meal contained a lot of passion, care, and flavor. Seeing her work in the kitchen was inspiring and made me want to be like her. When I grew up, I wanted to have a family tied together by my cooking just like we were with hers.

What follows is my introduction to the art of cooking (& baking) and how I fell in love with it as a hobby.

A Childhood Introduction

My childhood home was centered around the kitchen as the main gathering place – for eating, cleaning, and chatting. Many hours were spent there – most of the time with my mom working and me just watching her prep, assemble, and make. I would stand behind the stove and chat about my day at school while she made dinner or dessert.

I absorbed all that she did while I watched her work. Many times I was asked to stir something while she moved onto the next step and other times I felt comfortable enough to ask her questions: how can you tell the candy is ready? why does the temperature of the oven matter? what does a clean knife mean after inserting it into the cake?

I never saw her get discouraged in her work. Frustrated, yes. But not discouraged. If a dish didn’t work out quite like she wanted, she never threw in the towel. She would look over the recipe and realize that most of the time it was written badly. Her cookbooks are littered with marginalia to direct her future self on how to make the recipe a success. 

I didn’t stay on the sidelines either. My real introduction occurred when my mom had me help her as a toddler, with my first project using cookie cutters for a batch of Christmas sugar cookies. I would press the cutter into the dough and many times the dough would come out with the cutter, stuck. I would pull this dough out of the cutter and pop it into my mouth. I think out of a potential batch of 24 cookies, we successfully made 18. It was my earliest experience as a quality control tester as well.

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Recipe Friday: Gluten-Free Pizza Crust

For the first Friday of Foodie month, I asked Michelle Melton, of Michelle Melton’s Photography, to share one of her favorite weekend recipes. She graciously shared her thoughts and recipes for gluten-free pizza packets (for convenience) and a favorite gluten-free pizza recipe.

Enjoy!


Mixes: Convenience in a box

When baking, there is nothing like a box mix for convenience.  Even after I had mastered more complicated baked items from scratch such as pies, yeast breads, and pizza crust, I still enjoyed the results I achieved from box mixes. If I was short on time, the helpfulness of just adding a few wet ingredients to the mix and then popping it in the oven was always tempting.  Whether it was pancakes for breakfast or a cake for a celebration, if I was in a hurry, I’d reach for a mix.   And mixes can make the gluten-free diet easier to manage.

My first exposure to a gluten-free diet was about 10 years ago.  Although I was familiar with celiac disease from textbooks and nutrition classes, I never knew anyone who had it. Celiac seems to be like other diseases that don’t have outward or visible symptoms; the casual observer would never know that a person has it.  This was not the case, however, for my friend of mine.  From the time I met her several years before, the one thing you could not avoid noticing was her dermatitis-ravaged skin.  Her face and neck were especially affected; she was constantly scratching.   Doctors assumed it was eczema and prescribed medications to soothe the symptoms but nothing rid her of the flare-ups completely.  Then in the spring of 2008, when we met for lunch,  the woman sitting across from me was not the friend I had previously known.  Clear-skinned and relaxed she explained that a doctor diagnosed her with celiac. It wasn’t eczema at all but a flare-up of the disease.  Once she became gluten-free, her dermatitis was under control. Needless to say, I was amazed.

I began to investigate (sort of toe tipping into the water) gluten-free recipes to see if a diet change would make managing my Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis easier.  Since gluten sensitivity causes inflammation, I was curious if at least reducing gluten in my diet would ease the stress on my thyroid. Ten years ago, however, the problem was every gluten-free recipe called for a different flour blend.  There was little overlap; one blend would not give the same results when used in a different type of recipe.   At the time, I tried making the flour blends that the cookbooks recommended but they required so many ingredients and the taste left a lot to be desired so eventually I gave up.

In recent years, it has become economically advantageous for some companies to cater to the gluten-free diet.  First, only specialty grocery stores carried mixes and already baked products but now major chain stores carry them as well.  I liked the convenience of mixes because I no longer needed a specific flour blend for every item I wanted to bake.  In some cases, the taste was still an issue but I found my favorites and used those often.  While we were not totally gluten-free, these new offerings made it easier to include gluten-free snacks and baked products in our diet.

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