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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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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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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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


Fun Literacy Activities

Allow me to get on my soapbox for a moment: literacy is extremely important.

I taught college composition for four years in graduate school and I saw first-hand how important literacy is to a student’s long-term college success. Students with high literacy and goal-oriented succeeded in the classroom, whereas students who struggled and did not take advantage of the opportunities provided for them inside and outside the classroom did not do as well.

Without going down the rabbit hole of the American educational system both past and present, I recognized that a student’s success correlated with their literacy levels. Those with high literacy knew when they struggled and came to me for help. Those with lower literacy levels tended to not recognize it or rejected any outside help I offered them. I had several students with lower literacy levels (or were afraid to reveal how literate they actually were) who sought extra help from me.

Those were always my favorite teaching success stories. They turned their failing grades into high passes. The look of accomplishment and pride they gave when meeting at the end of the semester informed me that they would find college would be less of a struggle now that they could apply what they learned in my classroom across the courses.

Seeing the importance of literacy informed how I would teach Jai as a parent and encourage him when he finally became a student. I want Jai to know how to work through a problem and to seek help when he gets stuck.

What is Literacy?

Originally it was defined as the ability to read and write effectively. But like all words, over time it’s expanded to include how we interact with language and information both in conversations and what we read. At its core, literacy is critically thinking through information presented to us and analyzing it to determine what to do with that information: accept as fact/opinion or rejecting it as misinformation.

Literacy is struggling to maintain relevancy, but there are ways to ensure it remains important in how we teach our children. It’s never too late to encourage literacy with a child, but because I have a toddler, I am going to focus on the fun activities that promote literacy between the ages of 12 months and 36 months.

There are plenty of resources available to promote literacy in early childhood for little ones beyond the toddler stage.

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