The biggest health risk associated with having children: leftovers. The cheesy crusts and crispy bits you clean off their plates when they don’t. When there isn’t enough to go back into the fridge, it goes into my mouth.
There were 5 of them (children, that is) around the table today, all there due to various unforeseen circumstances – Ben (who will be 5 tomorrow) had a fever last night and so was kept out of school, Emily (9) had a P.D. day, and Cole (3) and Hugo (2) were out with their mum at the giant lulu lemon sale I kept hearing about on the news, and stopped by after to say hello and play with toys.
As anyone who has ever cooked for a child can confirm, feeding children can be complicated. There are many prejudices connected with food. Plenty of fanaticism, and just as much apathy. Senses that detect color, smell, texture and general weirdness are heightened at the dinner table. I would love to see Gordon Ramsay do a reality show forcing him to feed a room full of elementary and preschool children every day – it might bring new meaning to the phrase hell’s kitchen.
Because this dinner party wasn’t planned, I didn’t have much of a variety of typically child-friendly food. Ben must have only orange cheese and eat on blue or green plates, Emily is lactose intolerant, Cole and Hugo are accustomed to familiar ingredients lovingly arranged by their mum into smiley faces and such. They all expected juice, but all I had was pomegranate, which actually went over well (we mix it with soda water to make “pink pop”.)
Fortunately (except for Emily, who can’t eat cheese), I had a package of fresh spinach and cheese ravioli – perfect for small mouths. No tomato sauce of any description (hey, we planned a shopping trip before two of these urchins arrived on our doorstep at 7am), but there were two thawed Spolumbo’s sausages (upon unwrapping them from their paper I was relieved to find they were benign turkey & cranberry – phew) which I cooked up as the pasta boiled. Once drained, I added the ravioli to the sausage pan, which had been drizzled with canola oil that took up the flavor of the meat and made it glisten more than its leanness would otherwise allow it to, and tossed it about to share the flavor and brown its edges. The last of a jar of pesto – Willem’s favorite, but apparently not Cole’s – got dribbled over the mix. (Had there only been grownups eating, I would have added a handful of baby spinach leaves and let them wilt.)
Oh right – the cupcakes. Because it’s Ben’s birthday tomorrow, something he mentioned only several thousand times over the course of the day, we came up with an activity to celebrate the occasion of Birthday Eve. What else to do but make cupcakes? Chocolate, of course, with chocolate icing and tiny colored sprinkles. The great thing about chocolate cake is that it is fantastic made with canola oil – one of the very best oils for baking and eating, providing a healthy balance of mono- and polyunsaturated fats as well as omega 3s. Cocoa delivers maximum chocolate flavor without fat, and you can usually get away with using whole wheat flour, or at least half and half, since the dark chocolate masks its color.
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (or any combination of all-purpose and whole-wheat)
1 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup cocoa
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup milk or soy milk
1/2 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup hot coffee or boiling water (I use instant decaf – it intensifies and deepens the chocolate flavor without adding fat or calories
Preheat oven to 350° F. Line 24 cupcake tins with paper liners (or, more realistically, 12 at a time).
In a large bowl, stir together the flour, brown sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Break up any lumps of brown sugar and cocoa.
Add the milk, oil, eggs and vanilla and beat with an electric mixer on medium speed for about 2 minutes. Add the coffee and beat on low speed just until blended. The batter will be thin.
Divide the batter among the tins, filling them about 2/3 full, and bake for 25 minutes, until the tops are springy to the touch. Tip them a bit in their pans to let the steam escape and help them cool. Wait until they are completely cool before frosting them. These are delicious absolutely plain. Makes 2 dozen.