That’s what my cousins call me. When Mama and I visited them last summer (my first time on an airplane!), they thought it was both funny and sad that mama doesn’t give me much sugar to eat. Instead of fishy-shaped crackers and animal-shaped cookies, I get organic puffs. Sometimes Mama buys the banana ones, but when we were in Wisconsin, she happened to buy the kale kind. And we haven’t heard the end of it since.
For the record, I like kale puffs. I like all puffs. They were nice to eat before I had any teeth because they dissolved in my mouth, and they helped me hone my pincer grasp—something every baby needs to learn how to do. I didn’t really eat them as a snack, though. Instead, Mama would put a few puffs in a snacking cup for me when I started getting antsy about my car seat. “If you want puffs, you have to get in your car seat,” she still says. And because she worries that I might choke while she’s driving, she still gives me puffs, even though I now have four molars.
But back to my cousins. Mama says we come from a long line of good bakers, where you couldn’t visit someone without having several sweet options to nosh on. It’s something everyone comes to expect. Grandma always—always—has a pie or cookies or quick breads in the oven. It was she who taught Mama to take cookies out of the oven a bit early and let them finish baking on the cookie sheet to make them crisp on the edges while soft in the middle. (Apparently, this is a good thing, though I wouldn’t know, since I’ve never had a cookie.)
So everyone was a little surprised that Mama doesn’t feed me sugar—and more than a little repulsed by the idea of kale puffs. The cousins kept patting my head, saying things like, “Aww, poor baby…” Grandma always made fancy cakes for everyone’s birthdays (except for Uncle Scotty, who gets a coconut cream pie and a lemon meringue pie). Even though it was a few weeks before my birthday, Grandma wanted to make me a cake. She had a challenge ahead of her, as I still wasn’t up to whole eggs yet, and there was the whole sugar thing to contend with.
Well, Grandma took the challenge by storm. She made a banana cake using applesauce instead of eggs and brown sugar instead of white—and Mama convinced her that she didn’t even need all of what was called for in the recipe. She made plain whipped cream for the “icing,” which I dutifully smashed. But nobody wanted to try the cake… not right away, anyway. The cousins wouldn’t touch it, but my GeeGee and Aunt Karen liked it. And I thought it was pretty good too.
Mama would want me to point out that she hasn’t banned all sugar. I do get some, sometimes. She baked gingerbread biscotti at Christmas, which turned out to be the perfect teething biscuits—they’re hard, they dissolve when wet, and they’re minimally sweetened. She also makes various kinds of scones, which have hardly any sugar in them to begin with, and she sets aside a few for me that she doesn’t dust with sugar before baking. And she makes a variety of fruit-filled muffins with lower-than-called-for amounts of sugar, and usually she substitutes brown sugar (but not always whole-wheat flour). I eat lots of sweet potatoes. I don’t drink juice, even watered down, but I eat a lot of fruit. We skip pre-made yogurt, and instead make fruit smoothies with the plain stuff. But don’t think I’m immune to sugar. I can totally tell the difference when Mama tries to substitute something like puffed kamut in my snacking cup. She muses that if she had started with the kamut, rather than with the puffs, I might not have minded the difference, but they’re just too bland for me.
So why have sugar at all? Why does Mama bother baking all these goodies if she has to alter recipes for me (or give me just a nibble, if she makes it full-fledged)? She can’t help herself, for one thing. She feels kids should experience the joy of stirring flour and eggs and oil—and yes, sugar—in a bowl, putting it in the oven, and as if by magic, taking out something completely transformed and delicious. I have to say, I like when she lets me help her. (That flour really flies far and gets all over the place!) Mama’s also careful of when she gives me any sort of sweet treat—not when I’m being fussy, and usually when I’ve already eaten something sensible. And she would also say it’s a “control thing.” She likes to be in control of the amount of sugar I put into my body, so she doesn’t accept the lollipop from the bank teller or the cookie from the nice lady at the bakery. She feels I have plenty of time to eat all the sugar I’ll ever want, so why rush it? She believes in real, whole food–which includes the occasional homemade treat. And one mini zucchini muffin is so much better than that box of Girl Scout cookies she has hiding in the cupboard, wouldn’t you agree?
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1½ tsp baking soda
1½ tsp cinnamon
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp cloves
2 cups cooked pumpkin (from a pumpkin that was roasted; may also use a 15-oz can of pumpkin puree)
¾ cup firmly packed brown sugar
3 large eggs
½ cup canola oil (use ¾ cup if you use solid pack pumpkin, rather than pureed)
1 cup raisins or dried cranberries (optional)
Preheat oven to 350°. Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners or spray liberally with cooking spray.
Whisk together the flours, soda, and spices in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, brown sugar, eggs, and oil. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir to combine. Add the raisins or cranberries, if using. Scoop the batter into the prepared tins.
Bake mini-muffins for about 15 minutes, regular muffins about 18 minutes. (They should feel firm, yet spongy, to the touch; or a toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean.) Cool in the pan a few minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container. These also freeze well.
Yield: 1 dozen regular muffins + 1 dozen minis
Note: Mama says if you use an ice-cream scoop to put the batter into the tins, it’s not only faster, but your muffins will turn out to be the same size. Mama also says roasting a pumpkin is almost as easy as roasting a squash—just cut it, scoop out the seeds, and bake it in a pan with a little water until it’s soft. Just don’t use “face” pumpkins (the kind you’d use for jack-o-lanterns).