One week from today my son will start school. Strangely, I’m not suffering too much from the misty-eyed panic that my mom-friends have warned me about. Yet.
Growing up, it was a tradition in my household for my father to take a photograph of my sister and I on the first day of every school year. I have a copy of the first one on my dresser – N and I, standing side-by-side in front of the red screen door, are both sporting bowl cuts; mine is dirty blonde and her curls lick out from the side of her preschooler face. It is my first day of Kindergarten. We are both wearing shiny rain coats in shades of yellow, navy, and green, and we are each clutching tote bags. I am also holding a bright yellow Cabbage Patch Kids lunch box. (I still own this lunch box; it lives above my refrigerator.)
I don’t remember anything about this particular day; although I can recall bits and pieces from that first year of school. My teacher’s name was Mrs. Graves – she was older, had short black hair, and a thick Scottish accent. We learned to tell time, and how to tie our shoelaces (I had some difficulty with that one.) The 17-year cicadas came to Virginia and enveloped our backpacks, the leather school bus seats, the inside of our t-shirts, every inch of tree bark. I had a “boyfriend” named Gregory.
I don’t remember ever being too fussed about the contents of my lunchbox (I have never been a picky eater – as long as food is present, I will probably partake, for better or worse.) Dad packed our lunches every morning - this resulted in a few rather creative combinations (left-over hot dog buns featured heavily as sandwich bread.) Memories of my dad’s handmade meals give me a deeply nostalgic twinge – so often the small, day-to-day things become the most precious, I guess.
Mom was always there to greet N and I when we returned home from school. Each afternoon she’d begin preparing dinner around 4:30 (my mom is an amazing cook. Of course, growing up I had very little appreciation of her culinary talents. I just assumed good cookin’ was an inherent “mom” ability.) Prior to dinner (which we always ate together, when Dad came home around 6), I would demand an after-school snack. As I said, I have always been fond of food.
The after-school snack, eaten at our wooden, round, and glitter-speckled kitchen table was one of my favorite pastimes. And so, in honor of snacks-gone-by, I have a recipe that I think is particularly fitting: Carrot Cupcakes. They’re sweet enough to feel special, but small enough not to spoil your dinner. And they’re pretty healthy, too (the cream cheese frosting is optional!)
70 g coarse wholemeal flour
70 g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
90 g brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ginger
30 g raisins (or sultanas)
40 g walnuts, chopped
2 free-range eggs
1 ripe banana, mashed
150 ml sunflower oil
165 g carrots, grated
1. Line a cupcake tray with muffin cases and preheat your oven to 180 degrees.
2. Mix all dry ingredients
3. Add eggs, one at a time, beating between each addition
4. Add banana and sunflower oil, mix.
5. Add carrots and mix until all ingredients are thoroughly combined.
6. Fill muffin cases with mixture; the cases should be slightly more than halfway full to allow for cakes to rise.
7. Bake for 20-25 minutes (depending on oven.) Cupcakes should be a dark golden brown and a skewer inserted into the middle should come out clean.
Optional: When the cakes are cooled, you can top them with a cream cheese frosting. Take approx 300g good-quality cream cheese, and add 15 g icing sugar, 20 g Irish honey, and the juice of one lemon. You can adjust the tartness to your liking by adding/subtracting the honey and lemon juice, should you prefer. You can also simply top the cakes with icing sugar to avoid messiness.