Sunday 27 February 2011

Healthy Birthday!

                  Helena's (my sister) birthday in the 60's          photo: family album
With school at half term last week, I had to entertain Nina pretty much full time. One of the things she relentlessly asked me to do was to make cupcakes, like the ones I made for her birthday last month. Her argument was: “Mummy your cupcakes are healthy and so it won’t be a problem if I have loads of them”. Humm, not quite…

I remember when birthday parties were filled with cakes and savoury snacks that were all homemade with fresh ingredients. There weren’t such things as ready-made cake mixtures or icing filled with colouring and preservatives to decorate cakes. I have memories of my mother in the kitchen producing brilliant birthday parties for us. She used to make all the food at home, and I helped licking the spoons, of course. The cakes were works of art and there were also little sweet treats which in Brazil we call docinhos. To drink, the children would have fruit juices, along with Coca-cola, Fanta and Guarana (the most popular Brazilian fizzy drink).

Despite all the work that went into the food preparation, the parties themselves were unpretentious. Children’s parties these days became a huge enterprise, big business. The simple and fun games have been replaced by entertainers especially hired for the day, very loud music and regimented play - some parents go as far as transforming their places into a mini fairground. And the food is provided by caterers who don’t always worry about the nutritional side of things. I don’t want to sound judgemental, and I appreciate the fact that some parents just don’t have the time to organise parties for their kids. I just think that, when it comes to entertainment, “simple” is ... errm... simpler. And that it’s easier to let children be children, which they can do quite happily without much paraphernalia.

Nina is a 21st Century child but we always tried to encourage her to have pleasure in simple things. Hence, birthday parties where she gets her friends around for yummy food and some old style games - Dean is not a so fancily dressed entertainer but a very popular one. We all have fun without spending much money, and in a healthier way.

For her recent birthday, I didn’t make an enormous cake like my mother used to do, as I always thought she was a bit of an over caterer anyway. Instead, I made cupcakes with beautiful pink, green and yellow colours and they were all 100% natural. Why choose to add synthetic harmful colours to the food if nature provides us with a better way? (see below) I promise it’s easy, and there are plenty of choices. On the savoury side, there’s homemade pizza, popcorn, homemade fish finger with tartar sauce, mini sandwiches etc. For drinks, you can make juices such as apple, carrot with orange, elderflower “champagne”.

We all know now what my mum didn’t know then: that sugar doesn’t enter the category of healthy foods (and I have a few teeth cavities to tell the story). So, if you have to, instead of using refined sugars, you can opt for “natural sweeteners” such as maple syrup, raw honey, stevia powder, date sugar, molasses, rapadura (raw sugar cane) or agave syrup.  Keeping sugar away from children (and from adults too, for that matter) is a very difficult thing for us parents, but Nina now understands that cakes and sweets are treats and only for special occasions – I think she considers half term a very special occasion.

At the party, she and her little friends were on a “natural” high. She had a very Happy Healthy Birthday!

P.S.: I made more cupcakes for her this week, as a treat, but she didn’t have “loads” of them as she wished. We luckily had other kids for playdates, and visitors enjoying them too. 

The ingredients (minus the milk I forgot to add in the pic)
Put the mixture into the cupcake cases

The dark brown colour due to the rapadura sugar

Tasty Rice flour Cupcakes
Makes  12

Because of the rapadura sugar, which has a dark brown colour, these cupcakes have a darker colour than the ones made with caster sugar, and they also have a slightly caramel taste. I have made them with rice flour as some of Nina’s friends suffer from wheat intolerance. But you can try with other flours if you wish.


140g organic ghee or butter
140g organic rapadura sugar
2 large organic free range eggs
1 teaspoon organic vanilla essence
150g rice flour, sifted
1 tsp baking powder


Preheat the oven 200ºC. Line a 12 hole muffin tray with paper cases. Cream the ghee/butter and the rapadura together until smooth and combined. Add the eggs one at a time and keep beating. Add the vanilla essence. Fold the flour and baking powder gently, do not overwok the mixture.

Divide the mixture between the paper cases and put in the preheated oven for approximately 20 mins. Leave it to cool. Decorate with the natural coloured frosting. 

The natural food colourings
My cupcakes, decorated by Nina. They are a treat for the children...
and for the adults too!
Coloured Vanilla Frosting
Makes enough for 12

I do not go over the top (excuse the pun) with the icing and that’s why the measures here are sufficient for 12 cupcakes.


125g unrefined icing sugar
40g organic ghee or butter
15ml organic whole milk or alternative
A drop of vanilla essence
1 tsp Spinach powder
1 tsp Beetroot powder
1 tsp Turmeric powder


Beat the icing and butter until the mixture is well mixed. Combine vanilla and milk in a separate bowl. Add a couple of spoons at a time to the butter and icing mixture. Once they are all incorporated turn the mixer to high speed  approx 5 mins or until the frosting is fluffly. 
Separate the mixture in 3 batches. Add 1 tsp of the each powder into each individual bowl to make the different colourings.

The flowers on the top of the cupcakes are edible rice waffles with natural colouring, I bought them in Waitrose.

The main ingredients and their functional properties

Ghee previously mentioned here

For natural colouring:

Spinach (Spinacea oleracea) is rich in iron, has abundant vitamin A and calcium. It helps cleanse the blood of toxins, facilitates bowel movements helping in the treatment of constipation. It contains sulphur which is beneficial for relieving herpes irritations.  Caution: People who suffer from kidney stones should eat spinach in moderation due to an organic compound called oxalic acid, which if eaten in excess can inhibit calcium metabolism. Also avoid it if you have loose stools or urinary incontinence.

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) has anti-inflammatory properties, protects the liver from toxins, has high levels of antioxidant, lowers cholesterol and has been shown to inhibit the replication of HIV-1. Some research has shown that a supplement of turmeric has improved flexibility and reduced joint swelling in people who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis. It improves protein digestion, reduces uterine tumours, dissolves gallstone and reduces period pain. According to Paul Pitchford (Healing with Wholefoods), a good dosage of turmeric, ¼ -1/2 teaspoon daily, can be used as spice or taken in capsules.

Beetroot (Beta vulgaris) purifies the blood, treats liver stagnancy, helps regulate menstruation and moistens the intestines.

You can buy these natural colouring powders at the Spice Shop off Portobello Road, here:

For sweetening:

Rapadura (dehydrated cane sugar or raw sugar) has been used for thousands of years in India. It is a very popular choice of sweetener in the northeast of Brazil. It is rich in silica and minerals such as calcium, Iron and potassium. In her book Nourishing Traditions, the American journalist, chef and nutrition researcher Sally Fallon gives a useful tip: “The best way to eat sweets is to have some fat to accompany them (ice cream with fruit, butter/eggs in cakes and pies) as they slow down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream while providing fat-soluble nutrients that nourish those glands involved in the blood sugar regulation mechanism.”
Caution: do not overdo the use of rapadura sugar. Although it’s a natural sweetener it can also upset your blood sugar balance if consumed a lot.
If you live in the Kilburn area, you can buy rapadura sugar at The Olive Tree shop on 152 Willesden Lane, NW6 7TH 020 7328 9078, owned by the adorable couple Costas and Virginie, or you can also find it here

Till next week!



  1. What amazing and funny title - "Healthy Birthday"! You're always surprising me, dear Margot. I´m enchanted with Nina's cake decoration. She is great! Congratulations! Both of you're fantastic! A big hug!

  2. Excelente!!!!!!!!!! Parabéns!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    estamos acompanhando com MMMMUUUUIIIITTTAAA vontade de comer. Tá muito bonito. Surpreendentemente UP.
    Bjão torcendo pelo Sucesso.


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