Quite possibly, an entire book could be written about sweeteners. If the dangers of artificial sweeteners are not already blatantly obvious, just google the term aspartame and you’ll see a laundry list of safety concerns that will make you sick, fat, and nearly dead. Aspartame still hides behind brands like NutraSweet, and Equal, but in my opinion, the other so-called “naturally occurring” sweeteners like Stevia and Splenda are just as dangerous. I hear and see a lot of claims that foods have “no sugar added” only to review the nutrition label more carefully and find out that they contain an artificial sweetener instead. Sweetener is not a health food, so don’t be fooled by foods (and drinks) that say “no sugar added” on the packaging. Carefully review the nutrition label.
Good sugars, the naturally occurring sugars in fruit and vegetables, supply energy in the body in the form of glucose, which is the preferred energy source for the brain, central nervous system, and even the placenta; it is the only energy source for red blood cells. This is the kind of sugar your body needs and should be differentiated from “added sugars”. With that said, any added sugars should be used in moderation, and when I use the term moderation, I use it sparingly because everyone has a different definition of moderation. Moderation is a town we bypassed long ago, today our society is living in the town of excess. The USDA recommends that sugar be no more than 5% of your daily intake of calories.
With all that said, I still believe in leading a balanced life and enjoying a sweet treat every now and then, and Valentine’s Day is one of those times that I like to bake something special. My “sweetheart” happens to love coconut cupcakes, so I turn to this recipe which of course comes from my mom’s kitchen. Granted it does contain butter and sugar, but I halved the amounts of what the original recipe called for, so it’s not as sweet as you might think; not to mention I take some solace in the fact that it’s baked from scratch so it doesn’t contain any artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. To make the icing pink, I’m using the juice of a beet to get that nice rose color instead of food coloring. Hopefully this recipe will give you an alternative choice to buying a treat made with artificial food dye. In addition, here are a few extra-sweet wellness tips to keep you in balance:
1. Be happy with your life; instead of “wanting” what someone else has, take time to appreciate what you have, and then teach that value to your children.
2. With Valentine’s day coming up, talk with your children about how appreciation feels when it’s genuine; appreciate the dinner (or dessert) that someone made for you, appreciate the homemade valentines day card because true gratitude far outweighs material things.
3. Remember that material things don’t bring us that deep sense of happiness, but gratitude does…things don’t love us, people love us.
Ingredients for the cake:
1 stick of butter (room temperature)
1 and 1/2 cups of sugar
5 extra-large eggs
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. pure almond extract
2 and 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup coconut (unsulfured)
1 8-oz package of cream cheese
1 stick of butter (8 tbsp.)
1/2 tsp. almond extract
3 cups 10x sugar
2 tbsp. beet juice (instructions follow)
extra coconut for sprinkling on top
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a muffin pan with paper liners and fill each approximately 3/4 of the way full. The recipe makes about 24 regular size cupcakes, or 48 minis. The baking time for minis is about 18 minutes and 22 minutes for full size cupcakes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely before adding the frosting. Since the frosting is made of cream cheese, you’ll want to keep them in the refrigerator, but take them out about 5-10 minutes before serving. I used a 1 m attachment to pipe the frosting on these. If don’t plan on piping it, you can half the frosting recipe. Toast extra coconut in the oven for 1.5 minutes (watch closely, it happens fast!) and sprinkle on top if desired.
Notes about the beet juice: I used one small beet, and if you don’t have a juicer, you can put it in a blender with the juice of half a lemon, just be sure to run it through a fine mesh sieve to strain out any chunks. One beet yields about 2 tbsp. of juice.