Screen Lovers Cups of Carrot Cake

When I was a kid TV time was limited to one hour a day. That restriction was put into place because of my tendency to zone out in front of the small screen and let the hours pass without so much as a meal break. And of course, like anything that is forbidden, the act became even more appealing. Just tell someone they can only have one potato chip and the next thing you know that same person will be foraging through the garbage can in search of a crumpled bag of Lays. Not that I would ever do such a thing. Finding a loophole in our household TV law became as important to me as actually being able to watch My Three Sons, Father Knows Best, The Patty Duke Show and Gilligan’s Island undisturbed. Did it count if I was watching someone else’s TV? As far as I was concerned, certainly not! I picked my friends wisely. Who knew other people’s parents didn’t notice what they were doing at all? That was nice. Or so I thought at nine.

I was thinking of screen-time limitations when I accompanied my sister and Nieces One and Two to the Apple Store on Monday. While their mother was busy picking out a case for her new iPhone, the daughters happened upon Mecca: a perfectly pint sized table and stools outfitted with four fully loaded iPads. Oh boy, we were in trouble. Niece One, aka the Expert, announced she had iPads in her school’s computer lab, so she knew exactly what to do. Niece Two, aka the Button Pusher, just started tapping away at the screen until Dora appeared, asking her what she wanted to play. She has always been fascinated with buttons and sounds, more so than her sister. TV remotes, cell phones, iPhones and calculators all cause her eyes to lock and her will to become even more fiercely and ferociously focused than it usually is. Woe to the person who tries to pry any of these devices out of her vise-like grip. I’ve been one of those people and it’s not fun, which is essentially what happened the other day. We must have said, “Come on guys, last game!” 50 times and it was as if we weren’t speaking at all. I could have screamed, “Look! It’s Big Bird!” and they wouldn’t have flinched. There was a bit of a wrestling match to unfurl Niece Two’s tiny four-year-old fingers from the filthy screen. (And yes, I swabbed both girls down with Sani-Hands for Kids before shoving their mittens onto their mitts).
I’d imagine it was this sort of behavior that prompted my parents to institute the one hour rule all those years ago. But the thing that struck me was when we all got back to my apartment to finish up last week’s crepes, the girls settled into my couch post-snack and watched Rio, a movie they have seen umpteen times, which I had recorded for them on my DVR. When I asked my sister why it was permissible for them to passively watch a movie but not okay for them to interact with a game on an iPad she said there was something addict-y about their responses to video games, no matter how educational. There is a frenzied lack of attention to what’s going on around them. As proven by their inability (?) to hear us say, “Game over.” Her other issue with electronic games is how solitary they are. Her kids are locked into a private, solo activity, whereas when they’re watching TV they’re doing it together, sometimes joined by my sister and brother-in-law. So, yes, just like our parents, she limits the video stimulation she sees as more evil as much as she can. And let’s face it, having them calm and quiet while enjoying the company of talking tropical birds allowed my sister and me to thumb through some magazines and do a little Facebook mockery, I mean online window shopping.
But just like they do for my nieces, when I was a kid movies fell in a different category. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was my first and to this day I am terrified of the "Child Catcher". But even if we weren’t trekking to the Trans Lux or Loew’s 83rd Street, watching a movie on television didn’t fall under the one hour rule. My parents saw no harm in a Sunday afternoon spent with the TV tuned to Channel 5 while Shirley Temple and Bojangles danced up a flight of stairs. It kept us quiet and smiling and they could read The Times in peace.
All this is to say, the judgment scale that deemed movies OK and television Not OK seeped into my psyche. Although I am old enough to decide to keep my TV on 24 hours a day if I want, I can’t. Working from home I am always asked if I happened to catch Ellen or could you believe what happened on The View? No, I can’t because I don’t watch television during the day. It would make me feel so pathetic and unproductive and that somehow my parents were right, my brain had indeed rotted with too much exposure to the Showcase Showdown and Match Game ‘74. But, just as they felt movies were exceptions to the one hour rule, I have a few exceptions I’ve created for myself. I’m “allowed” to turn on the Today Show when I am having my essential immediately upon waking cup of coffee, so I can catch up on the important things our country is talking about, like Kim Kardashian’s wedding, I mean divorce, or Donny Deutch’s insights into the male psyche. Then the other exception is when I’m on the treadmill. Since the onslaught of new members has made my gym unbearable during post-work day hours, I sometimes go midday. Which is where I was when I watched The Chew, the food-focused show ABC chose to air instead of All My Children (a subject for another post, when my personal pain over the cancellation has subsided). Anyway, Michael Symon, one of the host/chefs, was making individual carrot cakes in the microwave and I knew I had to try them out. First of all, I love carrot cake. And second of all, I am always on the look-out for recipes that make just a few portions (see the nieces still helping me work my way through last week’s stack o’ crepes).
Everything came together so well with these cakes in a cup. They are really good—and not nearly as sweet and oily as traditional carrot cake. I would even call them healthy. The dollop of yogurt on top makes a great alternative to the cream cheese frosting we all love but our arteries do not. And there is something kind of thrilling about “baking” something in the microwave, without it being some creepy offering from Betty Crocker’s Warm Delights line. I was sure the results would be gummy and off but there really was a cake-like crumb. The pecans offer a nice toasty crunch, the golden raisins some squishy sweetness and there’s just the right heat from the spices. Do eat it promptly because as it sits the texture does change a bit. But the best part of this new discovery is I’ve solved the question of what dessert to have on Oscar night! Now that Rich’s eating habits have been forever influenced by his stay at Rancho La Puerta, our days of scarfing down an entire batch of chocolate chip cookies before they’d presented the award for Best Costume Design are over. This recipe will be perfect for my most anticipated night of the year which brings together my two favorite things—I get to honor the movies by watching TV, and for a lot longer than an hour!
Screen Lovers Cups of Carrot Cake
Adapted from Michael Symon, The Chew, ABC-TV
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1 Egg (separated)
6 tablespoons pastry flour (or all-purpose if you don't want to go to the store)
1 medium carrot (grated)
3 Tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons toasted pecans (crushed)
2 Tablespoons golden raisins
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Zest of 1 orange
2 ounces buttermilk
Sour cream or Greek yogurt and a shake of cinnamon for garnish

In a small bowl whip egg white with a whisk or hand mixer until soft and fluffy.
In another small mixing bowl, mix egg yolk, pastry flour, shredded carrot, brown sugar, baking soda, olive oil, buttermilk, toasted pecans, raisins, nutmeg, cinnamon and orange zest.
Combine until all ingredients are just incorporated, then add egg white
Fill two microwave-safe mugs or jars (or four smaller cups/jars) about 2/3 full (to allow for the cakes to rise) and microwave on high for 2 to 2 1/2 minutes

until the cakes are firm but the tops are still a bit moist.Top with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt, sprinkle with a little cinnamon and serve immediately.
Yield: 2 good size or 4 small servings

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