Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese FrostingHolidaying solo in Europe this winter, my youngest says she doesn’t know what to eat. She has never really had to fend for herself, wonder where the next meal is coming from, so planning the day and the meals on her own is MEH! Or CEEBS! grade. (All those who don’t have teenage kids will need to refer to an urban dictionary.)Moreover, she is vegetarian and lately very keen to eat only organic and free-range products, which marginalises her considerably. The bone chilling cold and snowfall she is experiencing continuously, for the first time in her young life, doesn’t help much.I rattle off a list of things she can eat, should wear and a battery of questions… Are you eating a good breakfast? Are you drinking hot chocolate? Do you keep a snack in your backpack? Have a lot of chocolates - sweets give you energy to fight the cold… Try the very English places that serve the best of Devonshire teas- have some scones and jam with cream… we are not used to such deadly cold, beta… you’ll fall sick…. wear the thermal socks..Years ago, an uncle who is a doctor had advised me that it is easier to take care of excess weight problems in kids than to combat the problems of malnutrition and low body weight. So my kids got sugary milk – a practice that is detracted and upheld equally today. But I still can’t decide which side to take. A childhood without sweets is so unimaginable. And as a parent, there is nothing more heart warming and fulfilling than when the child asks for something sweet and you make it for them. Why, just the other day we were looking at old photos and I dug out a photo of my first born prancing around as a two year old, with a half eaten laddu in hand. I distinctly remember her at that age, the frock she was wearing and even the laddu I had made 24 years ago! For me, all childhood treats are essentially sweet. Biscuits made by Huntley and Palmer's from England that mother remembered used to be the ultimate exotic idea of a treat for us as kids, although we had never even seen one. Yes, our childhood was full of sweets, homemade, shop bought, mostly Indian, and very Marathi - such as gul dane (a piece of jaggery and a handful of raw peanuts) in a little bowl, khadisaakhar (sugar crystals) and phutaney (roasted garbanzo), chikki, churma laddu. These indigenous treats were the stuff we played house or “bhatukli”, in miniature brass or steel kitchen sets.Then there were the usual “khau” or “tuck” of homemade vadis, ladus and shankarpalis that were routinely made to fill the empty dabbas for it gave the house the “homely” touch, or in Aai’s parlance, “घर म्हणून खाऊ नेहमी असावा !”Occasionally, we would get some shop bought mithai- my favourite being the unrolled pedha dough that Baba used to bring from a famous halwai near his office in another city, just before starting for home on his weekend homecoming. The pedhas were not rolled as Baba used to pick them up when they were still too fresh to be rolled. We loved the dough as much for its great quality, as for the fact that unfettered (and unwatched) by the portion size, we could break off chunks of the dough to our hearts content.Some sweets were exotically removed from our day-to-day lives. The large UFO like sweet khaja puffs from the Utter Pradesh stalls in the All India Industrial Exhibition were an annual treat. Or the pootharekulu, bundles of parchment thin rice papers with a sugar and ghee stuffing. Not immune to the thrill of the forbidden, we kids were fascinated by these vendors with a large gooey mass of fluorescent and sticky pink candy (not the candy floss) at the end of a pole. They would attract kids with a funny twanging sound they produced by strumming a string stretched along the pole. In exchange for a few paise, they would patiently string out little watches, rings, bracelets or bangles for out of the fluorescent neon candy. Some others were clearly foreign, hence, few and far between. I still have some inside foil wraps of Cadbury’s milk bars, which we so carefully and painstakingly peeled, smoothed and slipped between pages of books. My kids had a much wider choice of treats apart from the usual lollies, chokies and cookies. Growing up in the Middle East, they also had another dimension of Arabic sweets to relish. Omani halwa of several types, basboosa, kunafeh, bacalava… Later, Australia introduced them to the Anzac cookies, pavlovas, TimTams and Lamingtons. Looking back, I am so glad my love of cooking has been so strongly supported by an absolute foodie family. They share my excitement at trying out new dishes, participate in my guessing games to identify the ingredients and the recipes when we go out to eat, willingly subject themselves as guinea pigs for my culinary experiments. However, now that they have grown up and have so many reasons for not wanting to eat sweets, which I share, too, my sweetmeat making has been reduced significantly. But our mutual interest and involvement in food remains unchanged. We talk about new techniques in cooking, watch cookery shows together, share and pin photos and recipes that capture our attention and analyse and evaluate them, talk about history of cuisines, their sociological implications and cultural evolution, the science of food, nutrition, the art of presenting food….this involvement and sharing is very rewarding! It is fun! It’s the new khau! So when Apurva once said, “I want cake”, I had no heart to say no, although I hadn’t baked a one in ages! Luckily the pantry yielded all the ingredients, the Internet two suitable recipes that I mixed and matched and lo behold, we had a good cake. Amruta pitched in and made a lovely cream cheese frosting and decorated the cake. Apurva took photos, patiently waiting for the right angle … and the result was very, well- sweet!For the cakeSieve the following ingredients twice and keep aside. 1½ cups self raising flourA small pinch of soda bicarb½ tsp salt½ tsp cinnamon powder½ tsp nutmeg powderOther ingredients¾ cups brown sugar¼ cup golden syrup2 cups grated carrots¾ cup oil3 eggs½ tsp vanilla extract¼ cup chopped walnutsFor the icing250g cream cheese, softened 120g butter, softened 1 tsp vanilla essence 1 ½ cups icing sugar (sifted)For the decorationA handful of walnut halves, a few pistachios 2 tbsp sugar1 tsp butterMethodIn a large mixing bowl, break the eggs and add the brown sugar, golden syrup, vanilla extract and oil. Mix well using a balloon whisk. Add the grated carrot. Slowly fold in the sifted flour and mix the batter gently with a wooden spoon. Add ¼ cup chopped walnuts, dusted in a little flour to prevent nuts from sinking to the bottom. Grease and line a 9 inch cake tin with baking sheet. Pour the batter into the tin and bake in the middle of the oven for about one hour at 170C. Check if the cake has been doing the skewer test in the centre of the cake. If you think it needs to be baked a little more, put it back again for about 10 minutes. Remove and allow the cake to cool on a wire rack.Slice the cake into half and layer the lower half generously with the cream cheese frosting. Replace the upper half and frost on the top and on the sides. Decorate the top of the cake with the caramelised walnut halves and pistachios.Mix the cream cheese and butter using an electric whisk. Add the vanilla essence and slowly add the icing sugar while continuing to whisk the mixture. Store the icing mixture in the fridge till the cake is ready.In a pan, melt the butter and sugar. Throw in the walnuts and pistachios as the sugar starts to melt. Take care not to burn the caramel. Coat the nuts with the caramel and remove on baking paper and quickly separate the nuts with a fork. Allow to cool.