Merrill's baby Clara is finally old enough to eat solid foods. Armed with her greenmarket bag, a wooden spoon and a minimal amount of fuss, Merrill steps into the fray.

Today: A mother-daughter food ritual. And carrot muffins.

Clara eating carrot muffins

Shop the Story

Clara and I have established our first food ritual. At nearly 16 months, she can now sit in a hard restaurant high chair for more than five minutes without trying to wriggle herself free, so that means that most Saturday mornings we head to a local cafe -- I get a large coffee and buckle her into a high chair, and we share a pastry or two. We try to stake out a spot near the door, strategically positioned so that Clara can greet each and every customer with a loud "Hi!" in between mouthfuls of croissant or pain au chocolat.

More: Clara's first sweet: Soft Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

I love this time together, which is different from our time at home playing in her room, or when I'm pushing her on the swings in the park. Many of my best childhood memories involve food and family, and I hope this is just the first of many food rituals Clara and I will share. We try different pastries together, and part of the fun is seeing her reaction to each one. (There haven't been many unpopular items.)

Clara eating carrot muffins

Recently we got a blueberry muffin for the first time. A week later we sampled a lemon muffin. Both were met with great enthusiasm (not surprising, since they're basically cake), so I decided to make muffins at home. Using Ina Garten's delicious carrot cake cupcakes as a jumping off point, I reduced the sugar, used a mix of white and whole wheat flour and subbed in olive oil in place of some of the vegetable oil. This is a tender, flavorful carrot muffin that's not just for weekends. And it might even be the start of a brand new food ritual.

carrot muffins 

Carrot Muffins

Adapted from Ina Garten

Makes 22 Muffins

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs
3 cups grated carrots
1 cup golden raisins (optional)

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by James Ransom


Listen Now

Join The Sandwich Universe co-hosts (and longtime BFFs) Molly Baz and Declan Bond as they dive deep into beloved, iconic sandwiches.

Listen Now

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • mawhorts
  • saltandserenity
  • Christina @ Christina's Cucina
    Christina @ Christina's Cucina
  • Patricia Christianson
    Patricia Christianson
  • monkeymom
I'm a native New Yorker, Le Cordon Bleu graduate, former food writer/editor turned entrepreneur, mother of two, and unapologetic lover of cheese.


mawhorts January 19, 2014
This recipe is fantastic, and has become one of my go-to recipes. I usually make the recipe as a cake instead of as muffins, and I serve it with creme fraiche sweetened with a dab of honey (or with Greek yogurt if I'm in a less decadent mood).
saltandserenity May 19, 2013
Nothing to do with the muffins, but just have to say that Clara is adorable!! My babies are all grown now but I have many favourite food memories with all three of them. Enjoy this precious time.
Merrill S. May 19, 2013
Thank you!
Christina @. May 19, 2013
If you want even more Vitamin A and fiber, I came up with this recipe for Pumpkin Carrot cupcakes (which could probably be muffins without the cream cheese icing) with shredded coconut, which are one of my family's favorites:
Patricia C. May 15, 2013
My baby daughter, now 15, made carrot muffins for her oldest sister's coffee shop today!
monkeymom May 15, 2013
Merrill, I have made literally hundreds of these muffins with similar modifications. The no dairy, no nuts, and the addition of whole wheat makes them a favorite of my son's for b-day treats. They work great if you use or mixer or mix by hand too and they keep pretty well for a few days. Also, they make great cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. The recipe also works pretty well with zucchini! Can't wait to try your addition of brown sugar!
rfisman May 15, 2013
Would these freeze well?
Merrill S. May 15, 2013
I haven't frozen them myself, but I think if they're well-wrapped they would freeze just fine.
Elycooks May 14, 2013
I have so many wonderful memories of food rituals with my mom. The first time we made bread together she let me knead the dough with my little feet, then happily agreed to bake the gray loaf. I don't recall eating it. On another note, I keep returning to the video of Clara eating yoghurt for a good laugh. Fun times!
lilmartha4 May 14, 2013
I just made these and they are WONDERFUL. This recipe is a keeper! Clara is just the cutest baby and lucky to have such a brilliant mom.
Merrill S. May 14, 2013
Thank you, and so glad you liked them!
Droplet May 14, 2013
Clara's "Hi" would make my day (and the next one)the way no muffin could :)
Merrill S. May 14, 2013
It certainly makes my day!
Tatiana May 14, 2013
Clara grows more precious and adorable by the day! I love that you've created this ritual food time with her. In middle age, I still have fond memories of the special times and rituals my mother shared with me as a child.
Merrill S. May 14, 2013
Thank you so much!
jenniferb May 14, 2013
The intro is misleading saying the 16 mo is finally old enough for real food. If you follow Baby Led Weaing (BLW) or just don't subscribe to the "Gerber generation", babies are eating "real food" much earlier than 16mo and with great benefits. My 10mo old eats everything and I mean everything I do. No purées, no jarred food, no chicken nuggets.
Amanda H. May 14, 2013
Thanks so much -- and a good reminder to update that intro. Merrill actually has been feeding Clara "real food" from a very early age, and that was one of the focuses of her early columns. But now that Clara is 16 mos we should change the intro. And will do!
Merrill S. May 14, 2013
As Amanda said I started feeding Clara "real food" at about 6 months. You're right -- I should definitely update the intro to this column since it's now been 10 months! Amazing how the time flies.
jenniferb May 14, 2013
I'm new to the site, so I wasn't familiar. Thanks for clarifying!
Kenzi W. May 14, 2013
I love this post, Merrill. Love.
laurenlocally May 14, 2013
I ADORE it too!