Sure. Once I've eaten my pre-prepared oatmeal out of the jar, I could clean it out and put it back into storage until ready to be refilled with oats or cake batter or play dough or whatever else I'm planning to store in it. Or I could affix one of those solar panel garden stakes to a mason ring and screw it onto the jar for a firefly-less effect, perhaps doing a poor enough job with the hot glue that water seeps in, creating a reflecting surface for the LED bulb that turns on reliably every night.
I have made
Bear's birthday was last week. We closed the book on year number two in typical Lovelihood style by not spending a whole lot of energy on the occasion. School was informed so that they might sing a little birthday song to her while she looked on, unaware of the significance. A frequent Friday night meal of conveyor belt sushi was topped off with tempura-fried bananas. And a small assemblage of gifts was unwrapped and folded into regular rotation in wardrobe and playtime. No cake was baked, no candles lit.
Instead, I took the subsequent weekend to plan and execute a treat, for contribution to an Independence Day party, but really a nod to a birthday we unabashedly skipped over.
No jar-baking this time around, the logistics of re-collecting the hardware being a huge deterrent. Mixing up some kind of dairy-less cobbler or fruit salad would have made for some item in the food line that my allergenic kid could put on his plate, but just seemed too easy. You know what's not easy? Making s'mores components from scratch. And assembling them in the form of a miniature cupcake. The upside, what really threw me into the plus column as I lay awake contemplating dessert-y potluck options, was the necessitation of a fire-breathing kitchen tool. Done.
A cursory Googling of s'mores cupcake recipes yielded few with graham cracker components. Most utilized store-bought marshmallows, which, while perfectly reasonable, offend my personal capabilities as a mallow-maker. A few other recipes passed a merengue topping off for the marshmallow layer of your prototypical s'more. Not cool. I'm going to go ahead and put myself in the s'mores purist camp, if there is such a class of people. While I'm willing to fudge (hah!) the rules a bit and allow a chocolate cake stand-in for the usual candy bar, I refuse to allow any impostor to usurp the marshmallow role. Clearly, I had to forge my own path here, in making a purist's dairy and egg-free cupcake manifestation of my beloved campfire treat.
Not that I hand-created any recipes here. The vegan chocolate cake is a remarkably spare, widely circulated recipe from the web. The marshmallow recipe, a tried-and-true one, was possibly the first recipe I ever downloaded from a website. The graham cracker crust is an ultra basic crushed store-bought cracker (I opted not to go the full home-made distance here) and soy margarine mash. The mini cupcake pan sits waiting to be called into action for exciting moments as these, when the layering of simple recipes produces a two-bite morsel of gooey love.
Cooking with the kids has its moments, but I don't mess around with hot sugar when they're underfoot. And now a new rule: no fire-directing when they're in reach, either. The oven was set to preheat after the kids were sent to the bed and the kitchen had been cleared of the day's messes. Crackers got smashed and bathed in melted margarine and set to crisp up in the oven. Cake batter was stirred up, poured into the cups and sent back into the oven until emitting cocoa warmth into the kitchen air. A molten sugary mass bubbled on the stove to soft ball stage before an extended whipping in the stand mixer, later scooped up into a bag for piping onto the cupcakes and left alone for a spell to set on the counter. At what would be last call for hipper, less home-strapped folk, we armed the newly-purchased torch and put it to work.
What you may not already know about these things is that they make a sound that pretty much screams DANGER. The torch was industrial, forceful and terrifying, efficiently singeing the marshmallow tops to caramelized near-death. The element of danger effectively supplanted the charm of campfire roasting. I'm ok with that, because I still went to bed with the smell of s'mores in my hair.
One bite-sized s'more cupcake, to be elaborated upon later.
At the store the other day, The Boy, stooped over bottles of gummy vitamins, examining each for the promise of muscle and bone fortification, was addressed as "Little Guy" by the stockperson hoping to reload the shelves with more iron supplements. Newly-five and deep in a chatty phase, one that Mr. New Media and I agree is awesome, took offense and spent the rest of the time in the store (ok, it was Target) stalking the Legos and Hot Wheels all the while plotting out how next time he'll be sure to correct the offending party. Because he's a Big Boy.
Five years old. It's going to be a big year. Kindergarten, after-school care, a new world of playdates and organized activities. That parenting newsletter that once compared our growing fetus to various sizes of produce, and warned us of questionable sleeping habits of infants and toddlers, has promoted us to the "Big Kid Bulletin" portion of the programming. Graduation festivities at the preschool are upon us, a special lunch having been doled out last week to our beaming boy. All necessary forms and signatures have been submitted to the school district, traded-in for official school assignments and a student identification number. It's begun.
In light of all this, it's possible we may have underplayed his birthday by a half marathon. I've mentioned that May was, and always is, a crazy month, no? And the chaos and detail-fretting of entertaining a rogue army of pre-schoolers was more than my anti-social nerves could reasonably pull off. What we could handle was a bring-cake-into-class kind of celebration. A simple "Thanks for liking our kid and making his schooldays pleasant enough that he sulks when we come for him early." And a nice opportunity to spend some time with the names he prattles on about in the car on the way home from school.
So assembling a goodie bag was by no means a requirement. I mean, it never is, right? I still don't understand why, at the end of every birthday party, there's the requisite handout of trinkets. Mr. New Media explained it to me as some kind of psychological payoff, a way to ensure that everyone leaves the party on a happy note, applying that happy-go-lucky feeling that the goodie bag temporary tattoo gives you to the entire party experience. Sounds to me like the manipulative cousin to emotional warfare, which I guess is only fitting as we're entering that age range that seems a minefield of potential childhood trauma.
Whatever. For us, ok, for me, making up the goodie bags was just a good excuse to make things with The Boy. Sure there was some stress as we neared deadline. But in the meantime, there were two weeks of solid, hand-dirtying productivity. The Boy and I are never quite as happy together as when we're hunched over a project, plotting the steps for the successful completion of a thing.
And so before we baked our go-to carrot cakes into jars, we cooked up a batch of play dough for another couple dozen jars. Recipes abound on the web. We dug up a basic one, doubled it, and added a truckload of color and assorted candy oils to give it a multi-sensory punch. Each of our three batches filled eight 4 oz. jars to the brim, and featured a different scent with a different non-representative color. Why is vanilla paired with green? Because that's how The Boy decreed it should be.
A project perfect for a rainy day fidgety fingers, a common sight even in June here, rolling out felt beads from wool roving required a couple afternoons worth of attention. Dip wads of bunched-up wool into warm soapy water, and squeeze and press and smother in your pre-schooler's palm. And magically, a tight sphere-ish object emerges. When you're done, as you've been dealing with water and dish soap, the project has cleaned itself. It's just about the easiest thing in the world to make with a four-year-old. Stringing pearl embroidery floss through each ball to make a simple necklace, and attaching it to some cracker box cards, also fall into the category of unskilled labor perfect for his attention span.
The pins were slices off an old dowel sourced from the kitchen window where it lay waiting for a warm enough day that we'd need to prop up the window for some air. Pin backs, purchased for some unrealized project some time back, got the hot glue treatment. A couple layers of chalkboard paint were slathered on by a brush-happy Boy and within the hour were ready for artwork.
So that's how I helped The Boy put together a smattering of treats for the ol' school chums over a two-week course of little sister naps. On my own, though, I took the after-hours to spirit up the bags themselves. The muslin drawstring bags are just miniature versions of the produce bags tied up with lengths of yarn. The birthday motif came together with a simple copy-and-paste of one of my sashiko designs and a few extra keystrokes and passes of the mouse to embody a birthday boy's cupcake. Ran a laser off and put the Gocco to some late-night work. Done.
Except for the matter of handing out the goodies. Which was the best, albeit undocumented, part. I actually do feel a little bad about hijacking the afternoon school curriculum that day in the name of not going all out with a proper birthday party. But hanging out with a roomful of five-and-unders playing enthusiastically yet calmly with wads of the scented play dough we'd whipped up for them… Well, I thought it was a pretty special treat. And, hopefully, the takeaway for the kids, for our Big Boy, is that it's an awfully nice feeling when something you made can give your friends so much enjoyment.
One of my most excited moments as the parent of an highly food allergic kid was the day I skimmed the ingredients of Pepperidge Farm's puff pastry sheets and found they are so chock-full of unnatural ingredients as to be completely dairy free. I'm all about making things from scratch around here, but it's nice to have something sitting in the freezer that I can just pull out and sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon for a mid-playdate snack. Raw, organic sugar, naturally.
I was already running late leaving work last night when I remembered that I needed to get a laser printout of this year's official birthday design to burn onto one of the stockpiled Gocco screens and press out some rainbow-inked logos onto the goodie bags. But I got it done, and today there are a slew of pettite baggies drying on from the curtain rods of our french doors, where they were treated with the first un-qualified sunny day in a while.
Having spent what should have been the first hour of my sleep last night hot gluing pin backs onto our little disks (and running out to the living room clutching my ring finger, inquiring the Mr. as to how one might treat a hot glue burn), the disks were ready, today, to sit on the kitchen counter as a bribe to keep the Boy behaved and vegetable-consuming, so that he might be able to help me slather two colors' worth of chalkboard paint onto the half-heartedly sanded surfaces.