Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Auntie Chronicles -- Treaties for Sweeties

Parenting Advice for People Who Aren't Parents
This time: how to cook with kids without losing your sanity.

First of all, I'd like to welcome a new little "niece" into the family of nieces and nephews that I've adopted alongside my one "real" nephew -- welcome Carys, born this week to my dear friend Caitlin! I'm so excited for them and so jealous of those that get to meet Carys before I do.

Now, onto business. The holidays are times when families get together, and aunties and uncles pull double-duty, being expected both to listen to siblings rant about condo associations or jackass bosses after drinking too much "egg nog" (Jack Daniels out of a flask in the bathroom) while simultaneously entertaining the rowdy little "cherubs" (sugar-fueled demons who someone warped from another dimension and body snatched once darling little family members)

(As if to prove my point, my nephew just started banging on the TV, at which point I told him to stop and he punched me in the boob multiple times, earning a time out.)

Cooking with kids is one way to occupy the sweeties during holiday gatherings, particularly now that the official holiday is over, but vacation is still going on. There's one school of thought that says kids should have free reign in the kitchen, being at liberty to experiment with food in order that they don't have eating issues later on. But let's face it -- issues are unavoidable, and if kids get to experiment freely with food, your holiday cookie plate is going to include marshmallow-red hot-chocolate chip-ham stacks. Another philosophy holds that kids can participate in the kitchen, as long as the only thing they are allowed to do is stand next to the stove and watch. There is a middle ground, however, between being a free-lovin' hippie in the kitchen and being Stalin with a whisk.

I've rounded up three projects that are easy to do, along with a break down of what you - the auntie, uncle or other loved one - should do yourself, and what the kids should do for maximum fun and happiness all around. Just don't let drunk Uncle Al into the kitchen, or you're liable to have anatomically-correct gingerbread men.

Gingerbread People (or animals, for the PETA crowd)

You do: Make the dough, according to this recipe from The dough has to sit in the fridge for two hours to overnight. When it's ready, you roll it out.

Kids do: They use the cookie cutters to cut shapes and place them on the cookie sheets.

You do: Bake the little guys and gals.

Kids do: When the cookies are completely cool, set out icing (the recipe includes directions to make this, but go ahead and buy store-bought) and other decorative items (red hots, mini-mallows, raisins - but none of the kids will use those --, those little silver dragees that are supposed to slowly poison you). Give each kid a piece of wax paper to mark out their work space and let them go to town decorating the cookies. As they finish each one, have them set it on a cookie rack until the icing is dry and hard.

Look! Excessive icing is the hallmark of a well-decorated gingerbread homo sapiens.

You do ... not tell them how to decorate. They might want a couple of pointers, but for the most part, let them be as crazy as they want; just tell them to keep their mess on the wax paper.

Peanut Butter Blossoms

You do: Make the dough, according to this recipe. It chills for about an hour. If you don't care about kids getting their hands in the dough, then ...

Kids do: Roll the dough into balls and roll these in sugar.

You do: Bake the cookies

Kids do: While all that is going on, have the kids unwrap the 48 chocolate kisses required by the recipe. Provide them with a bag to throw the garbage in as they work, and a bowl to put the unwrapped kisses in. This is an annoying job, and demands a certain amount of dexterity, so it's a real time-killer if you have kids work on it for you. Once the cookies are baked, have the kids help place the kisses onto the cookies -- be sure to show them once or twice how to do this.

Peppermint Bark

I've been making this winter treat for years, but lately I've been noticing that stores are selling a pre-made version. That's kind of silly, as it's the easiest thing to make, and people are always happy to receive it as a gift. Here's the recipe:

You need:
6 candy canes (peppermint flavor)
12 oz. white chocolate - either chocolate chips or baker's squares. You want to look for the kind made with cocoa butter, not the sort made with palm or other vegetable oils.
12 oz. semi-sweet chocolate or chocolate chips

You do: Melt the semi-sweet in the microwave. Line a baking pan with wax paper and pour the chocolate in, using a knife to spread it around. It should be about 1/8-1/4 of an inch. Put it into the fridge for about 15 minutes.

Kids do: Put the candy canes in a zip plastic bag. Put the bag on the counter. Then the kids need to take a rolling pin and smash the hell out of the candy canes until they are all broken up into tiny shards. (The technique that works best is to hold the rolling pin by both handles parallel to the counter and bring it down at a right angle, repeatedly and extremely sharply.) Oldsters may want to turn their hearing aids down while this is going on.

You do: Melt the white chocolate. Pour half of the candy cane pieces in and stir. Take the semi-sweet out of the fridge and pour the white chocolate over it. Spread with a knife until it reaches the edges. Sprinkle the remaining candy canes over the top. When this is done, put the whole thing in the fridge until solid and break into pieces to serve.

If you follow this advice, you're guaranteed to occupy the little ones for a good 30-60 minutes, and you'll have the added bonus of returning your nieces and nephews to their parents all sugared up and ready to crash!

Coming up this week: Easy green resolutions for the new year, and my resolution for 2010!

Happy holidays to all of the loyal light greenies, to my family and friends. It's been a great year and a difficult season for many of us, so I wish you love and light in the upcoming year.

About the Auntie Chronicles: I have 10 or so nieces and nephews. Only one of them is actually related to me. The rest just know me as Auntie Catfish. As a former live-in auntie and former elementary school teacher, I've acquired a lot of kid-centric knowledge. Some of my friends have said, you should write a book for people who have to deal with kids but don't know how (either new parents or the friends of new parents). I'm too lazy to write that book, but I do have some stuff to share for others who might be entering the years when all of their friends are having babies.


Darci said...

Great post. Love it.

Jenny said...

You crack me up Auntie Catfish! Any child is lucky to call you their Aunt. Hope to see you soon.

Unknown said...

Haha! Henry's reaction to you telling him to stop hitting the tv sounds so much like Marcus. I remeber being a wild kid but this next generation takes the cake!