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Tuesday, 29 September 2009
D esigning costumes, carving pumpkins, making haunted houses: Halloween offers so many opportunities for creative, kid-friendly activities. But this year, why not bring the fun into the kitchen with some easy, slightly spooky Halloween treats?
Sharon Bowers, cookbook author and mother of two, finds baking a great way to spend quality time with children. In fact, she says that when her six-year-old son is working with dough, "he's much more inclined to tell me what's going on in kindergarten than if I sit him down and ask, 'What exactly did you do all day?'" This, combined with a lifelong love of Halloween, led Bowers to write Ghoulish Goodies, a collection of simple yet creative Halloween-themed recipes. The goal, says Bowers, was to create fun holiday projects that aren't too difficult and don't require any special ingredients or equipment. Most of the recipes can be made on a whim without a special trip to the grocery or craft store. And, because she knows that parents don't have hours to spend in the kitchen, most of Bowers' projects can be completed in under an hour.
Here, Bowers shares three recipes from the book—Monster Eyeballs, Funny Bones, and Glowing Jack-o'-Lantern Cookies—and offers tips for safe and stress-free baking with kids, plus creative ways to display your creations.
tips for baking with kids:
Cooking with children inevitably raises safety questions. In addition to the obvious—keep little ones away from anything hot or sharp—Bowers stresses the need to make sure everything is edible. Rather than reaching for a toothpick to secure a marshmallow, use a pretzel rod or a dab of icing.
Some of your finished products will be less than perfect. Don't despair. Bowers uses the "50/50 rule": She's happy if half of the cookies or candies look nice enough to share. Let kids get creative (and even messy) with the other half. After all, the point is to have some fun with your children, not to turn them into professional food stylists.
While she sympathizes with parents worried about kids making a mess of the kitchen, Bowers finds that children are actually less sloppy when you back off and let them do things on their own. She encourages you to be there to assist your son or daughter but also to limit how much you fuss over their work.
The best way to ensure that kids have a good time in the kitchen is to look at each recipe and determine what they will enjoy, what will bore them, and which steps you should do on your own. Here are Bowers's suggestions for each project:
Monster Eyeballs: Children will love using their hands to mix this dough—though bear in mind that they may make a bit of a mess. Short on time? Pop the dough in the freezer for 30 minutes rather than refrigerating it for an hour. Bowers recommends giving younger kids a fork rather than a skewer to dip the eyeballs in chocolate—just be sure to push in the holes left by the fork tines afterwards. And if little ones have trouble leaving an opening for the cornea, Bowers says it works just as well to cover the entire ball in chocolate then finish it with an M&M iris.
Funny Bones: Buy different-sized marshmallows and pretzels so kids can create giant femurs, skinny phalanges, and other assorted bones. Another trick is to snip the end of each marshmallow with scissors—"it makes it divide like the end of a bone," Bowers explains. Keep in mind that pretzels break easily (even in adult hands), so you'll want plenty of extras on hand. Dipping the bones in chocolate isn't difficult, says Bowers, but it requires a gentle hand and some patience, so don't be surprised if younger kids have trouble with this or get bored.
Glowing Jack-o'-Lantern Cookies: Kids will get excited to crush the candy for these cookies because, as Bowers explains, "when do parents ever hand kids a hammer and say break this?" If you prefer, the candy can be crushed in the food processor. Bowers recommends rolling out the dough on your own and bringing the kids in when it's time to cut out the pumpkins. While you can use a cookie cutter, she prefers to give kids a butter knife and let them cut the shapes free-form. It's a great opportunity for creativity—pumpkins can be tall and skinny, short and fat, or any shape your child can imagine. The key, Bowers points out, is to exaggerate the cut-outs for the eyes, nose, and mouth, because as the cookies puff up in the oven, these holes will shrink.
Such creative treats deserve to be shown off. Here are Bowers's ideas for each recipe:
Monster Eyeballs: These creepy globes look terrific mounded in a bowl or arranged in long, even rows on a square or rectangular white plate.
Funny Bones: The best way to display these is in a jumble. It's cute to see a "mountain of bones," says Bowers, and mistakes are less noticeable when your creations are piled on top of one another. If you made any larger bones, use a few to frame the pile.
Glowing Jack-o'-Lantern Cookies: Bowers recommends taking advantage of the "beautiful stained-glass quality" of these cookies by displaying them on a plain white plate or platter.
New York City–based food writer Sharon Bowers is the author of Ghoulish Goodies and the upcoming Candy Construction Company. She has worked as a senior producer for Foodnetwork.com and as a cookbook editor at HarperCollins.
See more in Halloween:
Wednesday, 23 September 2009
Throughout the year there are a number of birthdays, anniversaries or other events that call for a family gift idea. If you have a large family you will be faced with a gift-giving occasion at least once every few weeks: an uncle's birthday, your cousin getting his diploma, your godparents' wedding anniversary.
Buying gifts for relatives that are not part of your immediate family can be quite challenging and much more difficult than buying for your parents or siblings: Most likely, you are not as familiar with your relatives' likes and dislikes, their hobbies and interests and any other factors impacting your gift-giving choices as you will be with your closest family. Yet on the other hand, this is still family, so expectations are very high for you to give at least adequate presents.
However, coming up with a meaningful family gift idea that makes a good impression does not have to be the cause of headaches if you just remember a few simple things. If you are in any doubt at all, it is probably best to treat family gifts just like business gifts: it is better to make it slightly less personal than to risk causing offense.
So whether you are buying gifts for an aunt or uncle, cousins or your in-laws, keep it simple but try to add a small personal touch. Of course, if you are very close and therefore familiar with the character of the person you are buying a gift for you have lots more options. In general though, you are best advised to avoid anything controversial like gag gifts or things that not everybody enjoys, such as alcohol or particular foods.
If you are looking for gift ideas for a couple, such as your parents-in-law or your godparents, you might want to consider a gift for the whole family: an invitation to dinner (whether at home or in a restaurant), a joint trip to the movies or the theatre, or a weekend outing as a family - spending time together with the clan is almost always appreciated.
Another great family gift idea are family memorabilia: picture frames with photographs of your family, a photo album, a piece of art by you or a family member. If you know the style a little bit, you could opt for timeless gift ideas such as an art print or various items of home decor. You cannot usually go wrong with these gifts, as long as you go for something high quality and stylish. Avoid anything too fancy or too unusual, unless you are absolutely sure they will be appreciated. Not everybody enjoys leopard-print pillow cases.
If you are still unsure about what would make a great gift for relatives, maybe because your family members are rather difficult to buy for because of their peculiar likes, don't feel pressurized to give something personal. In this case, giving gift certificates or vouchers might be a much better option than buying something halfheartedly which will end up being re-gifted. There is no shame in admitting that you found it difficult to come up with something, so just make a point of your struggle and state that you would rather leave the choice up to them than to buy something just for the sake of giving a wrapped up present. You might even want to consider using it as a way to get to know them better. You could write a note in your gift card, asking them to join you for dinner at your house one evening to get to know each other better, so that next time you won't have to give them a gift certificate. No doubt that this will be very much appreciated, as it demonstrates that you did in fact put a lot of thought into your gift.
Wednesday, 16 September 2009
If they're not feeling well...encourage them to smile. It's a plus in their pocket, so to speak. We all feel better, when we hold our heads high and grin with a little vim and vigor tickling our insides.
And a get well basket brings a smile, when expressing your best wishes for a speedy recovery. They encourage a smile and perhaps a giggle, because they're filled with treats and goodies that caters to the brighter side of life.
Think of it this way: when we surround ourselves with the things that make us happy, we naturally feel better. So, when they're feeling down, give them a...pick-me-up...with fun things to do.
Examples of Get Well Soon Gift Baskets
* It's possible that your idea of a cheerful get well basket is a movie gift basket, filled with theater treats and a Blockbuster gift certificate. On the other hand, if you want, you can add a personal movie gift certificate from their favorite rental store.
* Here's one, where humor sets the stage, when they see a giant aspirin, Gummi aid band-aids, too pooped to pop popping corn and candy pills rolling out of their get well basket. It could be just what the doctor orders.
* And what about giving them a sunshiny teddy bear to hold, with get well shortbread cookies and crunchy caramel corn to munch on? Just about any type of care package, which helps pass the time and entertains the mind... helps them feel better.
* Use the power of suggestion: send your best wishes for a speedy recovery with a "Hang In There Plush Monkey". This guy is sure to bring a smile and so are the special get well treats.
* A little health and happiness goes along ways, when Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup comforts them and a super crossword puzzle book entertains them.
It is possible to customize a get well basket, by including the gift solutions that makes them smile. They give you the opportunity to take a gift away and add a gift to any get well basket to make your best wishes for a speedy recovery...personal.
Thursday, 10 September 2009
The groom usually starts thinking about what to give his groomsmen as the wedding date is looming near. The best man and groomsmen, your chosen wedding attendants, have probably already been helping you and listening to all your frustrations and joys of the wedding planning process.
You'll need to show your appreciation to these dear friends or siblings for caring about you and your wedding. They have busy lives too. Everything they do for you and your wedding takes time. Time that they sacrifice for you because you guys are tight. It's wonderful to have friends you can count on. So, be sure to say "thank you" to these guys.
The most convenient time for you and the most common time to hand out groomsmen gifts is during the rehearsal dinner. This is truly the last event before the wedding where all your guys will be together in one place. Don't let this opportunity pass you by. This is the perfect time to give your gifts. While everyone is waiting for their dinners or perhaps as the dinners are winding down, you should definitely give your gifts while you can. You certainly do not want to be worrying about their gifts on the wedding day or after the wedding. That makes it ten times harder to complete this task.
Save yourself time and stress by planning to give groomsman gifts at the rehearsal dinner. If you are giving flasks, you can make an exception and hand these out at the bachelor party. That way your friends can use them that night. Just be sure the bachelor party is happening weeks before the wedding. You don't want to show up late to your own wedding or be all hung over for your wedding pictures. You want to look your best.
Many times grooms agonize over what to give. Do you give cufflinks? Wallets? Money clips? In these trying economic times, most people are much more sensitive to cost and usefulness of the gift item. You want to give something that you know will get used. You don't want to give something that will be thrown into the back of a closet or stuffed in a drawer. One idea for a gift that can be used every single day is drinkware.
Everyone uses a glass or mug on a daily basis. So, give a cool, useful gift that you know will get some mileage. Coffee mugs, glass tankards with NFL or MLB logo, rocks glasses, shot glasses, wine glasses, all of these are useful gifts that the gift recipients will enjoy. None of these are very costly either. You'll be able to give a modest gift that will be used and enjoyed for years. It's satisfying to give groomsmen gifts that your friends will actually love and use.
Wednesday, 09 September 2009
Yes, buttermilk is good for tender griddlecakes and baked goods, but as these delicate individual puddings show, its tangy flavor is not to be taken for granted. The sauce that tops the puddings begins with a red-wine syrup mulled with citrus and a bay leaf and then puréed with strawberries. A final scattering of mixed berries gives a down-home touch to something that is, at heart, wonderfully curious and complex.
Yield: Makes 4 servings
Active Time: 20 min
Total Time: 9 1/2 hr (includes chilling)
For buttermilk puddings:
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1 cup whole milk, divided
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
6 tablespoons sugar
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1/4 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoon sugar
1 (3-inch) strip lemon zest
1 (3-inch) strip orange zest
1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
1 cup quartered strawberries
2 cups mixed berries
Equipment: 4 (6-to 8-ounce) bowls or wide glasses
Make buttermilk puddings:
Sprinkle gelatin over 1/4 cup milk in a small bowl and let soften 1 minute.
Scrape seeds from vanilla bean into a small heavy saucepan and add pod. Add remaining 3/4 cup milk and sugar and bring just to a boil over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat. Add gelatin mixture to hot milk mixture, stirring until dissolved. Quick- chill in an ice bath, stirring occasionally, until cold but not thickened, about 5 minutes.
Stir in buttermilk, then strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a large glass measure, discarding solids. Pour into bowls and chill until set, at least 8 hours.
Bring wine, water, sugar, zests, and bay leaf to a boil in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved, then boil until reduced to about 1/3 cup, about 10 minutes.
Add strawberries and simmer 5 minutes. Discard zests and bay leaf, then purée strawberry mixture in a blender until smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids). Force through clean fine-mesh sieve and discard solids.
Chill sauce, stirring occasionally, until cold, about 1 hour.
Spoon sauce over puddings and top with remaining berries.
Buttermilk puddings and sauce can be made 3 days ahead and chilled separately.
Epicurious.com © Condé Nast Digital, Inc. All rights reserved.
Tuesday, 01 September 2009
For a lot of parents, the most challenging thing about back-to-school isn't shopping for the coolest jeans or hunting down the perfect backpack (how many have you looked at?). It's packing lunches. Weeks and weeks of lunches.
Why bother? Because so many school cafeterias still serve meals that are fat and sugar fiestas -- the kind that are producing high blood pressure in kids as young as 11, says pediatrician Jennifer Trachtenberg, MD, author of Good Kids, Bad Habits: The RealAge Guide to Raising Healthy Children.
So if you can pack a healthy lunch most days, it's worth it -- and not just for your kids' bodies, but also for their grades. A mid-day fuel-up that includes whole grains, fiber, and protein (a combo that digests gradually) supplies the brain with a steady stream of energy -- the exact opposite of the sugar rush and follow-up energy crash that high-carb junk foods produce in kids.
The trick, of course, is to create nutritious but delicious lunches that kids will eat, not toss or trade. How?
Need one last motivator? Think of this on those mornings when you're waffling: Getting kids in the habit of eating plenty of fruits and vegetables will benefit them for years to come. If they keep it up into adulthood, when they turn 40, their RealAge could actually be 36. Now that's a nice birthday present!