“A mess is the sign of a good time” is one of my mantras in life. That is, as in disorder after a party or craft project. But spills? Not that kind of mess. Grape juice on white carpet, chocolate milk on a child’s party dress, coffee spilled on my lap during a flight. No one likes to accidentally spill or be spilled on. Except on April Fool’s Day! This fun caper of placing “fake” spills around the house, office or school, fools, surprises and, above all, creates spontaneous laughter. We all know, you can’t have too much of that in your life!
Fool friends and family into thinking that ketchup really spilled on the kitchen floor, or that fingernail polish is dripping down the side of an upholstered chair. The ingredients are basic for this clean “messy” prank: household glue, acrylic paint and props appropriate to enhance the spill.
1. Choose an empty container, cup or jar as the prop for your spill. For example, an empty juice box, a coffee mug or a mustard jar works well. Wash it thoroughly.
2. In a small paper cup, stir food coloring (for translucent spills) or acrylic paint (for opaque spills) into 1/2 cup of white household glue. Or, if you have a wide-mouth prop, combine directly in it. When adding the paint or food coloring, try to imitate the color of the product that was previously in the container. Mix colors to get an authentic effect.
3. Place plastic wrap or parchment paper on a flat surface. Set the prop you have chosen on its side on plastic wrap or parchment paper. Carefully pour the glue mixture onto the plastic wrap or paper next to the spout or edge of the prop in such a way that it simulates a real spill. If you stirred the glue mixture in the prop, slowly pour it out and set the prop on its side next to the spill. Add realistic touches as part of the spill, such as mini marshmallows for a spilled mug of hot chocolate, or a wooden stick for an ice-cream bar.
Keep out of reach until completely dry, up to 24-36 hours. Remove the “spill” from the plastic wrap or paper. Check to make sure it is dry underneath. You don’t want a real spill on your hands!
Finally, place your fake spill in the perfect spot to surprise your friends, family, or even a teacher on April 1.
Have you ever had a crazy, mixed-up day where life feels upside down, backward and inside out? With April Fools’ Day around the corner, start planning some capers and silly surprises to create such an off-kilter day for your family. You’ll be making memories the kids will never forget.
Here are some ideas to get the wacky side of your brain stimulated for April 1st:
–Come to the breakfast table wearing clothes inside out and backward.
–Say common phrases backward, such as “Fools April Happy.”
–Make school sandwiches inside out, with bread on the inside and cold cuts and mustard on the outside.
–Write a lunchbox note with letters reversed in each word.
–Walk to the bus stop backward, or if you carpool, sing a round, such as “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” backward.
–Serve dinner with dessert first and make it an ice-cream sundae. Upside down of course. Here’s how:
Set a maraschino cherry, which would normally be at the top of the sundae, at the bottom of a parfait glass. Wedge a round cookie to fit snuggly near the bottom just above the cherry. Carefully break off the outer edge to fit if necessary.
Add big dollops of whipped cream on the cookie. Finally, add ice-cream scoops. Set spoon upside down in the ice cream and serve the upside-down sundae.
–At bedtime, read a backward fairy tale to your kids.
Have you ever cheated and read the last page of a book first, just to see how it all comes out? Maybe that is why “The End” by David LaRochelle (Scholastic 2007) is so delightful, because he does it for you — no guilt. The book starts at the end of the story and cleverly explains why the book ends — or begins — the way it does.
Confused? Your child will find it great fun, but please don’t read the last page first. Start from the beginning, which is the end — I think. For more information about the book and the author, check out www.davidlarochelle.net.
April Fool’s Marzipan Potato Surprise
The French are famous for their trompe l’oeil or “trick of the eye” cuisine. One food is made to look like another. A famous example is the candy truffle, made of chocolate, in the shape of a mushroom-like root.
This marzipan potato is another trompe l’oeil you can make easily with your kids for an April Fool’s Day caper. The “skin” of this potato is marzipan almond candy dough, made with ground almonds. The body of the potato is a scrumptious chocolate cake mixture.
Once made, serve the small trick potatoes with verve! Place them in a small basket or bowl and present them as a surprise dessert. After confusing everyone, slice them into 1/2-inch-thick servings and place on dishes accompanied by a triumphant “Ta-da!” Or should we say, “Fooled ya.”
April Fool’s Marzipan Potato Surprise
Ingredients for 6 “potatoes”
–2 1/2 cups crumbled chocolate cake (no frosting)
–1/2 cup chopped walnuts
–1/4 cup apricot preserves
–1 roll (7 ounces) almond marzipan candy dough or marzipan paste, which is stickier (in the baking section of the grocery store)
–1/4 cup cocoa powder
–1/4 cup slivered almonds
Here’s the fun:
In a large bowl, lightly combine the cake crumbs, walnuts and preserves with a fork.
Shape approximately a quarter-cup of the mixture into irregular, stubby, oval “logs” with your hands. Wash your hands to remove all the crumbs when you’re done with the shaping.
Cut the roll of almond paste into six equal, medallion-type pieces. Place one piece at a time between two sheets of waxed paper and roll out into a 5-inch disk with a rolling pin.
Remove the waxed paper and wrap each disk around the oval-shaped cake logs. Fold in all edges and press together to seal the cake mixture inside. Trim away any extra “skin” to use on another “potato.” The finished shape should resemble a small russet potato, which typically has an imperfect skin. Little bumps and dents make it look more realistic.
Roll lightly in the cocoa powder or brush it on with a pastry brush. Insert a few slivered almonds to resemble slightly sprouted potatoes.
“Mr. Bear, you said you wanted ice cream ON your spaghetti?” says a 5-year old scribbling on a piece of paper at his Little Italy Restaurant. “Maybe some carrots, too?”
Pay close attention when children say “Let’s pretend!” and you’ll discover their joy in practicing life skills that will carry them into adulthood. Imaginative play rules the day in children’s lives. They love their kid-size props, from old hats and clothes to funny items in the junk drawer.
Here’s how you can transform glue, string, paint and other craft items into a menu of play food to satisfy your child’s love of creativity — and Mr. Bear’s appetite! And why not test that creativity on the family too, on April Fools’ Day?
SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS
Cut several 16-inch lengths of white string for the “spaghetti.” Squeeze white glue into a sandwich bag, drop the string into the glue, then pull out each length one by one, clearing off most of the glue with your fingers. Swirl the string round and round to form a mound on a sturdy, plastic or paper plate. Set aside to dry.
Use a melon baller to scoop medium-size spheres from a hunk of Styrofoam. Toss them into another plastic bag containing a couple of tablespoons of brown acrylic paint and shake. Poke toothpicks into the painted “meatballs,” remove from the bag and let dry. Or, poke toothpicks into the Styrofoam balls and paint with a paintbrush.
Remove toothpicks, then glue meatballs on “spaghetti” and drizzle a sauce of 50-50 mixture of glue and red paint on top. Let dry.
The spaghetti and meatballs should now be permanently glued to the plate for pretend play.
Cut green construction paper or foam sheets into leaf shapes. Toss “lettuce” in a plastic bowl with green pompoms for cucumber chunks, an elastic ponytail holder for an onion and a tan sponge cut into squares for croutons, and top with a small red rubber ball “cherry tomato.”
Use an ice-cream scoop to scoop soft play clay from its container for a bowl of “spumoni.”
Tip: It’s fun to make up menus with prices for children learning how to read, count money and make change.
NOTE: Due to small parts, this activity is for children ages 4 and up.
“Camera two, action!” There is always extra energy in the air at the Minneapolis/St. Paul KSTP-TV/ABC studio when weekday “Twin Cities Live” begins. The hosts chat about the current day’s events and promote what’s coming up on the show in front of an enthusiastic audience while I scurry around on the sidelines of the set to finalize prep for the recipe and activities from this column I’ll be demoing. There’s no time for distractions until, well, I admit, I spot an array of chocolate truffles on the demo table behind me. “Go ahead and taste one,” says award-winning baker and candy-making instructor Nancy Burgeson, another regular on the show. A quick bite and I was smitten. “And, they’re simple to make,” she adds.
Truffles are often made with high-quality baking chocolate and heavy cream, but Nancy’s basic recipe, ideally suited for first timers, uses unsalted butter with the chocolate instead of cream.
Once the chocolate and melted butter are combined and the mixture is chilled, kids can form the round truffle shapes with a melon baller tool, drop and roll in cocoa powder and arrange the impressive sweets in cute tins or small boxes for gifts.
Here’s the basic recipe:
EASY CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES
Makes 25-30 truffles.
— 8 ounces good-quality baking chocolate, such as Ghirardelli or Guittard brands (aim for 60% cacao content or more)
— 8 ounces unsalted butter, preferably a European-style butter such as Kerrygold brand
— cocoa powder for rolling, or other dry toppings such as crushed toasted nuts, cookies or cereal
Break chocolate in small pieces and melt in a microwave at half power. Or, using a double boiler, heat water to very warm. Remove from the burner and set the chocolate on top only long enough to melt it.
Melt butter in a saucepan or microwave until just melted.
Add chocolate to butter and gently stir until well combined and glossy. Pour mixture into a baking dish, about 8 inches by 8 inches, or use a loaf pan. Refrigerate 1-3 hours uncovered.
With a melon baller, scoop the chocolate in a ball. If chocolate mixture is too hard, let it stand at room temperature for a few minutes. If too soft, return to the refrigerator until firm. Remove it from the melon baller with a tiny spoon, such as a baby spoon, and drop it into a small bowl of cocoa powder or other chosen dry topping. Roll lightly in topping, remove and roll in your hands slightly. Drop back in the bowl until covered. Set on a parchment-lined pan.
Chill the truffles until firm.
“Rules for Little Cooks
Wash your hands.
Put on your apron.
Read your recipe carefully.
Place everything you need on the kitchen table.
Have Mother teach you how to heat the oven.
Measure everything very carefully.
Wash your baking dishes.
Sweep the kitchen and leave it in order.”
So begins the inside cover page of “KITCHEN FUN: A Cook Book for Children” (copyright 1932), a 28-page collection my mom used as a child. From Bran Muffins and Fairy Gingerbread to Cinderella Cake, the baking section caught my eye. Both the “rules” and recipes haven’t changed significantly over the past 88 years and are easy to replicate in any kitchen.
The book got me thinking about how baking something delicious is a wonderful way to entice kids to learn cooking basics as they assist and learn from you. The benefits go beyond the mixing bowl. The memories of being shoulder to shoulder, talking, laughing and preparing something amazing out of basic and sometimes exotic ingredients is what it’s really all about.
I recall the magic of dough rising in a large bowl in front of my eyes in my grandma Ruth’s kitchen as she intuitively made traditional Swedish cardamom bread. The connection between just the two of us lives on in my memory, and the effort we put into the making was justly rewarded when we opened the oven and took it out.
Baking with kids this month is a great way to spend time together when weather keeps you indoors. Thumb through family recipe cards and cookbooks. Or go online for a how-to video that captures your and your child’s imagination, then bake it your own way. Here are more ideas:
Make sugar cookies in heart shapes for Valentine’s Day. Purchasing heart cookie cutters can be the start of a collection of holiday designs you pull from throughout the year.
If you have preschoolers, make a “Jam Thumbprint” recipe, another ideal “first.” Toddlers can stick their thumbs in the dough balls, then fill the indentation with a bit of jam.
Baking powder and baking soda don’t require kneading or the time to let dough rise. Let seasons of the year inspire you and the recipes you choose. Start with lemon bread with poppy seeds this spring, and by fall you’ll be a pro at making pumpkin and cranberry breads.
Watch it rise, punch it down and enjoy the bonus of the taste of aromatic homemade breads. Once your kids get their hands on the “living” dough, they’ll be motivated to bake again and again.
Whatever it takes to get kids outside and engage with nature, I’m all for it.
Sure, gloomy, shorter days can be a challenge this time of year, but it’s worth it to nudge the family out the door for lots of fresh air, new experiences and exercise.
That’s what 8-year-old Rusty and his dad, Chris, decided to do recently when they heard about the opportunity to try ice fishing with other families on a frozen metro lake in Minneapolis. Once volunteer angler Don Blasy of Waterdogs Fishing Club helped Rusty sink his line 30 feet down, the boy sat attentively in front of the 10-inch hole in the 18-inch thick ice. Patiently holding his pole with an eye on the bobber, he hoped a little bluegill (sunfish) swimming in the weeds on the lake floor below might take a nibble off the waxworm bait.
“It’s good to get kids outdoors, and any kind of fishing, wherever you live, is something kids can enjoy for the rest of their lives,” said Don, a lifelong fisherman who learned fishing as a kid from his dad. “Ice fishing is something kids can do during long winters in cold climates. The sport also teaches them perseverance and patience, especially when the fish aren’t biting.”
If sitting on a bucket on a frozen lake in subfreezing temps doesn’t inspire you, there are many other things to do and places to explore outside the four walls of your home. Hibernation isn’t an option.
In the wild
Check in this paper or online for free or reasonably priced events at your local park, regional nature center or arboretum. It’s important for kids to experience the changes of seasons in different venues, and wintertime provides fun new discoveries of plant and wildlife.
Take a walk
Enjoy walking any time of day. Increase your pace to a jog with older kids for an extra challenge. Or take a long hike. Inhale the aromas of the natural world around you and tell stories of your adventure when you get home.
Share what you love
Teach your child something that you enjoyed doing as a kid, and rediscover that joy when you are together. Build a snow fort, snowshoe, ice skate, hike or check out a beach and the sea life in tide pools when the tide is low. Take photos of outdoor scenes and people, or build a campfire and toast marshmallows. Yum, s’mores in winter!
Is there such a thing as easy entertaining? When reviewing our busy December days, I admit that in spite of my intentions, parties became a bit of a production with my long to-do lists and shoutouts to kids to run last-minute trips to the store to pick up mushrooms for the gravy or to our Scandinavian market for lingonberries and herring. By the time I lit ice candles on our porch to welcome guests, I had to ask myself, “Could I have simplified this?”
In this new year, I want to keep our welcome candles burning for all, but skip a bit of the fancy and go for the easy-prep practical. After all, it’s the get-together that matters, right? Spending time around the table eating, laughing and connecting with family and friends matters most.
That’s where making and serving oven-baked grilled cheese sandwiches for a crowd the easy way saves the day. Bake them in the oven all at once instead of the traditional way of grilling in batches on your stovetop in a frying pan. They’ll be evenly browned and done at the same time, ready to be paired with a bowl of piping hot soup, such as fragrant basil tomato.
Slice the sandwiches in half diagonally and watch your guests enjoy dipping the pointed ends into the soup. Crispy, gooey and tasty, you’ll be creating fond food memories in 2020.
Here is my basic oven-baked grilled cheese sandwich recipe. Feel free to embellish with spicy mustard or mayo sauce spread inside, and add additional varieties of cheese. Sometimes I include a pinch of kale or other fresh greens I have on hand.
EASY-PREP OVEN-BAKED GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICHES
Makes 6 sandwiches.
— 12 slices white bread a half-inch thick, such as pre-sliced Texas toast
— butter, softened for spreading
— 6 thick slices cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 450 F. Set parchment paper on a large baking sheet.
Ask your child to count and place six slices of bread on the parchment lined sheet. Butter each piece and flip over.
Lay a slice of cheese on the unbuttered side. Top with another slice of bread. Butter top side.
Bake in the oven for 5-6 minutes until bread is toasted on exposed side.
Flip with a spatula and bake an additional 5 minutes until golden brown and cheese is just melted.
Cool for two minutes. Slice in half diagonally and arrange on a platter. Serve with hot bowls of your favorite tomato soup.
Feeling a little chilly around the neck this time of year? An odd question, maybe, but not quite so out of the ordinary — especially in Minnesota, where I live, and where we have to be conquerors of bitter winds and snow.
Even in moderate climates, a little added warmth on a damp, cold day can feel cozy and comfy, and that’s when wearing a simple fleece neck warmer can make a difference. Save money and enjoy making easy-to-sew neck warmers for yourself, family and friends in patterns and lovely colors for a warm-up solution when heading outdoors — whether, skiing, skating or taking your dog for a walk.
You might include your teens in the making. If they have never used a sewing machine, it’s a good first sewing project because of the simple straight seams. Once you see how quickly these neck warmers come together, you’ll be inspired to make more for birthday presents and for guests if you host an outdoor winter party.
Kids of all ages might enjoy helping you choose colors and patterns of fleece online and at your local fabric store. For best results, use the heaviest type of fleece. (Stores such as JoAnn offer coupons regularly for significant discounts on your purchase. My neck warmers came to less than $2 each using the heaviest “Luxe” variety.)
I homed in on patterns and plaids, but solids are also a good choice and a great look with sweaters and winter jackets. Plus, the straight lines of plaids and checks provide a visual guide when measuring and cutting, a timesaver when cutting out several neck warmers.
Here’s what you’ll need for four teen- and adult-size neck warmers:
— tissue paper or plain large sheet of paper for making pattern
— straight pins
— 2/3 yard of 56- to 60-inch-wide heavyweight fleece fabric
— good sewing scissors
Here’s the fun:
1. Make a pattern. Measure and cut the paper 10 1/2 inches x 21 inches.
2. Pin pattern to single layer of fabric making sure the short side of the pattern is placed parallel to, but not on, the selvage. This way, fabric should stretch along its longer side. Setting the pattern this direction ensures that the neck warmers give correctly. Cut the fabric.
3. Fold the rectangle in half width-wise with right sides facing. Pin and stitch, allowing for a 1/2-inch seam.
4. Hem both open sides. First fold over edges 1/2 inch and insert pins to hold place. Stitch with sewing machine. Remove pins.
5. Turn neck warmer right side out. It is ready to wear.
A stroll turned into a jog on the wide, pedestrian-packed Champs Elysees in Paris as my high school French language students and I realized we needed to hustle and descend into the closest metro station to get to our next destination on time. Then, something with contemporary appeal caught my eye in the bright window display of a chichi shop along the avenue. An array of expensive crystal champagne glasses were anchored by classic Matchbox cars!
The combo of crystal and colorful toy cars, like those I recalled from my brother’s childhood collection, was whimsical and magical. Having no time to snap a photo, I quickly herded my students down the metro steps and onto the train.
Thankfully, 10 years later, when hosting a family-style New Year’s party for neighbors, that window display image somehow resurfaced in my brain, and I went to work to create an inexpensive, kid-friendly version of what I now refer to as “glassware on wheels.”
I purchased reusable plastic tumblers and champagne glasses with detachable bases at a discount store and attached the stem, minus the base, to the tops of die-cast toy cars and other small toy vehicles with big globs of glue.
Filled with bubbly beverages (we combine sparkling water with juice) and/or with popcorn, candy and nuts, we give them a gentle shove and watch them cruise down the table to entertain guests. Festive conversation starters, they can be a New Year’s Eve memory for your family, too.
When the wheels stop in front of you, raise your glass for a toast to 2020!
PARTY BEVERAGE AND SNACK GLASSES ON WHEELS
Here’s the stuff you need:
— clear plastic reusable cups with detachable bases such as champagne coupes with stems and/or small juice style tumblers (available at some discount stores and party supply stores)
— die-cast toy car or small vehicle for each glass
— glue gun
Here’s the fun:
1. Wash and dry plastic glassware. (You won’t need the detachable bases.)
2. An adult should apply a big blob of glue to the top of a vehicle, set glassware stem in glue and hold until completely set. Add more glue around the sides of the stem. Let set, and repeat.
3. Place on a serving tray, always lifting from the vehicle. When ready to use, fill half-full with juice, sparkling water, cider and/or snack foods. Handle with care as you let them roll on a smooth table or counter.
Notes: Glue may damage the paint on cars if you try to remove them from the plastic cups. Hand wash.