Do you know what you're having for dinner tonight? I do - I mean, I know what you're having, or what you should be having, that is. We had this last night - and it was easy, fast, yummy and once the kids got the hang of it, they were able to do it mostly by themselves - at least the older ones. So make it tonight. No, really, make it.
And, AND, I had all the ingredients in the house, which is saying alot considering that we are on day seven of a winter break that has thus far, seen three snowstorms. That means ALOT of time in the house, cooking something like seven or eight meals a day.
To start, make one batch of your favorite pizza dough recipe or just use frozen pizza dough, about two pounds worth. And for what it is worth, Trader Joe's sells excellent frozen pizza dough for 99cents a pound. I'm just sayin. If Trader Joe's wasn't so far away, my pizza dough recipe would never see the light of day.
Then I kind of followed the directions I found here.
Roll out half the dough into something resembling a rectangle and using a pizza cutter, cut lines to make a bunch of squares. Mine were not all the same size, were probably not even really squares and really, it made no difference whatsoever. Sprinkle some cheese onto each square and sit back and watch as the kids try to roll the squares up around the cheese, attempting to make cheese-filled dough balls. They don't have to be perfect - remember, this is dinner and an activity rolled up into one, well, cheese-filled dough ball. This all took a good 30 minutes, totally enough time to call this a successful-time-waster-that-is-not-TV.
Have the kids place each ball into a greased pan, preferably disposable so there will be no cleanup. Brush some olive oil on top, sprinkle some garlic powder and/or onion powder, salt, whatever you have. If you have any leftover cheese, sprinkle some on top too.
Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 20 minutes and you will be rewarded with a delicious and fun(!) pull apart pizza, without sauce. Without sauce? Not entirely. Each kid got a dixie cup filled with pizza sauce to dip his or her dinner into. And while I wish I could say fun was had by all, it was not, in fact, had by all.
My conversation with my little contrarian went something like this:
Him: Where's the pizza?
Me: Right here. This is the pizza. You just helped make it.
Him: No. This isn't pizza. I want pizza.
Me: It is. There's sauce and cheese and dough.
Him: No. No. No. NO. THIS IS NOT PIZZAAA!
Me: Do you want cereal and milk?
And now, if you are a mother to small children you will automatically know what happened next.
Every other child at the table, including our extra-long-and-yet-very-well-behaved-playdate-friend who up until now had been very happily dunking his dough into his cup of pizza sauce, demands cereal and milk.
Cereal and milk for everyone!
Except for my good natured Josh, who is very happily making his way around the table eating all the untouched pizza pull aparts.
You know what they say, a kid has to see a new food fifteen times before accepting it. It just never occured to me that pizza, in any form, would ever qualify as a new food in my house.
About a year ago, while visiting our good friends in Westchester, my kids got to play with a Spin Art Machine - and have been coveting one ever since. I kind of felt bad this whole time, but I kept forgetting they'd wanted one. If I would have seen one in a store I'm sure I would have picked one up, but since Shoprite does not sell Spin Art Machines, being in a store that sells these babies was highly unlikely.
And then today, on Yet Another Snow Day, I vaguely remembered that my sister-in-law had once used her salad spinner as a spin art machine at my niece's carnival themed birthday party. My memory of how it actually worked was a little hazy - it was years ago, I was pregnant, and the salad spinner was not anwhere near the food table. I called my sister-in-law and got her answering machine, so I figured we'd just go for it. And we did. And we had so much fun.
First we traced the bottom of the salad spinner onto paper and cut out a gazillion circles so we could make a gazillion spun paintings.
That was the hard part.
Then we just put the paper in, took turns squeezing the (washable) paint and turning the salad spinner handle, and yahoo, spin art. Tons and tons of spin art.
Then we played twister.
And it's supposed to snow another 8-12 inches tonight.
Good times. Good times.
Another. Snow. Day.
Yup, more snow is coming and this is bordering on the ridiculous. If it wasn't such a pain, it would be funny. Every time we (Josh) shovel, it snows again. Maybe we should just stop shoveling. So when it snowed A.G.A.I.N. last week, we made these in the kitchen. We called them Chocolate Chip Cookie Muffins. So much fun. But I can't take the credit for the great idea - I saw them here first. We did, however, make them our own by adding sprinkles and whole, unmelted chocolate chips to all the melty stuff - well, you'll see.
First things first, mix a batch of your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. Logic would dictate that one make a margarine or butter-based recipe because the point here is for the cookies to not spread that much, but having no margarine, we made an oil-based recipe and it worked out totally fine, so for trans-fat sake, go with the oil.
I will now tell you how to make these very yummy treats, but in return, I need to know that you will not judge me on the state of my muffin tins. I scrub and I scrub and I scrub some more and I just cant get them any better than this. I show them to you in good faith. I could have said they were family heirlooms, invoking my beloved grandmother's name, but I didn't. So judge me not.
Anyway, spray a muffin tin with cooking spray and make 12 largish walnut sized balls. Place the cookie dough balls into the muffin tin, one ball per cup. One ball per cup. That sounds kinda like something I shouldn't be typing but I can't for sure figure out why. Anyway, flatten out each cookie dough ball and push the dough into the bottom and up the sides of the muffin pan. Bake for as long as you would a sheet of cookies - using your recipe as a guide.
My cookie dough cups came out of the oven all puffed up but after they cooled off, the centers fell back down and I was left with actual cups made of chocolate chip cookies. That, in itself, was enough to send the kids into fits of joy, but wait! There's more!
We melted a 1 cup of chocolate chips and 1 tablespoon of trans-fat-filled shortening (so sue me!). Spoon a tablespoon, maybe a little less, of the melted chocolate into each cup - adding 3 or 4 chocolate chips to the top and covering the whole chocolate shindig with sprinkles. Well, maybe not all of them, especially if you have, like I do, a little girl frightened of sprinkles.
We baked the rest of the cookie dough as regular chocolate chip cookies just in case these came out weird. Turns out, it wasn't necessary.
Let everything cool, settle, harden, whatever. Serve and eat. These were, quite possibly, the best thing to come out of our kitchen in a while. Every single person at the table liked them - two families, 11 people, and the Chocolate Chip Cookie Muffins were gone. Not sure who sneaked that last one for his/herself, but whoever it was, good for you!
We celebrated a half-birthday on Friday. My two-year-old baby is now two and a half. Craazy. And so we made a small party. We made birthday crowns, we made bracelets and we decorated birthday cupcakes. We, however, did not do the one thing that I had planned. And if you have been following along you will know what I am talking about. And if you haven't been following along, hurry up! I'll wait while you catch up.
So yes, we forgot to write in the half-birthday book. I put it away so no one would touch it and then, of course, forgot all about it. Sigh.
I guess we can write in it tomorrow. No one will remember that we were off by a few days.
But here's what we did remember to do:
We made these crowns based on a tutorial that I saw here. Each kid chose their colored paper - and I think that might have been the hardest part, because these crowns are so super-easy to make. Staple two pieces of paper together to make one extra long piece of colored paper. Cut slits along the top of the length of the paper, every inch or so. The slits should go halfway down the paper. It will look like the paper has a bunch of fringes along one long side. Roll each fringe up (or down, depending on how you are holding the paper.) Don't worry, you can't mess this up because there is only one direction in which the the paper can be rolled. Measure the crown around each little head and close it up, either with staples (away from fingers) or tape (not so away from fingers). And surprisingly, these crowns are not as flimsy as they look because the kids have been wearing them for two days straight and they are still all in one piece.
We also made a mini crown for the baby, so she wouldn't feel left out.
Then we made these Fruit Loop bracelets:
Very simple. Very effective time-waster. And you can eat them when you're done. A win-win for everyone. We did have an issue that is common to jewelry made from circular foods. The knot that gets tied at the beginning of the string is never quite big enough - cereal always seems to fall off the end. So this time, in a stroke of genius, if I may say so myself, I tied the knot around a fruit loop, that way the fruit loop acted as the knot. Clever. I know.
And finally, we made these.
The recipe for the cupcakes is the same one we used for the delicious chocolate pudding cupcakes last week. But this time, we frosted them. Some had sprinkles, some didn't. Some people in this house loooove sprinkles and some are just plain scared of them - the half-birthday girl being one of them. We're hoping she grows out of it.
So I don't recall exactly how we came to be in possession of a food dehydrator, but we have one. I do know it involved some combination of infomercials, Josh's love of beef jerky and my mother in law's credit card, but beyond that, the details are a little fuzzy. How to actually use the dehydrator was a little fuzzy too as we haven't taken it out of the box since we lived in Phoenix over seven years ago and thought it would be a good idea to make beef jerky as part of our desert themed mishloach manot. (And if you were one of the lucky recipients of those star-crossed jerky filled boxes that were shipped across the country with love from Arizona to NY, you will surely remember them fondly...)
And then last night, when I was packing lunchboxes, it occurred to me that it might be kind of fun to make dried fruit for Tu B'Shvat. And, and, it would be a great way to use up all the kind of oldish fruit sitting in the fruit bowl.
So I peeled, sliced, and marinated the fruit for a minute or so in orange juice. The directions said to use an acidic solution. I didn't have any solution that was labeled acidic but I figured orange juice was pretty acidic, so it would have to do.
My girls and I loaded up the machine and after a few false starts, figured out how the machine fit together. Hit the on button and left the kitchen and the dehydrator to its own devices.
And six hours later, six hours filled with the soothing sounds of what sounded like a white noise machine (made me want to take a nap. Not so much for the girls...), our dried apples and pears were ready.
(Here is a really terrible picture of my apple chips.
Not sure why the camera seems to angry at me lately.)
I tasted one, thought they were pretty good - and by the time the fruit was finished dehydrating, the boys were home too - and I offered some to the kids. I marketed them as apple chips, like potato chips but sweet, guys! My oldest was the only one brave enough to take a bite. And this is what he said, as the chewed up apple chip fell out of his mouth and onto the kitchen floor: "Uch, Mommmmy! Did you leave them in too long?" The rest of the kids ran in the opposite direction. Lovely.
On the plus side though, Josh loved them. Happy Tu B'Shvat!
Much like kids everywhere, mine love love love their birthdays - and in our house, we always try to make a huge deal out of birthdays. Each kid usually winds up with several parties - a family party with grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins on the Sunday near their birthday, a party in school weeks and weeks before their birthdays (we have summer birthdays) and a birthday cake made by his of her siblings, on the morning of their birthday, with everyone still in pajamas.
Here are some of the cakes I've made for those big summer-family-parties.
And here you can see my first blog post, also birthday related.
Do I go overboard? Do I do this for me? For them? What's my motivation here - besides for having an excuse to eat a big piece of chocolate cake? I believe the hope is that these are the memories that my kids will take with them as they grow older, for when they want to spend more time out of the house than in the house and for when they stop thinking that mommy-made birthday hats and cakes are cool.
So if most of the kids' birthdays are in the summer, why am I introducing this now? I'll tell you - we are entering the season of half birthdays. And we like half-birthdays. Half birthdays are like the cream inside a cupcake. You can't really tell if a cupcake has a cream filling until you bite in, and if there is, then hey! What a fun surprise! Half birthdays are like the cream, an unexpected surprise. My kids never know when their half-birthday is coming, so it always, hey! What a fun surprise!
Half birthdays are laid-back. No real party, no big presents - and no mommy-time spent trying to find that big present. Half birthdays consist of cupcakes, a balloon and a hug and a kiss. And this year, we are introducing a new element to half birthdays. The Half-Birthday Book.
The Half-Birthday Book is really just an extra marble notebook that I found on the shelf in the porch. And then I decorated it, using paper, mod podge, scissors, and a pencil. And it was all done between the opening credits of last night's The Good Wife and the second commercial break. Pretty quick.
A How To:
Step 1: Turn the notebook sideways - my plan is for anyone who writes in the book to do sideways. That's just my preference.
Step 2: Trace the cover of the notebook onto a paper and cut it out so you have template of the notebook's cover.
Step 3: Use the template to cut a piece of pretty paper to fit the notebook's cover. Mod Podge it on. Let dry.
Step 4: Use the rest of your papers to decorate - I printed out the words "Happy 1/2 Birthday" on the computer and glued it on top of some other paper, to create layers. I would have preferred to use a paper-cutting machine such as a Cricut or Sizzix, but sadly, I do not own one. But they do make lovely gifts. Just saying.
Step 5: Keep decorating or stop if you're done. I drew a cupcake and then cut it out of various colored papers and glued it on. Anything goes. You can just glue a picture of the family on the notebook and be done.
And now for the essay portion of the test:
Was is the purpose of the notebook?
The purpose of the notebook is to engender nice feelings between siblings. And I guess parents too. Each family member will draw a happy birthday picture or, for those of us who have learned how to write, a note, either on a paper that will get glued into the notebook or in the notebook itself for the half birthday boy or girl. And since all the pages will be in the notebook, the kids will be able to look back on it for years to come and see the funny/sweet/silly/scribbled black rectangles that were made for them on their annual half-year mark.
And now onwards to figuring out what to do when the baby turns one(!) in February. We never had a winter birthday before...
Tu B'Shvat is coming up quickly (this Thursday) and I was looking for a project to do with the kids, especially since I was pretty sure today was going to be snow day #5. Turns out it wasn't. Dodged a bullet right there, guys. And really, let all of us who have winter break beginning in a few days utter a collective phew, because there will be quite enough vacation days in a row right there, thank you very much.
So with the boys safely in school, the girls and I embarked on our Tu B'Shvat project. It wasn't too ambitious, which was good because I wasn't feeling the craftiness all that much this morning. But before I explain our project, I will take a minute to explain just what Tu B'Shvat is.
Tu B'Shvat, literally, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat, is the birthday of the trees, or the new year of the trees, celebrating the day when the sap rises inside the tree, thus beginning a new growing season for the trees. The custom is to eat a fruit on this day, making the boreh pri ha'etz blessing on the fruit. For a more comprehensive look at Tu B'Shvat and it's meaning, mystical and otherwise, click here.
For the rest of us who may or may not have been to Shoprite in the past week and so may or may not have any fruit in the house, today we will be doing a fruit-like project. I originally came across this project at Mod Podge Rocks, who posted it from Craftown, both fun-filled websites. And while I followed the tutorial, I changed it up a bit. Instead of making hearts for Valentine's Day, we will making fruit for Tu B'Shvat.
The girls and I sat at the kitchen table - well, one of them sat in the highchair, so I guess we can say we all just sat in the kitchen. I spread wax paper out onto the table, cut up the different colored pieces of tissue paper and handed my two-year-old a paintbrush and a cup of glue. The idea is to spread the mod podge glue onto the wax paper and, one by one, paste the tissue paper pieces onto the wax paper. No special outline or shape is needed, just paste them down.
Once dry, mod podge over the whole thing one more time to seal it all in. Let dry. With a Sharpie marker, draw your fruit shapes over the dry tissue paper. Cut out. Add string and hang in the window and watch the sun shine through the fruits. Or, if you're like us, and you haven't seen the sun in days, just watch the fruit. Then go eat some(thing).
Several things I learned this morning:
1. Cover the table with newspaper first. I did not do this and regretted it. It would have made clean-up of all the thousands of extra tissue paper pieces much easier.
2. Use a damp paper towel to pick up the other thousand pieces of tissue paper that are now statically charged, electrically charged, whatever charged - I don't know, Josh would know - to only stick to your kitchen floor. But haha! Once they're wet, they are super simple to pick up.
3. Paint the green tissue paper last. For some reason, this is the only color that runs when painted over with glue. After we did the green, the whole cup of glue was green.
4. Give your two-year-old, or really, whatever aged kid, only one color of tissue paper at a time. This way they can be creative in where they put the pieces but you still wind up with somewhat solid colored fruit.
I wash alot of dishes. And baby bottles. And cups and forks and knives and spoons. And pots. And toys that get dunked in ketchup and in some other places that we won't talk about. And after years of washing sinks full of all this stuff, my hands are not as soft as they used to be. So I moisturize. And it helps. But this winter, moisturizing three times a day doesn't seem to be helping and there is one spot on my right index finger that is just killing me. So my husband, my love, bought me a present. He bought me yellow gloves. In Shoprite. For 99cents. Like the kind that your grandmother would wear. Or, dare I say it, the cleaning help.
These are my gloves:
They kind of look like dead chickens and if you have been following along, you will already be aware of the fact that I very anti raw chicken.
Josh was kind of cute about it too. He wrapped them up in the Shoprite bag they came in and hid them behind his back and announced that he bought a surprise for me. I have to admit, I was kind of hoping for a peppermint patty, but these were a nice, if distant, second. I choose to believe that he bought these gloves out of a true concern for my right index finger and not because I have been complaining about my hands and begging him to wash the dishes for awhile now.
At first I didn't like them, they felt funny, they smelled funny, they made me feel like an old lady. But now, a week later, I am loving them. My hands stay dry, I don't make any new hangnails when I scrub a pot, and my moisturizer is working again.
However, (and there is always a however), there were several remaining issues with the gloves. The first is that the gloves just bothered me from an aesthetic point of view. They are just so yellow and well, ugly. The second problem - which while more of a practical issue than one of looks - I believe is just as pressing. There is no where to put the gloves to let them dry. I have been hanging them over the faucet but one, they looked awful there and two, if anyone as so much looks at the sink, they fall off of the faucet and into the sink, making them all wet again. So what to do?
The obvious answer is to get some cleaning help, but since that ain't happening, we will have to solve both of these problems with the next best thing - one swift swipe of the hot glue gun. How, you ask? All it took was a quick trip to the ribbon bin!
Don't have one? Don't feel bad, you too can have a ribbon bin. It's really just ribbon from the dollar bin at Michael's in an old tupperware. See? Nothing to it.
I found some leftover black and white ribbon, the only color combination I had that I found the least offensive when held up to the extremely yellow gloves. I measured the ribbon against the wrist of the gloves and cut two equal lengths of ribbon, allowing for a little extra ribbon in the likely case that I measured wrong. I then hot glued the ribbon around the perimeter of the glove's opening, slightly overlapping the ends - being sure to have the two ends of the ribbon meet on the glove at the center part of your wrist, when your palm is facing down. Make sense? No? Here, I'll show you.
Then I cut two more lengths of ribbon and tied two bows, hot gluing the inside center of the bow so that the bow wouldn't come undone. Once those have dried, hot glue the ribbons onto the ribbon that is already on the gloves, making sure to cover the part where the ribbon overlapped.
Now you not only have pretty(er) yellow gloves, but you have a loop, courtesy of the bow, to hang your gloves.
But I still maintain that some cleaning help would be more fun. Sigh.
I will now share a lesson we learned this week that I can see coming in handy again and possibly even again. Maybe it will help you too.
So there you are, minding your own business and putting away groceries or maybe cooking dinner, when you shift a bottle of oil over. Maybe it was in the pantry, maybe it was in the cabinet under the sink. Or maybe it was put somewhere it shouldn't have been by one of your children because there have been one too many snows days already. Who knows? I'm not here to judge. I'm just here to inform. But the bottle of oil tips over and you freeze, horrified and fascinated all at once as the oil slowly covers first one kitchen floor tile, then another and another and well, there are just so many thoughts running through your head -
Was the oil really uncovered?
Was I the last one to use it?
How am I going to finish baking with no oil left?
It's only been three seconds, how can so much oil be on the floor?
How the heck are we (and by we, I mean Josh) going to clean this up!?
How, indeed? All excellent questions. And while I cannot answer the first four questions, I can tell you how Josh is going to clean this up. And how do I know, you ask? I'll tell you. We did what we always do when we have no idea what to do. To quote my mom, "To the internet!". And so we googled and learned. Corn Starch. Who knew?
Just sprinkle, or dump, a bunch of corn starch over the oil spill. Walk away for a few minutes - and now, by the way, would be a good time to close the gates to the kitchen so the children do not stroll into the kitchen and go flying, only to land on their tushes. Not that anyone here has ever had that happen to them with oil. Chocolate milk, yes. Oil, no.
But I digress. Wait a while and magic will happen. The corn starch will soak up all the oil. Then just spray the floor with Fantastik or some other cleaning agent - perhaps something natural, like vinegar - and wipe up with a paper towel.
Good as new. Good job Josh.
In retrosepct, I probably should have saved these for tomorrow, which is likely to be yet another snow day, but truth is, I'll just have to find something else exciting for tomorrow. We needed these today. Or rather, my four year old did.
He really really didn't feel like going to school this morning, for no real reason whatsoever. So I bribed him. He left to school, still upset, but surrounded by promises of treats when he came home. At one point this morning, he turned, looked at me with horror and said, "How are you going to make cupcakes? You stay in the car and wait for me all day, right?" Um, yes. I can make cupcakes in the car. Mommies know how to make magic cupcakes.
So here's what we did - in my real kitchen, not in my pretend car kitchen.
1 box of chocolate pudding mix
1 box of yellow cake mix
1 and 1/3 cups of water
1/3 cup of oil
Mix all. Pour into cupcake pan; makes about 20 cupcakes. Fill each cupcake 3/4 of the way full. Top each with two chocolate chips. Bake at 350 for 18 minutes. Cool. Wait for the boys to come home, listen to two year old ask for just one more cupcake many many times before the boys come home, and eat.