I’m up to my eyeballs in birthday preparations. And we have a big church party tonight as well. In other words, I’m raw-ther busy. But here’s something for you to think about: one of my very favorite foods ever.
You probably have heard of Biscoff. It tastes like cookies but is smooth like nutella. It’s really fantastic even though it sounds pretty weird. There is also Biscoff Crunchy. Just when you thought Biscoff couldn’t get better! There are thousands of tiny bits of cookie mixed in. It’s like regular Biscoff is the Terrestrial Kingdom and Crunchy is the Celestial. You can and should buy it at World Market.
Theoretically you can put this on toast and bread or whatever. But I eat it straight out of the jar with a spoon. I’m what you might call a purist.
The first year I had a child in preschool I committed all sorts of faux pas (hey, pick up and drop off can be tricky!) There are sorts of opportunities to screw things up especially around holidays. I didn’t even think to ask my friends with older children for advice! But let Mother Jennie help you out a little. Here are some Valentine’s suggestions that I’ve found to be true in the six schools we’ve attended in three states.
Even in preschool you can’t show up with just a card (unless that is your school’s rule). Some kids do, of course, but they’re probably first-timers or they live with their dad. You have to include some candy or a pencil too (I’m not making the rules, just reporting them!) If you only have one child or this is your first-born the temptation might be to go overboard and give an entire goodie bag of plastic crap from Oriental Trading. Please spare us. Don’t get carried away; it’s tacky and smacks of desperation (“pleeeease be Jaden’s friend!”). Bonus points if you can come up with some sort of cheesy pun that ties the valentine and treat together.
Back in the good ol’ days my kids went to a private school that forbade candy or goodies with Valentines. While that was a charming and very welcome idea, they got us back by strongly suggested we make homemade valentines. You know what a pain that was? Trying to get your kindergartner to stay on task long enough to make twenty-something cards? It took days! Now I come up with a valentine that mostly I create and they can do an easy part of: gluing things together or sprinkling glitter. It doesn’t seem as totalitarian that way. Please don’t leave it up to your child. This isn’t the Science Fair; it’s not cheating of you do it. You need it to be cute but not obnoxiously so. And now with blogs and Pinterest and that old standby Family Fun magazine there are a jillion good ideas out there. Yes, you can get those gross boxed Valentines sets but yuck! (I’ve bought those some years when I’ve had a new baby and can’t get my shiz together). And just say no to anything commercial like Transformers or Sponge Bob.
Probably the worst first-timer gaffe that parents of preschoolers and kindergardeners make is to address valentines. Do not expect illiterate people to be able to hand cards out to the proper recipients! You will spend twenty minutes dragging your child from desk to desk madly flipping through a big stack of valentines trying to get them in the correct “mailbox”. This doesn’t sound like a big deal but I swear you will want to kill yourself by the time you’re done. Little Gracie will be much too distracted by the “decorate your own cookie” station and Valentine Bingo to care about giving cards to the right people. Just have your child sign each card (or you can sign it if they’re really young or not quite good at writing yet). If it really weirds you out having an empty “to: ” space, just write “to: my friend”. That way it doesn’t matter who gets each card. So much simpler.
This year I have three kids in elementary school (about 70 valentines for all three classes) so I wanted to do a small (AKA cheap) valentine that works for girls and boys. I went with matchboxes (cute and interesting enough that large amounts of candy aren’t necessary). Matchboxes are less than a dollar for a pack of ten (and the fact that I get to keep all the matches is a big bonus to a preparedness freak like me). The kids decided on a theme of “frogs”; nice and gender-neutral. I spent a couple of hours finding some cute frog designs online (I got everything at Letteringdelights.com) and designing wrappers for the matchboxes. I gave the kids gluesticks and they went to town. Pretty easy. This is what we ended up with:
The appeal of Halloween is easy to see. It revolves around one of the most magical themes of childhood: free candy. I had a slavish, almost pathological devotion to sweets growing up. It drove me insane, INSANE, to watch my sister parcel out her Halloween candy stash. She would eat one piece per day to make it last longer. Last longer??? What kind of craziness is that? Eating yourself into a sugar coma is what it’s all about.
My mother didn’t like the idea of dragging out the sugar-fest either. All she saw, though, were fillings and dental bills. So her bright idea for a couple of years was to make us eat all our candy within a 24-hour period. Anything left over was confiscated. I can’t describe the envy in my classmates eyes when I would open my lunchbox on November 1st to find it packed solid with candy (and a thermos of milk to make it nutritious!) “Oh yeah,” I would say with a toss of my hair, “my mom always gives me candy for lunch.”
I still have that crazy blood-lust for chocolate that starts up around Oct. 25 and goes strong through the New Year. I fondle our bowlful of Halloween candy on the entry hall table and I simply can’t resist arranging it in piles according to superiority.
In order from best to worst:
Peanut Butter M&Ms
Mini Peanut Butter Cups (The chocolate-to-peanut butter ratio is better than the large ones.)
100 Grand Bar (this would rate higher if only the caramel were softer. Alas.)
Snickers are distracting, trying to be too many things at once. Baby Ruths are Snicker’s poor country cousins. Special Darks? What do you take me for? A European? And don’t even talk to me about those bottom feeders of the candy world: Tootsie Rolls, Bit O Honey and Double Bubble. Who buys those? Why don’t they just put a sign on their door that says, “I hate kids”?
Dads seem to be the ones who take the kids around the neighborhood on Halloween night. In my family I’m the one who goes from door-to-door. I am the hunter. I especially like taking toddlers. We go early when it’s still light out, meaning neighbor’s supplies are fresh. We might come across some cunning soul who eschews the Costco assortment for something more exotic: gummy eyeballs, Sugar Babies or perhaps even a Symphony bar (snack size? fun size? I’ll take either.)
Yes, costumes are fun. Jack-o-lanterns are a nice tradition. I like the Monster Mash as much as the next person. But let’s get real here; Halloween is nothing without sugar. Nothing.
Photo courtesy of DesignMom
I can’t quite seem to get the Christmas decorations out, but I don’t want to deprive my children of their holiday fun, so we broke out the gingerbread house kits over the weekend. I have too many children to decorate a single house without a war ensuing, so we usually get two gingerbread houses and split the kids up to decorate them (It’s come to my attention that there are families who let each family member decorate their own house. Uh. Yeah. I really have no place to put six gingerbread houses.)
This year Ada and Jasper were both old enough to be involved in the gingerbread mayhem so we decided to have one house for the boys and one house for the girls. I’m a big fan of the Costco kits. Each one features lots of candy, fast-drying icing as well as a bonus tree and two gingerbread men.
In case you were thinking that there are very few differences between the sexes, may I present our two finished gingerbread houses:
Shall we take a closer look at each cottage?
First the girls’: notice the attempt at clothing, the ornaments on the trees, the spearmint jelly shrubs and orderly trim on the house:
Now for the boys’ house, the theme of which appears to be “ICING!” (although several walls were ignored altogether.) The tree seems to have suffered an accidental decapitation (but it’s nothing a glob of royal icing can’t fix), and there are some mysterious holes here and there.
One gingerbread man was eaten. But the remaining one?
Would death by frosting be considered drowning or asphyxiation?
Well, folks, it’s been ten days since I had a Mtn. Dew (or any soda, for that matter). This is quite possibly the longest stretch I’ve ever gone without my high fructose lover (even nursing–I’d just drink them before 3 pm so as not to keep my babies up late. See how thoughtful I am?)
Weirdly, I’m not missing it that much. Mostly because I’ve given up all sugar so I’m much more obsessed with things like candy and ice cream.
I did pass my favorite vending machine yesterday (Randalls grocery store–$1 for a 20 oz. bottle! Bargain!) and was a bit misty-eyed. I’m trying to hold out til Halloween before I have another one. On that day–between the candy and the Mtn. Dew–you can expect a sugar high unparalleled in my 38 years.
Looking forward to it.
Happy Easter from the House of Candy.
I haven’t wanted to say anything about this before, because I thought if I mentioned it I would fall off the wagon (kind of like the boy who cried wolf), but I’ve been off sugar for about four weeks now. If you’ve learned anything about me it’s that sugar is a huge part of my life. As a matter of fact I would call it a part of my actual being. Like sarcasm or humor at inappropriate times. But my weight loss has been at a standstill for quite some time and I have had to face facts: sugar and I are not the best of friends anymore. Nor am I friends with the deep fryer. (Unless things are fried in Olestra. I don’t care what that stuff is, I love it. So what if it give me the runs. That’s a bonus in my book!)
I actually promised God that I would not eat sweets or fried foods until my birthday (This Friday! Mark your calendars!) And I’ve been pretty good. Really good as a matter of fact. I’ve lost at least one pound per week. Even though I fell off the wagon on Saturday at the Round Top Antiques Fair. I mean who could say no to this bit o’ Texas?*
(That’s me with my friend Jay from Utah who was in Texas last week. We met up at the antiques fair and had a rip roaring good time as only mothers who are spending the whole day without children can.)
This is how dedicated I am: I have had $70 worth of Easter candy sitting in my closet for two weeks. I haven’t eaten a single piece. I haven’t even opened a bag and inhaled.
I’m impressing myself tremendoulsy.
*Funnel Cakes make me weak in the knees. But only if they have cinnamon. Powdered sugar is a joke. FYI, the funnel cakes at the Utah State Fair do not come with cinnamon sugar. I may or may not have brought my own ziploc full of it to the fair each year.
I can get lots of cool things here in Austin, but one thing I can’t get is Mast Brothers Chocolate. So I am telling you about something that I’ve never actually eaten. Despite that little detail, I am very in love. These bars had me at hello. Look at these beauties!
I went to the Mast Brothers website to find out if I could buy some online (answer: no), and was intrigued, make that fascinated, by this picture of the brothers on their main page. Doesn’t it make you want to know more? Who are these people making the chocolate?
Despite this picture, they are not Amish. They are 30-something brothers who look pretty normal the rest of the time. They make the chocolate from bean to bar. The brothers buy the beans, roast them and make chocolate from scratch. Utterly fantastic.
Their info page is delightfully vintage. I so love it when people do things that are weird and different in a wonderful way.
This chocolate bar caused me a serious bit of hesitation. My inital thought was:
milk chocolate (yum) + Tikka Masala (also yum) = Ewwww
I thought the Chocolate Bacon Bar was a bit extreme, but candy and Indian food??? Don’t worry your pretty little head, however. All that “masala” means in this case is a warm peppery flavor. If you haven’t tasted spicy and sweet before, you are in for a treat. In most cases the sweet confuses your tongue. Instead of thinking “spicy”, it’s more like a nice warmth at the back of your throat. It adds to the sweetness, like drinking hot cocoa. There’s a touch of spice like cinnamon or cardamom as well.
I quite like this combination, but perhaps I’m a little too avant garde in this respect. A couple of years ago I entered a spicy/sweet combination in the State Fair cookie contest. The recipe was for my great chocolate chip cookies, to which I had added a nice bit of white pepper. I called them Zippy Chippies (cute, no?). I thought they killed†, but the judges felt otherwise. They were my only cookies not to place! Stupid judges.
This candy bar is strictly chocolate (no chunks of anything). It’s lovely and creamy; very high quality. If you happen to come across one of these, I’d recommend trying it. Definitely worth your while.
*Have you noticed that nobody sits “Indian style” anymore. It’s now exclusively “criss-cross-applesauce”. I suppose “Indian style” is not PC. Although I’m not sure which Indians consider this disrespectful; the Americans or the Southern Asians?. I though naming something after someone is a compliment (Chicken à la King, for example. Or Fetticine Alfredo.) But I suppose it’s a big insult. What do I know?
†Scoring at the State Fair is 40% appearance, 30% originality, 15% texture, 15% flavor. So originality is much more important than how the cookies taste. So weird. So even if you show up with the world’s best peanut butter cookies, you’ll lose. They’ve got to have something else going for them.
This week for Chocolate Awareness we’re going to check out this candy bar by Perla Chocolates called No.5 (a.k.a. Milk Chocolate with roasted almonds). Mister brought this one home for me from Whole Foods because he thought I’d like the wrapper and he was right on. Look how gorgeous it is! This is hand-printed letterpress paper. I’m such a sucker for packaging (and darling fonts!)
OK, shut up about the wrapper Jennie! How did it taste? Meh. Nothing great. The chocolate was nice but not anything to write home about. It claims to be milk but it definitely wasn’t as creamy and sweet as I expect milk chocolate to be. The amount of almonds was skimpy and they were in tiny pieces to boot (tiny pieces mean you can barely tell they’re there). I’ve derived more satisfaction from a chocolate-almond Hershey’s kiss. How sad is that?
Here’s the ultimate proof of how lackluster I thought this chocolate bar was: I only ate half and gave the rest to my kids.
Maybe the other Perla bars are better, but I’m not about to waste $6 to find out.