The following is a guest post from food and culture expert, and Mamagirl of 2 boys, Heidi von Maur.
We all know that conquering the holidays can be a beast. Whether it is standing on long checkout lines, racking your brain to find the perfect gift for everyone on your list, hauling all the decorations out of the attic or attending all of your children’s school holiday concerts…it’s really a wonder how to maintain mom-sanity through it all. I remember one year feeling ultra organized by buying all of Santa’s gifts to the kids throughout the year at various gift shows and stores. I proudly wrapped, labeled and then stowed them away in a good hiding place. When the time came to put them under the tree, of course I couldn’t remember where my hiding place was. My house is small and yet I turned it upside down without any success of finding those gifts. As organized as I was, I hadn’t even kept a list of what I bought and for whom. So guess what? Little-Miss-Perfectly-Organized-Mamagirl ended up running around the week before Christmas buying senseless and overpriced gifts. What a colossal waste of time and money. I vowed to find a better system on how to combat the holidays in the future.
Fast forward a couple of years. As I was waiting on line about 30 people deep at the post office trying to tune out the whines of my children and all the other children whose moms had also dragged them to mail holiday cards or ship parcels, I realized that this was no fun for them either. Kids don’t want to be dragged around and they don’t want to wait on long lines anymore than the parents do. Legs start to ache, feet hurt and patience really wanes. Where’s the cheer? Where’s the joy? Where’s the merriment? Well I can tell you, it’s not at the post office. That’s when I crafted in my mind the best gift that I would give to my children….Quality Time.
Quality Time can be anything that is special to you and your children. The key to its success is to find an activity that you both enjoy and to engage in it without any interruptions. Clear your schedule for the afternoon. Devote yourself entirely to the Quality Time project. This gift will be more important that anything you could possibly wrap up in a box and stick a bow on.
My Quality Time gift to my children is to spend an afternoon in the kitchen making holiday cookies and it has become a favorite tradition every year. To ensure the success, plan ahead and make sure you have everything you need.
Start off with a foolproof recipe. I’ve tried and tested many sugar cookie recipes and this one is the best http://www.kitchengifts.com/nofailsugarcookies.html. Make sure to read through the recipe and have all the ingredients on hand. I stumbled upon this recipe one year when I was buying cookie cutters on line. This website has virtually every shape and size of cookie cutter that you could ever want http://kitchengifts.com/ . Of course, you can also find great cookie cutters at any gourmet kitchen supply store and Michael’s http://www.michaels.com/ has a great baking section as well.
Next, you will need to have various supplies on hand to make the cookies. Some you may already have, some you may need to purchase.
- Cookie sheets
- Cookie cooling racks
- Parchment paper
- Cookie cutters, various shapes and sizes
- Wooden rolling pin
- Disposable sponge craft brushes for painting the icing
- Various sprinkles, glitter and icing dyes
- Plastic spoons for mixing
- Plastic containers for mixing icing colors in (think Chinese takeout containers)
Next thing to do is queue up your children’s favorite playlist and blast some tunes in the kitchen. Now you’re ready to bake! Don’t be afraid or intimidated and think you can’t do it. As my mother always said, “if you can read, you can cook”. Let your kids participate as much or as little in the project that they want. Don’t feel that they are too young for any step of the recipe. If they want to crack the eggs into the batter and you feel they will break the shells, just surrender your control and let them crack the eggs (besides, nobody will care if there is a little crunch in the cookie should some shell fall in). Let them measure the dry ingredients into the bowl. Let them lick the spatula. If they don’t want to roll out the dough, let them take a break and sit on the counter watching while you roll it out. We usually like to cut out about 4-5 different shapes. Kids love to cut the dough but moms might need to transfer the floppy pieces of dough to the cookie sheets for baking (HINT: keep unused dough that you are not rolling out in the refrigerator so that it is firm enough to cut shapes out of). Soon, you will see this is not just a baking session. There is some down time in the project, for example when the batches are cooking in the oven or cooling on a rack. You will soon see that in that downtime, miraculous things will happen. Your kids will start to open up. Normally, when you ask them how school is, they say “fine”. During Quality Time, they start to become polysyllabic and might even give you a soliloquy on what’s going on in the lunchroom or playground. This year, my kids taught me the Gangnam Style dance in the kitchen. Hey, Sexy Lady!
Once all the cookies have been baked and cooled on the racks, it’s time to decorate. Whip up a batch of royal icing http://www.kitchengifts.com/royalicing.html I always use the Royal Icing from Sugarbakers on this link. Meringue powder is actually an important ingredient in the recipe – it stabilizes the icing so don’t feel that you can skip it since it probably won’t be in your pantry. You can buy it at most cake supply or gourmet food supply stores. You will need to experiment with the thickness of the icing. You can always thin it out with more water or thicken it with more confectionary sugar, so don’t worry – you can always correct it if need be. It should be slightly thicker than the consistency of Elmer’s glue. Once you’ve made the batch of royal icing, divide it up into various plastic containers and add dye to make your desired decorating colors. Then, start to paint! Depending on the humidity conditions of your kitchen, the icing will dry quickly, so if you’d like to add sprinkles or edible glitter, now is the time to do it while the icing is still wet. Kids LOVE the decorating part of this project. Let them do whatever they want. If they want to make their Christmas trees orange, just let them do it.
I imagine you will think that this project is messy (it is) and time consuming (it is). But that’s what this Quality Time gift is all about. Spending time – a lot of time – with your kids and having fun. Don’t worry about the mess – you can always clean it up later. Your kitchen will be filled with giggles, happiness, the sweet smell of homemade baking, a special bonding between you and your kids and the creation of memories. All kids really want is their parent’s undivided attention and time. Make time for it. It’s worth it. And by the way, I finally did find all of those hidden gifts….two years later.