Monthly Archives: March 2011

Fool your Family with Easy April Fools Day Pranks

Though we all love a good laugh year-round, April Fools Day offers some great opportunities to crank up the pranks. Here are a few simple pranks that are great for all ages and use simple kitchen ingredients.

Why do we even celebrate April Fools Day?

Even though the Julian calendar, which we use, was adopted in 46 B.C., many Europeans were resistant to the change — really resistant, as it turns out. For centuries, their New Year coincided with Easter and other Spring celebrations. In the 1560s, France’s King Charles IX finally decreed that the New Year should officially begin on January 1, and Pope Gregory in Rome followed a full 18 years later. It is said that the Europeans who hadn’t gotten the memo on the date change continued to celebrate New Year’s in April, thus they were considered fools, and the source of our modern day pranks.

In France, the fools got paper fish hooked to their backs. These are vintage “Poisson d’Avril” (April Fish) postcards:

Other theories hold that April Fools Day arose from the Spring renewal festivals that have long been held throughout the world. These have wonderful names and customs – Hilaria in Rome; Holi, the festival of color in India; Hock-Tyed, a randy event in Great Britain.

The Museum of Hoaxes site has more information about April Fools Day in history and literature. The infoplease site casts some doubt on the calendar theory and posits another, from Boston University History Professor Joseph Boskin, who explained that a group of court jesters told the Roman emperor Constantine that they could do a better job of running the empire, so he let a jester named Kugel be king for one day. “It was a very serious day,” Boskin said, and his story was run by the news media in 1983.

There was one glitch: Boskin himself had made the story up — in great April Fools Day tradition.

Fun and Easy Food Pranks

So, what are some fun and easy April Fools Day pranks that you can pull on your family? I’ve often used mealtimes to turn the tables and have some fun with food pranks, many of which will be a treat to eat even after the joke’s over. All of these are quick and easy to pull off, with ingredients available at most grocery stores.

Fishy Fish Sticks

What you’ll need:

Log-shaped candy bars such as Twix, Mounds, or Kit Kat, or wafer cookies
Shreded or toasted coconut, or crushed graham crackers
Peanut or other nut butter or corn syrup

How to do it:

If you are using shredded coconut, toast the coconut by placing the shredded pieces on a baking sheet and baking at 350 degrees for 2-4 minutes, or until it is light brown with some white shreds remaining. Allow the coconut to cool and then spread it, or the graham cracker crumbs, atop a sheet of wax paper. Roll the candy or cookies in the peanut butter or corn syrup until they are lightly coated, and then roll the coated candy/cookies in the coconut/cracker crumbs. (Note that some candy bars may have to be cut to more closely resemble the shape of a fish stick.)

Sweet Potatoes

What you’ll need:

Vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt
Butterscotch or caramel sauce

How to do it:

Place a scoop of ice cream or frozen yogurt on a plate. Top with butterscotch or caramel sauce. Let the sauce drip down to resemble gravy.

Different Dog

What you’ll need:

A banana
A hot dog bun
Peanut butter
Vanilla yogurt
Red and yellow food coloring

How to do it:

Place the banana into the hot dog bun. Mix drops of red food coloring into a couple of spoonfuls of peanut butter until the color of the peanut butter resembles ketchup. Mix drops of yellow food coloring into a couple of spoonfuls of yogurt until the color of the yogurt resembles mustard. Generously spread the “condiments” over the banana to make the hot dog.

Not So Fried Egg

What you’ll need:

Lemon or vanilla pudding or yogurt, or a canned peach half
Marshmallow sauce (used for sundaes)
Piece of toast (optional)

How to do it:

Spoon a generous amount of marshmallow sauce on a plate or a piece of toast. It will spread. Finesse it with a spoon into an egg-white shape. Place a small, neat spoonful of pudding or yogurt, or the canned peach half on top of it so that the whole resembles a fried egg.

Smile and Say “Grilled Cheese”

What you’ll need:

A pound cake
Buttercream or white frosting
Red and yellow food coloring

How to do it:

Cut the pound cake into slices to resemble bread. Toast them in an oven (on a cookie sheet) or in a toaster oven just until they turn golden brown. Once they’ve cooled a little, stack two slices for each sandwich and cut each stack in half diagonally. Mix drops of the red and yellow food coloring into the frosting, stopping when the frosting appears like American cheese. Carefully spread a generous amount of frosting onto the bottom slice, then gently press the top slice over it. This will make the frosting ooze a bit over the sides of the “bread”, so that the whole resembles a melted cheese sandwich.

A Stiff Drink

What you’ll need:
A package of flavored gelatin.

How to do it:

Dissolve the gelatin according to box directions. Pour the gelatin into drinking glasses and place a plastic straw in each. Refrigerate the gelatin until firm, then watch when someone tries to drink their “drink”.

A Meaty Dessert

What you’ll need:

A meatloaf recipe
Mashed potatoes
Cake decorators’ icing

How to do it:

Combine the ingredients for the meatloaf recipe. Before baking, divide the mixture into the two round cake pans and pat it flat. Bake as usual, shortening the cooking time to adjust for the thinness of the meat loaves. Prepare the mashed potatoes, adding a little extra milk to them and whipping them until they are fluffy. Once the loaves have cooled a little, place one of them onto a plate and cover it with a thin layer of mashed potatoes. Place the other meatloaf on top of the potato layer, and finish frosting the “cake” with the remaining potatoes, swirling them with a knife to imitate cake frosting. Decorate the top with a fun April Fools’ message.

Backwards Meal

Even if you don’t have time to make or buy special food, you can serve a meal backward, starting with dessert. Or you can have a whole backwards day where meals are concerned. Even a few drops of food coloring can instantly change a bowl or oatmeal or a scoop of mashed potatoes.

Have fun and get silly! Happy April Fools Day.

Photos: Wikimedia, Blogger of the Beach, Susan Sachs Lipman

Photo Friday: Tamalpais Motel at Dusk

I’m not sure quite why I can’t resist lingering over a neon roadside sign at dusk. Nor why I find some to be just a bit forlorn. Perhaps it’s the gulf between the sign’s bright promise — in this case evoking our local mountain, given the Native American Miwok name meaning “coastal mountain” — and the reality of a motel, or a bar, or an eatery that’s seen better times. Or maybe it’s just the time of day, the light, the glory and wonder of neon, and the beckoning of the open road, none of which ever grow old.

Have you seen and photographed something unusual, whimsical, beautiful, or otherwise interesting in your travels? Has anything surprised you or caused you to pause? Or have you simply experienced a small, lovely moment that you wanted to capture? If so, I hope you’ll share with us by leaving a comment with a link to your photo. I look forward to seeing it!

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

You might also like:

Photo Friday: Ghost Sign
Photo Friday: San Francisco Storefront

First of Spring 2011, Larkspur, CA

Woman in electric blue Mary Janes reading a paperback while walking

Bunches of boys on bikes

Cucumber seedlings set out at the market

Small girl with flower-ringed bun being walked to ballet

100 year old pocket park

Metal chairs on front porches

Cupolas, a flag in the breeze

Dinner special on restaurant chalkboard

Old couple walking with canes

Smell of wild onions

Crack of baseball bat on ball

Dappled sunlight

Hope

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Happy Equinox and Supermoon!

Ready for a change of season? The March Equinox will occur on Sunday, March 20th this year, marking the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere and fall in the southern hemisphere. The exact time is 23:21 (or 11:21 p.m.) at Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), which is 4:21 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time, 7:21 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time).

Equinox” means “equal night” in Latin and, twice a year (in March and September), the sun shines directly on the equator, and the length of day and night are nearly equal in all parts of the world.

In addition, the full moon that heralds the Equinox on the night of March 19th will appear especially large and bright, due to its closer-than-usual relation to Earth. This supermoon, or perigee moon, is due to rise in the east and be the biggest in almost 20 years. If you are blessed with clear skies tonight, you will probably want to have a look.

The Farmers Almanac calls the March full moon the Full Worm Moon and notes:  “As the temperature begins to warm and the ground begins to thaw, earthworm casts appear, heralding the return of the robins.”

Northern Native American tribes knew this moon as the Full Crow Moon, when the cawing of crows signaled the end of winter. They also used Full Crust Moon because the snow cover became crusted from thawing by day and freezing at night.

The Dakota Sioux named it the especially poetic Moon When Eyes Are Sore From Bright Snow. The Full Sap Moon, marking the time of tapping maple trees, is a Colonial American variation. More than one other culture calls it the Windy Moon. In Medieval England it was known as the Chaste Moon.

I’ve long been quite entranced with the full moon names and their variations. Of course, they reflect both the need to mark passing time and the way that time was experienced by people who were living close to the land. Lunar time-keeping pre-dated our modern calendars (and some calendars, like the Jewish and Chinese calendars, are still lunar-based.) The Farmer’s Almanac has a good list of Native American full moon names and how each came to be.

Other, even older, cultures have had moon naming traditions, too. This site lists full moon names from Chinese, Celtic, Pacific Island, Native American, Pagan, and other cultures.

Lots of people garden using the phases of the moon. The good news is that there isn’t one best time to plant — Each aspect of planting has an associated moon phase, based on how much moisture is pulled up through the soil by the monthly pull of the moon (much the way the moon influences the tides.)

The time just after the full moon is an especially good time for planting root crops, as the gravitational pull is high (adding more moisture to the soil) and the moonlight is decreasing, contributing energy to the roots. For this reason, the waning moon is also a good time to plant bulbs and transplants.

The Farmer’s Almanac offers a wonderful moon phase calendar for the U.S. that allows you to plug in your location and get the exact time of your local full moon.

Enjoy the new season and the supermoon!

Photos: NASA (Moon), Susan Sachs Lipman

Photo Friday: Signs of Spring

Wherever you look in Amsterdam in late winter, there is something .. well, cute. Picturesque. A harbinger of the Spring season to come. The first tulips appear on corners and in big flower markets, their heads still tightly closed. At the same time tulip bulbs are available for sale for those who still wish to get them into the ground.

And of course there are the bikes — flower- and basket- and sometimes person-bedecked. Whizzing by and parked, sometimes two and three deep, in all weather, on the bridges that rise gently over the lovely canals.

Have you seen and photographed something unusual, whimsical, beautiful, or otherwise interesting in your travels? Has anything surprised you or caused you to pause? Or have you simply experienced a small, lovely moment that you wanted to capture? If so, I hope you’ll share with us by leaving a comment with a link to your photo. I look forward to seeing it!

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

You might also like:

Photo Friday: De Kaaskamer Cheese Shop
Photo Friday: Carnival in Venice
Tulipmania: Parts One and Two
Daffodils: Bunches of Spring Sunshine

Miniature and Whimsical Food for Leprechauns, Fairies and Elves

If you wish to entice a leprechaun this St. Patrick’s Day, you’re going to need some leprechaun-scaled food. The same applies for fairies, elves, gnomes and other small, whimsical creatures. Here are some tantalizing ways to satisfy hungry leprechauns and fairies who have come to tea.

Mini Burgers

You’ll need:

A box of Nilla wafers
A bag of small peppermint patties such as York
Shredded coconut
Green food coloring
Red or yellow “Fruit by the Foot” (frosting can be substituted)
Sesame seeds, optional
Corn syrup, optional
Toothpicks, optional

1. Dissolve a drop of green food coloring into a cup of water.

2. Place about 1/4 cup of shredded coconut into a mixing bowl and pour the food coloring over it. Mix the coconut to coat it with color and then let it sit a few minutes to make sure the color is absorbed. Pat dry with a paper towel. That is the lettuce for your burger.

3. Roll out the “Fruit by the Foot” and cut small squares of red or yellow to represent tomato slices and cheese.

4. If you wish your Nilla wafer “buns” to have sesame seeds on it, place the desired number of wafers on a flat surface, covered with wax paper. Dip a toothpick into the corn syrup and dot the wafers with drops of the syrup. Carefully place a sesame seed on each syrup drop. Let them sit for a couple of minutes to dry.

5. Assemble the “burger” by starting with a wafer for the bottom bun and then adding a peppermint patty, the fruit square(s), the coconut, and, finally, the top bun.

6. Nibble with tiny bites, just like the leprechauns do.

Jell-O Rainbow

You’ll need:

One small package each of gelatins in red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple
Hot water for each package, per package directions
Approx. 2 c. Cool Whip, if you want a white layer between colors
Many small containers or one large flat one (like an 8×8 pan)
Non-stick spray

1. Dissolve Jell-O in boiling water (Do not add cold water). Spray large flat pan or separate bowls (as flat as possible) with non-stick spray.

2. Place each color in a separate bowl or place 2/3 of your first color in the flat pan as a layer. Chill, trying to keep the Jell-O flat.

3. If making one large pan, wait until gelatin is set to add a next layer of color, in rainbow-color order, listed above. Repeat with all colors. If you want white between your color layers, then mix 1/3 c. cool whip into your remaining 1/3 c. Jell-O and add that layer to the previous layer, letting it set before moving on.

4. If making many small pans, once gelatin is set, cut each color into uniform squares or rectangles. Place shapes on platters or plates in rainbow-color order, listed above.

5. If making one large mold, wait until the final layer has set and carefully cut the Jell-O so that it reveals the rainbow through each layer.

This is a great blog post about Jell-O Rainbows.

Other miniature and whimsical food ideas include:

Cucumber-round sandwiches with cream cheese inside

Sandwiches cut in flower or other shapes with cookie cutters

Chicken tahini salad on mini pita rounds

Mini bagels spread with cream cheese and covered with sprinkles

Mini mushroom cupcakes with red frosting tops covered with round white sprinkles

Shamrock mini cupcakes

No-bake mini heart cakes

Animal-cracker “sandwiches” with jam inside

Jell-O butterflies or other shapes using cookie cutters

Juice served in miniature tea cups or plastic mugs, available at craft and hobby stores

You may want to do more than put out food for your leprechaun. If you wish to capture one, here are three leprechaun catchers you can make.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day and Equinox (surely a magical time).

Photos: Saucy Dragonfly, Mark Flickett

Happy Pi Day! Celebrate with Pie

I first learned about Pi Day when my daughter was in Middle School. I wondered where this day had been my whole life. Best celebrated at 1:59 p.m. on March 14 to match the first few digits of the number Pi (and the extent of most people’s memorization, 3.14159), with a pie, of course — savory or dessert version.

Math moment: What is Pi anyway? Ahem — Pi is the number expressing the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. It’s used in engineering, science and statistics and begins with 3.14 and goes on into infinity. It’s also captured a lot of people’s imaginations. The record for Longest Pi Recitation belongs to belongs to Japan’s Hiroyuki Goto, who memorized 42,195 digits. How is that even possible?? A teen holds the North American record.

It seems Pi Day as we know it didn’t catch on until about 20 years ago, when it was begun at the San Francisco Exploratorium. Now it is celebrated around the world.

I’ve gathered a few pies to help you celebrate. It seems like a more fun way to mark the day than memorizing digits. But, to each his or her own!

From the Gourmand Mom comes everything from Pumpkin Coconut Pie to Black Bottom Banana Cream Pie.

This is my own recipe for Classic Apple Pie. You could add a Pi symbol in crust (or cut out a Pi symbol)  to the top of this, or any, pie.

Seeking something savory? This Shitake, Leek and Chicken Sausage Pie comes from Pie Maven.

When I think of Pie Mavens, I think of my friend Leah Brooks and her stunning and sometimes unexpected fruit pies, like apple with thyme or double lemon blueberry, or her chocolate cream, pumpkin, lattice-topped cherry, or perfect pecan pies!

This one from Serious Eats may take the, uh, cake. It is made in the shape of the pi sign!

Enjoy your Pi Day!

Photos: Orlando News Center, Serious Eats

Image: allisonweiss.tumblr.com