Category Archives: Butter and Egg

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

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

Photo Friday: De Kaaskamer Cheese Shop

As I’m sure many of you know, my family loves cheese, enthusiastically and nearly unconditionally. So it was that I flagged De Kaaskamer Cheese Shop in our guidebook on our recent trip to Amsterdam. It turned out I didn’t have to. As if by homing device, we managed to sniff out this haven of cheese (the name translates to “Cheese Chamber”) and spontaneously beeline to it almost the minute our luggage hit the floor of the hotel.

We adored much about Amsterdam, as we wandered its pretty streets and canals, admiring antiquarian books and handmade shoes, art, music, beer, and the citizens of Amsterdam themselves, most of whom seemed to roll upright and speedily on two wheels apiece, in all weather and clothing, carrying paintings, floor lamps, babies, friends, and yes, food.

In De Kaaskamer, we sampled Goudas of various ages and a delicious crunchy Beemster, which is very similar to the Saenkanter cheese that is a family favorite. The clerk told us that Gouda simply designates the “wheel” shape of the cheese, rather than a type. Gouda cheese originated from the Gouda region of the Netherlands, but apparently the name is not protected by terroir (place), and all kinds of cheeses can be referred to as Goudas. We satisfied ourselves with visions of pastoral Dutch farmland, portable cubes of wonderful 3-year Gouda, and a large baguette, and took to the Amsterdam streets.


Bonus pic: Willig Cheese Shop at Night or One Can Long

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: Carnival in Venice
Cheese of the Week: Mossfield Farm Organic Gouda
Cheese of the Week: Hirtenkase
Rogue Creamery: Noordhollander Gouda and More

Happy New Year: Celebrate with Traditions from Around the World and at Home

In Denmark, the New Year may be marked by breaking dishes on friends’ doorways. In Swaziland, tradition has it that people celebrate a long harvest season and bring their king back into the community from a brief seclusion.

Japanese families may celebrate the New Year for two weeks of “firsts” including “first writing”, in which family members inscribe favorite poems or sayings with fresh ink. In the Philippines, wearing polka dots and eating round fruit is said to attract prosperity and luck.

Traditional Hmong people, pictured above, thoroughly clean their houses and place the dirt outside near a loop of rope that has been tied to a tree. Children jump in an out of a loop to confuse the dirt spirits. The Dutch, pictured below, make doughnuts, called oliebols, which are only eaten at the New Year, have great firework shows, and often celebrate the day as many seaside dwellers do, by running into the sometimes freezing water — here, with the New Years Dive. at Scheveningen, in Amsterdam.

All over the world, people celebrate the New Year — often at the turning of the Julian calendar on January 1, but sometimes not — and do so with a wide variety of traditions, celebrations and rituals.

This is a wonderful list of  New Years celebrations from around the world. Many traditions have to do with driving away evil spirits and ringing in the new.

The New Year used to coincide with Spring (which makes sense in agrarian societies and perhaps even today), until Julius Caesar’s Julian calendar was created in 46 B.C. and declared the New Year to begin January 1. Many Europeans held firm to their Spring celebrations all the way until the 1560s, when France’s King Charles IX finally decreed that the year should officially begin on January 1. It still took Pope Gregory in Rome a full 18 years to follow suit, and some Europeans even longer. Those who continued to celebrate the New Year in April were considered fools — yes, April Fools.

More New Year Traditions

Do you make resolutions? Irresistible to those of us who like an occasional “fresh start”, New Years resolutions are said to go back 4,000 years, all the way to ancient Babylonia. Because the New Year occurred at the Vernal Equinox, many Babylonians resolved to make good on their word and return borrowed farm equipment, so their neighbors could begin the new year of farming.

How about Auld Lang Syne? If you sing Auld Lang Syne on New Year’s Eve, you’re like much of the English-speaking world, who brings out this maudlin Scottish tune each new year at the stroke of midnight. “Auld Lang Syne” means “old long ago” or the “good old days”. The song as we know it was penned in the 1700s from an older traditional tune.


Then, there’s the New Years Baby. This symbolism is said to go back to ancient Greece, where parading a baby in a basket represented the rebirth of Dionysus, the God of Wine and symbol of fertility.

From ancient times, the New Year has been an occasion for contemplation and celebration. Happy and Healthy New Year to you and yours. Please let me know if you wear polka dots, break dishes, run into the ocean, or enjoy another or your own New Year tradition.

Images: PTD Phonsavan, Lybil BER, J.C. Leyendecker, Michael Lipman

You may also like: Toast the New Year with Inexpensive and Tasty Sparkling Wines.

Three Great Christmas Cookies

Heading somewhere for the holidays and in need of a dessert or hostess gift? Or simply haven’t gotten your fill of your holiday baking? These three relatively simple, festive and classic holiday cookie recipes should help you in either case.

Spritz Cookies

I grew up making Spritz cookies every holiday season. A certain whiff from an electric beater takes me right back to childhood winters.

Spritz cookies are made by pressing the soft dough through a cookie press and through various plates with interchangeable shapes. I love the efficiency and fun of pressing out lots of little cookies. Once pressed onto a cookie sheet, you can decorate them with the sprinkles of your choice. I think one of the keys to good Spritz cookies is: Be sure your recipe includes almond flavoring (or add 1/2 tsp. per 4-5 cups of dry ingredients, or half as much as your vanilla flavoring). The other is: Have fun decorating. This can be a very festive and delicious cookie. If you do color the cookies (which I recommend!) you might want to try professional paste frosting colors, which, with a little patience, produce a nice deep color. (You can get a box of 8 small color jars from ChefMaster, available at specialty baking stores, for around $7).

It also takes a little practice to learn to press the right amount of dough out per cookie. (Most presses have adjustable settings.) The good news is you can just scoop dough that didn’t work out back into the press and try again.

This site, from Wilton, offers the classic Spritz recipe, plus links for buying a cookie press. I recommend the reasonably priced Cookie Max.

Butterballs

You may know them as Mexican Wedding Balls, or Russian Tea Cookies. Butterballs are mine (and a lot of people’s) favorite cookie — They’re tasty, melt-in-your-mouth buttery, sugar-coated, and just all-around great, any time of year. I find the ones in The Silver Palate Cookbook to be the best of the best, perhaps because they’re largely sweetened with honey, which provides a great taste and crunch.

Here is a copy of the recipe, from The Silver Palate Cookbook.

Sugarplums


One more from the Silver Palate team — This one is in The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook: Sugarplums. Mythical, festive, evocative Sugarplums. (Blame it on The Nutcracker and The Night Before Christmas.) They are certainly as much fun to pop into one’s mouth as they are to contemplate. The original recipe calls for corn syrup and cognac. I substituted agave syrup, a mild and more natural sweetener for half the corn syrup, and all of the cognac (using a little under 1/3 c. for the cognac portion.) And I did away with the cherry on top, the better to enjoy the pure, undiluted Sugarplum experience.

Here’s hoping you have a warm and yummy holiday!


Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Downplay Gift-Giving and Bring up Ritual, Meaning and Fun

I am thrilled to have Amy at Frugal Mama here today with a guest post. I always get tons of practical and inspirational tips from her lovely blog and am honored that she wanted to write something for Slow Family:

“I think the best way to de-commercialize Christmas and other holidays with kids is to have lots of non-gifting traditions,” says Nancy Shohet West, Boston-area essayist, friend and author of the newly-released The Mother-Son Running Streak Club, a memoir about bonding with her son by running a mile with him every day for a year.

I like the way Nancy thinks about giving presents:  as just one of many holiday traditions.  (Clearly dedicated to routine, given she is now on day 1,215 of her daily running streak, I consulted Nancy when I took on writing this article for Suz and Slow Family Online.)

It’s Not that Gifts are Bad…

I’m not saying we should completely give up presents.  But too many can empty our savings, clutter our homes, and pile landfills with more junk. I knew things had gotten excessive in our family when we had to take a lunch break from Christmas present-unwrapping.  Now we have a one-gift-per-person rule.

This year we plan to revive the stockings, but instead of tiny wrapped do-dads, we’ll fill them with exchanged notes for everyone that begin with phrases like “I love how you…” and “I remember when you…”

But I still sometimes worry that fewer presents will be disappointing.

Make Those Traditions Constant and Pleasing

Holiday rituals — as keepers of our values and pleasures — have the power to replace the joy of giving and receiving gifts. As Nancy describes in her blog post A Month of Holiday Festivities, special activities fill all of December:

  • the town tree-lighting
  • a school holiday concert
  • a cookie exchange
  • buying a Christmas tree
  • decorating the house
  • throwing a party
  • making candy (truffles, peanut brittle, white-chocolate candy cane bark, toffee, and peanut-butter buckeyes)
  • a church pageant, evergreens sale, and children’s service
  • an annual holiday photo shoot and
  • composing the family’s customary 12-stanza poem

Breaking with Tradition:  Does This Happen to You Too?

Not everyone is as naturally inclined toward ritual as Nancy, however, and some of us face significant obstacles.

Since having our first daughter who is now eight, we have lived in five different places. (My husband’s medical training keeps us moving.)

Plus, we celebrate Christmas in different places each year:  at my parents’ Ohio farm, in my husband’s native Milan, or wherever we are living at the time. I’m sure people with blended families have an even more complicated geographical itinerary.

Traditions change even at my parents’ country house, which has been in the family since 1868.  Some of my favorite memories used to be singing carols around the fire on Christmas Eve while my uncle played guitar, eating tins of caramel clusters that family friends would send us every year, and taking a tractor ride up to the woods where we’d cut down a Christmas tree, roast hot dogs and make s’mores.

But my parents don’t own that little piece of woods anymore, my uncle doesn’t come these days (he has grandchildren of his own), and those family friends sold their popcorn company.

Then there’s the issue that I’m sure many mothers of young children face:  even if it’s possible to continue the same childhood traditions, do you want to?  Or do you adopt new ones?  If so, which ones?

Finally, piling on more have-to’s onto our loaded holiday plates can risk overwhelming us, instead of delighting us.  (If you have the feeling you need to pare down, Nancy recommends asking your children which traditions mean the most to them.)

So, creating a spectrum of rituals that your family looks forward to every year is not simple, but I think it’s worth working towards.  Especially for the power of tradition to take the pressure off material things.

Holiday Rituals that Captivate

Here are some activity ideas, besides the ones already mentioned, that could populate your holidays.  Presents or no presents, your family will remember this time as one of warmth and magic.

  • Make a gingerbread house (Suz has great suggestions for both hand-made houses and kits, as well as workshops and classes)
  • Attend religious events, such as midnight mass or creche scenes
  • Drive around festive neighborhoods at night or go to a festival of lights (zoos often put these on)
  • Light candles or make a cupcake Menorah
  • Give away toys to the hospital, deliver meals to shut-ins, volunteer at at shelter, or drop off cans at a food bank
  • Read aloud together Twas the Night Before Christmas in holiday pajamas
  • Or read books about the history of Santa Claus and how Christmas Chanukah, Kwanzaa or Winter Solstice is celebrated around the world
  • Make hand-crafted gifts and cards
  • Go sledding, skiiing, tubing, or ice-skating
  • Eat food you only make at this time of year, such as eggnog, roasted chestnuts, rugelach, mulled cider, cut-out sugar cookies, mincemeat, kugel, gingersnaps, peppermint bark, or potato latkes
  • See the Nutcracker, or stay home and play board games
  • Go to the botanical garden for a toy train exhibit, or downtown for a horse and buggy ride
  • Set cookies out for Santa, or deliver plates of goodies to neighbors
  • Every Friday night, watch a classic holiday movie like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or How The Grinch Stole Christmas
  • Invite an international student over for a holiday meal
  • Take a train ride to a festive old-fashioned town
  • Send care packages to friends or family who need a boost
  • Make snowflakes (create your own or try these beautiful snowflake patterns) and use them as decorations, gifts or ornaments
  • Don’t celebrate Christmas?  Make a tradition of going out for Chinese food and the movies on Christmas day.

Boost Your Chances of Success

Don’t worry if you miss one year of a time-honored ritual (or one you wanted to become time-honored).  Nancy was torn about missing her favorite holiday concert last year, but it made her more appreciative when she was able to go again this time.

I think the rituals we are most likely to stick with are the ones that we have strong beliefs about (like fostering a love of nature) or that we get great pleasure from (cookies we think are delicious, not just “what grandma made”).

If some traditions involve more values than pleasure (like visiting Uncle Eggbert for a piece of fruitcake); or the pleasure involves pain (like stringing lights over that stickery bush), follow them with something that’s pure enjoyment:  staying up late watching The Sound of Music, or eating fondue by a blazing fire.
Remember the procrastination-prone thank you notes?  Nancy creates a ritual out of that too, making it fun by taking her kids to a local coffee house, where they get to drink hot chocolate with whipped cream while writing to grandma.


What holiday rituals does your family look forward to year after year?

Amy Suardi loves finding the silver lining to living on less.  Subscribe to her blog Frugal Mama to get free bi-weekly ideas on saving money and making life better.

Stories and photos by Amy Suardi/Frugal Mama