Monday, November 24, 2008

Candy Canes

We’ve moved into high gear with our Christmas preparations. The kids are at the age where projects are fun instead of stressful. Usually. We learned quite a bit from today’s project but I doubt we’ll repeat it. It’s never a good thing to be wishing you were done instead of only at the halfway point. We made candy canes to decorate our Christmas tree. Not the pipe cleaner-done in three minutes kind. We made the boil the sugar- stretch the candy- twist into ropes kind.  Oooooh. 

We used this recipe. Here’s our photographic evidence that I was foolish enough to attempt this with a small herd of kids.

Lauren, Faith and Claire are reading the candy thermometer. This was a good lesson for Claire as she had never used a thermometer that wasn’t digital before.


Once the sugar was ready I added concentrated food paste to one of the batches. This paste is neat stuff. It makes vivid colors. I like to use it when I make playdough. You can find it in the craft section at Wal-Mart in the cake-decorating aisle. I added about 1/8-1/4 teaspoon of red and a smidge of black to make a rich red color.

I poured the sugar mixture onto a couple of cookie sheets and let it cool briefly before beginning to stretch it like taffy. If you are more inspired than overwhelmed by this post be sure to oil the pans and your gloves! This stuff is sticky!


Once the mixture was cool enough to handle, the children helped me stretch it.


It hardens quickly so I ended up putting it in the oven on the lowest setting.


I left the door open and the children used teaspoons to scoop off a portion and then twisted it into a candy cane length rope. They went back to the oven scooped out the other color and twisted a second rope and then twisted the two ropes together and bent it into a candy cane shape.

Our oven took a beating as the children helped themselves. Oh well. The red gook will harden and turn black just like the rest of the ingredients on the oven floor.

Often the candy hardened before the kids were done with the candy cane they were working on. “I feel like swearing…” Faith grumbled in frustration. “…if only I knew any swear words.”

Here is John, the founder and manager of the candy cane hospital. He discovered that he could melt a bit of candy in the microwave and dip the two broken ends into the melted goo and repair the damage.


There were tears a couple of times, never a good thing for a fun family project so we won’t be repeating this one again. On the plus side, the kids put so much effort into constructing these decorations I doubt any of them will be tempted to snitch one off the tree.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Warm Ups

The weather is cool. We've pulled out the candles and the slippers and long johns. My sweats-clad children do their school work wrapped in reading blankets in front of the fireplace. Afternoons are spent raking heaps of leaves and mulching them into bits for a vegetable garden in the spring. Our cheeks are rosy red from the cold but we shed out of our jackets. Raking is hot work.

The children work with enthusiasm. In the long term, they are earning money for Christmas gifts. A sizable amount for each child. We have a forest of leaves to contend with. In the short term, they look forward to a mug of hot apple cider with whipped cream or hot chocolate topped with a large homemade marshmallow. The kids put away the rakes, the tarp, and the push mower while I head inside to prepare our afternoon warmth.

Hot Cocoa
I adapt the cocoa recipe off the side of the Hershey's cocoa canister:

In a saucepan, mix:

1/4 cup sugar (this is half the amount of the original recipe. I like my cocoa on the less sweet side)

1/4 cup cocoa

1/3 cup water

Bring to a boil and boil for two minutes.

Add:

4 cups milk

Heat through but do not boil.

Stir in:

1 teaspoon vanilla

Serve with whipped cream or marshmallows (recipe follows)


I first started making homemade marshmallows a few years ago. They make the best S'mores! They melt into a smooth, tasty, gooey mess. Mmm. I like to stir my hot chocolate a few times and let the heat melt the marshmallow so I get a little taste of the marshmallow in every sip. If you give away homemade hot chocolate mix for the holidays, you might consider adding a plate of these marshmallows as an accompaniment.


Homemade Marshmallows

Pour in mixing bowl (a Kitchen Aid works really well for this recipe. I have not tried it with a hand mixer but I'll bet it's possible) :

1/2 cup of cold water

Sprinkle over water:

3 envelopes of Knox gelatin

Soak for ten minutes.

Combine in saucepan:

2 cups granulated sugar

2/3 cup corn syrup

1/4 cup water

Bring to boil.

Pour boiling syrup into gelatin and mix at high speed.

Add:

1/2 teaspoon salt

Beat for 12 minutes.

Blend in 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Butter a 9x13 inch pan. Lightly oil hands and spatula as well. This is sticky business! Pour the marshmallow mixture into the pan and spread it evenly with a spatula. Cover the pan with saran wrap and let the mixture dry over night. The next day, cut the marshmallows into squares. Store in a covered container.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Playtime

We have boxes full of Stuart's childhood toys. Matchbox cars and antique trains with hardly a scratch on them. He was such a gentle child.

Not me. All my stuff ended up in the trash. When I was a child, I played with my toys like Toy Story Sid. I gave my dolls haircuts (crew cuts, really) and pierced their ears with straight pins. Poor little darlings. I drew on their vinyl faces with pen. Once I put a plastic handpuppet on a lightbulb, just because. It gave off a lovely smoldering smokey smell as he met his doom.

My children have inherited my destructive gene. They build Barbie catapults out of K'nex and fling Island Barbie off the island. There are dents up near the ceiling of the little girls room that attest to this creativity. We have had Barbie crewcuts and amputations at the knee.

You might think there is only one way to play with a puzzle. Put it together. Take it apart. Put it in the box. Nope. Not if it is a puzzle of the map of the earth. There's the problem of tectonic plates, you know.

I think they've created the apocolypse!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Screeming Mice

Stuart brought home an electronic mouse repeller that emits a high pitched noise. Apparently mice do not find this sound pleasant and will not take up residence anywhere near the device. Our cat is a mouse-hunting sissy and so we resort to mouse deterrents of the manmade kind.

Naturally, the children were curious and we explained how it worked. They let this bit of information sink into their brains and take root. At this very moment, four of them are rolling around with their hands over their ears in front of the little electronic speaker squealing in agony over this deadly painful sound that their human ears cannot hear.
However, their squealing is deadly painful to my ears. And it makes me wonder. Is this the kind of creativity that Mary Grace refers to when she worries about the future employability of our children?
(In case any of you are wondering if my spell checker is AWOL...The child who took these photos loaded them onto the computer under the heading Screeming Mice. This shows I have to add scholastic ability as well as work ethic to my worry list.)