Thursday, February 20, 2014

Mama Mia, Here We Go Again

It's official: my children have passed the stage where they want to give their classmates Valentine cards. Valentine cards are "lame" and "boring" and also, they don't want to give cards to people who aren't particular friends. Gone are the days when one could feel popular based on the number of cards in our construction paper mailboxes; these are the days when we either give to everyone, or give to no one. My children have chosen the "no one" option.
But that doesn't mean they want to be merely Takers in the classroom. They do want to be Givers, just not Lame-o Card Givers, apparently. What they chose to do, this year, is to send in cookies for their classmates to enjoy during the class parties. Cookies, in their humble opinions, are far superior to cards.
And so it was that I found myself making eighty-four sugar cookies in the shape of hearts. I packed off thirty-five for each class - making sure the teachers and aides could enjoy as well - and kept a few at home for the boys to gorge on. When I went to pick up the boys from school, a number of third-and-fourth graders came running up to me on the playground, to inform me that I am, officially, the "World's Best Baker".
Well. I feel I might just get myself a t-shirt with that emblazoned on the front.
The truth is, though, that I owe this title to my mother. This is her recipe for sugar cookies, and when I was a child my friends would all clamour for more of her cookies. She would bake them for every occasion and now I do too: heart shapes for Valentine's, ghosts, pumpkins and black cats for Halloween, bunnies for Easter, trees and snowmen for Christmas, stars for birthdays. My kids' friends gobble them down with admiration, just like my friends did for my mom. It's sweet.

Mom's Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies

1 1/2 cup butter, softened
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla
3 eggs
4 1/2 cups flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon salt

Cream together butter, sugar, and vanilla. Add eggs and beat together. Mix in dry ingredients. Divide dough into three balls, cover with plastic wrap and a) chill overnight, or b) freeze for later consumption.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees and line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Roll dough out to 1/4 inch thickness; cut into shapes. Bake for 8-9 minutes for a perfectly soft, chewy cookie. Cookies should be slightly browned around the edges.

Perfect Buttercream Frosting:

1/2 cup very soft butter
4 cups icing sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
2-3 tablespoons milk

Beat butter with icing sugar, adding the sugar very slowly by 1/2 cup increments. Add vanilla and milk by tablespoon until desired consistency is reached. Add food colouring if desired.

Makes about 7 dozen cookies, depending on the size of your cookie cutters. Size does matter and don't let anyone tell you different.

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Lovely Lunch

It's Valentine's Day! Which, at this point in my life, who really cares right? Don't get me wrong: I am grateful to have found someone to love who is a fantastic partner and father, but it still feels like a manufactured holiday. This is good for said partner. It means my expectations are non-existent. That lucky, lucky guy.

I remember in high school, during the lead-up to every Valentine's Day students could order carnations of different colours (red for love, yellow for friendship, some other colour for a crush) and have them delivered to a person's homeroom. My self-esteem is still slightly bruised from the experience of sitting there for 5 years and never receiving a red carnation. Or even the crush colour. I got yellow from my friends once, I think. I was a late bloomer. It happens.

But my sad, pubescent love life is not really relevant on this lunch blog. The reason I bring it up is that I find kids and, yes, that includes teenagers, put a lot of stake in Valentine's Day. My youngest went off to school this morning, dressed in fetching shades of pink, her Valentine cards in her backpack with Hershey Kisses carefully taped on top.

My middle-schooler dressed and did her hair extra carefully in anticipation of attending a Much Music dance party at her school today.

And my high-schooler...I frankly have no idea what's going on there. He's 14 and male so communication is not his strong suit right now. There could be carnations, and a tender, bruised ego, but I will never know unless it makes it on to Facebook. That is reality.

Because kids are kids and they like to celebrate every "holiday", I have always made an effort to include something special in their lunch bags on Valentine's Day. In past years, I have cut heart shapes out of sugar cookie dough and lovingly decorated them. I have baked decadent brownies, also cutting them into heart shapes. I even have a giant heart-shaped cookie pan that I usually crack out at this time of year to make a really large chocolate chip cookie and then decorate with appropriately gushy decorations.

Guess what I did this year? Threw a few leftover Hershey's Kisses in each of their lunch bags and called it a day.

I don't think I ever appreciated how much extra time working from  home afforded me to do the little extras. In between writing projects I could easily whip up a batch of brownies, it was no biggie. Now that I'm working a traditional work day in an office, and trying to run kids to activities, get errands done and everything else in the evenings, time is a scarce commodity. Last night when I got home at 9 p.m., I did bake red velvet cupcakes, but they are for dinner with friends tonight. The kids are under strict orders to NOT TOUCH THE CUPCAKES. At least until after dinner tonight. And those cupcakes that I made? They were from a box.

I actually have a red velvet cupcake recipe that I love, but I just did not have the will (or the red paste food colouring) to make it happen. It's fine. These days I do what I can and the kids are fine. They know that love doesn't hinge on home baking. So today they will open their lunches to Hershey's Kisses and, whether the day is leaving them feeling blessed or bruised, I know that they will be happy for the surprise.

Friday, February 7, 2014

technical difficulties - please stand by

Sadly, a broken laptop has cut our intrepid Beck off at the knees. I can only assume she's holed up in the wilds of Northern Ontario, twisting hay to keep warm and cursing her phone's unsuitability as a blogging platform.

Regular posting will resume next Thursday, February 13th.

In the meantime, here are two videos of handsome British men interacting with Muppets, for your viewing pleasure. One features cookies and one features fruit, so it's kind of like lunch, right?

See you next week!