Decorating, cooking, shopping — it may seem now that you will never get to cross off all the items on your holiday to-do list. With all that needs to get done, it is easy to forget about the little ones in your house. “Today” contributor and author of “Real-Life Entertaining,” Donata Maggipinto, shares her ideas for keeping the kids occupied and helping them create special holiday memories.
FOR KIDS ONLY CUPCAKES
Kids and cupcakes were made for each other - and when you decorate with icing, colored sugars and candies, you’ve got a clever take on the cookie-decorating party that is sure to delight the younger folks.
Depending on the age of the children involved, you can bake and decorate the cupcakes together, but this makes for a long day. It’s best to prepare the cupcakes beforehand and then let the kids go wild with the decorating. I bake the cupcakes (recipe below) in two sizes, standard and mini, invite the children to select cupcakes they’d like to embellish and adorn.
Set up decorating stations along a big table so kids can easily reach the decorations. I fill small bowls with sugars, candies and icing and place them between each of two children so they can share. Don’t forget to provide plenty of kitchen towels for wiping hands and spills.
There are many creative ways to decorate Christmas cupcakes. Each station on the party table can be set up for one decorating technique.
With all this sugar and the consequent crazy energy, it’s fun to play a game that enables the kids to let off some steam. Depending upon the age of the kids, you can play musical chairs using Christmas music or play pin-the-red-nose on Rudolph. And don’t forget Christmas music - a rousing chorus of Frosty the Snowman or Rudolph does wonders for letting off steam, especially when you divide the group into teams and see who can sing the loudest - or quietest, or fastest.
At the end of the party, gather the children’s edible masterpieces and arrange them in brightly colored tissue-lined boxes for the trip home. If you have the time, you can personalize the boxes with the child’s name and decorate them with holiday motifs.
TIPS FOR DECORATING WITH KIDS
Clear a large work space for decorating, and another space for holding the finished cookies.
Protect clothes with aprons; have plenty of clean kitchen towels on hand.
Divide icing, sugars, candy, and other decorations among small bowls. Depending on the number of children participating, you may want to form cookie decorating teams and fill bowls with decorations for each team to share.
Plastic spoons and knives are helpful for spreading frosting and sprinkling sugar. Little ones will need supervision.
Have pitchers of drinking water and bowls of apple wedges and tangerine segments on hand for snacking; decorating is hard work.
Don’t forget to corral a few adults to assist you with the supervision.
Let children work at their own pace and according to their skill level. Remember, it’s the process that’s fulfilling and fun.
While these colorful orbs are simple to make and thus an ideal activity for children, it’s the surprise at the end of the process that is really fun.
You never know what the final outcome will be until you add the last color and swirl. No two of these ornaments are alike.
What you need:
Clear plastic or glass ornaments with a removable top (available at craft stores)
acrylic paints in various colors
eye droppers, one for each paint color
Remove the top of the ornament. Using an eye dropper, carefully add one drop of paint through the top. Swirl the paint around until it coats the inside of the ornament. Repeat the process with additional paint colors until you are satisfied with the result. Place the ornament on a rack or in a plastic cup and let it dry completely, about 24 hours. Replace the top on the ornament.
The Christmas card was invented in London in the mid-1800s by John Calcott Horsely. More than a simple greeting, the card was intended to be a gift that the recipient would display in his or her home throughout the year. The first Christmas card depicted a family enjoying a holiday feast and the cards were delivered when most people were enjoying such a repast on Christmas Day.
This year, instead of purchasing cards or penning the holiday letter, why not send your family’s thumbprints? Using a rubber-stamp ink pad, press your thumb into the ink and then onto the front of a plain white card. Then transform the thumbprints into snowmen, reindeer, elves, and other holiday motifs with felt-tip markers or colored pencils. For example, two thumbprints, one on top of the other, may become a jolly snowman. One small thumbprint (head) next to a larger one (body) may become a reindeer.
Inside the card, write a holiday greeting. Since each card is a one-of-a-kind work of art, you can tailor the message to the recipient.
Whimsical and clever, the cards are guaranteed to make people smile. Incidentally, thumbprint cards can also serve as gift tags or place cards for a holiday dinner party.
HOLIDAY PAPER LANTERNS
Strung outdoors across a porch or inside in a doorway, bobbing paper lanterns are a great way to say “Merry Christmas.”
To make the holiday lanterns, purchase white paper Japanese lanterns in the size of your choice at a party supply store. Working free-hand or with a stencil, and using acrylic paint or markers in a dark color, draw a holiday symbol, such as Christmas tree or a reindeer, or write a holiday greeting on each of the lanterns. The bigger and bolder the decoration, the better.
String the lanterns where desired. If you wish, fit them over Christmas lights (the larger bulbs work best) and secure the lanterns with florist’s wire. When the lights are illuminated, the decoration appears in silhouette.
If you would like to invite children to help themselves to the edible ornaments, be sure you hang them on the tree with ribbons, not hooks. For safety’s sake, let children know that the garlands are not edible; the thread can be a choking hazard.
To make the gumdrop garland you will need heavy-duty thread, such as clear fishing line or dental floss, a darning needle, and a supply of gumdrops of different colors. Thread the needle with the chosen thread and securely knot the end. Insert the needle through the equator of one gumdrop and slide it onto the thread. Continue adding gumdrops, alternating colors willy-nilly, until you have filled the thread. It’s easier if you work in manageable lengths (about 1 yard works well), then tie the lengths together until you reach the length you desire.
Wrap the gumdrop garland around evergreen garland, around a Christmas tree, or simply string it on its own. Iit looks wonderful hanging in a window because the sunlight turns the gumdrops into jewels.
Makes 20 cupcakes
3 cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
1 ½ teaspoons pure almond extract
1 cup whole milk
Seven Minute Icing (recipe follows)
Decorating sugars, candies, confettis, or other decorations
Preheat the oven to 350F. Line two 12-cup muffin pans with paper liners. In a bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt; reserve.
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer set on medium-high speed, beat together the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Beat in the almond extract. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in the flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with the milk.
Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans, filling the molds about two-thirds full and smoothing the tops with a rubber spatula. Bake until the center of each cupcake springs back when touched gently and the tops are golden brown, 15 to 25 minutes.
Remove the cupcakes from the oven and let cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack let cool completely before decorating.
From start to finish, this recipe takes no more than seven minutes to make. I use superfine sugar because it ensures a smoother icing. You can make your own superfine sugar by pulsing granulated sugar in a food processor until it’s superfine. This icing can be tinted with food coloring, too.
2 egg whites
1 » cups superfine sugar
» teaspoon cream of tartar
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Place the egg whites, sugar, cream of tartar and salt in the top of a double boiler set over gently simmering water. Using an electric mixer set on medium speed, beat until the frosting forms stiff peaks, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Continue to beat until the icing is glossy and thick enough to spread, about 2 minutes longer.
HOMEMADE HOT COCOA
Makes 8 cups
1/3 cup best-quality unsweetened cocoa powder
» cup superfine granulated sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon (optional)
8 cups whole milk
Candy canes, for garnish
Mix together all ingredients, except the milk. In a heavy saucepan over low heat, bring 1 cup of the milk to a simmer. Stir in the hot cocoa mixture. Mix until well blended. Add the remaining 7 cups milk and bring back to a simmer. Serve hot, with a generous dollop of whipped cream, and the marshmallows, if desired. Garnish with a candy cane.
To package the hot cocoa mix (dry ingredients only) as a gift, spoon it into a tin or a jar, or into a cellophane bag. Affix a label that says “Reyn’s (or other child’s name) Hot Cocoa Mix.” Nestle in a tissue-lined box along with the recipe for making the hot cocoa and marshmallows, if desired.