ZESTY LEMON BARS

lemon
Sloshing through snow at Minnesota’s Twin Cities airport, I eagerly anticipated a spring break from a Midwest winter super chill — a real R and R at our cabin in the coastal California redwoods.
Upon arrival, I discovered a mini crop of bright, ready-to-pick Meyer lemons growing on our deck, a reminder of why I love a West Coast spring. I picked the “California gold” and put a few lemons with leaves in a pretty bowl for a table centerpiece, squeezed one in hot water with grated ginger for a morning wake-up, and by evening, doused another on fresh fish I picked up at the wharf for supper.
What was next? Lemonade? It wasn’t summer yet. How about keeping it simple and making a favorite dessert from my childhood, I thought: Lemon bars. To update the taste of the traditional recipe, I added lots of lemon zest to the batter for extra kick.
Lemon bars are a classic and a perfect little “sweet” to serve for a snack or dessert to remind us of sunny springtime. It’s an ideal recipe for involving kids in the prep, too. When you let one child use his nimble fingers to spread out the easy-to-mix crust layer on the baking dish while another zests and squeezes the lemons, you’ll be on the home stretch to pop it in the oven.
Bake, cool and bring in the kids to sift the powdered sugar on top before you slice it into squares. Or, any shape — why not triangles?
LEMON BARS
Makes 32 bars
For the crust:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar
Pinch of salt
For the filling:
4 eggs, beaten
2 cups granulated sugar
4 tablespoons flour
6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
Powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.
To make the crust, mix together the flour, butter, sugar and salt. Pat the mixture down evenly into the baking pan with your hands. Bake for 20 minutes, until lightly browned.
To make the filling, while the crust layer is baking, beat together the eggs, sugar, flour, lemon juice and lemon zest. Pour over baked crust.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the filling is set. Let cool on a rack to room temperature.
With a sieve, dust with the powdered sugar. Cut into bars.
***

MARBLED PAPER EASTER EGGS

marbled egg
While the older kids are busy coloring Easter eggs, your preschoolers will enjoy this tactile and fun way to make marbled paper eggs using an unlikely art supply: shaving cream! When complete, enjoy the artsy egg-shaped designs as decor in your home. Make a large one to hang on a door, and cut out minis for a charming garland to display just about anywhere!

Here’s the stuff you’ll need:
–2-inch-by-4-inch piece of corrugated cardboard
–16 toothpicks
–9-inch-by-13-inch baking tray or pan with edges
–shaving cream
–liquid food coloring, poster paint or acrylic paint, diluted 1 part paint to 2 parts water
–heavy-duty white construction paper
–squeegee
–scissors, ribbon and craft supplies for decorating paper eggs

Here’s the fun:
First, make a tool for swirling the color. Poke ends of the toothpicks 1/4 inch apart into the gaps of one long side of the piece of corrugated cardboard. The toothpicks should fit snugly in the cardboard, to resemble a comb.

Spray shaving cream in the baking tray or pan. Kids will have fun playing with it as you guide them to level it out with their hands.

Drop two to three different colors of food coloring or diluted acrylic paint on top of the shaving cream. (When using paint, I use small spoons or an eyedropper saved for crafts when transferring paint to the shaving cream.) The tray should now be filled with blobs of irregular colorful polka dots.

Use the toothpick “comb” to make a few swirls down and across the paint. Aim to make the designs on the surface of the shaving cream rather than dragging the colors too deep. Your child might say with delight, “Hey, I’m combing shaving cream!”

Immediately set a sheet of paper on the design, bringing the left and right sides up slightly. Press gently all over the paper, then lift. Let set for a minute or two, then, using the squeegee, remove the shaving cream in one smooth motion into the sink to reveal a beautiful marbled design. Rinse the squeegee. Let paper dry completely.
Make more designs by adding more coloring or paint.

Cut marbled paper into a large Easter egg shape. Decorate with a few craft supplies if you wish. Punch a hole at the top and tie a string for hanging. Or, make small egg shapes and glue to a long string or ribbon for a springtime garland.

Note: Remind young children that although the shaving cream may look like whipping cream, it is not edible.

MAKE A DECORATIVE PAPER STRIP SHAMROCK

Shamrock

For those of us who don’t claim Ireland in our lineage, it’s a stretch to dance a jig, much less remember to wear something green on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17. No wonder I was pleased when I shared a photo of this paper strip shamrock craft idea with my neighbor and received a reply, “Your shamrock warms my Irish heart!”
The shamrock has traditionally been the national emblem of Ireland, so why not display it with creativity as a sign not only of the coming holiday, but also a welcome to the green of a long-awaited spring?
Grab some green construction paper and basic supplies from your home office. Enjoy this messless art project with your school-age kids. Your preschooler can also lend a hand, when you make it together.
Here’s the stuff you’ll need:
–2 sheets of construction paper in two different colors. (I chose a light and a dark shade of green for these directions)
–ruler
–pencil
–scissors
–stapler
–household glue
–thread or fishing line for hanging
–paper cutter (optional)
Here’s the fun: (Find step-by-step photos at www.donnaerickson.com)
1. Make the paper strip hearts.
For each heart, measure, mark with a pencil and cut with scissors or a paper cutter:
2 strips of light-green construction paper cut 1 inch by 3 inches;
2 strips of dark-green construction paper 1 inch by 5 inches.
Pile the 4 strips starting with one light-green short strip, the two dark-green long strips and end with the remaining light-green short strip on top. They should be evenly stacked up at one end. Carefully staple this 1-inch-wide stack about 1/4 inch from the even end.
step1
Bring the loose ends of the short light-green strips away from the pile (and over the staple) to form a heart shape. Hold with one hand as you pull back the long strips in the same manner.
Staple the four strips together near the pointed end of the hearts.
Make two more.
step2
2. Make the shamrock.
Arrange three completed paper strip hearts on a work surface to make a shamrock. Staple the pointed heart ends together. Bend the paper near the staple to spread out the sides. Cut-out and glue on a thin paper stem.
step3
Make several paper strip shamrocks and hang in a window or from a chandelier.

MAKE FRESH PASTA

pasta

Pasta is a favorite national food of Italy, where it is typically cut into a variety of shapes and eaten with a sauce, in a soup or incorporated into a baked dish. But not just in Italy! Kids everywhere love pasta. No wonder it regularly appears on our family table. Mysteriously, though, when the kids were young, they often claimed to love linguine but not spaghetti, or shells but not elbows. And no matter how many times I tried to explain that it’s all the same thing, they insisted, “No! It tastes different!”

Here’s your chance to check it out when you make fresh pasta with kids. They can cut this dough into a variety of shapes right before their eyes. When it’s cooked, they’ll discover one thing is certain — eating fresh pasta (pasta fresca) opens the taste buds to something quite different from the standard dry pasta from a package.  And if, while slurping the pasta into their mouths, you hear, “We like the squiggly shapes better!” you’ll have your answer. Maybe some forms are just a little more fun.

FRESH PASTA
Makes 2 servings
1 cup flour
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
To prepare dough:
Mound the flour on a work surface and make a deep “volcano” with your hands. Break the egg into the volcano.
Beat the egg lightly with a fork while adding water. Continue until smooth, being careful not to break down the volcano walls.
Gradually incorporate flour into the egg mixture from the inside walls of the volcano. (This is a good job for kids to exercise their motor skills and patience.)
Continue to stir in the flour until the dough is stiff. When it is too firm to mix with the fork, knead it with your hands. Incorporate just enough flour to make a ball. (You may not need all of the flour.)
Knead the dough for a few minutes until smooth and pliable. Place the dough on a floured surface, cover and let rest for 10 minutes.
To make pasta shapes:
Roll the dough out on a floured board into a very thin rectangle. The thinner the better, as the noodles will plump up when cooked. Cut lengthwise into narrow strips with a pizza cutter. Of course, you don’t have to stick to standard forms. Using a small table knife, try different “kid” shapes like wiggly lines, little triangles or stars.
To cook pasta:
Boil the pasta in salted water for 4-5 minutes. Drain and serve with a pasta sauce and cheese. Or, toss into a pot of simmering chicken soup and boil until cooked.

CHOCOLATE ROSES

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Make 10-12 edible chocolate rose garnishes like pastry chefs using this simple recipe.

To make edible chocolate clay:
Ingredients:
10 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (about 1 ½ cups)
1/3 cup light corn syrup

Melt the chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl in the microwave for about one and a half to two minutes in 30-second intervals, stirring each time. If you don’t have a microwave, use a double boiler.

Add the corn syrup to the melted chocolate. Stir. The lovely smooth mixture will turn into a clay consistency.

Put a sheet of waxed paper on a cutting board or kitchen counter and scoop the chocolate mixture onto it. Spread it out evenly with your fingers until it is about
½- inch thick.
Cover loosely with waxed paper and let it rest for at least 2 hours. The clay will become pliable.

To make a rose:
-Roll ten smooth balls of chocolate clay a bit smaller than the size of a marble and line them up an inch apart on waxed paper. Cover the little balls with a sheet of waxed paper. Press down hard on the paper with your thumb to spread out the clay. Aim for the size of a half-dollar.

-To create petals for a rose, remove one clay disk and curl it into a tepee shape, narrow at the top and wider at the bottom. Wrap the next disk around the opening of the tepee as if you were making it a little door. The third disk goes at the back of the tepee. The fourth along the side. Layer as many of these clay disks as you’d like. Bend back the edges of the disks ever so slightly. Don’t worry if little slits appear because they will make the petals look more natural.

-Set finished rose on a cupcake or other dessert.

Note: Use up the clay the same day while it is pliable. Candy melts (available at craft stores) and/or butterscotch chips may be substituted for the chocolate chips.

CREAM-PUFF HEARTS

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Cream puffs look so fancy, but they are easy to make from scratch with your kids. Really! Give them a try for a special occasion, such as Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14. This heart-shaped version with a scoop of ice cream or whipped cream between the layers is a delicious treat for celebrating with your family.
CREAM-PUFF HEARTS
Makes 12 hearts.
1 cup water
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
Pinch of salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, for serving
Strawberries or raspberries, for serving (optional)
Chocolate sauce or confectioners’ sugar, for serving
To prepare oven, baking sheets: Heat oven to 375 degrees. Let your school-age child draw 12 (3-by-3-inch) heart shapes with a pencil on 2 sheets of parchment paper cut to fit 2 cookie sheets. Tell your child to press hard enough as she draws so you see the hearts on the reverse side. (If you need a pattern for drawing the hearts, cut out a heart from an index card or use a similar-size cookie cutter.) Turn parchment over and lay it on cookie sheets.

To prepare dough: An adult should place water, butter and salt in saucepan. Bring to a rolling boil. Reduce heat to low. Stir in flour until mixture is smooth and forms a ball. Remove from heat. Let stand for 3 minutes. Place in a mixing bowl. Let your child crack eggs into small bowl. Pour eggs into flour mixture. Using electric mixer, beat until smooth and shiny. (Note: Initially, mixture will look like scrambled eggs.)

To form each heart: Drop large spoonfuls of dough onto center of each heart shape on cookie sheets. (Note: I use an ice-cream scoop.) Let your child spread dough with fingers to form each heart shape. (Note: I discovered top “V” of the heart should be extra-wide and low to compensate for expansion of dough. The bottom “V” shape of the heart should be narrow and pointed.)
To bake: Bake for 25 minutes or until slightly puffed and golden. Remove from oven. Cut small slit in sides to release steam. Set aside to cool completely.
To serve: Slice each cream-puff heart crosswise. Spoon whipped cream or small scoop of ice cream on bottom half. Set top half over filling. Top with raspberries or sliced strawberries (cut vertically to make thin heart shapes). Drizzle with chocolate sauce. Or let child use strainer to dust with confectioners’ sugar.

GRAPEFRUIT BAKED ALASKA

grapefruit
I like making this wintry dessert billowing with snowy peaks to eat. Each serving is showy, and elicits ooh’s and ahh’s even on a dark, dreary day.

It’s a take on traditional Baked Alaska you may have enjoyed at a fancy restaurant. This mini version is much easier, using fresh grapefruit in it’s own “bowl” instead of cake. But it still keeps the wow factor with warm meringue on top and chilly ice cream nestled inside.

Timing is everything with this dessert. Do some simple prep work beforehand. Then, as the table is being cleared after your main course, heat the oven and whip the egg whites while your child or friend spoons fruit into the grapefruit bowls and tops each one with ice cream and mounds of sweet meringue.

GRAPEFRUIT BAKED ALASKA
Makes 6 servings

4 grapefruits
6 scoops vanilla ice cream
3 egg whites (1/2 cup) at room temperature
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

One hour or more before serving:
Cut each grapefruit evenly in half crosswise. Using grapefruit knife, cut out fruit sections. Place fruit in bowl. Drain juice (enjoy drinking it for a snack). If grapefruit is tart, add some sugar. Cover. Refrigerate fruit.
Remove and discard membranes in 6 grapefruit halves to form hollow “bowls.” (Note: Discard 2 remaining grapefruit halves. You need halves from 3 grapefruits for dessert, but fruit from 4 grapefruits to have ample servings.)

To prepare ice cream:
Line tray with wax paper or plastic wrap. Scoop ice cream into 6 rounds. Place on prepared tray. Return to freezer..

15 minutes before serving:
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.

To fill grapefruit bowls:
Ask one of your kids to spoon chilled grapefruit pieces evenly into 6 grapefruit bowls. Set bowls on prepared baking sheet.

To make meringue:
In a mixing bowl, use electric mixer set on low speed to beat egg whites until frothy. Add cream of tartar. Increase speed. Beat until soft peaks form. Slowly add sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, while continuing to beat. Let your kids watch as mixture changes and enlarges and glossy, stiff peaks form.

To assemble:
Set one ice cream round in center of each fruit-filled bowl. Immediately spoon glossy, stiff meringue on top. Using butter knife, seal edges around cut grapefruit rim.

To bake:
Bake in the middle of the oven for 5 minutes, or until meringue is golden. Place on dessert plates. Serve Immediately.

Tip: For a special occasion such as a birthday party, top each one with a candle and light.

Note: Use pasteurized eggs, if you prefer.

HEART-SHAPED COOKIE CUTTER BIRDSEED TREATS FOR THE BIRDS

birdseed

I like to give a little heart or two, or three, to my backyard feathered friends on Valentine’s Day with this birdseed treat shaped with cookie cutters. An ideal kitchen craft to enjoy with preschoolers when the big kids are off to school, it’s also super fun for older kids to do with the whole family on a weekend afternoon.

Pick up a bag of birdseed, packets of unflavored gelatin and root through your cupboards for cookie cutters, and you’re all set to go.

BIRDSEED COOKIE CUTTER TREATS FOR BIRDS
Makes 4-6 bird treats

Here’s the stuff you’ll need:
2 envelopes (1/4 ounce each) unflavored gelatin, such as Knox brand
½ cup boiling water
1 ½ – 1 ¾ cups birdseed
Baking sheet lined with parchment or waxed paper
4-6 heart shaped cookie cutters, roughly 3 inches by 4 inches.
2 straws, cut into 3-inch pieces
String or twine.

Here’s the fun:

In a large bowl, an adult should pour the boiling water into the gelatin. Stir until dissolved, and then add 1 ½ cups birdseed. Stir until birdseed is coated, adding more seed if mixture is too watery.

Meanwhile, arrange the cookie cutters on the lined baking sheet.

Spoon the mixture into the cookie cutters. Press down with the back of a spoon, or compact the mixture with fingers using a piece of waxed paper between fingers and the mixture.

Insert a straw piece into each shape to create a hole for hanging and leave in place.

Set the baking sheet of filled cookie cutters in the refrigerator for two hours. Remove and let stand in a dry room overnight or until hard, turning the filled cookie cutters occasionally.

Carefully pop each treat out of its cookie cutter. Remove straws, thread string or twine through the holes, and hang from a tree branch, fence or deck railing.

Tip: Extra birdseed in your bag? Take a pine cone, roll it around in peanut butter until it’s completely covered, then roll it once more in birdseed. Tie a string around it and hang it outside.

HOLIDAY CARD TOWER

Boxes and bins filled with holiday decor are taped shut, and lids are snapped on tight. Up to the attic they went. Only select items remain on display, like the string of white indoor mini lights framing my kitchen windows that boost our moods through cold and gloomy wintry days.

A hodgepodge of December’s Christmas cards spilling out of a cookie tin also are day brighteners. It’s so much fun to browse through them again, especially with my adult kids.

Here is an idea for enjoying the greetings in new ways when recycled into DIY fun for your young kids or grandkids. If some are photo cards, the children will become more familiar with faces and places as they create.

HOUSE OF CARDS
Create a construction toy for school-age kids and build structures of all shapes and sizes.
For a basic set of interlocking cards, cut 20 cards in equal sizes such as 4 inches by 7 inches.
Now you are ready to cut slits, either six or eight. For six slits, with a card upright in front of you, find the midpoint at the top. Make a dot to mark the spot, then use scissors to cut a 1/2-inch vertical slit. Measure down 1 inch from the top right corner. Make a dot and cut a 1/2-inch horizontal slit. Measure down 1 inch from the top left corner, mark and cut a horizontal slit. Now cut slits the same way at the midpoint of the bottom of the card and the two lower sides.
If you prefer eight slits on your cards, measure 1 inch in both directions from each corner and cut slits.
Start construction by sliding cards into each other at the slits in a perpendicular fashion to create a house, tower or imaginary structure.
Note: Vary construction possibilities by cutting some slits at angles, or cut cards into geometric shapes such as a circle, half moon or square. Cut slits on them and begin assembling your structures.

 

cards