Pretzel and Rolo New Year Noshes for Procrastinators

Rolo and pretzel "turtles," photo by Glorious Treats via Flickr Creative Commons

Rolo and pretzel “turtles,” photo by Glorious Treats via Flickr Creative Commons

Today’s guest writer is Jennifer Blackledge, who used to work with my husband in the professional recruiting section of Ford Motor Company. They’ve stayed in touch since leaving the company. Jen is also a poet and the mother of two teenaged girls. Today she gives us an easy, stress-free way to prepare yummy holiday snacks.

I’ve always been a worrier and a procrastinator, which is a stressful combination.  As a kid, I remember taking the plethora of pre-feminist print and TV ads to heart. They implied poor planning and/or surprises would expose one as a less-than-competent hostess:

“Oh no, drop-in guests? But I have no tasty snacks on hand!”

“Surprise! My husband’s boss is coming to dinner in two hours, and he forgot to tell me.”

“Timmy just told me at bedtime that he needs to take treats to school tomorrow.”

An obsession with easy recipes

Combine the worry and procrastination with a slight tendency toward hoarding, and it explains my obsession with recipes that use things I can keep ready in my pantry or freezer. I snap to attention when I see the promise of something delicious and socially acceptable made from only a cake mix , a can of peaches, and a 12-ounce soda.

You could look at this as either a) resourcefulness, b) a cavalier disregard of fresh and nutritious cooking, or c) arrested culinary development , circa 1976.  (See“Circus Peanut Jell-O, in Feed the Spirit from May 26 for a clear example of this.)

Best of all, these are usually recipes even a toddler can make. If you’ve got kids of any age, a penchant for last-minute living, an irrational hatred of the grocery store, or severe holiday burnout, I present to you the ultimate treat for endless social obligations. Salty, sweet, endlessly variable, delicious, and homemade (if only in the sense that a)you can’t purchase the final product in a store, and b) you look like you actually tried a little instead of putting Oreos on a special plate, of course)…I give you pretzel/Rolo combos!

Feed the spirit by taking it easy

I’d love to be known for some special recipe like cranberry walnut cookies or homemade fudge, but at this stage in my life (come to think of it, probably my whole life), this is what works for me. Feeding the spirit is sometimes about taking it easy on yourself and watching “Modern Family” reruns instead of Rudolph while you unwrap a million Rolos with your kids. (This is where kids really come in handy – they like these so much that they will offer to make them, and I can just volunteer to unwrap Rolos while watching TV).

Did I mention you don’t even have to search for your ridiculously specific Tupperware cupcake transporter or special thermal casserole-carrying dish to take these somewhere? All you need are some cute paper plates and a big Zip-loc bag.

A procrastinator’s Yuletide wishes

My final Yuletide wishes for you:

  • May this recipe save you a trip to the supermarket on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve.
  • May this recipe prevent a midnight run to 7-11 for eggs or butter while simultaneously crying and cursing your family’s inability to write things on the giant centrally located calendar.
  • May this recipe keep your kids occupied for at least an hour of the two weeks of “boredom” they’ve anticipated since September.

You’re welcome!

(The photo with the recipe is “Reindeer Noses” by Julia Pfaff Daley via Flickr Creative Commons.)

Circus Peanut Jell-O: Sweet taste of post-WWII Midwest

Circus peanut jelloToday’s guest blogger is Jennifer Blackledge, who used to work with my husband in the professional recruiting section of Ford Motor Company. They’ve stayed in touch since leaving the company. Jen is also a poet.

Photo from Spangler Candy, via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo from Spangler Candy, via Flickr Creative Commons

I have always envied people who made interesting, taste-of-the-old-country dishes handed down from their great-great-grandma (like some of the incredible recipes on this blog!). While my grandmothers were cheerful cooks who produced voluminous amounts of food on a daily basis, the origin of that food could usually be traced to the side of a Jell-O package or a soup can label.

I confess: I am a Midwesterner, pale and freckled, with 99 percent of my genetic and cultural heritage traceable through England, Ireland, Scotland, Canada, central Illinois, the farmlands of northern Michigan, and the foothills of Appalachia. Yes, hotbeds of world-renowned culinary innovation all. Needless to say, I grew up happily consuming large quantities of bland, hearty food. Salt and pepper were the only spices on our shelf. In fact, I’m fairly sure I never tasted garlic until high school. We really prefer Stove Top Stuffing to homemade.

Living in the southern suburbs of metro Detroit, both as a child and now, most of my friends talk about their busia’s homemade pierogies and kielbasa, the closely guarded secret ingredients of the family pasta sauce, or getting together with all their cousins to make Hungarian kifli for the holidays. Other than my Great-aunt Margaret’s sloppy joe recipe made with Campbell’s Chicken Gumbo soup, I had very few special “family” recipes. But of those few, my favorite would have to be Circus Peanut Jell-O.

I know – everyone thinks I’m kidding. In the world of cuisine, is there anything more ridiculed than Jell-O? Rarely encountered anywhere these days except hospitals, your great-aunt’s dinners, or in the prep phase of a colonoscopy, Jell-O falls into the same category as Wonder bread, Velveeta, and bologna sandwiches.

The Jell-O of the candy world

Now consider Jello-O’s equivalent in the candy hierarchy. Circus peanuts: those vaguely banana/chemical flavored, orange, oversized “peanuts,” with the consistency of stiffened memory foam and made of pure sugar. What self-respecting kid spends allowance money on circus peanuts when there are Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Sour Patch Kids, and Milky Ways to be had?

Put the Jell-O and circus peanuts together, throw in canned pineapple and a big dollop of Cool Whip, and what do you get? Usually, derision. We’re talking the Rodney Dangerfield of desserts here. But trust me; if you have a child or grandchild assisting you in the kitchen, this is a fun and memorable dish to make together.

My Grandma Blackledge lived on a farm in northern Michigan and she always let me assist her in the barn and in the kitchen. (Don’t worry, we washed our hands in between.) I think it’s safe to assume she got the Circus Peanut Jell-O recipe off the side of a circus peanuts bag. She assigned the best steps to me: dissolving the Jell-O, tearing the circus peanuts into thirds, then pouring boiling water on them (with a helping hand) to watch them melt. It seemed like one big, fun science experiment.

"Behold the mighty circus peanut" by Kate Bolin, via Flickr Creative Commons.

“Behold the mighty circus peanut” by Kate Bolin, via Flickr Creative Commons.

While my own daughters love to help make it, they are somewhat ambivalent about the finished product. Luckily, I’ve developed a fan base among my sister-in-law, nieces, and nephews.

A springtime treat

The bright orange color and pineapple are festive and spring-y, so I tend to make it around Easter or Mother’s Day. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but I could eat an entire batch by myself. You’d expect it to be overwhelmingly sweet, but the pineapple’s tartness balances it perfectly.

Note: the circus peanut is an elusive quarry, long relegated to the “senior citizen section” of the candy aisle, usually not too far from the cellophane bags of Starlight mints, French burnt peanuts, and off-brand licorice ropes. I’ve seen them on the candy rack in the Bob Evans’ lobby, or in the store at the front of Cracker Barrels. If all else fails, there’s the Internet!