WHAT’S WRONG WITH KIDS celebrating Valentine’s Day? Despite having an adequately tuned radar when it comes to inclusive and “politically correct” language, I confess that I don’t understand the problem with using the term “Valentine’s Day” in elementary school. Maybe the taboo is particular to my son’s school; if not, then I guess it’s a case of generation gap. Do most schools today avoid valentines? However widespread, I’m left trying to figure out what was wrong with the Valentine’s Day celebrations of my own youth, which were called by the same name and seemed innocent, fun. Does the objection have something to do with religion, since the holiday references a saint? Or is it because adults are now more worried than ever about transmitting ideas of romantic (to say nothing of erotic) love to ones so young? Whatever the reason, the reality is: my son is not supposed to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Instead, he and his classmates have “Friendship Day.”
Friendship is a great concept. I have always resisted the notion that Valentine’s Day be confined to one type of love only: that shared between romantic or sexual partners. Many a February 14th has rolled around to find me unpaired, and yet . . . I’ve always baked cookies, made plans, always shared tokens of love (cards and sweets) with friends and family. It’s never mattered what the day was called. I suppose Valentine’s Day is a loaded holiday—heavy as it can be with emotional baggage—but what in life is not loaded, at least for someone, some way? As far as I’m concerned, we can forget the psychology; forget linguistics. Young, old, friends, lovers: let’s just stick to . . . chocolate. And marshmallows. OK, and sprinkles, too, while we’re at it. Too commercial? I don’t care. It’s a lovely excuse for getting together with my son in the kitchen. Naturally enough, just as Valentine’s Day brings cravings of chocolate and champagne to many adults, Friendship Day at school coincides with that timeless tradition of the Parents’ Association: the bake sale.
This year, my son Q and I decided not to bake but to dip marshmallows in chocolate and roll them in red and white nonpareils. (Well, I also baked. No stopping me.) In the past, we’ve done the chocolate-dipped routine with pretzel rods. I wholly endorse the salty-sweet combination; it mitigates my guilt, though pretzels are hardly health food, so I’m not sure why. But sometimes—bake sale times—there’s really just no point denying that full-on sugar high. In fact, Q will tell you: this is why I tend to be pretty strict about nutrition the vast majority of the time . . . so that I can go all-out for holidays, birthdays, and bake sales.
Q was in a sulky mood when I suggested we get this project underway. I can tell you that this turned him right around. What is it about stabbing squishy white pillows of sugar with a craft stick? It works like a charm on kids. Instead of complaining about who knows what, Q suddenly got industrious and quickly figured out the magic of mise en place. He arranged marshmallows, chocolate, and toppings like a pro, lining everything up in a logical sequence next to the parchment-coated baking tray. And then . . . Stab! Dunk! Roll! Repeat.
Also drip. The only problem with this project was one of impatience (both of us guilty as charged). If you decide to whip up these mallow-pops, my best advice is: wait until the chocolate has cooled sufficiently before dipping the marshmallows. The chocolate should be close to room temperature, in a thickened liquid state, otherwise you will end up with glops dropping into the toppings, weird formations of chocolate (are they stalagmites or stalactites?) on the ends of the marshmallows. Not that it matters. It’s all edible, and the kids really don’t care. Most of them don’t, anyway; Q is a bit too much “like mother, like son” to completely escape the nasty perfectionist habit, I’m sorry to say. But despite the occasional misshapen treat, he forged on happily.
Now, if I’d been more ambitious (next year, maybe?), I would have made my own marshmallows. This week, though, I’ve been more pressed for time than usual, to say the least. If you’re in the same boat, don’t worry. There is no shame in a store-bought marshmallow, so long as it’s fresh. These were wonderful and saved me a lot of work. If you want to get all gourmet-DIY-food-snob, though, as I was tempted to do, feel free to make your own. There’s a recipe for classic vanilla marshmallows from Serendipity Sundaes at Leite’s Culinaria. For something lightly spiced, try chocolate swirl cinnamon marshmallows, an “Editors’ Pick” from Food52.
Personally, I’m just glad these babies are heading out the door tomorrow, far from my line of vision. Although I’m not a huge marshmallow fan (unless they’re melted in Krispie treats or charred on a campfire and smashed between graham crackers with a hunk of dark chocolate) . . . these were too tempting, especially alongside a lethal dose of cocoa on a snowstorm day like we had here in New York.
Chocolate Covered Friendship Marshmallows
Yield: 20-30 dipped marshmallows
Nonstick cooking oil spray
12 ounces chocolate morsels (I use semisweet for the kids, but bittersweet works well, too)
Assorted edible decorations, such as sprinkles, colored sugars, nonpareils
1 (10-ounce) bag jumbo marshmallows (make sure they’re very fresh)
Wooden craft sticks
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and cover lightly and evenly with cooking oil spray.
Using a double-boiler (or a bowl placed over, but not in, a saucepan of simmering water) melt the chocolate over low heat until smooth. Pour the chocolate into a small, deep bowl suitable for dipping the marshmallows into and let cool to room temperature. Remember, for best results, the chocolate should be still liquid but thick, so that it will not ooze off the marshmallows.
Place decorations in individual, shallow bowls.
Spear each marshmallow with a craft stick, then dip the marshmallow into the chocolate to cover evenly. Roll the chocolate-covered marshmallow in the decoration(s) of choice, and place on the oiled parchment to set. Continue until all the chocolate is used.
Refrigerate the tray of marshmallows for an hour or more to harden the chocolate completely.
Notes for the Non-Allergic:
You can also use chopped nuts, coconut flakes, crushed graham crackers, candies, or other toppings for the marshmallows. Without allergies in the house, we let our imaginations run wild! Of course, if you’re participating in a school bake sale, you’ll want to stick to the decorations listed in the recipe, out of consideration for those who cannot tolerate nuts or wheat gluten.