Ordinarily, I don't advocate playing with your food.
But as often happens this time of year, I've been inundated with photos in magazines, emails, and of course, on the Facebook pages of friends and relatives, showing all the adorable things you can do with food to make it so crafty for holidays.
"Look, you can turn an Oreo into a spider by sticking pretzel sticks in its cream filling!"
Now, I fancy myself a good cook and a good baker.
What I'm not is a good artist or enthusiastic crafter.
One July 4th, I did decorate Jell-O with strawberries, blueberries and whipped cream to look like an American flag. It was festive and family members took a picture of it. But that's pretty much it, unless you include the Thanksgiving salad for which I fashioned feathers out of carrots to make the top look like a turkey. I don't really count this one, because it became clear at dinner that I was the only one who was able to envision the turkey; the rest of the family just saw carrot sticks.
So when I look at photos where someone carved Mount Rushmore out of a marshmallow I usually ask myself, "Who thinks up these things?"
This year, however, I decided to embrace the challenge.
Maybe it was the enthusiastic ravings of a cousin's wife that motivated me; maybe I've just finally gotten into the spirit of the holidays; or maybe, readers, I was just trying to spare you the time and trouble. I decided to road-test a few of these food crafts to see just how fun and easy they really are.
Here are my findings, which are most definitely not scientific.
Halloween Treats: THE ACORN KISS
This one looked easy enough. You take a Hershey's Kiss, and using frosting as glue, top it with a miniature vanilla wafer, and then glue a chip (either peanut butter or butterscotch) on top to look like a stem.
Once it's done, it looks like an acorn. Now this is where you all should be saying, "Oh, isn't that cute. How clever."
Yes, it is cute and clever. And this one's not too hard either.
On the difficulty scale, this one was pretty easy, but I do issue this warning: Beware of using frosting as glue, a common thread through many of these crafts. Unlike Elmer's, white frosting does not dry clear. Overdo it with the glue and your seams will show, and it won't go away when it dries.
Halloween Treats: THE VEGGIE SKELETON
The idea here is to use cut vegetable sticks to form the shape of a skeleton. Use a bowl of dip for its head.
Can't picture it? Don't worry. Just Google "veggie skeleton" and you'll get hundreds of images. That's what I did and I just copied the one I thought looked the best.
Now I'm an expert at cutting vegetables, so I'll rate this one easy-peasy. Using curved red pepper strips for the ribs really gives it a nice skeletal feel.
Bonus challenge: I dare you to make this and not end up humming: "And the knee bone's connected to the leg bone, dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones." That song's still in my head.
Halloween Treats: THE MARSHMALLOW WITCH
Whoever made up this little witch either was drinking or has a self-punishing personality.
First put some coconut in a zipper bag with a few drops of green food coloring. Now toss that around until the coconut is dyed green. That's step one.
The next 10 steps only get more tedious and frustrating.
Frost a marshmallow with white icing where the hair would be. Then roll the marshmallow in the coconut to attach the hair.
Next, use some frosting to glue miniature chocolate chips onto the face of the marshmallow for the eyes and nose. By the time I got the frosting on the back of one of those tiny chips, it was starting to melt in my fingertips before I was able to attach it.
This is the point where, I believe, the creator of this craft reached for her first gin and tonic. I got out the tweezers. Shouldn't tweezers be reserved for important jobs like removing splinters and unwanted facial hair?
Still, I soldiered on.
Eyes in place, check.
I set aside the witch to work on her hat.
First take a plain chocolate cookie disk (like Nabisco's Famous Wafers) and, using some frosting, glue a miniature Reese's Cup, upside down, on top. Then glue a Hershey's Kiss to the top of the peanut butter cup, creating the pointy top of the witch's hat. This sounds easy enough, but rest assured, the cookies break, the icing glue spreads and leaks, and you may find yourself, as I did, consuming hundreds of extra calories in chocolate, because it seemed a shame to waste the ones that didn't turn out.
When the hat is dry, tint some of the frosting orange, then pipe it around the hat to form a decorative trim and to help secure the candy to the cookie. I admit, I cheated here. I purchased cake decorator frosting already tinted orange to make my trim.
Once the hat is complete, use some frosting to attach the hat to the top of the marshmallow and voila! Your witch is complete.
Unfortunately, my Jet Puffs began to sag under the weight of their hats. They did not stand up like in the picture, having fallen victim to tiny head/giant hat syndrome. I decided that I needed bigger marshmallows, so the next day I repeated the entire process again, this time using giant marshmallows. The process was as excruciatingly tedious as the first time, but in the end, my witches were upstanding.
While the witch got high praise from a crafter friend, I will still file her under "Don't try this at home." It's off the charts on the tedium scale and has way too many steps for something that will probably only appeal to a 5-year-old.
Halloween Treats: THE CHEESE BROOM
String cheese and a pretzel stick: how hard can that be?
Just take a log of string cheese, cut it into three or four pieces, stick a pretzel stick in the end of one piece to form a broom handle then shred the cheese to look like the broom bristles.
Not too difficult, right? Believe it or not, it's harder than you may think. String cheese works best when you have some length to pull down the strings. I tried peeling off the string cheese from these cubes but ended up having to use a knife to shred them into bristles.
I did, however, tie a nice chive around my cheese bristles to give the broom a more authentic look. Take that, Martha Stewart.
This craft isn't hard, but you have to ask yourself: Who wants to eat a piece of cheese that I have just had my hands all over for the past 10 minutes? I rate this high on the yuck-factor scale for too much human contact with the food.
Halloween Treats: THE VAMPIRE APPLE
The vampire apple seemed simple enough. A caramel apple, with a wedge cut out and marshmallows cut to form two front teeth and a pair of fangs.
Of course, I wasn't taking into consideration that this actually required making caramel apples first, before turning them into a vampire. And oh, by the way, unwrapping all of those caramels is as tedious as gluing a nose on a marshmallow witch.
Once the apples were dipped and dry, cutting the wedge was easy; just make sure you have a sharp knife. Cutting marshmallows, that's another story. Make sure you've got some confectioner's sugar or cornstarch on hand, as it is sticky business for sure.
But the real problem came when I tried to get the marshmallows to stick to the cut apple.
I mistakenly thought the caramel would be sticky enough to hold the fangs in place. It was not. Making matters worse, the juice from the cut apple was starting to melt the marshmallows.
Eventually, I did what any good dentist would do, and resorted to implants.
I used broken toothpicks to anchor the teeth into place, making these fangs scary for more than one reason. A co-worker who saw my vampire apple made fun of its fangs.
Think they look bad? Just wait until you bite into it.
(Lisa Abraham can be reached at 330-996-3737 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find her on Facebook, follow me on Twitter @akronfoodie or visit her blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/lisa).
(c)2013 Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)
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PHOTOS (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): HALLOWEEN-TREATS