Ever since Tarica came home from the hospital on February 10, Jenica has been talking about her birthday. She managed to work it into most conversations, on topic or not, and all our family plans were divided into Before, On, and After.
Whenever I was tempted to roll my eyes, I reminded myself that her anticipation was likely an epilepsy side effect. Tarica’s seizures had made her the Center of Attention for the last year, and Jenica had complained about this much less than she could have. That tempered my exasperation, although I feared she was anticipating a much bigger birthday than we could afford to create.
Last year, before Tarica started seizing, I had promised Jenica I would take a birthday lunch to school for her class. Although I managed to keep that promise in the aftermath of Tarica’s diagnosis, I felt as if I were doing it on auto-pilot. My heart wasn’t celebrating even as we sang “Happy Birthday” at a family birthday party and presented presents and a cake (beautifully decorated by someone else).
This year, I had decided, would be different. I would be present in heart as well as body. I nixed the school lunch early on, in hopes of being realistic. However, I still wanted to do something special for a school birthday treat. Perhaps Jenica and I could make something together.
“Marshmallow peeps,” she said. “Let’s make something with marshmallow peeps.”
Gag, I thought. “Sure,” I said.
I consulted the world’s biggest cookbook, AKA the world wide web. It didn’t take me long to find something that looked cute but easy.
Since I was doing this anyway and since I was taking pictures anyway and since bloggers posted recipes and pictures all the time, I figured I might as well turn this into a post. Why not?
We planned to assemble the treat on Thursday evening so Jenica could take it to school on Friday. I then hit the first bump. My parents were butchering their last steer on Thursday evening, and one quarter of the beast was ours. I had to go over and package our meat for the freezer.
Well, we’d just have to make the treat after Jenica came home from school and then head over to the butchering. A little tight, but we’d manage.
Thursday morning, I bought fast-to-fix ingredients—and here I hit the second bump. In a culture that had begun to count carbs and promote protein, I was committing what amounted to a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Here are the ingredients:
I could have made my own cake mix. I could have made my own pudding. I could have whipped heavy cream into topping. I could have made my own frosting. I could have bought my own cow so I had fresh milk instead of pasteurized junk stored in white plastic. Instead I bought shortcuts full of sugar and preservatives and unpronounceable names.
Because I didn’t have all evening.
It wasn’t hard to imagine the blogosphere horror.
Did I have enough nerve to do this?
Jenica bounced beside me. “What can I do what can I do?”
I squared my shoulders and put down the camera.
“You can crush the graham crackers,” I said.
After she was done, she asked, “Now what?”
“Dump the pudding mix into the milk. I’ll measure a cup of cake mix. You can whisk the pudding and cake mix and milk together. When you’re done, I’ll fold in the Cool Whip.”
The recipe I was following declared that with the addition of the cake mix, the pudding tasted like cake batter, minus the evil eggs. This had sold Jenica on it instantly.
Pudding finished, I said, “Dump two spoonfuls of graham cracker crumbs into each cup. I’ll spoon pudding on top, and then you can put more graham crackers on top of that.”
And here we ran into what I call the chip-and-dip conundrum. I’m sure you’ve done it, too. You help yourself to chips and dip, but you don’t have quite enough chips, so you take a few more, and then you don’t have enough dip, so you have yourself some more dip. But then you need more chips. It’s a delightful and self-sustained cycle.
Except when the chip-and-dip conundrum pops up in other areas.
We ran out of graham crackers. Jenica crushed more.
We ran out of pudding. I whisked together another batch.
And then we had too much pudding.
I broke the cycle by dumping the rest of the pudding into an empty Cool Whip and stuffing it into the fridge before anyone got any ideas about how many more pudding cups we could make. We would eat cake-batter pudding by itself tomorrow, or—gag—not.
And then I opened the store-bought frosting, warmed it in the microwave, and poured a little on top of each cup.
We then ran into our next problem. The pudding cups, or rather, the warmed frosting needed to cool before we dabbed Cool Whip on top. But it was time to leave.
Unfinished food projects make me jumpy. Particularly ones that have to be finished in the morning before school.
We boxed up the cups, put them into the fridge, and left to wrap meat.
The next morning, in between breakfast and hair-combing, I plopped Cool Whip on top of the cups, and Jenica nested blue Peeps on each one.
What a relief.
You want the recipe?
I very much doubt you do, but if you Google “eclair pudding marshmallow peeps,” you’ll find an example of how a food blogger does it.
Do it her way, not mine.
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P.S. I did one more experiment over the weekend, and that one turned out—surprisingly—better than I expected.
But if you want the recipe, Google “kit kat birthday cake” and let the experts tell you how to do it.