On December 15th, 2007, I was blessed with the best early Christmas present ever: a beautiful, healthy baby girl. While this is technically her second Christmas, it's the first one in which she's actually able to be actively involved in the festivities. So just this week she and I sat down to make some homemade Christmas ornaments. Daddy/Daughter time is one of my favorite things, so I thought I'd take some time to recommend a great project for all you dads out there to do with your little angels!
Go back in time about 22 months. Conceive a child. A beautiful baby girl is recommended, however boys work just as well.
Allow child to bake for 9 to 10 months, or until done. Set aside (Note: you should check on the child periodically).
Purchase an expensive Kitchen Aid mixer for that special person in your life. Not the child, though, because he or she shouldn't be using heavy duty kitchen equipment or ovens, and most likely isn't particularly good at following recipes.
Mix the following ingredients in a large bowl until smooth:
4 cups flour
1 cup salt
1.5 cups water
Most recipes for "claybake" call for using a large spoon to mix the ingredients. I would recommend a spatula, if you have one, because it'll make you feel more like a real chef. But it doesn't really matter what you use, because even after 15 minutes of mixing, you'll still have a powdery substance that isn't even close to resembling dough. Check to make sure you used the right amount of each ingredient. Mix for another 5 minutes. Look at the recipe again. Grow somewhat frustrated. Check on child. Explain to her that you aren't ignoring her but are rather involving her in a "family-fun" project, even if it means restricting her to a play saucer and pacifying her with pretzel rods and other assorted treats her mother doesn't want her to have, but, y'know, she isn't around right now, so what she doesn't know won't hurt her. This is an excellent time for bonding with your child and letting them know you're the "cool" parent. Swear at the proto-dough, then tell you're child that's "daddy-talk" and she isn't to repeat it. Remember that a while back you purchased an expensive Kitchen Aid mixer for your loved one and that it might actually do a far better job at mixing up dough than the now-broken spatula and a now-dented mixing bowl. Transfer ingredients to the expensive Kitchen Aid mixer bowl, attach dough-hook (hey, there's even an attachment just for this!) and begin mixing.
It should be noted now that one of the things that makes an expensive Kitchen Aid mixer an expensive Kitchen Aid mixer is the relatively powerful motor. Men have a tendency to view most any power tool as having two settings: Off and "Balls-Out-Maximum-Hell-Yeah!" While this philosophy generally works when applied to drills, table saws and jackhammers, it lacks a certain finesse when used with a bowl of still-powdery dough. So, go against every single piece of genetic programming in your body and DO NOT set the mixer to 10. Start with 3 or 4. If you choose to ignore this advice, add the extra step of cleaning sticky powder off the kitchen walls here.
Realize that 1.5 cups of water simply isn't enough. Slowly add more water to the mixture as the dough-hook turns until, finally, you end up with a smooth, doughy consistency.
Break off about a quarter of the dough and form into a ball. This is kind of like making hamburger patties. Shrug off the feeling of regret you're suddenly having over making ornaments instead of getting ready to grill burgers. Don't actually make patties, though, because you're baking ornaments and not burgers (sorry to keep reminding you of that).
Place the ball of dough on a flat surface and use a rolling pin to roll the dough about 1/4" flat. By the way, the rolling pin is that large, cylindrical object with handles that always causes the kitchen drawer to get stuck whenever you try to open it.
Did I mention you needed more flour? You need more flour. You should have put it on the flat surface before rolling the dough. And some on the rolling pin. And on the ball of dough. You'll probably want to keep a light layer on your hands as well. In fact, just be sure to keep a coating of flour on just about everything in the kitchen from this point on in the recipe. Your child will love it, although it may someday result in her having a strange desire to watch Scarface over and over again. Hey, beats Barney and Friends.
Now for the fun part. Use a cookie cutter to cut out 2" round shapes from the flattened dough. If you don't have a cookie cutter, a rocks glass will do. Only, make sure to remove any remaining bourbon from the rocks glass before doing any cutting. Place cut-out dough on a cookie sheet. Continue making dough balls, rolling them out and cutting out circles until the dough is gone or you've simply had enough. Nudge your child awake because she's sleeping through "family-fun" time.
Bake in a 300 degree oven for 30 minutes. Oh yeah, you should have started pre-heating your oven right around Step 4. This is why you're supposed to read all the way through recipes before attempting them.
Realize you never set the timer. Try and recall what was on the television when you put the dough in the oven and estimate how much time has passed since then. Or figure out how much booze was in your glass when you put them in. That's right, a cocktail is recommended for this recipe. If you're upset that you've arrived at Step 11 only to find that you should have been drinking this entire time, please re-read Step 10.
When the smoke alarm goes off, the ornaments are definitely done.
Remove ornaments from oven and allow to cool. Put child to bed. "Family-fun" time is over for the night.
So now that you've baked the ornaments, it's time to decorate them. If you don't, you've basically made rock-hard flavorless cookies that are only sufficient as tree ornaments if at one time you donned your tree with beer cans...ahem. This is where your child really gets involved, because a little bit of finger painting goes a long way when it comes to festive designs to be appreciated by grandparents. And apparently finger paints are edible, which means you can kill two birds with one stone and not have to worry about making dinner for your little one! If you're lucky like me, your child will have artistic talents that envy most post-modern painters. If you're unlucky, it'll look more like a bunch of clowns just got fingerprinted in your kitchen.
One last thing: a key characteristic of any ornament is the ability to hang it from a tree. Sure, you could have cut a small hole into each one before you baked them, but why do that when you can just as easily drill one into them once everything else is done? I recommend using a small bit and a drill set for "Balls-Out-Maximum-Hell-Yeah!"