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Baskets brimming with love

With creativity and a little help, kids can make mom feel special

By Ruth Mossok JohnstonSpecial To The Christian Science Monitor / May 8, 2002



FRANKLIN, MICH.

Mother's Day celebrations are often entirely up to dad – and Father's Day fetes up to mom. On Mother's Day, which falls about a month earlier, fathers might prepare a festive table, and scramble the eggs or flip the pancakes – if brunch hasn't already been booked at a favorite restaurant. How do the kids fit into this campaign for mom?

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Easily. If children are included in planning festivities, making gifts, and creating cards, they won't be just spectators to an occasion that they have everything to do with. Participation gives them an outlet to express their love and devotion, and also a sense of responsibility for being part of the family. And working with dad – or another adult with whom they share a close relationship – can't help but be a special experience in itself.

A gift basket brimming with homemade food treats is a heartfelt and inexpensive way to involve the children. And the options are boundless. For starters, pick a new basket, an old basket, an antique basket, a large tin, or any container that will hold the items you want to put inside. Then choose a filler such as a wood variety, which comes in a natural tone or in many bright colors, or just use colorful shredded paper.

Once you have decided on a basket and filler, the fun part begins. Select or prepare all the goodies to go inside: Bake some sweet treats or a festive loaf of bread, or re-create a favorite family recipe for applesauce, strawberry jam, or lemon curd.

You might want to line your basket with colorful paper napkins, a new tea towel, or a couple of linen napkins. Or, if you enjoy scouring flea markets and yard sales, look for attractive antique linens or napkins that you could include. But make sure to thoroughly clean them before using with food.

Alternatively, line your basket with bright-colored cellophane – one color or some different colored strips, leaving enough of an overhang to cover your treats.

If the final result isn't perfect, don't despair. Mom will be so touched that she might not even notice if the cookies are oddly shaped or the frosting sticks to the linens.

And if you're really, really nice, she just might even share a treat or two.

Almond-Chocolate Chunk Bars

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 egg yolk

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

2 cups flour

1 egg white, beaten

1 cup sliced almonds

Chocolate chunks or chocolate chips (desired amount)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a medium bowl, cream butter and sugar together. Add egg yolk (reserving egg white), cinnamon, and flour. Thoroughly mix. Place dough in an ungreased 10-by-15-inch baking pan.

Place a sheet of plastic wrap that is slightly larger than the pan over dough, and, pressing on plastic wrap, spread dough out evenly to pan's edges. Remove plastic wrap.

Brush dough with beaten egg white. Sprinkle nuts evenly over dough; push nuts into dough. Top with chocolate chips or chunks.

Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until lightly golden. Cut into squares while still warm, and refrigerate before putting into gift basket so the chocolate isn't gooey.

Lemon Cut-Out Cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 large egg

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1-1/2 teaspoons grated lemon peel (colored part only – white pith is bitter)

1-1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

For the Icing:

3 cups confectioners' sugar

2 tablespoons milk or cream

1-1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Food coloring (if desired)

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg, lemon juice, lemon peel, and vanilla. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Combine dry ingredients with the butter mixture. When dough is formed, divide it into 3 sections, flatten into disks, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill dough in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Roll out 1 section of dough on a lightly floured surface (thickness of dough should be about 1/8 inch). Using cookie cutters dipped into flour, cut out cookies. Transfer to greased baking sheets (or use parchment paper or one of those handy French-made Silpat mats), and arrange cookies 3 inches apart. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly golden. Transfer to a rack and let cool before adding icing.

For the Icing:

Place confectioners' sugar in a bowl. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the milk or cream and the lemon juice. Add more milk, if icing is too thick, or food coloring if desired.

Use your creativity when decorating in any design or with any candies you'd like. Makes about 4 to 6 dozen, depending on size of the cutters.

Choose a theme for your basket

If you want to design a basket around your mother's interests, here are some ideas to try.

• Fruit lover's basket – filled with favorite fresh fruits, jars of fruited butters and jams, and perhaps a family recipe for applesauce, pear chutney, or Key-Lime curd.

• Gourmet food-lover's basket – filled with catalogs and samples from food companies. If "hot and spicy" is the theme, you'll find a myriad of hot sauces at specialty food shops.

• Cook's basket – filled with cookbooks, spatulas, hard-wood utensils, a crisp apron, and a chef's toque.

• Chocolate fanatic's basket – filled with chocolate cookies, candies, and lollipops. Include plastic chocolate molds and some melting disks to make chocolate at home. Don't forget to include a book on chocolate to give Mom a little historic perspective on her favorite food.

• Bread-lover's basket – loaded with fresh breads and cheese. Add bread recipes and a mix or two. (You might also tuck in a copy of King Arthur Flour's The Baker's Catalog. Request it online at www.kingarthurflour.com.)

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