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Last weekend, I spontaneously decided that a family fun night was in order – it was either that, or lock the kids in their rooms for the rest of winter – and invited my daughter, Little Miss Planner, to help organize it.  Honestly, I think putting her “in charge” was as much of a thrill for her as the actual event itself.  We started by coming up with 3 possible options for the dinner menu, dessert, game, and family movie.  (We’ll use this same format next month when it’s my son’s turn to plan our family fun night.)  Even though I came up with most of the ideas, I tried to casually mention them as options from which she got to choose.  Again, she had so much fun writing down the ideas we came up with and circling her favorites, I was reminded that giving kids opportunities to have control is good from time to time.  (Not surprisingly, she’s been a much more cooperative child this week.  Hmmm…)

As we narrowed down the list of ideas, I realized that we could easily turn our fun night into a snow-themed party, a fitting way to celebrate the good part of winter – snow!  Here is what we did, along with some ideas for your own snowy fun.

Dinner Menu
Since we’ve had snow on the ground since Christmas, I suggested that we gather some clean snow to make snow cones.  I had bought some snow cone syrup years ago, and it had been sitting, unopened, in the garage for who knows how long.  But since it’s just corn syrup and chemicals, we decided to take a chance and ended up enjoying delicious, watermelon-flavored snow cones.  (It was actually strawberry syrup, though – I said it was old.)  Real snow cones are awesome!  If you have the means, I highly recommend them.

To go along with our snow theme, I wrapped homemade burgers on buns in white parchment paper and called them “snowball burgers.” (This was a BIG deal to my gluten intolerant family, since we rarely buy expensive GF buns.  However, I’ve discovered that the crusts from Udi’s and Rudi’s bread make great buns when buttered and grilled.)  I made a fresh fruit salad with pineapple, strawberries and kiwi, then sprinkled dried coconut on top and called it “snow-covered fruit salad.”  For veggies, I cut up broccoli “trees” and drizzled ranch dressing “snow” over top.

January 2013 006

Atmosphere
I knew my craft-loving daughter would get excited about decorating, so I dug out some snowflake stamps for her to use to decorate white paper as place mats (which, unfortunately, doesn’t show up in my picture).  We set out colored pencils so everyone could draw snowman pictures on their place mats while they waited for dinner, like the kids do at restaurants.  I also gave my daughter snowflake stickers to put on cheap, white paper plates.  I dug out some plastic snowman cups and snowman napkins from Christmas, and also set some snowflake votive candle holders on the table.  It’s easy to re-purpose Christmas decorations to add a festive touch (if your husband is willing to drag out the boxes from the garage that you JUST put away).

For music, we played the “Happy Feet” soundtrack (which I’ll admit, I do enjoy) while we got everything ready.  During dinner, we switched to George Winston’s “December” album, which is not overly Christmasy, and provides nice background music.

Activities
Our favorite activity, hands down, was the “snowball” fight with rolled up white socks as snowballs.  We each took a corner of the room and started with 6 “sockballs” each.  The kids and I hid behind chairs, while my husband was exposed (to level the playing field a little).  My daughter got to tell us when to start, then we proceeded to pelt each other with socks.  The great thing about sockballs is that they’re reusable, so we played until I got tired of getting beaned in the head by my husband, who has way better aim than I do.

For our other game, my daughter chose Cadoo, which is Cranium for kids.  It involves easy word puzzles and group activities like charades, drawing, and sculpting.  The winner got a ride in the “snowmobile” (an 18-gallon storage bin powered by my husband), while the losers dumped a sockball avalanche on the snowmobile.

Ice Cream Snowmen

Dessert
After so much play and exertion, we were ready for dessert.  To go with some leftover cake, we made ice cream snowmen.  Unfortunately, we were in a hurry to assemble them before we started the party, and did not let the ice cream scoops harden long enough, so our snowmen ended up leaning on the cake for support.  Oh well.  They’re super easy to make, however.  I used a cookie scoop to scoop out 3 small vanilla ice cream scoops for each snowman, and placed them in a wax paper-lined pan.  (I’d recommend letting them harden in the freezer for at least a half-hour to avoid lopsided snowmen.)  When the balls are firm, stack them into snowmen next to an edge of your pan to keep them from tipping over.  Put them back in the freezer for another 10-20 minutes.  (I skipped this step and regretted it.)  While they’re firming up, gather your supplies for making the face, arms, and hat.  Decorating the snowmen is a great activity for the kids.

  • For the face, we used mini chocolate chips for eyes, and jimmies sprinkles for the nose and mouth.  We use an orange sprinkle as a “carrot nose” by inserting a pointed end into the ice cream.  We used a brown sprinkle as a mouth.
  • For the arms, we used Glutino gluten free stick pretzels.  I broke the sticks in half, since a half pretzel looked better.
  • For the hat, we used a partially melted chocolate chip to “glue” a Rolo candy onto a Peppermint Patty because that’s what I had on hand.  (I warned the kids to eat the candies separately because…yuck.)  You can use a mini cookie for the base of the hat and whatever candy you have on hand for the top.  To glue them together, put 1 chocolate chip per hat on a piece of wax paper and heat it in the microwave until it starts to soften.  It should still retain its shape until you press down on it.  Use a spatula to transfer it to the base of the Rolo or whatever candy you’re using, then attach it to the base of the hat.  We had a hard time keeping the hats on the snowmen, but they still looked cute!

Snowman Candy Hats

Movie
After dessert, we watched our favorite winter movie, “Snowball Express” – a must-see family movie!  It’s from the ’70s, so it might be hard to track down, but it’s great fun.  “Happy Feet” and “Happy Feet 2” are also great for little ones.  Older kids will like “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” or “Chronicles of Narnia.”  Any movie about winter/snow would work, though.

During the movie, we had to have some hot chocolate, of course.  (We normally don’t consume this much sugar, but that’s what makes it a party!)  This easy mix can be used with any kind of milk, so it’s perfect for kids with dairy allergies who can’t have the powdered mixes.  I like to keep a batch of this mix in a container to add to warm milk whenever the kids have been playing in the snow.  Add your favorite flavoring and you have gourmet cocoa that’s a whole lot healthier than the stuff from the store for just pennies.

Dairy Free Cocoa

Dairy Free Cocoa Mix:

  • 1/4 c. cocoa (the kind you use for baking)
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • Milk (dairy, rice, almond, coconut)
  • Flavoring, optional (vanilla flavoring, peppermint extract, rum extract, coffee syrups)
  • Canned whipped cream or mini marshmallows, if desired

Combine cocoa and sugar in a container.  Heat milk of choice (or decaf coffee for the grown-ups!) in the microwave until just warm.  In my microwave, it takes about 1 min. to heat 6 oz. (3/4 c.) milk.  Stir a heaping tablespoon of cocoa mix into each 6 oz. of milk (slightly more for coffee), then add a drop or two of flavoring, if desired.  Top with a squirt of whipped cream or mini marshmallows (or if you’re me, use kitchen scissors to cut up old, hard marshmallows leftover from last summer – the kids will never know!).

With a little creativity and planning, having a snow party can break up the winter blahs and brighten those long, dark nights.  For more indoor winter party ideas, check out my posts on cheap Valentines Fun with kids and Spring Break Staycation ideas.  Yes, it can be a happy January!

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If you’re looking for an easy, tasty, gluten free dish to bring to a party or set out for guests with allergies, here is a favorite that doesn’t require “special” ingredients or expensive gluten free substitutes.  The hot wassail punch is always a hit at parties, and is easy to throw together in the crock pot earlier in the day to make the house smell wonderful when guests arrive (and cover up the smell of cleaning products from last minute cleaning – not that I wait until the last minute to clean…).  

We love bringing homemade kettle corn with holiday M&Ms to parties because it’s cheap and serves a lot of people.  For more dessert ideas, check out my previous post with 10 ideas for easy gluten free desserts.  

Buffalo Chicken Dip

Not-Too-Spicy Buffalo Chicken Dip

2 12.5-oz. cans of chicken or 2 cooked chicken breasts, chopped
2 8-oz. packages cream cheese (I use light cream cheese, also called Neufchatel)
1/2 c. buffalo wing hot sauce (I use cheap dollar store brands)
1/2 c. ranch or blue cheese dressing (my family prefers ranch)
1-2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
Celery sticks for dipping
Gluten free tortilla chips for dipping (read labels, since not all chips are GF)

Place the unwrapped cream cheese in a large, microwave-safe mixing bowl.  Heat for 30 sec. in the microwave.  Flip cream cheese bricks over and heat for another 30 sec.  Drain and flake cans of chicken.  Add chicken, buffalo sauce, and dressing to the bowl.  Stir together until you no longer see streaks of cream cheese.

Spread mixture evenly into a greased, 9″x13″ baking dish.  Sprinkle with cheese.  Bake 20 min. at 350 degrees until cheese is bubbly and starting to brown a little around the edges.  Serve warm with tortilla chips and celery sticks.  (We like to cut the recipe in half and make it in a 7″x11″ pan for an easy football game snack.)

Wassail
(Double this recipe for groups larger than 8 people or for tasty oatmeal*)

4 c. apple cider
2 c. cranberry juice (either cranberry juice cocktail or 100% juice blends work)
1 c. orange juice
1 11.5-oz. can apricot nectar (found in non-frozen juice aisle or Mexican food section)
1 c. sugar (can be reduced to 3/4 c. if using cranberry juice cocktail which has added sugar)
2 cinnamon sticks

Stove Top Directions:
Combine all ingredients in a large soup pot on the stove and heat over medium until warm, stirring occasionally.  Reduce heat to low and simmer at least 20 minutes.  (The longer it simmers, the stronger the cinnamon flavor will be.)

Crock Pot Directions:
If you’re using a crock pot, mix everything together and heat on high for 3 hrs., then turn to low for the party so guests don’t burn their tongue.  I usually heat it on the stove about an hour before the party, then transfer it to the crock pot to keep warm.

*We love to use leftover wassail to make homemade oatmeal.  Just substitute it for half the water in your oatmeal and stir in some dried cranberries, if desired.  So easy and yummy!

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