The Day I Attempted to Make Valentine Treats

Just put the dough in, right? How hard can it be?

Just put the dough in, right? How hard can it be?

Crafty and creative? Not labels that one would use to describe my attempts at baking and gift-giving. Impatient with detail and short on skill? Those sound more like it.

Back in January, I was shopping—-nay, child-wrangling while attempting to purchase items off of a list—-in Target with all four kids when we came upon the Valentine Day merchandise. You know how Target does this: aisles with bagged candy, perforated Valentines for classroom distribution, allergen-free and individually-wrapped snack bags, and then, for the ambitious, cookie pans, decorating kits, and a whole selection of colorful, inspiring materials to design and make your original, beautiful confections and love notes.

Have you ever seen those “Nailed it!” links on social media, like this one? I find hours of entertainment laughing at these, mostly because I have my own record of failed attempts. The following are not my images (I’m wise enough to destroy all evidence) but I did make a similar mess when I decided to make cookie ice cream bowls for a birthday party:

Crusty mess doesn't quite describe it

Crusty mess doesn’t quite describe it

Cookie Monster has really let himself go

Cookie Monster has really let himself go

Fish bait

Fish bait

Yet, standing in the midst of Target’s appealing display, I was imbued with a flow of ideas and mental images of the amazing and thoughtful creations that can come directly from my kitchen, and into the waiting hands of teachers, bus drivers, and relatives. The recipients will be so grateful that I took the time to put forth a little effort, and the kids will be happy to work on the project with me, I told myself.

Well played, Target, well played.

Baby #1 has been (drug) down this road many times before. “How about those little boxes of chocolates for our teachers? They are $5 for 5. We can give the extra one to Daddy.”

I scoffed. “We have plenty of time to make something nice. I saw cute tins up near the entrance. And look! These gift bags are so pretty. We can make and decorate the cookies and then tie them in a cute bag.”

She looked up and down the aisle, at the assorted sprinkles and plastic food bags and icing tubes. “That’s such a great idea, but we are so busy all the time. It might be easier to get the candy and call it a day.”

She gets her practical side from her father.

I truly do have the best of intentions, I swear. I admire and respect the adults in my children’s lives, and I appreciate their sincerity and influence. I know it takes a village to raise a child. I also know it takes a village and an extended community to raise four, especially when a surprise breast cancer diagnosis rocks your world.

I bought the boxes of chocolates, assuming that I would be returning them after Valentine’s Day. Safety net, I told myself, ignoring my own mind’s responsive laughter. As usual, we left Target with a few extra bags of items that weren’t on the shopping list, and this time I was sure they would help me whip up gorgeous gifts. Baby #1 tried one more time as I loaded her, her siblings, and our purchases into the minivan.

“I don’t need to hand out Valentines this year, Mom. We don’t do it in 5th grade. But maybe you can have the boys make homemade ones again and give the candy to the teachers. No one needs treats on Valentines Day, anymore, with all of the allergies and diets and stuff.”

When we arrived home, I put all of our newly-purchased creative tools together and stored them safely in a closet. Plenty of time, I told myself. We will do a great job.

Weeks passed. We hosted Baby #3’s birthday party. We survived the Blizzard of 2016 and snow days. We went about our normal routine, and all the while I was thinking we have plenty of time.

The boys had picked out little snack bags to distribute to their classmates. Our Valentine-making is a simple process: we trace hearts onto construction paper, and the kids (with varying degrees of coaxing and help) write a compliment for each classmate on one side of it. This idea was inspired by the rock star first grade teachers at our elementary school, who do something similar as a writing exercise in the classroom. We tackled the task the first Saturday in February.

Since he is in Kindergarten, I wrote for Baby #3. The last thing we want is for someone to misread a compliment!

Since he is in Kindergarten, I wrote for Baby #3. The last thing we want is for someone to misread a compliment!

Baby #2 independently created his, taking his usual care to be sure each compliment was sincere.

Added bonus with no nutritional value: Vanilla Cupcake Goldfish

Added bonus with no nutritional value: Vanilla Cupcake Goldfish



“Should we make the cookies?” Baby #2 asked. “Our Valentine Exchange is this week.”

“We have plenty of time,” I assured him. “I don’t want to make them now. They will be stale by the end of the week.”

Sunday we were with extended family all day. On Monday I had some unexpected errands to run, and a meeting in the evening. On Tuesday some more unexpected things needed attention. Wednesday morning the kids had a two-hour, weather-related school opening delay. The Valentine exchange was the next day. It was now or never.

I took out the heart-shaped cookie pan. Baby #1 froze in place. “What are you doing?” she asked, with caution in her voice. “I thought you were going to give them the chocolates.”

“I have extra time this morning, I might as well make the cookies.”

“I leave for school soon. I won’t be able to help you.”

I rolled my eyes. “I don’t need any help. It will be fine.”

She stood beside me, supervising me as I mixed the sugar cookie dough. She tends to do that when I’m using one of her cookbooks, and that Strawberry Shortcake Holiday Treats Cookbook really does have some berry incredible dessert recipes in it. The fact that they are formulated for young children to make is a plus, and, besides, the sugar cookie one is rated only two strawberries for its ease.

A two-strawberry rating means even I can mix these successfully.

A two-strawberry rating means even I can mix these successfully.

Since the pan was going to shape the cookies into hearts with cute designs on them, I decided to spread some sanding sugar in the pan to speed up the decorating. “How are you going to push the dough in and keep the sugar from moving?” Baby #1 pointed out.

Like any good mother, I ignored her question. As I filled each heart with dough, she had some advice.  “If you want them to be flat on the bottom, remember not to fill them too high. They are going to puff up a bit.”

Yeah, yeah, yeah. The dough was sticky and hard to smooth. “Maybe you should have chilled it?”

When the hell was that bus getting here?

She was right. They didn’t look horrible on the bottom but they weren’t smooth


and they were certainly edible even if kind of misshapen


but there was no way they were going to look like this,

Pro valentine cookies

definitely not. And really, that’s what I wanted.

Plan B: I balled up the dough on flat cookie sheets and baked it that way. Roundish I can do. Of course, since I am of Italian decent, the assumption from others is that if I make cookies decorated and in this shape they must be from a recipe handed down from generations. Maybe next time.

After our hectic afternoon, dinner, and Babies #1 and #2 off to their evening activities, Babies #3 and #4 got busy with decorating.


White glaze applied with a paintbrush and a gentle tapping technique for the sanding sugar, and my dignity was spared. The teachers, bus drivers, and relatives will appreciate our gratitude and love, and I still got to bed at a somewhat decent hour with minimal swearing and without, I’m proud to report, throwing anything.  It’s a win-win. If anyone needs last-minute boxes of chocolate, I’ve got them for you.


Baby #1’s comment this morning: “Way to roll with it, Mom. You’re good at that.”

Well, not really…but I’m trying.