Corned beef hash

The picture at the left is tonight’s dinner — the promised Corned Beef Hash, made with the leftovers from our slow cooker meal of Tuesday evening.  It turned out great, with all the elements I really appreciate in a hash (but so rarely find): good, rich flavor that’s not too salty; recognizable chunks of meat, so it doesn’t have that pet -food texture; and lots of super-crispy bits that were so deeply brown and crunchy they were JUST barely shy of being burned.  Delicious, especially with a poached egg:

Corned beef hash with poached egg

Now that I’ve taken care of my hash craving for the year, I can move on to the next thing, which happens to be a birthday weekend — mine and P.’s.  We share a birthday and will be doing lots of fun things with family and friends (meaning that I won’t be cooking a full dinner again until Tuesday — even I like a break now and again!); but tomorrow will be the start of the festivities, with classroom treats for P. and his buddies.

Yes, I know.  There are many, many people out there who oppose the idea of sending treats to school for kids’ birthdays; and actually, I’m sort of straddling the line on this one (that sounds like a cop-out, I’m fully aware).  On one hand, the kids get PLENTY of treats at school without there being additional stuff sent by parents for birthdays and so forth; just today, they celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with green pancakes and green milkshakes.  As J. said, “It’s always something, isn’t it?  Halloween, Thanksgiving, the winter holidays, then Valentine’s Day and now St. Patrick’s.  There’s always some excuse to hand out sweets.”  He’s not wrong. 

On the other hand, it’s a matter of my kids being still quite young — young enough to care about these things, and young enough to not really get it if Mommy launches into a big discussion of why she thinks we don’t need to have birthday treats at school.  All they know is that all their classmates have at-school treats and get sung to and wear the birthday crown and all of those really, really important things that mark the passage of the years, when you’re little.  I’ve said before that I believe it’s crucial to look after their nutrition and well-being WITHOUT making them the odd ones out, and to a 4-year-old and 2-year-old, the school birthday is a big honking deal.

I do not, however, feel like this is a time to purchase a huge sugary store-bought cake.  It’s not something I’d give to them at home, so it’s not something I will give to them at school, nor will I feed it to their friends.  I usually try to find something that will satisfy my boys, but not make me feel like a hypocrite — for L., we generally choose all-natural fruit popsicles, since his birthday is in the hottest part of the summer.  That tends to be a hugely popular choice, but P.’s birthday is now…in the cooler weather…and P. doesn’t even like popsicles.  So I had some thinking to do. 

What really sent me into a quandary about the whole birthday business was realizing that a large number of the kids in P.’s classroom ALL have birthdays in the next week or so.  I brought it up to his teachers, and asked tentatively: “Doesn’t that seem like it’s going to be a lot of, um, treats?”  They agreed, so I ventured a bit further: “I’m not sure what to do.  I’d like to send something so that he’s not left out, but I really don’t want to just contribute to sugar mayhem.  And I know you guys have the rule about everything being packaged and labeled, so I can’t make anything, but I don’t want to just send fruit because he eats a ton of fruit all the time and he deserves something a LITTLE special…” I was rambling, obviously, by this point — but I was nervous.

The teachers, bless them, stopped me in my tracks.  “If you’re more comfortable sending something homemade, we’ll write up a permission form for the other children and ask parents to opt in for the treat.”

I was surprised, pleasantly so, but still apprehensive.  The packaged-treat rule exists for the benefit of food-allergic kids, and while I may not like it, I understand and respect the fact that it’s necessary for safety.  Plus, I didn’t want to do something that would potentially exclude a large number of little ones — I know if I had a child with a food allergy, I’d likely say “no thank you” to a homemade treat.  “Well,” I said, “what’s the allergy situation like?  I don’t want to endanger or exclude anyone.”

Shockingly, I was assured that not one child in P.’s classroom, or even on his floor of the building, has a serious food allergy.  With that bit of knowledge, I proceeded to discuss the options with his teachers, and we finally settled on some homemade banana muffins — one of P.’s favorites — for the morning snack tomorrow.  Muffins, as we all know, are not completely virtuous; in fact, they’re relatively cake-like, thus satisfying my desire to give P. the experience of having a special “treat” with his classmates.  However, homemade banana muffins are not nearly in the same category as, say, chocolate cake with icing, or ice-cream sundaes; so I also get to feel comfortable that I’m not junking up a bunch of toddlers with mega-dessert in the middle of their school day.  Lastly, and this was important to me, knowing that parents would have to sign and give permission for their kids to eat the snack gave me confidence that there was at least an element of CHOICE for the other famililes.  Whenever my kids come home from school and tell me that they’ve had birthday cupcakes for a friend, it’s news to me; there’s no process to alert parents to the fact that a treat will be served in the classroom, so they’re getting extra sweets without my knowledge.  While I can sort of take a deep breath and let that go, I’m happier thinking that the parents of P.’s classmates know what’s going to be happening and are okay with it.

It’s not a hard stance to be taking, I don’t think, but it’s a balance I’m still trying to find.  And believe me — I’ll be sugaring my OWN kids up plenty this weekend, as the birthday celebrations get underway and that promised Thomas the Train cake becomes a reality.  I’m just glad to be able to do that with a relatively clear conscience, and no parental guilt.