Every parent likes to say they dread the end of the school year, when the daily schedule goes haywire and kids are suddenly hanging around the house wreaking havoc or having to be schlepped from one camp to another.
But we all breathe a big sigh of relief, too.
School is hard — much more rigorous than it was when we were kids. And stressed out kids equals stressed out parents. I certainly won’t be sad to take a break from helping with homework every night. And I definitely won’t miss having to keep track of all the field trips, performances, meetings, activities and other school-related hoo-ha that clogs the calendar.
So when the kids get out of school next week, it’s cause for celebration — theirs and mine.
Summer means picnics in the park, sleepovers on a random Wednesday, and waking up without a to-do list (well, at least for the kids).
It means the hard work of the past nine months is over and it’s time to celebrate the best way we know how — outside in the backyard, with friends, food, and a really good movie.
String up a sheet, tell the kids to get in their pjs and grab a pillow and a cozy blanket or sleeping bag. Then pop some popcorn — the real kind. All you need is kernels, oil and a pot with a lid. Microwave popcorn will never, ever, taste as good as stove-top popped.
And, of course, movie night isn’t complete without movie candy — and no collection of movie candy is complete without Red Vines, in my opinion.
For this movie night, each kid not only got her own box of popcorn, she got her own box with an assortment of candy, too. Portioning it out ahead of time means you decide how much they get to indulge — and no squabbling over who got to have more.
As for the popcorn, we kept things simple because we knew it would please the crowd. But it’s easy to dress up stove-top popcorn with flavored butters, herbs, spices, and shredded cheese. Or just add a little sugar to the pot and you have kettle corn.
Real Deal Stovetop Popcorn
Makes about 10 cups
You can use plain old melted butter to season your popcorn, or you can think of it as a vehicle for flavorings like garlic, herbs and spices. If you want big, fat, round popcorn — the kind the kettle corn vendors use — buy the “mushroom” variety of kernels. We’ve found bags at Kruger’s Farm stand in Portland, or you can order online from Starving Farmer in Washington State.
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
Salt to taste
Optional: 1/4 cup unsalted butter, plus seasonings like minced garlic, lemon zest, fresh herbs, and spices
Set a large stock pot with a lid over medium-high heat. Add the oil, popcorn kernels and salt. Cover and allow to heat, shaking the pot occasionally, until you hear the first kernel pop. Continue to heat, constantly shaking the pot back and forth over the burner to keep the kernels from sitting and scorching, until the popping has slowed to a few seconds between pops. Remove from heat and transfer popcorn to a large bowl.
If seasoning with butter, melt the butter in the pot over medium heat. Add flavorings, if using. Drizzle over the popcorn in the bowl, tossing as you go, until evenly coated.
Kettle Corn Variation: Add 1/3 cup granulated sugar (or more to taste) when adding the kernels. Quickly stir to coat. Continue with the recipe, but be aware the sugar can burn if the heat is too high.
1) Adding salt to the kernels in the pot helps ensure each kernel is seasoned evenly. The salt tends to stick better when added at this step. Otherwise, you have to generously douse your popped kernels in oil or butter to get the salt to stick afterward.
2) Adding the herbs and spices to the melted butter not only helps you distribute them more evenly, but the heat brings out their flavor.
3) If you don’t want the hassle of washing the popping pot, you can pop popcorn in a paper bag in the microwave (seriously). Just chose a small bag without any staples, add the kernels without oil, roll it up and microwave like you would with store-bought microwave popcorn — about 3 or 4 minutes, or until there’s a few seconds between pops.