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They’re called, “Nuts and Bolts.” When I was a young girl, they were a family Christmas tradition – and a personal favourite of mine. I loved them for their crunch and flavour, and for the way my mom’s kitchen smelled as she roasted them. I loved to play with them as I ate – attaching the Cheerios to pretzels to make dumbbells, or stacking the Shreddies into towers. But truth be told, I suppose I also loved them because they represented a very special treat that made me think of happy, cherished outings alone with my mom.
As one of four children, it felt special and significant to have one-on-one time with mom. Even if it was only a quick trip to the bank or shopping, it must have felt that way to my mother as well – because she always seemed to know how to turn such excursions into small celebrations.
One of the ways we’d celebrate such times was to top them off with a once-in-a-while indulgence. I remember outings that would feature ice cream or piping hot french fries – sprinkled liberally with malt vinegar – and wrapped in a paper cone. But my favourite was warm Nuts and Bolts, freshly roasted and packed in a tiny cardboard box, from a little business a short bus ride from our home, called “Jim’s Nut Shack.”
I suppose I was destined to continue the tradition of roasting the tasty snack mix in my own home each Christmas.
When our children were small, Nuts and Bolts – packaged in pretty boxes or gift bags tied with colourful ribbon – made affordable gifts for teachers and friends that the kids were proud to give because they’d helped to make them. Nuts and Bolts freeze beautifully and preserve their freshness best that way. But usually, they wouldn’t last long enough to make it to the freezer, and we’d wind up roasting them throughout the Advent season.
Our two oldest kids are both coming home from university this weekend to help trim the Christmas tree, so in anticipatory celebration of their homecoming, I made a batch of Nuts and Bolts for us all to enjoy as we decorate.
Homemade Nuts and Bolts
- 1 box Cheerios cereal
- 1 box Shreddies cereal
- 2 1/2 cups unroasted, unsalted peanuts
- 4 cups pretzel sticks
- 2 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
- 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp seasoned salt
- 1 tbsp onion powder
- 1 tsp garlic powder
Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
Combine cereals, pretzels and peanuts in a large roasting pan. Melt butter in a small saucepan. Add Worcestershire Sauce and spices. Drizzle over cereal mix in roasting pan and stir well to evenly distribute. Roast for 1 1/2 hours – stirring well every 20 minutes. Serve warm, or cool and store in airtight containers.
“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.”
… sits in my kitchen cupboard.
It’s a plate, a very different plate from my other kitchen dishes; glossy, pristinely white background with outrageous splashes of colour in the form of vivid pink and blue flowers. I remember choosing it in a kitchen housewares store years ago, precisely because of the bold statement it made.
As I look back over 20 years of growing children, I think that of all the little tips, tools and techniques we adopted in our attempts to help them grow well, “The We’re Proud of You Plate,” was one of the best. A friend shared the concept with me when we were in the midst of the toddler years. She’d read about the idea in a book.
It works like this: the special plate celebrates one member of the family for an achievement, a kindness, or an admirable character quality. Our rule was a child couldn’t ask for the special plate, unless they were asking that it be given to someone else. Once the family sat down to the table, after giving thanks for the meal, either Doug or I would say a few words acknowledging why the special plate was being “awarded” that day. Then we’d all raise our glasses in a toast to the child being honoured.
The first couple of days after bringing the special plate into our home were difficult, so much so that I remember doubting whether it was a good idea. Sibling rivalry – even in its mildest form – is a reality. And I remember feeling some angst over who would be the very first to receive the plate. So in order to be sure that what was intended to encourage one child didn’t wind up discouraging another, we were careful to honour each one with the plate in fairly short order. But once we cleared that hurdle, the special plate remained special because we were conscientious not to overuse it. So when it did show up at someone’s place at the table, the kids were thrilled. They loved receiving it, and they loved participating in toasting one another.
As our family grew, the use of the plate evolved such that whoever had the idea to honour another family member assumed the task of “giving the toast,” before the meal.
It’s been a tool of affirmation: when a child came home elated over some accomplishment, the special plate acknowledged the attainment, and when a child came home dejected over a lack of success, the special plate rewarded the effort. It’s been a tool of empathy: when the kids got older – if Doug or I had a difficult day – it wasn’t unusual for the special plate to show up at one of our places on the table, as they tried to encourage us. Of course, birthdays were always marked with the special plate.
Being the centre of positive attention at the family dinner table for a few moments every once in a while helped them learn to receive praise with grace and humility. And it taught them to take joy at each other’s moments in the spotlight as well.
Cost of The Special Plate: under $10. Value once placed on the table: priceless.