Stories from the campfire

 The 2010 Trefz Family Holiday is now on the books. Our stay at a 500 sq. ft. cottage in the beautiful Kawarthas did not disappoint. The cottage was comfortable and quaint, though on the scratchy side to be sure. Everything from the army blankets to the living room furniture to the curtains that graced each window was scratchy. It must be said though that it was a comfortable kind of scratchy. I caught more than one member of the family finding relief for a mosquito-bitten leg or back on the rough couch.

I do not intend to spend my time blogging about our holiday though. Our time away has stirred in me the desire to start talking about a topic that has long been ignored, much to the detriment of families with young children everywhere. It’s time to talk about marshmallows.

I realize it’s hard to take this topic seriously, given that, at first glance, everything about these things seems so benign and perfect for kids:

  1. They’re white and fluffy and too big to choke on (although someone has probably sued for that somewhere)
  2. They smell and taste sweet
  3. They’re the main ingredient in Rice Krispies Squares, for crying out loud. Is there anything that says childhood more than whipping up a batch of Rice Krispies Squares in the kitchen with Dad, and emerging 20 minutes later with flour on your nose? (Or was that childhood according to Kelloggs?)
  4. They never go bad


I submit though, that marshmallows and children are a terrible combination, at least when there’s a fire and some sticks involved. Allow me to explain.

In preparation for our stay at the cottage Oliver had purchased two bags of marshmallows, not because I was going to whip up a batch of Squares, but for roasting. I should mention, at this point, that I have no appreciation for roasted marshmallows, and I highly doubt anyone else does either, if they were honest. I’m convinced that the only reason the tradition has survived, is that there’s so much nostalgia involved that nobody ever had the guts to say, “hey, this stuff tastes (and looks) like melted Styrofoam. Let’s make some Banock instead.” In fact, I don’t even like buying them, because I just can’t believe that any additive that’s truly food-grade would have that consistency when it’s dry, and burn like that when it’s on fire. Furthermore, doesn’t it concern anyone that they never go bad? Anything that’s truly edible should rot, which marshmallows don’t. They probably have the half-life of disposable diapers.

With most processed foods one can at least guess at what the original was: hotdogs used to be sausages, which came from pigs. Freezies resemble juice, which comes from fruit. And even though there’s nothing nutritionally redemptive in Nutriwhip, it replaces cream, which comes from milk. But marshmallows? Where the heck did they come from? And who ever thought of putting them on a stick, watching them bubble in that chemical way, and decide, “ohhhh, that looks tasty. Let’s pass this on to our grandkids and their grandkids.”

Being the saintly mother that I am, however, I do not want to be guilty of robbing my children of the experience of skewering that fluffy little confection onto that perfect stick that they trekked through thistles and poison ivy to procure, roasting it to perfection, then savouring the work of their little hands as the warm marshmallow slips easily into their little mouths. So, much to their delight, we took marshmallows along to the cottage.

Maybe I’ve watched too many Tim Horton’s summer camp commercials (or maybe it was even a Molson ad, who knows) where true-blue Canadians are laughing together in the warm glow of the campfire, playfully trying to manage the sticky, gooey marshmallow as they pull it off of the stick. For whatever reason, neither Oli nor I were prepared for the real-life 3-kid version of this quintessential summer activity.

It goes without saying that no kid wants to wait for the fire to die down to start roasting marshmallows. That would amount to patience, which goes against what they were trained to do wherever they spent their time pre-natally. We would have probably insisted that they wait a bit longer had the whole family’s eyes not been in constant danger of being put out by out-of-control marshmallow roasting sticks and eager children. So I skewered up a marshmallow for 3-year-old Sam and began roasting it for him. There was no denying the fact that the fire was still much too large for proper roasting, so while I was moderately successful with my marshmallow, Teddy (who was roasting his own) was not as successful and managed to set fire to several marshmallows, once extinguishing it in the grass (which leaves a sticky residue that rivals tree sap), and another time shaking it wildly in an attempt to put out the fire, which only sent gobs of melted marshmallow flying all over the place. Between roasting Sam’s and trying to help Teddy with his, I was growing more and more frustrated all the time. It didn’t help that neither Teddy nor Sam like dirty hands, so our stress-levels rose as soon as they attempted to pull the roasted marshmallow off the stick and discovered that the melted version is way, way stickier than the dry kind.

I went inside to get the baby wipes, at which point I was juggling roasting Sam’s marshmallow, helping Teddy with his, and wiping both boys’ hands, mouths, and noses. Since we were sitting near the playground where the boys were running around barefoot all day, I was also scrambling to clean up the gobs of sticky marshmallow that had landed in the grass before anyone stepped on them. At this point the magic had totally gone out of the experience for everyone involved. The kids’ loud complaints of smoke stinging their eyes and ash blowing on their marshmallow served to seal the deal, and I was done roasting those blasted things. The kids began eating them cold – a treat to be sure, since we never eat marshmallows from the bag at home – and they were just as happy to enjoy them that way. I even offered one to Caleb who was sitting on a blanket, but he (after close inspection) rejected it as being a non-edible thing and didn’t even try to put it in his mouth. That’s saying a lot for a kid who will put even rocks into his mouth. Smart kid, that one.


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