Our Second Valentine’s Day Without Red 40 Petroleum Dye
Party on…and on…and on…
Happy dye-free Valentine’s Day! I’m taking a peek out of my hidey hole of overwhelm to chime in on “Red 40 Day”, as I lovingly call it. Things have been rough for us since the accident, but I can’t let this holiday go by without at least a touch of commentary. It’s the least I can do, and it doesn’t take too much time away from my worrying.
This time last year I was working myself up into a tizzy. It was our first ever Valentine’s Day free of petrol dyes, and I wanted my child to feel included at school. I was ill-prepared and anxious about sending my girl into the much-hyped red dye free for all, and I had a lot to say about it. Our school only allows two in-class parties per year – winter holidays and Valentine’s Day. No birthday parties, thank God. But the children still have big expectations regarding this holiday. I’ve learned from past experiences and from readers that if there’s gonna be school parties anyway, I might as well adapt as best as I can, and even sign up to help run them. And sign up I did.
I provided all of the food and goody bags for our Holiday party, while the other parents worked out a fun activity (which I’m admittedly no good at). Since a few of us have allergies and special diets, I baked vegan cupcakes and ordered vegan frosting from the Whole Foods bakery. I was not impressed with the vegan frosting, especially the green – which tasted like grass or hay or dried oregano (at least what I imagine grass or hay taste like. And I adore oregano, just not in my frosting.). Green went straight into the trashcan. The red turned out pink but the kids didn’t mind. The runny consistency, and what I can only describe as “sweating color” of the oily vegan frosting was disappointing, versus their awesome and fluffy buttercream frosting. There was so much red dye seeping through the piping bag that my hands looked like they’d been modeling on the side for an Evil Dead 2 redux.
I brought Unreal Candy M&M copycats, Surf Sweets gumdrop swirls, India Tree red decorating sugars, Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips, and organic blueberries that the kids could use as toppings to decorate their own cupcakes. Everyone seemed happy.
And then came our child’s birthday party – I ordered a vegan sheet cake with vegan frosting from Whole Foods bakery. Again, not impressed with the consistency of the vegan frosting. It basically melted all over the cake and down the sides into a rectangular blob with vague flat “flower” shapes, even though it had been refrigerated the whole time. I made the most of it by printing and glueing some pictures of Cicely Mary Barker flower fairies onto toothpicks and standing them up on the mound, and the party attendees didn’t seem to mind much.
I imagine the bakery decorator lady was washing her vegan-gored hands for half an hour after that order. Okay not really. After all, natural dyes wash off instantly, as opposed to petroleum food coloring, which will give you away for a week after that purple hair dye experiment.
Thank goodness the children’s museum was having a special cultural dance thing with loud drums that day. I’m hoping to replace the old saying of “people always remember the cake” with the more modern “people always remember the 4-man Chinese dragon costume undulating under a giant replica of a brachiosaurus.” I was a little peeved that I paid that much money for a blob, though.
For this year’s Valentine’s Day shindig, I’ve wised up: I’ll bake naturally-dyed cupcakes and top them with Whole Foods buttercream frosting for the kidlets. I’ll squish the Whole Foods heart-shaped cookies dusted with naturally dyed decorator sugars onto the tops of the cupcakes (stole that idea right from their bakery case, since there’s no way in heck I’m paying $84 for two dozen cupcakes).
Our party is right after lunch, so we’re not going all out with red foods or Pinteresting pizzazz. Just exchanging valentines (which typically come with a variety of petrol dyed candies and temporary tattoos) and giving out small goody bags containing “love coupons”, erasers, stickers, fake mustaches, Yummy Earth lollipops and Surf Sweets gummy hearts. Thankfully, the teacher prohibits opening of candy in class and she encourages water to be served at class parties. (Still, I’d love to be a fly on the walls of all the little children during their lost weekend of post-Valentine candy bingeing).
The other parent volunteer came up with a fantastic idea for the kids to give a little something back to our community “from the heart” – they’ll be making valentine’s for the staff and patients at our local downtown hospital. Sounds like a successful celebration of love to me.
So if you’re new to the dye-free thing, how can you make this red deluge work without those little gnome hat shaped squirty bottles of ick? Well we typically work out a Trade Deal with our kid for every holiday, where we replace her party stash with treats I’ve carefully selected. I can say that Whole Foods really does Valentine’s Day right with some awesome chocolate offerings. Trader Joe’s may have some cool cakes, punches, and cookies. Even Kroger and Target are selling their own versions of naturally dyed M&M knockoffs. One reader, Kelly, told me that some Rite-Aid stores currently have their Unreal Candy on clearance (it’s also available in Michael’s, Kroger, Target, Walgreen’s, CVS, and other stores).
Or you can order online if you’re willing to pay the shipping cost…try Amazon, Natural Candy Store, Indie Candy, and the The Squirrel’s Nest. We scored a free set of 24 valentine cards with organic fair trade mini dark chocolate bars from Natural Candy Store with promo code VCARDS just for ordering at least $25 worth of stuff. Plus they always give you a couple of free samples with every order.
Or you could attempt to make your own naturally dyed confections with prepared liquid dyes from Nature’s Flavors (Seelect), Maggie’s Naturals, Chocolate Craft, and India Tree (found at Whole foods too). The cheaper and faster option would be to create your own homemade reddish food dye by boiling down cut up beets or berries. You can also dry berries and fruits in a low heat oven with the door slightly ajar, then process them in a blender until powdery, and add to powdered sugar for longterm color storage. Here are links to some natural red velvet cupcake and pink frosting recipes: Playin With My Food, Sophistimom, and Her Green Life. Or just sub natural beet color for Red 40 dye in any of your grandma’s Technicolor red velvet recipes.
If you want to keep the holiday even healthier, you could always just serve your family a variety of gorgeous red foods as they were found in nature (except for all that Pinterestifying) such as watermelon, strawberries dipped in chocolate or hazelnut spread, raspberries, apples, cherries, red grapes, plums, red bell peppers, grape tomatoes, and red pears. If your kids can be trusted with squishy wet foods, try a simple dip of sour cream and red jelly for dipping fruit kabobs.
(And if anyone finds an all natural jam comparable to Smucker’s Red Plum Jam, let me know and I’ll forever be in your debt. Before we started eating more organic foods, I would Facebook my RPJ scores with check-ins and everything. *sigh*).
My last bit of advice: If you simply must get into the spirit of the day by dyeing your dog, cat or livestock…then I beg you once again to just use beets or something. Or just, you know, skip it. (Yes, these dudes are keen. Poor cows have it bad enough with their mega-farm gummy worms diet and now this? BTW, kudos to the voice of reason in this thread). I’m pretty sure that romantic animal festoonery was not endorsed by Saint Valentine…although I wouldn’t put it past those Pagans.
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