School is back, which means that many parents (and grandparents) have a child (or children) in college.
How can you show them that you love them? How can you make their day? And, if you do it right, how can you embarrass them just a little?
Send a care package. One of the great joys of living in a dorm is receiving a box full of your favorite treats from home. And another joy of dorm life is living down the hall from a guy who gets a box full of his favorite treats from home.
So it’s a win-win.
And it’s not just college students who need and deserve care packages. Think how happy a loved one in the military would be to receive food from home.
All it takes to send a successful care package is a little common sense. Don’t send ice cream, unless you pack it in a cooler with dry ice — and even then the student will have to have a freezer to put it in. Don’t send raw meat. Don’t send vegetables.
Do send baked goods, particularly baked goods that are fairly sturdy and can stand up to the rigors of shipping. Try to avoid things that will soon turn into crumbs. And make sure they won’t go stale anytime soon, too.
For my hypothetical child at college — let’s say he’s at Harvard on full scholarship — I made a care package with four items I know he would love and crave, if he existed.
Granola bars, for instance. While any college kid can hop down to the bookstore and buy a granola bar (or soldier to the PX), homemade granola bars are a whole other story.
As proof, I offer my own experience. I do not like granola bars, or I did not like them until I first made my own. Now I like granola bars, but only the homemade ones.
I think the difference is the freshness and the way the combination of ingredients has not been homogenized by countless focus groups. And you can make them to order. Once you have the base down, you can add your own combination of add-ins. I used chopped dates and coconut, but you can use whatever you want — dried cherries, M&Ms, chocolate chips. Whatever sounds good.
You can always pretend that granola bars are healthful, but there is no such excuse for Cheerio peanut butter cereal bars. They’re just good. No, they’re just great. Amazing, even.
Everybody knows Rice Krispies treats. For my care package, I wanted that same idea, only with my favorite cereal, Cheerios. I have nothing against Rice Krispies (they’re in my top five), but Cheerios are like manna from heaven, only better. They are the ultimate expression of breakfast foods, the ideal of cereal.
And Cheerios peanut butter cereal bars are kind of the ideal of snack foods in general and care-package foods in particular. They’re light in texture, though perhaps not in calories, and are somehow both chewy and a little crunchy at the same time.
The recipe comes straight from Cheerios, and who would know better what to do with their cereal than they? The original recipe calls for Chocolate Cheerios, and while I don’t think they are necessarily a complete abomination I also have no need to ever try them. I am a purist. I used regular Cheerios, and I am not ashamed.
Another recipe caught my eye because it reminded me of one of my favorite candy bars.
Salted peanut bars are sort of like Payday bars, with some significant differences. First and foremost, they have a simple crust on the bottom so it is a bar as in a lemon bar: A Payday bar bar.
Also, it is not really a nougat, as in a Payday bar; it is more of a cross between a nougat and peanut brittle, with an extra dash of butterscotch.
It’s familiar but unique. It’s superb. I may like it as much as the Cheerios thing.
I finished off my care package with something that, as far as I can tell, is beloved by everyone in the world. Who wouldn’t want to open a package from home and find a big batch of homemade caramel popcorn?
I made the popcorn the relatively old-fashioned way, on top of a stove in a pot. I didn’t want any of the extra flavors that you get when you pop it in a bag in a microwave (and yes, when I was growing up we used to pop it in a basket over a fire, but that adds another unwanted flavor).
The hard part of making caramel corn is usually making the caramel itself. Caramel can be tricky, but the recipe I found from Kitchn was easy.
But was it good?
It was caramel. It was popcorn. It was superb.