There’s a certain expectation of fabulousness when someone finds out you are gay. I fully blame RuPaul’s Drag Race and Queer Eye for this sort of reductive laziness. But also, I have been known to accidentally live up to that fabulousness on more than one occasion. It’s never intentional. I don’t parade around waving the rainbow flag and wearing body glitter (I mean, not every day, glitter is for special occasions). But being gay (as well as Asian) means I view life through a specific lens. A very specific lens. And though it can be a struggle some days, it’s a core part of who I am. That means I can either shrink back and fade away or stand up and shout out loud my identity. When forced to choose, I often pick up a bullhorn and start shouting.
Of course, I wasn’t always like this. I grew up in the southern-adjacent Midwest town of St. Louis. Or rather, a suburb of St. Louis, one that was predominantly white. I was one of two Asian kids in my grade school. I ate funny food and dressed in odd hand-me-down clothes from my brother who was six years older than me. And I dealt with micro-aggressions my entire childhood through college. It’s impossible to count the number of times I was complimented on my flawless English or asked if I even spoke English, despite the fact that I was born in the hospital a couple of miles from my high school. These are the sort of stories that are universal if you ask any child of any immigrant that was raised in the ‘80s. Being perceived as foreign, even if you were born in the U.S., wasn’t fun.
But ask anyone what it was like to be gay in the ‘80s and the response might be different. Some don’t want to revisit that time period at all. For others it was a time of anger and horror. It’s absolutely not fair to compare being gay versus being a child of an immigrant. They’re both difficult in utterly different ways. But living through the AIDS pandemic as a gay man was devastating.
I came of age and came out when an HIV positive diagnosis was a death sentence. I didn’t know a time before that. And by the time I finally came out of the closet, I was mildly terrified of meeting anyone I could be romantic with. I feel echoes of that panic and fear nowadays with COVID. Being in the same room with a stranger is dangerous. It was back then, and it can feel that way now.
But part of being gay is overcoming those stigmas and learning to adapt. Every year in June, the entire LGBTQIA+ community celebrates something called Pride. And though it looks fabulous with drag queens and floats and folks of all colors and genders partying hard, it’s called Pride Celebration because it’s truly a celebration. Folks are celebrating all the trials and difficulties that we, as a community, had to overcome. They’re celebrating that new drugs can keep folks from dying of HIV, or even prevent HIV transmission. They’re celebrating the fact that they can now legally marry someone they’ve loved for years. They’re celebrating finding a chosen family with friends after their own biological family turned their backs on them. They’re celebrating surviving and being alive one more year.
So this year, I chose to make these Rainbow Rice Krispie Treats as a jubilant celebration. The rainbow flag was designed by Gilbert Baker, an artist and activist that lived in San Francisco back in 1978. And though the flag has been criticized in recent years for being commercialized, Gilbert Baker designed it intentionally to be used by everyone. He never made a single dime off of it. I took a classic Midwest rice krispie treat, the kind of snack that my fellow Midwest grade school kids would often bring with them to lunch and turned it into an edible rainbow flag using food coloring. Think of it as an edible version of me clutching that proverbial bullhorn and yelling to everyone I know that yes, I survived one more year as well.
Liquid Food Coloring
I used easy-to-find liquid food coloring from the grocery store in my rice krispie treats. It’s the kind that comes 4 to a set, in those tear-dropped shaped bottles. Liquid food coloring isn’t as intense as more professional grade gel food coloring which you can find at craft stores like Michael’s or JOANN. But keep in mind that all artificial food coloring does darken and become more vibrant over time. You’ll notice the next day that the rice krispie treats are more vibrant.
For liquid food coloring this is what I used to achieve the colors you see in my treats:
- Purple: 12 drops of red, 10 drops of blue
- Blue: 12 drops of blue
- Green: 12 drops of green
- Yellow: 12 drops of yellow
- Orange: 10 drops of yellow, 4 drops of red
- Red: 12 drops of red
That said, you can use whatever food coloring that you have access to. If you want more vibrant, richer colors, get some gel food coloring. It’s much more intense and will give you more saturated colors. If you don’t mind lighter, more pastel like colors (like my rice krispie treats) then just use the liquid stuff, or add more food coloring. I tried to keep the food coloring to the minimum in my recipe as the more you add to the treat, the more you can taste the bitter artificial color. There’s a delicate balance between being fabulous and being a bitter jaded queen. I always try to err on the side of fabulous.
You can try to use natural-based food colorings with this recipe if you wish. They’re becoming increasingly easier to find at well-stocked grocery stores, upscale markets or online. Oftentimes the natural stuff fades when you bake or heat it up, but rice krispie treats are a no-bake treat. The minimal heat from the melted marshmallows should not affect the natural-based food colorings. Just keep in mind that natural-based food coloring is often not as potent as artificial coloring and will fade over time, so enjoy these treats right away or expect your treats to be slightly less vibrant the next day.
How to Store Rice Krispie Treats
Store these rice krispie treats like you would normally store plain rice krispie treats, in an airtight container at room temperature for two to three days.
Use the Microwave
You’ll notice I use the microwave oven to melt my marshmallows, not the stovetop. I do this for a few reasons. First, it’s convenient to just microwave for a minute. Second, I don’t have to worry about overheating the marshmallows, as I only microwave them for a minute. Third, I can heat the marshmallows in a clear glass bowl or a white bowl. I can place the glass bowl on a white surface and once I mix the melted marshmallows and butter together, I can add food coloring to the desired color I want. The clear bowl and the white surface allows me to see exactly what the color will be, unlike a dark colored pan.
That said, you can certainly use the stovetop and a pan if you want to melt the marshmallows. Just heat the butter and marshmallows on low heat to prevent the marshmallows from burning and then stir in the food coloring and rice krispies once melted. Continue the recipe as directed.
Cooking Spray is Best
Cooking spray is your friend in this recipe. You are making small thin layers of colored rice krispies treats, so the cooking spray is there to keep you from getting frustrated with the stickiness.
That said, you can totally just use neutral-flavored cooking oil and brush it on if you’d like. Keep a small bowl of the cooking oil (just a couple of tablespoons) next to you as you assemble the layered colored rice krispies. They have a habit of sticking to your hands (as melted marshmallows do) and oiling your hands will help you spread the sticky rice krispie into a thin even layer.
Rainbow Rice Krispie Treats
If using unsalted butter, add a pinch of kosher salt. You can use pure vanilla exact if you prefer it over imitation vanilla.
- Nonstick cooking spray
- 15 ounces regular-sized marshmallows, divided
- 6 tablespoons salted butter, divided
- 1 1/2 teaspoons clear imitation vanilla, divided
- Red food coloring
- Blue food coloring
- Green food coloring
- Yellow food coloring
- 7 1/2 cups (about 6 ounces) Rice Krispies cereal, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, like Maldon Sea Salt Flakes (optional)
Prepare the pan:
Lightly spray an 8 x 8-inch square baking pan with cooking spray. Line the pan with parchment paper that is cut to fit inside the pan with a 1-inch overhanging the sides. This will help you lift the rice krispie treats out of the pan. Lightly spray the parchment paper.
Melt the marshmallows:
Lightly spray a large microwave safe bowl and a silicon spatula with cooking spray. Place 2 1/2 ounces (about 12) marshmallows and 1 tablespoon butter in the bowl. Microwave on high for 1 minute or until the marshmallows are big and puffy. Immediately add 1/4 teaspoon vanilla and stir it with the oiled spatula until most of the marshmallows are melted.
Add food coloring:
Stir in 12 drops of red food coloring and 10 drops of blue food coloring, mixing thoroughly until uniform in color.
Add the cereal:
Add 1 1/4 cups cereal and stir to fully incorporate. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan.
Spread it into the prepared pan:
Lightly spray your hands with cooking spray and spread the colored rice krispies into a thin even layer, covering the whole pan. The parchment paper will move around while you do this. Just try your best to hold it into place or adjust it as needed. Respray your hands if they get sticky. Try to work quickly before the mixture hardens.
Wash and repeat:
Wash and dry the bowl and spatula. Repeat this process starting with step #2 above. You will have 5 more colored layers using the following:
- 12 drops blue food coloring
- 12 drops green food coloring
- 12 drops yellow food coloring
- 10 drops yellow and 4 drops red food coloring to make orange
- 12 drops red food coloring
Cool and slice:
Once you’re done with the last layer, which will be red, sprinkle some sea salt on top, if using. Let the rice krispies cool for a minimum of 1 hour, then lift it out of the pan using the overhanging parchment paper. Place it on a cutting board and peel off the parchment paper.
Use a sharp chef’s knife to cut it into 12 pieces and celebrate pride with a big bite of fabulousness.
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