Monday, December 26, 2005

The best Christmas ever!

We had so much fun yesterday! Pajama Christmas was great! Almost everyone participated in the pajama part. Here's me in my Ice Skating Polar Bear pjs with matching slippers:

We started with a fabulous breakfast of two kinds of egg's the menu (a little rubbed off cause somebody leaned against it):

After the brunch dishes were done, we opened presents! Another new tradition this year was to pull names from a hat to see who opened the next present. Previously, we started with the youngest opening all their gifts at once and moving up in age. That used to be great when I was younger but now it stinks! My name was pulled about 4th or 5th. I received lovely earrings and a contribution to one of my favorite charities (The Smile Train).

I spent most of the afternoon scanning pictures. We ended up with 330 pictures on a CD we gave to every household at the end of the day, including lots of pics of my dad as a young man. This is one of my favorites:

Around 5 o'clock we had our supper...yummy ham sandwiches, cucumber salad, fruit and two kinds of potatoes (mine plus a sweet potato casserole). Dessert was cookies and cake. The day ended shortly after "da Bears" beat the Packers (woo-hoo!).

Everyone had such a good time. The day was relaxed, comfortable and fun. The only thing I would have done differently is to move the photo project into the living room instead of working on it in the bedroom. They offered me a table out there, but I had already set up and didn't want to move.

And Christmas isn't over for me! Tomorrow I head to Michigan to celebrate Christmas with Daniel's family. What a bonus to have two families to love and who love me!

This Christmas was the best ever, not just because of what I have described above. I have been so blessed this year, especially the last few months. Through what can only be described as a miracle, I made it through the baking and decorating of hundreds of cookies, the daily availability of wonderful goodies at the office, the preparation of six pounds of cheesy mashed potatoes, and the two biggest eating holidays known to man, and not once was I tempted to overeat. Through God's grace, I have been released of my food compulsion (and approximately 40 pounds so far).

I am enjoying life, moment by moment, living an attitude of gratitude in everything. I have never been happier. Thank you, Lord, for the best Christmas ever!

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Pajama Christmas!

It's early Christmas morn. I've got lots to do before heading to my sister's home for the day. Our Christmas Day tradition has been an early dinner there since she and her husband got married. It is wonderful! They are extremely good cooks, and we have a different menu every year. I usually start asking "what's cooking for Christmas?" sometime in October.

This year we are starting a new tradition. Because my niece really, really, really didn't want to get out of her pajamas when company was due last year, she came up with the idea of "Pajama Christmas". We're starting with brunch in our pajamas, and if you want you can stay in them all day. We're also having the fabulous dinner, and this year several of us are bringing side dishes or desserts so the cooks don't have to make absolutely everything. I'm bringing my own invention...cheddar ranch mashed potatoes with fried onion topping (mmmmmmmm).

And since we're going to be there all day long, I came up with an idea for a project to do. Everyone is bringing pictures that they think the family would like a copy of. We're going to scan them all and at the end of the day give each household a CD with all the pictures, including pics taken today in our pajamas! I just love digital photography!

Well, gotta get going. I need to start packing up my red shopping cart (it really is red) with gifts, potatoes, cookies, my computer and scanner and CDs and labels, a change of clothes in case I get tired of being in my pjs, and probably more stuff that I'm forgetting about. I'll report back later.

Have a wonderful day!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Some more cookies

I made these for a friend to take to a cookie exchange:

And I'm not done yet...I have a few more batches to make before Christmas, to give as gifts. Plus next week when I'm visiting the Michigan family, we're making wedding cookies and Happy New Year cookies.

Too much fun!

Monday, December 19, 2005

You can call me Martha Stewart Jr.

I really am having fun with my home projects. First the cookies. Now this:

With the limited space in my kitchen, and my renewed interest in cooking, I needed more efficient access to some of the tools I use alot. I had this fancy curtain rod left over from my previous apartment.

The first thing I thought of was a place to hang my coffee mugs and kitchen towels. After some internet surfing, this idea came to me when I saw an ad for a similar, but smaller, hanging basket/utensil system. I used coat hooks, ribbon, key rings, chrome racks and s-hooks.

I also bought this chicken utensil holder which goes well with my cooking lady from Poland and Big Boy salt and pepper shakers:

Unfortunately, still no room for the kitchen towels. Oh,'s still a good thing.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Rose

Heard this old song for the first time in years the other day.

The Rose
written by Amanda McBroom

Some say love, it is a river
that drowns the tender reed.
Some say love, it is a razor
that leaves your soul to bleed.
Some say love, it is a hunger,
an endless aching need.
I say love, it is a flower,
and you its only seed.

It's the heart afraid of breaking
that never learns to dance.
It's the dream afraid of waking
that never takes the chance.
It's the one who won't be taken,
who cannot seem to give,
and the soul afraid of dyin'
that never learns to live.

When the night has been too lonely
and the road has been to long,
and you think that love is only
for the lucky and the strong,
just remember in the winter
far beneath the bitter snows
lies the seed that with the sun's love
in the spring becomes the rose.

I am 45 years old, and I feel like I am finally blossoming into the person God meant me to be. Some flowers take longer than others to bloom.

Never give up.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Great Cookie Experiment of 2005 is a Success!

It's finally done! More than a week of my life dedicated almost solely to cookies. But I think it was a huge success. My cookies got lots of "oooh" and "aaahhh" reactions at the cookie packing event. Here is part of the assembly line:

And here is the end result:

Somehow when the cookies were weighed in to give each person credit, we came up with about 180 pounds (my contribution weighed in at just over 10 pounds). Once they were all packed, we had 190 one-pound boxes, and several large trays of leftovers for serving after the concert tonight. Sort of like Jesus and the fish and bread, in a tastier but much smaller and historically insignificant way.

I ended up with a lot of leftover ingredients. So I made two batches of sugar cookie dough - one with lemon and one with orange - and they are triple-wrapped and in the freezer for future use (just let me know if you need some cookies and I'll bake for you). I made macaroons from the leftover coconut that I'm bringing to church. I made twelve individual egg casseroles for quick breakfasts that are in the freezer. Plus I did grocery shopping, made a pot of soup, and did the laundry...all last night after I got home from a whole day at church. One of the most productive days in my entire life. Feels good!

I'm off to church now...gonna be another very long but satisfying day!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Cookies - Snowflakes, Bells and Stockings

I baked one more batch of sugar cookies, this time with pineapple flavoring. I was going for a coconut-pineapple combo. But adding coconut to the top of the cookie made them too big/thick for the cookie sale (we pack lots of different cookies in each box to sell).

The snowflakes were decorated in a variety of ways:

My favorite snowflakes are these:

I would have finished all of them like that, but I was running out of time. Same with the bells...I would have liked to spend more time making them fancier, but they are still pretty:

And when the hour was late, I knew I would not have time for the icing to dry if I did the last of the stockings with the flow icing like before. So instead, I just painted on a thin coat of the red and white icing, and dipped them into the big sugar crystals:

I kinda like that almost better!

Well, I'm off to the church for cookie packing. I ended up with five shirt boxes of cookies (multiple layers in each box). I'm gonna take some pictures there and post a wrap up later today.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Cookies - First Finished Product

We're down to the wire. Today and tomorrow is all I have left to finish the cookies for the cookie sale.

Here are the candy canes:

And here are the stockings:

More to come tonight!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Cookies - Birthday Surprise 3

Check it out...the birthday cake cookies turned out great!

The icing is hardened and the cookies will be on their way via Fed Ex tomorrow. I feel confident that decorating the Christmas Cookies will be a breeze now that I have had lots of icing practice.

Time for bed...I'm still having fun with this project but I'm looking forward to having my regular life back.

Cookies - Birthday Surprise 2

Had mixed results with the icing for the birthday cake cookies. Some of it did not dry hard enough:

I may not be able to ship cookies to my out of town friend, but I can deliver a few to my other friend this weekend. But I to have to get back to the Christmas cookies tonight because those are top priority.

Funny story...I decided to buy a hair net for obvious reasons (it's one thing to find your own hair in food, but for others to find it...super-yuk!). Last night I was doing laundry and icing cookies in between trips to the laundry room. And yes, the one time there is a cute guy there, at the machine right next to mine, I realized that I had forgotten to take off the hair net.

Well, he was too young for me anyway.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Cookies - Birthday Surprise

Two of my good friends are having birthdays this week. I am making them some birthday cake cookies:

Lucky for the folks at work, I broke a few. Plus I made the other cookies from the dough that got too warm to roll:

I had made the dough last night, but baked all this and made two batches of Royal Icing this morning (I've been up since four)! Gotta quick eat breakfast, make my lunch and get to work. I might just make it on time.

Bye for now!

Monday, December 05, 2005

Cookies - The Icing Cometh 2

Well, I woke up with energy and a desire to ice cookies. So I worked on the red color and here's the result:

Now I'm really jazzed! I think I know what consistency to make the piped outline and the flow for the inside. I'm going to get back to the store for a couple more items, including squeeze bottles to apply the flow icing, and finalize the plans for the week. I'm thinking stockings, candy canes, teddy bears and bells. Plus the sandwich cookies (all I have to do is assemble them on Friday).

This is so much fun!

Sunday, December 04, 2005


Here's today's yield:

Did more practice with the icing. It's an interesting craft. I need to let what I did harden before I can start with other colors.

I was going to do more, but boy am I tired! I made some soup for the week, and I'm heading for bed.

I'll write more later in the week when we see how the icing goes.

Cookies - The Icing Cometh

What do you suppose the chances are that the stuff you couldn't find in the store, you would find at CHURCH?

On a normal Sunday, not much of a chance. But today there is a Gingerbread House party! And I happened to mention to the lady in charge that I couldn't stay because I had to bake cookies, and that I was hoping to have better luck finding meringue powder today. Well, just who happened to have an extra can of the stuff (leftover from their supplies for the house building)?

So anyway, I've made my first test batch. I'm going for that shiny, hard, colorful icing look, using this method.

Here's my first attempt. I'm testing piping the border, the flow icing consistency and coloring:

What I learned so far:

1. I like this icing recipe better than the one I used yesterday. That took too long to dry.
2. Don't stir the extra water into the flow icing too will create air bubbles.
3. I'm gonna need lots more powdered sugar!

I'm gonna whip up some more icing samples, then get back to baking.

And my test samples from yesterday are gone. The kids at church LOVED them.

Finally, if you don't believe in miracles, just think about this. I made at least 200 cookies yesterday, and did not eat even one!

The Great Cookie Experiment - Day 2

Yesterday's efforts were a great success! Jan's cookies turned out very well. My sandwich cookies will be wonderful. I really got the hang of rolling the dough.

This morning I finished cleaning up and setting up for today's baking. But it's off to church first. On the way home I need to pick up more butter and can hopefully find some meringue powder for the other icing recipe I want to try. Today's experimental focus is on coloring the icing and piping it onto the sugar cookies.

Fun fun fun! See you later!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Cookies - Lemon Raspberry Sandwich

It looks like the sandwich cookie idea is going to work well. I made them in different shapes, and sugared the tops.

I'll freeze these until Friday, when I'll take them out and assemble them with the raspberry preserves. They will be a prettier version of these test cookies.

Try as I might, I could not finish the entire batch of dough. There's probably about 5 dozen worth left. But I needed a break! In a little while, I'll finish baking the batch tonight, and make another batch of dough to bake tomorrow.

Not a bad day's work. Might be back tonight, might not. Will defintely post tomorrow.

Cookies - Rolled Sugar Cookies Batch 1

I got the receipe for No Fail Sugar Cookies and it looked pretty straight forward. The hard part, I think, is learning to roll the dough to the thickness you need.

This first test batch is in the oven:

The ones on the bottom are intended to be lemon sandwich cookies with raspberry filling. The ones on the top I will use to practice Royal Icing decorating.

Gotta check the oven...

...hmmm...seems it's running hotter than it was this morning. Cooking time will certainly depend on thickness, but I think 8 minutes will be good for the sandwich cookies.

What I learned on this batch:

1. This dough recipe is's the consistency of dry Play-Dough.
2. Bake one sheet of cookies at a time, and stay away from the edges of the oven.
3. Check the oven temperature before baking.

Cookies - Chocolate Orange Spritz

These I'm having a little trouble shooting onto the cookie sheet. But they are worth it! This is what my sister is bringing to her cookie exchange. I used orange extract in the cookie, and they are frosted with Royal Icing and sprinkled with yellow sugar:

We need to finish these today so she can take them home. Plus, I'm taking a lunch break. Be back later with the next cookie!

Cookies - Classic Spritz Batch 3 & 4

Ah ha! With the one-pull of the trigger, and a cooking time of 10 minutes, batch four turned out the best!

Actually, this picture is Batch 3. Batch 4 had no brown edges.

Onto the next batch of dough!

Cookies - Classic Spritz Batch 2

While my only cookie sheet cooled, I added some green food coloring to the remaining dough and changed the disk to a Christmas tree shape.

What I've learned on this batch:

1. My quantities are probably off because I think I read the directions of the cookie press wrong...I'm pulling the trigger twice, and once is good.
2. Food coloring is hard to wash off my hands.
3. I've caught myself several times trying to lick my fingers (habit). That is not only unsanitary, cookie dough is not in my eating plan (especially between meals).
4. If you leave your hair in a Turbie Twist too long, it creates an interesting dent in the front of your hairline (nothing to do with cookies, but still a good lesson to remember).

Good news! My sister just called and she's coming over to play cookie chef with me. She's stopping at the store for cookie sheets. God bless her!

Here's batch 2. You can see I am getting the hang of the cookie press. Also, these were a bit overdone, so next batch will be 11 minutes:

Cookies - Classic Spritz Batch 1

Making the Classic Spritz cookie recipe from Pampered Chef. The cookies are in the oven now.

What I've learned so far:

1. I need more cookie sheets (I have one...duh).
2. Butter does not adequately soften in four hours if you keep your apartment's thermostat at 60 degrees overnight.
3. Spritz cookies shot from the cookie press don't stick well to parchment paper (I'm supposed to be using a baking stone, but don't have one for cookies).
4. Recipes lie about how much they yield. This one says 6-7 dozen. If I'm lucky, I'll get 3 dozen (but maybe I did something wrong).
5. Almond extract smells good (I used it instead of vanilla).
6. My oven thermostat is off...I have to set it at 400 degress to get it to 375 degrees.

Here they from the oven! I took them out at 10 minutes. I'll set the timer for 12 minutes for the next batch:

The Great Cookie Experiment

It's three o'clock in the morning. I have risen at this unusual hour to take the butter out of the frig to soften. For at sunrise, the Great Cookie Experiment of 2005 begins!

I'm making cookies to donate to the choir for their homemade Christmas cookie sale, plus I'm making extras for a few other occasions. It has been years since I've baked cookies from scratch.

Stay tuned all weekend for my "liveblogging" reports on turning this:

into yummy, pretty cookies. And what about the ones that might be yummy but not so pretty? I'll bring those to work, where free food never goes to waste!