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Friday, April 11, 2014

Easter and Spring...and a few cookies

I'm taking a quick trip this week-end to see my youngest, my middle, and my oldest!  Rarely do I get to visit with all of my sons at one time.  This is a real treat!  Unfortunately, Mr. Flip Flop is on-call and can't go with us.  I know someone has to do it...but he seems to have an inordinate amount of call scheduled!  Oh well, nothing to be done about it at this point.

I made a batch of Sweet Sugarbelle's Red Velvet Roll-outs because the older two have not had the chance to try them yet.  I think they are primo!  Unfortunately, the Cream Cheese MP Icing got a little wavy when I put it under a fan that was a bit too close to the cookies.  It literally moved the icing! 

I had planned to use a large Easter egg stencil I got a while back...so I made particularly large cookies...the cutter was 5x3 inches...and the cookies expanded 1/2 inch both ways!  The entire batch of dough only made 8 rectangles and a dozen teeny tiny little mini cookies.  Due to the waviness of the iced large cookies, I was afraid to use a plastic stencil with a thick royal icing - that only works when your cookie is nicely flat. 

I decided, instead, to airbrush a background and use some pieces of lace I purchased just for this technique.  I selected two different designs and cut a swatch that would drape over the cookies easily.  I hoped this would "sort of" mask the imperfect surface.  They did a fairly good job of doing just that!  One was sort of flowery and I used a blue pearl sheen for that one.  The other seemed maybe a bit less feminine...and since I had a lot of boys...I added some purple to the blue sheen and sprayed the second half of the large cookies.  I grabbed some wafer papers I had on hand and started flying by the seat of my pants...no drawn out plan as I usually do.

I practiced free-hand printing on all of these cookies -
one of my true weak skills in the decorating arena. 
I read that cookiers were using the thinner Masters brand
bags with no tip and just a bare snippet off the tip of the
piping bag.  I had some on hand so I tried it out on a small
baking mat.  I was really amazed at the level of control I had
compared to the more traditional piping bag and tips with couplers. 
I added a smidgen of corn syrup to a thick
piping icing to get a smooth flow...and it worked! 
Some letters look better than others...
but it is an improvement for me!
The minis just got a quick base coat as my intention was for us to munch on the tidbits instead of decorate them.  Half of them did go that way - but the other half of the minis got a last minute, quickly piped flower to use up some leftover icing.  These little cookies are barely larger than
1 1/4 inch, so REAL minis!

The blue pearled cookies got a dose of Easter d├ęcor.  These are the very cute Peter Rabbit wafer papers I got from CookiePixie on Etsy.  She has a wonderful selection of prints, including vintage prints, and I feel her prices are reasonable for quality wafer paper prints.  This batch goes to my Granddaughters and my middle son.


The other cookies (including some not shown - don't get in a snit youngest son - there is one for you) had wafers of blue bonnets applied.  When we start seeing blue bonnets (around mid to late March) in Texas...we know it's Spring.  After such a rough Winter...I'm thrilled that I'll be seeing wildflowers this week-end.  It's a great sadness to me that they don't seem to grow down here by the coast.  I was happy to put them on cookies this year!

I had never tried a running bead border, so I gave it a shot
around the wafer papers.
The outer border was a shell border. 
I did use royal icing for all of the detail. 
The Cream Cheese MP Icing is really quite soft! 
It does, however, have fabulous
flavor on the Red Velvet cookies!

So, wherever you are in the U.S.A., or beyond, I hope you get to enjoy some lovely flowers and beautiful colors in your landscape...some are in Springtime...and other friends are in Autumn.  Whatever it is, I do love the moderate seasons between harsh Winter and hot Summer!  Hope you do to.

Field of Bluebonnets near Austin, TX
Photo by Ian Hook

Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!

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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Point Isabel ISD 2014 Autism Awareness Walk


Not a great photo - pearlized color was doing odd things
for the camera!  The ribbon stencil was purchased
from SalsaSweets and the cute puzzle cookie
cutter was scored during my visit to Orson Gygi
in Salt Lake City!
It was lovely to see so many old friends and meet some new friends this morning after the 2014 Autism Awareness Walk in Port Isabel.  I have to admit, I slept through the walk, but I scrambled into clothes and flew out the door to be at the finish line to visit with folks, eat a hot dog, and listen to the prize drawings being called out.

For a cloudy, bordering on drizzly, day...it was a really great turn-out!  My offerings this year were puzzle-shaped Marshmallow Krispie Treats - 2 dozen were boxed up for prizes...and some cookies of course!

I scored several fabulous boxes from BRP Box Shop
in my CookieCon swag bag - used them to package
up the door prize drawing I was contributing.
I have collected puzzle ribbon wherever I could
find it for the past two years (because it is quite
scarce during April each year).  The coastal cookies
were wrapped in some beautiful ribbon from
Ribbon by Design - a vendor and sponsor at CookieCon!
Both BRP and RBD are awesome to work with.

I made a box of coastal cookies, some "Light it Up Blue" ribbon cookies, and a couple of boxes of puzzle cookies, stenciled with a puzzle stencil.  It was a lot of fun playing with my airbrush!
I got a new palm tree cutter that is much larger than the
two I already had - they made some pretty palm trees I think!
I'm fairly certain I got those at Gygi as well!

I loved my puzzle cookies - puzzles on puzzles!
Stencil from the great selection at the Etsy shop
Artfully Designed Creations.
One of my suitcases coming back from CookieCon held all
of my cookie goodies and CC swag...
which included (but was certainly not limited to)
five bags of sanding sugar which I knew I would need
for these cookies I was planning to bake.
My hair is frizzy from the humidity but my heart is joyful from seeing so many people out on a sort-of-dreary day to support the hope that our autistic family members become integrated and accepted into local activities, daily life, and are treated just like everyone else.  That's really all we want - for them to be accepted just the way they are.  They are unique and special people with a LOT to offer our community (and communities everywhere).  You can help make it happen.  Just accept them!
 
(an iron-on decal I got from e-bay...it describes my son perfectly!)
Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!

 
 




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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

I Have Found My People...and They Are Cookiers!!!

There is nothing so delightful as being surrounded by about 500 other people who like the very same thing you like.  That they are warm, caring, welcoming, and incredibly talented and creative...well, that's just icing on ...the cookie.

Yes, I'm back from CookieCon and I have no words.  The adjectives and the superlatives have all been used.  Wonderful classes, break-out sessions, speakers, the sugar art show...jam-packed into 3 exciting days of cookie joy.  My friend, Diana, and I had the time of our lives.





Diana and I enjoyed taking in the Salt Lake City and surrounding area sites.  We played tourist on Sunday before heading home on Monday.  We went to The Great Salt Lake, to Park City Ski Resort, Temple Square in downtown SLC...and my bucket list item, hearing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

 

 
I felt my Mom's presence with me - we both loved this choir.

I found I didn't take all that many photos in the classes.  I spent time making pages of notes (which I will need to go over repeatedly) where I documented all but the last class of the day...by that time I had a hand cramp!  I learned many new things and a different way to do old things.  It was really beyond wonderful.

The spotlight of the event, however, was definitely seeing the incredible work of so many cookie artists in one place, in real life!  Since I can't really post hundreds of photos, I decided to put together a little slide show.  I know there are some cookies I may have missed, but I think I got the vast majority of them.  I bow to the advanced cookiers...their work is incredible.  I bow to the beginners who had the guts to put their work on display.  I bow to the intermediate talents who can see how far they've come and how far they want to go.  There was a place for every level of artist in the Sugar Art Show.

Enjoy the video and I'd love any comments you might care to make.  I am avidly waiting to learn when the NEXT CookieCon will be!

Bon Appetit, my cookie friends!



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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

CookieCon 2014 Sugar Art Show Entries

I don't have time to write all about CookieCon (but I will do that later).  I am just home yesterday afternoon and have much catching up to do and about 400 photos to look at.

However, I did want to go ahead and post photos of the two cookies I entered in the Sugar Art Show.  I worked hard on them and I'm kind of proud of how far I've come in the last couple of years.  Sadly, after sitting in the extremely dry air for 3 days in Salt Lake City, my first cookie cracked and crumbled when I picked it up to bring it home.  They both ended up in the trash because I knew they couldn't be eaten and so pffft...off they went into the garbage.

Glad I photographed them.  Not a winner - but that is absolutely okay.  You should see the cookies that won!  I'll try to get together some of the photos I took of cookies before long.  However, I must get back to real life and that means I have to step away from the blog while I do that!

Here are the two entries!

Entry for "Home Sweet Home" Category
Stylistic representation of the beautiful beach and ocean,
sand castles, and our beloved Sea Turtle, Inc. hatchling releases.
Entry in the "Anything Goes" Category
I had never tried an ombre anything, so I tried the
technique with a flower.  I added two separate
leaf cookies as accents, and embellished them
with piped veins, edible marker veins and dry-brushed
lustre dust.  I painted the accent dots on the flower
with lustre dust dissolved in vodka. The hundreds of
individually piped beads on the flowers was very labor
intensive.  I may never do that again, but I can now say
"I did it"!
 
All cookies were made with my favorite Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookie dough, rolled 3/8" thick, and decorated with vanilla royal icing.  If they hadn't sat around un-covered for 10 days, they would likely have tasted quite yummy!

Thanks for joining me today...more on CookieCon coming up as soon as my life settles down.

Bon Appetit, Y'all!StumbleUpon

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Luck of the Irish!


I must have Irish in me somewhere - my father always said so...quite a melting pot in my blood stream!  I do have freckles and always have a reddish tint to my hair when I'm in the sun for long...and very pale skin.  I always hoped my freckles would tan together when I was a teen ...now, I slather with sunscreen so they won't!

Despite the supposed bit of Irish blood, I realized I've never done cookies for Saint Patrick's Day.  Who knows why not?  Certainly not me.  My son saw a shamrock cutter I had sitting out and wondered if I would be making cookies that he might could eat.  I assured him I would, if he would just let me get some photos before devouring them.  He's moving off to live in a dorm in another city and I know he is going to miss my cookies (and hopefully me a little bit).  I see care packages in his future.


I didn't get very many photos - I only made a dozen cookies for St. Paddy's Day - but I had leftover icing and a big cookie so I played around with an green and orange theme with the extra.  The family ate four cookies before I could get them photographed.  They were darn tasty.  I haven't eaten one of my cookies in over a month - and it's always good to check on the quality!

I think I'll pack up the last few cookies for my boy to take with him...oh wait, I see there are only four left now!  Heck, there will be none left come Monday morning!!!


I used my Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookie recipe and decorated with royal icing as usual.  I tried to stencil a little butterfly on one of the shamrocks and it ended up looking a bit "camo". LOL! 


I really loved the Celtic Knot stencils I purchased from Designer Stencils last year (and never used).  They make such wonderful culinary stencils.  I enjoy stencils a lot in my decorating.  I'm going to try to work on my airbrush skills - so you may see some of those in upcoming posts.  I usually manage to ruin a few cookies in the process.  I suspect I should practice on paper first!  For today, however, the thicker royal icing was carefully smeared over the Celtic Knot stencils, the butterfly stencil, and a concentric circles stencil I got from SalsaSweets.  Fun with icing!

Here's my favorite Irish blessing...

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.


You guys have a great St. Patrick's Day!

Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!
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Friday, March 14, 2014

Where Has the Time Gone???

A celtic knot work in progress
I just realized I had not posted anything on my blog for an entire MONTH.  I don't know where the time has gone.  A lot has been going on in my life...and I've only baked things that I've already posted about or that didn't turn out well and weren't deserving of a post.  (hanging head after a big sigh)

I am in the process of baking and decorating some pieces for the CookieCon 2014 Sugar Art Show.  Since I'm a hobby decorator, I'm shaking in my flip flops.  All those professionals and artists...oh, the anxiety! 

I am also finishing up a sparse few cookies for St. Patrick's Day because my son is looking at me with sad puppy dog eyes, asking "can I eat any of these" when I had a couple of art show cookies drying.  I snapped NO and then realized how snappish I sounded.  I told him I'd make some St. Paddy's Day cookies and he could eat all of them...as soon as I photographed them.  Then, I caved and gave him two, my husband one, and I ate one to ensure quality control (yeah, I'll keep telling myself that).

My house looks like something blew up in it.  My youngest son is finally going to take a leap from the nest and will be moving into a dorm...we are taking that opportunity to repaint and declutter his room...so he is packing stuff for storage and stuff to take with him.  It is all scattered over the entire house.  I'd take a picture, but I'm afraid it would look like an unpleasant Hoarder's episode.  I've done 15 loads of laundry in the past week.  Washing new clothes, washing clothes that haven't seen the light of day in a while (you'd be surprised how many lost socks turned up)  It looks all blowed up, but it's actually been quite organized.  We broke it down into daily tasks...we're only 3 days behind on the list.  It's been a 3-week long endeavor and he moves on Monday.  Oh double yikes...that's just 2 1/2 days away....breathe, breathe.  We can do this!

On Wednesday I fly off to CookieCon with my friend, Diana.  We are both so excited we can hardly stand it.  450 cookie artists, with associated vendors, speakers, and instructors will descend upon Salt Lake City for the 2014 Cookie Art Convention and Show.  I'm truly giddy with excitement.

I'll be gone for a week, so if I get the St. Patrick's Day cookies finished and photographed, I'll try to do another post.  In the meantime, all I have for you is a peek of some things I'm working on.  The one at the top and the one at the bottom (nothing is finished yet, did I mention anxiety?).

Ta ta for now!

I piped hundreds of dots on a cookie and then I dropped
the lid off a piping tip right in the middle.  I nearly cried!

Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!StumbleUpon

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Valentine Cookies 2014





My husband asked me "who are all of these cookies for?" .... and I replied "oh, family and friends".  He just looked puzzled and walked away.  I asked him later, why did he ask?  Did he want to know if he could eat them, did he want to take some to work?  He said, "no, I just wanted to know why you made so many cookies."  My batches of cookie dough usually make about 2 1/2 dozen average sized cookies.  I baked off 2 1/2 batches of cookies and ended up with over 6 dozen undecorated cookies...then through trial and error, I ended up with about 5 dozen assorted sized cookies, decorated for Valentine's Day.


So, my dear, that is a good question!  Why DO I make so many?  I always have all of these ideas - and I want to try them all - and I plan them out.  Then, I end up going off in some different direction and I end up with lots of cookies.  My friends seem to be happy to be the recipients of the excess cookies.  My family enjoys getting them, and Mr. Flip Flop said "I wouldn't mind taking some to work".  All those cookies will be gone in no time!


So, for the almost final batch of Valentine's Day cookies, I present my favorites of the Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies for February 2014.  A lot of love in these cookies!  Enjoy show & tell  :-)

I am slightly addicted to DesignerStencils.  They are consistent
and beautiful and sturdy.  I have the least "trouble" with their
culinary stencils.  Nice people too!

I did a pearl spray over a stencil from Etsy seller StencilLand.  These
ended up being some of my favorite cookies and I actually put
them off to the end because I couldn't decide what to do with them.
White on white always seems so elegant to me.
Used various stencils - one from Designer Stencils and the other
two were just craft store purchases.  I enjoyed messing around with
"different" kinds of borders using my #13 Wilton tip.  I can't
find that tip anymore.  I'd like to have multiple tips.  I used a
#14 to alternate colors - they are nearly the same...but I can tell
the difference.

I kept my color palette fairly basic - pink, white, and red.
I thought about adding gray and soft pink but never
got around to it.  I like the traditional Valentine's Day
colors...and I love a very basic wet on wet technique.
Happy hearts!
These are a small sampling of the many "minis" I made this year.
Ian suggested stacking hearts (large up to small) but I make my
cookies so thick, it didn't look right.  I promised him I'd roll
and cut thinner cookies next year and try his idea.
For some reason, all of the polka dot double hearts I did reminded
me of men's boxer shorts.  Can't get it out of my head every time
I look at them.  (giggle)
Last, but not least, in my favorites were more stencils -
both pearl over red sprayed (stencil from Salsa Sweets)
and the pink on red from Designer
Stencils were larger stencils used on smaller cookies.
I also liked the simple royal icing rose in the center
of a red shell heart.  It reminds me of
a Valentine's card.

Well, those are my favorites of the ones I have finished.  I still have some large hearts to work on.  They were really big and hard to base coat...I'll see what I can do with them tomorrow!

Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Red Velvet Valentine Cookies


I was soooo excited to see Sweet Sugarbelle's recipe for Red Velvet Roll-outs.  She posted it on her website in 2012, but re-posted this year on Facebook for those of us who missed it.  I had been thinking about what flavors to do for Valentine's baking - I like to do at least two and, because my grandkids prefer them, I always include my Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies in the mix.  I am linking the recipe above because I didn't change one tiny iota of the recipe.  It worked beautifully.  I rolled between parchment paper, wore gloves in fear of red food color hands, used her tip of mixing cocoa powder with flour for dusting when sticky.  Everything was smooth and beautiful.  Best of all, they smelled awesome when baking - enough to draw the boy from his man cave.  Best, BEST of all, they taste divine!  No red teeth thanks to the use of Lor-Ann's Red Velvet Emulsion instead of an entire bottle of liquid red food color, no bumps in the baked dough...smooth and delicious.  Ahhhhh.

So, as I moved on to thinking about decorating them, they were calling out to me, begging for a cream cheese icing.  Red Velvet must have cream cheese frosting/icing.  It's in the Southerner's Rules of Baking Book (if there is one, I'm sure it's in there).  The tastes just marry perfectly and, while I wanted to make them "purty", I did not want to top them with royal icing if I could possibly avoid it.  Let the science experiments begin!

I have previously used Karen's Cookies recipe for Meringue Powder Buttercream.  Gave a lovely mouth feel to piped icing.  However, it took three days to dry down in my humid May environment.  I knew I was going to be decorating a lot of cookies for family and friends, I was worried I would not have time.  My usual time frame takes five preparation days, including making the dough, baking, making the icing, and decorating in layers that require complete drying overnight between layers.  If I experimented and it didn't dry, I was afraid my cookies wouldn't be done until AFTER Valentine's Day! 

I cogitated about it a bit with a cup of coffee, sitting here cursing our weather, which is unusually cold this year (like the rest of the southern United States) and cut on the television to Food Network.  Now, my husband would say you can't cut anything on...you can turn it on, but only cut it off.  Yankee, what does he know?  All of us down south know you absolutely can cut on lights, cut on the a/c, cut on the fan, cut on the t.v. - right?  I digress.  On that television was Alton Brown, discussing cakes.  Red Velvet Cake in specific and the fact that the invention of cream cheese "saved the south" because it had a much higher melting point than butter so it became the standard in frosting in the very warm southern U.S. - light bulb goes off in my tiny little 'ole brain.  Maybe I could use cream cheese instead of shortening in Karen's recipe for MP Buttercream.  Instead of Almond extract, maybe I could use some of the Lor-Ann's Cream Cheese emulsion that I had in my cabinet.  Lastly I remembered I had not used the extra MP last time, Karen recommended double for humid environments...I would do that too.  Woo hoo, I was off to the races with my fingers crossed.

I got everything out, mixed it up, and shoulders slumped...it was too runny.  I added another cup or so of confectioner's sugar (maybe even one and a half) and beat it some more.  Now...that's what I'm talking about.  Perfect flood consistency icing.  So, I piped some on a naked cookie and halved the cookie with one of my food testers (Mr. Flip Flop) and we both agreed - yum!  Next to ice some more hearts and see if they would crust.  I put them under the fan and four hours later, the had a light crust, but my finger pressure broke the surface and it was still very "floody" underneath.    I left them untouched under the fan and the next morning I tried again.  They felt smooth for the most part, but still could be crushed.  I could work on them if I was careful and hope they'd continue to set up.  One of the things I noticed is the cookies closest to the fan had "waves" in them.  These were sacrificed to the taster and I allowed most of those wavy ones to continue to dry so I could check on drying status with ones I wasn't going to decorate...but then, I decorated a few to see if the wavy could be hidden by decor.  Actually, that worked pretty well!  Bottom line...the Cream Cheese MP Icing worked great.  Like the MP Buttercream, though, it did take 3 days to get dry all the way through to the point where I could package and stack them.  However, I could marble, I could make dot borders, and I could pipe some "designs" - although I did have a bit of running-together with that.  Anything that is bright white or a rose is royal icing.  The softer colors (and the green piped leaves) are all CC MP Icing!

So, here's the recipe, based on Karen's recipe, with my tweaks.  It's good, and if you have the time for them to dry, it's very, very tasty.  Fortunately, the Red Velvet cookies were so moist they stood up to the time under the fan.  Still soft to the tooth inside and incredibly delicious (I know because I just ate one to make sure ;-).


Cream Cheese MP Icing
Tested in a humid environment
Adapted from Karen's Cookies Recipe


Ingredients:

1/3 cup room temperature water
6 Tablespoons Meringue Powder (I use AmeriColor MP)
4 ounces regular cream cheese, room temperature
5 1/2 to 6 cups of sifted powdered sugar (sift first, then measure), divided
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Lor-Ann's Cream Cheese emulsion (shake before measuring)


Method:

Place three cups of the powdered sugar and the meringue powder in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment engaged.  Turn the machine on and whisk the two dry ingredients together until thoroughly mixed.  With the mixer still on, slowly stream in the water.  Mix until everything is incorporated, scrape down the sides if needed.  Turn the mixer on high and whip until stiff peaks form.  Add flavorings and mix well.

Change to paddle attachment at this point.  Try to get as much off of your whisk attachment as possible.  Use a rubber spatula to help with that.

Add remaining powdered sugar and the cream cheese.  Whip for about 3 minutes - or until you get to flood icing thickness.  Don't whip any less to prevent separation.  I used this as my base.  Store icing in the refrigerator with plastic wrap laying on the surface to prevent crusting (I'm guessing here - that's how I do anything that crusts).

To make piping icing for the leaves, I added powdered sugar and some base together with the green food color (AmeriColor gel leaf green) until it was the consistency I was seeking.

I think you can see from the photos, that it worked really well.  It tastes delicious and worked...what more can you ask for?  Well, you could have asked me to test it more than once to ensure consistent results...but I don't have time.  I welcome any feedback if you try this.  I haven't found anything in a Google search that provides a similar recipe, so I was on untried ground as far as I could tell.

I did find that it was easier for me to do writing with royal icing and the roses are all royal icing transfers I made on another cold day last week.  They are great to have on hand and a good way to use up your unused royal icing.  They last forever if kept in an airtight container!

Well, that's it for the experimentation phase of my Valentine's Day cookie decorating.  I'm onward to the rest of the cookies, still hoping I will get finished in time!


Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!

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Saturday, February 8, 2014

Run to Hear, Inc. is on AmazonSmile!!!




Do you shop on Amazon.com? 

I live in the boonies… I shop on Amazon a LOT.  The nearest big stores are 25 to 30 miles away from my home and the “better” big stores are over 65 miles away .  I quickly became an avid Amazon shopper.  I am a proponent of “shop local” and try to shop at local indie shops regularly, but for much of what I need; it simply is not to be found in a 250 mile radius of my home!  I am a specialty baker and Amazon has a lot of the specialty items I need.  They send most of it right to my door – so I’m a huge fan!  The big Amazon-in-the-sky gets lots of bad press…but here’s some press about the good they are also doing.

Imagine my delight when I found “AmazonSmile” AND found out that Run to Hear, Inc. was a qualified recipient of a percentage of almost everything I buy on Amazon!  All I had to do was sign up and use my regular account (just whatever account you use when you make purchases on Amazon regardless of whether or not it is AmazonPrime) BUT I saved the AmazonSmile portal on my favorites bar so I start my shopping there.  All of my eligible purchases cost the same as the other portal…but, because I designated Run to Hear, Inc. as my charity, they get a percentage of my purchase price as a donation.  No extra cost to me – it’s just Amazon, through their charitable foundation, doing a good deed.  I think it's the right thing for big business to do, don't you?  If so, then take advantage of it without delay!

Here’s a link to the FAQs about the program.  PLEASE sign up today…select Run to Hear, Inc. from their list of qualified charities, and get busy shopping.  Just remember, you must enter through the AmazonSmile portal when you shop… and you will see Run to Hear is listed as your charity at the top of the web page when you are logged in correctly.

It doesn’t cost you a penny…but, as one of the parents of a Run to Hear founder said “Mama told me never to pass up any free money. Golden crumbs....” and that is the absolute truth.  You can help Run to Hear without it costing YOU any extra pennies.  They are indeed golden crumbs for those in need of assistance with cochlear implants, hearing accessories, and assistive technologies…whatever it takes for the hearing impaired, who want to hear better, to access hearing. 

Thanks for helping out in any way you can…be an AmazonSmile contributor today!
R2H group from 2012
Photo courtesy of  Gerald Tow
While you are thinking about Run to Hear....have you signed up for the 2014 5k?  We're at Lake Pflugerville Park again this year and we've moved to a much better (hopefully cooler) day!  MAY 10, 2014 with an 8:00 a.m. start time.  Family friendly, but timed for those more competitive runners (like my granddaughter who won 3rd place in her category last year...yay rah Audrey!).  The sign-up link is on our web site RuntoHear.org - please visit and get yourself registered today.  Can't wait to see you there!

Audrey and her Dad (my son Will), crossing
the finish line with a good time despite arriving and
starting 5 minutes after the start.
Photo courtesy of Alex Labry


Thank you - now I'm back to decorating my Valentine's Day cookies - look for those in an upcoming post!

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Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Mysterious Legendary Golden Booby

Well, here's the third and final installment of the Paragraphs Mysteries of the Golden Booby series for 2014.  If you want to know what it's all about, click on the link above and you can see what fun we've been having!

As I posted on Saturday, I stepped out of my comfort zone and made a cake for the finale...but, I also wanted to make cookies...and Griff had asked for a few cookies to use as prizes.  So, after weeks of planning I was ready to roll (pun intended).

My first thing to do was find a cookie cutter that could be workable for the Golden Booby...I found a penguin that I thought would do and ordered it.  Next, I worked with a wonderful Etsy Seller, CookiePixie, to get a custom edible wafer paper design I clipped from a photo I took of the book cover.  Wafer papers are an edible food product printed with from food color on printers only used for food production (you've seen photos on cakes - that is a similar process - there are sugar sheets and wafer papers).  They are made of potato starch and sugar and are meant to dissolve almost instantly when water hits them...so when you take a bite of a cookie or other food product that is decorated with a wafer paper, ideally it should dissolve fairly rapidly.  These performed beautifully when I tried one for breakfast the morning of the event! (Hey, you have to make sure the product is acceptable before you serve it to people - right?)

Once I received my cookie cutter, I pulled out my Coastal Living Magazine where I had found a photograph of a Blue-footed Booby on the Galapagos Islands.  I copied it and reduced it until it was the size that would fit in the space of my cookie cutter.  That was my "template", so to speak. I squeezed and pulled on the cookie cutter to get it to a better "booby fit".  My next task was to make royal icing transfers for the blue feet.  I wanted them to really stand out so a transfer is a way to make that happen.  I slid the picture under parchment paper and piped an outline of the feet, returning instantly to flood the center with thick icing...moving the picture around under the paper to get several sets of feet.  After letting that dry overnight, I piped the details on top of the feet to give them better definition.  Another night of drying required before I carefully peeled them off the parchment and stored them in an airtight container until ready to decorate.


Now it was time to bake cookies.  I selected my Acorn Squash Sugar Cookie Recipe because I knew one of the authors, Pat McGrath-Avery had enjoyed a Pumpkin Spice Madeleine I made for a previous event.  I hoped she would like this recipe as well.  She's the author who included me as a character in her portion of the book, so I was aiming to please!

I rolled and cut 9 birds and 21 rectangles.  I should have made more rectangles but it had been a really busy week and I decided this was going to have to be enough.  I used the entire batch of dough and if I waited to make another batch (butter softening and all of that) I would be behind schedule.  The rectangles were simple but the birds were a bit more challenging.  The tiny beak needed to be longer so I endeavored to add dough to that area.  It was harder than I expected.  I should have frozen the dough and then cut new beaks - hindsight is 20-20.  I, instead, tried to pat some dough around the existing beaks.  9 cookies became 8 when I broke a beak transferring from the racks to the storage container to await decorating.

I top coated the rectangles with white icing rectangles and allowed them to dry over night - you need a hard surface to apply the wafer papers.  Putting those aside, I started work on the remaining cut-out birds.  I took the photo and cut the beak out and traced around the beak on the birds (using an AmeriColor black edible marker).  Then, I cut the wings back and traced around everything to give me the general outline for my icing.


Now, the birds were ready to pipe.  I started with the beaks - let them dry.  After the crusted, I piped the white body...and then realized the head wasn't really white.  Hmmm.  I applied the feet while the white was still wet so they would sink into the bottom of the body.  I let them dry completely overnight as I thought on whether to paint the white head (with food color) or pipe over it.  The next morning I piped the yellow-gold wings and ended up piping over the white for the head - and that worked fine.  Another night of drying.  Final step for the birds was dry brushing the areas where color transitioned with bronze lustre dust...depth of color.  Then I top-painted the entire body with gold lustre dust mixed with vodka to give the entire bird a shimmer...it was a golden booby after all!

I so wish I had not been rushed and had stopped to take pictures.  However, once I started the decorating project, I was too busy to even think about photographs.  So, when I was at Paragraphs, I grabbed some photos of the finished products.  Not the best because they were wrapped individually in cello bags.  You get the gist though.

The wafer paper cookies were completed by cutting out the images from a sheet of printed images, painting the back of each image with Karo Syrup and applying them with perfectly clean and dry hands to each rectangle...and letting them dry overnight.  You have to keep rubbing them to ensure the corners stay down - this batch worked exceptionally well.  I only had one rogue that continuously curled up - and it was probably because my icing curved at that spot.  The next day I piped a white shell border over the edge of each wafer paper cut-out, and after allowing it to crust, I decorated half of the cookies with a blue dot border and the other half with a gold dot border.  I think they were very cute!  Another 2 beaks broke and I glued one of them back on with royal icing.  The other went in my tummy for quality assurance.  Therefore, I only ended up with 7 booby cut-out cookies.  One was given to each author, 2 were given as prizes and 1 was left for Griff - who was a grand Master of Ceremonies!

I wish I hadn't been so tired and achy from decorating for 2 weeks straight...I had purchased two sheets of transfers and had the intent of making many more cookies than I did...and since they were scooped up rapidly, I know they would have ALL been eaten had I just made myself make more.  However, I gave in to the aches and pains and stopped when my body said "enough".  The crowd was huge and the cookies and the cake were cleaned up to the last crumb.  I can't thank Joni and Griff, owners of Paragraphs on Padre, as well as the four participating authors, enough.  The fun and excitement that started in December and lasted for weeks was just what the island needed for a pick-me-up during an unusual number of cold Wintery days.  Can't wait to see what they come up with for next year!

Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!


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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Chocolate Sour Cream Cake

What a day, what a day...  I have been in the midst of a baking frenzy to get together some treats, prizes, and more treats for the grand finale of Paragraph's Mystery Week on South Padre Island.  If you read my blog post about Paragraphs Mystery of the Golden Booby, then you know that this week is the grand finale when all four authors are at Paragraphs on Padre Blvd and clues and the mystery will be discussed.  Prizes are in order (I'll be bringing a cookie or two for a prize) and I want to do what I can to say thank you to the hard working book sellers and authors who were so enthusiastic about providing all of us a bit of Winter fun! 


I decided, several weeks ago, to try to make a Blue Footed Booby Cake (I am not a good cake decorator - I don't practice) so I found a cake pan on Amazon that I thought could be made into a Golden Booby shaped cake.  I had also been perusing recipes and, only today, decided to make it chocolate (a strong second was a pumpkin flavored cake, but since my cookies were the Acorn Squash Sugar Cookies which taste a lot like pumpkin spice, I opted for chocolate).  I found a couple of recipes and in my usual mash-up method, I ended up with a Chocolate Sour Cream Cake.  I made a sample cake - it was yummy - so I got started.


Adapted from Ghirardelli's Grand Fudge Cake Recipe


Ingredients:

2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
3/4 cup Ghirardelli Unsweetened Cocoa
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1 cup butter, softened
1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, room temperature

1 cup sour cream
1/3 cup low fat milk
1 Tbsp. brewed coffee


Method:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Prepare two 9" pans by lightly greasing and flouring or use something like Baker's Joy spray.

In 4 cup measuring cup (or separate mixing bowl) mix the dry ingredients with a wire whisk.  Set aside.

In a 2 cup measuring cup (or separate small mixing bowl) mix the milk, sour cream, and coffee with a whisk.  Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy (about 4 minutes).  Add vanilla and mix until incorporated.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated after each egg added.

Add 1/3 of dry ingredients on low speed, alternating with 1/2 of the wet ingredients, ending with the dry ingredients.  Mix with each addition until well incorporated.  Scrape down to the bottom of the mixing bowl to insure everything is well incorporated.  Mix until smooth and fluffy.

Divide the batter into each pan and level with an offset spatula.  Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until a cake tester (or toothpick) comes out clean when inserted in the middle.

Allow to cool on rack (in pans) for 10 minutes.  Turn out onto cooling rack and allow to cool completely before frosting.



I used a Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese frosting and did a thin crumb coat on the bird after the cake had cooled completely.  It was another unusually cold day today, so the cake cooled fairly rapidly!  After the crumb coat had firmed up in the fridge I did another layer of butter cream, colored some frosting for the wings and some for the beak and tried my hardest to decorate a cake that looked vaguely like the fabled Blue-Footed Golden Booby.  I could not, however, bring myself to spray it gold.  I don't mind a bit of lustre dust on a cookie - but an entire cake?  I thought not.  While I was at it, I made some blue feet out of royal icing I had left from decorating the cookies.  I had made little blue feet RI transfers for some cookies and a big set of feet for the cake.  I was praying it wouldn't break when I removed it from the wax paper.  It didn't - but it did break when I put it on the slightly rounded cake...fragile RI transfer was flat - cake was round.  Not a good mix.  I glued everything back together with more blue RI.  Woo hoo!


I'll have written this over a two-day period....and the only photo of the cake I got was a fast one at the event, in not very good light.  So, here it is.  Don't laugh...I was really working outside my comfort zone. The blessing is, it was a darn good cake and nearly every crumb was scraped off the cake board!  Yay...I love it when a plan comes together!  If anyone has any cake photos, I'd love to have a copy!


I'll be sharing a post on the cookies I made - probably tomorrow or the day after.  This was an unusually hectic week and I didn't do my usual photos.  I will, however, share what I have!

Until then...

Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!
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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

"Standard Deviation" and "Autism Awareness"

I had hoped to write this post after Book Club...but it got rescheduled...and I'll be out of town on the rescheduled date.  So.... this will be on-the-fly and slightly short, but sweet!


January's Book Club selection, Standard Deviation's, primary character is a young man with Asperger's Syndrome.  Many of my readers know I have a deaf son who hears with cochlear implants...and he also has Asperger's Syndrome.  As a result, Autism Awareness is a cause near and dear to my heart.  I am also a huge fan of the author, David Harry.


When I first met David, I had engaged in a conversation with his wife at a book signing event at Paragraph's on Padre several years ago.  David was not the author for that particular event, but had recently published The Padre Puzzle.  Since I had instantly bonded with his wife, we started talking about kids, and teen-age problems, and it circled around to autism.  She told me I had to meet her husband as he was writing a book where the character has ASD.  She brought him over to meet me and I ended up, after chatting with him, having the opportunity to read a draft of his new book a couple of years ago.  I love all of David's books - but Standard Deviation is particularly near and dear to my heart.


Book Club on Tuesday was not only featuring Standard Deviation, but the icing on the cookie was that David Harry was going to attend!  I decided to make some puzzle shaped cookies with some new cookie cutters I had obtained last year and never had the opportunity to use.  I wanted to take them to Book Club and share as we talked about this wonderful book.  I started on them a couple of days in advance and ended up with a simple Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookie top coated in white royal icing and then outlined and sugar dipped in primary colors, representing the "Puzzle that is Autism".  Why a puzzle piece?  the Autism Society's website describes it well.  "The puzzle pattern reflects the mystery and complexity of the autism spectrum. The different colors and shapes represent the diversity of the people and families living with the condition. The brightness of the ribbon signals hope — hope that through increased awareness of autism, and through early intervention and appropriate treatments, people with autism will lead fuller, more complete lives."


David, unfortunately, was quite ill so Book Club was rescheduled and I had a couple of dozen decorated cookies, representing the puzzle of autism, sitting in my car as I headed away from Paragraphs.  What to do?  What to do?


As I headed back towards the causeway, I picked up my phone and found a number for a friend I knew to be on the Autism Awareness Walk's planning committee.  I left a voice mail telling her to call me if they were going to meet this week and I'd supply some cookies. These cookies really needed to be eaten in the next couple of days because I didn't individually wrap and seal them (which makes them taste fresh much longer). She called me back in less than 5 minutes saying they were just walking into that very meeting.  "It must be meant to be" she said - and I agreed.  I headed to the Point Isabel ISD offices where they meet and crashed their meeting with cookies.  I ended up staying through the meeting so I could find out a bit of info for a future blog post.


One of the things I found out, is the date is April 5th, 2014.  There is to be a walk and a 5k fun run.  Most of the rest of the meeting was "planning" and details not finalized.  I'll just ask you to mark your calendar if you are a local, or live close enough to participate.  It is a huge community event with the funds raised going, in part, towards paying for sports programs for all disabilities in our district.  I remember the first year, we just wanted to raise awareness and it was tremendously successful - more than we ever dreamed.  I didn't help last year because of family issues, so it was interesting to see how they have grown and become more organized and efficient in the planning.  I just know the 2014 event will be a huge success.


I had gotten  "out of touch" with the autism community in our area because my son had headed to college and I sort of disconnected from the group.  I am currently seeking out new resources for my son and I hope to share that information with other parents in the near future.  I spent quite a while after the meeting catching up with one of my favorite people in the world, Elsa Garcia.  She cares so deeply for the special needs students at PI-ISD and it was good to see her again.  My friend, Stephanie, is right.  Sometimes things are just "meant to be".  This is one of those serendipitous events that allowed me to share cookies and reconnect.  It turned into a really wonderful day!  Who could ask for anything more?


Bon Appetit, Y'all!!!



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