Tuesday, December 21, 2010

C is for Cookie, That's Good Enough For Me

The Great Cookie Caper 2010

[Transcripts from interview conducted in my messy home earlier this evening.]
What's the Great Cookie Caper 2010?
MEP: You haven't heard of it? Probably because I named it just now. Four fabulous bloggy friends decided to make cookies and post about the experience on the same day.
Did they all make the same cookies?
MEP: No.
Did they all make Christmas cookies?
MEP: No.
Let's move on. How can I read about all the cookies?
But let's focus on you, MEP. Is baking a specialty of yours?
MEP: I have had some recent successes, specifically my successful execution of the greatest chocolate chip cookie ever, but I don't really think of myself as a super awesome baker. I'm willing to attempt almost anything though, and my boys really like to help in the kitchen.
This interview is getting boring. What were your baking goals for this holiday season?
MEP: Oh, you know, come up with a signature baked good to knock the holiday socks off everyone at the various holiday parties I attend. Sure, I can make a good snow-covered turd and my chocolate-covered pretzels aren't bad either, but I wanted a go-to cookie or candy.
Let's get back to that mention of holiday parties. I thought I heard that you weren't actually invited to any holiday parties that did not involve family or your husband's colleagues.
MEP: I think party-givers heard about the snow-covered turds and were intimidated. Doesn't really matter though as I am still seeking that signature baked good.
Well, let's get to it. What did you make for the Great Cookie Caper 2010?
MEP: I've been slowly building a collection of cookie cutters and had planned to do my research and find the ultimate recipe for cut-out cookies and that icing that you sort of dip them in. Unfortunately, I was soon bogged down by the stress of the season. Playing Santa, trying to get some cards in the mail, packing and traveling, moving that Elf on the Shelf around. I'll share some photos of what the boys and I did instead of making tasty homemade cookies in recognizable shapes.
Go for it.
MEP: First you buy a tube of sugar cookie dough from the grocery store and sit it on the counter because it might feel awfully cold and hard (editor's note: Michael Scott?).
Let your Bub wear his awesome brand-new apron (Team MEP has matching aprons now, thanks to Aunt Shell -- more on those adorable aprons in a future post) while he puts on his gloves (plastic baggies -- Grammy taught him that) and rolls the dough.
You can roll out the dough on a sil-pat if you are afraid that your island is unsanitary (realtor's note: one way to torture any person who might ever live in your home is to install a butcher block counter.)
Choose a few cookie cutters and cut out some festive shapes. Bub chose a tree, a gingerbread man, and a cardinal. Since you let the dough sit out to soften it, it will be challenging to cut out any cookies at all without them breaking. You will remember something in the back of your mind about working with chilled dough. You'll have to make them extra-thick so you can transfer them to the cookie sheet.

If you push them all too close together, some of them will bake together. Note that the cardinal did not quite hold its shape.
Let me interrupt, MEP, things don't seem to be going well.
MEP: Actually, things are not as bleak as they look. Bub really enjoyed cutting out the cookies, and I made the wise decision that the cookies would be iced to order.
Sounds like a good way to continue making a mess in your kitchen.
MEP: Yes, I like to start the morning by stepping in a pile of sprinkles. Anyway, after dinner, I iced the cookies with store-bought frosting then let the boys sprinkle away. They had fun, which is all that matters.
Indeed. I hate to point out the obvious, MEP, but there's not really a recipe here.
MEP: Well, maybe just a recipe for having fun with a few inexpensive store bought ingredients.
Ha ha ha, MEP, you are clever. Still though, I feel cheated. Perhaps you are holding out on us.
MEP: Okay, okay. Feeling a bit embarrassed about the cut-out cookies, I remembered an old favorite that I like to call the Dreamsicle Cookie. Key ingredients are butter, orange zest, and vanilla chips.
Vanilla chips? I've never heard of those.
MEP: Me neither, and I can't find them in any store. I've always substituted white chocolate chips. Anyway, the cookie is easy to make, and when I made them a few years back, my hubby liked them.
Can we have the recipe?
MEP: I'm too tired to type it up right now and don't know what the rules are about posting recipes that belong to others. This one comes from the cookbook of a famous bakery in New York. NTB. If you want it, email me at mep at nottobrag dot net. NTB, but Dreamsicle is my own name for the cookie, not to be confused with the ice cream novelty.
Yes, when I think Christmas, I think about Dreamsicles. Wait, no I don't. How is the Dreamsicle cookie appropriate for this season?
MEP: You know how in the Little House books, Laura and the Ingalls kids are so thrilled to receive a stick of peppermint and an orange for Christmas? This cookie honors that holiday orange. You can call them Half-Pint's Orange Delights if you wish.
I don't wish.
MEP: Your prerogative. I do want to issue a warning that the recipe calls for a tablespoon of orange zest. I didn't have enough zest (pun intended) to come up with that much orange zest, but I still think my cookies turned out beautifully. And, added bonus, these cookies make the whole kitchen smell amazing.
Speaking of your kitchen and of being amazing, we haven't seen an awesome kitchen tip from you in a while, MEP. Not since the great butter wrapper revelation. Have you been holding out on us?
MEP: Well, NTB, but I did come up with a little something that makes baking more convenient. You know how it's so annoying to keep having to go find the flour and then the sugar and then the baking soda and whatnot?
You mean you don't have those staples in beautiful, yet useful, vessels on your counter?
MEP: Those of us who do not live on Food Network sets can make baking easier with an unattractive but practical vessel purchased at their local CVS. I bought this file box with handle. Inside, I store my flour, brown sugar, sugar, baking powder, and baking soda. Then, when it's time to bake, I pull the whole caddy out of the pantry.
Pretty clever!
MEP: NTB. CVS is quite convenient for most readers if you're looking for a last minute gift. "Here, mom, it's a baking caddy!"
MEP, this post is too long and too boring.
MEP: I know. I'm sorry. I'm tired and slightly overwhelmed by the pressures of being Santa. Also, I feel a little sick to my stomach from eating too many cookies.
Merry Christmas then.
MEP: Merry Christmas to you. God Bless you, every one.
Wait, I think there's time for one last question. What was your daughter thinking during cookie time?
MEP: She's thinking, "Lady, enough with the Puffs. Puffs Schmuffs. I want cookies!"
She's definitely yours.

Have yourself the sweetest Christmas ever.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Da Ordaments

The Monday before Thanksgiving, Bub fell in love with an cute little Christmas tree at Target. Three feet tall. Pre-lit. On sale.
I warmed to the idea of the lil tree as we finished our Targeting. "You and Little Bit can put it in your room," I told Bub. And then, "We'll make all our own ornaments for it!"
My Bub, lover of crafts, lit up. We spent some time that afternoon searching for kid-friendly ornament projects online. Actually, we only spent about ten minutes as I was quickly overwhelmed by thoughts of glue guns, glitter, spray paint, and other ordament fixings.
Yes, I know it's "ornament," but my kids prefer to say ordament so ordament it is.
Bub was distracted from the ordament crafting plan by an urgent desire to visit "his website."
After Thanksgiving, we decorated our big tree and set up the little one in the boys' room. Every time I thought about making ordaments for it, I just felt kind of tired. "Yep," I'd tell Bub, "we're going to make some ordaments soon."
And here's what we did without a glue gun, glitter, paint, clothes pins, or small pieces of felt. You can do it too. If you want.
First we chose a few of our favorite Christmas books . . . like this one.
Then I got out my beloved full sheet labels (awesome for all kinds of crafty and useful purposes, but paper and glue can work for this project too).
We tried to choose a page in each book that featured as many cute and appropriately-sized characters and scenes as possible. Then we used our all-in-one printer/copier/scanner to copy the pages we chose.
Then, we cut out characters and scenes from the full-sheet labels. I say "we," but I did it because I didn't trust anyone else to do this delicate work. Then we pulled the backing off the cut-outs and stuck them on the glossy side of a piece of a piece of poster board. (Again, you could glue your pretty pictures to the poster board).
Then the boys took turns picking pictures so that they each had their "own ordaments."
Then we cut the poster board around the pictures. I let Bub cut out his all by himself because I am breezy and laid back like that.
Next came the part of the project where one's creativity can "run wild" as the boys decorate the back of the ornaments with crayons in carefully selected holiday colors. Note Little Bit's concentration on the task at hand. Pretty remarkable for him, I have to say.

No photos of the next steps, but they are as follows: Make slight crease in top of each picture and cut small slit. Slide cheap silver ornament hanger through slit. Use wire-edged ribbons saved from last year's packages and have mommy tie it around the ornament hanger. Write names of boys and the year on each ornament.
Make sure you have a quality-control supervisor.
Rush upstairs and start hanging the ornaments on your cute little tree.
Like this one of Little Critter (yes, I know, I need a new camera. Please tell Santa.)
Reverse side of the Little Critter ornament. (Remember what I said about telling Santa I need a new camera. Thanks!)
Don't feel like hanging ornaments? Live up to your sweatshirt by jumping on a toddler bed while holding a toy stroller.
Wow, look what my brothers made!
Bub for sure has the ordament-making bug now. I have to say I'm happy to oblige. Maybe we'll print some favorite photos on the labels and turn them into tree flair. He's already mentioned that he wants a Tom and Jerry ornament. The boys could also draw their own pictures or color in some clip-art or coloring page images. If nothing else, we'll have a record of what the kids were interested in in 2010. And, so as not to leave Sweet P out, maybe we can take photos of her and of some of her favorite toys and habits (exersaucing, for example). Perhaps a photo of JJ, our elf on the shelf. Maybe we'll do it again next year and the year after and have a cute little tradition on our hands. We shall see.
The point is we're having fun and these ordaments are easy and relatively low mess, as projects go.
Speaking of projects, did you read the Arthur (featured above) book when you were little . . . the one where Arthur accidentally uses salt instead of sugar in his cut-out cookies. The cookies are way too hard to eat (and probably would taste like crap), but the day is saved when they realize the cookies can be used as ornaments. The book, which we don't have, includes a recipe for salt-dough ornaments. Anybody tried making those? I'm thinking that's one I should wait on for a few years . . .
Any holiday crafting in your corner of the world?

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