Monthly Archives: February 2014

baby elephant cookies

I used to make and decorate cookies pretty often – in fact, I think it was probably what first got me into the kitchen, baking and creating. I tried out various cut cookie recipes and decorating techniques. I’m certainly no professional, but I’m artistic enough, and I have a decently steady hand, so it was a good fit for me, and I loved doing it.

I spend a lot more time in the kitchen these days doing all sorts of things. I still try to make cookies a few times a year – usually birthdays, or occasionally as gifts or for hire. It’s been at least six months since I made cookies (F’s fruit and veggie cookies), so it was nice to be able to get out the tools and make some more.

I have five or six go-to recipes for cut cookies – several different flavors and colors. For larger cookies I like cream cheese sugar cookies – they hold their shape well when baking, they are sturdy enough for wrapping and handling, but super soft when you eat them, and just enough sugar (but not too much) as a base for all that icing. Here’s the quick and easy recipe if you are interested:

Sugar Cookies

Combine 3-1/2 cups all purpose flour and 1 teaspoon baking powder in a small bowl. Beat 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter (room temp), 1 8oz pkg cream cheese (room temp) and 2 cups sugar together until light and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add 1 egg and 1 teaspoon vanilla and mix for an additional 30 seconds.

Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture until just combined but still lumpy. Turn out onto a large sheet of plastic wrap, wrapping and kneading the dough until it’s smooth. Form into a disk about 2 inches thick and refrigerate – overnight is best, but 2 hours minimum. You want the dough super cold before rolling and cutting.

Bake at 375 degrees on ungreased cookie sheet (I use parchment paper, always) for 8-10 minutes, until edges are firm and just starting to turn lightly brown. Cool on sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely. This recipe makes 3-4 dozen 3″ cookies.

I use a combination of royal icings (anywhere between outline and flow consistency) and fondant to decorate cookies. For the elephants, I piped the gray outlines and then flooded the center of the cookies with thinner icing to fill. They dried overnight and then I added piped details and fondant ears that I had rolled into polka dots and stripes of white and yellow.

Onesie Cookie

I also made little onesies with gray and yellow details – for these I used a thin layer of fondant, crisscrossed with an embellishing wheel to create the quilted pattern, and then piped royal icing details to the match the party theme.

And then they were wrapped up and ready to give out as favors. (Except for the test samples – those might have been devoured just after naps – see example above.) When there are cookies in the oven, the kitchen becomes a very popular place.

let’s eat: on the menu

True to my word last week, I dialed back the dinners a bit to accommodate some extra baking. Monday night we kept it simple with a basic Pesto and Linguine – a 3/4 crowd favorite (E tolerates it.) Later in the week I was looking up something else related to tree nut allergies and stumbled on an article about pine nuts (something she’s been cleared to eat in the past), and it got me worried and thinking more about her nut allergies. Coconuts and pine nuts are a different animal – you can be allergic to tree nuts and you can be allergic to pine nuts and/or coconuts, but beyond that happenstance it’s not a given. (There were only three severe cases cited on record.) Still, I worry.

Tuesday night was TACO Night, a reference made even funnier now that we’ve seen the LEGO movie. Taco night is like our fast food night – frozen corn, spiced black beans, Spanish rice and taco shells – with cheese and lettuce and salsa. The girls add goldfish crackers on top when we have them – not sure where that came from, but it adds extra crunch.

Wednesday night M had a board meeting, and I needed to run an errand just a few blocks away from Pizzeria Tivoli, so the girls and I had a (very) late dinner there. We ordered two pies and downed all but two slices while watching some of the Olympics on the TV screen in the corner. We love that restaurant – the pizza is so good right out of the oven, and the owners are so kind to the girls. The tablecloths are covered in white paper and we always draw on it while we wait – E and I drew each other drawing each other, so we got in a little portrait action before dinner. After dinner I made two batches of Cream Cheese Sugar Cookies and put them in the fridge to chill. (More on those later.)

Sugar Cookies

Thursday night was the standout night of the week. M discovered a winning sandwich combination on Three Hundred Sandwiches – Brussels Sprouts with Fontina and Sage Butter. He made those for us, and regular grilled cheese for the girls (they ate their Brussels Sprouts plain, on the side) along with bowls of tomato soup. I highly recommend this recipe – particularly the way the sprouts are cooked and turned into something like a slaw. After we cleaned up from dinner, M and E went indoor rock climbing with friends, and I set to work on baking those cookies.

Brussels Sprout Sandwiches

Cookies

Friday night I requested something simple – easy to make and clean up so I could have the kitchen to myself for cookie icing. We made breakfast for dinner – Eggs and Crispy Potatoes with Turkey Sausage for those that eat it. 

Saturday night we had Trivia Night at Mad Art – and so we prepared a tray of snacking goodies for the girls to take over to the kids’ house, while the grownups headed down the street a few blocks with our own snacks. We ate and drank well, and put up a respectable showing until the next to last round – going down in flames on the Sochi Olympics category. We apparently aren’t watching enough this go round.

Last night we made a house standard – Roasted Butternut Squash and Greens over Bow-tie Pasta. The recipe is in The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper, and it’s an easy one (once you get the knack of quick dicing a cumbersome squash – half it lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, cut it into half moon slices like you would a cantaloupe, then quick slice the peel off each moon before dicing – don’t ever try to peel those bad boys, you’ll go insane). Everything goes into one big bowl to mix before roasting in the oven. So naturally I dirtied every single bowl in my cupboard to take this photo.

We have leftovers galore – a wonderful way to start off the work week. Hope you had a nice weekend – and ate well!

admiring: blogs

When I began blogging seven years ago, I did it as a way to record various aspects of our lives – our family adventures and house projects. I didn’t really consider the connections that might come from this little space, but now that I’ve been at it awhile, I’ve found that it’s really my favorite part. One of the things I hope to do over the next several days is to highlight some of those connections – and maybe turn you onto other independent blogs out there that you might enjoy.

I’ve never felt very compelled to “promote” this space that much – it’s not a money making venture, and so there’s no incentive there. But whenever I do move a little bit out of my inner circle, I always seem to be rewarded with new connections. Some of these have turned into real, live friendships here in town, and some broader connections around the country (and a few on the other side of the globe). I so appreciate those, and so I cannot discount all promotion entirely. I like to find new voices out there, and I suspect that you do as well.

I’m going to start small (and fairly local) with a few blogs that I read on a daily basis – at some point I’ve connected with these bloggers over the past few years, either through our blogs or outside of them. These sorts of daily reads are really enjoyable to me – they highlight things going on near home, keep me updated on my friends’ lives, and invite me into deeper conversations with others. Later I’ll feature some of the first blogs that I read and that inspired me to take up blogging, and then I’ll feature various categories of blogs that I find inspiring and helpful.

I’d love to know how you ended up finding this place. I know many of you came over from various features on other blogs or magazines. And a great many of you came from Apartment Therapy’s yearly list of blogs to read – the Homies. I’d also love to know what you’re reading and enjoying online these days, and if you have a blog yourself, please share!

Preparing for Peanut features several different categories of content – I particularly enjoy Becky’s roundup of local events and her reviews of kid friendly adventures in eating and play around town. Bonus points for the fabulous recipes and her mad party planning and paper skills. I don’t remember how we originally connected (maybe the YHL piece?), but she actually moved back to my city, and so we’ve been able to meet up in person, and banter daily via Instagram.

By The Brooke is another daily read for me, and one of the best written blogs out there. She started reading my blog a couple of years ago and quickly realized that we lived very near each other, and so we’ve become good friends outside of our online spaces. Her writing is both poignant and hilarious – and she has a large community of readers that read her and adore her. 

I love reading Living Analog – she has a great eye for thrifted furniture and lighting and all things fabulous. She recently left this city for the wild and wooly southwest, and I’m enjoying her new adventures out there. 

Bad Mansard is written by a neighbor and friend. It celebrates the best and the worst mansard designs. I live in my own (spectacular) mansard, so I feel pretty confident in my ability to spot a bad one and to laugh at all the ones she posts.

I recently discovered Crumbbums after she visited my blog. I’m enjoying her blog so much – and we seem to have a lot in common. I love her creative posts about play, and admire the fact that she gets in front of the camera – something that I’m still shy to do. I highly recommend checking it out.

Life with BearBear and Ear Full of Pumpkin are friends I knew before we were bloggers, and I love reading about their adventures with their families and in the kitchen. They also live in the Midwest, so though we’re too far away to meet up for an afternoon cup of coffee, I feel like I’m sharing a little part of their lives.

I’m grateful for all of you, and I’m glad that you are here. How did you end up here, and what are you reading these days?