heart of hearts

I'm going to let you in on a teensy tiny secret. I have a, umm, special friend and I don't know what to get him for Valentine's Day. I liked Valentine's Day a lot better when I was 11 and it was very clear what was expected -- a 2X3 card on which you wrote their name and your name and then you stuffed it into an envelope with a conversation heart or two. Or maybe it was attached to a heart shaped sucker. And sometimes it was okay if you didn't even write their name on it. But I'm pretty sure that you had to at least write your own.

 But now that I'm ... older than 11... I don't know what to do. The very expected flowers or chocolates would be weird to give to a boy. I can't get him tools...that's not very Valentine's Day-ish. (Although, I have given him chocolate tools before.) And as you might be able to tell from the fact that I make my own cookie cutters...I'm not exactly what you might call a "big spender." I'm not going to book a romantic cruise for two through the Mediterranean. (Shhh. Don't spoil the surprise.) What am I going to do?

What do YOU do for your grown up "special friend" to say you adore them more than stale heart candy that may or may not be left over from the previous year's failed attempt at celebrating Valentine's Day?

How Do I...make my own cookie cutters?

I love cookie cutters. They hold so much potential, so much possibility. You don't have to be an incredibly skilled decorator to own cookie cutters. But every time I look at a cutter, I think about the amazing cookies I would create if I was an incredibly skilled decorator. And then I buy the cookie cutter. I can't help it. How could I possibly look that cookie cutter in the eye and say, "I don't want you." Especially when its not true? (And also, especially because they don't actually have eyes.)

So I've had to stop looking at cookie cutters. But sometimes you just need a certain shape. (Like you need to eat those leftover cookies for breakfast, so that you can make more.) Since I lack the self control to go cookie cutter shopping...I make my own cookie cutters!

Its fairly simple really. And you can probably get everything you need from a local hardware store.
Aluminum Sheeting (also called sheet metal) -- I use 26 gauge, which is about as thin as you want them to be. You could probably step up the thickness to a 24 or 25 and be fine.
Tin Snips -- these are the giant scissor looking things. They cut metal really well.
Some sort of adhesive -- I chose this household sealant because it was safe for food, and holds up well to water. You do NOT want to poison anyone and you do NOT want your cutter to fall apart when you wash it.
Metal File
Yard Stick
The tiniest little clamps you can find
Clip art or drawing the size and shape you want your cutter to be
 ** If you are making a trip to the hardware store and don't already have pliers...you should think about picking up some.  But they are not necessary.**

Draw a line on the aluminum sheeting about 1/2 - 1 inch from the edge. I make mine 1/2 inch because I like to get more cutters out of a piece of metal. But if you like your cutters a little taller/sturdier then go ahead and make them a little wider. No one will judge you. At least, I don't think they will. They shouldn't anyway. A person's cookie cutter width is their own business.

Now take your tin snips and cut away on the line you just drew. I would recommend cutting slowly and carefully. You want to make that line as smooth as possible because whatever jags or jumps you put in the metal on this step will have to be smoothed out in the next step.

Sometimes my strip will curl on itself while I am cutting it. I think it is the position of my hand relative to the angle of the sheet metal and proportional to the distance to the ground and maybe something to do with the phase of the moon... My point is - it doesn't really matter. (A very deep, philosophical point, I know.)

It does need to be straight, though. So if your strip curls, just flatten it out a bit. And then put on noise cancelling headphones. (Do they still make those?)

This step is by far my least favorite part. You have to file the edges to make them smooth. First file across the top of the metal strip. If you did a great job cutting, this part won't last too long. Make sure you file down all the little bumps that happen every time you opened the tin snips to make another cut. It sounds awful, I know. Go ahead and have someone scratch their fingernails on a blackboard to drown out the noise of the file.

Then put the strip parallel to the file and use long, smooth motions to take care of the "corners" on the metal strip. A word of caution -- the filing should probably done outside since you don't want your baby eating metal shavings (along with the pieces of lint and 2 day old food crumbs she always manages to find.) (Hypothetically.) And don't file right up close to your face because you don't want those shavings in your eyeballs either. And maybe use protective glasses.

Now take a break. Grab some lemonade. And if you disregarded my advice to file outside...maybe you should take this time to wipe up all those metal shavings before going any further. And while you are walking around your house, go ahead and pick up random objects. Ideally, try to make sure at least one of them is a pair of pliers. You are going to use these to help bend your cutter into the perfect shape.

Choose a starting point for your cutter. I usually start in the middle of a straight edge ...because its easier. However, if you are going to start on a corner, make sure you leave a small overhang at the end.

Start bending the sheet metal along the edge of your drawing or clip art. When you get to the first bend/corner/weirdly shaped part dig through your new stash of random objects and find something you can bend the metal around. Or, you know, walk around the house aimlessly until you find said object.

Work your way around the shape one bend at a time. For sharper turns or corners, I like to use needle-nose pliers. But sometimes I bend it in the wrong place. (Okay...OFTEN I bend it in the wrong place.) This is my second attempt at the crease in the top of the heart. See how I made it WAY too low the first time?

And now my metal strip is all wobbly and looking not at ALL the way a cookie cutter should look. Where is the promise and the potential?

Actually, its okay. If this happens to you, just straighten out the wobbles with something flat. Like flat pliers or a flat iron or a flat, umm, book or something.

See? Good as new something that was once flat and then was spirally and then bendy and then flattened again.

Keep going until you get back to your start point. Cut the metal strip about 1/2 inch past the start point. Use the pliers to pinch the two pieces of metal together so they are flush (as tight together as possible.) Then take your clamp and twist it until it is ALMOST closed. You want it to be just wider than your two pieces of metal together.

Dab some adhesive of your choice between the two layers of metal and pinch it together. Somehow manage to put the clamp on tight without squeezing adhesive all over your fingers.

Let your cutter sit overnight -- or at least twice as long as the adhesive says it needs to cure. Because as soon as its dry...you are going to want to wash it. Scrape off any adhesive that made its way out from between the overlapping edges and wash well with soap and water. Dry your cutter. Make beautiful, amazing creations.

The end.

my oven is not superman

So...I told you I've been having problems with blogger this week. But get this -- my oven STOPPED WORKING too. Awesome, huh? (Actually, it IS kind of funny in a chocolate-pudding-on-the-wall sort of way.) I suppose its good that they happened at the same time. I mean, if I have nothing to post, I guess its okay that I can't post it anyway.

 Luckily, I have some cookies in reserve for just such an occasion. You know, so no one has to go starving. And by no one, I mean my 3 year old. What will he eat if I can't spend hours in the kitchen baking his favorite dinner full of vegetables and protein to which he will happily sit down at the end of his day and gobble up while telling us how he saved the world by curing cancer? I guess he will have to settle for cookies. Not that I would ever serve him cookies for dinner. And by ever I mean, it probably wouldn't happen.

welcome back fondant

There is more than one way to decorate a cookie. (What?! I know -- this may or may not be a shocking revelation to you. Even after all this time, some days I'm still surprised to remember that.) You can use royal icing, glacee, fondant, candy clay, or you can put down a base layer of any of those and then "paint" on top with either thinned royal icing or food coloring, or even scrap all those choices and go with good old fashioned butter cream and sprinkles!! I even knew someone who painted with food coloring onto a cookie before baking it. There are so many options! Maybe too many options. I always forget to think about all the different ways I could make the cookie before starting on it. I'm glad I chose fondant with this one. I think its a perfect fit.

(I'm scared to trust spell check on the word "glacee" so if its wrong....let's just keep it between ourselves, shall we?)

an apology to spell check

Let me tell you about my day. Apparently, I offended blogger with my spell check comment over the weekend. I honestly haven't been able to access blogger since posting about the cake. I can see my blog, and other blogs but I can't comment or view comments or post or anything else. I've been so sad. There are so many cute posts out there from this weekend and I can't do anything about it. My access to blogger is very intermittent and random. It works for 30 seconds or 12 minutes and I don't know when I will be able to get in again. I pretty much spent my whole day trying to figure out WHY. And guess what? I couldn't figure it out. All I know is that right now, at this very second, I can post.

My point here is that these cookies were made under duress. I took a break from the frustrating search to make them -- and I shouldn't have. It was a cute design in my head....but cookies need to be made with peace, you know? The best part of all (insert sarcastic font) was that the very instant that the first cookie was done, I set it down in a large puddle of water and it is now soggy. Good thing you can't feel a cookie through a picture, huh?

I sure hope that my blogging issues resolve themselves all by themselves, because I have a great post planned for later this week --- how to make your own cutters! So, check back later, and don't give up on me if blogger shuts me out again. I WILL overcome!

the cake

So...a cake, huh? It's been awhile since I made a cake. Days and days and days. When I see this cake, I think of two things.

First, I LOVE my 5 petal veiner. Love it. I know that "veiner" is technically not a word. How can I forget when spell check tells me to stop using it every time I type it? It doesn't matter, I still love that wonderful piece of silicone that makes cakes like this possible.

Second, I wonder if I will ever get the pink tinge out of my extruder. What? Apparently "extruder" is not a word either. I don't believe it... Okay, I just checked it out (on dictionary.com if you want to know) and IT IS a word. Take that blogger spell check. You are wrong. And I am right. And my extruder is still stained pink after this cake.

Anyone want to see my design sketch? No? Stop reading then. And don't scroll down. Unless you want to see the other posts. In that case, just blink kind of long while you are scrolling and you will probably miss the design sketch.

As a side note, I never really intended to have the bottom layer as tall as my sketch. I just can't draw. My cakes don't usually turn out so close to the sketch. And by sketch, I mean, the vision in my head. Because I usually DON'T do a design sketch. But I should. I bet my cakes would look better if I did. Either that, or I would get better at drawing.

PINK baby shower cookies

I told you it was coming. And you've all waited so patiently. Oh sure, you've only known for two days, but sometimes its hard to wait two hours, much less two days. And this is one of those things that it should be hard to wait for.

A giant platter of pink! Actually, now that I think about it, its not really that giant at all. And the plate itself is kind of purple. But the cookies -- those are definitely pink.

You know what I love most though? These sweet little faces. I love each and every one of them. It was hard for me to decide which one I loved more than the others so I could take a picture of it. Just for the record though, even though this one is pictured...I still love each of them the same. Except for maybe one or two that didn't turn out so cute. But don't tell them that. Let's just keep it our little secret, okay?

sometimes colors just happen

A note to fellow travelers: Don't put red icing on top of brown icing and expect people to be able to see it. Especially if you are like me and make every color 3 shades darker than it really needs to be. See, its not just pink that I don't use very often. Its all of those pale, soft, gentle colors. I don't intentionally avoid them. It just happens. I've never been the kind of person that holds back. (Much to my husband's dismay, you can be sure about that.)

I tell companies that their products are inferior. I walk right up to a beautiful person and tell them they are beautiful. I played rugby in college. And...I add too much coloring to ALL of my icing.

 The truth is, I LIKE color. I just keep adding it until my arm is tired of stirring. Which actually doesn't take that long. I'm a weak stirrer.  Its true. You can ask my mom.  When I was child and helping my mother make cookies, I was always SO relieved when the addition of the flour fell on one of my brothers' turns. So, maybe if you are having a hard time getting dark colors, you should get a brother.

there is a cookie in my aperture

I have a confession. I know almost nothing about photography. (Shocking revelation, I'm sure.) I barely even know what kind of camera I have. Until last night, I had no idea that setting the f-stop was the same as setting the aperture. (At least, I think those are the same things. Hold on while I go check. Yes, that's right. Moving on.) 

I felt pretty cool trying to take a picture that included something other than my very very typical black fabric background. But looking at this picture a few hours later, I feel almost foolish for trying. I almost didn't post it. I almost drew a picture of my cookie and asked you to use your imagination. I almost threw that paper away because it looked really bad, too. I almost tried to photocopy my cookie instead. But my photocopier wasn't working, so I had no other choice but to post this picture.

I LOVE beautiful pictures. There are some places I go just to enjoy the pictures. (Haniela's anyone?) I spent some time on The Pioneer Woman's photography site last night and SHE said that I should just keep trying. And if SHE said it, then it MUST be true, right? So, my friends, you are just going to have to suffer through my "A-for-effort" photos for the next -- oh -- 8-10 years. But the upside to this is that we all get to laugh together. Together, please? Okay, well, just promise you won't leave mean comments that make me cry. And I promise not to photocopy my cookies. Unless I have to.

something pink

I know this may come as a surprise to everyone who knows me....but I CAN make pink things.

I just usually choose not to. It's not that I have anything against pink. I just love deep, dark colors more. I love the contrast and the richness. (Take, for example, yesterday's post.) I did manage to throw in some dark brown and tiny bit of deep red today though. I was just thinking to myself that I liked this cookie better before I added the light pink... And then I was thinking that I should have taken pictures of this cookie as it was being decorated so you could see what I mean. In case you are wondering, I did the brown square first. And for all of you that I may have offended with my ambivalence toward pink -- Don't leave. Don't hate me forever! I will make it up to you. I am doing pink penance this week with an adorable baby shower cake and coordinating cookies!

photo booth

Tell me -- does anyone else see a photo booth picture strip here? That wasn't exactly my intention with these cookies. But every time I look at them, I can't help but think these little hearts went to the mall while I wasn't looking. (Even though I TOLD them they had to finish their homework first. I just hope they haven't been kissing boys.)

Valentine's Day cookies!

Today is January 14th....and you know what that means -- I can start making Valentine's Day cookies! The way I see it, each holiday has a "cooling off" period that is calculated using a complicated logarithm that includes how long decorations are on store shelves, the amount of traveling involved, and how many days in a row my 3 year old is on a sugar high. Now that Christmas and New Year's are officially behind us, we can finally move on to Valentine's Day. So, umm, Happy Valentine's Day Cookie Day to all of you! I am off to decorate my house.

grab bag post

When I lived in Georgia, there was a dollar store that sold "grab bags." They were paper bags that were labeled "boy" or "girl" in which the store employees had safely stashed all the toys that no one wanted. I always wanted to buy one (even though I may or may not have been 24 years old.) I would look at them as I passed by and envision myself sneaking over there and secretly opening the staple and LOOKING inside! But then, in my dream, someone would always yell at me and chase me out of the store. So I never did look inside.

My point is that this post is kind of like that. It is a post in which I will safely stash all the pictures of cookies that no one is going to pay money to look at. And by that I mean, the cookies I never really want anyone to look at. Because, actually, I make a lot of those cookies. I have good intentions...but sometimes things just don't work out as well in sugar form as they do in my head.

But in all fairness and honestly...I feel like I should share some of them. You know, just so you don't all have some warped sense of my cookie decorating skills. And I'll be sure to label these posts as grab bags so you don't have to waste your dollar...or...I mean...time if you don't want to. But the added benefit here is that you can look at all these cookies, and laugh and wonder what in the world I was thinking....

Oh that reminds me, one of these cookies was originally supposed to be a base cookie for a different design. But the base icing didn't turn out right. My husband called while I was decorating cookies and I started "doodling" on the cookie. Can anyone guess which cookie that was?

The Madeline Collection

I'm going ALL royal icing today for a design that I has been slowly etching itself into my mind over the last 7 months. (That's a long time in cookie years.) Not that these cookies have been sitting around for 7 months waiting for their design. I baked them this morning. And then I waited very much not patiently for them to cool.

If I were a naming kind of person, I would call this "The Madeline Collection." Because I have learned 2 things about art -- 1) If you frame it -- its REAL art and 2) If you add the word "collection" its official. So consider these cookies officially official. And pass the milk. (But not really, because I don't actually drink milk.)

one cookie - two ways or more

This was NOT the design I had in mind when I started this cookie. The original design included some lines and stitching and...well...the moral of the story is that I need to get some PME tips in the smaller sizes. To avoid complete frustration, a the last second, I just went with a flower instead. Literally -- the last second. I had the white icing all flooded and I had just seconds to find an alternative to put in it before it dried too much for a wet-on-wet design. (Its funny that I love the texture options with fondant, but really prefer a flat royal icing cookie! I don't really make sense to myself either.)

So, clearly this cookie was not as impromptu as its royal icing cousin. (Cookie cousins...hmmm...that sounds nice. Not like siblings, because siblings fight. They're too close. But not my cookies. They can be best friends and then go to their own homes when they get annoyed with their cookie cousin.)

Although these cookies are really similar, I have to say that if I had been true to the nature of fondant, I wouldn't have replicated the first cookie so closely. That disloyalty to fondant etched at my soul for at least 20 minutes. Eventually, I gave in to the inevitable and created a truer fondant version.

Do you see what I love about fondant?   (I just want to say that I am SURE there are incredibly talented royal icing people out there that could get this depth and texture from royal. Its just that...well... I will NEVER be one of them. So I use what I have. And today that was blue fondant and silver luster dust.)

variations on a theme

I have a special surprise for you all today! But we'll get to that later.  Let me first say that I came to cookie decorating from the cake side of things. So my love and loyalty do not lie with glacĂ© and royal icing. (Heresy...I know.) Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against royal icing. Its never said a bad thing about me, and I plan to reciprocate that.

Its just that there are so many options, and so many ways to make the SAME cookie design. Even for you strictly royal users, you can choose wet-on-wet or wet-on-dry or....umm...are their more options? (I'll get back to you on that. I'm still working on the details of cookie decorating.)

(royal icing on the left...fondant on the right)

So, today I tried two different mediums for the same design. I discovered -- big breath for dramatic effect -- actually, I discovered nothing. I like both cookies. The squiggly legs on the fondant octopus are much cuter than the royal legs. But the polka dots on the royal cookie are so much more, well, round. This is all well and good -- but on to the surprise! I have a THIRD variation of the design. (What could it be? What could it be?)

I got to decorate cookies with my very own little boy today. He's 3. I couldn't be more proud. On a completely unrelated topic, I have a disclaimer: the royal cookies in today's post are NOT for human consumption. Okay, I was lying about it being unrelated. I mean, I decorated cookies with my 3 year old. I am amazed that he got that much icing on his cookie with how much went into his little mouth. (This cookie is even more impressive when you take that into consideration, isn't it?) The best part about decorating with him? At the end...the white icing was missing. Not just in the wrong place. We're talking, full on, not-in-the-kitchen missing. I'm too worried to go looking for it.

season confusion

I actually intended this to be more of a winter design. I mean -- there are SNOWFLAKES on these cookies. And everyone knows that SNOWFLAKES = WINTER.  The conflict comes with my color choice. I don't think I've ever seen a springier green. It has reached deep into my id and is now laying siege. With this one cookie design I am officially saying goodbye to winter and looking forward to spring. Yikes. That came a little early this year.

I know what you are thinking. Probably something along the lines of -- Id? What is that supposed to mean? I'll tell you. Its some Freudian thing I learned about in high school psychology. So, you know, that means I'm an expert and all. Actually, I only remember the name from high school, and I had to look up the details. ( I'm sorry Mr. High-School-Psychology-Teacher.) Basically the id is a collection of all my impulses, instincts and desires.

Which means I have to make spring cookies now. I have no choice. I hope you understand.

one little snowflake

 It's time I just come out and say it -- I'm making more cookies these days. And I'm doing it on purpose. And its probably not going to stop anytime soon  -- because -- Ilikemakingcookies. Whew.  There.  I said it.  So...for the 3 of you that subscribe to this blog, feel free to cancel if you find that a cookie a day is just too much for you. I won't mind. Just know that you will be missing out on sweet little snowflake cookies like this one.

Cold Nights

It's funny, I never think of warm nights as being silent. Summer has so many sounds at night. But when I think of winter nights, I always think of them as empty, with an echoing kind of silence. Perhaps its because the snow absorbs so much sound. Perhaps its wishful thinking that somewhere in the world is a place of stillness and silence. What? Actually, yes, I AM a mother! How did you know?

Snowman celebration

I love that winter here really didn't start until the middle of December. And then it snowed A LOT. And then my little boy made his very first very own snowman EVER last week. So that's another reason to celebrate with snowmen cookies. You know, in case you needed a reason.