I have a secret.

I have something to tell you. It has nothing to do with cookies. And everything to do with this song.


For real. In just over THIRTY DAYS I will be heading to the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.

I'm totally excited out of my mind, and completely terrified at the same time. My husband will be staying here for a few more months, so I will be flying with 3 children, 2 car seats, 5 suitcases and 4 carry-ons for a full  24  hours through 3 countries, 4 airports and checking my luggage 3 times. That's no big deal, right? In case you are wondering how well my children travel, when I flew over here (also without my husband) my son was standing up in his seat singing, "I'm going to be naughty" in the middle of the 12 hour flight. I've clearly got some planning to do. Any advice?

Also.... tell me everything! I've been gone for nearly 3 years.  Do cars in America fly yet? Or do they still drive on those rubber wheel things? What are your favorite new movies?  (For reference... Toy Story 3 was the last movie I saw in a theater.)  Are there any trendy new food items at the grocery store? Do Dollar Stores still exist? Are things still only a dollar there? Can I buy groceries at 8 am if I want to? What about 8pm? Are there still sitcoms on television, or is it all filled up with reality shows? People don't drive on the sidewalks, do they? Can you buy a car that has more than 4 seats? More than FIVE? (If you say yes... can you get one that is also *not* a bus?)

And most importantly -- where can I buy cookie cutters at an actual store?

Make Your Own Impression Mat

Will you hate me if I admit that I don't love conversation heart candies?  They taste okay. They're not fantastic... but they are definitely higher on the list of things I'd like to eat than say... chalk or dirt. It's kind of a weird color combination if you ask me, and above all... the grammar... I just can't get past it. My eye starts twitching and my tongue gets stuck in the top of my mouth. And then on top of that, my 5 year old wants me to define "Babe" and "Be my icon." 

So... these happened.  I tried this out because I wanted to know if it would work. And it did. Mostly. But don't try this until you read the whole post. It's not without limitations. But it is fantastic for what it is.

Remember when you were in college and you were dating two people at the same time, only they didn't know it so you asked your roommate for advice and they told you to just enjoy it all until it blows up in your face? It's kind of like that. Except nothing should blow up in your face. And if it does, then you clearly did not read my instructions.

Things you will need -- 

Piping gel. Get any color you want. I mean, get a color that doesn't annoy you. (Do some colors annoy you or is it just me? Orange kind of annoys me. And turquoise. And putting them together would be like giving my children drums and water balloons. Please don't do it.)

Flexible cutting boards. Mine look a little old because they are. They have never been used (this is important for food safety) but they have been sitting in a box for nearly 3 years. (Why in the world would I do that? Please don't judge me.)  I got them at a dollar store when I still lived in America. Basically, you want thin, flexible, food safe plastic.

Printed Message. Find a nice font you like. Find a fancy scroll pattern. Create your own unique artwork. Just make sure you scale it to the right size and then flip the image. Unless of course it's already symmetrical, or you don't mind the reverse pattern. For words... you're going to need to flip it.

Piping bag and tip. For lettering, I would recommend a #1.5 tip. For any other pattern or design, a #2 or #2.5 tip would be give you more durability in the long run. But you can't use that size of tips for letters this small. It would just turn out to be a giant blob. And, I could be wrong, but I don't think you need an impression mat for giant blobs. Those are pretty easy to do on your own.

TIME. (Not pictured) It takes a long time to dry. We're talking 10-15 days here. A long time.

This could not be more simple. Tape your mirror image to a flat surface. Tape a cut up piece of the plastic cutting board over the top. Squeeze your piping gel into the piping bag and pipe over the top of the design. If you are using the #1.5 tip, let it dry for an hour and then pipe a second layer of piping gel on top to make it taller. Then put it somewhere you won't see it for 10 days. Resist the urge to poke it every 3 hours just to see how it is doing.

1. So... about those limitations I was talking about earlier. You have to use this just a little bit differently than a regular impression mat. And by that I mean you need to dust the top of the cookie dough with flour. This was a little excessive. It really only need a very light dusting, but I was a tad paranoid after it stuck the first time and I started hyperventilating because I assumed my two weeks of waiting had been wasted in a careless moment.

2. Place the impression mat with the dried-up-piping-gel side down. Gently roll over the top with a rolling pin. Try to use light pressure, and only on the part with the pattern.

3. Use a food brush to remove the copious amount of flour you dumped on your cookie dough in your moment of self doubt.

4. Cut out the cookie. And then bake it. And eat it. Or give it to someone if that's what you do with cookies.

Some helpful tips --

**Use a brush and toothpick to clean the impression mat. If you try to wash it, it will get sticky and weird.

**Consider extending the plastic further out from the design so it doesn't leave marks on your cookie.

**If one of your lines is a little bit wonky, let it set up for a day and then take a toothpick and gently nudge it into place.

Strawberry Lemonade Roll Out Cookies (Recipe)

Cancel all your plans this weekend. Make new plans with me. And these cookies.

Seriously. Go ahead and turn your Saturday alarm off. Don't get up early and be productive. Don't go to the gym and get all sweaty and healthy. Sweaty is overrated and you'll probably just be thinking about these cookies the whole time anyway. Either that or you'll be thinking about that guy on the machine 3 rows over and wondering if he's *actually* going to use it, or just lean around it some more while talking about that epic work out he did last week. And then you'll start wondering if you should tell him that the girls behind him left 10 minutes ago. But then...what if he really is that self-centered and he's not just trying to impress people? That could get awkward. You should probably just fake fall off the treadmill. That's what I would do.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Slow down a minute. The words you are using -- I can't understand them.

You sleep in. On Saturdays? Huh. I don't know what to say to that. I didn't even realize that was still an option. I thought they stopped making those sometime in the late 1990's. Do you have to get some kind of Saturday upgrade for that? Or does it usually come standard and I'm just stuck with a defective weekend package? Because I am thisclose to calling the people responsible for my Saturday mornings and letting them know exactly how I feel about this... this.... disparity that I am being subject to. I AM A PERSON. I HAVE RIGHTS. I HAVE... you know what, actually, one of them has a melted marshmallow all over this face. Let me just wipe that off real quick...

So... now I'm all distracted. Let's get back to what really matters. I don't get to sleep in on Saturdays and you, my friends, need to make these cookies.

Strawberry Lemonade Roll Out Cookies

1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup strawberry FREEZER jam
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 lemon, zested and juiced
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
4 1/2 (or 5) cups flour

Cream butter and sugar together. Add strawberry jam and mix well. Be sure to scrape the sides a few times. Add the eggs, vanilla, lemon zest and lemon juice.  Mix it all up. Seriously, don't forget to scrape the sides. That strawberry jam is a wild one. Add baking powder and salt and mix again.  Add flour 1 cup at a time. IF YOU ARE GOING TO MAKE THESE COOKIES RIGHT AWAY, add 5 cups of flour and get your cookies made. No need to chill the dough. If you are not going to use the dough immediately-- stop at 4 1/2 cups of flour. Roll out on a lightly floured surface to 1/4 inch thick. Bake at 350 F for 7 minutes.

I'm just going to preempt your emails right here.

** USE FREEZER JAM. I've been getting emails that this recipe isn't working with the other kinds of jams!

** I use salted butter because I like it You can use what you want. I let mine sit out on the counter for 15 minutes. I like it to be just a little soft, but not melting in a puddle all over my kitchen.

** Yes, you can use this recipe with cookie cutters.

** If you want to, you can substitute the zested and juiced lemon for 2 Tbsp of lemon juice. From the little plastic squeezy thing even. I am not a judger of lemon juice.

** I used freezer jam. It's my very favoritest kind of jam in the whole wide world. You can use whatever kind of jam is your favoritest.

** It's hard to tell in the pictures, but the cookies bake up with a light pink color. You could definitely add a little pink food coloring. You know, if you wanted to.

Here's what I want to know. What flavor of icing do you think would taste best with these cookies? Vanilla? Lemon? Coconut-kiwi-blue hawaiian- butterscotch-horchata? Because so far, everyone here is eating them without icing. Or with jam. Because every cookie needs just a little more sugar.

Car Engine Cake

We need to rethink the holidays in January. We might need a new one.  And not one of those holidays where you're supposed to "really look at your life" and then think about all the things you did over the last year that didn't work out so well and then lie to yourself by pretending that you aren't going to be you anymore and you're instantly going to be this other person that looks like you but has an infinitely better credit score and wardrobe. And also that other person has a kitchen that cleans itself... (Because let's be honest, if you are going to dream, you may as well go big.)... only to fall into complete and utter despair 9 days later when you realize, you are still the same person, you are actually going to have to work on those goals, and the sun is never going to stay past 4pm ever again.

January needs a real pick-me-up kind of holiday. You know, something with bright colors and sparkles and cotton candy. There should be block parties and bonfires. We can invite the sun and trick him into staying a couple extra hours. The little girls can run around with baskets of flowers and the boys can stuff their pockets full of those little snap fireworks. We can stay up late racing remote control motorcycles down the middle of the road and ringing church bells and stuff.

And then in the morning, you can laze about the house in your pajamas while eating caramel cinnamon rolls before going to the community festival where everyone tries out all  kinds of Pinterest recipes while riding a giant Ferris Wheel.  It's, uh, kind of a two day holiday really. I mean, January needs it and all. Let's not be stingy.

Because you know what stingy gets us? Ice and darkness and bitter coldness. And also a mild form of depression. And 5 extra pounds we have to work off before we go to the beach next summer. So, save yourself a gym pass and vote "YES" on the January holiday ballot.

And in completely unrelated news... I built an engine last week. A Mitsubishi 4g63 engine to be exact. It's a real thing. I'm not joking. Apparently, they put these in CARS and then it makes your car capable of flying to the moon or something. You could look it up.

It would look like this if you did. Looked it up, I mean. That's not the engine that I built. 

I built this one. Out of sugar and spice and other things that are called flour and eggs and butter. It didn't exactly make my car fly, but I suspect that it has something to do with the molecular structure of the butter...

Grayscale Snowmen -- Cookies and Cards

I have kept myself pretty busy today.

I did two half loads of laundry. And by that I mean I *washed* two loads of laundry. I even dried them both. But then I tried to trick my husband into folding the first load by putting it on our bed when I knew he would be going to sleep before me tonight. But then he tricked me back by not caring. Also... has anyone ever successfully gotten an entire load of laundry out of the dryer in ONE armload? Because I'm starting to think that it's not even possible. The very fact that it can't be done pretty much guarantees that I will try it. Every time. And it certainly doesn't stop a certain grown up adult man in my household from laughing at me every time I try to grab the last sock only to drop some unmentionables.

I washed every dish in my entire house. For some reason they were all in the sink. You would think we eat actual food here. I was surprised to discover just how many spoons I own. I always kind of thought that the set only came with 3 spoons in the first place. But as it turns out... we have more than two sets of silverware. And some from the neighbor.

I worked on an engine.

I made some red fondant. And at one point when I was kneading a small handful, I realized that it was the exact color of a human heart. And my hands were covered in red food coloring. And I was totally grossed out and had to go drink some water and look at what complete strangers found "funny" on Pinterest for awhile.  (Why aren't any of you wondering why I know exactly what a human heart looks like?! That's creepy weird.) (I'm not creepy weird. I took pre-med classes once.)

And on top of all of that, I made these cookies. Because, I kind of forgot that today was the first Friday of the month. And on the first Friday of the month, I get to use one of my talented cousin's fabulous cards for inspiration for cookies. Luckily for me, I have a long waiting list of her creative cards that I want to make into a cookie. And a dehydrator. That sure helped out today. PS -- Did you notice that these guys are color-free? Yep! They're also for my Forget About Color Challenge. Double duty. I've never been more productive in my entire life.

This is the cute, cute, CUTE card she made. (More details HERE.)  Am I the only one that fell in love with that little guy at first sight?! Adorable.

And my little snowman. He might have, maybe, gotten eaten today. I couldn't help it. Getting things done is hard work. It makes me hungry.

You know what's NOT hard work though? Making these cookies.

I cut out a scalloped cookie and then I cut a hole in the middle of it with a round cutter. And let me just tell you... do the cutting ON the baking sheet. Or it will get all sorts of weirdly distorted.

1. Using gray 15 second icing  and a #2 tip, pipe a circle on the inside of the scallop.
2. Immediately start drawing "lines" up inside each scallop. Think of it like drawing the letter "E"over and over again, except you had to do it in a big circle and it doesn't actually spell anything.
3. Through the powers of sugar in liquid form, the "E's" magically turn into a nearly perfect scallop border.
 4. Using the same consistency of white icing and a #1 tip, add a dot of icing in the middle of each scallop.

1. The bottom cookie is a plain circle that is the same size, or slightly smaller than the scalloped cookie. Ice that cookie up and don't pay too much attention to the edges. No, seriously. Don't even look at mine. Eh. Go ahead. They are all wonky. And that's okay. Spend your time stressing out about everything else in your life. But not these cookies. Let them dry for a good long while. Overnight would be ideal.
2. Grab a black food color marker (you could also use a #1.5 tip and thick black icing) and draw a little snowman.
3. Pipe some little gray dots and stars for snow. Randomly fill in hat stripes with gray icing. I actually painted the hat stripes with the gray icing because there was a paintbrush right there next to me. And it was looking up at me all lonely-like, and I couldn't just walk away.
4. Pipe a thin line of icing on the back of the scalloped cookie.

5. Press them together and let them dry. You could just leave it like this if you wanted to. I'm pretty sure that is what normal people would do.
6. The next few steps are kind of hard to see. I'm sorry. With white icing, pipe a small snow mound over the bottom of the snowman cookie.
7. Cover it with sanding sugar. Or sugar crystals. Or regular type granulated sugar. Let it dry for at least 15 minutes.
8. Gently shake off the excess sugar. And then eat it. Because all that work makes you hungry.

Are you guys finding it a challenge to give up colors? I'll be honest. This is the THIRD set of cookies I tried to do in black and white and the shades in between. It is not nearly as easy as I thought it would be. What can I say? I like colors.

Don't forget to stop by Pam's blog to see what cookie she made into a card!!

Challenge Yourself -- Forget About Color

You know when you were in high school and your teacher would post everyone's grades on the wall and secretly you spent more time checking out everyone else's scores instead of your own just because you had some desperate need to know how many people did worse than you so you could appropriately manage your own self-worth in relation to their score instead of valuing yourself on your own merit, skills, and personal achievements?

Life isn't like that.

But it kind of is.

But only because we make it that way. And I'm a little sick of telling myself that every one of you out there is taking a screen shot of my blog posts and holding it up to every other cookie that was ever decorated just so you can peg me in a hole and discount my entire being because 237 people make way better cookies than I do. I don't have the steadiest hand. I'm not fantastic with tiny details. I don't come up with the most ingenious designs and then perfectly execute them on a daily basis. I don't think I've ever made a character cookie in my life. And I'm not altogether sure that I could. Sometimes my flood icing falls over the edge of the cookies. I can barely draw stick people, much less paint a work of art onto an edible canvas.

But as it turns out, I LIKE MAKING COOKIES

And that's all I need. So what I'm going to do is focus on my own Algebra grade and try to make it better. Because, heaven knows I could use some help there. My kindergartener is already taking Spanish. I imagine he will be starting algebra by late fall sometime. And I never learned how to do algebra on my fingers. Do you think they have books on that kind of stuff?

And I was thinking that maybe you are also just a little sick of worrying about where you fit in. And a little tired of thinking about all the people that are "better than you" at making cookies and creating every beautiful craft on Pinterest and getting their oil changed regularly, instead of appreciating how talented YOU are and what wonderful things YOU contribute to the world.

And if you don't at all feel this way, then you are basically the most perfect person on the earth and I would like it if you could be my neighbor, because I bet your house always smells really good too. And I like when houses smell good.

Here's the thing. You don't have to reinvent the entire Valentine's Day holiday just because someone else ALREADY MADE  A HEART COOKIE.

It doesn't matter if someone else uses more colors than you. Or if their circles are a little more perfect than yours. It's totally okay to not take the most fantastic photo of your cookies because you are running about 12 minutes behind schedule, as usual, and are honestly making the choice between wearing actual pants or eating lunch. Or because maybe you just don't want to. I'm not judging. No one else is judging either. Just you. Let it go.

In fact, you know what we should do? As a cookie community, (whether you sit firmly on the cookie EATING side or lean more towards the cookie DECORATING side) we should choose to 

Compare a little less and enjoy a little more. 

Of everything. Cookies. Clothes. Weight. Hair Color. Behavior of children in the ice cream aisle... just sayin' -- I would really appreciate that one.  

I'm a big fan of the idea that it's easier to replace something than it is to simply rid yourself of it. So let's replace that comparison with a challenge. Challenge yourself to be better than.... yourself. Every month this year I am going to post a new challenge. You will have the entire month to CHALLENGE YOURSELF on your own level and link-up your efforts. At the end of the month, I will use random.org to select one participant to win a super-fun prize package. No judging. No comparing. Just doing. And winning. And cookies. And love.

This month's challenge is simple. Get rid of color. Make something (cookies, cake, wall hangings...whatever) using only black, white, and/or any of the shades in between. Focus on form and texture - and how nice it will be not to have to wash 300 different tips, bottles, and bags. And then post it on Flickr, or a blog, or a public Facebook page and link it up here. Email me if you have any questions. At all. I can't promise an answer. Especially if it's algebra, but I'll see what I can do.

PS-- I almost forgot! Do you want to know what the prizes are this month? One lucky participant will win a copy of Bridget Edward's (of Bake at 350) Decorating Cookies book AND a $25 gift certificate to The Cookie Cutter Company. (And in case you didn't know, they also sell Americolor gel colors.) So... you know.... get to challenging yourself!