I have written and re-written this blog post a hundred times in my head and it never sounds right. Bo Johnson, the 13 year old boy that taught a community to love, ended his battle with cancer on Friday as he passed from this life into the next. If anyone had a right complain, and draw into himself out of misery, it was Bo. But he didn't do that. He rallied his town, and his county, and people from all over the world together in a mission for kindness and goodness. He said, "“Love each other, help each other, have your neighbor's back. If you see someone in need — even a stranger — reach out and help. This world can be a better place if we care and help each other.”

A fund was set up for Bo's family to help cover the soaring medical costs of his cancer treatment. As his battle drew to a close, he asked that the funds be used to help others. Among other small, but thoughtful acts, he wanted to take food to the nurses in the hospital where he had stayed, to purchase bathtubs for the children still suffering there, and most of all...he wanted a cure for cancer. 

Bo has moved on, but his fight is still here. These cookies were made for a GIANT bake sale that Jill helped organize for the upcoming Fall Fest in Sister Bay, Wisconsin. The proceeds will go to the Go Bo! Foundation for all the good things Bo ever thought of and all the good things he inspired. 

Read More --  

PS -- If any of you are making cookies for the bake sale and want to use these bag toppers -- just email me or leave me a comment with the width of your bags and I'll send you the appropriate size file. 

The Artist and The Canvas -- Jill Wettstein (GO BO!)

Cookies are more than just butter and sugar (and obviously eggs and flour.)  It's the way they are put together.  A beautiful card is more than the paper and ink used to create it.  Cakes and breads and crafts and homes and even people are more than the things that make them up.

They are art. WE are art.

And if I remember anything from 4th grade art appreciation (besides the unhappy outcome of mixing slanted desks, an open jar of paint, and a brand new dress) it is that art should be ENJOYED. And it should be appreciated and explored and apparently it should also serve as material for pop quizzes.

I don't know about you all, but where cookies are concerned, I'm super good at the ENJOYING THEM part. I love making them and eating them and giving them away and looking at them and talking about them and thinking about them and drawing them and dreaming about them. I'm also especially skilled at the APPRECIATING THEM part. I have selflessly given up many hours of my day and late nights, and wee mornings just to appreciate those cookies and the people that make them. So let's just move on to the EXPLORING THEM part, shall we?

This has been building for kind of a while, and I'm SUPER excited to share it with you today. It's a new feature on my blog!! It's this real thing that I'm going to do where I find super talented people that I love and adore and would live with if I ever got the chance and also if it wouldn't be creepy-weird or anything like that. And then I'm going to stalk them and send them countless emails and messages and probably stay up later than is healthy (once again) sorting through all their fabulous works of art just so I can bring them TO YOU!! 

(I warned you.)

Name the Cookie Artist that made each of these cookies and the period of art in which they were created. (I'm just kidding about the last part.)

Jill is one of my favoritest Cookie Artists in the whole wide world. She creates STUNNING cookies that make me happy every single time with fabulous designs that are impeccably created AND on top of all of that, she is THE definition of sweet and sassy. (Sassy meaning a fun, spicy personality thing, and not some weird orange pants kind of thing. Seriously-- Jill is the best.)

Let me tell you a little bit about Jill. She was born, raised, and is still currently living in Wisconsin. I have been, and probably always will be, a Cheesehead.  (That's Jill saying that. I've never actually been to Wisconsin.) (Great. Now I've just ruined my chance at BFF with Jill.) She has brothers and sisters and kids and grand-kids. And she adores all of them. You know, because she's sweet and loving like that.

Jill is a cookie non-seller. She is the owner of a page layout and document design company. (It totally makes sense, right? She's basically fantastic at everything.) So what does she do with all of her masterpieces? Cookie-ing is a way for me to pay it forward one sweet treat at a time. She got into cookies in 2009 and pretty much hit the ground running. I asked her what got her started (I told you I'm nosy.) and she said -- Empty. Nest. Syndrome. I haven't experienced this thing that Jill talks of, but apparently it's like radiation and it enhances your natural talents to the point of super hero status. I can't wait. 

If you don't know Jill and her creations, you should. And if you DO know Jill and her creations, you know that her style is dominated by sharp black outlines, bright colors and fun detailed piping (her favorite part) that pulls everything together. When questioned under bright lights, Jill admitted that --  My design ideas and style are undeniably influenced by my childhood love of coloring and coloring books. I still swoon over the smell of crayons. And then since flattery will get you everywhere (or because she's an absolute peach) she handed over this bit of advice to new decorators -- Two words: heater fan. Immediately after flooding the cookie with royal icing, place it near a heater fan until the royal icing crusts over and the icing gets a nice sheen (about 10 minutes). Totally helps reduce the chance of craters and bleeding.

And in case you were wondering what Jill does on New Year's Eve (I know I was. That's why I asked.) -- We are simple people (that sounds better than boring, right?) — nice dinner out with the in-laws and then home to slip into jammies, toast the new year and in bed by 10:00 pm.

Actually, I'm willing to bet that the question you all are wondering is -- HOW IN THE WORLD DO YOU COME UP WITH THESE FANTASTIC DESIGNS?? Or in other words -- How can I be more like you? You guys, we are the luckiest people on earth, because Jill is sharing her secret!! Right here. RIGHT NOW!!

Cookie Doodling

Some people are fabulous cookie bakers and others are uber talented cookie artists; I consider myself a silly, little cookie doodler. I really dig the simplicity of stick people drawings but struggled with proportion and poses ... until I discovered the beauty of vellum ...

Take a picture of someone, or a group of people, in the pose you want to duplicate. For this example, I had my adorable grandsons hold signs for an extraordinary boy named Bo. You will need vellum paper, a pencil, an eraser (you may not need one, but I always do), and a marker.

Place a sheet of vellum over the picture and roughly outline the basic "pose" of the people in pencil. You do not need a lot of detail; you are just trying to get a rough, cartoony version. 

After you are satisfied with your pencil version, trace over it with a marker.

Your final version will look something like this. See how easy-peasy it is to figure out proportion and pose by simply tracing? No extreme artistic talent required!

Place your vellum drawings on a piece of white paper and scan into your computer. 

Scale your scanned drawings to the size you want your cookies and print on cardstock. Find a background that "tells your story." Cut out the scanned drawings and use as a template to hand-cut your cookies. (Yeah, yeah, I know, hand-cutting is a pain, but well worth it in the end.)

Flood the cookies in white.

Airbrush the cookies to roughly mimic the background picture.

Using a Kopy Kake, outline the people using very thick consistency royal icing and a 1.5 PME tip. Let the outline piping dry overnight and flood the next day. Let the flood layer dry completely and add detail. 

Ta-da... GO BO!!

There is something else you should know about Jill. She's quite shy and has an awful case of humility. She probably never would have agreed to this post if it wasn't for the message she has to share. It's about Bo. I've never met him, but in the last two weeks, he has dominated my life. He is courageous and good and caring and he wants a chance to give to others. Jill (and most of Door County Wisconsin) is doing everything they can to support this amazing young man. She's helping organize a giant bake sale at Fall Fest to raise money for Bo. He wants to give back to those who helped and took care of him, and make life better for others suffering from cancer.

Jill says -- While battling an extremely rare form of leukemia and spending a year in the hospital, 13-year-old Bo Johnson has come home to Sister Bay, Wisconsin to teach us how to live. Bo's message is simple: “Love each other, help each other, have your neighbor's back. If you see someone in need — even a stranger — reach out and help. This world can be a better place if we care and help each other.”

To read more about this amazing boy CLICK HERE. (If you do nothing else this weekend -- READ THIS.)
To "voice" your support CLICK HERE to join his Facebook page. 

To donate :
GO BO! FUND -- The Pay Forward Forever Wish
Associated Bank of Sister Bay
P.O. Box 507
Sister Bay, WI 54234

Pumpkin Cutter Cherries

Is there a subtle way to tell people that you are overly obsessed with making cookies and spend all hours of the day and night baking and decorating and dreaming of cookies? I kind of feel like maybe I need to come with a warning label. You know, like, "Warning -- will speak in cookie." or "Don't talk to me while I am telling you how adorable your baby is because secretly I'm trying to memorize that FANTASTIC pattern on their tiny little shirt so I can recreate it in sugar form later this week." 

Let's be honest. Cookies are a big part of my life. I buy the "big sugar" and enough flour to bake a two-story play fort for my children out of gingerbread....on a weekly basis. I panic when I have less than 2 bags of powdered sugar. We got a package in the mail today. My son asked if it was cookie cutters. (It was.) He said he knew that it was because *I* was holding it. Apparently, the only packages I get are cookie cutters. My son has a cookie design request list. In pen. He knows which tips are "the good tips" and he knows where to find all the "boy" cutters. My daughter has developed an unbelievable ability to detect the sound of cutters slicing through chocolate cookie dough. She comes running and waits with one hand out for her portion of the scrap dough.

My husband has become a black market cookie dealer. He knows the cookies that are up for grabs and wields his power accordingly. We had some friends over for dinner a few weeks ago, and I found them in a back room crowded around  the cookie box.

I don't really have normal conversations anymore. My husband asks about my day and I tell him a super funny story....that I read on a cookie blog, before launching into an hourly analysis of the humidity level in our home. I don't even do it on purpose. I'll be in the middle of a conversation with a complete stranger and realize I am talking about the relative merits or deficiencies in two different brands of powdered sugar. I am super weird. (If all that cookie mess up there wasn't enough, I also like tofu.) At least I am not alone. I know of at least 2 other people that like tofu and at least 22 other people wielding pumpkin cutters for no other reason than pure joy and excitement and the challenge...

Callye asked me if I wanted to make something fun with a pumpkin cutter. And since "making something fun with a pumpkin cutter" is practically my middle name, I said yes. And then I made a pumpkin cookie. And then I couldn't stop thinking about that pumpkin cutter and how it also looked like an elephant. And cherries. And a weird looking guy with an odd shaped nose. And I had absolutely no desire to make a weird looking guy with an odd shaped nose, so I made cherry cookies instead.

1. Outline and flood the cookie. Let it dry overnight.
2. Take a square cutter, drag it through some stiff icing and press it randomly all over the base layer of icing.
3. Like this.
4. Use a #3 tip and some bright red icing, draw a cherry and fill it in real quick.

A tip for drawing cherries -- think of it like a letter "b" and a letter "d" put together, but without the vertical line in the middle.

5. While the icing is still wet, drag a toothpick through some white icing and then draw a little "shine line" in the red icing. Let it dry for an hour or so.
6. Outline and fill another cherry. Give it another hour or so.
7. Using thick green icing, pipe on a swoopy cherry leaf. If you make it thick enough, you can draw a line through it with a toothpick and it will stay. It's okay if you don't want a line in the middle of your leaf. You can just make a regular cherry leaf. That's cool with me.
8. Give it a couple of minutes and then add the stems.
9. Then go visit any and all of these fun and NON-WEIRD friends to see what they did with *their* pumpkin cutter!

No Icing Jack-O-Lantern Cookies

On this exact day last year, I had already posted ELEVEN Halloween cookie posts (and 3 general Fall-ish type posts.) I was making Halloween cookies in August. I'm trying to hold back this year. Mostly because I'm superficial and I care what other people think and I really, really, really don't want to be the weird kid on the playground that nobody wants to play with because they are trying to convince all the other kids that they are The Master Dreamer and that everyone else is just a pawn of their imagination. And by that I mean....IS there such a thing as too many Halloween cookie posts? Because, I'm gonna tell you right now that I LOVE HALLOWEEN COOKIES!! They are by far my most favorite kind of cookies to make. I could make them year round. I *might* have made them year round already.

I do not know why I like Halloween so much. Its kind of a scary holiday. Its like an unwritten Halloween rule that you're supposed to scare someone. But not little kids. Halloween is not for scaring them. Halloween is for giving them candy and sparkles and little jars of happiness that aren't really jars but are actually pumpkin shaped plastic containers filled with sugar that their parents will secretly be stealing when they think their children won't notice.

But they DO notice, so don't take the Kit-Kats. They've already counted them and they will KNOW if one of them is missing. Take those weird orange and black peanut butter taffy candies. Nobody really pays any attention to those poor little dears. They are like The Master Dreamers of the candy world. And they never really had a chance. They don't have flashy packaging or catchy marketing jingles. They don't even have a memorable name. Or even taste good. Actually... Why DO they keep making those candies? Are they just trying to torment children? Its like a sugar rock. You think you have a bag full of deliciousness and candy, but it turns out that someone just stuck peanut butter sugar rocks in your bag AND you carried them around all night. I bet they are at home laughing their little Master Dreamer heads off at all the poor children walking around with their poor little bulging bags of not-candy. Hmmm. Maybe that's why they call it Trick-or-Treat.

And in other news...you should make these cookies. They are easy and fun and quick and do not require orange and black wax paper or weird peanut-butter taffy flavoring. You can add those if you want to though, I guess. I mean...it's your life. I won't judge you if you put weird candy flavoring in your cookies. Well, I might actually. I mean...it's my life too, you know. 

1. Make delicious tasting cookie dough. Knead orange food coloring into half of it and black into the other half. Wearing gloves would be a good idea. (But so is going to bed before midnight, and we see how well that seems to work out for the world as a whole.) (It doesn't, in case you were wondering.)
2. Roll your dough a little thinner than usual. Cut out one black and one orange pumpkin for each cookie.
3. Use the side of the cutter to make lines in the orange pumpkins.
4. Bend a straw in half the long way. (Seriously, this is an important step....which you might be able to skip if you keep reading.)

5. Use the bended up straw to cut eyeballs in your cookie dough pumpkin. I bent the other side of the straw into a triangle to cut out the nose, and used one of my icing tips to cut out the mouth. OR -- You could use THESE CUTTERS  or THESE CUTTERS and forget about bending straws entirely!
6. Bake. They will need slightly less time to bake since you rolled them thinner.
7. Put icing on the back of the orange pumpkin. You can use royal icing, or butter cream, or that highly pressurized easy-frosting-in-a-can I just saw a few days ago. This would be an excellent time to try out the Pumpkin Spice Whipped Butter Cream (<--Click) if you haven't already.
8. Press the orange cookie on to the black cookie. Repeat as desired.

I tried something new with the cookie dough this time. (I can't help it. I have a disease where I can't leave a recipe alone.) (It's a real thing.) (No, it's not.) (I also have a teeny lying problem as well, apparently.) I used THIS RECIPE (<--Click.) I used brown sugar instead of white sugar and left out the baking powder (because brown sugar spreads/puffs more than white sugar.) THESE COOKIES ARE DELICIOUS. And when paired with the pumpkin spice butter cream, they are absolutely irresistible. Seriously, don't come back here 20 pounds from now and start hating on me. I warned you.

Easy Outline Pumpkins

I think I have a defective "dress gene." I hate wearing dresses. There. I said it out loud. It is true and I am no longer ashamed to admit it.

 My daughter will choose to wear a dress every time she is given the chance. She even chooses dresses instead of pajamas if we give her the choice. We don't give her that choice anymore. She likes to dance and spin around and watch her dress get all flowy and girly and spinny-outy around her. She is two. And she chooses dresses. It's like she's a grown-up. She's not, by the way. Weren't you listening? I just told you she is two.

My neighbors really are grown ups though. Actual lawn mowing, car driving, house painting, and going to the bank type grown-ups. And they are not defective. They wear dresses all the time. ALL. THE. TIME. It's quite amazing really, to watch them work a dress into every occasion. Grocery shopping? Check. Going to lunch? Check. Phone plan-re charging and hair cut getting? Check-check. WALKING THE DOG? Checkity check. I told you they were amazing. Also, there are people I am related to that wear dresses and then just hang out on the couch, painting their toenails. ON THE COUCH, I tell you. In a dress.

I don't do that. Why wear a dress when you can wear yoga pants? That's my motto. Except...sometimes you can't wear yoga pants. Maybe I need some kind of "Dresses and YOU -- What you need to know to love them like every other female on the planet" type class. Do you think they offer them at community centers? Am I really such an oddity that they don't have classes like that in every town? Maybe I could mail-order something? I feel like there is this big "Why dresses are FANTASTIC" secret that nobody wants to tell me. Seriously, if there is, then you could tell me. I wouldn't be mad.

Whoa. I just fell asleep writing my own blog post. I have hit a new low of interestingness. This pretty much proves my point that dresses are weird. I'm just going to show you how I outlined these cookies now and call it a day.

Like that. Outline the sides using thick orange icing and a #3 tip. Add some swoopy-uppy lines and some swoopy-downy lines. Let it dry for 30 minutes and then flood the middle part with a flood consistency icing and add a stem. Done. Let it dry overnight and then add some kind of face that you adore and love and want to look at every day of your life until you eat it.

I'm seriously going to go to sleep in like 4 minutes. (I live on the other side of the world. I can totally do that.) Don't get all crazy and start leaving comments about how weird I am because I don't like dresses, okay? If there is some huge embarrassing typo, on the other hand...go ahead and get that out of your system. I'm cool with that.

Stitched Pumpkins (SHOW ME Your Photo Set-Up)

Since I moved off the 5th floor and into a real-live ground floor house, I have had to make some adjustments in my daily life. First, I had to stop thinking that people were flying every time they moved past my front windows. Second, I have accepted the fact that my children can jump on-to and off-of every single piece of furniture we own and our neighbors still can't hear them. I have successfully  become accustomed to turning the water on in the kitchen sink with my hand, like a barbarian, instead of stepping on the floor sensor.  I have yet to come up with a fantastic photo "studio" arrangement though.

Right now, I take pictures in my back yard. Right next to a moldy ol' shed. (Can we talk about this? My shed is METAL. How does that grow mold? Also, during the typhoon, my fence started growing mushrooms. Sideways. And they were neon orange. Please tell me they won't kill me just by looking at them.)

So, seriously, a moldy ol' shed, a weathered ol' play table and a garbage can turned rain gauge now make up my photo studio. Want to see?

I told you. 

Its not so bad on nice days. I take photos while my baby is sleeping. My 2 year old sits out there with me talking about life and cookies and sometimes jumping on her mini trampoline. (You know, while *not* trying to steal cookies and candy before the photos are actually taken.)

And sometimes she even sets up her own studio...which I COMPLETELY adore. (PS -- This is the first time I've put an actual picture of  an actual child carrying my actual genetics on my blog. Please don't 1)Tell my husband or 2) Use it to sell advertisements in Switzerland or 3)Seriously, don't tell my husband.)

I got a light tent recently, but I'm afraid to change what seems to be working for me right now. I am NOT, however, afraid to pop-open that light tent and then fold it right back up again. And someone told me that folding it back up is the hardest part, so at this point, using it to take pictures would be like pouring dish soap on my bicycle. (Easy.) And I like a challenge...so I'm going to stick with my backyard light situation until it's too cold. Or raining. Or dark.

How do YOU GUYS take pictures? Would you guys be willing to SHOW ME?! What if I promise to give you a quick run down of how I made these cookies?

1. Outline and fill the pumpkin part with 15 second icing and a #3 tip. Let dry for an hour.
2. Add a stem and let it dry overnight. (Here is some free advice-- Make your green icing and then when you think its the perfect shade, add some of your orange icing to it. Trust me. It will make it perfect-er.)
3. Attach some pre-made eyeballs with orange icing and draw a cute little mouth with thick black icing and a #1 tip.
4. Add some stitching lines around the edges with thick white icing and a #1 tip.

There. Done. I've kept my end of the bargain. Now its time for you to uphold your side of the agreement that you totally agreed to by not speaking up and saying that you didn't want to agree to my stupid agreement and that you don't even like me anyway.

Ghost Cauldron -- Cookies and Cards

I've been keeping a secret squished up inside of me for about 29 hours now. Its about to come tumbling out, and I can't stop it. Okay, look -- promise me that you won't tell my son I told you. At least, promise me that you won't go searching out my son when he's 14 years old and tell him that I told you this. Because if he doesn't think I'm "un-cool" by that age, then this complete violation of mother-son trust would definitely do it.

As my stressed out ramblings from earlier in the week indicated, my oldest son started kindergarten this week. As soon as he comes home each day, I basically force him to tell me about every second of his day since he left my sight. I've already had him describe the bus route, the hallways, the lunchroom, gym class, his teachers, the kids at the playground and the bulletin board outside the classroom. The first day he came home he told me that he tried broccoli at lunch and that he liked it. The second day he managed to get out "I hate to tell you, but we did something I didn't like" before I pinned him down and compelled him to eat multiple cookies while finishing the rest of the story. As it turned out, he didn't like singing a song because for some reason he thought it was scary.

And then came yesterday.

After we got the lunch details out of the way, he mentioned that they got to play on the playground TWICE. So, naturally I asked him about who he played with. (I am his mother. I need to make sure that nobody is trying to convince him to get in a car with candy or set things on fire while the teacher isn't looking.)  Do you want to know what he said? (Trust me, you do.) He said, "I played with Laci. She is the beautiful-est girl I've ever seen. Every day she has just the cutest face. She's the cutest Mom."

I almost took him out of school right then and there. Although, he was already home sitting on the couch so it really wouldn't have made much sense. I did let him have mac and cheese for dinner though. You know, just so I could be sure to solidify my place as "favorite girl" in his life for at least a few more days. .

And ... I'm planning on letting him eat these cookies until his mouth turns black. (It shouldn't take very long.)

It's the first Friday of the month, so that means I got the idea for these cookies from a card that my cousin Pam made. Except, this one isn't actually a card, its a tag. If you want to see more of her fun creations, you can check out her blog HERE.

Start with a cauldron. Cut out a chunk of it with a ghost cutter. Remove the part that was cut out and replace it with a ghost. Squish it together a bit to make sure that all the pieces are touching. Use the cauldron cutter again to lightly imprint the shape of the cauldron on top of the ghost. Bake as usual.

1. Using the imprint as a guide, outline and fill the cauldron shape.Let that dry for as long as you can possible stand it.
2. Outline and fill the ghost sections. Let those dry a good while as well.
3. Use a bright color to make the bubbly cauldrony part.
4. Immediately toss some coordinating sanding sugar on top and let it dry for 20 minutes or so.

I used a food color marker to make the face and the stitching lines, but you could also use a thick black icing and a PME 1.5 tip.

For some reason, I thought it would be really clever to add a big ol' stirring spoon to the cauldron. After adding the spoons to half of them, I suddenly didn't feel so clever. And now I keep going back and forth. I'm not sure which way I like better. You can make them however you want. (But when you do, will you tell me which way you did it, so I can agree with you?)

PS -- Don't forget to check out Pam's Card that once was a cookie HERE!!