Adventures of an Unprofessional Baker

Christmas Cookies – Day 5

Start Time: 11:45 am

Stop Time: 2:30 am

Goal: 22 types of cookies, packaged, wrapped & read to deliver on Tuesday 12/18

Baked:  Paris Breakfast Shortbread(4x), Cranberry Shortbread (4x), Vanilla Bean Shortbread (4x), Lemon Sugar Rounds (6x), Pecan Sandies (4x), Gingersnaps (4), Oatmeal Raisin (6), Snickerdoodles (5x), Peanut Butter toffee pretzel (3)

9 types of cookies got baked today. NINE.

I got up a little later than I wanted today, knowing that the first thing I had to do was finish those 20-ish cookies I left undone last night.  MOTU had to go back to reality today, but she edged the cookies for me so all I had to do was paint the design on.   Her energy and help got me through the tough spots of no-bake days.

Dude, I’m running on fumes, coffee and pure muscle memory right now.  I had hoped to finish baking all the cookies tonight, but I can’t complete it.  I’m just too tired.  There are 2 left to do tomorrow– Chinese Almond and Extreme Brownie.  And I’m toying with NOT doing the Extreme Brownie cookie to save myself some time.

Every year, I wind up using my boxing day to finish off my baking and this year,  I was determined.  I really will get to the point where boxing day is about putting the boxes together.  It just never works out that way.  But…let’s celebrate the fact that I got NINE types of cookies baked today.  The Husband did one of them– the time and labor intensive peanut butter toffee pretzel.  This one takes up counter space because he needs to drizzle it with caramel, white chocolate and dark chocolate, so he had to wait until the decorator cookies were done.

I cleared out all the dough from the fridge and cleaned the fridge for the second time…On Friday, I smushed an open container of pickles and it spilled all up in the fridge so for the past 2 days my fridge has smelled like pickle juice even though I cleaned it out the day it happened… C’est la vie or La vie en pickle… take your pick.

Today happened to be a wrestling pay-per-view day, so baking happened with a TLC (tables, ladders, and chairs) match happening in the background which is sorta funny if you think about it.  Especially since the colors I’ve been using are very Hulk Hogan-esque. I also think we came up with next year’s cookie theme too.  I need to start thinking about it and picking the best ideas because this one could get out of hand easily.

Tomorrow will be a heavy bagging day, and it’s just me & The Husband on our own as everyone goes back to work tomorrow.  Potsie pointed out that Moosie is exhausted and just wants to sleep.  I think it’s because I’ve been keeping her up so late, and all day (when she usually sleeps), I’ve been banging around, interrupting her.  She’s extra docile ad sleepy, rather than being hyper and all over the place, so maybe this is what needs to happen more.  I need to keep her awake, so she’s not getting her full day of sleep…2018-12-20 20.50.13

It’s been cold and rainy–not great for drying icing– which in retrospect could be why it seemed to take extra long to dry the decorator cookies.  The two oven speed was so great today– knocked out all those cookies and there is a huge pile of snickerdoodles and gingersnaps on the table for bagging in the morning.

Tomorrow is the final push– a little more baking, bagging and assembling the boxes.  I can’t believe cookie madness is coming to a close.  It’s been stressful, successful yet a tad uneventful, which is weird.  Sure, there’s been hiccups, and The Husband & I had a minor disagreement this morning because he has an idea of what order I should be doing things so he can help me, but I have this whole thing planned and sorry bub, I need to do this according to MY list… But it’s not been the roller coaster it usually is.

Maybe it’s me, getting older or planning, but it’s flowing ok.  Yeah, I’m achy and tired all over.  I actually can’t wait to sit on my ass at work Tuesday instead of being on my feet all day.  However, I’m still having fun.  This house has been a fine home for this project and I feel like there’s a new ballet that I’m learning this year, which is fulfilling, new and fun.  The challenge is good.

Final push tomorrow.  We’re all beat.  The Husband, the dogs, Potsie, McIrish– we’re pretty tired.  It’s time for bed and doggie snuggles.

g’night!

Christmas Cookies – Day 4

Start Time: 11:15 am

Stop Time: 6:05 am

Goal: 22 types of cookies, packaged, wrapped & read to deliver on Tuesday 12/18

Baked:  Chocolate Chip (8x)

Mixed: Paris Breakfast Shortbread(4x), Cranberry Shortbread (4x), Vanilla Bean Shortbread (4x), Lemon Sugar Rounds (6x), Pecan Sandies (4x)

OMG OMG OMG, I’m behind.  No, I’m ahead. No, I think I’m behind.  Maybe I’m not. I don’t know anymore!  Day started out great.  Again, MOTU and The Husband took care of food needs and ordered breakfast so I didn’t have to think about it.  I spent most of the day hand-painting feathers.  They came out really pretty though.  But a TON of work.  I think MOTU and I hand-painted over 400 cookies today.

Due to the lack of drying surfaces (if only we had another table..ahem…), we had a little bit of ballet to do today.  Nothing like the Pacifica house ballet mind you, but ballet none the less.  Thankfully, The Husband is super clever and rigged an extra table out of two chairs and a piece of wood.  Potsie came home this morning and she helped with bagging and attempted to seal (McIrish had to fix a few bags for her).  She also assembled the boxes too!  Potsie is a new addition to my world.  She’s like a little sister to me, and so far, hasn’t batted an eye to the craziness of cookie time.

In a lot of ways, Potsie & I have a lot of similarities in our backgrounds, despite our differences.  She’s the first one to do a sink full of dishes (even though she didn’t make them), and she understands me in some really deep dark ways.  She really gets how big groups and parties stress me out, even though I’m good at throwing them, and how affected I can get by the people around me.  She’s also a dumpster, like McIrish, so that works in a lot of great ways.  Garbage cookies, excess frosting, cookie dough, have a home now, LOL.

That might be this year’s take away.  Garbage cookies.  Cookies that are not pretty enough to make the boxes, broken, a little too dark on the bottoms, etc.  This year, due to the 2 oven speed and me not being used to it, there are a lot of garbage cookies… I was going to throw them away, but MOTU said NO and made me save them.  Potsie, too, wont’ let me trash them.  But they are getting eaten so I can’t complain.

The Husband stepped up AGAIN and did the eight batches of chocolate chip cookies.  Eight.  That man, my god.  He is my hero.  I don’t know what I would do on no-bake days without him.  I just wish he didn’t hate me so much at cookie time. McIrish didn’t stop sealing, pretty much all day, and between him and Potsie bagging, I’m on top of sealing for once.  Usually there is a huge backlog of cookies to bag & seal.  The extra hands are nice.

Speaking of extra hands– MOTU is a goddess– they don’t call her Master Of The Universe for nothing.  Not only did she figure out the airbrush faster than I could have, but she helped me gild and decorate today like nobody’s business.  Most people don’t know that she had the hands of an artist and a creative streak in her because for the most part, she’s just so pragmatic and technical.  But to me, she is a fine artist who can do detail along with me.  We killed it today.

I (stupidly) didn’t order extra airbrush food coloring, so the airbrushed cookies don’t have the dark, red I was hoping for, so I touched them all up with claret luster dust to enhance the design.  The red, gold and white is looking so good.  I struggled with the design for the cinnamon imperial cut outs, but after a moment alone, to clear my head, I figured it out.

The downside to having all the extra hands is that it means the house is full and there’s more noise and chatter than usual.  Between the TV being on and people asking me what they could do, my head got too full and I couldn’t think.  I needed a minute.  Crisis averted and after that, it was just executing the designs.  I did 2 stencils this year, 4 hand-painted designs (if you count having to hand-paint over the airbrushed design) so it was WORK.  But, I’m really happy with  the decorator cookies this year.  They look so much better than years past.

Tonight, I just couldn’t get through all the mint chip.  I never do this (because the OCD won’t let me), but I was dead on my feet.  I left about 20 cookies on the table, unfinished.  I just couldn’t.  It killed me to do it, but my hands were sore and I wasn’t doing clean work.  I had to stop.  Lord almighty, did that shower feel good though.

Tomorrow is a new day.  Need to catch up and get a ton of baking done.  I feel behind, but ahead, if that makes any sense.  I’m hoping the 2 ovens will help cut that baking time down.  I gotta get it all knocked out tomorrow so I don’t spend my boxing day baking Monday.

Anyway, I’m dead for the night.  My back aches, my hands are achy and I’m going to sleep like a log.

zzzzz….

Christmas Cookies – Day 3

Start Time: 11:45 am

Stop Time: 2:40 am

Goal: 22 types of cookies, packaged, wrapped & read to deliver on Tuesday 12/18

Baked:  Peanut Butter (4x)

Mixed: Paris Breakfast Shortbread(4x), Cranberry Shortbread (4x), Vanilla Bean Shortbread (4x), Lemon Sugar Rounds (6x), Pecan Sandies (4x)

No-bake days stress me out.  I lose track of time and literally don’t know what happened to it.  I got the rest of the cookies flooded today.  Every surface was covered with drying cookies.  I created MORE surfaces by using glasses and pans or cooling racks to make plateaus so I could flood more cookies.  At one point this year, MOTU and I discussed buying a professional cooling rack, so I could stack jelly roll pans in it.  The husband gave a disapproving “why?!” and poo-pooed the idea.  He also rolled his eyes at me when I mentioned buying another folding table.  The running joke is now on him.  I. Need. More. Counter.Space.

MOTU made it, with El Pollo Loco in hand, because she’s awesome.  I have the best family.  They know me so well and know how to help me in all the little ways.  She & The Husband conversed and made the dinner decision for me, and not a moment too soon.  I was almost out of gas by 7 PM.  We finished off the vanilla sugar (the ones with the marble icing) and man, those are so pretty.   It’s the signature cookie this year.

2018-12-17 20.42.17This is the fun part for me, but also the most stressful.  The decorating takes time, and although I get the most pleasure out of this process, it eats up time like nobody’s business.

The boys are staying on top of the heat sealing, and when The Husband came home, he made the peanut butter cookies (god love him).  MOTU and I flooded the remaining decorator cookies (when I say remaining, it’s about 400 cookies), and tomorrow is airbrush day!  If only we had another table, we could have done this faster…

It’s nice to have everyone here.  It feels less like work and more like fun when MOTU is with me.  We talk and laugh and get stupid, but we work.  She’s done this with me 3 times now, so she gets the pace, volume and crazy, but she still keeps coming to help me.  It’s insane.  But I love her.  She keeps me focused and laughing, and it’s funny to watch Mochi wonder WTF is going on.  It has been one of the best additions to cookie time over the years.  If I can’t have mom here to work by my side, MOTU is the next best thing.

We have a lot to do tomorrow, and after yesterday’s marathon, I need some sleep.  The marbled cookies turned out so well.  There is going to be a lot of hand painting to do between the chocolate sugar feathers and the mint chip.  I haven’t 100% worked out what design will go on the cinnamon imperials, but it will come to me.  I can’t wait to see the airbrushed cookies tomorrow.  I’m cutting this post short so I can hit the hay a bit early.  More tomorrow!

 

 

Christmas Cookies – Day 2

Start Time: 11:15 am

Stop Time: 4:38 am

Goal: 22 types of cookies, packaged, wrapped & read to deliver on Tuesday 12/18

Baked:  Mint Chip (4x), Cinnamon Imperial Cutouts (4x), Coffee Sugar (4x), Brown Sugar Spice (3)

Mixed: Paris Breakfast Shortbread(4x), Cranberry Shortbread (4x), Vanilla Bean Shortbread (4x), Lemon Sugar Rounds (6x), Pecan Sandies (4x)

Day 2 was a BEAST.  Thankfully, so am I.

Little bit of a happy accident right out the gate.  This year, I’m trying a new coffee sugar cookie recipe.  I’ve been searching for a coffee cookie that will be a good sugar cookie but also a sturdy base for food art. This cookie is not it.  However, this cookie is AWESOME.  When it started baking, I was like WOW, that is a good coffee smell.  It was like, butter and coffee had a baby in my oven.  Wow, that’s gross. What do you expect.  It’s nearly 5 am.

But, problem: despite chilling the dough overnight, freezing it, and chilling it between bakes, it won’t hold it’s shape.  The candy cane cookies are like this, but these were worse.  I got 4 trays baked (yay, 2 ovens!) before I realized this (boo, I mean YAY! 2 ovens!) and the the cookies were blobs.  Oh, and I also had rolled, cut and stashed all the cut outs in the freezer, so like, 2 hours I’m never getting back.

BUT, the happy accident… one of the trays over baked, and was slightly burnt, but DAMN if that wasn’t the best, crispiest coffee cookie I’d ever had.  These are the few “ruined” cookies I’m keeping. Yes, they were that good.  And if you’re lucky, I’ll bring you one to taste the mistake.   I used the good stuff too.  Fresh ground Blue Horse, 100% Kona coffee. drool2018-12-13 13.30.03

So I had to re-work 118 cut outs into formed rounds.  Sprinkled coffee grounds on them to pretty them up.  I pressed them thin to get that crisp effect and increased the bake time so they were on the verge of too dark.  Man that’s a good cookie.  Just not a cut out.  And it certainly shouldn’t have icing on it.  Maybe chocolate drizzles (not prepared this year for that) but it would be an insult to cover this one in sugar.

After that, I shaped, chilled rolled, cut and froze my way through all the dough in my fridge, a whopping 500+ cut outs.  Oh the speed of two ovens.  It would have taken me two days to get all that done in Pacifica, and this is day freaking 2.  I did forget to eat lunch, so I wound up shoving cold pizza into my mouth between batches at 3pm, but I got ‘er done.

Not only did I bake all that, I also mixed all the shortbread and refrigerator cookies except for the extreme brownie by 9:30 pm.  Which meant I started flooding cookies by 10:30 pm.  Pretty much on schedule with that insane deadline I gave myself which was admittedly aggressive.

Oh, and The Husband.  The most amazing Husband ever to walk the planet.  He shows up with dinner, despite me missing his text asking if I was hungry, and plops a bacon cheeseburger from Wayback down.  Not kidding, I nearly cried.  Halfway through the meal, I might have whimpered “thanks” and “I love you” but I’m not sure.  My brain wasn’t really functioning due to the heavenly meat and cheese in my mouth.

McIrish grabbed the basket of finished cookies and fired up the sealer, so while I took a break to eat, the production line never stopped.  The last of the 50 pound bag of flour is now in my bin, so it looks like another trip to the restaurant supply store is going to happen this weekend.  Not worried about it today, as it’s a no-mix day tomorrow and The Husband can go Saturday while I continue the madness at home.

2018-12-13 22.14.02I got the hexagons and the quatrefoils flooded in hopes that when MOTU comes over tomorrow, they are ready for the details and the airbrush.  But, get this. I ran out of counter and table space.  We even had a portable table set up and ALL those surfaces are covered in cookies.  So, I’m not done flooding, but that is OK.

Made a total of 9 batches of royal icing tonight, but I’ve gone and used it all up.  I’m already running a load of laundry (poor McIrish, his room is above the laundry room) so I didn’t’ feel like making MORE noise at 4 in the morning to make another batch of icing.  I tole myself that when the icing runs out, so do I.  I’m beat.  Successful but super heavy day.

Moosie fell asleep on the couch for most of the day, waking up to clean up fallen wads of dough and dropped pizza crust while I worked.  I forgot Miji was with me until she came over at 4 in the morning to yell at me to go to bed.  Seriously, she nudged my leg repeatedly, made some noise then huffed and lay down at my feet.  She’s still there now, all pissy because she wants to go to bed.  Believe me sister, I’m so with you.  Just let me finish this post.

The marble technique I saw online (thanks for the beautiful inspiration @sugarbase_) was awesome, really easy and quick to do, and I’m purposefully not posting a pic because I want people to be surprised.  But here’s the technique:

I can’t wait to finish those in the morning.  It’s looking like it does in my head, if that makes sense.  I love it when you imagine something and when you go to do it, it’s what you envisioned.  So rarely does that happen for me.  It’s more like a “cakewreck” when I do it.  Speaking of, I looked back on the 2016 boxes and was not impressed.  Man, that was a shitty year for cookies.  Things did not turn out as nice as I’d hoped last time.  When I read about all the disasters last year, I’m again, thankful that this year seems to be going smoothly.  All disasters should turn into a warm coffee and butter baby.

Note for next year.  I’m not doing the candy cane cookies.  They are too fussy and they don’t hold their shape well.  And they aren’t “wow” in flavor.  I need another decorator cookie.  But the coffee sugar is going to make it back on the list.  Anyway, my counters are covered with cookies drying, and tomorrow will be a “sit on my ass and decorate” kind of day.  I cant’ believe this is day two.  Really pleased with the progress being made.

Tomorrow, MOTU will be here, the boys are home and Potsie will be here to help too at some point this weekend.  This is what cookie time means to me.  Family.  Strange, how what began as a solo project back in college (’cause I was broke & needed to make gifts) has become an annual event and my crazy wonderful family is part of it.  I only wish that one day, I can do cookie time with Mom.  She would probably just go to bed and laugh at me for being insane.  “You’re crazy, Bear. I’m going to bed. It’s too late.” LOL.  I can hear it now.

Good day, over all.  That shower is going to feel divine here in a second.  Miji is looking at me like, “You said ‘in a minute’ a half hour ago,” so I think that’s my cue.

g’night!

 

 

Christmas Cookies – Day 1

Start Time: 10 am

Stop Time: 11:32 pm

Goal: 22 types of cookies, packaged, wrapped & ready to deliver on Tuesday 12/18

Completed:  Vanilla Sugar (7x), Chocolate Feathers (4x), Coconut Cutouts (4x), Red/Yellow Swirl (4x)

Mixed: Mint Chip (4x), Cinnamon Imperial Cutouts (4x), Coffee Sugar (4x)

What a great day 1!

Man, getting a jump start on the chocolate sugar last night paid off.  Despite having to run to the post office this morning and feeling a bit unprepared and disorganized, I got a record 7 cookies mixed and 4 of them already baked.  This big kitchen is the freaking bomb.  I have no idea how I did cookie madness all those years in Pacifica.  It’s just unbelievable.  That little kitchen (which could fit inside my new kitchen 2x) with it’s oven that baked so inconsistently…How the hell did I manage all this before now?

Let’s play a little game of “I Never”, since I’m feeling a little giddy.  I’ve NEVER had this much counter space before.  I’ve NEVER had a dishwasher to handle the end of the night clean up before.  I’ve NEVER had a full dining room table and a kitchen table (our old dining table from Pacifica is now our kitchen table) at my disposal for rolling, cooling and working.  I’ve NEVER had 2 refrigerators, one with french doors that opens wide enough for me to cram 9 pans in it so the cutouts could chill while I wait for the TWO OVENS to free up.  Did I mention the NINE pans and silpat?  This is a true embarrassment of riches.2018-12-12 10.16.26

In all seriousness, I just don’t know what to do with myself right now. This is…not cookie madness as I remember it.  There’s no…madness.  It’s feeling manageable for the first time ever.  Famous last words, right?  Let’s see how I’ve just cursed myself tomorrow.  But, man.  Just take a moment with me for a sec.  How thankful am I right now. Dude.

I’m a little out of practice, admittedly.  And the quickness of 2 ovens, even alternating, was (eep) too fast for me.  It’s going to be AMAZING for drop cookie day, but shaped/rolled cutout cookies take too long to prep to maximize both ovens.  I burnt 12 cookies. 12. Dammit. My garbage can is a colorful sugartopia of sadness and failed attempts.

By the end of the night, I did get the method down– fill up ALL the pans, put them in the fridge and continue to cut out, wrapping & chilling as you go.  Bake. Repeat. I knocked out 106 coconut cutouts this way with only 1 casualty.  It was waaaay too thin and I didn’t notice… I’m out of practice, OK?!

It didn’t matter though– the pile of red/yellow swirl cookies is baked, bagged and sealed.  And, look at this swirl:2018-12-12 18.39.58  Daaaaam Gina, my little pink-haired OCD anime character inside is like, squeeing so hard right now.  So despite the burnt batches, I’m pleased.

Right now, there is a fat pile of dough chilling in my fridge and I’m about half-way through the hardest part of the baking.  My hands are aching and my arms are tired because man, I’m out of practice.  I had a funny thought that I needed to start lifting weights and exercising hard about 2 months before cookie time just so that I’d be physically prepared, and I’m starting to think that’s not such a mental idea.  I’m achy tonight.

2018-12-12 18.40.03

Tomorrow will be a really heavy day — more cut outs to cut and bake, I’ve gotta mix another 6-7 dough types, and I’ve got to start flooding by 8 pm tomorrow night.  That’s the goal.  Let’s see if I make it.  It’s a lot.  And I’m determined to get as much sleep as I can.

I’m excited to try a couple of new techniques this year.  I’m going to marble-dip the vanilla sugar cookies before doing the rest of the design, and of course, there’s the airbrush coming into the game.  I made the same mint-chip cookies this year, but I modified the recipe to be a chocolate mint chip, kinda like a thin mint with mini chocolate chips in it.  I’m hand-painting that one.  Ok, so maybe there is a little madness here.

I’m super pleased with where I ended up tonight, and at a record 12:30 am, I’m winding down for bed.  I’ve got a little freshly-bathed tri-colored corgi sleeping at my aching feet (thanks to The Husband being tired of her stink) and life is good.  Despite feeling old in my bones, I’m powering through.  What a day.

It always surprises me, how much quality head space I get while I’m working like this.  My brain is so taxed at work, and this is so mechanical, I can just think.  Visited with grandma, in grandma’s kitchen today as I washed my knife for the umpteenth time.  When I was a little girl, mom taught me to handle knives safely. Embarrassingly enough, the one time I stupidly cut myself was while washing dishes with grandma while she was watching me, warning me not to hurt myself.  That runs through my mind kind of regularly when I wash knives and I’m not preoccupied with other crap.

Strangely enough, the other memory that came back was this one snippet of a moment in mom’s kitchen back in Haiku. It wasn’t a special occasion or remarkable day or anything, but for some reason I can remember coming out into the kitchen after my bath (I was probably like 6 or 7?) and mom was making lentil soup.  The kitchen was warm, and it was early evening, and there was a yellow/gold glow about the room due to the skylight in the middle of the ceiling.  It smelled like onions, carrots and celery and mom was working at the counter with her back to me.  It’s clearly a memory of “home” in one of it’s many iterations.  I’m lucky I have lots of those snippets lodged underneath all the rubbish in my brain.  I hope I never lose those.

It’s been a remarkable day.  I’d almost forgotten why I do this, year after year.  It brings my family closer to me near the holidays and sort of allows me to bring those feelings of “home” here, in this magnificent new kitchen that smells nothing like onions at this moment.  Ok, enough sticky sugar sweet.  Gag me with a fork.  I told you, nowhere near as dark as 2016.

Time to grab Momiji and head upstarts to snuggle with the dogs.

G’night!

Christmas Cookies – Day 0

Howdy! It’s been a while.

Let me explain….

2017 was…really something. Saying there was a bit of “change” is an understatement. We packed up our Pacifica house, sold it, moved to Walnut Creek to a temporary apartment and then bought a new home in Concord in six months time.  Ambitious you say? A little crazy maybe? C’mon…you read this blog, you KNOW my limits of crazy and ambition know no bounds.  But yeah. 2017 was really something.

What this meant was, all my baking equipment, cookbooks and well, kitchen was packed up and in storage between July and December last year, which meant…NO COOKIE MADNESS in 2017.  Yup, those were dark days in more ways than one.  The Husband, me and the dogs were displaced for the fall months, living in a cramped, 1 bedroom apartment while we looked for our forever home here on this side of the bridge.  Long story short, my office was moving from Menlo Park to the larger building in San Ramon, and The Husband was like, “we could move…” So we did.

What an adventure that turned out to be.  Aside from the huge undertaking of sifting through 15 years of our Pacifica life and packing it all up, moving it to storage, staging out little house and selling it, we also had the task of looking for, bidding on and buying our new home in Contra Costa County.  And of course, we’re not rich people, so we had to wait for our old home to sell before we could buy the new one.  Buying a house is one thing, but selling one AND buying one at the same time is not what I consider fun.  Stress, hope, let down, misery, joy, excitement, frustration– it’s all there.

For someone like me who really values stability and putting down roots over the excitement of the next new thing, this was a blessing and a curse.  If I don’t have to do that again for a long while (or, like, ever) I’ll be happy.  The good thing was, we traded up.  Our Pacifica sale allowed us to buy a beautiful home, double our space and seriously upgrade our lifestyle.  We traded the coast (which I miss, everyday) for a pool and a big backyard.  Foggy days for blazing hot sun. Seriously, we never dreamed of owning a home like the one we are in, and everyday we count our blessings and are thankful for what we have.

This meant our happy little family was temporarily displaced.  Fatty McIrish wound up bouncing around for a bit (again, dark days), and it was really hard.  But when moving day came on December 2, 2017, the band was back together again.  For the longest time we kept turning to each other saying “I can’t believe we live here” and words like “Dude, we have a hot tub” were uttered more than once.

2018-07-27 20.00.182018-01-03 19.43.15

Summer was freaking hot, but spectacular and both corgis learned to swim.  Musubi has taken to the water just a bit more than Momiji, to the point where the minute you step foot into the pool, she launches herself in and won’t come out for hours.  It’s been really fun.  Scary, exciting and new, but fun.

Round about way of getting here, but here we are.  I’ve been looking forward to this year’s cookie madness for months.  I’ve got cookie repression. I’m jonesing for that sugar high, the absolutely all-consuming process of creating something wonderful from nothing and sharing it with my family and friends.  I’m so amped up to go and my list this year reflects that.  23 kinds on the roster, 7 of them cut outs.  I’ve added an air brush to my arsenal this year and fully intend on using it.  I’ve got enough gluten free people in my life to warrant a couple of GF boxes, and even though they wont’ get 23 different kinds, I intend to do a couple of GF batches because, well, I love my people.

So on the eve of cookie madness, I’m thankful and excited.  Nervous of what may come up over the course of the next 5 days in this new kitchen with it’s 2 new ovens, with spot on temperature.  Excited to see what I can accomplish with proper counter and surface space, and for once, being able to work on cookies without the WHOLE HOUSE being consumed by madness.  I mean, it probably will be consumed, but at least there is space to get away from it if need be.

2018-12-02 23.07.44Also, this is Musubi’s first time being part of cookie madness.  We got her after the 2016 cookie time was done, so this past year has been the first year of her doggo life where she’s had a proper holiday with us.  We’ve gone the distance in so many ways this year, and on the home front I’ve been all in for celebrating the holidays, decking the new halls and all that.  It’s been fun.  And it’s now feeling like home.

Despite all the things that went awry this year, despite the painful yet amazing change, I’m happy.  I’ve chosen to rise, and focus on what is so important to me and stop taking all the good stuff for granted and really let it sink in and enjoy what I have, who I’m with and where I am.  It’s a different Jenn this year.  A little worn and I’m starting to feel my age a bit (no longer are the all-nighters possible), but stronger now, perhaps more strength than I had before.

Heavy stuff for cookie-eve.  I promise it’s not going as dark as 2016 was, although you can’t celebrate the warmth of the light without first feeling the cold of the dark.  The theme this year really embraces that.  But more of that later.  Tonight I got a jump start and mixed up 1 of the sugar cookie batches (the chocolate one which benefits from a longer chill time), and now I need to get a good night’s rest so I can start early in the morning.  Looking forward to documenting this year’s cookie adventures.  It’s been too long.

g’night!

Christmas Cookies – The Aftermath, Part 1

Delivery day went well for the most part.  I took my cookies to the East Bay for the Christmas party, then dropped them off at a few places in Pleasanton.  The only hiccup is that I intended to deliver them to the East Bay office over the weekend, but I couldn’t get in.  Either I’m fired and don’t know it, or my company no longer leaves the building badge-accessible over the weekend.  Lucky for me, one of my dear friends who works in the office over there was willing to sherpa my goodies for me.  I owe her a coffee to say the least.

I’m feeling better about the whole drama and near-derailment of the project this year.  In retrospect, things have been manageable and I’m a problem solver by nature, so I thrive on this kind of stuff.  The boxes look great.  They are being given out, people are happy and I’m glad it all worked out in the end.

I’ll be mailing them out on Sunday, where they will travel to exotic lands like Berkeley, Hawaii and Las Vegas.  My annual tradition is nearly in the can.  These weren’t the most amazing boxes I’ve ever created, and I feel like there are some types missing this year, but overall, I would call these a success.  I really like the ribbon this year (black and gold) and the tags, though drama filled, are pretty and elegant, so I can safely call this a success.  Most people won’t recognize the mistakes or see the mishaps as I do, and I am really looking forward to hearing the crinkle of plastic bags at work.

When I chose my chocolate brown boxes years ago, I had this crazy hope that over the years, they would become something special and recognizable.  I know it’s silly, but I was going for the same kind of recognition that Tiffany’s “little blue boxes” has, but on a much much smaller scale.  I hope that one day, the sight of my boxes will be something that people know to be a wonderful, beautiful, tasty treat.  Something special with a little brand recognition.  Perhaps one day, this will be the case.  All I can do is continue to build on this wonderful thing I’ve got going, and each year, I hope that someone looks forward to these, and hopes for a brown box come Christmas time.  To me, that is the thing that makes this all worthwhile.  The pleasure I get is directly related to the happiness and joy others get from digging through their cookie box each year.

I love and welcome feedback, thoughts about the new cookies– what people liked best or didn’t like at all– and above else, hearing which was each person’s favorite so I can do more of that in years to come.  So this is part 1 of the cookie aftermath.  I’ll be doing one last post with my final thoughts, then it’s goodby until the next crazy project.  All in all, this was a success, and I continue to do my part to spread holiday cheer to the people I care about.  Merry Christmas everyone.

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Christmas Cookies – Box em up!

Holy shitballs.  You will not believe it.  We are out of xyron adhesive at work!  And to make matters worse, I realized (as I was pulling into the parking lot this morning) that I completely FORGOT all my sale boxes at home this morning.  What a dunce.  Oh how the mighty have fallen.

So this evening, I raced out of work, hit MISERABLE traffic on my way home and then proceeded to run around like a mad woman looking for xyron refills to finish my tags.  Alas, none to be found, so in a last ditch effort, I went to Michael’s again.  I knew they had this really shitty “creation station” which does laminate, adhesive and magnetic backings in an “all-in-one” machine.  I grudgingly picked one up, as well as 2 replacement cartridges (of COURSE they were out of the full size replacements so I had to buy small), and raced home to finish up.

Let me say that upfront, I knew the thing would be a piece of crap.  It’s plastic, and nowhere near the professional version we have at work.  My home xyron isn’t great (it’s still plastic, but at least it’s full size and a mid-range model), but it makes this P.O.S creative station look like a child’s toy.  Not to mention the adhesive cartridges are freaking OLD and crappy, so it’s ruined a lot of my paper and isn’t sticking well.  What a piece of junk.  I’m so angry with this low-level insult of a machine that I have half a mind to take it out back and smash the hell out of it with a baseball bat like they did in the movie Office Space, to the cruddy fax machine…

I’m going to try and take it back, despite having used up the cartridge that came with it, because it’s SO BAD.  I will never use this again, and am really considering getting a professional, heavy duty model like the one at work.  My god I’m so bitter about this inferior machine.  I know, I’m a snob.  My expectations for quality tools like this are pretty high, considering I work with a Creative Design team for a living.  I get exposed to all this cool stuff, so I won’t stand for a piece of shit machine with crappy, old adhesive… it’s just… offensive.

Anyway, tags are done.  A bunch of the boxes are done, and I can finish the rest tomorrow night and still make my 12/17 deadline.  Yeesh.  This has been a real gauntlet, and I’m feeling the pressure.  At least the ribbon looks nice!  And I made stickers for the inside lids!  For the first time EVER, I’m letting people know about this blog.  I’ve got to get over my nervousness about sharing this broadly, because I do think it’s really cool that I have been documenting these adventures for years.  Also, the handy cookie decoder is a nice thing to have and share so people know what they are eating…

Anyway, I’m spent.  I’m tired and irritated with the crappy machine (I know, let it go already), but it’s DONE.  And that’s what counts.

more to come!

g’night!

 

Christmas Cookies – Day 6

I’m officially out of steam.  I spent today decorating the candy cane cookies and did not get very much boxing done.  This thing is starting to feel like it’s going off the rails a bit.  My slowness is going to result in cramming down the line, unless I can make up some time.  Thank god for Munchery… After not having a dinner plan on Monday, I sucked it up and ordered meals for the rest of the week.  I’m in no shape to cook, and after the usual “what do you wanna eaaaatttt” conversation with The Husband earlier in the week, I’m so NOT leaving food to chance.  I need fuel, and I really really don’t like eating fast food.  It just makes me feel crappy.  And after being down for the count due to food-related drama once already, I’m just not interested in taking the risk.

I typed up my cookie list for tags, printed them on vellum and The Husband cut up the card stock and decorative papers while I cleaned up the kitchen and all the icing mess.  I went upstairs to run the tag pieces through my xyron so they are quick to assemble and what do you know…the unopened cartridge I have on hand is for laminating, not adhesive!  OMG.  I’ve got no xyron adhesive left and I’m 2 tags short on my sale boxes.  I’m going to have to do a couple at work so I can deliver them Thursday, and try to get a replacement cartridge for Friday.  I’m a little bit panicked.

Anyway, I’ve got to get to bed at a decent hour tonight, for life goes on.  Cookie madness is officially over, and although there is a bunch left to do, it’s back to work at my day job tomorrow.  I’ll be able to finish my packaging and tags tomorrow night and Friday so I can still deliver Saturday.  It’s not ideal, but I’m not totally worried yet.

The little set backs are starting to get to me, but I’m trying to keep my calm.  More to come!

g’night!

 

 

Christmas Cookies – Day 5

Start Time: 9:30 am

Stop Time: 5:45 am

Goal: 23 18 types of cookies, packaged, wrapped & ready to deliver on Saturday 12/17

Completed: Extreme Brownie (4x), Pecan Sandies (6x), Paris Shortbread (6x),  Oatmeal raisin (6x), Chinese Almond (6x)

Mixed:  Geode (2x)

Poor Geode.  He’s not gonna happen.  I’ve also let go of 4 other types of cookies I planned to do.  I’ll probably wind up making them before Christmas (and sending them off in a second box to a few people), as well as take some to work, but officially, my boxes will have 18 cookies in them this year.  Like I told myself on the eve of cookie destruction, some things will not work out and I was being a bit too ambitious.

I totally cut myself off though.  This evening, I realized that I still has a lot of decorating and bagging/sealing to do, and tomorrow is my last day off, so I’ve GOT to stop.  I went just as hard today as I did yesterday, but alas, the count is down to 18.  By popular demand, I increased my batches of Paris Breakfast Shortbread this year.  These might by my favorite cookie of them all.  It’s  a basic shortbread with Paris Breakfast black tea ground up in them.  It gives you a caffeine buzz along with the sugar high.

2016-12-12-05-12-07I had to improvise on final decorations for some of my cookies– Initially I had intended to use these gold studs that MOTU made on the candy cane cookies, but because the stenciling of the black motif on the brown sugar spice cookies didn’t’ go so well, I needed to cover up the centers with something large, so I used them here instead.  You can’t tell that this was technically a “mistake”– this looks intentional and really nice, but it means I need to re-think the candy cane cookie decorations.

I also had to improvise on the coconut rounds this year, so that’s now 2 decorator cookies I’ve had to modify and hand-paint, which has killed my time.  They both look really pretty, but it’s cost me some hours.  I’m very happy with the results though.  I used a dark grey icing to layer some additional color on the coconut rounds, so they aren’t so “bridal” looking.  Again, the stenciling didn’t go as planned, so I had to add this additional layer to cover up some mistakes.

I kind of went heavy on the brush embroidery technique this year because of this.  It’s relatively easy, and looks more fancy and complicated than it really is, so it was a quick fix to a problem.  I feel a little bit like I’m taking a shortcut, and a part of me feels like a bit of a cop out, since I usually prefer to showcase different techniques for variety.

The mint chip cookies look really nice– the green color of the dough combined with the black icing and the copper luster dust makes for a very pretty cookie.2016-12-14-17-40-18  I keep saying this, but THIS one might be my favorite looking one this year.  It’s kind of my colors.  I think next time, I’d do a chocolate icing (dark brown) but keep these with the copper.  That would be really pretty.  These are really easy to do and the hand painting and stenciling is super fast, so I only did a few tonight to see what they looked like and then moved on to the more complicated ones instead.

I think I solved the design problem for the candy cane cookies.  They aren’t perfect, but they look cool.   After a few different design tries that look really bad/sloppy, I got something nailed down.  The key to making fancy cookies in large quantities is to come up with a nice looking design that you can replicate quickly.  The more often you repeat the design, the faster you get.  Example, the mint chip cookies…The birds get stenciled with one swipe, and I can do a semi-neat painting of the cookie edges in roughly 3 strokes without stopping.  Total is about 20 seconds, give or take.  This means I can replicate this design pretty painlessly.

For the candy cane cookies, it was a bit more difficult.  The shape is a plaque, so the center is roughly rectangle.  I wanted to preserve the fancy edges, and I knew I needed to do a white on black design to counter the black on white of the Brown Sugar Spice.  I also have the rose-gold studs MOTU made so I knew the metallic needed to be copper/rose gold.  I have these pretty rose gold glitter dragees that I also wanted to incorporate, so the challenge was figuring out how to come up with an easily replicate-able design with all those elements.

2016-12-14-17-40-23I tried a 3-leaf holly, using the dragees as berries.   Nope.  looked funny.  Stenciling is good– easy to do with white, so I used a white chevron pattern.  I tried to do a straight edging, but the fancy corners looked messy, so I had to re-think the details.  What I came up with was pretty simple, and I used a Fleur-de-lis in the 4 corners then painted it all copper.  In the end, it looked pretty good, considering.

Again, if I hadn’t told you this wasn’t intentional, you’d never know.  But since the whole point of this blog is sharing my adventures and mishaps, I’m telling you I pulled this design out of my rear, in the 11th hour tonight.  I used the rose gold studs in the center, at an angle to compliment the angles of the chevrons, and I painted alternating rows copper to make it stand out more.  All in all, I’m pretty stoked by the result.

So once again, I’m dead on my feet, getting ready for bed when normal people are getting up and starting their day.  I got everything done I could, but I had to leave the replication of these designs for the morning.  I’m just too tired to do them all tonight.  At least they will dry fast…but thus means I won’t be able to do much boxing tomorrow.  I need some rest, and I’ve got to type up my lists for the tags tomorrow.  The Husband will cut the paper when he gets home tomorrow, but I need to have the vellum lists ready to print.

I’m thankful that my target delivery date is a Christmas party this weekend, or I’d be seriously disappointed since I can’t finish them up tomorrow.  There is still so much to be done, but the baking is officially complete for this year.

I’m ready to crash, my back aches, my hands are crampy, but I’ve got this wonderful sense of fulfillment.  One way or another, cookie madness is just about done now.   Off to bed.  More tomorrow!

g’night!

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