Slowly, I twirled the cake on it’s turntable so I could inspect my work.
I thought to myself if this cake were to be enclosed in a time capsule and uncovered many years from now, it would still be identifiable. And without almost a single word.
The discoverers would see the candles and know it’s a birthday. The number and the name would tell them it was Olivia’s 9th.
They’d see cookies with white puffy pillows and a corner of the patterned covering downturned, which would tell them it’s some kind of bed.
They’d soon realize that ice cream sundaes were a part of the celebration.
And with all the sleeping bags punctuated by tiny little teddy bears, they’d soon realize that the little outfits were pajamas.
Then, they’d know, without so much as a whisper from me, that today was Olivia’s 9th birthday, and that she had a slumber party.
I snapped out of my little daydream, because it then struck me that it would, in fact, be terrible if this cake with all its cookies went into a time capsule.
Because then Olivia and her friends wouldn’t get to deconstruct and devour the cute chocolate cake layered with milk chocolate ganache. And they’d never realize the joy I took in making it and the many hundreds of other birthday cakes I’ve made over the years.
Happy 9th Birthday, Olivia.
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One of the first bits of vital information I ever learned about J was that dinner is her favorite meal. She’s always said “Dinner is my reward for the day.” That’s how she honestly lives. Simple breakfast, very simple lunch, and then, dinner. Dinner that she can sit down to, after a full day’s work, and enjoy a glass (or two) of wine with, and eat slowly as she savors each mouthful.
Don’t think our dinners are magnificent affairs to be photo’d and shared on instagram every night. Sure, there are no children with finicky palates to satisfy and impossible schedules to shuttle around. It’s more about our own timelines. I’m in the kitchen anywhere from 10 -12 hours a day, sometimes more if things are really wild. Many nights I can’t bear to clean up after baking and decorating all day, only to start a new cooking project. J comes home, at the earliest, around 6:30, but when she’s really busy, 6:30 passes into 8 or 9 pm. Suffice it to say, we eat later in the evening.
Tonite, for instance, we had a big chef’s salad with black oil cured olives, red cabbage, tomatoes, avocado, cucumber, carrot, hard boiled eggs, some ham and swiss cheese. Chopping these ingredients is therapy for me. My stress level is measured by how small I chop things. Today, I’m pretty chill, judging by the look of what’s in this bowl.
While I chopped, J cut ribbons, hundreds of them, with which to tie up cellophane bags of cookies for the week. We have an easy rhythm and nothing makes us happier than being home, being together like this, talking about our respective days, while Mitzi prances first on one leg, then another, begging for her own meal. Ribbons finished, J chopped baby kale and romaine lettuce, while I attended to Mitzi.
We serve ourselves from the big trough of fresh vegetables dressed with olive oil and sherry vinegar. We look at each other and J says “You make the best salad.” Believe me, if it wasn’t salad, it would be a bean soup of some kind. If it wasn’t bean soup, it would be a pasta with some form of fresh vegetable sauce. Whatever it is, and no matter how many times I’ve made whatever it is before, J will always say “This is the best rendition ever.”
Cookbooks are always welcome here, especially ones written by friends. Friends who understand what it’s like to try to get a nourishing dinner on the table when there are other demands. Friends like Shauna and Danny. They’ve asked ‘what family dinner is like in your house’?
Well, it’s not what we eat on these late weeknights. It’s that we eat together. And, no matter what time she gets home, I wait to eat with J. That’s what family dinner is like in our house. That’s because dinner is our reward for the day.
Reward yourself with a copy of Shauna and Danny’s book that’s available as of today!
Indie Bound – http://www.indiebound.org/book/9781118115213
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I don’t play golf. I don’t putt. I don’t drive balls or carts.
And, I certainly don’t watch golf, although I do get a chuckle out of hearing the analysts whisper their comments to the television viewing audience. I don’t listen to what they say, I just hear the whispering and wonder if they really think the players will be distracted if they speak normally, or scream when a player gets a bogey or an eagle.*
So, it’s not surprising, when golf is an element on the list for a biography cake (yes, I’m still bellyaching about that), that I take matters into my own hands, and twist it all up so that (a) the outcome is unexpected and (b) I’m entertained.
There are only so many cookies 8 inch and 6 inch round cakes can hold, no matter what the theme or subject matter is. On a biography cake, I start by assuming that all the elements are of equal priority, otherwise, they wouldn’t be on the list to make it to the cake. Then, how do I transform something into a cookie that will hold its own with the other cookies and tell the story, hieroglyphically speaking?
Back to golf. Golf clubs are problematic in that their handles are very thin. A cookie golf club is a cookie that’s destined to break easily. Balls are round and one dimensional.
And, don’t forget, the age of the birthday person is always depicted on the cake, too. If ever I needed a cookie caddy, it’s now. I do what I always do when I can’t think, when I’m failing, when I’m considering returning the deposit check. I search images and print them.
Suddenly, it dawns on me, and I figure out my way out of this sandtrap.
One set of cookies with two meanings aced it, don’t you think?
* I have no idea what these terms mean.Read More »
In the span of one week my projects can really run the gamut of subject matter. Even within one job, as I talked about in my last post, the images are so different from one another, that I barely had time to sit back and take a short breather after finishing one before moving on to another. I’m talking about starting off with rabbits being pulled from magic top hats (no photos due to time constraints), then onto chess pieces, running shoes, political party symbol, dogs and culminating with “The Titanic”.
Before you start thinking this project is about that movie, or that theme song, let me stop you. Not even close.
But these cookies are a gift to someone whose birthday happens to fall on the anniversary of R.M.S. Titanic’s maiden and only voyage. Someone whose avocation is that of a Titanic scholar. So, thankfully, there’s no mention of “I’m King of the World”, no blue glass necklace, no theme song that seemed to go on longer than that interminable movie, and lastly, no Billy Zane.
Every image I sent to the gift giver was rejected. Too juvenile, too cartoony. My heart didn’t go on, it sank. No matter how I do a cookie, it’s cartoony. It wasn’t the art that was being rejected, but the feeling. Instead of looking at sinking ships, I started looking at commemorative stamps. The direction and feeling is totally different. So I scribbled a little sketch and sent it off.
“That’s great, can you add an iceberg in there somewhere?
I started here:
Outlined in black. The ocean is turquoisey-teal with just a smidge of black to somber it up a bit. I’m using my boo boo stick swirl the lighter ‘highlight’ into the ocean. Blue sky (again, with a dab of black) went in after that.
Then, the fill in began.
Letters on, details finished.
The best news is that I’ll be doing another set next year for this occasion.
But I’m not listening to that damned song!
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will may make me very unpopular with those of you planning birthday cakes in the near future, but I’m willing to take that chance. Biography cakes give me a headache.
You know what biography cakes are, right? Cakes that are festooned with the birthday person’s favorite things in world, regardless of the fact that one image, invariably, has nothing whatsoever to do with any of the others. No connecting thread whatsoever, be it color, vegetable, animal or mineral. Oh, it’s wonderful for he or she who is being celebrated by all the friends and family familiar with what all the inside quirks and jokes. I’d probably love it, too, if I walked into a dark room suddenly coming alive with light and friends popping up screaming “SURPRISE”, and seeing a big cake celebrating me and my disdain for broccoli, my love of certain show tunes,tap dancing and, of course, Mitzi.
But for now, my eyes are crossed and are glazing over as I study this list before me. The beads of sweat spring up on my upper lip because my need for symmetry is not just being thwarted, but smashed to smithereens, and that makes me anxious, very anxious. Oh, the colors I’ll have to make, so many colors that aren’t a scheme or a palate, just colors. The joy I normally feel for my job is being sucked out of me before I even turn on the mixer.
I am not happy. There’s nothing here to keep me entertained for the time I have to invest in this project. And, if Mama ain’t entertained, NOBODY’S entertained.
And then, like a breakthrough after years in therapy, I look at my page of notes and have a breakthrough.
That’s right. Lobster roll. Apparently, the birthday boy is crazy about lobster rolls. What took me so long to think of this? I couldn’t see the rebus word puzzle right in front of my nose because I was so paralyzed with fear over how to make a cookie look like that iconic seafood salad in a buttered bun not look like sushi or something worse.
And so simple to do, too. With so many different ideas to get onto one cake, each cookie can’t be too detailed or involved, or else the party will be over with by the time I finish everything I need to do for this cake.
So, I found a nice image of a lobster and scaled it down to a size that would work on the cake. I cut it out and sketched what I think a hot dog bun would look with this lobster sunk into its middle. The cookie was cut and baked. With some red royal icing in a squeeze bottle fit with a No. 2 tip, and my rendering stuffed into my projector*, I started the cookie.
After a couple of hours drying time, I outlined the ‘roll’ with ivory icing, then filled the rest of the roll in with a toasty brown hot dog bun color.
After all that dried, I added a few lobstery details, such as the black outlining and a few ‘grilled bun marks’. These cookies are small and I want to make sure people can see them without having to nose up to the cake to figure out what they are.
Are they perfect? No, but they’ll make their point perfectly when they make this birthday boy and his guests smile.
*You didn’t think I was going to freehand this, I hope.
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As a baker, it will come as no surprise that I’m hopelessly devoted to my KitchenAid stand mixer(s). To say I’m nothing without them is, at best, an understatement of epic proportion, since they get a workout of epic proportion on an almost daily basis.
So, when I saw the words “Martha/KitchenAid” show up in the subject line of an email, I thought “I don’t care when or where it is, I’m going!!!”
The event was a breakfast to celebrate the new season of “Martha Bakes” on PBS, as well as to celebrate one of the terrific sponsors of the show, KitchenAid USA.
About 30 or so people were invited to Martha Stewart Living HQ at the Starrett-Lehigh building to schmooze and eat, and watch Martha demo her buttermilk biscuit recipe using KA’s fabulous food processor.
It was a crisp and clear morning; the coffee was piping hot and plentiful when we arrived.
Before the actual demo began, Martha made the rounds and stopped to speak to everyone in attendance. Not just a quick, cursory ‘hello/how are you/what’s your name’ either! What in the world would I say to her? That I’ve hung on her every word for 20+ years? That my closet packed with every issue of Martha Stewart Living is really a shrine to her ? That I once had a dream that she was coming to dinner and 30 minutes before she was to arrive I was out first trying to find asparagus?
I mumbled something or other to her, other than my name and “One Tough Cookie”, but I really no idea what came out of my mouth because I was standing and shaking Martha’s hand while simultaneously breaking into a hot flash extraordinaire. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m having a hot flash right now as I recall this moment.
Watching an experienced set of hands quickly and deftly put together a dough is great theater for me. Into the more than ample processor’s bowl, Martha quickly dumped and pulsed, then gently patted and rolled, showing her audience how easily a dough can come together. Ingredients had been mis en placed, but even Martha can get tripped up every once in a while. Immediately recognizing that she poured too much clabbered milk, Martha rebounded just as quickly by adding enough flour to right the wrong.
As we enjoyed a breakfast of scrambled eggs (from Martha’s New Bedford farm, no less), applewood smoked bacon, fresh fruit salad, along with freshly baked popovers and biscuits, Martha leaned against a pillar and answered a variety of questions from the audience. So relaxed, she even munched a popover during the chat.
We saw the preview tape of the exciting new season of “Martha Bakes” on PBS! No kitsch, no shtick, it’s television made by Martha that really instructs and inspires. And, thanks to the wonders of modern technology we all received cute little USB drives that have the 1st episode of the season crammed in there!
That’s not all we got, either. Kitchen Aid generously gifted us with the latest rendition of their immersion blender. It chops, it froths, it purees, it blends. It occupies very little valuable kitchen real estate which is just the icing on the appliance cake! We’re big soup lovers over here, so my hand blender gets a good workout a few nights a week. For years now, I’ve frothed milk for my coffee with my blender every single morning (coffee geeks & purists look away). It’s a cinch!
Now, here’s where reading this whole post pays off for you. I also received a copy of ”Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook”! Thoughtfully and practically compiled, the book covers pies and tarts, cakes, cookies, yeasted baked goods and pastries! Beautifully photographed with easy to follow directions, ”Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook” has a permanent place on my bookshelf. Which is why I’m going to
GIVE THIS COPY AWAY!!!
All you have to do is tell me why you want this book, and I’ll choose a winner, at random, on Sunday, April 7. Then, at my own expense, I’ll send the book to the lucky winner, who must, by the way, live in the continental United States.
Now, aren’t you glad you read the whole post and didn’t just fast forward to a non-existant recipe?
And even though Martha told us the bunny cookies she decorated for Easter had no extra special piping, because children bite the ears off after all that hard work and she can’t take that, I still love her.
Want to see the teaser from the new shows that we saw? If this doesn’t get you in the mood for Saturday’s premiere, nothing will!
WINNER: Thanks to Random. Org, the winner is #11 ZOE!!! Congratulations!Read More »
Ever since Andrew Scrivani started his #PostNoBills series on Instagram, I’ve thought a lot about these signs, probably more than anyone should, truth be told.
They’re plastered on construction site walls where, presumably, they ward off poster-wielding rapscallions expert in the field of ‘glue and run’. But, in New York City , will said rapscallion actually take the time to read the sign, and mosey along to another blank wall that doesn’t have this slogan painted on in some fashion?
And, who, from the construction crew, actually paints the “Post No Bills” signs on their mostly blue, but sometimes black, green, ivory and rarely red backgrounds?*
Is this some kind of hazing ritual amongst work crews? Is this task assigned to the grunt, the newbie? Or is it a perk, earned by seniority status in the company?
Perhaps there’s an application process, where workers show off their best PNB skills to a panel of judges?
Does the job comply with union rules? OSHA?
When does PNB go up? At the beginning of the day, or at quitting time?
Who chooses the font?
Who chooses the application method? Spray? Paintbrush? Sharpie?
And, the most probing question of all, who has witnessed a PNB actually going up?
*Color usage noted by Andrew Scrivani himself
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I’m ‘fessing up. Since the inception of “One Tough Cookie, Inc.” I have ignored, shirked and turned my back on an ‘alternative’ cookie. It’s not that you didn’t ask for them, or that I didn’t hear you. More than being afraid of making those of you who are gluten-intolerant sick, I was afraid of failing my cookies, because in my opinion, they’re THAT good. And I would never want to punish ANYONE with a second-rate cookie.
But that was then, and this is now. Thanks to the inspired gluten-free baking trail my sweet friend Shauna has blazed, I’m not afraid anymore. She
helped to actually did convert my recipe so I could jumpstart the development of a gluten-free cookie that I will proudly add to my menu.
The recipe is in the testing stage now, by gluten-free aficionados and me , so stay tuned til gluten-free One Tough Cookie cookies are officially inducted into the One Tough Cookie menu.
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The phone rang at about 6:45 pm on Monday night. I answered and heard a sweet, young woman’s voice asking if I could bang out a few cookies with a particular phrase on them. They didn’t have to be fancy; just a square or round cookie would do. And only 1 dozen were needed to be shipped out on Wednesday.
Normal cookie decorators would have said “fine”, and that would have been that. But, I’m not normal.
My hands were more than quite full at the time she called. I couldn’t concentrate on what I was doing and focus on our conversation, so I kept on talking to stall for time.
Me: “Hmmm. What’s the occasion for these cookies?”
Client: ”Our product beat the number one product in sales last week and we’re totally pumped about it.”
Me: ”Well, that IS something to celebrate! What’s your product?”
Before I knew it, I was talking about perfume bottle shapes and fonts and luster dusting. Something a little cartoon-y, a little more special than just a generic cookie shape with a congratulatory phrase on it. Something that the recipients would remember, the client and I would both remember. Something that would be more than a cookie-cutter-off-the-shelf product.
As I’ve said here before, I’m no genius. But by taking just a minute or two to shift my imagination into a higher gear, I designed a product that was particular to the client. Now when that client thinks about another gift of cookies, they’ll remember me every time they want to laud a sales performance, a special birthday, or for no particular reason at all.
So when I say I’m not a normal cookie decorator, I mean it.
And, incidentally, that translates to a bottom line that’s a bit more than normal, too.
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#CookieNo.2 pays homage to Scrivani’s photo “Grand and Mulberry”, posted on February 11. For the uninitiated, Grand Street and Mulberry Street intersect smack dab in the heart of Little Italy. Famous for its annual epic street fair, an unfortunate ending for one patron of this restaurant, with more ‘heavy on the red sauce’ restaurants than one can even fathom, the streets of Little Italy are a photographer’s dream, a mecca for tourists, and a shopper’s paradise for residents of this richly diverse city.
No wonder the colors I mixed for this cookie were noted as a ‘faux bois of gianduja brown on squid ink black’, letters the color of ’penne alla vodka’ sauce. No wonder I’m craving a big bowl of spaghetti alla marinara
Now, I’m fully aware that this post should really be a step-by-step tutorial. But, let’s be honest, there’s no real technical flair employed here. If you’re a cookie decorator, you’re already well acquainted with how to apply flood icing thanks to the posts of many, many talented cookie artists from all over the world. And, I think it’s safe to say, I just march to a different beat over here.
The tutorial takes a backseat to the real message that I hope is being conveyed. Open your eyes to everything around you. Don’t follow the [cookie] herd. Make your own art. Look at something you’ve seen your whole life, but never really stopped to examine. Interpret it your own way, using techniques you’ve mastered. Develop your own style, whether it be in a technical form, or by way of what you interpret.
On with the cookie.
I made my version of what I think wood grain looks like.
Yes, there’s a little smudged line on the cookie, but how else would I decide where to place the text, I ask you?
With an exacto knife, I, rather crudely,
butchered carved out a stencil, not dissimilar to what the construction worker probably slapped up on the wall to paint his sign.
After a practice run, it became evident that this wasn’t the best idea I ever had. Without hesitating, plan B was instituted, and within seconds the 3 words were piped onto the cookie, stencil-style.
Allow me to present #PostNoBill #CookieNo.2
Gritty, rushed, far from perfect, but screaming its message in its own individual snowflake kind of way.
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