It began, as it always does, with a simple email from this client.
“You up for Sacred Heart of Jesus cookies?”
“You bet I am! What’s a Sacred Heart of Jesus?”
A few links later, I said yes, and I was off googling Sacred Hearts. The religious significance didn’t really matter. But the powerful image of that burning heart with the thorny vine around it, dripping blood ,that not only spoke to the cookie decorator in me, but to my childhood.
When I was 11 years old, I announced to my parents that when I grew up I would become a Roman Catholic, then take my vows to become Sister Mary Stewart. While it wasn’t “The Flying Nun” who inspired me, she didn’t exactly squash my desire, either. It was more likely the little girls on my block who I played with almost every day after school. Kathleen and Maura wore fabulous (in my mind) plaid uniforms to their parochial schools. They went to catechism, which I thought would be much more fun than Hebrew school. They were from big families that grew bigger each year, and I was so jealous that I begged and pleaded with my mother to have another baby (preferably a girl). These girls had rosaries. I wanted a rosary. They had pictures of Jesus, and Pope Paul XI and John F. Kennedy lined up on their walls. We didn’t have religious people or presidents on our walls, but my Bible stories book had an illustration of Moses with long eyebrows that pointed up to the sky. He wasn’t nearly as young and beautiful as Jesus. I wanted no part of him. Through not fault of its own, Judiasm just couldn’t hold a candle to everything that sparkled so brightly in the Catholic church. Judiasm just didn’t have enough glamour.
My mother tried to dissuade me. She told me to read Kathryn Hulme’s “The Nun’s Story”. For some reason, the melodramatic story of the life-altering choice Sister Luke had to make enthralled me, and the idea of cropping or shaving off my hair and wearing the habit, taking communion, doing penance and, of course, entering the confessional booth assured me that my decision was the right one. Religious teachings never entered my mind. I was pretty sure I could get on board with anything they asked of me.
I never converted, much less enter the convent. But, there’s still a huge streak of curiosity in me. I can’t tour a European church without first looking for the confessional booth. On our first visit to Rome, I found this shop right near our hotel. A papal conclave? I’m glued to the TV looking for the white smoke.
And, not so long ago, Tonya gave me the honor of making the cake for her daughter’s first holy communion.
And now, these beautiful Sacred Hearts of Jesus.
1 heart cutter
1 teardrop cutter
No. 2 & 3 decorating tips
15-20 second icings in red, pale yellow, yellow-orange, orange, darker red
brown and black stiff or piping icing
Start with a heart cookie and an appropriately sized tear drop cookie.
Cut the teardrop with the heart cutter so the two can fit together.
Fit the cut tear drop into the top of the heart and bake as you normally would.
First, fill the hearts. These are a very ‘healthy’ sized cookie, so I outlined first, filled one half of the heart, then the other.
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 »
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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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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That’s what I am when it comes to anything having to do with my work or my kitchen. It’s not a trait I’m particularly proud of, but I do recognize it and embrace it, because at this stage of my life, it’s not likely to change.
This means when I’m lucky enough to be invited to do a cookie segment on a TV show, I pack a steamer trunk with my various
security blankets tools. I don’t like to be without my tools when I’m talking about what I love to do.
So, when the lovely people at Good Morning America Live (the streaming webcast that comes on after the broadcast show goes off the air) invited me to spend some time with the hosts and teach them a few cookie decorating tricks, I said ‘yes’ without a moment’s hesitation. A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to been in another cookie segment and had such a good time, I knew this would be even more fun. And, when they asked for a shopping list of tools I would need for the segment, I breathed a big sigh of relief and thought to myself, “Whew, I don’t have to pack so much!’
Off I toodled this morning, armed with a canvas tote bag loaded with cookies, tubs of royal icing and a few offset spatulas, which I threw in at the very last second. I felt better just knowing those spatulas were with me. When I got to the studio the following conversation took place:
Me: “What do you mean?”
Producer: ”We’ll just use spoons. You can do that, right?”
The segment was only 3 minutes, 30 seconds of which was a ‘contest’. Nonetheless, I admit I panicked. Why, it was just a few hours earlier in the day when J said to me, “Remember…lighten up. Don’t be so serious about giving instructions and making those anchors follow them to the T. It’s a fluff segment so be fluffy.” We were 5 minutes before the cameras rolled and I just gave in. Que sera sera, whatever will be, will be.
I waited for my turn through the discussion of pancakes, swimming cats and a contest to determine the new Monopoly token.
You know what? That 3 minutes was some of the best therapy I’ve ever had. I just let go. And even though I felt vulnerable and lost without my squeeze bottles, Josh, Lara and Sam got me through without a hiccup.
And then Sam Champion kissed me.
Even after I strained my arms taking butt shots of him doing planks with the new Calvin Klein model, Matthew Terry.
Here’s the link, if you’d like to see the whole
therapy session segment. My segment begins at about 11 minutes in.
It started with an innocent tweet from my sweet friend, Barbara.
Just like those rapid-fire photo montages in movies, I started thinking about how many different typewriters I’ve used since I first walked into Mrs. Burke’s Typing 1 class in 1971. The room was filled with rows of desks holding up manual typewriters, save for the few coveted newly minted electric typewriters in the back of the class. We didn’t have auto correct. We didn’t have backspace/delete. We didn’t have White Out. We didn’t have correction tape, either the little slice you inserted typed on, or the ribbon version. No return key either, just a carriage return lever.
There were no inkjets, there was just an inked up ribbon that was inserted and threaded through so when a key was struck it would make an impression of that letter on the paper. And, we used carbon paper to make duplicates.
Memorizing the keyboard’s order so you never ever had to glance down to hunt for a letter and interrupt the clickety -clack sound that came out of the typewriter was music to me. A whole classroom of them was practically symphonic.
So, when my sweet friend, writer Lisa Adams told me she wanted to bring a little something to a workshop she was attending this weekend, I was thrilled we both thought of typewriters! And so this little sexy red number got cooki-fied.
You can hear the music, too, right?
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Minimum order is 24 cookies.
No less than 12 of a image.
These are the rules I try to stick to when I take cookie orders. Most of the time I’m pretty obedient.
But, every now and again, someone calls with a cookie project that’s so challenging that I’m glad I keep my big mouth shut before I make a fool out of myself.
This is the exact scenario when David Leite called one day in October.
“I’m throwing a dinner party to celebrate The One’s birthday and I have this idea for cookie favors that celebrate important places and moments that we’ve shared since we’ve been together.”
Deep sigh from me. ”What did you have in mind?”
“Well”, said David, “I’m thinking maybe Big Ben, because we love London, an Eiffel Tower because we love Paris, maybe a guy in a beret carrying a baguette, a cookie that looks like the chocolate tart from Gérard Mulot, but with a bite taken out of it…”
My stomach knotted up and all I could think of was what a fraud I really am. People like David come to me all the time with the expectation that I really know how to draw stuff like this on a cookie! What am I going to do??? How do I get out of this one? It’s too advanced, too much work, I can’t do this!!!!
Feeling the sweat trickle down my spine, I was frantically trying to come up with some kind of mildy plausible reason why these couldn’t be done. A kaleidoscopic picture of hundreds of used 2 oz squeeze bottles spilling out of stacks of bowls plastered with dried royal icing, raced though the front of my brain. That is, until I heard David say ‘Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain’ and ‘adirondack chair’. THE GUGGENHEIM IN BILBAO! Then I heard ‘onion domes of Moscow’ and I was a goner. Like an out of body experience, I heard the phrase ‘Yes, let’s do it’ being spoken into my phone’s mouthpiece.
So, with that, I signed on to do 15 cookies, including the aforementioned cookies that hooked me, an interstate route sign, yellow roses, a magazine’s logo, and the couples’ cats, among others.
It’s no secret that I lunge at every chance I get to make a quirky cookie. And, not because it’s easy for me. Quite the opposite, really. Oh, it’s easy to think up the ideas…it’s the execution that’s difficult for me. It’s the old metaphorical pushing-though-what scares-you-the-most that motivates me. That’s why I try so hard to convince my clients to go beyond the birthday cake cookie with ”Happy Birthday Joe” written on it, when something with just a little more thought can take the cookie from ‘that’s nice’ to ‘it’s too pretty to eat.’
Adirondack chair: check
Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao: check. Onion domes: double check
Thanks to this game-changer of a post from Callye, I was able to do justice to this pretty kitty.
David will be posting about how he and The One celebrated, so check here later on today.
In the meantime, I’ve got some rules to rewrite.
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You don’t need me to tell you what a week’s it been for those of us living in the New York/New Jersey metro area.
And, perhaps not so coincidentally, tomorrow we will finally see the end of what seems like the longest, most contentious election season ever. All that yelling, screaming, fist-pounding and name-calling!
But, enough about what goes on in my house.
I’ve never missed an election since 1972, the first year 18 year olds were eligible to vote. Back then, we were up to our keisters in a horrible war; 18 year olds were being sent to fight and die, but would have to wait til they were 21 to vote in any election. Changing that law helped to define our generation. Squandering a vote wasn’t cool then, and it isn’t cool now.
Tomorrow I will stand in line as long as I need to and cast my vote.
I urge you to do the same, to make your voice heard.
It’s not just cool, it’s badass.
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