I was writing a comment on Sarah’s Cookie Cutter post when I realized that my response was going to be in depth and might be better in a post.
I too have no cookie cutters but, on a recent trip to Sperryville, VA, I was reminded of Heidi Swanson’s idea to rummage at flea markets or antique shops for things like cookie cutters. At an antique shop we happened upon in Virginia, there were lots of dishes, silverware, and other kitchen knick-knacks like those copper pots above. (There was also a 2 qt. cast iron dutch oven for just $15! If I didn’t already have a 3 and 5 qt dutch oven, that sucker would have been mine!) I hunted for some cookie cutters but came up empty. Anyway, some of the best metal cookie cutters are probably found at places like these – not to mention that they could be a steal.
In place of cookie cutters, things like a pastry wheel or pizza cutter are quick easy substitutes. You may not get the fanciest shapes but it gets the job done.
As for homemade crackers, I love this idea and have a number of recipes logged to try. Here are just a few:
Whole Wheat Goldfish Crackers by Smitten Kitchen (she uses a drill bit for the eyes and mouth – too funny!)
Graham Crackers by Smitten Kitchen
Oatmeals Crackers by 101Cookbooks
Whole Grain Animal Crackers by The Cilantropist
If anyone makes any of these, or comes up with innovative cookie cutter replacements, fill us in here!
I just found a recipe for making your own crackers. Excellent idea! – I thought – I’ll do that this weekend! Then I realized the directions involve the use of cookie cutters. Alas, I have none. Cue the Debbie Downer music.
Off I went to find some cookie cutters and boy have I gotten some silly results, including Williams Sonoma’s Star Wars cookie cutters. Seriously.
I thought I’d have more success asking some of my favorite cookie-baking friends: do you all have cookie cutters that you love or use with special frequency? It could be a brand you’ve found success with or a particular go-to shape, I’m open!
By the way, if you are interested in making your own crackers, please visit “Oh She Glows” here for the basic recipe and lots of fun suggestions for variations, including sea salt and vinegar, smoked paprika, and garlic, chive & onion. Yum! (CHOMP!)
My office is now proudly boasting a large and in charge project table. I think I am in love with this piece of furniture.
This project table from Pottery Barn offers a huge amount of work space on its vast tabletop, which measures 55″ x 38″ (that’s almost 175 square feet!). A major added bonus is the inclusion of two 3×3 bookshelves on each end. These adjustable bookshelves are the perfect organizers for books, office supplies, craft materials, and beyond.
I know that I will be using this space for work projects (picture me with a laptop and deposition binders sprawled all over the table). But, I am also starting to imagine the possibilities of other much more fun projects on this tabletop! Gift wrapping! Invitation making! Photograph framing! Puzzle making!
What are your favorite projects??
Well we’re approaching one week until Christmas and New Years is not far behind. Some of you may have already finished all of your holiday shopping – if so, congratulations, now all you have to do is wrap your gifts and wait to give them away! If you’ve already finished wrapping your gifts, that’s a little intense and maybe you should take a break.
There are, however, others who are not finished. Perhaps you have that last straggler person who is just so hard to find gifts for, or you are half way through your list or you haven’t started at all – eek! For the last minute shopping, here are some websites that compile great gift ideas for those hard to shop for, ok maybe easy to shop for but I have a week and need to expedite shipping, people.
Proclaiming itself as “The Buyer’s Guide for Men,” this site provides creative, classic, edgy, and humorous gift ideas of all price ranges.
From style recommendations for holiday travel, to leather shoe care kits, to gifts for bacon enthusiasts (I’d like to get the peanut butter bacon cups for myself), Uncrate delivers. I search on here for people like Adam, friends, and for our Michael. The website opens the world of male shopping behavior and culture.
But it of course isn’t limited to males. Though the fashion is gendered, anyone can be a bacon enthusiast! It offers movie and phone recommendations, and highlights some awesome accessories like trigger point foam rollers for sore muscles and a snazzy looking sake bomb set. These ideas are certainly not gender biased. But when it comes to your brothers, boyfriends, husbands, male whatever – get to uncrate for some creative, sometimes unexpected gift ideas.
DailyCandy is geared more towards the female gender. The website has a special Gift tab that, at this time of year, is chock full of helpful lists like:
- Gifts you want to Give and Get;
- Stylish Gifts that Give Back;
- 30 Gifts under $30; and
- Cookbooks for Foodies.
The writers for this website go above and beyond the average list. There are gift guides for your girlfriends, moms, and sisters by city! You could also refine your search for lists by item (jewelry, fashion, decor). There are lists for bakers, fitness gurus, gadget lovers, and relentless party planners.
Of course just as Uncrate is not gender locked, DailyCandy does well in coming up with lists for men.
Refinery29 is also city specific and everywhere like DailyCandy. Rely on this site to stay up with the latest trends, male and female, if you’re itching to get your fashion forward friends some new wardrobe items. Not to be left out of the gift guide monopoly, Refinery offers the What Men Really Want for the Holidays list and the 10 Best Holiday Beauty Sets. And you have to love them for their Sexiest Lingerie list for keeping things hot even in the winter and Donald Trump’s Holiday 2010 Gift Guide for the uber excessive, you can’t take it with you, what the hell gifts.
For discounts on hot designers check out Bluefly, Piperlime, Solestruck, and Yoox. If you’re a GiltGroupe member, there are lots of great gift list pages this time of year. Sort by person or by price range. The deals are hot and the ideas are nearly endless.
So now that you are strapped with ideas galore, its time to get that fire lit under your butt and get shopping!
Last week I got a plea for help: I have a lot to do and need to keep it all organized, do you know of a good system?
This got me thinking about how I manage and maintain all of my daily, weekly, and monthly lists of To-Do’s. I realized just how much a well-thought out to-do management system can make me more effective and productive – and even help me find time to relax!
So how do you do your to-do? Some people use scratch pads or commercial To-Do notepads (I used to love these, pictured left). Others use lots of post it notes stuck to the inside of their glasses case (you know who you are!). Some write email reminders to themselves. Still others go whole-hog and use comprehensive life-organizing systems like David Allen’s “Getting Things Done.”
Over the years, my own organizational system has changed and evolved. As my own methods change, I’ve found that the important thing is finding something that works for you. Something that you know you can stick to. For example, if you write emails to yourself but constantly disregard them, that’s probably a sign your current system is not working for you.
One easy solution for those on-the-go is using spreadsheets from Google Docs. You can create separate tabs for the different areas where you have things to do (work, home, school, bills, car, etc…). Because Google Docs are “cloud-computing” based, you can get to your To Do lists from anywhere that has internet access, including your smartphone. So if I suddenly remember I’ve got an errand to run while I’m heading to work, I can take a second and add that to my to-do list, wherever I am (and not risk being Forgetful Jones).
Other electronic-based solutions include apps like Remember the Milk or Simplenote. The CEO of Twitter also recently tweeted his solution du jour: if you’ve got a camera-phone, take a picture of what you need to remember and save it as your phone’s wallpaper. I’m a bit dubious of this one, but he at least gets points for creativity!
More traditional folks may prefer a planner, a big calendar or even color-coded index cards.
If you’ve found a solution that works for you, please do share!
The other evening I got sucked into the Dr. Oz show for a few minutes. (I know, my lameness quotient has just skyrocketed.) The good doctor was doing a special on everyday products in your home that could be considered “toxic.” One big culprit is cleaning products. I do love a strong cleaner, but when a product comes with a warning that you should only use it if you’ve got a window open and shouldn’t use it if you’ve got small children or pets, that might just suggest you’ve got something on your hands that could be harmful to your own health too.
He suggested an alternative, homemade cleaner that sounds pretty simple. It takes a few minutes to mix on your own, but it’s certainly less toxic than some of the “heavy duty” stuff we may not think twice about using.
- 1 tbsp of Borax powder (find it in the laundry aisle of your supermarket)
- 3 tbsps of white vinegar
- 2 cups of water
- 1 tablespoon of dish soap
- 1 drop of essential oil such as peppermint for fragrance (optional)
Pour it into a spray bottle you bought at the hardware store, give it a shake, and you are ready to clean.
I cannot speak to its efficacy yet but I plan to give it a whirl this week and will let everyone know whether this leaves my place sparkling clean!
It never hurts to save your pennies. I have recently stumbled across a really great way to save both money AND time (hooray!). I am using Amazon.com’s subscription services to purchase certain household items and grocery goodies.
My foray into the subscription services starts with everything from paper towels to plastic baggies, laundry detergent, and Builder’s bars for Torre. It works by “subscribing” for a bulk purchase at given intervals (1 month, 2 months, even 6 months). If you subscribe, you save about 15% on nearly every item. Just like at Costco, by buying in bulk, you save (15% adds up quickly!). And with Amazon you don’t have to worry about going to Costco – it’s delivered to your doorstep! Hello saving time and money.
Amazon seems to have just about everything you might want. In fact, it seems to have something for everyone!
There’s so much more, too! I encourage you to explore and take advantage of this super saving opportunity!
Check out this site: Earth Aid. They are a company that rewards individuals and companies for their reduction of energy and water use. For blog readers, they’ve got a very active blog with daily posts, you will surely never be bored waiting for a new post!
All you have to do is create an account, link it to your utility bills (which requires your utility account numbers) and watch your household usage of electricity, gas, and water (if you have the accounts for all of them) go up and down. It is pretty cool really. To create incentives for people to reduce their energy usage, they collaborate with corporations and local businesses to provide discounts and other rewards. Each time your energy usage goes down, you earn points. These points can then be used towards the rewards offered. While it is hard to see how one person, one family, or one household can do to contribute to a healthier planet, this is a great way to have a tangible result of going green. Plus you see your usage go up and down on a nice pretty graph.
You can also make teams to collaborate on saving energy to get even more rewards! What do we think about a team Forney? I think we’d kick some ass.
Team Forney is welcome to all Forneys and nonForneys, must be 18 or older to participate, participation not valid in Puerto Rico. To participate click here.
I found a wonderful and timely article on NPR by a woman who had a nearly identical Christmas cookie extravaganza experience growing up with her mom. The full article can be found here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=98204493 and I highly recommend it (turns out we’re not the only ones who store all the cookies in the basement!).
The article contains baking & storing tips with the special needs of storing frozen cookies in mind. It also includes a tasty sounding recipe that has been in her family for over 40 years! I’d like to try my hand at it this coming weekend – who knows, maybe it will become another Forney Family Christmas cookie!
Tips for Baking & Storing
Before baking, make sure you have all requisite ingredients as well as baking utensils, pans and parchment paper. It’s best to use the exact ingredients specified in a recipe rather than make substitutions that can adversely affect both texture and flavor.
• In general, cookie dough should be mixed by hand or with an electric hand mixer. Avoid overmixing the dough, which can lead to tough cookies. Stir in ingredients such as chocolate chips, nuts and dried fruits by hand.
• Use sturdy, aluminum baking sheets with or without a rim. Rather than greasing sheets, line them with parchment paper. This helps the cookies bake more evenly, makes it easier to slide them onto a cooling rack and allows for quick cleanup
• Always preheat the oven and space cookies at least 2 inches apart
• Bake one sheet of cookies at a time, which allows the oven’s heat to circulate evenly and prevents cookies from becoming too browned on the bottom. If you must bake more than one sheet at a time, then place sheets in the top and bottom thirds of the oven and rotate midway through. Never place cookies on a hot baking sheet, as they will spread; either let the sheet cool or run it under cold water before re-using it
• If cookies spread too much, chill the remaining cookie dough in the refrigerator for 10 to 15 minutes before baking
• Unless otherwise noted, transfer cookies immediately to a cooling rack. Just slide the parchment paper with the cookies on it directly onto the rack. Cookies will firm up a bit as they cool. Allow them to cool completely before frosting
Storing and freezing cookies:
• Make sure cookies are cooled completely before storing. Metal tins keep cookies crisper and firmer than plastic containers. Use the same storing principles when giving gifts of cookies. Festive decorative tins are both attractive and practical
• Store soft cookies like macaroons in a separate container from hard cookies like biscotti. Otherwise, you’ll end up with all soft cookies
• Layer cookies between sheets of waxed or parchment paper to maintain freshness and to prevent them from sticking together. Sturdy cookies such as biscotti can be stored without the paper.
• Most types of cookie dough can be frozen raw then baked later, though drier cookie dough, such as shortbread, freezes better. Place formed cookies on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze until firm, about 1 hour. Place cookies in a freezer bag and freeze for up to 3 months. There is no need to thaw them; just add a few minutes to the baking time.
• To freeze baked cookies, place them in single layers separated by sheets of waxed or parchment paper and store in a freezer-proof, air-tight container. Baked cookies can be frozen for up to 6 months and should be defrosted on the countertop before serving.
Lemon Egg Cookies
- 6 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 6 large eggs
- 4 tablespoons lemon extract
- 1 cup canola oil
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 2 tablespoons lemon extract
- A few drops of whole milk
- Colored candy sprinkles (optional)
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees, and position a rack in the center of the oven. Line four large cookie sheets with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
In a small bowl, lightly whisk eggs, lemon extract, oil and milk.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Using a rubber spatula, mix until a dough starts to form. Using your hands, lightly squeeze and knead the dough. If it seems a bit dry, then add 1 teaspoon of milk at a time until it reaches desired consistency. The dough should be somewhat sticky and elastic.
Scoop 1 tablespoon of cookie dough and roll between your palms until a smooth ball forms. Place the balls on a parchment-lined baking sheet 2 inches apart.
Bake cookies for 15 to 20 minutes, or until lightly browned on the bottoms. The tops will be white but cooked through. Transfer to a rack and cool completely before frosting.
To make the icing, whisk the confectioners’ sugar and the lemon extract in a small bowl. Add a few drops of milk and continue whisking until the icing is smooth and opaque and clings to the back of a spoon. Taste and add more lemon extract, if desired. When it’s ready, pour icing through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any tiny clumps of confectioners’ sugar.
For easy cleanup, place a sheet of parchment paper under a cookie rack before icing cookies. Dip the top of the cookie in the icing, then place on the rack. Decorate with colored candy sprinkles, if desired. Allow to dry completely before storing in an airtight tin or plastic container. Properly stored, cookies should last seven to 10 days.
Here are some really simple solutions for organizing your house and re-purposing some of your old items! I picked up these ideas from the resourceful folks at Real Simple.
- Use an old tissue box to store extra plastic bags. Stash it under your sink to restore a little order and sanity. They should pop out when you need them just like your tissues!
2. Use a Napkin Holder to organize your bills. Genius! I’m so doing this. Bills are such clutter-causers!
3. Contact lens case for pills & vitamins. Amazing. I’m always using big old plastic baggies for this when I travel and I end up throwing away the bags. And whenever I get extra contact lens cases, I always end up tossing those too. Between Torre & me we have a bit of a collection. Problem solved!