Project Life Update

I love Project Life by Becky Higgins

I whip my camera out at a moment's notice much to the embarrassment of most of my children.
They have to turn to their friends and say "project 365" with a groan and an eye roll.
And sadly all their friends know what they are talking about.
When my 13 year old son sees me taking pictures of random things around the house he says in a falsetto voice "project 365!" (which isn't much different than his regular voice-puberby hasn't quite kicked in yet, poor guy)

If you're not converted to "project life" yet by this infomercial or this love fest
Then, the third time's the charm because we promise to convert all of you before the year is up.

Here are a few of the family memories I recorded that would have otherwise passed me by:

How the baby always hooks his big toes on the tray of his highchair
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My business man in training doing inventory on his fundraiser candy bars and money everyday after school

And, will there ever come a day when I don't have to buy milk constantly?

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My "middles" walking into school together
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The ultimate excitement of a visit from the ice cream man
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Carrying on my mom's tradition of cutting sandwiches into "piggy houses" Where are the pigs? I have no idea but I do know sandwiches just taste better that way.
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WWF in my living room. Boys! It's only fun until someone cries.
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Ashleigh here now... I hope all of you "project lifers" are still going strong.
Here are a few of my favorites from the first few months of the year...

I love that I stood back and took a picture of the fam walking into church.
Something about it just makes me smile.
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This is my little one going through his Valentines to pick out the candy.
He got down to business right after he got these!
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Trying on her new glasses, she couldn't help but beam a huge smile, ear to ear!
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I had to document the fact that my little jedi always has to be armed.  He knows I won't let him bring a huge light saber wherever we go, so he grabs anything with a similar shape to act as his concealed light saber.  He also makes sure to wear a belt everyday, to hold his "light sabers."  On this occasion, his imaginary light saber was a whistle.
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If I'm going to give in and let the kids play outside in the pouring rain
(and deal with the wet and dirt coming in the house), I'm going to grab my camera!
Yep, watching the fun they had made up for the laundry they created!
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This was at the burial service of our wonderful grandpa.  I love this picture because it captures some "reunion moments" when the boy cousins (grandkids) reminisced and joked around.  It reminds me that although it is a sad thing, the legacy he left behind is such a happy and wonderful thing.
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I always tell her that she has beautiful handwriting for a child her age.  We do spelling practice every Friday before school so I took the opportunity to document her writing.
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Capturing the simple moments is what makes me love and adore the mindset of "project life."

If you want to be inspired by the creator, Becky Higgins, click on this video link!

Easter Baskets with Crocheted Fabric

I love my Easter baskets.
They aren't personalized like the ones from Pottery Barn. They aren't perfect. But, they make me happy.
I made them in maybe 1999 when I had two kids. And I made 5 baskets.
I even talked Ashleigh into making some and she was just married with no kids!
I made them when I was on a major rag rug kick. I had a great friend whose mom sold mill end fabrics by the pound. So I bought tons of strips of fabric and crocheted my little heart out.

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Here is a link to some directions.  I don't read crochet patterns well.
I just like to dig in and figure it out but this may be a start for you smarter people.

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It involves lots of single crochet and a big plastic crochet hook ("Q" I think)
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This was classic Kathryn/ Ashleigh mojo from the very beginning. I used all different fabrics and made the baskets different shapes and sizes. Ashleigh used different solid fabrics but with one unifying fabric and made them all the same size. So us!
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I looked online without much success for the type of fabric I used, but a friend of mine used jelly rolls. You do have to sew the ends together but the width of the fabric is perfect for these baskets.  You need it to be really, REALLY long, so keep sewing those strips together!

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With the absolute cuteness of the fabric that's out there, I may just get on a kick again!
Or, since Ashleigh made one basket too many and I need one more.....
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She could just give me one of hers.

Although I'm still trying to talk her into that 4th kid!

Easter Cookies- 3 for the Price of One!

My cookie cutter collection is lacking in the Easter department.
But where there's a cookie will, there's a way!


Because when somewhat simple (yes, THE SOMEWHAT SIMPLE) asks you to share some Easter cookies... you say, YES!  And then you go scream in your pillow!  {like a 12 year old school girl}
I'm so excited that Stephanie has asked me to be a (once a month) contributer!  Yee-haw!!

So I started by making some glittery pastel eggs to share with you!
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And then I made 2 other kinds of Easter-y cookies with the same cookie cutter!
I'm a "provident living" kind of gal... today at least!

Go check out my guest post on Somewhat Simple and see what I came up with!

The Basics of Sugar Cookies and Royal Icing

Just in case some of you missed my four-part cookie workshop on Crazy Domestic, I am posting a summary of my cookie basics here today!  I hope this will be easy to reference when you are baking.

SUGAR COOKIES
Let me start with the dough recipe that I use.  I've tried several, and I always come back to this one that a good friend gave me because it makes a nice, soft cookie.  This does however, make them a little more fragile.  I find the royal icing only makes them sturdier, but still... handle with care.  A little cookie TLC, if you will.

Sugar Cookie Recipe:
2 cups of butter (room temp, set it out before you make)
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. lemon extract
6 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
Cream the butter and sugar first, add the rest of the wet ingredients.  Mix the dry ingredients in separate bowl, then add dry ingredients as you mix.

This is about as much as one kitchen aid mixer can handle.  It's the equivilent of a double recipe and makes plenty of dough.  The amount that you get out of it will depend on the size and thickness of your cookies.

I like to turn the dough onto a long piece of saran wrap and make it into a nice bundle like this:


Now chill the dough for at least 4 hours in the fridge.  Overnight is best.

Now that it's chilled, take it out and set it on the counter for about 5 min before you work with it.  (Two steps forward, one step back, I know.  But it works).  Now we are going to roll it out.  I cut off a nice chunk of my chilled, yet workable dough.



Generously flour your surface, then roll and cut as you please.

I love my straight rolling pin because of how wide an area it covers.
I also love my rolling pin bands that keep my cookies the same thickness all the way across.


Now I'm a firm believer in sil-pat, non-stick baking sheets, and cookies just slide right off of them.  Is your birthday coming up?  I'm just saying... husbands, get on top of this!

Bake in a (preheated) 375 degree oven for about hmmmm.  Cook time varies a ton with size, thickness and if you use a sil-pat (cuts baking time).  I say, start small.  For most cookies, I set the timer for 6 min, and add more time if needed.  You don't even really want them to be brown.  Maybe just touches of golden on a few corners, yet you do want them cooked all the way through.  Otherwise, they turn a dough-ey gray-ish color in the middle.

Question:  Should you use the scraps?

Answer:  For sure!  Recession or not, I just can't waste that much...BUT... Be aware that each time you roll it out, you are working more flour into the dough.  More flour will make it stiffer, less tender (less tasty) and a little less smooth looking.  The first roll out also spreads/puffs a little more, while the last holds to the exact size that you cut it.  Therefore you will notice a considerable size difference between  the first and last roll out.  If your goal is for each cookie to be exactly the same size, you need to roll out from the same roll out number.  When you get a new chunk of dough, I consider it roll out one again.  Here is an example of the same cookie cutter, the same thickness of dough, but done in the first, through fifth roll-out.  Do you see the difference in how they look?  Slight, but noticeable to a cookie nerd, like myself.  I like to use the first and second roll-outs if I'm giving them/selling them.  I set the other scraps aside for making the "kids decorate pile."  It's a little mean, but they'll get through it.


Tip:  If you want to put your cookies on a stick, roll them out nice and thick, cut them out, then put them on your pan.  Chill them on the pan for about 20 min or so.  Take them out and insert the stick, centered in the thickness of the cookie.  Chilling them will keep them from distorting when you put the stick in.  (Notice the sil-pats in this picture).
  
Tip:  Don't forget that you don't necessarily have to have a cookie cutter shape, for everything you want to make.  There are a million cookies you can make out of simple shapes.  

ROYAL ICING
I like to use royal icing because of it looks great!  It looks smooth and dries hard, so I can stack them and bag them. There are many different recipes and techniques that I've read about, but I'm going to share what works for me!

Recipe for Royal Icing
1 cup water
6 Tbsp. meringue powder
1 tsp. vanilla extract (use clear vanilla if you want white icing)
1/2 tsp. lemon extract
2 lb. bag of powdered sugar

I start by mixing the water and meringue powder in my mixer until it is incorporated and slightly foamy. (1)  Then I add the extracts and mix for a second.  Then I add the whole bag of powdered sugar.  I mix on low until it is all incorporated.  Then on high for a few minutes.  It will become fairly stiff.  (2)


Now here is tricky thing about royal icing.  For different types of techniques, you need different consistencies of icing.  For piping words and details, you want to stick with the stiff consistency that you have just made in your big bowl.  But, for other decorating, we need to thin it out a little.  You do this by adding more water, a teaspoon at a time.  I can explain this best by referring to the frosting as a #4, or #8 or #15 for instance.  The number is referring to how many seconds it takes for the icing to get smooth.  Add water, until you think it's right.  To test it, make a blemish in your bowl, and count how long it takes for it to become (essentially) smooth.  {If you've thinned it too much, you can add a little more powdered sugar}

I will refer to the # of seconds your frosting consistency should be as I walk you through the decorating.
But first, a few things on coloring your icing.  I like to use the soft gel paste coloring.  These three brands have worked well for me, but my favorite is Americolor.  It comes in a wonderful variety of colors too!

Separate the amount of frosting you want in another bowl.  Now is a good time to thin that portion out.  You want to cover your main bowl with a damp dishtowel.  It will dry out really quickly if you don't.  With most colors, you want to stay very conservative when tinting.  You can always add more color, but you can't take it away.  (You can add more white icing to it to tone it down, but then you end up with more than you need).  Start by getting a little on a toothpick and testing your color out from there.  If it is red or black, or you know you want the color very bold and dark, you can add it drop by drop.

Now be sure to mix it thoroughly!  It will end up streaky/marble-y if you don't and this has happened to me so many times when I'm in a rush.  One solid color is prettiest!

Many decorators use piping bags and tips, but I prefer to use my squeezie bottles.  They are just easy to work with, for me.  They can wash up when you're done and I have thrown a few away as they have gotten older.  I still think it is cheaper than buying several piping bags every time I do cookies.

I have several different types, and my favorites are the ones that you can attach a decorating tip to.  The basic squeezies are about the equivalent to a size 3/4 decorating tip.  They are very useful too!  They range from about $0.75 to a few dollars each.  You can get them where cake supplies are sold, even at Michael's.

I fill them by spooning the icing in, then tapping the bottle on the counter.

As I go to prepare the other colors, it is important to cover the top with the little lid, or if you've lost them in the disposal (like me), then just put a toothpick in it.  Remember how fast royal icing dries out.   No one likes a clogged and crusty squeezie bottle.  :)

Now we must talk about bubbles.  They are the enemy to smooth cookies.  After you fill a cookie with royal icing, you will notice slight bumps.  Take a toothpick and pop em!  But do this right away!  As it starts to dry, it will leave a mark that won't smooth over, and that's worse than a bubble!

To show you how important this is, I spooned out some frosting onto some parchment.  I left the one on the left, untouched.  To the one on the right, I went through and quickly popped the bubbles before it dried.  It looks wayyyyyy better, huh!

Whew, we made it through all of the nitty gritty.  Now that we know how to prepare the royal icing, lets use it on a cookie!   {I can hear your cheers.  We are to the fun part!}  There are a zillion different ways of decorating and it all depends on how you want the end result to look.  I'm going to show you a few ways of decorating this cute turtle cookie.  

Typically, you frost by piping a border (20 seconds or above on the consistency).   This icing is too stiff to get really flat and smooth, but if you used the thinner stuff, it would just slide right off the cookie and wouldn't look good at all.  So piping the edge keeps the edges looking neat and tidy.  Then you will fill the border with the thinner stuff (a 5-7 second consistency).

You can decide if you want the outline to pop, or not be noticed at all.  But first I will show you how to make the first turtle with the black outline.

Step 1- Outline all of the areas you want to be defined.  Use a 20 second or above consistency.
Let it dry for at least about 10 minutes.  By the time you do all of your cookies, the first one will be ready to fill.  

Step 2 and 3-  Fill with a 5-9 second consistency.  The higher the number, the more coaxing you have to do to get it flat.  Use a toothpick, or shake the cookie a little to flatten it out.  Also, don't forget to pop those bubbles!   The higher # consistencies will make the frosting look a little fuller.  As you fill and smooth it out with the tip of your squeezie bottles, they will get a little messy.  I keep a damp paper towel by me and wipe it off as I go.  Otherwise, the crusty pieces can fall off into your wet icing.  Also, It keeps your decorating more precise. 

Step 4- After your first layer is dry, add detail and fun to your cookie!  

Now if you don't want the black outline, you can simply follow the same steps, by making the same color icing, in two different consistencies.  You will outline first.

You can let this dry as you go through and outline all of the cookies.  If you do this, you will end up seeing the outline.

If you fill it right away, without letting the outline dry, it will meld together and you won't end up seeing the outline.

So depending on how you want it to look choose which "step 2" you want to do.

Even though royal icing starts to dry really fast, it takes several hours to dry completely.  I don't attempt to stack them, or put them in bags until they've dried overnight.  Leave plenty of extra time in your planning.  Each step is a bit time consuming as you are learning.  The best advice I can give you is to practice!  I know I am still getting a little better every time I practice!  

Planning your Cookie:
When attempting to decorate a more complicated cookie, it is a good idea to sketch it out and have a plan.  This is an example of ideas I was thinking of for some "Alice in Wonderland" cookies.  I traced the actual cookie cutter (called the topsy turvy cake) onto paper a few times.

From these sketches I decided what I thought looked best.  You also have to keep in mind, what is realistic to accomplish with a decorating tip!  But once you have a plan, you'll know how many stripes to plan for, which colors go first, etc.  When you make a lot and you want them to look the same, it's good to have a plan.

Raised vs. Flat Frosting:
If you want your cookie to be totally flat, it is all about timing.  If you decorate right away, your frosting will meld into your base layer and you will have a smooth frosting.  If you want your frosting to sit on top of your base layer, you have to wait until it is dry.  Not all the way (8-10 hrs) dry.  But at least wait a few hours if you want a new layer.  In these present cookies, the polka dots were done right away and then I let them dry.  After a few hours, I did the bows.

Sprinkles, Sugars and Candies:
Adding sprinkles can make a cookie way cuter and save you time piping out some polka dots or decorations.  In the ice cream cookie photo, I made mint chip by using chocolate jimmies and made bubblegum ice cream by using chocolate coated candies.  These cupcakes were plain jane until I got out the sprinkles!

Sugar pearls really jazzed up these snowflake cookies. They make them look a little more "specialty."

Now in order to make these sprinkles and candies stick, they need to be applied right away (wet).  But keep in mind, if you are doing a sanding sugar, or something you pour on, you need to let the part you don't want to get decorated dry 8-10 hrs.  Then you need to come back with wet frosting and pour the sugar on.  This way it will stick exactly where you want it.

Disco Dust:
Here's a tip for disco dust, which I learned the hard way.  You need to wait a full 24 hours for your base layer to dry.  After about 10 hours, it looked dry and felt dry, so I sprinkled my disco dust.  It was a crazy mess.  But when I waited a full day, it brushed off fine.  You need to pipe your wet frosting and pour the disco dust on like sanding sugar, then it sit for several minutes, then shake it off.  All of the fine glitter won't come off, so you need to use a clean, dry paint brush to brush it off the areas you don't want it.  

Marbling:
Marbling is a technique that I used to make these spider web cookies.  You can simply frost your cookie and while it's still wet, you drag a toothpick through your icing.  It will heal itself and become flat if you do it right away.  You can make some wonderful swirls and designs this way.  You can turn polka dots into hearts by simply dragging a toothpick through them.  So grab your toothpick and experiment away!

Using a projector:
My favorite cookie tool is my kopykake projector.  I can print out any design on paper and put it into my projector.  It shines right onto my cookie as a guide as I frost.  It's tracing at it's very best!  With this tool and a steady hand, anyone can have precise frosting.  It's an investment, but I have loved using it to make exact designs or fonts that I want.  I made this ballet logo on a cookie for my girls' dance director.  There is no way I could've gotten it perfectly right without my kopykake.

I would drive myself crazy if I tried to make this many cookies look the same.  But it was simple with my projector.  It takes some of the OCD stress off my brain!


PACKAGING YOUR COOKIE
So, don't stop having fun when you're done with the cookies.  A beautifully decorated and packaged cookie can make a thoughtful and creative gift!

Most of the time I stick with my tried and true cellophane bags.  I stock up and buy them in packs of 100.  I think it's a good investment if you plan on making cookies often.  I stand by my philosophy that everything looks great with a cellophane bag, ribbon and a tag!  

My sister and I also use the old bag topper technique.  Just fold over a piece of cardstock and staple.  

Pastry and candy boxes are also great!  They come in all shapes and sizes.  I love the clear boxes because it allows you to show off your cookie even more!  These wedding ring cookies (with fabulous disco dust) make great shower favors.  Just put the tulle underneath to keep it from shaking and breaking.

Then a put the lid and a bow on.  But you can still see the cookie!  

If you want to make a cookie bouquet, put the sticks in them in before you bake them. These mustaches are much more fun on a stick!

Just walk the aisles of your local craft store and you will find fun things to put your cookies in.  Like paint cans:


How about a cookie in a party invitation?  That will get the kids really excited to come!  It's like an advanced party favor!  What a deal!  Kathryn (my sis) designed this darling invitation:

With this cookie inside:

Then just untie to get the cookie!  I love it! 

So there is the cookie wrap up for you!  There are Easter cookies on the way, so stay tuned!



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