Turning 33… and making sugar cookies

Today I turned 33. And it is honestly the first time I’ve ever felt “old.”

I jokingly say that I’m old when I find out kids I used to babysit are graduating college or getting married. Or when I do the math and remember how old my little brother is (because honestly, Connor, how are you not still twelve?) but I’ve never felt like time was slipping away from me before.

So. To process all that, I needed a time consuming recipe. Something not too terribly complicated, but something that had a lot of steps.

So. Sugar cookies!

People asked for me to blog about my baking, so let me know what you think in comments.

This baking blog thing is new to me, so I don’t have a ton of photos. But I did have heart-shaped cookie cutters I bought on 90% off clearance after Valentine’s Day last year and all the ingredients, so I kinda had to make them.
I used a recipe from The Kitchn, found here, with a few modifications.

I don’t know if I should be sharing this with the class, because I’m pretty sure this is my very best secret weapon when it comes to cookie baking, but we should all have access to deliciousness at every opportunity, right?

First: the vanilla & almond extracts. USE THE REAL STUFF. None of that imitation vanilla in my kitchen. (Except for that bottle in the back of the cabinet that someone else bought and that I use in baking emergencies when I run out of real ingredients). You don’t need the fancy $14/bottle vanilla… but for all our sakes, please use the real stuff.

Second: Again with the extracts. Double ’em up, cowboy. In every single cookie recipe I make, I put in twice the vanilla the recipe asks for. It’s my go-to cheat in my baking arsenal. For this recipe, we discovered the joy of twice the flavor by a happy accident, and I’ve been doing this with my chocolate chip cookies forever, but it’s now a standard practice in my kitchen.

Third: The lemon zest. You might think to yourself, eh, I’ll skip that. Why buy a lemon to just use the zest? I’ll tell you why: the little citrusy zing you get from that zest helps counter balance the sweetness from the cookie itself and the frosting you pile on top. This recipe only calls for a teaspoon, but a lemon will give you about a tablespoon of zest. I zested the lemon, fully meaning to only put in a bit, but dear reader, I dumped it all in to see what might happen. LET ME TELL YOU. THE BEST POSSIBLE FLAVOR.

Fourth: The butter. Please, for the love of everything holy. Use. Real. Butter. This recipe calls for unsalted butter, so don’t substitute margarine, coconut oil, or anything else (unless you have a food allergy, then you have my begrudging blessing). It also calls for it to be set out for an hour before you start baking, so make sure you follow that step. The other thing to remember with the butter? Throw it in your kitchen aid and, for lack of a better phrase, beat the crap out of it. All the baking blogs tell you to beat the butter until it’s soft and fluffy, but seriously let it go on high speed for about 5 minutes or so until it gets really pale. Your stomach will thank you later.

Fifth: Roll out your dough to be about a quarter-inch thick so your cookies aren’t crunchy, and do it in between 2 sheets of parchment paper. It’s the only way I can manage to not get flour all over myself and not find cookie dough in the weird space between my countertop and my stove. All bets are off when it’s time to use the powdered sugar, though.

Now, to be perfectly honest, I am not a huge fan of sugar cookies–sometimes they are just too sweet, sometimes they are too bland. These, however, are worth the 24-hour wait while I chilled the dough in my fridge. You can get away with just an hour, but since I mixed up the dough at 11:00 at night, I let myself go to sleep and deal with it the next day.
Like I said… I needed a multi-step process. You don’t get over feeling old by just standing next to your Kitchen Aid waiting for butter to go all pale and fluffy.

So, after your rolled dough has chilled in your fridge, pull it out and start cutting out cookies! You’ll want to let the dough warm up a bit, but not too much! This dough gets soft really quickly, and they get harder to cut out and move to cookie sheets.

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Waiting on a cookie sheet…

Make sure you bake on parchment paper–I promise it’s worth it.

These cookies also go brown pretty quickly. It’s important to know your oven–for these, at this thickness, I do 5 minutes on the bottom rack, and then move it to the top for 5 more. This way you can also do 2 sheets of cookies at once and have them bake evenly.

It’s also important to note that these don’t really go super brown, at least not on the top. They get a bit golden on the bottom, but that’s perfect.

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Perfection!

Now, for the frosting. Typically with sugar cookies, especially at Christmas, I’ll use a buttercream frosting. It’s rich and decadent and everything Christmas should be. With these, though, I wanted something a bit more understated. Something sweet, but that wouldn’t detract from the great flavor of the cookies.

I used this recipe for easy icing from Sally’s Cupcake Addiction. I will say I only used the amount of vanilla asked for in the recipe since the consistency of the frosting can be tricky. It was a bit too thin, so I added in maybe a couple of extra teaspoons of powdered sugar…at that point I just kind of eyeballed it. You want the frosting to drip off your spoon in a ribbon that takes a few seconds to settle back into the rest of the icing. I test-iced a cookie to make sure it was the right consistency before I frosted the whole batch… and to give myself an opportunity to guilt-free taste test.

I added in a bit of red food coloring, and if you’re using the liquid drops, you’ll want to add it in earlier rather than later to account for the extra liquid in your frosting. I like the Wilton gel food colorings, but for a glaze icing like this one, it’s not too hard to adjust the consistency if you’re using liquid drops.

I used about 3 spoons and mini-spatulas before I settled into a groove using an offset pallet knife to frost each heart. Shake on some sprinkles, let the frosting harden up a bit, & you’re good to go share with whomever you deem worthy (or channel Cookie Monster). Om nom nom!

The end result. Om nom nom.

So a couple dozen hearts are frosted and delivered to those who will enjoy them, and I’m still 33. But I spent several nice, quiet hours with just my thoughts and my Brandi Carlile Pandora station, and I’m feeling better about it. Dare I say, even looking forward to the year.

I may not be feeling 22 like TSwizzle, but 33’s not too bad.

Next up, mini-cupcake king cakes for Mardi Gras.
Happy baking!

Next Year is Now

259c7a79-6d24-4e09-94ef-6e39d135eb77In February 1984, my dad put an announcement in the local paper: “Attention, world. A Cubs fan has been born.”

Growing up, being a Cubs fan was like being Catholic. Just as sure as there was Church on Sunday, Harry Caray was singing the stretch and Mark Grace was playing at first. Just have faith, and you will eventually be rewarded. Every so often, Dad would bring up the Cubs in 1969 or 1984. My parents were married and had a kid (me) by the time my dad finally saw the Cubs to the post-season. So when I only had to wait 7 months, I was doing pretty well by comparison.

Until now, every year has been the potential “next year.”

In September, when the magic number was zero and a playoff spot was secured, Dad decided to celebrate everything. We’ve had fried chicken and blue velvet cupcakes and my brother even tracked down a case of Old Style so we could live like we were there. Friends come over for every game and the garage was set up with “stadium seating.” People have their spots, superstitious to the end, whether they’re watching 1 inning or into extras and the wee hours of the morning.

When the Cubs clinched the pennant last weekend, I watched my brother fall to the floor in a boneless heap; lying prostrate on the floor of the garage like Father does in front of the altar at church on Good Friday. Friends came streaming into the garage with cheers and high fives to celebrate together.  Dad opened a bottle of champagne he bought during the playoff run in 1984, we literally went outside to #FlyTheW, and I held back tears watching the celebrations unfold. Congratulatory text messages from rival Cardinals fans came pouring in and my Facebook newsfeed was a hot mess of gleeful, can’t hardly believe this is really happening celebration.  Even Joe Buck, who we’d been yelling at all week to just shut up already, was silent as the team took to the field and the fans in and out of Wrigley sang our song.

Sitting next to my dad in the garage, I felt like I was in church on the highest of holy days.

So if there’s anything that my faith and my fandom have taught me it’s that anything is possible. That you always have to have faith. That someday, it will finally be next year. And win, lose, or draw, this World Series will be one to celebrate.

But hopefully it’s win. I have faith. And I love parades.

We Will Be Glad

Last Sunday at mass, the choir sang a special farewell to Father. He is going to spend the next 6 months in Kenya, so our choir director found a song in Swahili for us to sing to him. Translated, the title meant “We will be Glad.”

My initial reaction? We are too white to sing this.

We all stumbled over the pronunciation and the rhythm. We usually sing Bach. Or Mozart. I’m pretty sure we all have “Ubi Caritas” memorized by this point. Our Latin pronunciations aren’t terrible. Short story long: we sing things that are very traditional. So our director threw us a curve ball–one in the form of a rhythm that kept us dancing along to the constant time of the djimbe.

Once we got used to the words and the rhythm, it did what church music always seems to do. As our choir director says, the angels sang with us. It came together.

We will be glad.

The message came through loud and clear, even though the congregation didn’t have the translation. Kids were bouncing up and down. People turned around to watch us sing, with smiles on their faces. As we finished, the church erupted into applause.

We will be glad.

Over the years, and even recently, I’ve hit spiritual droughts. Times where prayer feels like yelling into an empty void. Where finding the energy to pray is overwhelming and going to Sunday mass is the absolute last thing you want to spend your morning on. Where you forget that there is a community of people among you who will support you in your quest to find that peace again.

We will be glad.

Coming out of that drought is hard work, but I’m getting there. I’m remembering there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. Water after a drought. People who love me.

We will be glad.

There is always a choir of angels in my corner and a song in my heart. (This one just so happens to be stuck in my head for the foreseeable future).

We will be glad.

Starting Over

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september by the lake

I used to have a blog. A different blog. Same name, different platform, different ideas. I thought about firing it back up, but it’s time for a fresh start.

Over the last couple of years, there have been a lot of changes in my life. I bought a house, changed jobs, watched my brother graduate and my sister get married, costumed local theater productions, held my Goddaughter for the first time, traveled, baked, loved, laughed, cried. A lot of what I’ve done is watch other people that I love take steps forward to change their lives, while I seem to stay still.

But now it’s time to start fresh.

September always seems like a good time to begin again. Maybe it’s the start of a new school year? Who knows. It just seems like the right time. Our choir season started again, and I am once again surrounded by new sheet music and faithful people that I love. I cleaned my house, and my bedroom is my new favorite place now that I’ve lost the clutter. I got a new roommate, which is new and happy in ways I haven’t even discovered yet. And I’ve kicked off a new blog–full of new, unlimited, exciting potential.

No more standing still. Happy Monday, indeed.