Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Phineas and Ferb Birthday Party

 For Jackson's third birthday party, he wanted a theme of Phineas and Ferb, a Disney show. For the cake, I made a pound cake in a loaf pan and created a Perry the Platypus cake, using vanilla wafers and cookies for the decorations.
The cupcakes were decorated with skateboards, picks and "3"s that I either bought at Party City or made to use as picks.

 Jackson had a Perry shirt and I had picked up a fedora hat for him to wear.

 His parents also brought some wall hangings from Party City.

 On the television, we were playing....Phineas and Ferb.

 Even little Harper Grace enjoyed the cupcakes! She is getting ready for her first birthday later this month.

I made him a Perry card to go with my gift.....he got a lot of Super Heros! It was a fun party!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Yoda Star Wars Costumes

 My daughter wanted to have a Star Wars theme for their Halloween costume, so here is what we came up with. For two year old Clayton, his Yoda costume consisted of a ladies mock turtleneck shirt that I cut down the front, cut off the sleeves some and raised the armhole. The fabric I cut off the sleeves, I used to make a faux hood on the back.
For Yoda's ears, I got a fleece hat that fit Clayton and then sewed two pieces of green fleece over the original hat, inserting the "ears" in the seams. I used pipe cleaners in the ears to give them some body so they would stand out. Since Yoda is old, I added some batting for the wispy white hair that Yoda has in the movie. I added green fleece feet to a pair of brown leggings and added a piece of elastic on each leg that would go under his shoes. He carried a walking stick. I made the sleeves long rather than making something to go on his hands, as I did not think he would tolerate something on his hands.
 For Princess Leia and Obi One Kanobe costumes, we used patterns shown a few photos below.
 Here are some close ups of Yoda's costume pieces.

 Obi One Kanobe's costume consisted of the tunic and cape from the above pattern. For Princess Leia, I choose the other pattern to get the sleeves and neck. I should have just extended the length of it and given it a flair as the skirt went down, and then used the belt I made, but instead I made a top and a skirt. Live and learn! I did add a draped faux hood on the back of the princess dress that was sewn into the shoulder seams.

Isn't that the cutest Yoda you have ever seen? They did win first place for team costumes at their trunk or treat!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Gibbs Gardens in Autumn

 Gibbs Gardens is located in Ball Ground, GA in Cherokee County (north of Atlanta). It is home to the largest Japanese gardens and is beautiful all four seasons, but especially spring and fall! These photos were taken a week before the "peak" color is expected, but I don't think I could handle much more beauty than this! The maple to the left of the wedding gazebo is just breath taking!

 All the water just doubles the beauty, as you see it twice in the reflections!

 In the gardening section of the current Southern Living Magazine, Jim Gibbs gives tips on selecting plants and placement. I am not sure what the plant is below, but they were so pretty, giving much color and texture to the garden!

 Gibbs Gardens just opened last year, but has been years in the making. Landscaping expert and award winner, Jim Gibbs, has lived here since the 80's and has made it his dream to eventually open it up for others to share. I made sure that I bought a yearly pass so I could see it in all the seasons! The daffodil display is amazing in the spring!

 The manor overlooks the beginning of the Appalachian chain of mountains, the first being Mount Oglethorpe. Also in the view is Springer Mountain, where the Appalachian Trail begins.

I hope you enjoyed this look at autumn in Georgia at Gibbs Gardens. If you have the chance to visit, be sure not to miss it! I heard a lady comment yesterday, "Wow, I never dreamed it was this big!" There is a tram available for a small fee if you aren't up to walking.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Decorating Sugar Cookies

 I love to make and decorate cookies, especially during the holidays. I have a LARGE selection of cookie cutters, but you can see that these St. Patrick's Day cookies were cut with a glass. The detail of the feathering in the flooded frosting is what gives it it's design.
 Or, if you do have cookie cutters, look to use them in more than one way. These owls, for instance, were cut with a witch cauldron cutter. It could also be an alarm clock. Here again, feathering and addition of candies added to the design. Also, since the owl was brown, another option would have been to make the dough chocolate. I love my sugar cookie recipe, though, and we were having chocolate cupcakes.
 This weekend, I noticed a book at the library called Cookie Craft Christmas by Valerie Peterson and Janice Fryer. They also have a book called Cookie Craft. Both books are available on Amazon.

Anyway, I found a method they used for rolling out the cookies intriguing and wanted to try it. In addition to a lot of information and designs, there are recipes. I do think there was a typo on the measurements for the Meringue Powder Royal Icing, so if you get the book, be aware of that. I tried their Rolled Sugar Cookies recipe, which uses butter instead of shortening like my regular recipe. It definitely was easier to handle as the butter set up more when refrigerated, but I still like the taste of my recipe better. I also want to try their Rolled Chocolate Cookies and Rolled Gingerbread Cookies.

After mixing the dough, they instructed to lay down wax paper, put a portion of the dough, another piece of wax paper and then cookie slats along the edge, close enough that the slats will be under the rolling pin.

I did not have cookie slats so I went to Home Depot, bought an eight foot piece of lattice slat, had it cut into two foot pieces, sanded them and painted them. There are slats that people sell on Amazon, but I got two sets for $1.07 plus tax!

The slats are a quarter inch in thickness so when you roll the cookie dough, the thickness is the same throughout the piece of dough.

 After rolling the dough to the quarter inch thickness, pick up the dough by the wax paper and slide it on a cookie sheet for support and into the fridge. Let it stay in there at least half an hour before cutting it. I LOVE this method! Makes for a more professional look and even baking. Also, handling the dough is so much easier with the wax paper. I did not try using a French rolling pin which is tapered at the ends, but as long as you stayed in far enough, I think it would be okay!
 I have had this HUGE cookie cutter I have wanted to use and put candy in the cutouts. I got some lemon drops, but them in a reclosable bag, hammered the candies and once the cookie was in place on the cookie sheet, I filled up the holes with candy pieces. It will melt when baked. This technique is fun for a stained glass look during the holidays.

 The dough above had been colored with decorator coloring, cutting down on the time needed to decorate the cookie.

Another way to color a cookie is to do an egg wash. Egg wash also gives a nice sheen to the cookies. I used one egg and a little water with decorator coloring, which I painted on to the cookies.
 For these fellows, I added pieces of candy corn, which will melt and add nice features to the jack-o-lanterns. On the smaller cookies, I made indentions with a spoon and knife to add detail.

 Some cookie cutters comes with cutouts and indentions like the ones below.
 Cookie molds are another way to add detail to your cookies.

Another tip given in the book is to take a heavy glass like the mug below, place a wet paper towel and use that as a holder for a pastry bag you are not using. It will keep the frosting from hardening in the tip. Also, tie off the bag at the top of the frosting with a bread tie and again at the end if you got frosting on the inside of the frosting that far out. Wilton makes ties for bags, but we all have bread ties! Keep toothpicks handy for moving the flooded frosting, closing a squeeze bottle that is missing the top or to help clear out the tip if it does get clogged. Toothpicks are also great for adding designs by feathering on the flooded frosting. Drop a different color in circles and then drag to make a heart or drop lines and then use the toothpick to create a herringbone design like on the owl.
 Use a squeeze bottle for the flooding frosting. The recipe in the book used lemon juice in the frosting which gives a nice fresh flavor.
 Be sure and use a coupler if you will be changing tips in your pastry bag.

 Above, you can see where the piping was done first and then the flooded frosting is being added.
I like to use Meringue powder for my frosting. Parchment paper is wonderful to use on your cookie sheets and it can be used over and over until you are finished baking.
If you need to spell something on your cookies, there are letters to make indentions in the cookies like below, and there are also pens made to write on the cookies.

 I really like the smaller cookie above with a face cutout. The set came with two more faces, so I will definitely be using them again! Below, you can see the dough with color added, cookies with flooding added, cookies with an egg wash and a cookie with just the dough.

 Here is a close up of the melted candy in the big Jack-o-lantern.
There are many more things you can use to decorate your cookies like coconut, luster dust, sanding sugar. You can add dimension by layering a cut cookie shape on top of the base cookie. For instance, Jackson turns three this weekend. I could cut circle cookies and then cut a "3" out of dough and place it on top of the circle cookie before baking. I could also make an easel for the large jack-o-lantern out of cookie dough and attach with royal icing.
This is such a fun craft and the recipients always are thankful! Again, I do recommend the book I mentioned. I have requested the Cookie Craft book also, but I am sure it is just as good!