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DECK THE HOLIDAY'S: 01/29/15

Thursday, January 29, 2015

MAKE YOUR OWN ANIMAL COOKIES!!





   This recipe comes from www.dessertfirstgirl.com .  I remember eating these as a kid will a tall glass of ice cold milk.  I guess the company that had made them for so many years is closing up.  So at least someone has a recipe so we can pass them down to our own children.  Good luck and happy baking!

Goodbye, Mother's Cookies

 




Many of you have already heard that the venerable Mother's Cookies has closed down. I found out about this last week just as I was leaving for a trip; therefore I spent much of the weekend mourning the end of this beloved institution and wondering if all the circus animal cookies would be gone from the stores by the time I returned. Judging from the many articles written urging cookie fans to stock up on their favorites, not an unfounded fear.
As the first photo shows, I was fortunately able to get my hands on a bag after my return, and I've been slowly enjoying them this week. I know – perhaps I should have kept it hermetically sealed away and let its value appreciate; surely like Twinkies, they would have an inordinately robust shelf life?
Well, I'm keeping my eyes open for any remaining bags, but I guess the rampant nostalgia that overcame me upon hearing of Mother's demise made it impossible to resist enjoying these cookies one more time. Besides, I needed to open the bag so I could take some pictures of the little frosted animals in all their pink and white glory – so at that point not eating a few would have been unfathomable.
It was tricky for me to write this post: after all, as a baker I'm supposed to be making all my goodies from scratch, and in the health-obsessed, organic-sustainable-local ground zero that is the Bay Area, it's more than a little unfashionable to be mooning over the heavily processed packaged items at the your local store. What would people think to see me walking around with Chip Ahoys or Entenmann's in my grocery basket, when I should be pulling batches of cookies out of my ever-ready oven?
While my mother kept the family on a fairly healthy diet as we were growing up, it's not to say she never allowed us the occasional indulgence of junk food, and I had my fair share of Ho-Hos and Twinkies and yes, Mother's cookies. However, kids grow up, tastes change, and once I discovered the benefits of eating healthy and cooking from scratch, it was quite easy to leave all that junk food behind on the grocery shelves. While I know that baking cakes and tarts and other sweets isn't exactly extolling the healthiest lifestyle, I firmly believe that eating any dessert that's made fresh with ingredients you know and understand, is always superior, and healthier, to eating something from a package with thirty plus ingredients, only two of which actually sound like food, even if the label says "fat free" or "low calorie" or "tastes just like real chocolate". Also, please note the name of my blog is Dessert First, not Only Dessert All The Time:)
So why, if my blog is dedicated to the best of all that is sweet, and to the joys of baking at home, would I be so distraught over the end of a commercial cookie manufacturer? Chalk it up to the power of nostalgia. Going to the grocery store with my mother when I was young, the cookie aisle was always my favorite (Does it surprise no one here that I've always had a sweet tooth?) When we went down the aisle lined with cookies, crackers, and cakes, I would always scan eagerly over the offerings, wondering if this time my mother would relent and buy us a treat. Of all the different brands, Mother's cookies always stood out, with their striped purple and red packaging and the icon showing a happy mom in the corner. The products also seemed seemed so much more distinctive and interesting than the rest: the striped shortbread, the chocolate chip angels, and, of course, the circus animal cookies.













From all the mournful posts I've seen, circus animal cookies hold a special place in the memories of many. They are like animal crackers all gussied up, with a coat of shockingly sweet frosting in snowy white or neon pink, and a confetti sprinkling of rainbow sugar balls. All of these elements were important to the singular experience of eating one of these cookies: your tongue ran over the nubbiness of the sprinkles, as your teeth bit through the soft waxiness of the frosting, and crunched through the center. The sweetness of the frosting pretty much filled your mouth, so the cookie inside really provided little more than a texture contrast. I was always convinced that there was a difference between the pink and white ones, and always made sure to eat them alternating between the two colors.
Thanks to the miracles of science and commercial food production, it is practically impossible to replicate the sugary taste of circus animal cookies at home. I'm sure that's why I was sad to hear about the end of these cookies; when I eat one, I am immediately transported back to my childhood, and the occasions when I got to have a cookie. A rare occasion indeed, for circus animal cookies in particular, as my mother disliked anything with artificial colorings, for which these cookie qualified in spades. It was only with concerted begging could we get her to buy us a bag of these, and once the Christmas circus animals came out in red and green, there was nothing for it but we had to persuade her to let us try those as well, to see if they tasted any different.
It was probably for the best that I didn't get to gorge on these cookies, and for that I thank my mom. It also kept these cookies in the realm of special treat, so even after I grew older and went shopping on my own, I would always look on these cookies fondly. I like to think these cookies played a role in developing my interest in baking: after all, they were so prettily decorated, so my liking them must have indicated that I wanted to make things as equally eye-catching and tasty.
As I noted, I haven't been able to replicate these cookies at home taste-wise, but in looks at least it was not too difficult. I used the rolled sugar cookie recipe from my Field Guide to Cookies book, and covered them in a simple royal icing. While they don't taste like the store version, I think they taste pretty good on their own, and as a bonus I got to pick up some pretty cute circus animal cookie cutters from Williams-Sonoma.












So, with this post I bid adieu to Mother's cookies, to English tea and iced oatmeal and striped shortbread and circus animal cookies. Thanks for making my childhood a little sweeter, and for being a stepping stone on my path to making my own baked goods. You'll always have a special place on my kitchen shelf.











Vanilla Sugar Animal Cookies with Royal Icing


About 3 dozen 2 1/2 inch cookies
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 egg at room temperature, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Royal icing (recipe follows) and colored sugars if decorating

1. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl and set aside.
2. In stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed for several minutes until light and fluffy.
3. With mixer on low speed, gradually add the egg and vanilla and mix until well combined. Add the flour mixture gradually. Mix until fully incorporated and the dough is smooth and uniform.
4. Divide dough into 2 pieces and flatten into 1/2 inch thick discs.
5. Wrap dough and refrigerate for 2 hours. At this point the dough can be double wrapped and frozen for up to 2 weeks.
6. When you are ready to bake the cookies, preheat oven to 325°F. Grease several cookie sheets or line them with parchment paper.
7. Place dough on a lightly floured surface and dust with more flour. Gently roll the dough 1/8 inch thick.
8. Using a cookie cutter, cut out cookies and place on sheets about 1 inch apart.
9. Bake for 14–16 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through, until edges are golden brown. Transfer cookies to wire racks with a metal spatula to cool completely.
10. Once cookies are cooled, decorate them with icing and colored sugars.


Royal Icing
2 egg whites
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 cups powdered sugar
Food coloring in desired colors



1. Using a mixer with the whisk attachment, combine all the ingredients and whisk for several minutes on high speed until the mixture is thick and shiny opaque white. It should have the consistency of glue. If it is too thin, add more powdered sugar by teaspoonfuls as needed. If it is too thick, add water by teaspoonfuls as needed.
2. Divide icing into bowls for coloring. Keep the bowls covered or the icing will dry and harden. Add food color to icing to achieve desired hues.

UP HELLY Aa-EUROPES LARGEST FIRE FESTIVAL!!!





The History of Up Helly Aa

   Up Helly Aa is a relatively modern festival.  There is some evidence that people in rural Shetland celebrated the 24th day after Christmas as "Antonsmas" or "Up Helly Night", but there is no evidence that their cousins in Lerwick did the same.  The emergence of Yuletide and New Year's festivities in the town seems to post date the Napoleonic Wars, when soldiers and sailors came home with rowdy habits and a taste for firearms.



Early years
   On an old Christmas eve in 1824, a visiting Methodist missionary wrote in his diary that "the whole town was in an uproar, from 12 o'clock last night until late this night blowing of horns, beating of drums, tinkling of old tin kettles, firing of guns, shouting, bawling, fiddling, fifeing, drinking, and fighting.  This was the state of the town all the night...the street was as thronged with people as any fair I ever saw in England".
   As Lerwick grew in size the celebrations became more elaborate.  Sometime about 1840, the participants introduced burning tar barrels into the proceedings.






  "Sometimes", as one observer wrote, "there were two tubs fastened to a great raft-like frame knocked together at the Docks, whence the combustibles were generally obtained.  Two chains were fastened to the bogie supporting the capacious tub or tar-barrel...eked to these were two strong ropes on which a motley mob, wearing masks for the most part, fastened.  A party of about a dozen were told off to stir up the molten contents". 







   The main street of Lerwick in the mid 9th century was extremely narrow, and rival groups of tarbarrelers frequently clashed in the middle.  The proceedings were thus dangerous and dirty, and Lerwick's middle classes often complained about them.  The Town Council began to appoint special constables (police) every Christmas to control the revellers, with only limited success.  When the end came for tar-barrelling, in the early 1870's, it seems to have been because the young Lerwegians themselves had decided it was time for a change.






   Around 1870, a group of young men in the town with intellectual interests injected a series of new ideas into the proceedings.  First, they improvised the name Up Helly Aa, and gradually postponed the celebrations until the end of January.  Secondly, they introduced a far more elaborated element of disguise- "guizing"-into the new festival.
Thirdly, they inaugurated a torchlight procession.  At the same time they were toying with the idea of introducing Viking themes to their new festival.  The first signs of this new development appeared in 1877, but it was not until the late 1880's that a Viking long ship-the "galley"- appeared, and as late as 1906 that a "Guizer Jarl", the chief guizer, arrived on the scene.  It was not until after the World War I that there was a squad of Vikings, the "Guizer Jarl's Squad", in the procession every year.






   Up to World War II, Up Helly Aa was overwhelmingly a festival of young working class men...women have never taken part in the procession.  During the depression years the operations was run on a shoestring.  In the winter of 1931-32, there was an unsuccessful move to cancel the festival because of the dire economic situation in the town.  At the same time, the Up Helly Aa committee became a self-confident organization which poked fun at the pompous in the by then long established Up Helly Aa "bill"-sometimes driving their victims to fury.







   In the early days orders had to be conveyed by means of placards or proclamations at the Market Cross.  This meant that the Guizers had to go there to find out where and when the festival would take place it was not always held on the last Tuesday of January as is the case today.
   The first "Bill as we known it was produced in 1899, its primary purpose still being the conveyance of constructions.  However, it was soon to be elaborated on by the addition of local jokes, satire, etc. and the bill head, painted each year by a local artist chosen by the Jarl.  The painting usually depicts a scene from the Jarl's saga.





    The contents of the "Bill" are produced in secret by a committee, the lettering being hand painted on the board the day before and finally the Jarl gives his seal of approval by signing the "Bill" that same evening.
    At 6 in the morning of Up Helly Aa Day, the "Bill" is erected at the Market Cross for the public to read and is removed before the procession at night.







   There is a lot of anticipation as to who is going to be featured each year and in general everything is taken in good humor.
   Since 1949, when the festival resumed after the war, much has changed and much has remained the same.  That year the BBC recorded a major radio program on Up Helly Aa, and from that moment Up Helly Aa ....not noted for its split second timing before the war... became a model of efficient organization.  The numbers participating in the festival have become much greater, and the resources required correspondingly larger.






   Whereas in the 19th century, individuals kept an open house to welcome the guizers on Up Helly Aa night, men and women now cooperated to open large halls throughout the town to entertain them.  However, despite the changes, there are numerous threads connecting the Up Helly Aa of today with its predecessors 150 years ago.  The festival takes place the last Tuesday in January every year in Lerwik, Shetland.  Today the festival consists of a series of marches and visitations, culminating in a torch lit procession and Galley (a Viking ship) burning. Then there follows hours of performing acts in dancing halls, throughout the evening and early morning.  The following Wednesday is a public holiday so everyone can recover from the festivities.
    Up Helly Aa is a community event, with countless volunteers contributing many ours each winter towards organizing and planning the following year's festival.
  The Guizer Jarl (Leader of the squad) and his squad begin their preparations in February, and many long hours of hard work go into the design and productions of their outfits.





   The Up Helly Aa Committee begin their year preparing the Up Helly Aa Exhibition that runs from May until September in the Galley Shed.  This boasts a full size Galley, Jarl Squad suits, other Squads memorabilia and an extensive collection of photographs recording the suits worn and the guizers involved.
   In early September the Guizers of the remaining 45 squads begin their squad meetings and preparations.  This involves determining the character or characters that they wish to rotary with their suits, making the suits while also creating and practicing their act to perform in the halls they visit throughout the evening.
   At the end of September the Galley shed is transformed back into a working shed where the Galley and the torches are constructed during the winter.  During this same period the Committee checks the progress of the preparations including the Collecting Sheet and Bill.

DIY INITIAL WREATH!

   This diy comes from www.craftaholicsanonymous.net .  Since Halloween and Christmas are over the front door is starting to look a little bare.  I thought this would go nicely.  The only thing I would do different is to make it just a little bigger.  Good luck!



Initial Wreath

Hey there ::waves hi:: to everyone joining me from Linda’s fab blog, Craftaholics Anonymous, my name is Jen J. I am a long time reader of Linda’s blog and like to do a little crafting of my own here at the World of Dennifer. I have a lot more crafts and DandR projects here on my blog, so while you’re stopping over, please feel free to look through my archives for some of my past projects and follow me (even grab my button if it tickles your fancy ;o) if you’d like to keep up with my future projects. I am so excited to be participating in the Craftaholics Anonymous Reader’s Tutorial Week and I hope you enjoy my wreath tutorial as much as I enjoyed making it…it was inexpensive to make and is so pretty on my door!

Sooo I finally got a chance to sit down and do my DIY spring {but keeping it up for the summer because I love it so much} wreath for our front door. I got my inspiration for my wreath from Kari over at Rocky Bella – I loved her spring initial wreath so much that I decided to make one of my own (with a few personal touches)…Ta da:










I pretty much just followed her directions, so first I headed to Michaels to get the supplies I needed:









A grape vine wreath (14″), a mini birds nest, some speckled faux eggs, a couple cream colored butterflies and a pretty good-sized bag of green moss. You will also need wide ribbon, a wreath hanger, a glue gun and several glue sticks for this project – I already had all of these things on hand, so I didn’t have to buy any of that. Oh and if you want your last initial on the wreath, you will want to grab a wooden letter from Michaels as well – I also had one of these on hand (if you want your letter white, then grab the kind they have that are already painted white – saved me a step)!
Then, I just plugged up my hot glue gun and got to work gluing on clumps of green moss to cover the wreath. You want to make sure you generously cover the wreath, otherwise it’ll look a little bare.








Once the wreath is completely covered with moss to your satisfaction, position your initial letter on your wreath and figure out how you want to mount it on the wreath. I put mine up against my door to make sure that the way the letter was positioned on the wreath looked how I wanted it to. Once you figure out where you want the letter, glue it on to the wreath (use a decent amount of glue so that it holds the letter completely). After that, I just glued the faux speckled eggs into the mini nest & glued the nest on the wreath, and finished it off by sticking the butterflies into the wreath where I wanted them (they had wire backings, so they easily stuck into the wreath).








(sorry – not sure why this pic uploaded sideways, but you get the point, no?)
I hung the wreath on the door with a standard wreath hanger, then tied my ribbon so that it covered the hanger & made a bow in the back (on the other side of the door), so that it stayed put…does that make sense?? And that’s it. Very, very easy wreath, although I got 2 pretty bad glue burns on my left thumb & right ring fingers – OUCH! I got small blisters & everything. ::humph:: :o/ Ah, the things we do for our DIY projects, lol. But I LOVE LOVE LOOOOVE the way it came out – exactly what I needed to dress up my front door for the spring!










Dizz likes sitting at the storm door and people watching during the day; I like keeping the door open b/c it lets natural light into our living room, so it’s a win-win. Anywho, what do you think of my spring wreath?! You likes!? I hope so b/c I loves.
Here is the cost break down:
Grapevine Wreath = $4
Bag ‘O Green Moss = $2.25 (original $4.49, but I used a 50% coupon I had)
Mini Nest = $2
Faux Speckled Eggs = $2
Wired Butterflies = $2
Wreath Hanger; Wide Ribbon; Wooden Initial; Glue Gun and Extra Glue Sticks = FREE (I already had these items on hand)
TOTAL = $12.25