Monday, February 28, 2011

I'm Trying to Make the Perfect Iced Sugar Cookies...

Eighty five days until Ava is ONE YEARS OLD!!!  I'm still working on the iced butterfly sugar cookies.  Let me start by saying, I realize it would be much less expensive and much easier to just purchase fancy decorated iced sugar cookies.  Having said that, I *really* want to have the ability to whip up pretty iced sugar cookies whenever I want.  Someday Ava will say something like this over diner "Mom, I need to bring cookies to school tomorrow for our Christmas party."  When that happens, I will be ready.  They still aren't as perfect as I would like, but I feel like I'm getting closer:)  This is how I made these...

You must read before making cookies:  "Butter Holds the Secret to Cookies That Sing" from The New York Times

Royal Icing "for flooding"
adapted from this recipe

1 cup confectioners sugar
2 TBSP milk
2 TBSP light corn syrup
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp creme bouquet (like this)
food coloring of choice

Mix ingredients, then fill a chocolate squeeze bottle like this with your icing for flooding the cookie.  Flood cookies with icing after the outline has been piped and allow to dry for at least 6 hours before stacking between wax paper.

Royal Icing "for piping"
adapted from this recipe

1 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
2 TBSP milk
2 TBSP light corn syrup
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp creme bouquet (like this)
food coloring of choice

Mix ingredients, then fill piping bag with coupler and no. 3 or 4 tip for piping around outside edge of cookie.  I didn't wait for the piping to dry before I flooded the cookie with the above icing recipe.  After the flooded icing is dry, use this piping icing to decorate on top of the dry icing.

Sugar Cookies
adapted from this recipe

3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup butter (cool to touch, but still quite firm)
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract

Whisk together your flour, salt & baking soda in separate large bowl.  Cut butter into chunks and blend into sugar with pastry blender.  (You do this because the butter is still quite firm and difficult to cream by hand with a spoon).  Butter should be cool to the touch, but still quite firm.  Do not let the butter come to room temperature.  After you have blended in the butter, add eggs and vanilla.  Beat and add to the flour mixture and stir until it forms a dough.  Divide your dough into two flat balls and place in two separate zip lock bags in your refrigerator for at least one hour. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Roll out dough to 1/4" (or 1 cm) thick.  Cut out dough to desired shapes and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  (Be sure to space out enough, or they will stick together when they bake like mine did, oops!)  Refrigerate for 15 minutes.  Remove from refrigerator and bake for 8 - 10 minutes, or until slightly browning around the edge.  Allow cookies to cool completely before you begin to decorate.

Decorating tips:  Trial and error!  Make a batch and start to practice piping.  It helped me to have a cleaner line when I let the icing float from the piping bag about an inch away from the cookie vs. putting the tip directly on the cookie.  Also, I drew the middle of the body in white, then flooded around with purple.  In the end I drew on top of the white again, so I could have just piped the outline only and drew the design on top only once.  After you draw the design on top of the dried color icing, you can smooth it out a little with your finger dipped in a little warm water or with a small brush dipped in warm water.  I copied the design that came with the packaging on my cookie cutters:)
When you flood the cookie with icing, start out in the top corner and work your way down like the picture above (that's not icing, I did that in Photoshop).  You can use a needle to pop any bubbles and a wet finger or brush to smooth it out.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

My System for Cloth Diapers

I'm out of the experimenting phase now with my Fuzzibunz one size fits all diapers.  I ordered an additional 6, so I'm working with a total of 15.  This is just what works for me right now with a 9 month old heavy wetter.  I use both microfiber inserts that come with the Fuzzibunz one size fits all diaper during the day and I use it with a  flushable diaper liner.  I do not wash or keep the flushable liners after they have been used.  I change Ava's diaper about every 3 - 4 hours.  If she soiled the diaper, I just lift it off the diaper holding the liner and flush it.  (It is so nice not to have poopy diapers around the house anymore!!)  I rinse out the diaper in my tub and throw it directly into the washer until it's time to wash a full load.  (I just do this to avoid running an extra rinse cycle before I wash a load of diapers and to avoid smells).  Right now I'm washing a load of diapers every other day and hanging them to dry on my folding clothes rack.  I have a balcony that overlooks the pool, so I'm pretty sure my building would frown on me putting the diapers outside to dry:(  I wash a load with 2 1/2 TBSP of Rockin' Green detergent that is specially formulated for Fuzzibunz diapers.

At night I use two medium size hemp inserts with the smaller microfiber fuzzibunz insert.  I haven't had any accidents since I started doing it this way.  That's it, it's pretty simple and I love using them. 
Cuddly Ava with Zach:)

**update**  I am now using my diaper sprayer to rinse out the diapers.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Baby's First Apple

Baby's First Apple

6 apples
1 cup of water

  • First, wash the apples. 
  • If they are organic or from a local farm which does not use pesticides, leave the skin on. If not, peel the apples.
  • Cut each apple in half and remove seeds and stem (I use a melon baler). 
  • Cut each half into about 5 - 6 pieces. 
  • Place the apples and water in a pot, cover with lid and set heat to high. 
  • Cook for about 10 minutes. (tender, not mushy)
  • Dump apples and water into  your food processor and puree until smooth. 
  • Pour puree mixture into ice trays, cover with plastic wrap and freeze over night. 
  • When frozen, transfer cubes to freezer bags and label with food name and date.
  • To prepare for baby, I microwave 2 cubes at a time for 35 - 40 seconds.

Here are my thoughts on organic vs. not organic.  When I was 4 or 5 years old my parents took my sister and I to visit our grandfather and to meet his newest girlfriend (and that's a whole other story) on her farm where they were living.  Like a real farm that uses machines to milk cows and stuff.  We had never been on a real farm before, so this was very exciting.  They let us roam around the farm on our own.  After all, what kind of mischief could two little girls get into??  We soon discovered a big pile of what we thought had to be football chalk.  You know, the kind used to mark lines on the field?  (Remember, we had never been on a farm before).  It was the only explanation for a big pile of white powder that our 5 & 8 year old minds could come up with.  In our sundresses and jelly shoes (this was in the 80's) we set off to play in the "football chalk".  A few minutes later my sister began to scream and a patch of her skin was *melting* on her leg!!  I lost my beloved jelly shoes in the pile running out.  Turns out, (surprise, surprise) it was not football chalk but some kind of chemical used to dust crops.  My sister touched a wet patch and it caused a chemical burn.  She spent the rest of the summer with a bandage on her leg, but she was fine.  I think about that story a lot while I'm browsing the produce isle.  I don't want to eat food that has been dusted with skin melting "football chalk".  Honestly, I don't always eat organic food, but I try.  Here is my rule of thumb, if it's not organic, I wash it very well and never eat the skin.  If it is organic, eat the skin baby!  I also read this story on a study that came out right before Ava was born.  It links ADHD in children to pesticides found on food.  Yikes!

I may, um, be slightly OCD and use a turkey baster to put smoother puree in the ice trays.  This way there is no mess and no air bubbles.
I started my day off today with a bowl of overnight oats:) 

1/2 cup muesli (I use lite muesli from the bins at whole foods)
1/2 cup greek yogurt (I used 0% fage)
1/2 cup skim milk
1T maple syrup
4 strawberries
sprinkle of granola


Mix everything in a bowl except the granola & strawberries.  Cover with plastic wrap and put in your refrigerator overnight.  In the morning, mix and sprinkle top with granola & strawberries.  Eat and enjoy!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Soap Flakes and DIY Eco Friendly Cleaning Recipes

I deal with a lot of high end furniture in my field.  Certain Danish furniture lines offer a wood finish called "soap finish".  The wood is finished simply by applying a solution of soap flakes & water.  You can read a little more about maintaining soap finished wood here if you are interested.  These "soap flakes" sparked a conversation recently with my friend from Denmark.  She says soap flakes are the only household cleaner she will allow in her home because they are non-toxic and eco-friendly.  This seemed a little eccentric to me at first, but after I had Ava I began to think about cleaning products in a different way.  I imagined her little hands in her mouth covered in toxic chemicals.  I also started to think about where the chemicals go after they are washed down the drain and how this affected things for future generations.
Ivory discontinued "Ivory Soap Flakes" in 1993.  Lucky for us, they are *really* easy to make.  All you have to do is take any 100% pure vegetable soap and grate with your cheese grater.  That's it!  I usually grate a bar or two and store in zip lock bags. 

Soap Flakes Cleaning Instructions:  (great non-toxic cleaner for toys!!)

Mix 1 tbsp soap flakes with 1 quart of hot water.  Let the solution cool before you use it.  Dip a soft cloth in the solution and wipe down the surface you want to clean.  Wait a few minutes, then wipe off any residue with a clean cloth.  The smell is really pleasant compared to other cleaners.  I hate the way a bathroom smells after it has been cleaned with harsh chemicals.

**If you need a stronger cleaner on occasion say for your bathroom, see additional recipies below.

You can safely clean anything in your home with these simple items.  They are all available in your regular grocery store, they are eco friendly and cost next to nothing. 

  • Arm & Hammer Baking Soda (found on the baking isle)
  • Borax (found on the laundry detergent isle)
  • Soap Flakes (see above)
  • Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda (found on the laundry detergent isle)
  • White Vinegar or Lemon Juice

Household Cleaner

1 TBSP soap flakes
2 tsp borax
squeeze of lemon
1 quart of warm water

Dissolve the soap flakes in warm water and add the rest of the ingredients.  You can also add a few drops of essential oil like lavendar.

Window Cleaner

2 tsp vinegar
1 quart of warm water


2 TBSP borax
3 cups water

Soft Scrub for Tub & Tile

1/2 cup baking soda
1 T soap flakes mixed with about 1/4 cup hot water

Leather &  Papercord Seats

2 TBSP soap flakes
1 quart boiled water

Wipe surface gently with a soft cloth or sponge wrung out in the solution after the water is just warm.  Allow the furniture to dry at room temperature so the solution is absorbed into the leather or papercord.  DO NOT drench the leather or papercord with the solution and be sure the surface is moistened evenly to avoid staining as it dries.

Toilet Bowls

1/4 cup baking soda
2 TBSP vinegar

Let sit for 30 minutes, then scrub.  Add borax for stains. 

Liquid Laundry Detergent

1 cup soap flakes
1/2 cup washing soda
1/2 cup 20 Mule Team Borax
2 TBSP glycerin (like this)

Place the soap flakes in a sauce pan.  Add 6 cups water and heat on medium heat until it dissolves.  Add the washing soda, Borax, glycerin and mix until it is dissolved.  Remove from heat.  Pour 4 cups of hot water into a 2 gallon size bucket.  Add the soap mixture you made and stir.  Now add 1 gallon plus 6 cups of water and stir.  Allow mixture to sit for 24 hours and it will gel.  In top loading machines use 1/2 cup of this mixture per load.  In front loading machines use approximately 1 to 2 TBSP.  Follow all manufacturers instructions for ingredients.

Powder Laundry Detergent

1 cup soap flakes (well packed when measured, about 1 bar grated)
1 cup washing soda
1/2 cup 20 Mule Team Borax

Mix all ingredients.  In top loading machines, use 1/2 cup.  In front loading machines use approximately 2 TBSP per load of laundry.  Follow all manufacturers instructions for ingredients.

Fabric Softener

1 cup white vinegar

Add vinegar during the rinse cycle as you would with any fabric softener.  

Liquid / Gel Soap

2 cups of soap flakes
1/2 gallon of water
2 TBSP glycerin (like this)
*optional, a few drops of essential lavendar oil

Mix ingredients together in a large pot over low heat, stirring occasionally until the soap is dissolved.  Store in air tight container or soap pump in your shower/bathroom.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Salmon Cakes

Another successful Ellie Krieger recipe!  Ellie Krieger is responsible for so much of my post baby weight loss.  I also had a little help from exercise TV and daily inspiration from KERF:)  I love salmon, it has so many health benefits.  While I was pregnant my skin started to look like I was going through puberty all over again.  I read somewhere that salmon reduces acne because the omega-3 fatty acid in salmon has anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce break outs. Just be careful because farmed salmon may contain toxins, so be sure you get "wild" salmon.  I keep a large supply of wild Alaska salmon on hand for quick healthy meals from Costco.  I halved Ellie's recipe and only used 2 (6 ounce each) cans of salmon with no bones.  I think picking bones out of meat from a can would totally freak me out;)  I also put a little extra ginger in the sauce because I really like ginger.
Salmon Cakes
adapted from this Ellie Krieger recipe
  • 3 slices whole-wheat bread
  • 2 (6-ounce) cans boneless "wild Alaska" salmon, drained
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 scallions, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped canned water chestnuts
  • 1/8 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
  • Creamy Ginger-Sesame Sauce, recipe follows


Cut off crusts from bread, break into pieces, and process in your food processor until it's a fine bread crumb. In a large bowl, flake apart the salmon with a fork. Add the egg, scallions, water chestnuts, cilantro, pepper, and the bread crumbs and mix well. Shape the mixture into 6 patties and place in the refrigerator or freezer while you make the sauce.  (If the patties are cold, they will stick together better while they cook)

Creamy Ginger-Sesame Sauce:
  • 1/2 cup nonfat Greek-style yogurt (I used 0% Fage)
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise 
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil 
  • 1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce 

Place Greek-style yogurt into a small bowl. Add mayonnaise, ginger, sesame oil, and soy sauce.  Whisk until smooth and place in refrigerator until patties are cooked.

To cook the patties: 

Remove patties from refrigerator or freezer.  In a large nonstick skillet, heat oil over a medium heat. Add 6 patties and cook for 5 minutes on each side.

Chop another scallion and serve salmon cakes with your sauce garnished with scallion.  

Yesterday I had a meeting canceled last minute with an architectural firm, so I took Ava to Ikea for a wagon I've been needing wanting to get for her.  They have the best baby stuff!  I also picked up some vinyl bibs, which were only $2.99 for a pack of two!  Ava gets more food on herself lately than in her mouth, and vinyl bibs are so easy to clean.

She isn't *quite* ready to cruise around alone yet.  I have to keep an eye and hand nearby for now.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Middle Eastern - inspired meal

Trader Joe's (home of the three buck chuck) is one of my favorite grocery stores.  It is so simple and unpretentious, it's great.  Also, I've never spent more than $45 there, and I aways come home with enough food to eat for a week.  Just watch out for the fat content in some of their froozen meals.  Trader Joe's puts out a fun little flyer that tells a story about new items and occasionally it includes recipes.  That's where I got the idea for this Middle Eastern inspired meal.  It caught my eye because I needed to use up some feta cheese and I had just purchased Trader Joes' organic garbanzo beans for $1.19.  Great price!  It also looked very easy to make and after a day of chasing Ava around, I was worn out.  She is into everything!!  Next time I'm going to add some olives to this to make it a little more interesting.  Mmmm...  So simple, easy and inexpensive.  Another meatless Monday.  Shhh... don't tell Zach!!

Middle Eastern - inspired meal
inspired by Trader Joe's flyer

1/2 pack of thin spaghetti (I have a lifetime supply from Costco)
1 15 oz can of garbanzo beans (drained and rinsed)
A drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
Sprinkle of oregano (I think I put about 1 Tablespoon or so)

Cook pasta according to directions.  Drain and place in a large bowl with a drizzle of good olive oil.  Drain and rinse garbanzo beans and add to pasta.  Sprinkle with oregano, feta cheese & mix.  Eat & enjoy:)  That's it!

We had to move the crib mattress all the way down to the bottom setting.  A certain little baby can now pull herself up when she wakes up.  I wonder how long before she figures out how to crawl out of the crib!!
I got a fun little moving card in the mail yesterday from my BFF in NOLA that I designed for her.  I drew the city in CAD, then imported it into Photoshop to design the rest.  How fun, maybe I'll dabble in graphic design a bit, then go to pastry school!  Just kidding;)  Kind of.  How fun is the blur tool so you can't see her info!  Hehe..
Another fun thing I've discovered is pinterest.  I read about it on styleberry, such a fun blog!  Pinterest is like a virtual pinboard — a place where you can post collections of things you love, and "follow" collections created by people with great taste.  Amazing for visual people to use and see everything together on one organized screen.  It's great for me to organize images for interior projects I'm working on.  I'm always creating little folders with images I see for clients online.  Best part, if you click on an image from your boards on Pinterest, it takes you back to the website where you found it.  Here is a look at my boards right now.  If you click on the image below it will open larger.  You have to get an invite to join, so message me if you want an invitation.

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