Basic Spritz Cookies Recipe, Infinite Fun

Basic Spritz Cookies Recipe, Infinite Fun

Spritz Discs Heart, Tree, Flower, Bar

Spritz are one of those timeless recipes that you can be assured someone in the neighborhood makes every Christmas. Light, buttery, just a hint of almond with a soft crunch, these are both my husband and dad’s favorites.

Of course, there is one barrier to entry, you have to own a cookie press.

Spritz Discs: Star, Pumpkin, Wreath, Flower, Ornament

There’s really no way around it. Without a cookie press, spritz cookies are boring lumps. There was a year when our press broke and my mom tried to use cookie stamps, but it really wasn’t the same.

So, is it worth the investment? Another kitchen tool that is single purpose? I think so, if you meet three qualifications:

  1. You or someone you love LOVES spritz cookies
  2. You’re willing to get creative
  3. You have room

Okay, if you qualify for 1 & 2, you’ll probably make room.

The best part about spritz cookies is the all the discs that come with it. I like to add food coloring to the dough, and even mix colors for a textured effect. Also, one batch of dough can make ~6 dozen cookies. SIX DOZEN! Which is a great way to make bulk treats.

The Spritz Cookie recipe is pretty basic, and hasn’t varied much over the years. In poorer times we substituted margarine for butter, and even omitted the almond extract when we didn’t have any. Obviously butter is better, but austere times… Some people don’t even like the almond extract (can you imagine?!?!), so it’s optional but everyone here loves it!

Also, do not chill the dough. I repeat, DO NOT CHILL THE DOUGH. If you do decide to save the dough for another day, cover in plastic and keep in the refrigerator for up to one week. Allow to come to room temperature before using. If you don’t, you WILL break your cookie press.

Spritz Discs: Bits & Bops

Basic Spritz Cookies Recipe

Makes 72 cookies

ingredients

  • 1½ cups Butter, softened
  • 1 cup Sugar
  • 1 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 tsp Vanilla
  • ¼ tsp Almond Extract (optional)
  • 3 ½ cups Flour
  • Food coloring, sprinkles & toppings (optional)

instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°
  2. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter on high speed for 30 seconds.
  3. Add the sugar and baking powder, and beat until combined, scraping the sides if necessary.
  4. Add the egg, vanilla, and almond extract (if desired), beating until combined.
  5. Beat in as much of the flour as you can. Stir in any remaining flour.
    **** This is where you can divide the dough and add color, if desired ****
  6. Force unchilled dough through a cookie press onto an ungreased cookie sheet, ideally lined with a silpat.
  7. Bake for 8 – 10 min or until lightly golden at the edges.

 

Valentine's Day Spritz Cookies

Very Hungry Caterpillar Spritz Cookies

Fall Leaf Spritz Cookies

Pumpkin Spritz Cookies

Christmas Spritz Cookies

Quiet Books for (Mommy) Groups: How to Organize

Quiet Books for (Mommy) Groups: How to Organize

Quiet Book Pages
Quiet Books are all the rage right now, and there’s no question why. They are great entertainment for your young one, there are endless possibilities for content, and they are a fun way to squeeze your creative juices.

There’s just one catch. They take a lot of time to make.

No really. A LOT of time.

You can absolutely buy individual pages or full books on Etsy, Amazon, or elsewhere, but there is actually a great compromise: employing people like yourself (a.k.a., mothers, fathers, crafters).

If you’re not a part of a mommy or parenting group, I highly recommend it, it’s been an amazing support network as a new mom. Everything from commiseration to classifieds, the resources are unparalleled.

And as for a Quiet Book, this is a great group activity and makes compiling a book significantly easier. I am going to refer to participants as ‘mommys’ but you could easily do this with dads, grandparents, friends, or just your local craft group.

Here are instructions for how to build a Quiet Book with a team of mothers or other groups:

The Great Quiet Book Exchange

Quiet Books for Mommy Groups

  1. Send an email to your group(s) feeling out interest in joining. Outline the parameters of the project. Here is some sample text, change the bits in green:

    Hi Friends, I need your help!


    I just learned about Quiet Books, and would LOVE to make one for my little one! Short summary: a Quiet Book is a hand-made felt book with different activities on each page for your baby to play with (quietly!).
    Here are some examples.

    Instead of making a whole Quiet Book on my own (which would take a LOT of creativity and time and resources), I thought we could get together with other moms who are interested,b and do this as a group activity? We each make multiple copies of one page (one for each of the moms). Then we get together and exchange pages! So everyone makes a page for all the other moms, so you end up with a book with many different pages.
     

    Let me know if you would be interested in participating, and then we can decide next steps! Even if you aren’t terribly crafty, there are lots of ways you can create pages without specialized tools or skills.

    Let me know by (date). We can be flexible on the deadline around everyone’s schedule. I think 2 – 3 months could work. Let me know if you’re interested and would like more information! 

  2. Create a signup chart, Google Sheets worked very well for us.
    You’ll need this for the next step, and live editing (rather than rounds of emails) is a great way to share responses. Here’s an example.
  3. Once you get a decent number of responses, send a new email with specific details to those interested
    Or use some other group chat/system (Facebook Groups, sub-group of BigTent, mailing list, pick your poison). Here is some more sample text:

    I am thrilled that there are so many people (number!) are interested in participating. Here’s a bit more information, and then we’ll need to confirm commitment.

    1. Please read this blogpost (if you haven’t already)
    It has a lot of background information and to get a better sense of what you’re signing up for.

    2. Consider the time commitment
    I can’t quantify exactly how many hours, but hopefully the blog post can give you an idea, and you know your own skill level.

    We can be flexible on the deadline around everyone’s schedule. I think 2 – 3 months could work. In the interim, it could be fun to work on our Quiet Books together. Maybe 1 – 2 sessions where we bring our supplies to one person’s home and share glue guns and sewing machines? Maybe a couple glasses of wine or some cookies? We’ll pick some dates once everyone is committed 🙂

    3. Consider the financial obligation
    Each participant will make 12 identical pages to exchange. This will likely cost between $20-$50 depending on your page, your resourcefulness, and what you already have. You are responsible for paying for all of your own materials to make your 12 pages. Also, it might be good if we each threw $2-$5 in so that we can get some small communal things like the rings to bind the whole book together, and a big puncher (like this one) and grommets/eyelets, unless someone already has one?

    4. Think about your page
    You don’t have to be a master seamstress, or an artist to be able to create these pages. There are many with iron-on adhesives or simpler construction. Remember, we obviously want to be thoughtful about our baby’s safety, so nothing they can pull off and accidentally eat, but there are plenty of options for people that feel craft-challenged. Here are some ideas.

    5. Feel out this Google Doc and confirm your commitment by (date)
    If you’re still interested, this is the next step to make sure you’re included in this project.

    After the (deadline), I’ll send around more details around the logistics of making the pages. Feel free to invite your friends, just send them the Google Doc link and have them sign up directly by (date).

    Please let me know if you have any questions, and thanks!

  4. Decide on a Deadline
    Once you have your merry band of misfits, you’ll need to agree on a deadline. Don’t worry, you will likely push it out at least once, but best to get started heading towards the same goal. We use doodle.com to create a scheduling poll.We suggested dates 2-3 months out and settled on a 3-month deadline. At 2.5 months, we pushed it to 4 months. At 3.5 months, we pushed it to 5 months, and were firm. Commit or dropout (a couple did dropout). This is when we added the Updated Commitment field in the Google Doc.
  5. Decide on the specs
    We opted for a 9″ x 9″ page made of thick/stiff felt, but it doesn’t really matter, as long as everyone agrees. We had one mommy accidentally make all her pages on 9″ x 12″, and let’s just say…it was no fun remaking those pages. You’ll need to decide on:
    – size
    – base fabric
    – age target (baby safe)
  6. Optional: have a couple of in-person get-togethers to work on your pages
    We had two meetups to work together, and it was really lovely. In all fairness, there was more laughter and wine than progress, but it was really nice to put faces to names, and build comradery with the project. Some of us still are in touch and share stories together.It’s best to have it at someone’s home, especially someone with space. And everyone should come with a plan for their own page. This isn’t a great time/place to brainstorm or shop. Rather, come with all your supplies and cut, or sew, or glue buttons.Rather than sending out a doodle to find the best time, we simply had a couple people volunteer and set up times that worked for their schedule, and whomever could make it, great. Otherwise, there’s simply too many schedules to coordinate.
  7. Meet to swap
    This is the best part. Seeing all the beautiful finished projects. We started with 24 moms. In the end 14 mamas each made 12 pages. It also happened to be the day before Mother’s Day, making it extra special. Since all of our babies were born the previous year, this was our first Mother’s Day.We met at one mom’s house, we all brought potluck lunch items and mimosas, and we exchanged pages and had a “Binding Party.” Some moms had some final finishing touches to do, and were bustling to finish up until the deadline.We also had purchased, as a group, a punch, eyelets, and book rings to “bind” our books. So while we were socializing we were also compiling the books. It was a very special afternoon, and I am glad we gave each other a couple hours together, rather than just a quick swap.

 

A couple of notes as the organizer:

  • We had 24 moms initially interested, and only 14 complete the project. We initially thought we would divide the group into two, but as people dropped out, we were glad we were one group. You’ll want to adjust your number of pages according to the number of participants, but a good signup:completion ratio is about half.
  • We each made 12 pages, and since there were 14 people, everyone had 12 different pages, but there were two we didn’t get (each). The easiest way to do this is to have everyone sit in a circle, holding all 12 of their original pages. Everyone takes one from the top of their own pile, then passes the entire stack to the right (or left).
  • It is OK to extend the deadline. We did. Twice. We did one, last recommitment 2 weeks out, and lost 3 more moms. It happens. Don’t beat yourself or anyone else up over it.
  • Most moms didn’t think about a book cover through the process, but one mom did and she, by far, had the cutest final product. Perhaps around halfway through you could encourage participants to start thinking about Quiet Book Cover ideas.
  • Send lots of reminders! New mommys in particular are a hard group to pin down, but the reminders help.
  • Don’t try to send too much information all at once.

 

Quiet Book Pages Grid

Pão de Queijo: Brazilian Cheese Bread

Pão de Queijo: Brazilian Cheese Bread

Pão de Queijo: Brazilian Cheese Bread

Pão de Queijo, or Brazilian Cheese Bread for you North Americans, is AMAZING, and with the Olympics in Rio, what better time to enjoy the chewy, cheesy goodness?

The first time I had these I was at a brunch among friends. One person brought them upon request because it was another friend’s favorite food. I embarrassingly ate at least 4 of them, they are so yummy.

I have tried a couple of recipes. Some call for blending/food precessing the ingredients (SimplyRecipes) instead of using a stove top. Others call for cheddar (Food52), feta or any kind of cheese. Some encourage using muffin tins for baking (gawd I hate washing those). This one seems to be the most authentic, but what would I know? I have only ever had them at brunch. Either way, feel free to mix it up a bit.

Pão de Queijo

Makes 10 – 12 biscuits. Based on the recipe from Wikipedia

ingredients

  • ½ cup Oil (your choice; olive, vegetable, butter)
  • ⅓ cup Water
  • ⅓ cup Milk
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 2 cups Tapioca Flour
  • 2 cloves Garlic, minced
  • ⅔ cup Parmesan Cheese, freshly grated (it seems you could do cheddar or feta instead, either way it should be fresh)
  • 2 Eggs, beaten

 

instructions

  1. Combine oil, water, milk and salt in a large saucepan and place over medium heat.
  2. As soon as the mixture comes to a boil, remove from heat and immediately stir in tapioca flour and garlic. You may have to be aggressive with your stirring, the tapioca can be a bit stiff.
    Add tapioca and garlic
  3. Set mixture aside to rest for 10 – 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 375°
  4. After the mixture has cooled, add the Parmesan and eggs. Stir until well combined, though it will still be a bit chunky.
    Add cheese and egg
  5. Using well-greased hands or a greased measuring cup, drop rounded ¼ cup balls onto an ungreased baking sheet. I like to use a silpat. The smoother the balls, the smoother the buns, but either are fine.
    Scoop dough onto baking sheet
  6. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes, until lightly browned.
    Baked cheese bread

Best served warm.

Brazilian Cheese Bread #Olympics #Recipes #Rio2016 🇧🇷

A photo posted by Belén Torres-Gil (@lemontinely) on Aug 5, 2016 at 2:35pm PDT

Well Dressed Apple Dumplings

Well Dressed Apple Dumplings

Well Dresses Apple Dumpling

When I was teaching English in Japan, I could occasionally be found teaching western cooking classes in the evenings. Ok, not occasionally. Often. Really often.

loved teaching cooking. I would spend hours reading cookbooks, refining recipes and trying to recreate foods I’d tried. Then, I would do the best I could to share that knowledge with others. Most of the time it was two dozen or so Japanese adults, myself and a translator, and we would come together in a community center or high school home ec room. I would share recipes that I grew up with, hodgepodging ingredients together from makeshift variations you could acquire in Japan. The students spoke varying levels of English, some nearing fluency, while others were just beginning. But more important than learning language was the cultural exchange and community building.

The basic principles of the recipe are quite straightforward: take a peeled, cored apple; fill with deliciousness; wrap in dough; bake. That’s it. A recipe is almost unnecessary.

Teaching Apple Dumplings to those students in Japan is one of my fondest memories.

When you are learning a language, you often have to leverage the words you know to communicate meaning in unusual ways. I find that some of the most exceptional poetry and writings come from language resourcefulness rather than verbosity. Once I wanted to buy a whole cake, and I didn’t know the word ‘whole’ or ‘slice’ so I said a, “I’d like an uncut cake.” It took the baker a minute to understand me, but in the end, we worked it out.

In my apple dumping class, one student had the outer crust fall off the apple while it was baking. She was comically distressed, struggling to find the words to tell what had happened, and so she cried across the classroom, “Apple…apple…apple is UNDRESSED!”

Immediately she started blushing and we all enjoyed a good belly laugh. It’s the little things…

One of the things I love about this recipe is how customizable it is . You can add raisins (my hubby likes this), or walnuts (for me). You can cut the sugar (for kids), make the crust thinner (my sister) or thicker (my mom). Use more or less butter (said no one ever). Serve with cream, or ice cream, or just with a fork. It’s easy enough for a weeknight dessert, or special enough for a weekend brunch. I hope you enjoy it.

Apple Dumplings

Makes 4 servings. Recipe inspired by the tiny cookbook Recipes from the Pennsylvania Dutch Country (no link)

pie crust ingredients 

  • 2 cups Flour
  • ½ tsp Salt
  • ⅔ cup Shortening, or Butter, or a combination
  • 6 tbsp Ice-Cold Water, plus more as needed

dumpling ingredients 

  • 4 small, tart Apples (such as Granny Smith), peeled and cored
  • ¾ cup Brown Sugar
  • ½ tsp Salt
  • 1 tsp Cinnamon
  • 1 tsp Nutmeg
  • ½ cup Raisins (optional), preferably golden
  • ½ cup Walnuts (optional), chopped
  • 4 tbsp Butter, divided into 1 tbsp slices

instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°
  2. Prepare the pie crust.
    • Mix the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl.
    • Cut in the shortening or butter with your fingers, two knives, or a pastry cutter until the pieces are the size of small peas. Do not over mix.
      Cut the Butter In
    • Sprinkle 6 tablespoons of water over the mixture, and gently mix until all of the flour is moistened and can combine into a single ball. Do not over mix.
      Dough
    • Divide the dough into four balls. Refrigerate 15 minutes.
  3. Roll each ball into a large square, about ¼” thick.
  4. In a mixing bowl, combine the sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg. Gently roll each peeled, cored apple in the spice mixture, and save the remaining mixture.
    Roll apple in spice mixture
  5. Place one apple into the center of each square.
  6. If you are using nuts or raisins, add them to the mixture now.
  7. Fill each apple core with a portion of the mixture.
  8. Place one tablespoon on top of each apple.
    Add a dollop of butter
  9. Bring the corners of the dough to the top of the apple and seal by pricking with a fork 3-4 times. This is the part where, if you don’t seal well, your apple will undress in the oven. I like to mark what is on the inside with a couple of pieces on the outside. For example, I hate raisins, and there is nothing worse than a raisin surprise. So, I put a couple raisins on the top of the dough so that I know which apples have raisins in them.
    Mark your dough
  10. Bake for 30 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes.
  11. Serve warm with cream. Or milk. Or ice cream.

Apple Dumplings

 

Baby Bear Zucchini Bread

Baby Bear Zucchini Bread

Sliced Zucchini Bread

I am constantly trying to find healthy, delicious foods to feed my toddler. He’s not a picky eater. Sure, he loves a good purée pack as much as the next kid, but he’d really rather have whatever I am eating; paella, BBQ chicken, arroz con pollo. You name it, he is interested in my food.

So I often find myself making a large meal on Sundays for him to consume all week; roast chicken, fideo, meatloaf and mashed potatoes. I try to keep the salt, sugar and fat to a minimum, but don’t hesitate with spices. I try to stuff veggies into everything because he loves meat and bread and I worry he’s not getting enough vitamins.

As such, I spent some time trying to find bread recipes that aren’t too loaded with sugar or oil, taste good, are easy to make, and have some nutrition.

Enter Zucchini Bread.

This recipe is adapted from Simply Recipes, includes tons of zucchini, but I’ve cut back on the oils and sugars. Even with these compromises it is still delicious. I’ve tried various combinations of cuts, and this is the best balance of moist sweetness and fluffiness.

This post contains photos from two different bakes, one with a large grate, and one small. You can use either, I prefer a large grate.

 

Baby Bear Zucchini Bread

Makes two loaves. Recipe inspired by Simply Recipes

ingredients

  • 2 tsps Butter, for greasing the pans
  • 1 tbsp ground Cinnamon, for flouring the pans
  • 3-4 cups Zucchini, grated
  • 1 ½ cups Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1 ½ cups All Purpose Flour
  • 2 tsp Baking Soda
  • 2 tsp ground Cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground Ginger
  • ¼ tsp ground Nutmeg, freshly grated if you can
  • ¾ cup Sugar
  • 2 Eggs, beaten
  • 2 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • ½ tsp Salt
  • ¾ cup Applesauce

instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter two 9″ x 5″ loaf pans. Add the entire tbsp of cinnamon to one pan, shake around to coat, then pour excess into second pan and shake to coat.
  2. Place the grated zucchini in a sieve or colander over a bowl to drain excess moisture. Or place between several paper towels and gently squeeze.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, two tsp cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.
    Whisk Dry Ingredients
  4. In another large bowl, whisk together sugar, eggs, vanilla and salt. Stir in the drained zucchini and applesauce.
    Wet Ingredients
  5. Add the flour mixture to the zucchini mixture in batches, stirring after each addition.
    Combined Ingredients Large Grate
  6. Divide the batter equally into the two loaf pans. Bake for 50 minutes until a test comes out clean. Cool in pans for at least 10 minutes.
    Zucchini Bread Loaf

Serve sliced bread warm with room temperature butter to adults.

Serve bread cubes to toddlers a couple at a time. If your kids are like mine, they will shove all the cubes in their mouth at once.

Slice Zucchini Bread Large Grate

College Advice to My Sister – Life Advice to Me

College Advice to My Sister – Life Advice to Me

Sometimes advice is a tough pill to swallow, even when it’s your own. It’s easy to assess what someone else should do in any given situation, but when faced with your own adversity you are suddenly paralyzed with the indecision of your own reality.

Kid Sister's High School Graduation

The chaos and pride of a high school graduation.

When my youngest sister went off to college my mom asked each of my siblings and me to record some advice for my sister to put into a scrapbook as a going away gift. This seemed a fairly innocuous ask, but as hours turned into days, and days turned into weeks I found myself collecting learnings as I walked to work, as I cooked dinner, as I planned my wedding. The list kept building, and more importantly, evolving.

As I read it now, three years later, sure there are things I would add, change, and prioritize, but more importantly I realize this list might actually be advice for myself based on where I was in my own life…a time capsule of reminders I needed and still continue to to need.

 

Advice to My Sister, Upon Going Off to College

(but really advice to myself)

UCLA NOT Harvard

The Harvard sign at UCLA when Legally Blonde was being shot on the UCLA campus.

 

  • No matter how great or terrible life is at any given moment, life goes on. If you’re scared, know it won’t last. If you are overjoyed, that won’t last either. Try to take a moment to pause and capture the highs, and power through the lows. Tomorrow will come, and all emotions will evolve.
  • You can get by on charm for about 15 minutes, after that you better know something (I didn’t write/come up with this). You were a big fish in a small pond, now you’re a regular fish in a lake. It is going to take significantly more to stand out, and being cute doesn’t cut it. Also, college is only a lake, once you graduate you’ll move to the ocean.
  • You are the ambassador of your own brand. Everyday, whether you like it or not, the world is forming its opinion of you. Each action, inaction, interaction and publication you have influences who you are and your future opportunities. Decide what you want your brand to be and act accordingly.
  • Always have questions and never be afraid to ask questions. Ever. Questions show you are paying attention. Questions are remembered. Questions only help you. The Hermoines run the world.
  • Say “Yes” as often as you can. Last minute roadtrip? Yes! Can I sit next to you at lunch? Yes! Date on a school night? Yes? Will you be my lab partner? Yes! Help someone with homework? Yes! Want to join my club? Yes! There is an art to saying, “No,” but you have to learn to say, “Yes” first.
  • I always say, “I’d rather regret the things I have done, than the things I haven’t done.” This is so important. Regret is one of the worst human emotions.
  • Know what you want. G.I.Joe says, “Knowing is half the battle,” and it really is. Don’t know what you want? That’s okay for now, but it won’t be forever. Sometimes the best way to know what you want is to think backwards. What story do you want to tell 10 years from now? Do you want to talk about how you backpacked across Europe? Or how you interned at the White House? Or how you saved a sub-species of frog in South Africa? Those stories are happening right now. Start writing that story.
  • Choose your life. If you don’t like it, only you can change it, and you have that power every minute of every day. People always think that success is one sweeping choice, but really it’s billions of micro-choices. Both happiness and success are active activities. Don’t wait for them to come to you.
  • Wear shower shoes. Athletes foot is no joke. This actually goes for all kinds of protection…sunscreen, cell phone cases, umbrellas, condoms.
  • Pack towels.
  • Go home only when you need to. And you will need to. But try, as hard as you can, to stick it out through tough times. You never know who you might meet, or who might help you along the way. This goes for the Aunts & Uncles as well.
  • Dress up for your finals. Everyone else will be in yoga pants and hats. When you dress for success, you feel more successful. Perception is reality.
  • Exercise. Your body is meant to be moved. I didn’t exercise enough in college and it’s now a chore. The habits you start in university will plague you throughout your life and exercise is a major one. It’s a stress relief, a natural producer of endorphins, and no one has ever said, “Man, I wish these stairs were harder to climb.”
  • Call your mother. Tell mom you’re okay from time to time. She worries.
  • Harass your professors, they like it.
  • Be young. You’re going to make mistakes. It’s ok. Half of the college experience is unburying yourself from sticky situations. You are really smart, have all the right tools, and a very large support network.
  • Remove the word “like” from your vocabulary.
  • Learn how to footnote. Plagiarism can happen to anyone.
Me and kid sister at my college graduation

Same kid sister at my college graduation. My high school graduation was before digital photography 😬