Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Favorite Christmas Cookies 2018

This year marked another one for my annual "Great Christmas Cookie Bake Off".

I figured that between all the packages of cookies that I send to family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers, I bake between 300-500 cookies over a 2-3 week period. I prep all of my cookie dough in November, by saving each batch of dough in a gallon Ziplock bag and freezing it. When I'm ready to bake, I just pull whatever bag(s) I want out of the freezer and let it defrost in the refrigerator at least overnight.

YUM!
For shipping, I bake all the cookies I want to send on a Sunday and ship them 2-day UPS on Monday. That way, recipients will get their cookies as fresh as possible without it making me broke. :-) I usually bake and ship-out over a 2-week period, as it's a lot of work, but I do enjoy it.

Over the years, I've learned to become selective of who I ship cookies to. I used to send out a lot more, but for some people Christmas cookies are not something they want or need, so I take the hint and focus on sending them to people who do.

Anywho, I have two keeper recipes to share this year! I usually try at least one new recipe and it either "makes the list" or not.

Santa's Helpers
Recipe Source: Sherry from the Cooking Forum

*These cookies are to die for! I've had this recipe for years and years, but never got around to trying them...OMG!

Cookie:
1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
Add 1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla Beat until smooth

Add:
2 cup flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp salt Beat until smooth

Topping:
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Stir until smooth and then add:
1 cup chopped walnuts (I used pecans)

Divide dough into quarters. Form each quarter into 6 balls. Place 2" apart on ungreased cookie sheet. With finger, make a wide deep depression in each cookie, clear to the edge. Fill with topping. Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes, (or in a convection oven, about 9 minutes) 

If you undercook these, the filling is so heavy that it will break through when you pick them up, so I make them crunchy. You could also not make the depression in them as deep and there would be more dough to suport the filling so that it did not break through. Also, if I make a huge depression in them, I sometimes make half again as much filling so I don't run out.

Makes 24 cookies

Santa's Helpers

Chinese Almond Cookies
Recipe Source: I can't remember

*I've been making these for the past 2-3 years and they are probably my #1 favorite cookie!

1 1/3 cups of almond flour, lightly packed
1 cup of unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
Pinch of kosher salt
2 eggs (1 for use in the dough, another for later)
1 teaspoon of almond extract
1 3/4 cups of flour
1 cup + 2 tablespoons of sugar
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
Slivered almonds

Place the almond flour, salt, and butter into an electric beater with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for three minutes. The mixture will become course and chunky looking. Add one of the eggs, reserving the other for later, and the almond extract. Mix on low speed until just incorporated.

Sift together the flour, sugar, and baking soda then add to the butter mixture at low speed. Mix until just combined. Take the dough and flatten it into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Place it in the refrigerator for two hours to chill.

Preheat the oven to 325F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the other egg into a bowl and beat it. Take pieces of dough and roll them into balls about a half-inch wide. Place them on the sheet about and inch apart and then press them down slightly with your palm to make a coin shape.

Place a slivered almond onto each cookie and lightly press it into place, then paint the surface of the cookie with some of the beaten egg using a pastry brush or your finger (this will give the cookie a lacquered appearance once it bakes). Bake for 13-15 minutes or until the edges just being to tan. Cool on the sheet on a wire rack.

Makes 5 dozen.

Chinese Almond Cookies


Monday, December 17, 2018

Gratuitous Kitteh Monday

I spy with my my little eye....a furry guy with my Christmas bows to untie.

Le sigh...

Friday, December 07, 2018

Soapy Friday: Packaging Concepts - First Revision

So, last Friday night I met with my graphic designer to go over the first packaging concept designs for my soap boxes and other labeling. I could NOT be more thrilled!...

I loved something from all of these!
 I love that she provides 5 mock-up concepts and we go from there. There will be 2-3 more revision cycles from this (I believe) until we narrow it down to the perfect design. I'm liking a little bit of all the boxes, so we'll pull that all in to design the one we want as a final concept.

So much fun!
Once that is done, then we decide how we want these to be printed. Glossy? Flat? Embossed? Foil?

I can't wait!

LOVE!!!

Monday, December 03, 2018

Gratuitous Kitteh Monday

Miss Thang looks adorable snuggling up to her Yeowww! Banana...I've had these things for a few years and they love them. They're filled with catnip and the two I originally purchased have been used and abused intensely. Mostly, they just sit there and lick them over-and-over-and-over. There's a few bunny kicks thrown in for enthusiasm.

They have thousands of 5-star reviews on Amazon, and they're worth it! I'm going to order 2 more for Christmas. :-)

A Thang and Her Banana

Friday, November 30, 2018

Soapy Friday: Building a Brand


Where have I been?

Oh, you know, the usual…but mostly I’ve been in a holding pattern, and I’ve only made ONE BATCH OF SOAP SINCE OCTOBER 19TH!!!! It’s the longest I’ve gone not making soap since we moved and since I started on this journey.

I’ve been slowly, oh so slowly, working on building a brand. For the past year, I’ve applied and gone through the trademark publishing process. I’ve hired two graphic artists and fired one. The second one is a true soulmate and can visualize where I want to go.

So far, we have developed my logo and my brand-style, which has a modern, inclusive, pop-art sassiness…


Super Sassy Pop-Art!

And we came up with this...



Next, we are now working on packaging design. I’m in a “chicken-or-the-egg” situation, where I don’t know if I should design the soap to fit a box or design a box to fit my soap. I DO know I want some sort of open pane on my soap boxes for smelling, but I don’t think I want it where it is in this sample. 

Soap Box Template #1

I don't this window pane will work...stuff will fall out

I like it on this soap
I’m meeting with my graphic artist this afternoon to look at her first batch of packaging concepts and we will go from there…I'm so excited to see what she has come-up with!

In the meantime, I’m working on formulating solid shampoo bars. This is my first one and IT WORKS and IT’S pH BALANCED! I have a loooooong way to go though….down the rabbit hole I go.

First solid shampoo bar...it works, but needs tweaking!

Monday, October 22, 2018

Gratuitous Kitteh Monday

We officially went from summer to winter seemingly overnight. The temps last week were in the 80's and 70's and now we are in the 30's at night with 50's and 40's in the daytime. The leaves are barely starting to change and normally they are at their peak by the week of October.

Stinkeye!
The kittehs OTOH are taking advantage of the shift in sunlight and a knitted blanket I have on my office chair. Miss Thang is giving me the stinkeye and Chaz will probably start annoying her any minute in order to get her to jump out of the chair. That way, he can have it all to himself. They both "fight" over it...it's been funny to watch.

This year has been so strange weather wise in Virginia. I'm sort of glad I did not have a vegetable garden, as I've heard that all the rain made local gardening a bear. Split tomatoes, blight, fungus, and weeds, weeds, weeds. It would have been a hot, muddy, mess for sure. Although I miss having a garden, it HAS been nice to have the extra time and energy to do fun things again. We're going to have trick-or-treaters...big difference from living in the country for 6 years!

Missing, but NOT missing my old veggie garden!

Friday, October 19, 2018

Soapy Friday - "Coco Loco"

Happy soapy Friday everyone! This bar of soap looks pretty ordinary, doesn't it? But NAY...it is not!

"Coco Loco" - Crazy Luxury Soap!
I present to you "Coco Loco" - made with coconut oil, cocoa butter, and coconut milk, it will make your skin feel loco soft and smooth! It's scented with an exotic, coconut-fruit fragrance blend that will make you think that you are gently swinging in a hammock between two palm trees on the beach.

It has only 6 ingredients TOTAL...no colorants, nothing extra, just crazy, creamy good stuff for your skin!

I made this soap 3 weeks ago and I can't wait to try it; it even FEELS creamy in my hand. Hope this is what I've been hoping...a super creamy, luxury bar of soap.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Soapy Friday: Rethinking Laundry Soap

Whooo...I've been busier than a one-legged paper hanger lately! My laundry cream got me thinking...although it worked fine and it was wonderful, it WAS a cream that required distilled water to make. And water means you need to use a preservative, which I wanted to avoid.

Laundry Soap Powder
So, I reformulated it back into a good-ol'-fashioned soap powder. It works just a well, it requires less ingredients (which equals less $$ to make) AND it's cheaper to package. I'm thinking ahead here, and I think there is a want and need for a more natural laundry product.

So, there's that. Also, I've been testing fragrance oils like cray around here. I'm having a love affair with Nuture Soaps and this might very well be my numero uno fragrance oil company for the future.

Testing Fragrance Oils in Cold Processed Soap

PLUS, they sent me the most awesome Ryan...I mean LOOK AT IT! They even friggin' laminated it!


"Hey Girl..."
Lastly, I sold some of my very first bars of soap last weekend! Hubby and I finally got around to having a garage sale and I decided to put out a display for my soap, body butter, and laundry soap. I friggin' sold $150 worth of my stuff ALONE! I so wish I had gotten a pic of my setup...but I was too busy and distracted. Sigh.

Anywho, things are really looking up...I'm hoping to debut my logo & business cards soon! Have a great weekend everyone!

Friday, September 21, 2018

Soapy Friday: Halloween Soaps

I've been having such a blast over the past couple of weeks making my Classic Monsters Halloween soaps...



Friday, September 07, 2018

Soapy Friday: The Vanilla Villain

Happy Friday everyone! Why is it that short, holiday weeks always feel the longest? I swear...this week went on FOR-EVER! But first, some beautiful "Toasted Vanilla" soap:

"Toasted Vanilla" 
I was out-of-town last week for work, but I did manage to make a loaf of vanilla-only scented soap when I got back. I usually blend vanilla with other fragrances, but I just bought a big bottle of "Vanilla Bean" fragrance oil (FO) and wanted to see how it stood on it's very own.

Most people have been taught to believe that vanilla - whether scent or flavor - is white or off-white. But it is NOT; it really is a dark brown in its natural state. The fragrance compound "vanillin" within vanilla scents or flavors oxidizes and eventually turns brown when it is exposed to air. Vanilla scents or flavors are typically blended with what is called "vanillin stabilizers" to keep a product from turning brown. The problem is, at least in the skin-care world, this only lasts for a few months, maybe up to a year.

When I initially made this soap, it was a creamy, off-white color - exactly what you would THINK a vanilla color should look like - but as the vanillian oxidizes with the air, my soap is slowly turning a dark brown. Eventually, each bar will turn completely dark brown throughout.

The vanillin villain going to town!
My philosophy is: Don't fight it. I think it looks like gilded chocolate cake, and IT SMELLS SO FRIGGIN' GOOD!

Good enough to eat!

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Soapy Friday: 2018 Fall Soaps

The thing about making high-quality, artisan, cold-processed soap is that it needs a minimum of 4-6 weeks of curing time before it's ready to be used. So, you have to plan ahead, which means you are making fall and winter stuff in the summer.

Fall Soaps for 2018
I don't mind it. I'm sick of the hot weather and making fall and winter soap puts me in the mood for cooler times ahead.

I've made 3 different fall soaps this week, which will all be ready by early-to-mid October. I'm feeling chilly already!

"Falling Leaves"

This soap turned out EXACTLY like I was hoping it would. In fact even better. I used my triple-butter luxury recipe for this soap, and it is scented with a citrus-spiced-berry fragrance that makes me want to go pick pumpkins and Christmas trees at the same time!

Falling leaves and autumn glory

"Eucalyptus Spearmint Sea-Salt"

This is another one of my triple-butter luxury bars made with activated charcoal and white and pink Himalayan sea-salt. It has a very invigorating eucalyptus and spearmint fragrance, with hints of ozone and sea spray. This soap makes me think of taking a long walk along a winter sea shore with a wool sweater wrapped around my shoulders.

Eucalyptus Spearmint Sea Salt Soap 

"Country Bumpkin"

Not only is this soap gorgeous, it's made with real pumpkin! Pumpkin contains Vitamin A and C to help soften and sooth the skin, while boosting collagen production to prevent aging. Better than pumpkin spice, this soap smells like fresh-baked pumpkin pie with an extra dash of cinnamon!

Pumpkin Pie anyone?


Monday, August 20, 2018

Gratuitous Kitteh Monday

Ugh...I've been up since 4 a.m. and I'm dragging butt.

One of the smoke detectors in this house decided to go off and announce "FIRE!" at that glorious hour of the morning. It's one of those newer detectors where it not only belts out that annoying chirping alarm, but it speaks to you as well.

I was out of bed in a hot second, and then it stopped as soon as it went off. I searched the house from top-to-bottom before going back to bed. Of course I didn't go back to sleep because I kept imagining the worst...what if there's a fire in the attic that I can't see? Do I smell smoke? What is that noise outside?...it was the rain.

Sigh. This house is cursed. Probably the batteries need to be changed in the detectors, as I'm sure they've never been changed ever.

Of course hubby slept thru the whole thing...how can they do that?  Anywho, Miss Thang has no problems sleeping, especially if there is a beam of sunlight involved.

Sunny Thang

Friday, August 17, 2018

Soapy Friday: Cream Laundry Soap


Ya’ll…YA’LL…I have been super busy this week making this amazeballs, natural Cream Laundry Soap. Yes. Laundry soap! 

Cream Laundry Detergent...and the angels sang
It’s made with 100% cold-processed coconut oil soap, washing soda, Borax, essential oils and fragrance oils, and it totally kicks ass! Or should I say it kicks dirty laundry’s ass! Blended with lavender and lemon essential oils, and a touch of an April clean fresh fragrance oil, it smells like heaven had a baby with a mountain stream and then bottled it up in this here jar.

Sooo lusciously creamy!
How do you use it? Why I’m glad you asked dear friend! You simply put 1-2 tablespoons of this luscious cream detergent in your washing machine drum BEFORE you throw in your clothes. Turn on your machine, and VIOLA! If you have a stain, just rub some of this amazing stuff into the stain (scrub with a toothbrush if extra bad) before washing, and step back to watch the magic.
  • No more gunky liquid detergent dispensers.
  • No more stepping on spilled powder detergent on the floor that SOMEONE didn’t clean-up. AHEM!
  • No more enshrouding yourself with synthetic detergent residue every time you get dressed…OH AND YOU’RE A TOTAL BALLER FOR NOT POLLUTING THE PLANET!
All natural super hero
Does it work? Ya’ll…YA’LL…I’ve been a laundry nerd waaaay before I was making soap. My nemesis is grease stains. It works ya’ll. It friggin’ works like a dream. And dare I say my clothes actually FEEL softer too?

I don’t have a stitch of dirty laundry in my house, as I’ve been testing this baby all week.

Drops mic.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Soapy Friday: Back to Life...Back to Reality

Sorry to have so much silence on the soap-front, but hubby and I just got back from a desperately-needed vacay to Louisville/Ohio last night. The week before this, I was in Boston for work.

We had ourselves an old-fashioned summer road trip and drove instead of flying. Partly because we wanted to have a slower pace, and partly because I wanted to stop-and-shop at some soap supplies stores in Ohio.

Louisville, KY

We love it here and will return again-and-again. We stayed at the brand new Omni Resort in downtown Louisville. They DID NOT disappoint! 

I mean they even FRAMED a Ryan for me!

"Hey girl...sweet dreams before you go to sleep."
Hubby went to a classic car show; I stayed by the pool.

Poolside...drink in hand...not a care in the world
Of course there was bourbon to be had at one of the many distilleries nearby (this one is Jim Beam).

Decisions, decisions...

Ohio

We had a lot of fun in Ohio. I was in seventh-heaven and did some major damage shopping for soap supplies at Wholesale Supplies Plus and Nature's Garden. 

Nature's Garden
Fragrance Oils from Nurture's Garden
Wholesale Supplies Plus
The Hilton where we stayed in Ohio did put a Ryan in the room, but it's funny they actually put his name on the printout....as if THEY didn't know who he was. LOL!

Ryan who?
We did some other sight-seeing at The Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame. Hubby also went to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

Let's rock!
We were here for almost 6 hours...worth it!
Aaaaand now we're back to reality. The kittehs missed us terribly and were very high maintenance for our very patient pet-sitter. Now they won't leave my side.

They are both with me in my office...snoring away on the floor and this stool. Kitteh snores are the best!

From here on out, it's soap, soap, soap!

We're staying right here!

Friday, July 20, 2018

Soapy Friday: Planning Ahead

Happy Friday everyone! There wasn't much going on this week soap-wise...I've been playing and prepping for the upcoming holidays.

I know, I know. But when you make a product that takes 6-8 weeks to cure, you have to plan ahead.

But first...RYAN!

"Hey girl...I brought you some soaping supplies"
I ordered some highly-concentrated, cosmetic bath-and-body-safe dyes this week to play with in bath bombs. Look what I got...LOL! I love asking for pictures of Ryan Gosling whenever there is a "special request" option for online orders. LOL!

Next, onto what I'm planning to make for a Halloween-themed soap. Aren't these friggin' adorable? I made these teeny skulls out of SOAP ya'll!

3 down...1,000 to go!

Itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, little soapy skulls for me-ny!

Friday, July 13, 2018

Soapy Friday: "Taste of Honey"

Happy Friday the 13th everyone! This week has been busy soap-wise; I've been trying a few new things and making some old-standbys.

"Taste of Honey"
My "Taste of Honey" soap, an homage to Herb Alpert, is pretty much good-to-go recipe wise. I FINALLY got all the things I wanted out of that bar of soap and it's only taken me a year-and-a-half to get there.

Loaded with skin-loving sunflower oil, cocoa butter, local Virginia honey, beeswax and an intoxicating honey-almond scent, this soap is "a-buzz" with all the good things your body wants and needs. I believed in it from the very start, and that's why I kept trying.

That gel ring tho...
Other things...

I've been back at bath bombs trying new things. My Rainbow Heart bomb is loaded with a rainbow of colors and makes very pretty bath art, although I still have a way to go with getting that right too.

Trying out Rainbow Heart in the bath
I made some Unicorn Horn bath bombs and was trying out a new theory on one of my ingredients and again, discovered something new. I won't bore you with the details, but it's pretty exciting IMO.

Love how these turned out!
Have a happy & safe 13th...stay cool out there everyone!
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