A Sweet Look back at 2014
So, my life is amazingly different over the past year, to say the least. I’m not a baker, cookier…or even creative for that matter. But I know the cookie names of hundreds of cookie artists, and the real names in about 100 cases. I know the location of every Sam’s Club, Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, AC Moore and Mom-n-Pop baking supply store in a 3-hour radius from home.
I’ve purchased more butter in the last year than the entire state of Delaware. I have so many bags of white powder in my car I get nervous every time I pass a cop. I’m programmed to check in anytime I find a store selling cookie cutters. I wait while iphone pictures are taken of completely random items since they could be used to inspire a cookie design later.
Saturday mornings often involve a cookie delivery before heading off to whatever else is planned. Late nights and dirty aprons. But you know what? It’s all great. Amy is doing what she absolutely loves for a living. She sets her own hours, she sets her own terms. Customers love what she does. Here's a sample of the comments from some of her cookie pictures:
My wife even created a baked goods table for my son’s Pop Warner football team. She made a variety of goods- not her decorated sugar cookies, but brownies, rice crispy treats. She was able to take what she loves and help the team. It’s probably not a coincidence that every time my son’s bring home a request for an upcoming event, Amy always picks baked goods. Even though a bag of chips or juice boxes would be SO much easier.
So things are different, but different isn’t always bad. Sometimes, it’s very sweet…
Take a look at the pictures of the building process here.
For today’s installment, I thought I’d walk you through my pure genius idea of talking my wife into taking a roughly 75% pay cut. Not only that, but I also convinced her it was a great idea to switch careers from a life as a teacher, to a year round profession. Sadistic? Perhaps. Masochistic? Probably.
So the year was, um, 2012. My wife had been deeply infected by the cookie bug. Thanks SugarBelle. After years of doing cakes, my darling wife decided to try these cookies that she’d seen online. And that, my friends, was all she wrote. Or piped as it were. She was absolutely in love with the art . And thanks to a Cottage Law in Maryland that lends itself much more to jams and jellies than custom made cookies, we had a dilemma.
Option #1 was to go “black market”. Which meant I’d have to buy a big van, a trench coat, and perfect my ability to go “Psst” as I waved people over to see the wonderment she created. Which actually sounds awesome now that I’ve written it down. Darn. Option #2 would mean to go legit. So once more we faced a set of options. We could find a commercial kitchen to rent as needed. To call those scarce on the Eastern Shore of Maryland would be an understatement. We could buy an existing building zoned commercially. At this point I’d like to remind you of the pay cut we’d be facing. So, it left us with the option we chose:
We built a commercial kitchen; a free standing building in our backyard. Obviously. But unfortunately, there is not a kit you can buy from Wilton to accomplish that. At least not yet. So we had to figure the whole thing out one piece at a time. And by we, I mean me.
Step 1: Cost analysis. A feasibility study if you please. What the heck is this thing going to cost? I’ve worked in commercial construction since 2006. I know a thing or two about it. Literally, that’s it, just 2 things. So I had a lot of questions. Thankfully, a good friend of ours is a home builder, and we looked to him for guidance. We discussed square footage and HVAC options, and in the evenings I scoured the internet researching commercial appliances. After a few months, we had the building, the permits and all the appliances costs factored in. The end result: A lot of dough. (see what I did there? Dough. I’m so painfully clever)
Step 2: The Regulations. I have never built a commercial kitchen anywhere else before, so I cannot speak to what regulations are elsewhere, but in Caroline County, MD you had better get comfortable with the Public Health Department building in Denton. The zoning department and health department are within 50 feet of each other, and there’s plenty of parking, so no worries.
Of the 2 departments, I spent much more time with the Health Department, so we’ll start with zoning.
It was extremely straight forward:
Me: Can I build this?
Zoning People: Sure, here are your applications and 9 permits you’ll need to pay for, and you’re all set.
Me: Sweet. (see, another cookie pun/reference. I’m here all week people.)
The Health department was more time consuming simply because there are SO many regulations when it comes to a commercial kitchen.
One pet peeve, part of the Health Dept’s areas was our septic. We were adding an additional “room” to the property and there was obviously going to be a lot of dish washing, so we had to upgrade our septic tank. We could have had 6 more kids with no issues (besides the mental healthcare I would require) but because of this extra room, BAM, $4,000 more dollars to the budget. But regs are regs, so let's move on.
Now the two women that I dealt with in the Health Department are simply wonderful to deal with. They really are. (Gail, Ashley if you’re reading this, I really mean it. Keep it in mind for future inspections). They were extremely helpful, but of course, they had no choice, as I used my secret weapon that all women are powerless against. The “helpless man in desperate need of saving”. You women fall for it every time. I simply wandered into their office, made frequent public announcements of my own ineptitude, and POOF, they were hypnotized into helping me. Like putty in my hands. All of my questions answered, every procedure walked through, and many other helpful things that have been deemed classified.
Oh, I forgot about the Soil Conservation District. This is sort of like an environmental office. We had another fee here too. I love government.
Step 3: The construction. All of the permits filed for, fees paid, materials bought. So construction began. It was amazing watching Amy monitor the progress. Like a child watching their father put together a swing set. You simply couldn’t get done fast enough so they could play. She was so excited to get in there, even when it was just a big hole in the ground.
Meanwhile, I’m now ordering all of those commercial appliances, sinks, baking racks, etc. I think I was personally responsible for a noticeable spike in the price of stainless steel. A few tractor trailer deliveries later and we were in business.
I’ll spare you the trials and tribulations like needing to get the refrigerator repaired as soon as it was placed in the kitchen. Or how I had to buy at least 3 spigots before everything lined up for the 3-basin sink. But it was all worth it.
The shop is done, she is beyond happy with it, and cookies are being baked as I type this. Now, for my next project, I’m thinking an underground disco in the front yard.
Call out for pizza.
Stock up on beer.
Nar a cookie
To be had ‘round here!
Toilet seat up?
It is, that’s right!
Not sharing the remote.
It’s sports all night!
Fart in the bed.
Hog all the covers.
A short vacation,
From the cookie lovers.
Shower? Not one.
Shave? I’ll be damned.
Not one sugar cookie
Throughout the land!
No talk of PMEs,
Or Sugarbelle’s blog.
Finally I’m clear
Of the cookie-talk fog!
But alas, I do miss her,
And her cookie cutter wishes.
But really what I miss
Is all the clean dishes.
Buyer's Guide to a Cookier's Heart
It's that time of year again. Snow is on the ground, but love is in the air. We are but a mere couple of weeks away from Valentine’s Day, and gents, let’s not forget that special cookier in our lives. Think of how much she has enriched YOUR life with countless stops at Hobby Lobby, Michael’s and A.C. Moore. Think of how much better a person you are for knowing every detail of every cookier she can find on the web. I know I am….
Valentine’s Day is a chance to pay her back. Get those credit cards warmed up, it’s time for some hard core gift buying. As per usual, I’m here to help you fellas out with this. Most of you don’t like to shop. Unless it’s at Lowe’s or Bass Pro Shops. And while there are no doubt things at both of these fine retail establishments that your confectionery mistress would enjoy, we need to think bigger picture. By the way, she really did find cookie cutters at Bass Pro Shop.
Ok, you there, looking on Amazon at the vacuum cleaners, stop right now. I need for you to pay special attention, and quite frankly, YOU need YOU to pay special attention. Gentlemen, for this upcoming gift giving foray, we need to be thinking of precious metals. Oh how those gals will be delighted opening the box and seeing that shining, shimmering goodness that really is a girl’s best friend. Wait, what? Jewelry? Heck no.
The metals I’m talking about are stainless steel, aluminum, copper and tin. Stop, stay with me. Don’t switch back over to ESPN.com. I’m here for you, not me.
There are A LOT of products that your cookier will squeal for made from this space-aged alloy. Kitchen-Aid mixing bowls, commercial kitchen tables, shelving units, sinks and a full assortment of appliances.
Do you only have one screwdriver? No? Didn’t think so, so you already know the value of having spares and extras of the things you use every day.
Lest we not forget PME decorating tips. These stainless steel babies are produced in England and are the crown jewels of the decorating tip world. You can't get them in the average craft store- you have to order them online, and they're not cheap. Sure, there are other brands like Wilton and Ateco, but PME is top notch Who doesn’t like a great set of tips?
From baking sheets to bun racks, it’s not just for holding your Coors Light. Aluminum dissipates heat well, is non-ferrous and is light and less expensive than many other metals. Get to know this one. And for an extra chuckle, ask someone from the UK to pronounce it. Amy's favorite baking sheets are from Sam's Club, and the full sheet rack is from The WEBstraurant Store.
Some of the most beautiful cookie cutters (and most expensive) you’ll ever see are made from copper. Copper products are typically NSF approved and frankly, are just a wonderful hue that compliments the other metals well. What? I can’t appreciate a nice set of colors? Ahem. Also, mixing bowls and copper pots can be used for many other sweet treats.
Tin is a very common metal used for cookie cutters. Foose and American Tradition are great names in the tin and tin-plated steel cookie cutter industry- and they're made right in Pennsylvania! These cookie cutters give her kitchen the shiny, blinding quality we’ve all come to expect.
Still wanting gold and silver?
Have no fear! Luster dusts, sheen airbrush colors, and even dragees come in those metallic gold and silvers you know she'll love. What's a dragee? That's fancy baker talk for those little BB looking things that bakers put on cookies and cakes. They have REAL silver in them, so don't eat them.
OK guys, you’ve done great staying with me thus far. So I’ll throw you a bone. Here is a cookie decorating gift that you can go get from Lowe’s or Home Depot. Go to the roofing area and pick your baker up a roll of aluminum flashing and a pair of snips. This material can be cut into strips and you can form this into a custom shaped cutter if you’re so inclined. Plus, you can pick up that band saw that you’ve had your eye on.
So fellas, shop early and don’t end up on the couch, again. And for once, don’t make her return what you bought her and get what she wants. You can do it. I have faith.
Which cookie gift do you think YOUR cookier would love the most?
So today’s installment will be a peek into my world. My world as a cookie widower. My darling wife may not realize that the events I’m about to portray take place, even though she is directly responsible for all of them.
My wife is an amazing cookie artist. And I’m amazed at the final product every. single. time. But the sweet reality (see what I did there, I throw the puns in for free folks) is that I see every cookie she does in at least 5 stages, sometimes more, rarely less.
Step 1: The sketch. My wife sketches almost all of her cookies out first to know what direction she is going with the design. The sketches alone are awesome. And I get to see every one. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. Sometimes we pretend like she’s asking for my input, but usually it's simply a "look, here will be my _____ design". Sometimes she also has to show me the cutters that will make said cookie.
Step 2: Cookie is now baked, most likely with a flood (that’s the base layer of royal icing for you non-cookiers out there) and maybe with a few initial details. It’s important for me to see this phase (seemingly) so that I can start to envision how the final product will be. And how it’s shaping up to the sketch already examined in Step 1. Usually this step is an iPhone picture sent to me at 10:30pm while I am watching football.
Step 3: This will vary on the cookie. In some cases it’s the “still in progress” cookie further on down the line, or for my example here, it’s the completed cookie. Once again, shot with her iPhone, and sent to me while I am working. It’s done being decorated, but the journey is not over, far from it.
Step 4: The packaged, ready-for-delivery cookie. Here I get to admire either my wife’s ability to place said cookie into a cellophane bag or revel in her plastic wrap skills as they are plattered. Breathtaking.
Step 5: Now I get to see the photos of the cookies that my wife just took. And since she upgraded cameras, now every cookie gets no less than 5,000 pictures. On a plate, off a plate, different lighting, flash and no flash, table cloth or SwankyPrint. Imagine my delight in seeing the cookie at least the 4th time now on the 2” LCD screen of a camera that cost more than my first car. (The camera is a mid-line camera, I got my first car pretty cheap).
So, that is my life. I get to share with her enthusiasm for her craft at literally every step of the way. Every. step. of. the. way. But it makes her happy, so I look at all 5,000 pictures.
Next time, you’ll hear about how I’m involved in every cookie cutter purchased. Every. . . single. . . one. . .
My question is, do any of you other cookiers subject the lucky significant other in your life to this?
Note from Amy: Mike writes the post in a word doc, and I transpose it into this blog. And yes, I reviewed every picture and every word, before it went live.
Cookie Widower Equality Quiz
So, you all thought it was funny when I was calling out the men-folk, eh? Well ladies (specifically cookie ladies) let see how you like it when you’re in my cross-hairs. I’m curious if this interest in our partner’s obsession is mutual? Let’s take a bit of a pop-quiz, shall we? For the sake of this experiment, I shall be used to represent my fellow widowers, and you shall be used to represent you, the cookiers.
I know the difference between icing and glaze. Do you know the difference between cover 1 and cover 2 defenses? If you think this is a math problem, just give up now. I think your KitchenAid is calling.
I know that when my wife refers to a 1, 0, and 00 she isn’t talking about clothing sizes, but PME tips. When I complain that we have too many turnovers, do you assume someone has a weakness for puff pastry?
If I mention Sam, Will and Mike. . . are you thinking Linebackers? Or did you think Sam’s Club, "Wil-ton" and Mike from Semi Sweet?
I don’t giggle when I hear “baker’s rack” “wet on wet” or “I need to wash my tips”. Do you sigh when I try to explain why the zone blocking scheme isn’t effective against that defense?
I know of every store that carries CK Meringue powder within 100 square miles. Do you know the difference between the shotgun and the pistol? (Yes, they’re both guns. Yes, I’m still talking about football. You know you’re just proving my point here, right?)
Ok gals, how did you do? I’m sure some of you scored quite well. Others stopped reading this and jumped to Sugarbelle’s blog.
Amy scored a 0.
That’s ok. We love you anyway.
Note from Amy: I think my score should be a .5, not a zero. I do know what a turnover is in football. But when I explained my answer to Mike, he was getting all technical on me and I stopped listening.
An Open Letter to My Wife's Customers
(This is satire, but I’m serious)
On behalf of my wife and my children, I sincerely thank you for supporting our family business. My wife enjoys creating these wonderful cookies and while the financial side of the business is certainly necessary, the emotional reaction is equally important. The ooh’s and ahh’s, the declaration of brilliance and wonderment. Shrieks of excitement, mutterings of awe…these are all like emotional currency to my wife. These are direct deposits to her soul. I think some positive emotional feedback is important to any artist. And almost to a woman, every female customer gives this currency out and spares non-figurative expense. While there are varying degrees, it’s almost always there.
This is where I turn the tone of my letter. There is almost an anti-climactic aura to a customer delivery if I know in advance that “Her husband is picking them up”. So in other words some guy, who would likely rather be doing something else, is going to spend money out of his pocket, likely to purchase cookies for a party he either doesn’t want to attend, or isn’t allowed to. So, you can imagine that there will be no squeals of delight when the goods are unveiled. No pomp and circumstance. No praise, no hands over the mouth/excited clap reactions.
Gentlemen, I need you to step up your game. If your wives’ reacted with an “Oh, that’s nice” to you in the bedroom, it wouldn’t go over so well, would it? So, at your next cookie pickup, if you have to imagine that my wife is handing you a 12-pack, or a pizza or whatever spins your dials, please do. And ladies, we’ll work with you on your schedule to make sure you are taking delivery, not him. Perhaps we’ll investigate an “Enthusiasm Surcharge” for when husbands pick up. $10 maybe.
So in closing, again, I thank you. We hope you enjoy the confectionary art work you are receiving. And we hope you order again. But remember ladies, if you’re sending your husband to take delivery, have them perk up some. We’ll all have a better day for it.
The Cookie Widower
My name is Mike.
I am a