Christmas Cookie Extravaganza

I have so many Christmas-y and Life-y things I should probably contain within a blog post, but for now just one of the Christmas-y things needs a moment.

COOKIES!!! (said in Cookie Monster's voice, please).

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I've mentioned my method of Royal Icing for cookies a few times on this blog, and added the label of 'royal icing cookies' to those posts so you can look at all of them if you really want (click the label at the bottom of this post). But after Instagramming my giant Christmas Cookie Decorating-a-thon from this year, there were a lot of common questions that I figured I should tackle back here. Such as: how do you do this? What is your recipe/what tools do you use? How long does it take you to do this? How in the heck do you find the time to do this? Etc. Etc. (Nobody flat out asked if I am crazy for taking so much time to do them, but to answer that: yes, I am a little crazy for these cookies.) It seems like a lot of people want to try to make Royal Icing cookies but it feels intimidating, so maybe this will make it more doable. Or maybe it will make it seem ridiculous and not worth your time at all, since it really DOES take many many hours for this process. Luckily, it's a process I really do enjoy or there is no way I'd put forth the effort and prioritize it in the list of things To Do!

My 'method' for Royal Icing is really Annie's Eats' method. Not only do I use Annie's icing recipe and technique, but I also love her sugar cookie recipes: both for the vanilla/almond flavored version and also her chocolate sugar cookie version. I haven't ever substituted the almond extract for her preferred lemon zest since I'm a sucker for all things almond and not so much lemon. But these cookies seriously do not disappoint, and the first time I tried her chocolate version was for Thanksgiving: a big hit. So big that dear Henry decided to get the first taste of this chocolate divinity while I was putting all three children to bed alone one night, cookies ready to be frosted placed directly in the middle of our kitchen table. You know, to keep Henry away from them. Which obviously didn't work because the jerk JUMPED ON TOP of our kitchen table and went to down on my beloved cookies. I only knew this because I heard something fall off the table (a discarded McDonald's Happy Meal toy that apparently stood in his way), and so I flew down the stairs and found Henry jogging into his crate. Licking his lips defiantly as I locked his crate door. Pretty sure he 'only' ate 3-4 cookies and they weren't even frosted yet, but still---we had to watch him for a few days to make sure that poisonous chocolate didn't kick his butt harder than I planned to do.

But I digress. (Henry was fine and I still had a decent plate of Thanksgiving cookies as my contribution to the day). I really do love the dark edge of the chocolate against the bright icing.
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Back in my original 'how to' post about RI cookies, I mentioned that I had made these bad boys six times. I think I'm up to nine now but no matter what, I want you to know that I am NOT a professional by any means. There have been a lot of really nice compliments about how nice my cookies look, but if you compare my 'work' to the likes of the REAL pros (like Sweet Sugar Belle or Annie's Eats) you will agree that mine are totally 'beginner status'. And I'm fine with that since it's just for fun anyway. I think the reason people are so 'wowed' by these cookies is because the royal icing itself is so freaking pretty and smooth and hard. The colors are saturated and fun, which is right up my alley of course. It's really not TOO difficult to make a batch of RI cookies but girls, it's really really time consuming. I cannot stress this enough.

This year I was really excited to make a ton of Christmas cookies. I knew it would be a challenge but I wanted to make little plates of pretty cookies for our friends this year. So beginning on Tuesday morning, Cecelia and I made two types of cookie dough while Truman was at school and Porter watched from his play yard/napped upstairs a bit. We doubled the recipe for the chocolate dough and also doubled the usual vanilla/almond recipe. We put both dough balls in the fridge to chill and CC declared that the chocolate was her favorite dough, of course.

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Then later that day, while CC was napping and Porter napped on and off, Truman helped me roll out, cut out and bake the cookies. We ended up with about 2 dozen chocolate cookies and 4 dozen vanilla cookies. Truman declared the vanilla his favorite and he loved choosing which cookie cutter we used over and over again. ;)
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At this point, I felt very accomplished for baking and then storing 6 dozen cookies in one day. I'm guessing this part took about three hours total broken up into two sessions, if you will. I was pleasantly surprised that both of the big kids were such great helpers and it was not as stressful as baking with children usually is for me. So that evening I took a break from the cookie process because I knew the icing part takes even longer, and twice as much focus on my part.

The next morning (Wednesday), before work but after all of the kids were out of the house, I had about an hour before my first patient. So I mixed up the Royal Icing, divided it into my containers, but I didn't add the food coloring gel or any water---so this was the foundation stuff I'd have to mix further later on. This part took me 45 minutes somehow.

That night, after all of the kids were in bed, I added the coloring to my containers plus a bit of water to make the icing appropriate for piping. This took me another 45 minutes since I wanted to use 5 colors. I went to town decorating the first 30 cookies, since my main goal was to have a good batch to give to Lori on Friday. I seriously love this part of the process: I could do the actual decorating all day long and not tire of it, but the baking and mixing up icing and cleaning? Meh. Not my fave. Anyway, I spent about 2 hours decorating that night, then finished the final layer of icing on Thursday during CC and Porter's nap. That ended up being another 2 hours for decorating, so four hours total just for decorating 30 cookies (not including the baking or preparing the icing). I know. It's a lot.
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But so pretty!
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Black/chocolate Santa is a favorite for everyone. And I bought the black for Santa's belly belt separately, in a tube and it's really shiny/hard to dry. Didn't use the black for my second round, too annoying to deal with.
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Most of them, anyway. Some were duds and I offered those to Nate and the kids immediately since they still taste great even when they don't look so pretty.
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So yay, as of Thursday afternoon I had my Lori cookies ready for Friday morning. But then Thursday evening after bedtime for the kids, I wanted to barrel through the rest of my cookies since we still had about 3.5 dozen left. I mixed up a half batch of additional icing, since my original amount was dwindling but still enough to use on SOME of the remaining cookies. I chose to do more white, then a light blue and a light green in this new batch to add to my existing red, green, yellow, brown, and white. Pinterest is my friend when decorating these cookies, and I had spent a solid amount of time rocking Porter to sleep while browsing ideas for Christmas cookies. So many ideas, so little time!

Thursday night I spent about 3 hours getting the remaining cookies decorated, and then another 3 hours on Friday morning before work---since I didn't have a patient scheduled until 12:00 randomly. So six hours spent decorating the last 3.5 dozen cookies. Love the blue and light green additions here and my little round snowmen! I wanted a more simple looking Santa, too, and think I achieved it this second time around. I played around with my trees and candy canes because practicing never hurts in cookie decorating!

(after the first evening with my second batch, note the number of Christmas cards we've already received. Love this time of year so much!)
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Then once they were all finished, Friday morning. Ta-Da!

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You'll notice that I can't ever make two cookies exactly alike. I get bored and like to change things around between cookies!
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My 'simple Santa' with gray eyes, instead of black--using the tubed black mixed with white icing.
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I feel like the pros always have SUPER thick cookies, so I tried to keep mine fatter this time around. Yum.
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Snow on the light green tree--a favorite.
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First batch:
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Second batch:
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Clean up is not so fun and my fingers are still stained pink from washing everything.
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I gave Lori her 30 cookies on Friday and have another 24 boxed up and ready to deliver to our neighbor friends. The rest just might end up in our own bellies!

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So to answer all of the questions on IG:
-If you want to read the details on how I made these and what tools to use, read this post.

-It took me four days and 14.5 hours total from start to finish with 6 dozen cookies. OMG. I know.

-I found the time by making it a priority during naps, before work when I had a bit of time before patients, and after bedtime. Our laundry mutated into a Dangerous Venture while I stared into the brightly colored frosting for hours. I didn't return emails or check blogs or clean the house, but hey! I did make cookies! ;)

-And I'm not a professional by any means, and most of my creativity was stolen from Pinterest. But I do really love decorating cookies because this type of thing plays into my love for sweets, bright colors, and the process of creating something somewhat artistic. I wouldn't say I'm an extremely patient person but for this type of activity? I love the tedious, detailed part of it so I guess I do have patience for the process.

Any other questions?

Porter | 5 months

Porter P seems to be aging at a rapid pace now and I swear I just wrote his four month post yesterday. He is five months old and that seems impossible on all fronts: in one way it seems like he's been here forever and should be much older, and in another sense it feels like his birthday couldn't have possibly been five WHOLE months ago. Again: Time is a wicked beast, isn't it?

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It goes without saying that I am completely obsessed with Porter, possibly even more so with each passing day. This is a SUPER fun stage of babyhood for me in general, since we are settled into a sort of routine, sleeping a little better, and he isn't mobile or naughty just yet;) Adding to the general fun of five months, is the fact that Porter might be the happiest baby in the history of ever. For real. He smiles his face off, will laugh at us when we make a funny face or sound, and he's extremely ticklish. His happiness definitely rubs off on the rest of us because how can you be sad when this little chub is grinning back at you?

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Porter is also really into blowing raspberries, squealing, and drooling buckets of saliva this month. He needs a bib most days and I guess he is 'teething' but I'm not expecting an actual tooth to pop until six months----when the other two kids got their first teeth. P is putting everything in his mouth (i.e. clothes, toys, my hands, etc) and is really focused on reaching for objects. I love when babies get this super serious look on their faces as they aim their pudgy palms at something in front of them. Love it. He enjoys gnawing on our (albino, very aged) Sophie the Giraffe and still loves his play yard with dangling animals for added delight.

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(very advanced, checking his social media)
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He isn't rolling over yet, but just like his siblings he is mastering the side-roll. Porter actually did roll from his tummy to back for the first time this month, but it was totally on accident since his heavy noggin tipped his center of mass a little past the balance point one day in the kitchen. He was as shocked as I was when his bald head smacked the hard wood. Sorry, buddy! P can sorta kinda prop sit but usually he just goes right for his toes in the mouth when he is sitting on our laps or on the couch. He's discovered his feet and apparently they are just as tasty as his hands!

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(picking out his first Christmas tree was the highlight of his week, obvi).
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Porter took his first triple bath with his crazy siblings, using the Bumbo seat like CC used to do. I forgot the secret trick of using very little water in the tub to prevent Bumbo flotage, so I had to hold him down the entire time while praying he didn't flip out of there somehow. But subsequent sessions have been much less scary. He also sits in his (new to us) Boon highchair now during some meals, instead of always sitting on my lap. And seriously, this kid wants FOOD NOW. We haven't done any rice cereal or oatmeal yet and I think we'll probably skip that stuff again and head right to veggies once he hits six months. Because, again, I like to do things the same between all kids, I guess. But I'm sure Porter would love to get a nibble of real food right now as he stares down every bite we take and reaches for my drinking glass all of the time. I find it hilarious when he watches one of the big kids eating and Porter will open his mouth like a tiny baby bird, as if to say, 'Feed me that food now, dudes.' He might be a big eater when the time comes. I picture two teenage boys eating us out of house and home in our future!

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(already a teenager here)
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These two!
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His diet consists of breast milk and formula still, and Porter is all business when it comes to his bottles. Do not mess around and remove the rubber nipple from his mouth until every ounce is finished, guys. He will make you pay for that nonsense. We'll start with my favorite and preferred method to feed my baby: nursing. Porter will nurse before bedtime and falls asleep while doing so, which I seriously love. Then in the middle of the night, I will nurse him back down once and sometimes twice when he wakes up. I'm sure he would prefer that I make him a fatty bottle at those 3 and 5 am wake ups but nope, sorry buddy. Not usually at least! I am pumping once a day now and sometimes I skip it all together, so my supply is obviously dwindling like crazy now. I only get about 2 ounces when I pump and therefore it's kind of silly to invest the time and effort into setting up the pump, pumping, and washing it all after for just two measly ounces that get mixed into a formula bottle anyway. I've been saying that my goal is to have Porter get breast milk until six months and I suppose as long as he is nursing at night, he could go without the pumped milk during the day. We will see, but my supply is finally taking the hint that this child is rarely nursing. Still so crazy that my baby prefers bottles with a passion!

Don't play, mom.
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Don't you dare stop this part of your day, Porter.
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Hard to be sad about minimal nursing when he is this happy (and healthy):
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As for his bottles, he is like clockwork and will squawk for a bottle every three hours on the dot. He drinks 6 oz at a time, and it usually works out to have a bottle around 7:30, 10:30, 1:30, and 5:00. Then he still gets a dream feed bottle before Nate goes to bed around 10:30. He will nurse to bed before that bottle around 7:00 or 7:30 and then wakes up usually once but sometimes twice a night. I mean, the kid is far from starving and I really do think he is happiest when fed and full. He doesn't spit up a ton, considering how much he will drink, but this month he had a little cold for a few days and was congested and sneezy. He did spit up more when he was so snotty and it seemed like he didn't want to eat as much, either, but luckily that didn't last too long. Porter is fat-n-happy, wearing 9 month outfits and size 3 diapers. He is probably about 16 pounds at this point and has the best rolls. Not as huge as Truman was at this age but not exactly tiny, either.

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(oh yes, another first---Thanksgiving! He did great on the day trip to Chicago).
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Porter isn't a fantastic napper just yet, but it seems like he is figuring out the concept of sleeping somewhere besides my arms. He wakes for the day around 7ish and needs his first nap by 9:00. That first one is usually a quickie, maybe just 30 minutes or so and sometimes we are out and about in the car or Ergo for this nap. Then he will take a longer nap around 11:00 or so, but usually he wakes up in his crib after 45 minutes and needs to be rocked back down. I will do this a few times during his nap which is not ideal but whatever, I guess, and I'll give up after 1:00 and will let him wake up for good. Then he needs another power nap in the evenings, usually around 4:00 or 4:30. Again, this one might be in the Ergo as I prepare dinner but sometimes he will allow a short crib nap at this time. So all in all, naps are fine but not awesome---would really love it if Porter could sleep for longer than 45 minutes without being snuggled/rocked, but I can't complain too much since I love his cuddles;)

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Reading back over Truman's five month post and also Cecelia's, I learned a few things: I should probably pull out the exersaucer, my kids are never big rollers at this age, and Porter miiiiiiiiight be a better sleeper than his siblings were at this age. Way to go buddy!! He is also the only one getting formula and refusing to nurse so I definitely feel like he owes me FANTASTIC sleep in return. We're getting there and with his extreme happiness, I know we have it pretty freaking good over here with this babe. Also, I think all three babies look really similar but are also their own little people. And they are all disgustingly cute at five months. I still catch myself calling Porter 'Truman' because their big bald heads are twin features.

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But I don't know, I see a bit of CC in Porter, too.
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And seriously, Porter loves his older siblings so much already and will smile at them as soon as he notices they are in the room. The feeling is mutual because both Truman and Cecelia love to be all up in Porter's biz. These outtakes from my five month photoshoot say it all. Both of the bigs demanded to be in the pictures and we got some great 'real life' shots.

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Yes, they love him so much we had to continue the sibling shots in our bed.
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Porter, you are simply awesome and we love watching you grow. Keep on being your happy self, buddy. Love you so much.

Mommy
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