Tuesday, October 15, 2013

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Michael Lee West!

Long before I started a blog, I read them. There were three that I stumbled upon and read religiously, Michael's blog, Designs by Gollum (now Rattlebridge Farm), Susan's Between Naps on the Porch, and Mary's Home is Where the Boat Is.  I was in awe of these three women who wrote, photographed, cooked, gardened, and decorated.  I read these blogs every Tuesday and Wednesday from my hospital bed where I spent each week getting 48-hours of aggressive chemo infusions. When I wasn't reading blogs and mentally taking myself to a far better place, I was writing my bucket list. At the top of that list was to start a blog. It seemed doable and far easier than number seventeen on the list, Study for a hot air balloon pilot's license.
I owe a great deal of gratitude to these blogging women who are more than just words and pictures online, but real women more than willing to share what they know. When I was invited to join in on the celebration of Michael's milestone birthday, I panicked.  How on earth could I live up to the standards of such talented blogging women? But then I thought, in the past three years I have read every one of Michael's eight books, devoured them, if you will, taking a particular liking to Teeny Templeton (Teeny Templeton Mysteries) and Honora DeChavannes (Mermaids in the Basement), whose quote, I lacked the strength to host a parasite, much less a party applies to me more often than I care to admit.  Through the reading of her books, I learned a little something about finding my own voice.  So, I decided that, in celebration of her sixtieth birthday, I would not only honor the woman, but her books. 

Join me, will you, in a cup of tea, served from my treasured Mystery Writer's Teapot (in honor of Teeny and her mystery-solving skills), and sink your teeth into one of Michael's books. Literally.

Happy Birthday, Michael!   
May you have many more to come, we're counting on you!

About the cookies:  I learned to step out of my realm, and push myself beyond what I ever thought I could do through reading blogs. A couple of years ago I saw cookies made with edible paper and have always wanted to try this. The truth is, until now, I never had the nerve. I cook, and sometimes bake, but decorated cookies are something I generally know better than to tackle.  But knowing that I'd have to come up with something unique to celebrate Michael, I gave it a try. Michael, I do hope that you'll give me an A for effort. Obviously this was a bit too far out of my realm. Of course, a lot of the problem was my fault, and should not, in any way, deter you from trying these yourself. I should have made two batches of icing. One for outlining, the other to flow on. It was too stiff and did not flow at all, so I had to sand them down with a nail buffer. I should have checked my supply of piping bags BEFORE Michael's closed. I had to use a gallon size Ziploc freezer bag (after removing the celery, yes, I should have checked my supply of them too), to do the edging, that I punctured when I put the star tip in. Then the tip got clogged, I forced it, and the bag burst. Another lesson learned is to never wear your favorite tangerine linen shirt to pipe icing. Getting the picture?

The recipe (reprinted below for convenience) is from Martha Stewart. (It's delicious.) The edible book covers I custom ordered from Queen of Tarts (A lovely woman, who, I should mention, does not violate copyright with reckless abandon, I begged like a dog for these.).  You can find a great tutorial by someone who really knows what she’s doing here.  I bought the decorating tips and meringue power to make the royal icing from Michael's (appropriate, no?). The nerves of steel are my own. Oh, one more thing, a nearly new container of meringue powder is up for grabs, I am never doing this again!  But, like I said, this should not deter you.

In her Inspector Sloane mysteries, Catherine Aird wrote, If you can't be a good example, then you'll have to serve as a horrible warning.  I think I've done my part.

Martha Stewart’s Basic Sugar Cookies
Everyday Food, December 2003

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In large bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, and salt. With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture; beat until combined. Divide dough in half; flatten into disks. Wrap each in plastic; freeze until firm, at least 20 minutes, or place in a resealable plastic bag, and freeze up to 3 months (thaw in refrigerator overnight).

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment. Remove one dough disk; let stand 5 to 10 minutes. Roll out 1/8 inch thick between two sheets of floured parchment, dusting dough with flour as needed. Cut shapes with cookie cutters. Using a spatula, transfer to prepared baking sheets. (If dough gets soft, chill 10 minutes.) Reroll scraps; cut shapes. Repeat with remaining dough.

Bake, rotating halfway through, until edges are golden, 10 to 18 minutes (depending on size). Cool completely on wire racks. To ice cookies, spread with the back of a spoon. Let the icing harden, about 20 minutes. Decorate as desired.


Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

Love how you said "sink your teeth into her books." That's exactly what you feel like when you read Michael Lee's fun food adventures with her hosts of characters. Your cookies are so classy.

Lynn said...

I love your cookies! How fun to have any custom pic you wanted printed on them! Super cute tea pot too:@)

Rettabug said...

Oh my gosh, Pattie...I am laughing out loud at your kitchen adventure! So typical of one of Michael Lee's characters, too.
"“I lacked the strength to host a parasite, much less a party”...I loved that line in her book..it cracked me up!

I adore your Mystery Writers teapot & the cookies are just the coolest things I've ever seen. Thanks so much for telling us about the "Queen of Tarts".

Bravo on a tribute well done!

p.s. I'm sorry I don't visit your blog more often. I must do better, as I enjoyed this post immensely. I'm also glad you survived your chemo tx.

Linda (More Fun Less Laundry) said...

Pattie, First of all, I did not realize that you had been so sick. I'm so happy that you are well now and able to share your wonderful blog with us!
I am laughing SOOOO hard at your decorating story. I, too, have some cake decorating supplies and meringue to share. My attempt did not make it to my celebration for Michael Lee -- that cake is actually now in the trash. Perhaps we can take lessons together.
Your cakes with the book covers are amazing! So clever and so brave of you to try. I also love the quotes you have shared.
Happy birthday to Michael Lee!

Mary said...

Oh Emm Gee...*Gasp*...SWOON...Holy Freaking Cow!

Pattie, Your Cookies...PERFECT little book covers! I can't see a thing wrong them, I'm in awe! And your writer's teapot with Michael Lee's photo framed! Truly, I don't see how the cookies could be better, although I'm chuckling me way through your post laughing WITH you at 'removing the celery' from the bag :) I am so NOT a baker, I can identify with the frosting/piping trials and tribulations. Michael Lee will be thrilled~ what a spectacular tribute. I love the quote, If you can't be a good example, then you'll have to serve as a horrible warning” but it does NOT apply here! Thanks so much for joining in the fun, I ALWAYS leave hungry and inspired. I blushed at your high praise, so not deserved and I'm glad you are no longer needing chemo and joined the blogging world! Happy Birthday Michael Lee West!

Anonymous said...

Fabulous birthday tribute, Pattie!

Happy Birthday to Michael!

thepaintedapron.com said...

I really enjoyed reading your story Pattie, and I am so glad you found these amazing blogs for diversion and inspiration during your chemo. Your post is beautifully done, and to me the best part of blogging is that honesty and errors are appreciated and funny~who likes perfection, it's boring! Your cookies look perfect to me, wowza what an outstanding idea! Love love love the mystery writers teapot, how did you ever get Michael Lee's photo in there!? Loved partying with you! Happy Birthday MLW!

Sarah said...

Well, I think your little book cover cookies are perfect! What a clever idea! Love the Mystery Writer's teapot complete with Michael Lee's beautiful photo. I agree with you about MLW's books and ditto on your kudos to Michael Lee, Susan, and Mary. Amazing women all!
Wonderful tribute to celebrate Michael Lee's 60th.

Happy Birthday, Michael Lee!!!!!

kitty@ Kitty's Kozy Kitchen said...

Pattie, what beautiful cookies you've shared for our friend's birthday. How clever of you to decorate them with the edible papers. Your teapot is adorable and I especially love the teeny photo of MLW! Happy Birthday, Michael Lee! xo

Natashalh said...

These are really cool! I didn't even know edible paper existed. Enjoyable read, too. =)

Susan (Between Naps On The Porch.net) said...

Pattie, you are so funny, these cookies are perfect! Your experience sounds like what happens to me when I bake and frost something. They look absolutely perfect! I just love these and would love to try my hand at making these sometime. I know Michael must be teary-eyed seeing all the wonderful creations and posts. Your's is just amazing! XO

a quiet life said...

oh my goodness... talk about knock me over with a feather! first let me say how touched i was by your story, how you found these woman and the courage you had to deal with your health issues, not only on Tuesday and wednesday... i can only hope that your health is now as a robust as your post.

and what a post, omg! i mean really, you told me you stepped out of your comfort zone in an email, to me it looks like you were born here! what a picture perfect tribute, LOVE LOVE LOVE IT ALL! the teapot, the picture frame, egads, and look at the reflection even, you can not get any more picture perfect! the cookies are fabulous, i have played with this medium before, but i never made my own custom designs, you were genius with the book cover cookies! and edible books too, FABULOUS! such details, i am just delighted beyond belief, michael lee must be smiling like the cheshire cat!

thank you SO MUCH for joining in the celebration, i feel honored you joined us and truly dazzled by your creativity!

pam said...

Those cookies are amazing and so are you to be able to share so much of yourself.

Rattlebridge Farm said...

Pattie, your cookies look like they came from a bakery in Paris. They're absolutely beautiful. You deserve much more than an A+! I adore the book covers! And your icing looks perfect to me. Just gorgeous! I could identify with the Ziploc bags and icing all over your pretty tangerine shirt. Icing just doesn't like me. I must have done something to it in a former life! Your teapot is adorable. I'm proud to be there, close to a typewriter. Your story brought forth smiles and tears. Pattie, you got right to the heart of Why Women Blog--the magic of girl power, the blessings of friendship, the way people make indelible marks on our lives. I'm grateful that your chemo is over and you are playing in the kitchen, wrestling with the Icing Monster (I see it as a giant squid, grabbing that pastry bag from dozens of directions), and hosting a delightful, life-affirming party. A thousand thanks, my friend, for surprising me with this Big 60 celebration. xxoo

Bonnie said...

I am so impressed with your creativity. I would be shaking in my boots being in all of your company. I would not know where to start creating the clever desk vignette with MLW picture. Your cookies are also unique. It is funny how we tuck those little interesting ideas to try and don't do them until we are pressed. You did well though and I can identify with all the obstacles in your path. You wrote about them in a humorous way we can all identify with.

Very creative and clever tribute to Michael Lee. I had a fun time celebrating with you.

Debbie@Mountain Breaths said...

Pattie, you have impressed me. Even though you may never make the cookies again, you've set the bar very high for those of us who have never made them and would like to try. I'm sure this post has deeply touched MLW. Happy Birthday, Michael Lee! Great job Pattie!

Mary said...

Pattie~ I'm back to sink my teeth into a book and this adorable cookies, although they're too perfect to eat!

Tea in Texas said...

What a great tea pot, a writer's desk. And using those books and cookies. Great effort.

Unknown said...

OMG! These are awesome! Thanks for linking up at the Tasty Tuesdays! I am co-hosting this week. I hope you will hop over to my place http://apeekintomyparadise.blogspot.com/ for a visit and if you like what you see, follow me. Enter to win KitchenAid Holiday Baking Bundle Giveaway! http://apeekintomyparadise.blogspot.com/2013/10/kitchenaid-holiday-baking-bundle.html Hope you are having a terrific week! Cathy

Marty@A Stroll Thru Life said...

What a super idea, I love it. Thanks tons for linking to Inspire Me. Hugs, Marty

Marigene said...

Those cookies are awesome, Pattie!

Lulu said...

I'd say you made a very good showing for yourself and were influenced by some of the best when it comes to blogging.

Madonna/aka/Ms Lemon of Make Mine Lemon said...

What an excellent job! A+ for creativity and fun.

Unknown said...

I have never seen edible paper prints like your cookies before; you have inspired me! I look forward to reading and tasting more of your work.