Monday, December 6, 2010

300 Christmas Cookies in 3 Days! Whew!


A favorite holiday tradition of mine is baking cookies for friends and family! But, after starting our new company Padibbles, and my sweet Chef hubbie working like crazy at the holidays, you'd think this tradition would be scraped for the season!

The "King of Christmas" (aka: my Chef hubbie) wouldn't have it any other way! So, last week, as soon as he & I arrived home from a long day at work, we baked cookies 3 hours on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday! Why? Well keep reading friend, and you'll see why we held a cookie marathon!

First, you need the perfect sugar cookie recipe!
Your recipe has to produce an easy, fast, dough and a melt-in-your-mouth cookie with no leavening ingredients. (Leavening messes up the cookie's shape as it bakes in the oven.)

Here's my recipe (requested over and over). I take no responsibility for the 5 lbs you will gain!

Cream Cheese Cookies
Courtesy: Williams Sonoma in-store recipe cards, circa 1988
Ingredients:
½ cup butter (4 oz, unsalted, softened/room temperature)
3 oz. pkg cream cheese, softened/room
temperature
½ cup sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. freshly grated/zested orange peel
1 tsp. real vanilla extract
1 ½ cups flour (we like King Arthur A/P for this)
½ tsp salt
These ingredients can easily be doubled or tripled. Beyond that, make multiple batches.
Combine butter & cream cheese; gradually add sugar and beat until light & fluffy. Beat in egg yolk, orange zest, & vanilla. Sift together flour & salt, and blend into cream cheese mixture.
Divide and form dough into 2 rolls (or flat patties for rolling out into sugar cookies). Wrap in plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hour!
Roll out dough on a lightly floured marble board (or stone counter top) to ¼” thickness (pretty thick!) Flour your rolling pin too! Brush off any excess flour with a pastry brush. Dust cookie cutter with flour too. Transfer cut out forms to un-greased cookie sheet (Silpat liners work best! Parchment paper is good too!)
Bake at 375 degrees for 12-15 minutes (we rotate the sheets halfway through cooking) Take out when cookies are a light golden color. If you cool them on a rack, cookies will be more crisp. We cool them on the counter top, and they maintain a little extra softness. (This point is important at high altitude baking!)
And, thus ended our bake-a-thon for Day 1! We made 6 recipes of the dough, resulting in just under 300 cookies of all different shapes & sizes!
Day 2 (or Evening 2 for those counting) began with me dividing the different shapes into piles.
For me, it's easiest to come up with a dipping and decorating strategy for each shape & design. We frost our sugar cookies with “Summer Coating” (also known as Compound Chocolate). You can use buttercream frosting or royal icing too. But, I love how the orange & cream cheese tastes with the chocolate! And, it's pretty darn fast & easy with very professional looking results!
First, melt your Compound Chocolate over simmering water to 120 degrees. Take it off the water, and add in 2 pieces of chocolate, to bring
the temperature down to 105 - 110 degrees. If it is above 120 degree, it's too hot to dip and your chocolate will streak. Hold your cookie by a corner, and only dip it 1/2 to 3/4 way through the chocolate, dragging it through the bowl and shaking it off at the end of the dip/drag.
We melted both white and green chocolate. Remember, these are background colors for the cookies. Don't dip the whole cookie. It's impossible to hold, looks messy, and it's just too much!
Below is an example of my "dip & drag" technique! After the "dip & drag", you gently shake off the excess chocolate.



Each type is grouped together on waxed paper. They are allowed to harden overnight. Thus ends Day 2!
Hurray! Day 3 has arrived! Time to wrap this project up and "git 'er done"! All the cookies charm and personality comes out in the finishing touches!
We start by melting colors! We melt red (1st), yellow (2nd), pink (3rd) and white (last). The order you melt your colors is important! I used parchment paper folded into piping bags for the colors because it gives me the most control! You can also use disposable plastic piping bags or freezer quart bags (and cut off a corner). Don't use sandwich sized plastic bags! They pop open really easily, and leave you a big mess!
First, Red stripes on the stockings! Red swirls and squiggles on the ornaments! Red dots on the trees!

Second, Yellow wings on the doves! Yellow stars atop the Christmas trees. Yellow scarves on snowmen! Yellow halos & wings on angels! Yellow buttons on gingerbread men!
Third, pink scarves on snowmen. Pink swirls on candy! Pink hearts on mittens! Pink accents on angels!
And last, the White! White on top of it all pops all the other colors! White wings on angels! White tinsel on trees!
Good News: if you get a big blob of color (even red) on a cookie, let it harden for 30 minutes, and then using a paring knife, scrape underneath the color and it will "pop" off! Thus, allowing you to save the cookie and redecorate it!
Don't even think of touching these until the next morning (tempting as it is!) Allow the colors to harden overnight!
When I took a bag of these cookies over to a friend's house, she honestly thought I bought them at a local bakery! Best of all, they taste a million times better! Hope you will enjoy your results too! Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Tablesetting - it's not just a chore anymore!

I was watching "The Sound of Music" (arguably one of the greatest movies of all times), and one of the best songs is My Favorite Things! We all have favorite things (well, all women do at least!) and I could blog for years about my favorites! Seems that things that used to be a drudgery, like cleaning the bathroom, making the bed, and even setting the table, are now some of my favorite things to do.

Why in heaven's name, do you ask??? Well, I make these otherwise monotonous and boring tasks into a game, and try to "one-up" myself every time! How beautiful can I make this? How can I change this around? What can I do better than Martha Stewart? Turns out, and awful lot!! And, without a team of highly paid assistants!

Table settings used to be a real art form. Back in the day when even middle-class folks had servants to do every task, it seemed logical to have a different sterling fork and spoon for each food type or task. Multiple china patterns were de rigeur - breakfast sets, tea sets, formal china, Christmas china, and everyday dishes! Buckingham Palace has a team of experts, with rulers measuring each knife, fork, plate and goblet at a table set for 75 and more! The White House has social secretaries brimming with ideas for each party, and a debate on which china to use? The Regan Red? Eisenhower floral? Kennedy blue? Decisions, decisions! Sandra Lee on the Food Network calls her "Tablescapes" and changes both her kitchen and tablesettings for each episode.

I've always loved dishes! My grandmother let me "play" in her china hutch and had so many beautiful and interesting dishes! Her white porcelain nut cups, each one with a different porcelain flower and place for a place card were my very favorite! She had 20 hand-painted dessert plates, each one with a different "water colored" flower that she would use for family birthday parties. Of course, I got to pick which flowered plate I wanted my slice of cake (with the frosting rose) to enjoy! She was the person who took me to Dayton's as a young girl to "Pick Your Pattern". I chose a very elaborate French pattern covered in pink roses and ribbons. No surprise! I still treasure both the memory and the china pattern to this day!

My favorite aunties who lived here in Denver also had a china hutch that made me giddy with delight! From crystal napkin rings decorated with birds, to antique glasses with grapevines & roses etched at the brim, their extensive china & silver collections had me racing to set the table! Which pattern could we use today? Can we add flowers from the garden for a centerpiece? Sweetly, their answer was always "yes"!

When living in Atlanta, I was treated to a visit at Beverly Bremer Silver Shop! I had no idea what this magical place was! Mrs. Bremer is the "matriarch" of estate silver, and her shop is a tribute to the art of entertaining! How can you fall in love with a silver spoon? Easily, especially when she shares the history, the art of silversmiths, and the genteel art of hospitality! Actually, everything DOES taste better with a sterling fork!

Maybe it's not so much the china pattern, shining sterling flatware, or gleaming crystal that I really love? Maybe it's the sweet memories of those special people who taught me the joy of creating special occasions? Because that is the occupation that enchants me today!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Hail & Welcome Springtime

It's been a long cold winter. As much as I just love snow gently falling from the sky, bare tree branches and snowdrifts as far as I can see, I am longing for green things growing and warm blue skies. Spring is the harbinger of possibilities. It is a riddle with a punch line that puts a smile on your face. How many tulips will come up this year? When will the trees bud with pink blossoms? Will the grass begin to green sooner or later? No matter the answer, the smile is always on my face.
Unfortunately, it's still snowing on March 14th. So, I'm forcing my own bulbs inside and looking for a way to make a little spring blooms in a house full of spring fever. So, I made an "Easter Tree"!

Our tree is made with a "french bucket" that we filled with small stones from our yard. We centered 3 stems of artificial silk branches with tiny white blossoms in the middle and put the rocks around them. Then, we filled the bucket with exactly 3 pounds of plaster of paris, and let it harden up for 48 hours. Since the plaster was around the stems and the stones, it took much less time to harden!
Since the plaster/rock mixture was a solid 6" down from the top of the french bucket, I filled the space with styrofoam peanuts, and then added "reindeer moss" and artificial eggs to the base, with a few decorative feathers. Isn't it pretty?

The eggs are all hand-painted real eggs, hung with grosgrain ribbons. I found a few at Nordstrom several years ago, but got the majority of them in Chicago. The eggs are painted & made in Austria. Each one is a masterpiece, and they are as light as air. Sadly, they do break, so I try to be extra careful.
The silk flower branches gently bend and sway with the slight weight of the eggs. But, it is just the perfect weight. Nothing made of glass or plastic would work as they are much too heavy!

Here's a webpage about the Easter Eggs: http://www.molon.de/galleries/Austria/Innsbruck/img.php?pic=9

Our Tree has 22 eggs - no two the same! At the base, I added a nest made out of twigs and hydrangea, and filled at with more eggs and another feather. The crystal egg and candy box tie it all together.

Even if it is still snowing outside (and it is) my house is bathed in springtime! Hail and Welcome! Enjoy spring wherever you can find it!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Most Important Words You Can Say

Thank you! You've made me so happy! That was so nice of you! Thank you for returning my call! You're so sweet to remember me. Your kindness is appreciated!

When was the last time you heard any of these words?

Here's a better question: When was the last time you said anything like this?

Lately, I've been noticing a trend in business and in life. Maybe you have too? When someone goes out of their way to make someone feel special, the recipient tends to take it for granted and not acknowledge this gesture with the least little bit of gratitude.

Today, on Twitter and Facebook, many posts on my wall have been geared to gratitude. Jeanie Marshall said "Gratitude is a powerful healing agent for the one who is grateful, thankful, or appreciative." Crane.com posted this quote: "No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks." — James Allen. These powerful words ring true!

Gratitude is a favorite topic of Oprah's. She's come a long way, and had many people supporting her in her rise to fame along that path. But, she is quick to say Thank You, and her notes are legendary. Princess Diana was also famous for her selfless kindness. Folks kept her thank you notes as souvenirs, as she filled them with simple love and heartfelt appreciation. Even Julia Roberts, in her role as "Vivienne" in Pretty Woman, went from saying "Yeah, so?!" to "Yes, please! And, thank you!" She showed us that class and grace comes not from Rodeo Drive, but from within.

In business, I was shocked to find recently a lot of sales people who give great mouth-service, but without the customer service to back their promises up. Why folks in the business of providing a service won't return a call for that within a short time period (if at all) blows my mind! When a phone call is returned quickly, it lets the customer feel valued and important. It also shows the customer that the business will provide great service and accurate billing. And, a thank you on top of that will put most company's reputation over the top, and the sales person's name will skyrocket into the stratosphere! Great customer service will make your reputation & your good name legendary in business circles!

In life, I believe there is nothing more important than saying "Thank You", especially in a prompt fashion. It shows gratitude and humility. Writing a thank you note gives me the opportunity to give praise, appreciation, and kindness in return. When else in life can something take as little time as 5 minutes, and as few sentences as 3 or 4, to return love and kindness?

Need help? There are a variety of great books and websites, including:
The Bride's Thank-You Note Handbook by Marilyn Werner (available on Amazon.com)
www.thankyounotewording.info/wordsofgratitude
www.my-thank-you-site.com/
www.emilypost.com/
www.etiquettehell.com (great stories!)

Thank you all for reading my blog! And, thank you for your support!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Happiness or Success?

It was Spring 1988, and I was anticipating graduating from Colorado State University within a few weeks. The Fort Collins Collegian was the "must-read" for all the students, with the greatest comics and editorials, not to mention the personal ads! The paper always had a quote of the day, and I'll never forget one: "Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get!" It struck me as profound, and I cut it out and put it in my photo album, awaiting the day when I would truly understand it.

Fast forward 10 years or so, where I tried my hand at owning a cottage industry, worked in a variety of Financial District buildings in San Francisco, moved back to Colorado, on to working for Villeroy & Boch, Coach, and Nordstrom; then on to Atlanta and finally back to Denver. No matter where I was, or what I was doing, I was always trying to follow my heart's desire to be successful.

For me success was wearing a navy suit and high heels, carrying my Coach briefcase and portfolio. I was hungry for the elegance of wealth, the carefree attitude that I thought would come with success. It all looked so lovely, and I was dying to have some. Was it celebrity, fame, wealth or just the big dollars that I was missing? I never seemed to feel successful enough. I had a hard time making rent and whatever it was, it never seemed to really make me happy.

What it did make me was a stressed-out wreck! A frequent-flying sales manager hungry for the next deal, but with bad case of indigestion and 7 missing copies of the same Dan Brown novel. I felt like another rat in the rat race, but this one had bad phone manners, no time to wait, no patience, just a drive for success. I thought I was happy, but I had a knot in my stomach and jet lag.

Luckily, I got a clue.

It isn't in working that you will find success. Success in found in a life filled with happiness. If I'm too busy to be happy, then success will elude me as well. Ah, clarity!

Then I lost my job in the economic downturn. I thought, well, kiss success bye-bye. But, in truth, the opposite happened. I found a very supportive husband, family and friends eager for me to do what I wanted to do, and be what I wanted to be. I found former colleagues keeping in touch and not writing me off. Most importantly, I found time to do and be and have fun! I redesigned and overhauled our backyard garden, staying in budget and time constraints. I cleared out and reorganized files and my office. I attended events to network for the sake of networking and meeting great people along the way. I learned a new skill, and applied it for friends, thereby making us both happy! I said "yes" to volunteer work and new opportunities.

My happiness is a husband who likes me even for my flaws and faults. Most importantly, I found happiness within myself. It wasn't my job, my title, my office location, or my travel schedule. It didn't come from the praises my bosses used to sing. It wasn't in a shopping bag or a jewelry box. It seemed to bloom like that "volunteer" black-eyed susan that we didn't plant in our garden, and grew just as quickly. Happiness indeed, is wanting what I have.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Seasons of Change...


The word "Change" has been the buzz over the last couple of years. From President Obama's campaign to "Reinvent Yourself" promotions at the gym, change is all the rage. I was laying in bed last night thinking of all the songs about change - Michael Jackson, The Cure, even Hall & Oates. It was hard to get to sleep.

At our wedding in 2005, my father's toast about change turned out to be the valuable words of wisdom that have stuck with my husband and I. With every decision you make in life, you illicit a change. It is impossible to stand still, as change is all around you.

Change is this Mary Englebreit illustration, there is the path you are on, and the one that is no longer an option.

I'm sure you'll agree that change is almost unavoidable. The last two years have brought on more change for our country than we ever expected: the economy fell, our government was rescuing businesses of all shapes (but primarily the large size), and folks were closing their businesses and losing their jobs. Not exactly the change I was hoping for. But through all those tumultuous ebbs and flows, my family was still intact and happy, and fortunately, our home was still ours. This sadly was not the case for everyone I know. Some great local stores closed. Local businesses are challenged. A dear friend had to sell her home in a less than favorable economy. There are definitely losses.

I now believe that we have "seasons" in our lives. The seasons change, trends come and go, things that used to seem vitally important now seem less so. And with those changes I find that people change too. Some friends change and grow with us through the seasons. Some, like an autumn leaf, blow away on a different course. Everyone is on a different journey in their lives. Something that is vitally important to you right now may not even rank on the "Top 10 List" for someone else. You'll continue to change with life's seasons too.

Over the last couple of years, I've found that several key people have fallen out of my life. Maybe we'll meet "down the road", and maybe we won't. I've enjoyed their friendship, and I hope they've enjoyed mine. All the changes that the seasons have brought have put me on a different path. My belief is the friends that love you and want a friendship with you, they will "travel the seasons" with you. And, those that can't, won't. This concept applies to friendships, business relationships, employment, even ways of doing your job.

As a dear friend reminded me "My role is to try and bring out the best in those around me, and be there whenever and wherever they need me."

I really believe my Dad's toast was right on the money when he said "The one thing we can count on in life, besides death and taxes, is change." For me, the way I now work and try to earn a living has changed; and the way I like to spend my free time has adjusted so that I can be with my sweet husband; and that's the road I'm traveling. I'm still me, enthusiastic Kate, but I'm changing. Then again, so is everyone else.

As Mahatma Gandhi once said "
Be the change you want to see in the world." On a more personal level, be the change you want to believe in for yourself.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What are your "Gotta-Haves" in Business?

It's Trade Show season for Consumer Products (Gift/Home Decor/Toys). Everyone has been working hard on presenting their best image, their best products and getting as many orders as possible to make a good start to the new year. No matter who you are or what role you play at the Show; Buyer, Merchandiser, Manufacturer, Distributor, or Sales Rep, there is only one question on your lips; "What's your Gotta-Have item?"

"Gotta-Have" is the thing that is new, the thing that sets your company apart from the rest. It is the product that everyone will clamor for, buy like ice cream novelties on a hot summer day! Gotta-Have is also what sets you apart, the thing that makes you different and special. It can be a unique item (remember Wine Charms were all the rage beginning in 2001), a culture (like Nordstrom's legendary customer service), or just a way of doing business that sets a standard and makes others take notice. "Gotta-Have" can also be a standard practice in business. In other words, a service goal that you just won't compromise.

So, what's your "Gotta-Have"? What's your non-negotiable in business? Do you have a standard or base line in running your business?

Here are my Top 3 "Gotta-Haves" in running business:
#1: Answer The Phone! Don't just let the answering machine be your secretary. Customers are calling you! They don't want to leave a message and play phone tag for 2 days. Maintain your hours of operation, and let your customers talk to a human. If return a call you must, do it when you said you would. Nothing is more happily surprising than to have a business call returned promptly! Remember: Time Kills Deals!

#2: Spelling! Proper spelling and grammar use on the internet shows attention to detail and builds upon your good reputation. You might possess a Ph.D., but your marketing materials will demote you to a G.E.D if you're relying heavily on spell-check. Sure, type-o's are easy to make, but uncorrected, they will destroy brand credibility. Take the time to proof-read. Ask a co-worker or friend to review your content before publishing on the internet or in print. After all, are you going to hire someone who can't use the English language effectively and correctly in their own marketing materials? Probably not.

#3: Sell what's available today (SWAT)! This is a Nordstrom adage, but true no matter what business you have. What have you done today that you can market today? What products do you have in stock to sell NOW? Promoting success and accomplishments of recent achievements will spur more success in the short run. Selling future possibilities doesn't sell anything. Make money today and sell what you've got to sell!

These all seem like easy enough ideas, but it would surprise you to find how many folks overlook these simple principles to build their businesses success. It surprised me! Please pass these ideas along. After all, success builds more success!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

"Control" - It's not just a Janet Jackson song

Lately, Ive been talking with a lot of new entrepreneurs and folks who have owned start-up businesses for a handful of years. These people are smart, full of new ideas that have sprung from the well of genius. They show me their new concepts, trendy products, and popular themes that are blooming in society, and expect the world to embrace their business as the missing link in life!

In a perfect world, everyone would welcome new ideas, concepts, products, stores, and even restaurants in as a long lost child! "Oh, where have you been all my life?" But, in truth, it takes energy, time, marketing, money....and so much more. But, really, one thing it takes to get your business to succeed is....that Janet Jackson song we all loved in the '80!

"Control Yourself" was the phrase your parents bugged you about as a teenager...and really, it's got a bad rap. But, "control" in your business is a totally different animal. It is the reason for success, at every level, for any business.

Whether you are running an in-home business, website, trying your hand at manufacturing a new product, or in a conundrum about your current business... think to yourself, "What have I lost control over here?" Ever wonder why one of the highest paid people in a large corporation is called the "Controller"? Sure, financials and budgets rank high on everyone's "control list". And, I'm a big supporter of managing your open-to-buy and your business budget! But, there are a lot of other control issues to examine that will help you be successful.

Here are 3 questions to ask yourself:
Is your office space organized, orderly, and as efficient as you can make it? Get rid of the clutter! Throw out those old pens & crayons & stuff you haven't looked at since God was a boy! Designate your space and move the kids into another room! Make your office your sanctuary!!
Do you use Social Media Marketing to promote your business? There are some great tools out there, that are FREE, to help market your company and your business. There are good ways to use it, and some not-so-good ways too. But, use it because it is the best way to talk to your customers yourself!
Lastly, how good is your word? Do you deliver what you promised, when you promised? Do you return phone calls promptly? Do you respond to emails or to comments posted on Social Media? Do you take the time to say "Thank You" promptly and with sincerity? These small gestures separate the successful from those who aren't.

Thanks for reading! Don't keep these ideas to yourself - sharing helps everyone!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Why am I doing this?

So, here's my story!

There are a bunch of ideas behind the creation of this blog...

1. I was laid-off as Director of Sales & Marketing in March 2009. I was sick with agony over the lack of decision making by the inexperienced owners/management. My experience is in wholesale manufacturing within the gift/toy/tabletop industry (which, by the way, is just being hit in the chops with the current economy) and retail management.
2. I've got lots of ideas, good ideas! And, if I hear "let me take you to lunch so I can pick your brain" again, I'll just lose my mind on purpose! Ugh!
3. My mother is from Alabama, and my dad is a Yankee from Minnesota. However, I was born in raised in Colorado, and it is here at 5280 feet that I make my home. I lived in Atlanta for a couple of years and came realized that I am a true Southener. There are so many wonderful qualities about the South and Southeners, and sometimes, Westerners miss those traits!

So, here's my chance to write about great ideas for wholesale manufacturers, retailers, small business owners, friends, and friends yet to be made! I'll be posting great ideas soon! I'll have a bunch of categories, including floral design & entertaining (as my husband is an exec chef!), shopping and favorite stores, and bringing a bit of Southern hospitality to the internet! I hope you'll enjoy! These are ideas I just can't keep to myself!