Thursday, June 23, 2016

American Flag Sugar Cookies for the Fourth of July

There is nothing like the colors of our American flag.  I love seeing that combination throughout the year, whether it's on people's porches, lawns or home decor, but I especially like it in the summer for flag day and around the Fourth of July.

This year I decided to make some American flag-inspired cookies in various shapes in order to celebrate this country's red, white and blue.  With a few cookie cutters and some citrus-flavored royal icing, I quickly began to decorate cookies worthy of any patriotic get together this summer.

What's nice about working on this type of project is that you can keep the cookie decorations and designs to a minimum.  What's important is to capture the spirit of America through the use of a rich, dark blue and a deep, dark red so that the cookies don't look too cartoonish.

If you're handing these out to individuals, I highly recommend getting clear-topped boxes or clear cellophane bags so that the cookies can peek through. These can be found at any craft or party store.

If truth be told, I decided that some people in my life needed a random act of kindness right now, so every single cookie (with the exception of one that I kept) that you see here was handed out to a few friends and family who have been there for me through thick and thin.  

Depending on how much time you have and how you want to space this project out, all cookie decorating equipment and items should be laid out within easy reach.  This is a small list of what I used to make my cookies.

  • baked and cooled sugar cookies
  • royal icing tinted red and blue (add a tiny amount of black to deepen the colors); white royal icing 
  • fine sanding sugars in gold & silver
  • red, white and blue star candies
  • silver dragées & gold dragées
  • small offset spatula, cookie spatula
  • food coloring pens
  • cookie decorating tweezers
  • fine paint brush
  • cookie decorating pick

These cookies were cut out with a Ball/Mason jar cookie cutter (found at most cookie decorating stores) and with the large Wilton Sunflower Cookie Cutter (found online or at craft stores).

These cookies were cut out using classic, American-made, Foose Cookie Cutters in the shapes of a flag, the United States and a star.

All of my dragées, candies and sanding sugars were placed in small dishes to make handling easier.  There is nothing more annoying than trying to shake out sanding sugar from the original jars only to find a big clump inside.  Break them apart and keep spoons handy.

My cookie decorating tools are kept together.  Food-coloring markers, a small paint brush, offset spatula, tweezers and decorating picks were kept on a small ironstone service platter.

I know, I know.  There are pastry bag holders which keep your decorating bags upright, but my small kitchen can't afford to have anything else!  So, I use some pressed glass tumblers for this purpose.  

Pinwheel Star Cookies:  pinpoint the center of the star and mark it with a food-coloring marker.  With either red or blue royal icing, create the vanes of the pinwheel.  Pipe a line straight down the middle of one of the star corner vertices until you reach the center.  Immediately pipe a line back up to the short end, and finish off by piping a bead up to the edge of the star point (this will give the pinwheel its classic shape).  Fill this area with royal icing, and continue piping and flooding all points of the star using this design.  Add either a gold or silver dragée in the middle of the pinwheel.  Let this dry completely. 

As you can see, some of the pinwheels have gold dragées and some have silver.  You decide!

Once the colored portions of the pinwheels have dried, outline and flood the remaining star in white royal icing and flock the icing with sanding sugar while the base is wet.  Let this dry completely and brush off any stray sugar crystals when done.

On some of the pinwheels I left the white royal icing free of sanding sugar.  I then piped a bead of icing along the edge of the colored star to trace the shape. Extra dragées were added at the ends of the stars.


Large Pinwheel Cookies:  for the large sunflower shapes, I wanted to create a multi-vaned pinwheel. This presented somewhat of a problem because I had to make sure that the color combination was going to work.  

Locate the center of the cookie and mark it.  Using a round cookie cutter and a food-coloring marker, trace the curves to create vanes like I did above.  Do this with each cookie.

Since I wanted to do red, white and blue all the way I around, I outlined and flooded the appropriate areas with the colored royal icings.  A single dragée was carefully placed in the middle.   These were then left to dry completely before being finished off with white royal icing.  

There!  Doesn't it look wonderful?  I think that this was perhaps my favorite cookie of the bunch.  Don't tell anyone but I kept one of these for myself.  

In this photo you can see the two styles of pinwheels next to one another.  I think they look fantastic and are just right for gift-giving.

American Flag Cookies:  Outline and flood the rectangular canton in navy blue royal icing, carefully placing white star candies on it while the icing is wet.  You can also simply pipe white dots if you wish.  Pipe red stripes down the flag and flood them as shown.  You can either leave these to dry completely or you can then flood the remaining parts in white royal icing.  

For the pole, outline and flood the area in white royal icing and immediately flock with gold sanding sugar.  Let this dry completely before brushing off any stray crystals.   

This too is such a beautiful cookie.

United States Cookies:  Using a food coloring marker, trace a canton on the northwest area of the U.S and equally-spaced lines for the stripes of the flag. Outline and flood the canton in navy blue royal icing and pipe white dots for stars while the icing is wet.  Outline and flood the red stripes of the flag with royal icing and let dry.

I love how these look on my cake decorating turntable.  

When working with multiple styles of cookies, I try to fit as many cookies on a cookie sheet without having them touch as I wait for them to dry.

A beautifully iced cookie in the shape of this great country of ours.  What could be more appropriate for the Fourth of July?

American Flag Ball/Mason Jars:  These cookies were also very simple to make. The top area of the jars were outlined and flooded with navy blue royal icing and were then covered with star candy shapes or dragées (keep reading). The red stripes (mark and trace these before you begin icing) were then outlined and flooded.  Everything was left to dry before continuing with white royal icing.  

This mason jar has the stars on the lid area.  If you must know, the idea for these came from a crafting photo I saw on pinterest.  Leave it to a crafter to give me the idea for a cookie!

Gold dragées add a different look to the cookies.  I like both.

A long-time friend of mine who comes from the Lone Star State was in need of some Texas-inspired mason jars.  For these, I left the lid area white and gave the centers of the jars a giant royal icing-filled star (traced with a food coloring marker).  The rest of the cookie was then flooded in the alternating color.

Lone Star State Mason Jar Cookies

Bright and cheerful!

I'm always stressing the importance of rolling your cookies to a generous 1/4" thickness so that cookies can withstand all of the decorating and packaging.  This side view of my cookie selection shows you how even all of them are.

Clear cellophane bags and some ribbon will make packaging up the cookies a super easy task once the royal icings and sugars have set completely.  For those near and dear, use boxes to stack a selection of cookies.  You can, of course, add American flag stickers to make them even better.  

If you're going to mail out cookies to loved ones, do follow my step-by-step tutorial on how to do this.  The tips and lessons in that post are invaluable.

Now is the time to start thinking about your Fourth of July celebration.  Will you be hosting a barbecue at your house for friends and family, or will you be a guest at someone's home?  Either way, plan ahead and set aside some time to make a few of these American flag sugar cookies for guests.  Pick one or two designs or pick them all and make a wonderful selection of red, white and blue cookies that are going to be the talk of the town.  

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

An Exhibition of Jadeite Bowls

A good friend of mine who is perhaps one of the most passionate jadeite collectors I know, recently showed me his jadeite bowl exhibition at the local county fair in his area.  Nick Stein is my go-to teacher and advisor when it comes to collecting jadeite, pricing jadeite and using one's vintage jadeite.  It never ceases to amaze me how much he knows about this subject.

Nick tells me that he has been entering his jadeite collection at the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton, California for several years.  This year's exhibit was all about showcasing every single jadeite bowl set that was offered from the three major jadeite manufacturers in the United States, dating from the 1930s through the 1970s.  These manufacturers include Fire King, Jeanette and McKee.  Nick says that he loves collecting jadeite mixing bowls because, "they have multiple pieces which makes it fun to hunt for, and some are very rare!"

Take a look at his wonderful display.

*Italicized information comes directly from Nick Stein

This fantastic glass-enclosed arrangement is not only a wonderful array of Fire King, Jeanette and McKee jadeite, it is also a very informative and educational look back at the history of the collection.  Nick provided details of every single set of mixing bowls for his jadeite exhibit.

Nick explains his "Mixing Bowl Madness": Have you ever seen these before? Chances are if you've lived through the 50s, 60s or 70x, or if you've paid grandma that much-deserved visit, you have!  This is a collection of jadeite glass mixing bowls dating back to the mid 1930s.  Produced by three companies, Anchor Hocking, Jeanette and McKee, they have been a staple of the American kitchen and continue to be very popular.  Mixing bowl sets are extremely popular among collectors because so many have survived over the years and so many people have fond memories of their favorite foods being whipped up in them.

When I started my mixing bowl collection, I began with the old swirl bowls made by Fire-King.  They are among the least expensive and easiest to find today.  They routinely sell for $100-$125 for the four piece set (the smaller 5th bowl adds an extra $200 to the price!).  It is difficult to find older McKee and Jeanette bowls in perfect condition, but many collectors don't mind a small chip or minor discoloration.  It reminds us that these bowls have seen a lot and have traveled far to make it into our collections.  I hope you will be inspired to start your own collection and enjoy their vintage charm in your home too!

Nick Stein's advice for the collector':  Have you been captivated by the milky green swirls of jade-ite?  Good!  Welcome to the club!  Jadeite is an extremely popular collectible thanks to people like Martha Stewart who frequently stocked her TV studio cabinet with it and collectors like Joe Keller and David Ross, authors of an identification and price guide on jade-ite (available on Amazon).  Here are four tips for new collectors to make sure you get what you expect.

  • Age:  All bowls marked "Fire-King" were made by Anchor Hocking, and if they don't have the 2000 mark, they are authentically old.  If you have a black light, any McKee or Jeanette piece will illuminate thanks to their uranium content.  These were made in the 30s.
  • Condition:  Due to age many of the oldest bowls have some minor chips or discoloration that is completely normal.  It is up to you if you want to accept this for your collection or continue the search for perfect pieces.   Never accept a piece with a crack or dark staining, they will not hold up for long.
  • Source:  A few bowls see here have been found at thrift stores, but a majority were purchased online.  Check eBay and Etsy often for rare finds and to get a feel for the prices.  Also be aware that a glass company called Mosser is now manufacturing a beautiful set of mixing bowls.
  • Style:  Collect what you like!  Old and new jade-ite are both beautiful.  Country Living magazine did a story on jade-ite last year and Martha Stewart Living frequently uses pieces in their television shows and magazines.  If you look closely you can even see some jade-ite in the comedy Bridesmaids!

Jane-Ray, Anchor Hocking (Fire-King), Mixing Bowls
  • In all technicality these are not a true mixing bowl set, but a collection of refrigerator bowls that happen to nest.  The pattern seen is called Jane-Ray and is present on Fire-King cups, bowls, and more!  There is one missing piece to this "set" which is the smallest 4-1/2" bowl.  I hope to get it soon!

Swirl Mixing Bowls
  • By far the most popular of all the mixing bowl sets in jade-ite, the swirl bowls have graced the counters of American kitchens for nearly 70 years!  The swirl bowls come in 5 sizes from 9" all the way down to 5", however, the smallest bowl is much more rare than others.  For the millennium, Anchor Hocking released a special edition reproduction.
Vertical Rib
  • The four bowl set produced by Jeanette seen here features a pretty sunflower pattern on the bottom.  These are among the oldest bowls in this collection made sometime in the 30s.  Unlike the large concentric ring set, this Jeanette jade-ite comes only in a light shade.  No Jeanette bowls have markings, making it tricky to identify them.
Beaded Edge (Anchor Hocking, Fire King)
  • The most common set in the Fire King collection is the beaded edge bowls.  If you were born before 1980 chances are you have seen this in a family member's home.  This set usually consists of the three smaller bowls seen here, but collectors are overjoyed when they find the largest one (8-3/8") as it is the most uncommon of all the Fire King mixing bowls.  Made in the 1950s, it's a truly classic design.

2000 Series Beaded Edge (Anchor Hocking, Fire King)
  • One of the two sets made for the year 2000 collectors line for Anchor Hocking.  The design is nearly identical to the old beaded edge set, but the color is a bit different.  These bowls were produced in Brazil for a limited run in 1999 and 2000.  Due to sometimes shoddy quality, the line was quickly pulled from shelves and has become very collectible online.  All bowls are marked clearly on the bottom "Fire King 2000" so as not to confuse collectors.

Concentric Ring (Jeanette Glass Company)
  • Jeanette glass company produced two mixing bowl sets at their factory in Ohio in the 1930s.  This bowl set features the concentric ring motif that is common on Jeanette glass.  Interestingly these three come in both light jade-ite as seen here and a rare dark shade that is highly sought after.

Colonial Mixing Bowls (Anchor Hocking, Fire King)
  • No one knows exactly how or why these bowls have come to be called colonial, but they are not alone (a colonial batter bowl and refrigerator set also exist).  Made in the 60s, this set is among the most difficult to complete of the Fire King collection.  As with many other Anchor Hocking bowls, these also come in white, blue and pastel colors!
2000 Series Swirl
  • Like the other beaded edge set, this reproduction of the swirl bowls was made in Brazil in 2000 to celebrate the many decades of Fire King.  The design varies somewhat from the original swirl pattern and the sizes of the bowls in this set go up to 10", a size not seen in the original swirl set.  I was lucky enough to find this set with the original gold factory stickers still in the bottom of the bowls!

Splash Proof (Anchor Hocking, Fire King)
  • My personal favorite of the five sets of mixing bowls made in the 50s and 60s, the splash proof bowls are both attractive and useful.  At 6" in height and 9-1/2" across, the largest bowl in this set is among the biggest of all mixing bowls of the old era.  The smallest bowl (6-1/2") is extremely rare.  Anchor Hocking still makes this design today, though it is in clear glass only.  These bowls can be found with painted flowers which increase the value greatly.

Bell (McKee Glass Company)
  • A truly classic and pretty design, these bell bowls were made in the 1930s.  Like the other McKee and Jeanette sets, they glow brightly in black light thanks to their uranium content.  Though slightly more common than the round set, these bowls are really hard to find and should be treasured.  All bowls have a mark with MCK (the letter 'c' is small and raised)

Swedish Modern (Anchor Hocking, Fire King)
  • The only set of the five main Fire King sets I was unable to complete before this display.  The Swedish modern or teardrop bowl set is very rarely found complete.  The smallest bowl (5") seen here is much more common than the rest.  It is speculated that the bowl was given out by the company separately as a prize or promotional product.  This set contains 4 bowls when complete and also comes in blue azu-rite.

Here is Nick proudly standing in front of his display.

I want to give my personal thanks to Nick Stein for being not only a good friend, but for being a passionate and consummate collector of jadeite.  The thorough information that he has provided here is exceptional and completely inspiring for all of us budding jadeite collectors.  To have all of the particulars about vintage jadeite bowls in one online post, is something that I hope you use to your advantage when shopping for this glassware. 

If you happen to be in the Bay Area right now, please visit the Alameda County Fair.  For more information, please visit their website.

Thank You, Nick!  I hope one day to read a book by you on the subject of collecting jadeite.  

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Martha by Mail Ring and Wedding Cake Cookie Cutters

The 'Ring and Wedding Cake Cookie Cutters' from the former Martha by Mail catalog are perfect for baking and decorating wedding cookie favors any time of the year.  These highly-collectible cookie cutters measuring about six inches by five inches are made of solid copper, and are constructed with closed backs and handles, making it possible to create very memorable cookies for you or for a loved one.

Stamped with 'Engagement Ring' on the handle, the wedding ring shape cuts out large diamond rings.  The wedding cake shape, stamped with 'Pedestal Cake' on the handle, cuts out a three-tiered cake set on a pedestal cake stand.  

The front of the original Martha by Mail cookie decorating card shows a wedding ring iced in plain white royal icing, with accented cuts on the diamond, and a ring band covered in miniature silver dragées.  The tiered wedding cake is iced in a light-green royal icing, and is accented with multi-drop scalloped borders and silver dragées.  The pedestal is plain white royal icing.  

These cookies are very elegant.

The back of the decorating card shows other renditions of these cookies using different colors and decorating techniques.

Decorating the Cookies

Flooding: Provide a smooth icing base for decorating.  Using pastry bag and tip, pipe an outline of icing around area of cookie to be filled in.  Let set.  Draw icing zigzags within outline.  Spread to an even layer with a toothpick or offset spatula.

Piping:  Using pastry bag and tip, pipe a design or dots onto a plain cookie or one that's been flooded. For raised piping (ring bands above), underneath icing must be dry; for a smooth, flat design (pink-and-white cake above), pipe on top of wet icing.

Flocking (lower-right cake stand):  Draw designs in icing, then sprinkle with sanding sugar.  Let stand one hour.  Tap off excess sugar.  For a metallic effect (ring band on front of card), flood ring band, then sprinkle with silver dragées.  Let stand one hour before tapping off excess drags.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Vintage Foose Cookie Cutters

You know how it is when you're out vintage shopping or antiquing.  As a veteran shopper you may not have a clear mission or agenda when browsing through aisles, displays or tables, because items that you already collect will immediately grab your attention when you come across them.  It's almost inevitable for that to happen to us vintage/antique collectors.

If I ever come across a vendor who has cookie cutters while shopping at antique malls or flea markets, I make it point to look through the selection just to see if anything seems good enough to take home.  On this particular day, I noticed a zip-top plastic bag chock-full of old tin cookie cutters, so I gave them the once-over and purchased the lot because they seemed to be in good condition, and they were shapes I didn't already own.  It wasn't until I closely inspected the individual pieces later in the day that I noticed their significance.  A few of them still had their original labels.

An Original Horman Foose Cookie Cutter Label 

Horman O. Foose began his tinsmithing business in Fleetwood, Pennsylvania back in the early 1970s.  With his wife by his side, Horman offered a selection of tin products which included pierced lanterns, sconces, and, of course, cookie cutters, among other things.  To this day, the H.O. Foose Tinsmithing Co. hand makes tin cookie cutters here in the United States for stores, vendors and to sell online through their website.  What distinguishes the older tin cookie cutters from their present-day renditions, is the closed-back-with-handle construction (photo above).  Foose tin cookie cutters these days are without any backs or handles.  

Chances are that you probably own some of their cookie cutters if you happen to bake cookies.  They are affordable, well-made tin cutters that are very versatile.  Some of my favorites are their stars and cats.  

This particular cookie cutter with its pointed head may be a representation of an American firefighter from yesteryear or perhaps it's a vintage silhouette of a British police officer.  What's unmistakable about this image is the pointed hat and the large coat.  

The cookie cutter to the left appears to be in the shape of an antique coffeepot (silver or pewter coffeepot?) and on the right, the jolly outline of Santa Claus holding his sack of presents is ready to cut out cookies for Christmas.  I love these two shapes!

I can't make out what kind of animal this dark cookie cutter could be.  Perhaps it's a bear or a squirrel taking a rest, but it can also be a cat or even a cow sitting down on the field after a hard day's work.  Who knows?

Look at these three cookie cutters in the center.  I see either a Quaker or Amish Pennsylvania man and woman, and a corn broom.  I think I could make Quaker and Amish cookies using these cookie cutters with great success, but I would have to make the distinctions between these faiths by showing the differences in attire.

This is by far my favorite of the bunch.  A large spinning wheel used in the olden days for weaving is very unusual for a cookie cutter.  I don't think I've ever seen a cookie cutter like this, and from my online searches, I have come up blank with images of such an example.  Well, I think this cookie cutter is a small piece of artwork in my opinion.  

You can clearly see the legs, the horizontal table and the large spinning wheel (also known as a bobbin winder).  

This is the closed back and handle of the spinning wheel cookie cutter.  I can't wait to use it in the near future. 

The older Foose cookie cutters have a stamp with the monogram of Horman Foose.  In the photo above, the 'HF' was stamped onto the cutter side of the flat back.

Here is another version of that classic stamp.

Now it's your turn to search for some Foose cookie cutter treasures online or at antique markets!

If you find yourself in the vicinity of an antique mall, antique shop, secondhand store or even a flea market, don't overlook those stalls or vendors with cookie cutters.  Often times you may find that the best of the bunch are those that have been grouped together in baggies or jars.  This just goes to prove my point that you never know what you're going to find.  Another person's junk may in fact be some piece of treasure for you.  Keep an open mind when shopping at these types of establishments and ask a lot of questions if you have any.  If, however, you find yourself in the situation in which these items are absolute bargains, jump!