Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year's Eve Memories and Inspiration

My memories growing up of New Year's Eve were usually spent at home watching Dick Clark's Rockin' Eve, drinking sparkling cider, and always eating some kind of cheeseball and crackers, which was our idea of "appetizers" and seemed fancy. The only way this could possibly be considered fancy could be that we had several different kinds of crackers, but to an 8 year old it seemed fancy. There were some times I remember being babysat at my grandparents house and my parents coming back late with my grandma who was always wearing something impossibly sparkly and some silly hat. I think when I was about 12 years old I imagined growing up and attending a long string of fancy holiday parties. I think I even bought a velvet dress and leather skirt for the day when these fancy parties would come into reality. Little did my 12 year old self know that grown ups typically go to office parties which are attended in a white button up shirt and black pencil skirt, family parties which many times are attended with pajamas with animals on them, and perhaps casual get togethers with friends (where a velvet gown would seem out of place). My parents now have a tradition of going out for Chinese food on New Year's Eve. The place is actually really good, and doing the same thing every year makes it easy to compare and discuss other years of life.

We are planning on stopping by a get together earlier in the day and then having a handful of people over later on. Initially, I had grand ideas of inspiration. A Marie Antoinette theme! Ridiculous Pastries! Pyramids of Champage! Over the top rockin' party! But the thing is most people we know are out of town, and the older you get the higher number of your friends have small children and can't stay out late. Here's some inspiration from my original idea:

So some things from my original idea have stayed - feather centerpieces! Fleur de lis napkins! (You would be surprised how much you can channel Marie Antoinette in a half hour spent at Party City and Michael's Craft Store). I also went to Forever 21 and got a fabulous sequined dress (my 12 year old self would finally feel her dreams were realized!), and a feather headband. But the menu is very casual. From Ad Hoc at Home: Lobster Rolls. From Breakfast, Lunch, Tea ( based on a cafe in Paris): potato salad. St Germain cocktail (Is anyone else on their mailing list? They send me ridiculous hats every year at this time with cocktail recipes- this year's hat had an ostrich feather in it, which was where I got my idea for the theme from), which has sparkling wine, club soda, and a lemon twist. And other finger foods/desserts our friends are bringing.

So it seems we are going the route of stress-free and intimate over grand and ridiculously fabulous. For me, it is really about taking a moment to say goodbye to the year that has past, and think of what we want from the year that is yet to come. I just read the book Rules of Civility that started and ended on  New Year's surrounding 1938. It really made me think of looking at a year like a discreet unit, as a story in itself. For me, 2011 was the year I got married and went on a honeymoon, and everything is pretty much overshadowed by all of that and the associated ridiculous amounts of joy. My thoughts for 2012? Well, I have done all my laundry and cleaned my house over the break so I feel ready for anything! I look forward to rewarding work at my job, both of us celebrating milestone birthdays, and telling you all about incredibly time consuming projects I will no doubt embark on in the kitchen!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


The winter holidays obviously can cause a whole range of emotions in people - they are weighed down with memories of past Christmases, especially if people or things are now gone. Also, places that mean one thing on other days of the year can have other connotations on Christmas. They are weighed down with expectations, pressures, and comparisons. The sentence "But its Christmas!" seems so much of a stronger thing to say than "But it is President's Day!" It seems a bit like weddings - what other thing has such strong expectations attached to it because it happens to be a certain day on the calender?

That being said, most other Christmas breaks I have had I have traveled farther than this year. The college where I work does a campus shut down during this week to save money with energy costs. It is the sort of thing where you don't want to know what day it is, because you don't want to know how fast it is going by (like our honeymoon). It makes me think of days on end of my cousins coming over, watching Clue the movie, and going to the theatre to see Disney's Aladdin. It makes me think of my cousin breaking my leg on a plastic snowboard on a small hill while I sledded down next to him, and my grandparents coming to say hi to me in the hospital one their way home. Between the excitement of Christmas gone, and the excitement of a new year yet to come, it feels like a lost time - a time where there is nothing in the world wrong with sleeping until well past noon, eating French toast for breakfast, nibbling at fruitcake while you do the dishes, and accomplishing next to nothing. The only difference between now and then for me is having new books to read as opposed to new toys to play with, but the feeling all remains the same. Yay for the people at the Comptroller's office who think it is a good idea to save money with energy costs! I will say though I have noticed how much less candy changes hands with grown-up Christmases. That may need to be rectified.

So what exactly have we been up to you may ask?

  • We spent Christmas in Brooklyn and had Christmas Eve dinner at Queen. The fresh mozzarella alone is reason to go. The classic Italian dishes like eggplant parm and lasagna are amazing, and the seasonal specials are often really inventive and always super fresh. There is an adorable old man who is the manager there who will remember you even if you leave the country for a whole summer or move away for years.
  • The day after Christmas we ate at Bar Tabac on Smith Street. I've always loved this place. Most of the waitresses used to all be French. The bread can be a bit hard, but the sandwiches are all great, the half roasted chicken for lunch is amazing, the coffee rocks, and the vibe is great.
  • I got some great presents. You may remember how we went all the way down to NYC last week to meet Amanda Hesser, just to find the event was postponed. Well, I had things to do at work the day it was postponed to, but my Mother-In-Law and Sister-In-Law were able to go to the event, and got me a signed copy of the new Food52 cookbook, so that was great! My husband got me the Silver Palate cookbook, since we had just made something originally from there that was featured in the Cook's Illustrated magazine recently (Chicken Mirabella). We also got a great pot rack made by J.K. Adams (a Vermont company), from Different Drummer's Kitchen. I have really wanted a pot rack after I saw pictures of Julia Child's kitchen, and after watching too much Beverly Hills 90210 (the Walsh's had one as proof of the Mid-western wholesomeness).

I got some other great presents.  My parents came through with signing me up for a baking class at King Arthur Flour in VT. I am taking the pizza baking one in January. Yay! Also quite a bit of other books including Rules of Civility, which I have already finished and really enjoyed, and Mindy Kaling's book, which feels like just one long great conversation with your most hilarious friend. 

  • The fruitcake I made ten weeks ago turns out to be the best fruitcake I have ever had.  I wasn't sure if it would be good or not, and it is great - who knew something that sat there since October would turn out delicious? 

  • I made a piece of challah that is bigger than a turkey. I am not joking you. The recipe is from the New York Times Essential Cookbook. The recipe says things like "One huge loaf", and "big as a skateboard", and that was not an exaggeration. We have about 5 huge ziplock bags filled with bread it made so much. We had some for dinner last night and french toast this morning and barely made any progress on it. On the up side - it smells amazing to make and is totally delicious. I just wonder, unless you have 10 kids why would you make this again? Here are some pictures.

 (takes up a cooling rack that can normally hold about a dozen cookies)

And as French toast:

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Homemade Food Christmas Gifts

I heard on NPR today that the average person this year is expected to spend around $700 on Christmas. If you don't have a lot of extra money or you aren't able to travel to your home town, Christmas can seem like something you might rather just skip over. But one thing I have realized this year is that you don't have to spend a lot of money to make things festive or enjoy a bit of the holiday spirit. The cookie exchange, for example, was a great cheap way to do something a little bit special that brought people together. Today my coworkers and I went out for lunch, and tomorrow we are having a pizza party. Even though our employer said there wasn't any extra money for holiday parties we've found ways to have fun anyway. Same with presents - you really don't need to spend a lot of money just to let people know you are thinking of them. Somehow I went from wanting to skip the whole thing to going a little overboard in terms of my gift assembly line.

To start with - it was marshmallows for everyone! I used the recipe from the Essential New York Times cookbook. That recipe isn't very different from this recipe.  I started to realize all the different flavors you can make of homemade marshmallows. By replacing the vanilla extract with many others you can make lemon, orange, peppermint - the sky is the limit. I even replaced half the corn syrup with molasses and added spices for a gingerbread flavor. You could also replace the water in the first step with liquers to flavor the marshmallows - like Lillet in this recipe. This post also discussed root beer flavored and someone mentioned maple flavored in the comments.

Martha Stewart also has a line of useful little packaging kits for food gifts. They sell them at craft stores. The kits include ribbon, stickers, tissue paper, and boxes and work really well. Without further ado- here is how I packed up all my marshmallows. Most I mailed, but some we dropped off on a marshmallow delivery tour around town. My friend who tried one while I was dropping them off seemed to really like them.

Then I was sort of sick of making marshmallows. The initial excitement of coming up with different flavors transformed into a sticky mess. I didn't expect to spend most of December covered in powdered sugar. Even though I originally came up with this idea to make some for my coworkers, I mailed all these to my friends and was fresh out of marshmallows. So I came up with a new idea - eclairs! (Also from the NYT Essential cookbook - recipe originally from 1877). I wanted to make these for a long time, and they were really fun. I thought it was interesting the eclairs use melted butter whereas other pastries like pie crust are best with very cold butter. I made butterscotch filling instead of chocolate, inspired by the eclair I had at the Capital City Gastropub. I got a cool pastry decorating kit from Marshall's for $20 and that really helped me.

 (Pastry pen filled with eclair dough)

Then I had 6 egg whites leftover from the butterscotch filling I injected in the pastries, so I also made some peppermint meringues to give to my coworkers.

On the receiving end of things, my boss made me this awesome granola in a jar. I think it looks great, and I can't wait to try it out. Apparently it was super easy to make and mostly involved baking everything spread out on a cookie sheet.

This is all proof that thoughtful gestures during the holiday season need not be expensive - all it takes is a little creativity and effort. My boss's daughter and my coworker's husband tried my eclairs and said they were good. This made me really happy - not quite the level of enthusiasm as my apple fritters - but when people enjoy what you make for them it is extremely satisfying.

Emperor's, Wolf Road

We went to Emperor's last night. We had been there a few times before. My husband has also been there for lunch, and says that is a great deal. We got the Singapore Noodles and they made a chicken with mixed vegetable in garlic sauce for us because we couldn't decide between a couple of things.

Things that are great about Emperor's:
  • The waiter here actually remembered my husband is allergic to nuts. That can't be expected. I don't even think we've been here that much - very impressive.
  • The garlic sauce is actually not sweet. It has a little spice to it, and a touch of sweetness - the right balance.
  • The Singapore Noodles are great. They are really flavorful, and also fun to eat.
  • I also like that the hot tea comes with your meal.
  • The hot and sour soup is really good - which we all know is the real test of a Chinese restaurant.
I would say in this area that this is how I would rank the top Chinese restaurants in the area: Ala Shanghai, Emperor's, and Ichiban. Things that make up a good Chinese restaurant: dishes not being greasy, there actually being vegetables, and sauces that have full, sometimes spicy flavors. I think Emperor's succeeds against this criteria for Chinese restaurants. Also, we always seem to have leftovers and the noodles make a great lunch the next day.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Chicken Pot Pie with Buttermilk Topping

I mentioned this recipe once before during my recap of Thomas Keller's chicken and dumplings soup. It is from Cook's Illustrated. I really think it is a great recipe, and the buttermilk topping is probably a lot healthier than the puff pastry or pie crust versions of pot pies.

First I made the topping which is basically a biscuit recipe that you cook on top of the filling. Then we went out to the Recovery Room and watched some football (Go Lions!). You can skip this step if you want. I also stopped by the New Scotland Wine Shop and got some sherry from the nice old lady for my sauce. It is convenient they are open late on the weekends.

Then I cooked my skinless, boneless chicken breasts in chicken broth. Of course bone-in chicken is way more flavorful, but we didn't have any on hand, and of course you aren't going to roast a chicken specifically to make pot pie. Put the chicken in a bowl after about 10 minutes.

Then I added in my carrots, celery, and onion.

Give that about five minutes, and put those in a bowl with the chicken breasts. Then add some butter. Melt that down and wait until the foaming stops. Whisk in some flour, chicken broth, accumulated chicken juices, thyme and milk. At this point our friend showed up and wanted us to babysit his guitar while they went away for the holidays. This diversion gave my sauce some time to bubble away and thicken up.

 Add some sherry and sat and pepper. Pour the sauce in with the veggies and chicken. Add in some frozen peas and parsley.

Plop all that into a baking dish and top with your desired pastry. Then, 400 degrees for half an hour.

 Ta-da! One of my favorite foods. Gives you a whole ton, and it is super delicious. I do think is funny I feel nostalgic for the frozen 99 cent ones I had as a kid so I go through all of this to get that same result. But, whatever, it is a great food I think!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Prune, NYC and Cocktails at the Morgan

I took yesterday off of work months in advance to attend an author signing and cooking demonstration by Amanda Hesser for the Food52 cookbook. We woke up super early, drove to Poughkeepsie, took the Metro-North, took a cab from Grand Central, and made it to Sur La Table on 57th street just in time - just in time, that is, for their staff to tell us it was postponed because the store hasn't finished installing their kitchen yet. So unfortunate. What a let down!

So we just killed some time hanging around Columbus Circle and then met our friend at Prune Restaurant for lunch at 1st and 1st. Scott had the sweetbreads with capers and bacon.

I had the burger on an English muffin with Cabot cheddar cheese, and our friend had the skate with a lemon caper sauce. Hers also came with a potato slaw with some sesame sort of dressing with it. It was all amazing.

A side view of the burger:

We also had desserts: churros and a poached pear with brandy and creme fraiche.

We also had coffees which were great. This place is really fabulous. It is small and the menu is not huge, but everything was great. It wasn't too expensive for all that we got either (they brought us a free dish of kale with pine nuts, lemon and parmesan to share and didn't charge me for my beer, although that could have been a mistake). Man, what a find. I'm sure it is even better for dinner.

Then we did some shopping. I checked out the holiday baking specials at Balthazar (I'm sure their fruitcake is better than mine), and walked around the MoMA Design Store. We made our way up to the Morgan where I used to work. What a classy, classy, classy place. Ah, just walking in the door I missed it so much. A couple of my friends from the shop were on break, so we sat in the cafe and had a couple cocktails. I had the English Cucumber Gimlet and Scott had the classic Rob Roy. 

They had Christmas carolers and a huge amount of visitors. I thought of how much the Brooklyn Museum can also get huge turnouts of people in more party atmosphere type of events at the museum, and how no museum in the Albany area seems able to integrate itself into the social/community life as effectively. The music, the cocktails, the architecture, the huge turnout, all together made it a magical moment on a Friday night in what I think of as the stuffiest place in all of New York. It made me think of the time I worked there when LL Cool J showed up when we were having a high level donors-only party. The security guards wouldn't let him in. He didn't take it personally and just kept talking about how much he loved the Morgan - "This is old New York, man! Old New York! I'll be back for sure!". Love it. 

Then we went to Astoria, Queens. The Cup Diner (where we met) is now 5 Napkin Burger. It seemed really busy on a Friday night, and it looked very similar to when I worked there except they added doors on the kitchen. A guy walked by on the side walk who I served breakfast every day for a year and a half (who I stole some of the iconic coffee cups for as the place was shutting down), but he didn't notice me. We walked by Sunswick, where we actually went the first time we hung out. It isn't that great, but if it wasn't there we'd probably start to feel like some really old married couple whose dating history is ancient history. 

 Then we made it to the Rest-au-rant. I could write a book about how much I love this place. Perhaps I will have to revisit the topic. I guess I might just say I pretty much took everyone I knew here in the years 2007-2009 including lots of people from out of town. Our friend started this place who was a waitress at the Brick Cafe, and one cold autumn night in 2007 we were walking by a previously empty storefront when we saw her jumping up and down waving at us. We went in, she told us she had just opened the place and served us some wine. She gradually added food items and cocktails, and eventually brunch.  This place was integral to our time dating. I did my grad school assignments here. It is a quiet place you can easily meet friends and have long, wine-fueled conversations. Scott told her I work in an art museum now, and I realized how much things have changed. When we used to go there I read books about how to one day work in an museum, and was researching grad schools. She was so happy we got married, considering when we first started going there we had just met. This time we had some Belgian beers, and some of our friends were able to come out and meet us. We had some fondue with bread, broccoli, and smoked sausage which was really fun. I took some awful, bleary photos that give a sense of the atmosphere.

Overall, it was a great day that turned out to be pretty epic. I guess seeing all these places I used to work really made me think. When we first arrived in Grand Central station I thought that it is coming on 7 years that I worked at a coffee shop in that spot. It has been 7 years since I lived in my home state. I thought about how it is so hard for me to experience NYC like a tourist because I think "In this spot something awful happened", or "in this spot was something funny or nice". I cannot separate my own experience from the place. It is filled with ghosts of myself everywhere. It seems like at some point I should be able to let go and enjoy it like a tourist. But of course, I don't want to think of myself like a tourist. I want to think of myself as a person who had years of experiences there that meant something to me in becoming who I am.  Like my coworker talks about visiting New York on vacation (knowing barely anything about the place) and taking the F train to some shopping or something, and I tell her about a time when the F train stopped for half an hour for no reason and I was very frustrated and bored. Am I really not able to see the good past all the annoying stuff, or does remembering feeling frustrated and bored make me feel like someone who lives there? Do I remember the annoying stuff most of all in order to feel better about having left? Or, maybe it is actually a more stressful place to live than most other places?

Sometimes you experience a place a certain way and then you leave. Sometimes you make new friends who live there, or your friends from somewhere else move there. Restaurants close and new ones open. The place continues to change, you continue to change, and your relationship with it continues to change. I guess I should not think NYC is stressful because my life there was stressful. I am far from actually acting like a tourist and doing things they would be interested in, but I just may be one more step closer to actually being able to enjoy what the city has to offer and not just focusing on difficult aspects of my own life experiences there.

I guess seeing all those places made me appreciate how hard it can be for young people to find stable footing as individuals and their own path in the world. I believe that you don't find yourself as much as create yourself like a work of art, and when you are making many different decisions you don't know how they will all turn out. When they all actually do turn out well, and you look back and visit the specific places you made all these decisions, well it all seems like a bit much - like a museum of one's life. It is not New York City's fault I used it to figure out who I am in the world or what I should do in life - and whether that was difficult or not, it's restaurants and museums can still be pretty spectacular.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Delmonico's Italian Steakhouse

 We first went to the Delmonico's in Utica when we were visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown a couple years ago. We also visited the Ommegang Brewery, and had worked up strong appetites. I consulted my guidebook I bought when we first moved here, and there didn't seem to be a whole lot in Utica listed, but Delmonico's sounded interesting (here is the menu). We went there, and I got the full pound lasagna  (wow), not sure if I finished it all or not (I definitely haven't since then). I remember liking the cocktail glasses, and liking how many celebrations seemed to be taking place all at once (birthdays, family get togethers, couples on dates). Going to Delmonico's  seemed like a super popular thing to a certain group of people - and I immediately liked it for what it was. Sure it is not Italian-Italian but as far as Italian-American goes, I think it is great. It is so much better than it needs to be. Upon coming home we realized there was one in Albany too, and went back there many times.

Things I love: garlic butter, the fact the bread is actually good, the use of the cherry peppers in several dishes (like Chicken Riggies, and East Utica Greens pictured above at home after we picked them up for take-out), the meat sauce, the vodka sauce and of course those greens. I think the East Utica Greens are really the highlight of it all - "Escarole sautéed w/ Garlic, Prosciutto, Bread Crumbs, Romano & Hot Peppers" (I discussed them a little bit in this post). I also can't get enough of the Chicken Riggies - "Rigatoni Pasta, Mushrooms, Bell Peppers, Onions, Olives, Hot Peppers and Chicken in our Special Light Sauce". And I enjoy the tortellini (the only thing I have had that doesn't come in a ridiculous portion size): "Tortellini, Broccoli, Mushrooms, Grape Tomatoes and Hot Peppers tossed in a Garlic & Olive Oil Butter Sauce". People really seem to love this place, and the fedoras on the waitresses are entertaining. In you do take-out you can save yourself from the endless "Happy Birthday" singing renditions, which do get to be a bit much sometimes. Also, the portions are ridiculous. One waitress once told us that she orders the chicken parm special combination that comes with eggplant parm, and that it is so much food it feeds her and her boyfriend for dinner that night and lunch the next day. When we get take-out we usually only do one entrée, unless we want tons of leftovers.

Overall, it is simple. It doesn't try to be anything other than what it is, and at that it succeeds. With Delmonico's around, there is no reason to ever go to the Olive Garden.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Office Cookie Exchange: The Event

After a lot of math and baking and decorating, the day of the cookie exchange finally arrived. I was excited and hoped that everything would work out in the end.

Here we set up the samples for people to try. You may remember those trays, vases and plastic wine glasses from my Fall Mexican Themed Cocktail Party. One trip to Party City supplied two different little get togethers. I thought about making little centerpieces, and pretty much wandered around town looking for the best option. I sort of had candy canes in mind, but spotted some ribbons at the newstand and stuffed those in the vases.

 You can spot my Sol LeWitt and Edward Hopper cookies. Also molasses cookies, almond cresents, mini cheesecakes, lemon poppy seed thumbprint cookies with raspberry filling, chocolate crinkle cookies, pumpkin cookies, pecan sandies and chocolate chip cookies. Not pictured are a few kinds including sugar cookies and chocolate chip chai. I just put a ribbon where the salsa went during the last party it was used at.

Here are also some peanut butter kisses and more jam thumbprint type cookies. Also, a second kind of chocolate crinkle cookies which differ from the first only because they don't have mint extract. Despite trying to make sure everyone had different types, we did end up with a couple replications - but we can't help people changing their mind at the last minute. And since we only got 3 of each person's cookie, it was no big deal.

Then the madness began. It felt like an adult version of trick or treating. Everyone ran in filling their bags with prebagged three cookie portions of each kind. It was pretty exciting. We continued to taste some of the ones left out for samples (people brought 6 of their cookies for sampling). There were extras people were able to take to afternoon meetings and leave out for non-bakers.

Here are some of the prebagged portions.  Look at all those cookies!

I think overall it turned out great. One thing I got from the planning of my wedding was a fondness for planning parties. It is so fun to bring people together and make something fun with very little expense. My grandma always said "You make your own fun", and I feel like there is some truth to that. All parties, from a wedding down to an office cookie exchange have a similar trajectory. You get the idea, and you get really inspired. You put in some hard work. Then you have a very brief spike of a feeling right before that it may not work out the way you hoped (it is five minutes before a whole bunch of people are supposed to show up at your house - you are pulling all the food out of the oven, assembling a salad and think "What if no one shows up after all?"). Of course everyone does show up, and then comes the moment where you are impressed by your own abilities and can't believe how fun it turns out. You see people having fun and appreciating everything you did, and think "Wow, without our initial inspiration this moment wouldn't have existed at all!".  Then in a flash, it is over and you think to yourself "That went well!" It is immensely satisfying. It is not about me or showing off my skills of cooking or decorating (though having an audience is fun - how else could you ever justify making Baked Alaska or Beef Wellington?).  It is about trying to make it fun for other people, and a lot of the time trying to introduce people to each other. Many people said the cookie exchange was more fun than a secret santa or white elephant type of arrangement where people may feel more pressure or awkwardness. We thought it helped that no one had to participate in the cookie exchange if they did not want to.

I know that previously I was down on Christmas, but today I got a real dose of the Christmas spirit. Because what says "Christmas spirit" more than standing around with your coworkers with a glass of sparkling cider in a green plastic wine glass yelling out "Look at all those cookies!!"

I always liked this quote from the character of Tim in the British version of the office: "The people you work with are people you were just thrown together with. I mean, you don't know them, it wasn't your choice. And yet you spend more time with them than you do your friends or your family. But probably all you have in common is the fact that you walk around on the same bit of carpet for eight hours a day." It is so true. You didn't pick these people, you share the same carpet, you talk about the weather, and yet when you work somewhere long enough if you were to ever leave you would miss them all so much I'm sure it would mean something. It seems important even at work to acknowledge that another year has gone by, and try to be a little festive. That being said, people seemed interested in having another cookie exchange next year. Perhaps then I will make Assyrian Relief and Andy Warhol cookies.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Art Museum Inspired Ginger Cookies

 Last week I posted about my plans for the staff cookie exchange and my art museum inspired cookies. I had watched a video online about painting fondant. I learned about fondant at a class I took at Bettie's Cakes.  I bought a huge box of it at a craft store. I also bought some gel food colors, and some vodka. I rolled out the fondant and cut it up in squares. The first batch I did I put too much vodka mixed in with the colors. This made them take forever to dry, and therefore the coloring was still wet while the fondant got a little hard. You want a little vodka (you can also use vanilla or lemon extract). It is not like a watercolor painting. You just want to add a very small amount to thin it a little bit, and prevent the color from globbing up. I also bought some brushes from the cake decorating section of the craft store.

 This is my Edward Hopper's "Morning in a City".

After they got a little hard, and I had a disastrous time trying to put plastic wrap over the baking sheets they were on, and I realized it might be better to paint the fondant after the cookies were made. I made the ginger sugar cookies recipe from The Gourmet Cookie Book. The recipe is originally from the 1930s, and it is not dry or hard like a lot of gingerbread recipes. We tested it out and it wasn't too soft to hold up to the frosting either. I rolled out the dough and cut it in squares.

Here's my Sol Lewitt Wall Drawing cookies.

Grant Wood's "Death on the Ridge Road".

This is a very fun way to decorate baked goods. The possibilities are endless - a family portrait, a cupid for Valentine's Day - anything you can think of to paint. My only advice is to wait until they dry to put plastic wrap over them, and do not use too much vodka to thin the color - just a few drops at a time. Now I am very excited to see what the rest of my coworkers have made!