How to Make Dark / Black Icing

This post is going to be short and sweet. (pun intended)

Whenever I try to make black or dark colored royal icing for my cookies, I end up using almost an entire container of the Wilton coloring gel to get it dark enough. Then the icing takes on a weird gel-y taste and I pretty much hate it and want to throw the cookies in the trash. I don’t actually throw them away because my husband kindly eats the rejects, but that is neither here nor there.

After many mishaps, I turned to Google to see if anyone else had (and solved) this problem, and thanks be to God I found an alternative method that looks great and tastes delicious. The blog article I found was for buttercream, but I gave it a try with royal icing for my cookies and it worked perfectly.

My new dark icing secret is cocoa powder. That’s right, chocolate saves the day again! Now I add a teaspoon of cocoa powder to my icing before adding the gel colors and it turns dark in no time. The only downside (and is it really a downside?) is that the icing has to be chocolate flavored because the cocoa powder overpowers any other flavoring you try to add to the icing.

I made some dark gray elephant cookies last night using this technique. I haven’t had much feedback from anyone else about how they taste, but I liked them a lot, and I think I’m usually the most critical of my baking.

7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 11)

— 1 —

I haven’t been blogging much the last few months. Sure, I miss it, but a few other areas of my life have gotten SO BUSY. I’ve been having a lot of fun planning my sister’s bridal shower and bachelorette party with my Mom and Aunt. The company I work for is growing rapidly. And the nonprofit I’m working with is hosting an exciting event to celebrate Cinco De Mayo.

Speaking of the event…if you are in the Chicago area and enjoy bowling, you should come to this event to support a great cause! There will be some pretty awesome silent auction prizes, including four Disney Park Hopper Passes with no blackout dates. Plus, we will have lots of yummy Mexican food after bowling. Tell me you don’t love Mexican food, I won’t believe you.

http://bowlforslnfp.eventbrite.com/

— 2 —

I don’t watch a lot of TV, but when I’m watching it live (instead of DVR) I’m almost always also on Twitter watching what other people are saying about the show. Do you watch TV with Twitter?

— 3 —

I ran my first 8k last week, the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle. I finished with my slowest per mile time ever. EVER. So so slow. As in, even in my most out of shape moment in life, I’ve run faster than this. Probably because I didn’t train very much at all, which wasn’t very smart. The most I ran before the event was about 3 miles. All things considered, I was still pretty pleased with myself because I didn’t stop running even though I REALLY REALLY REALLY wanted to, and I had lots of fun when the running was over.

The Starting Line

It was a gorgeous day downtown, nothing like the dreary, rainy mess it has been the rest of this week. And we got to spend some time with our friends Kevin and Arletta, which we always enjoy. Arletta ran with me, and Kevin and Mark said they walked at least a 5k running around to try to take pictures of us at the various mile markers. They had a fun little celebration after the race for the runners and their guests.

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— 4 —

I know I say this about 9,000 times per week, but can I just reiterate how much I’m completely in love with my husband? I’m trying really hard to get back into shape so I can fit back into my summer clothes (and look awesome in my MOH dress at my sister’s wedding) and he has been super supportive and encouraging, even though I’m asking him to eat some of the weird things I prepare for our meals. He tells me every. single. day how proud of me he is and is always looking for ways to help me achieve my goals – whether it be this or others. I’m so blessed.

— 5 —

Today is my Mom and Stepdad’s wedding anniversary. Happy Anniversary, you two!!! I was a bridesmaid at their wedding, and it was so much fun. We wore hunter green skirts with a green lace tops and had daisies in our hair. Then of course we danced the night away to celebrate. Very special memories.

— 6 —

What is your favorite brand of flip flop? I have some adorable pink and blue floral ones from my Mom, but I’m on the hunt for some plain ones that go with just about any casual outfit. I usually go with the Old Navy version because they are so affordable, but they don’t last very long at all and I suspect they keep changing the design because they get less and less comfortable each year. Either that or I’m getting more picky about my shoes.

— 7 —

This weekend I get to attend a bridal shower for one of my husband’s cousins and have a cookie bake-a-thon, while shopping in between for bridal shower stuff. Looking very forward to it! Any big weekend plans?

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 10)

— 1 —

Mark traveled to Georgia for work the early part of this week. We did something super fun while he was away – a video chat while he was on the plane, thousands of feet up in the air! We’ve video chatted before, but this was different. I could see the plane in the background and hear the noises. It was so cool. I took a screenshot while we were talking because I was so excited. I realize being this happy about having internet access while on a plane makes me a giant nerd.

 

Mark on the plane

— 2 —

The company I work for opened a new office in downtown Chicago yesterday, and we hosted an open house to celebrate. We had a great turnout, and it was lots of fun being welcomed into the area. The catering company made delicious food, and they did this adorable arrangement for the caprese skewers I intend to copy for a certain sister’s upcoming bridal shower. They cut head of lettuce in half and then stuck the skewers into it with toothpicks. I never would’ve thought to do so, but I love it!

 

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— 3 —

Speaking of my sister’s upcoming nuptials  we ordered our bridesmaid dresses! I can hardly wait to wear mine. My dress is the perfect combination of fun and sophisticated. I won’t spoil the surprise by sharing exactly what it looks like, but I’ll definitely post pictures after her big day.

 

— 4 —

All the news about the Pope’s resignation, plus the poor reporting that doesn’t even deserve to be called news, has been kind of overwhelming. It never ceases to amaze me the way everyone in the media immediately jumps to conclusions about scandal, etc. I’ve mostly been ignoring it. I did, however, see this cool educational “Fantasy Conclave League” on twitter and had to share.

It is kind of like fantasy football, but for guessing who the new Pope will be. And it is free, and you can win a prize from the site’s sponsors if you are right. I recommend checking it out!

 

— 5 —

Enough said.

It's On The Internet Catholic Meme

— 6 —

I’m married to the most awesome man ever. Case in point: Tonight he said, “I’m going to make you some bacon for breakfast tomorrow.”

I can’t resist a man who makes me bacon. <3

 

— 7 —

We are going to celebrate my husband’s and sister-in-law’s birthdays tomorrow night at our house, and I’m going to try to make a banana pudding poke cake for dessert. Saw it on Pinterest of course. The husband loves banana cream pie, so I think it will be a winner. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Banana Pudding Poke Cake

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

The Wrong Way to Leverage A Popular Brand

I was posting a new blog article to Facebook for work this morning, when I saw the sponsored advertisement above in my news feed.

I fail to see how XFINITY is relevant to Downton Abbey, other than the fact it is a television show, in which case you could fill in the blank with ANY show. I could maybe justify this approach for a cable-only program, but you don’t even need a cable subscription or service like XFINITY to watch Downton Abbey because it is on PBS. Maybe XFINITY donates lots of cash to PBS? I’m thinking not, but could be wrong.

I wonder how many suckers have clicked on this, thinking they are “liking” the program’s page rather than XFINITY’s. This advertisement isn’t creative marketing, it is trickery.

Something that would make more sense would be a clothing store that sells period costumes like the dress seen on the show or a travel agency offering tours of the English countryside. If you like Downton Abbey, it isn’t a far leap to assume you’d also like those things.

If you want to leverage a popular brand to win the hearts of its followers, make sure the connection between your brands makes sense. If you use an “if A, then B” formula, the connection should be strong and obvious. The public access tv show + cable provider connection is weak, and left me more annoyed than I usually am with XFINITY/Comcast.

Someone please correct me if there is a good connection between the two I’m missing.

[end rant]

 

Scary Movies, Downton Abbey, and My Tender Heart

**Spoiler Alert** If you  haven’t watched the season finale of Downton Abbey, and you intend to do so, don’t read this until you have.

About 7 years ago I stopped watching scary movies. Though I liked the thrill and rush of being scared during the movie, I couldn’t shake the fear for months after I saw one. It was paralyzing and left me checking behind every door and suspecting that even people I knew well may not be who or what they seemed. To this day, I can’t forget some of the horrific scenes from the movies The Cell and Gothika. (I don’t recommend them, btw.)

It was easy for me to stop watching scary movies because I realized my reaction to them wasn’t healthy. It stopped being entertainment, and started to disrupt my life.

On Sunday evening, I watched the season finale of Downton Abbey. After experiencing inappropriate amounts of sadness related to Matthew’s death, I wondered if maybe it is time to abandon television, too.

The thing is, with scary movies and even with DA, my exaggerated emotional responses aren’t just about the loss of the characters. (If it were, I could get over it much more easily.) I’m upset that these things being portrayed in this movie or television program can happen, have happend to people just like you and me. New mothers lose their lives in childbirth. Families are torn apart by car accidents and senseless murders. Children get terminal illnesses.

I’m a very emotional person with an overdeveloped sense of empathy. I envision myself in the shoes (and shirt and jacket and pants…) of the person at the center of the story line. Long after the show/movie/book is over, I keep coming back to it, reliving the highs and lows. After Matthew’s death, I started getting nervous about my husband Mark driving. And to what end?

These programs are causing me to worry, when I know it is senseless to do so. God is in control, and whatever He permits in our lives is for our good.

I don’t really know where I’m going with this. I guess I’m just thinking “outloud,” wondering if I should direct the attentions of my tender heart to something more worthy of such emotions.

7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 9)

— 1 —

I’ve had a couple weeks to cope with being almost 30. Also known as 29. It is growing on me.

— 2 —

On Wednesday night, I was bit by the baking bug, so I whipped up some chocolate, chocolate chip cookies as a treat for a meeting we have at work every Thursday. You can find the recipe I used here. No, it isn’t “healthy.” But it is delish.

— 3 —

I’ve been pretty good so far about sticking to my “5 Things I’m NOT Going To Do in 2013” list, especially with accepting compliments more graciously. It really is sad the number of times I’ve caught myself before something negative slipped out in response. Here’s hoping this resolution helps me break this terrible habit!

I’m still struggling with talking on the phone though. Ugh.

— 4 —

On January 22nd in 1973, Roe vs. Wade was decided by the Supreme Court. Please be sure to say an extra prayer on  Tuesday (the 40th anniversary) for those who have been impacted by this decision. Our Church is hosting a Mass for Life that evening to bring the community together in prayer over this issue.

Also, I heard about this great ministry called Rachel’s Vineyard on Relevant Radio the other day. It helps men and women cope with past abortions. Why not share it on your Facebook wall or via Twitter, in case one of your followers is suffering in silence and in need of some help?

— 5 —

The book Love Does by Bob Goff really touched my heart. I received it as a gift for Christmas, and zipped through it in a few days. When I put it down, all I could think about were the ways I can show people I love them, rather than tell them. Very inspirational and thought provoking, but more importantly as the book title suggests, ACTION provoking. I recommend reading it, with one word of caution.

He subscribes to the idea that going to Church isn’t necessary and says as much throughout the book. I obviously disagree, but still found it to be a good read.

— 6 —

Did you know there were 9 million different types of Duct Tape?!?! I had no idea. Saw this display in Menards last weekend and stood there for a minute with my jaw on the floor. Leopard print? Stripes? Polka dots? Floral? The crafting possibilities are endless. Have you ever done any Duct Tape crafts?

— 7 —

I tried a gel manicure for a wedding recently, and it lasted for 15 days. 15 DAYS!! Did you hear me? That is unheard of. During this time, I even used a brillo pad to clean my kitchen sink, which is the fastest way to get my normal nail polish to start chipping.

It would’ve lasted longer if my nails didn’t grow so fast, which I’m not complaining about. Still no chips at day 15. I took it off myself, which I do not recommend and will probably never do ever again. It was excruciatingly time consuming, and I even followed the directions the salon tech gave me to a T. It took me over 1.5 hours. Time is precious people, that is unacceptable. Never again.

— 8 —

As a bonus, you have to check this out. I’m probably late to the party, as I often am with memes and YouTube videos, but if you haven’t watched this, do.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

When Fear Tries to Suffocate Gratitude

Mark and I have a system for getting ready for work in the morning that really works for us.

It is really less of a “system” and more of a free for all. Whoever gets to it first makes the coffee, prepares our lunches, sets up the DVR so we can watch just the legit (non celebrity gossip/reading from the newspaper) part of the morning news while we eat breakfast, cooks breakfast, makes sure my flat iron is unplugged before we leave the house, etc.

We don’t have rigid roles, but everything always gets done and we somehow manage to get out the door on time-ish. Some days I do most things, some days Mark does most things. Today it was the latter.

This morning, each time I caught a glimpse of Mark rushing up the stairs or passing me in the hallway as we got ready, my heart swelled with gratitude to God for bringing us together in marriage. We make a great team, and he is one of the most considerate, loving people I know. He is such a blessing to me, and I’m grateful for the life we share together.

I started praying from the heart in thanksgiving to God, and suddenly an overwhelming sense of fear tackled me. My thoughts were derailed and took a turn for the worse.

“He makes you so happy. You are so vulnerable. What if something tragic happens? How would you cope? Do you think you can be this happy forever?”

How easily I slipped into “what if” mode! Instead of giving thanks as I originally intended, I was spending those precious moments being fearful and worried. As soon as I realized my prayer had gotten off track by these negative thoughts, I strengthened my focus, and decided not to allow myself to dwell on those bad things. I will not let a fear of losing what I hold dear keep me from praising God for the blessings in my life.

Isaiah 41:10
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Psalm 118
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!

How do you refocus yourself on prayer when you get distracted? Anyone else struggle with fear in the midst of gratitude?

 

5 things I’m NOT going to do in 2013

Everyone in the bloggy universe has been writing posts about the goals they will achieve in 2013. Well, I’m jumping on the bandwagon, with a little twist.

I’m going to tell you 5 things I’m NOT going to do in 2013, in no particular order…

1. I’m not going to nag my husband to drink more water. (You’re welcome, honey.) I not-so-secretly believe many health problems can be prevented and cured by drinking adequate amounts of water. And I nag everyone, especially my husband, about the lack of water they consume.

2. I’m not going to spend the majority of my reading time on poorly written novels targeted at teenage girls. Not to say I’m abandoning them altogether (I’m only human!) but I need to catch up on some of the classics I haven’t read yet. Ashamed to admit as an English major, I’ve never read 1984, The Grapes of Wrath, or A Tale of Two Cities. Also, I received tons of great books about faith for Christmas and my birthday, so those are definitely moving to the top of my “to read” pile.

3. I’m not going to avoid talking on the telephone at all costs. I avoid the phone in a pretty extreme way now, and I know I could be better connected to my long distance family and friends if I made peace with the fact a phone call may be the best way to keep in touch when we can’t see each other regularly in person.

4. I’m not going to participate in gossip. This one is going to be especially hard for me because while I’m not a big repeater of gossip, I am a big listener. For a while, I thought this was ok, but it makes me just as culpable as if I were repeating it. I’d be hurt if I knew people were repeating or listening to details about my personal life, so it only makes sense that I’d respect others by avoiding it.

5. I’m not going to minimize or try to negate compliments. I have this lovely habit of telling people why they are wrong when they pay me compliments. For example…

Friend: “Your hair looks really cute today.”
Me: “Oh, thanks. I could really use a hair cut.”

This behavior is self deprecating and I’m not ok with it. 2013 will be the year I break myself of this habit.

Feel free to hold me accountable for these! What are you NOT going to do in 2013?

Attending Mass for Spanish Speakers

Mark and I were both sick with the flu last week. He had it really bad, and I just had a touch of it. After a long week of fighting off the illness, we were both pretty exhausted, so we decided to sleep in on Sunday morning and attend whatever Mass we happened to wake up in time to attend. We’re blessed to live in an area with many Catholic Churches and tons of Mass times, from 7:00AM to 6:00PM.

We finally rolled out of bed around 9:00AM and took our time eating breakfast and getting ready for the day. I used the ever-so-helpful Masstimes.org (love the site redesign btw!) to find an 11:30AM service in our area.

Shortly after entering the Church, we realized it was a Spanish Mass. Neither of us know Spanish well, though mine is spotty enough to catch about 4/20 words and piece together basic concepts, but we decided to stay anyway.

4 things struck me about attending the Spanish Mass…

1) It was SO UPBEAT. 

So often in Mass, I look around the pews to see everyone looking very solemn. Definitely appropriate, but it is nice to see some joy, too. The music was snappy and people were tapping their feet and the kids were clapping. It was fun!

2) There were SO MANY KIDS.

Wayyyy way way way more than I’ve seen at other Masses in surrounding communities. I think this next weekend when I attend our parish, I’ll be struck by how many kids aren’t there in contrast. Maybe there are other variables I’m not considering, but it seemed like the population at this Mass adhered to the Church’s teaching about contraception much more strictly than the populations at the Masses I usually attend.

3) It was easier to FOCUS.

Not being super familiar with the language forced me to pay extra careful attention to each word the priest spoke. I’m ashamed to admit I’ve zoned out before during Mass and had to reign my mind back in, but there was no room for daydreaming because I was working so hard to piece together what was happening.

4) Mass is UNIVERSAL and BEAUTIFUL in any language.

Though the language was foreign to us, we could follow what was happening and share in the service. I love that we can attend Mass anywhere, in any language, and still feel right at home.

Have you ever attended Mass in another language, or even another country?

7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 8)

— 1 —

We officially had our first snow of the season this week. I looked outside to find our grill cover totally blown off (thank you crazy Midwestern wind) and bits of snow piling up. I don’t think we even got 1/4 of an inch, but Mark’s parents not too far from us got almost an inch. Despite my extreme distaste for cold weather, I was a little tiny bit excited to see some snow. I may have even done a little “yay there is snow” dance in my living room.

— 2 —

I made some homemade bread for the first time in over a year. Tried a new kind of yeast, and it rose higher than ever before. Much more fluffy. It was so delicious, and reminded me why I have such a hard time avoiding carbs. Bread is my jam.

— 3 —

The Business Marketing Association of Chicago breakfast seminar I attended this week was pretty fun. It was about two of my favs – marketing + mobile apps for business. After successfully driving into the city during rush hour (pats self on back) without running over bike riders or pedestrians any mishaps, I spent some time networking and meeting the other attendees. Those of you who know me well know that networking like this is not my cup of tea, but I managed to meet a few interesting people without totally embarrassing myself.

 

— 4 —

I saw this article, Teen Denied Communion After Marriage Equality Post on Facebook, on Mashable this morning. I won’t speak specifically to whether or not her Priest was right or wrong in denying her communion because I honestly don’t know, but I do know the article portrays the situation inaccurately. (See the excerpt below, emphasis added by me.)

Reverend Gary LaMoine of the Assumption Church in Barnesville, Minn., denied 17-year-old Lennon Cihak the Eucharist rite of Communion after seeing a picture on Facebook of the teen that went against the church’s politics.

The Church doesn’t have “politics,” but rather moral truths and doctrine.

— 5 —

My Mom signed my six year old sister up for her first email address. Isn’t that so cute?! I can’t wait to email her! But don’t say anything to her yet. It is a surprise that goes with her super secret Christmas present.

— 6 —

Two of my favorite childhood toys were my stuffed panda bear and a Big Bird record player I used to “read” books about the Disney princesses. I can still hear the narrator on the records, “It’s time to turn the page when you hear the chime ring, like this.” Ah good memories.

I’ve been thinking about this because I’m trying to buy some Christmas presents for the littles in my life. What were your favorite childhood toys? What are the “hot” toys for those 6 and under this year? I need some ideas!!

— 7 —

I’m going to see the latest Twilight movie this weekend and can hardly wait. I can hear you book snobs over there judging me, but I don’t mind. I know it is poorly written, but I am soooo sucked into the story. (pun intended)

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!