I had a pretty great childhood… I can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel loved, or secure, or encouraged by my family. And the holidays? Always a season of magic and love… and never without more than enough gifts under the tree. So it’s hard for me to imagine what it must be like to not feel and experience all of these things as a child… or to not enjoy the warmth of the holidays surrounded by people who love you. But, the reality is that there are many kids in this world who won’t be having a wonderful Christmas with their families. Kids who, instead, are spending it in a strange, new place… without many of the comforts of home… often not knowing whether they’ll return home to family or be placed into the foster care system. This is the reality of many of the kids who find themselves placed at the Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter.
As I mentioned earlier this week, after easily a full year of procrastination, I have finally hosted my first Drop In & Decorate Party! Drop In & Decorate, Inc. is a nonprofit organization founded by fellow foodie Lydia Walshin. Their mission is to help individuals build bridges of caring and respect between groups within their own communities… with cookies! It’s really a simple (yet brilliant!) concept: bake some cookies, invite friends or family (or neighbors, or co-workers) to stop in and help decorate, then donate the cookies to a local food pantry, emergency shelter, senior center, lunch program, or other community agency. Such a fun and easy way to put a little good back into the world!
I invited my friends Gretchen and Robin over for an evening of pom-apple cider, cookies, royal icing and crazy sprinkles, holiday tunes, and girl talk. We had a wonderful time and managed to decorate roughly six dozen cookies without making too much of a mess! The creativity was flowing and once we all became familiar with the in’s and out’s of decorating with royal icing, we turned out some lovely (and festive!) cookies.
I can’t believe I waited so long to try my hand at decorating sugar cookies… it’s so much fun! You can go crazy with color and decorations, or you can take the minimalist approach. It’s all good! And if you happen to take a wrong turn with your cookie and decide you don’t like the way it turned out… you can eat your mistake and move on to a new cookie! Brilliant!
I also can’t believe I waited so long to host one of these parties. Lydia has struck on a wonderful idea and it felt unbelievably good to drop those cookies by the Shelter and know that the 30+ kids staying there right now would be enjoying our beautiful cookies with their dinner that night. I can only hope that it made the staff’s day a little brighter and brought a little bit of happiness to the rather uncertain world of all of those beautiful children.
This is a great event to host anytime of the year. But if you’re looking for a great way to put a little holiday joy back into your community during the coming week, whip up a couple batches of cookies and spend a little time with your kids, neighbors, co-workers, family or friends decorating cookies and then donate them locally. I promise you’ll have a wonderful time and will love knowing that you’ve given something back to your community. I’m certain I’ll be hosting a party again soon!
Thank to Lydia for bringing us Drop In & Decorate, to Gretchen and Robin for being my partners in crime, and to Frankie and the rest of the wonderful staff at the Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter for providing such an important resource to hundreds of kids in need every year. Happy Holidays!
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Combine the flour, baking powder and salt; set aside. In a large bowl/bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and mix until fully combined. Add the flour mixture in three parts and beat until just combined, scraping down the bowl occasionally.
Roll out dough on a floured surface to approximately 1/4 inch and cut into shapes. Place on parchment lined baking sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes. Let sit a few minutes on the sheet, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.
Yield: 3-4 dozen cookies, depending on size
(courtesy of Lydia @ The Perfect Pantry)
1 lb + scant 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
5 Tbsp meringue powder
1/2 cup cool water (add more, a teaspoon at a time, if needed for desired consistency)
A few drops of paste food coloring
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, combine first three ingredients and mix on low speed until glossy and fluffy, 7-8 minutes. To color, place some icing in a small bowl or plastic cup, and stir in a few drops of food coloring until desired shade is reached. Royal Icing hardens quickly when exposed to air, so use immediately, or transfer to an airtight container; it will keep overnight at room temperature. Beat well before using.
Yield: 2-1/2 cups, enough for one batch of large cookies.