by Valerie Nusbaum
It has long been my dream to own and operate a bakery or baking business. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love doing my paintings and writing this column and other things, but I’ve wanted to try making and selling food items for many years. Randy shares this love of all things edible with me and, together, we’ve tried making it all. Cakes, pies, breads, candies, you name it. But my hubby focused on cookies. Not just delicious-tasting cookies. Oh, no. Mr. Nusbaum wanted to make delicious and beautifully decorated cookies.
I explained to Randy that decorated cookies are tedious and take a long time to do and that it’s very difficult to make a dozen or more cookies look nearly identical. I know this because, in my much younger days, I was a cake decorator and had ventured into cookies long before it was trendy. My grandmother, Ella, was a superior baker, and she ran a home business doing cakes and pies in order to bring in extra money. When Ella’s hands became too riddled with arthritis for her to do the piping and decorating, she called on me to help. I learned from her when I was a teenager and became hooked on the process. I somehow managed to rope my mother into making frosting for me, and I began baking cakes on order.
Now, unfortunately, my own hands are arthritic and that meant a lot of the piping would be on Randy’s shoulders if we actually got into the cookie business. Randy felt sure he could handle it, largely because we’d watched the Food Network’s cookie-baking contests for several seasons, and Randy said it appeared that anyone with half a brain could do it. Sure. Don’t say I didn’t warn him. We both agreed that the judges in those competitions are a bit hard on the contestants. Seriously, I’d probably cry over some of the criticisms. (You’re laughing, and you’re absolutely correct. I wouldn’t cry. I’d punch one of the judges and then Randy would have to bail me out again.)
So, a few years ago at Christmastime, I went out and got Randy some books on cookie decorating. I bought him a set of piping tips. I have a set, but Randy once got my favorite leaf tip caught in the garbage disposal, so I felt it was best that he have his own. I bought him disposable piping bags, a palette knife, some nail heads, cookie sheets (again, he’s not allowed to use mine), and some tools I had no idea what to do with. I suggested that in order to refine his decorating skills, Randy should use prepared cookie dough. Mostly, I didn’t want flour all over my kitchen, along with the powdered sugar from the royal icing mix. And I should point out, too, that I’m not allowed to use Randy’s hammer anymore.
We talked it over and decided that making snowman and snowflake shapes might be a good way to start. Randy rolled out and baked his Pillsbury sugar cookies and mixed up a batch of royal icing, which he then tinted several colors. I showed him how to fill the piping bags and explained about piping and flooding. Randy is careful and meticulous and did a good job, especially for his first time out.
Four hours later, we had five cookies finished. I felt that it might be a good time for a teaching moment, so I posed the question of how much we’d have to charge for those five cookies in order to be paid for our time, as well as all the icing we’d had to discard, along with what Randy had eaten. And I mentioned, too, that in a real business, we wouldn’t be using packaged cookie dough. We’d be buying all the ingredients and making our own dough. We mulled it over for a while and decided that maybe undecorated cookies would be a better business venture, along with several candies and some other baked goods that come from family recipes handed down through generations. A food truck or a trailer, rather than a brick-and-mortar structure, would be my first choice, but I’d also be happy to start out working from our kitchen and selling at events and taking orders.
Right now, the cookie/candy business is still a dream, but with Christmas just around the corner, I’m feeling the urge to bake something and get out the decorating tools. However, I’m NOT feeling the urge to scrape icing off the ceiling again.
The holidays aren’t very exciting for us these days. We don’t have much family close by. My brother and his family are in Montana, our nephew is in Kansas with his family, and our niece and her family live in Spokane, Washington. We’re not feeling sorry for ourselves, though, because what we do have is the family we’ve chosen. That’s all of our good friends and the relatives who live nearby. We’re blessed and thankful for them. We’re also grateful for those of you who take the time to let us know that you enjoy my column and have kept us in your thoughts and prayers this year.
Thanks to Kyle and Shelby Anderson and to Alan Overly and his mother for taking the time to write. I’m so glad you can find something to smile about in my words.
Also, thanks to Larry and Linda Fogle, Linda Fogle, Carol Robertson, Steve and Brooke Fulmer, Tammie and Bill Fulmer, Dolly Long, Peggy Stitely, Loberta and Harold Staley, and Barb Barbe for being good friends, especially when we needed some.
Happy Holidays to all of you from both of us!