Monday, April 20, 2009

The Truth About Susan Boyle

If by now you haven't seen the Susan Boyle audition from the reality TV show, "Britain's Got Talent," then apparently you've been in a coma since April 11, because it's one of the hottest news items from the last 10 days. One of the Youtube videos alone has garnered more than 35 million hits in those 10 days although I'm not sure how accurate that number is since I think people visit it over and over. I know I've probably seen it 20-30 times, and I've listened to her soulful rendition of "Cry Me A River" at least half that many times.

I think there's a little bit of Susan Boyle in a lot of us, hidden talents that were once developed and had to go mostly fallow because life happened. Susan did sing karaoke locally and did do one song for a limited release charity album in 1999, but otherwise she put her aspirations aside to care for her mother. Her mother's passing did not kick start the dream immediately because she struggled emotionally afterwards for two years before finally getting up the courage to audition for "Britain's Got Talent."

I studied singing for several years, and one thing I can say is that I can hear it in a person's speaking voice if they are singing consistently and properly. The judges should have heard that in Susan's speaking voice right away, and even before she started to sing, her poise and confidence with the microphone should have also tipped them off. Of course, when she did start to sing, they quickly realized that this unassuming package was a hidden treasure.

Susan is not the only one on the various talent reality series who was an undiscovered treasure. I'm not concerned or terribly interested in the very talented kids that come on the show. Their dreams and training are just beginning. They have no where to go but up. I am more interested in the talent that has had to put their dreams aside to deal with life. That's where the Susan Boyle is in so many of us. Her overnight stardom simply illuminated a long standing fact that the teens and twenty-somethings do not own the world of talent and that they can learn a lot from Susan Boyle.

I once dreamed of singing opera professionally, but life got in the way. I have no desire to switch gears and return to opera training, but I would love to get into a recording studio and cut a CD. That option would never have been available to me 24 years ago, but today I can practically do it in my own home at my own computer.

Having a dream does not make the desire come to fruition because sometimes life just gets in the way. Life can blindside you. I wonder how many other Susan Boyles are out there? Men and women who have put their natural talents on hold in order to deal with life.

To me, that's the real truth about Susan Boyle - that sometimes you can finally grab that brass ring, even with life's interruptions, and that even at the age of 48, life can begin again.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Cookies and Jury Duty...another day at the office!

Some people never get called for Jury Duty and some, like me, seem to be a JD magnet. In fact, I was on Superior Court JD in January 2008, and in August 2008 on a Friday, I got a summons for Federal Court JD followed three days later by a summons for Superior Court JD. One was to start November 3 and the other November 4, and that obviously presented a little bit of a scheduling conflict, so I postponed the Superior Court until April 6 2009. That was this past week. What does that have to do with cookies? When you are pulled from the Jury Assembly Room to be on a Jury Panel (the Jury selection process), the judge will ask all sorts of questions including the general area of the city you live in and what you do for an occupation. I said I made cookies for a living, and there were lots of giggles from the other jurors, and even the judge said, "Oh, I need your number." The cookie lady in court!

One of the other jurors was a caterer. Guess who got my business card during one of our breaks? Then other people came up to me to ask me for my card, which I gladly gave out. Will they ever call me? I don't know, but the point is, I was prepared with my card, no matter where I went.

After two days of jury panel selection, I was excused by the defense team, and that was just fine with me because I had an emergency photo cookie order... it came in Thursday afternoon while I was at the court, and it was needed by Saturday morning. I assured the client it wouldn't be a problem, and it wasn't! Three dozen beautiful cookies went out on time (see above picture)!

Signature Sweet Shoppe tip: I went to Cost Plus World Market yesterday to get a basket for my cookies. The baskets I normally purchase were no where to be seen... um, hello! Easter! So, next year I'll have my baskets stocked well before Easter!

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Are your cookies sticking? What to do.

If you make my sugar cookie recipe, the cookies will stick.  However, I don't use any silpat mats, non-stick pans, cooking spray, or even Reynolds Release.  

Keep in mind, I have 120 baking trays, and I don't use cooling racks.  My cookies have to cool on the tray as the tray cools.  So how do I keep them from sticking?  Easy.

As soon as they are out of the oven, I simply loosen them on the pan.  Move their position slightly.  This breaks the seal that had been created, but you must do it when they are piping hot.  If you allow them to cool, they will stick.  

Some cookies, however, should not be moved on the tray, and these include chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, peanut butter.  These cookies need to firm up by cooling down.  After they are set, you can remove them easily from the tray.

Happy baking from Signature Sweet Shoppe!

Thursday, April 02, 2009

What's up with eggs?

When some people learn that I use raw egg whites to make my royal icing, it sends a "salmonella shiver" (sounds like a dance!) down their spine. In fact, I have never used anything but raw egg whites, and I have no intention of changing that.

Let's look at the facts: Salmonella bacteria are found in the intestinal tracts of animals, birds, reptiles, insects and humans. Salmonella may be found on the outside of the egg shell before the egg is washed or it may be found inside the egg if the hen was infected. It is estimated that one egg in 20,000 eggs (some estimates are as low as 1 in 30,000) may contain Salmonella which is a 0.005% contamination rate. Eggs contain natural antimicrobial substances in the egg white, and all eggs are washed and sanitized before they are packed.

Salmonella is present in more than just eggs, of course, but eggs get a really bad rap for it. More likely, if you do get symptoms of food poisoning, it was from another source, and a pro-biotic will help clear up the issue within a few hours.

In fact, consumption of raw eggs is actually encouraged in many diet plans since eggs are an excellent source of protein and many other enzymes in their natural state. All the necessary ingredients are in an egg to make a baby chicken, but cooking an egg destroys many of those benefits (just so you know when you're chowing down on that scrumptious omlette).

Real egg whites make the best royal icing. It is creamy and very smooth, and meringue powder just can't match it in quality or texture.

To avoid salmonella in your kitchen, make certain you go through your refrigerator once per week and throw out any food items that have not been eaten (especially any leftovers with meat), and keep your counter tops, sink and equipment bleached down. Keeping your refrigerator cleaned out regularly also helps you to avoid contamination.

If you have pet birds, reptiles or amphibians, always wash your hands thoroughly after handling, and always keep their cages clean and sanitized. Turtles especially seem to carry salmonella bacteria, so if you have them as pets and have small children handling them, make sure your children thoroughly wash their hands afterwards.

Q: How do you make black royal icing?

Okay, believe it or not, I've been asked this a couple of times, even though the answer seems obvious - "with black food coloring," but it turns out some brands are better than others. In fact, there are more colors available in food coloring than you would think. I recently needed some fuchsia - and I couldn't get it locally, but there was a slot for it in the store!

The brand I use and recommend is AmeriColor. Their black is coal black and stays that way. If you can't find it locally in a cake or candy supply shop, you can always order it online from


Never buy the tiny little jars of Cream of Tartar that you find in the grocery store. Why? They are horribly over-priced and will run you broke. If you have a cookie business and are going through a lot of COT for your royal icing, buy it online in bulk at a fraction of the cost.

All the best,

Jenny Arata
Signature Sweet Shoppe