Villa Ridge Woman Holds Drop In and Decorate Parties Benefit Two Local Agencies

Cheryl Sousan is big on sharing great ideas. It's what her blog, tidymomof2.blogspot.com, is all about.

The Villa Ridge wife and mother shares her finds about everything from decorating, cleaning, baking and more, and invites others to do the same.

One of her most recent posts is about how to make an expensive-looking glass ball ornament wreath using bulk ornaments from discount stores, a wire hanger and a bit of hot glue. Sousan learned about the easy craft from other bloggers, and after making a wreath herself, passed on the simple how-to for others to discover.

She did the same thing earlier this season with a nonprofit project - Drop In and Decorate, Cookies for Donation - that she read about on a friend's blog.

Sousan did the project herself and posted blogs about it along the way.

Drop In and Decorate is a simple idea. Bake a batch or two of cut out-style cookies, invite friends and family to help decorate them, and donate the finished cookies to a local cause (or sell the cookies at a bake sale and donate the money to a cause).

"It's a simple idea, but can make a big impact as we know that cookies make people smile and feel happy," Sousan wrote on her blog back in early November, when she got her baking under way.

The reason she was drawn to it was because it's a way to give back and have fun with friends at the same time.

Although you don't need any instructions to carry out the plan, the Drop In and Decorate Web site, www.dropinanddecorate.org), has a recipe for cookies and icing, as well as tips on how to make the baking and decorating go as smoothly as possible.

The Web site recommends baking the cookies a day or more ahead of the decorating party, or even baking them weeks ahead and freezing them (the Web site explains how to do all of this for baking novices).

The Web site also has photos of some of the more creative cookies people in Rhode Island (where the nonprofit originated) have made for the project, and suggestions - like to call ahead to the charity or organization where you are planning to donate the cookies to make sure they are able to accept homemade foods. It's also a good idea to ask how the organization would like the cookies to arrive - individually wrapped or several cookies to a bag.

Sousan went big with her baking project. She did 260 cookies and donated half to ALIVE (Alternatives to Living in Violent Environments), which helps victims of domestic violence, and half to the Agape Food Pantry in Pacific.

Souson kept her cookies in a Christmas theme, but Drop In and Decorate notes that the idea is good for any time of year - think Easter, Mother's Day, Fourth of July, Veterans Day . . . or even just because. Simple round cookies decorated with smiley faces are sure to make anyone feel good, said Sousan.

Souson baked her cookies in two days - mixing one day and rolling out and baking the next. Instead of the usual sugar cookie recipe, she used a butter cookie recipe that has been in the family for years.

Using her blogging know-how, Sousan rounded up a sponsor for her project. Bahr's Discount Foods in Gray Summit supplied most of the ingredients. Pillsbury provided coupons for the flour.

Following tips from Drop In and Decorate, she put some of the icing in squeeze bottles (available at stores like Michaels or Wal-Mart, she said) and pastry bags. The bottles she set up in a Wilton icing bag holder tray, the bags she placed in individual drinking glasses with a damp paper towel at the bottom to prevent the icing from drying out.

Sousan noted her guests loved the fact that they were coming "for the fun part" of cookie making - the decorating - not the mess and heat of rolling out the dough and baking the cookies. They also appreciated that when they arrived at Sousan's house supplies were set up so they could get straight to work.

Sousan held two Drop In and Decorate parties, partly because there were so many cookies to ice, but also because it was hard finding a single day when friends and family could come, she said. With holiday music playing in the background and the smell of cookies and icing wafting through the house, the setting and activity got everyone in the holiday spirit.

"My daughter's friends came over and they were all singing Christmas carols while they worked," said Sousan.

None of the guests were professional bakers or pastry decorators, but they used a Wilton cookie decorating book for creative ideas and a how-to guide. The Drop In and Decorate Web site also has photos that can inspire even the novice decorator to step up his or her game.

The tricky part, Sousan noted, was having enough space to arrange all of the cookies after they had been iced. The icing has to harden before the cookies can be wrapped up for delivery, she explained.

Looking ahead, Sousan said she enjoyed the experience of Drop In and Decorate so much that she's already thinking about other times of the year that she may do it.

"Mother's Day seems like it would be a fun holiday to do this for," she said.

If you would like to read details about Souson's baking experience and decorating parties, she wrote about them all in her blog. She also includes lots of photos of their cookies.

Butter Cookies

2 cups butter (not margarine; recommend salted butter)

1 1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs

4 tbsp. milk

3 tsp. vanilla

6 cups flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

Cream butter and sugar.

Add egg, milk and vanilla.

Add baking powder, salt.

Add flour one cup at a time, stopping to combine each cup.

Form into two balls, chill at least one hour (If you leave it over night, take it out of the fridge a good hour or so before rolling).

Break into three pieces and roll out and cut.

Bake at 400 degrees for five to eight minutes (larger cookies might need nine minutes).

Yields approximately 30-35 large cookies or 60 smaller cookies.

Royal Icing

3 tbsp. Wilton Meringue Powder

1 pound (4 cups) sifted powdered sugar

6 tbsp. warm water

Beat all ingredients until icing forms peaks (seven to 10 minutes at low speed with a heavy-duty mixer, 10-12 minutes at high speed with a hand-held mixer)

Makes 3 cups.

One batch of icing is enough for one batch of the butter cookies mentioned above.