The glories of a video post

Nausea. Sweaty tension. That’s what the notion of creating 60 seconds worth of video for an on-line post does to me. Talking to 1,500 people? No problem. A room full of hardened executives? I got that. Me, in a car/train/dining room with a little video recorder? Heart-palpitating anxiety-ridden nearly comatose individual.

This isn’t a forum to work out my personal insecurities, tho it might do me some good. Let’s just skip right to the solution, because I tend to be a solutions-oriented gal. Within a week, I had three people in different corners of my life say the same thing.

  1. I need to “connect with people,” and the on-line, static means (FB, Instagram pics, this website) doesn’t do it and never will
  2. I need to show people my personality, voice and idiosyncrasies (e.g. realize that I’m human, see point #1)
  3. I need to share more wisdom and insight than I’ve been doing, not just a travelogue that ties back to my books

None offered up suggestions as to how I was going to overcome my irrational fears that followers would drop off like flies, further compounding my insecurities. I’m no Kardashian with legions of stylists around me. I’m essentially a working mom who is fortunate enough to continue providing business acumen to companies and writing while the kids are in school.

Still, I’ve spent my adult life telling others to hire the best counsel and then listen. So while these three weren’t hired (expensive friends aren’t in my budget) I had no choice but to follow their advice.

Here’s what happened. I asked for thoughts on topic, format and approach. I made an objective (on Monday I will start). I washed my hair (or did I? I don’t recall now), but what I did do was show my husband the first video. He vomited on it.

“You’re boring. Not smiling. Where’s the “real you?” he wanted to know. Hiding. That’s where. You see, I feel safe behind the non-smiling business face. It’s serious, which is what a business person is–unless with peers behind closed doors.

“Lose the business person. Be yourself. The one you are behind closed doors.”

Round two. I start laughing in the middle, because I can’t believe I’m doing it at all.

“Much better. Post it before you overthink about it.”

Now, what’s crazy is this: the video received over 150 views in less than 15 minutes. Do you know how long it takes any of my posts to receive that many likes? A few days. (No Selena Gomez am I).

Fast forward @2 weeks. My average video receives this many views in about this time. They are limited to 1 minute, and I think to myself that it’s easier to spend a minute watching than it is to read for 10 seconds.

Another thing. I’m always in my car. Why? It’s my quiet time. No conference calls scheduled, no dedicated writing time. No children, dogs, chickens…you get the idea. I may kill a moose while I drive in the snow, but hey, it will be recorded for posterity.

Lastly, the ties to my book sales in immediate and impactful. This follows on my last blog posting. After 5 video posts, I can legitimately say my book sales have gone up 40% over all, and compared to a static post, the numbers are 7x greater.

Does topic matter?

Not that I can tell. I’d like to say I have a marketing Jedi behind me, coaching me on what to say, but it’s not true (and I have this small thing about honesty. It’s important). I do keep a running list on my iPhone about key mantras, subjects and attitudes I have regarding success and life. Some of those things are in my business books–past and future–the short antedotes I can squish into 60 seconds, which isn’t easy.

I will say this: “active” videos aren’t as interesting to people. My skiing clip for example. Rog was convinced this would be cool–not so much. Viewers–at least those that follow me–seem to prefer words.

Connecting is cool.

With the objective of ‘connecting,’ out there, I wasn’t convinced it was going to happen. After this short amount of time, I can attest it’s occurring. The number of comments, along with the depth and level of emotion is incomparable to a static pic. It’s fulfilling, enjoyable and rewarding on a very personal level. To others who read the comments made–I suspect it’s also enlightening. The adage is proving true…when you share details, others will reciprocate. That’s a two-way connection that can’t be faked.

So am I still nervous? Yes. Do I take more than one video for each posting? Yes. On average 6. I talk a lot and always go over. Do I use a filter? Sometimes. Since I consider my posts more guerilla style than poised and professional, it works for me. I like the down and dirty, real life postings. Plus, I don’t have the time in my life to pretend like it’s my source of income–it’s free, to me and the viewer, which is probably the best part.

Instagram, Facebook & the conundrum of social media

The wide world of all things electronic is distracting, wonderful, irritating, fun, stressful and pays dividends. I guess that means it’s like most things in my life, family and hobbies included. My experience over the last ten years with the various incantations of apps has been largely disappointing, because I want results. In other words, if I want to talk to you (and you me) the phone is the best way to go. Deals don’t happen by text. Negotiations are done real-time, email employed when confirming what’s been agreed upon is necessary.

My data points are similar to other individuals who are continually trying to figure it out when to use what, and why:

Facebook:

Personally, I have an account, but probably wouldn’t unless it weren’t required for my business account. Again, I like talking more than sharing. Opinions, with the associated volatility of emotions seriously stressed me out. I can’t write fiction when I’m in that state of mind, and I certainly don’t have time to be surfing when I’m doing business.

Business…I do have an author account, but it’s largely ignored. That said, I found it was FB was very beneficial in doing one thing: driving traffic to my blog. What I did:

  1. wrote the blog
  2. linked the header and wrote a short note in the FB posting, along with an image
  3. the viewership/hit rates and time spent on my website skyrockets when I do that…and so I started employing this strategy around book launches, events, competitions, give-away’s and other business-related activities.

The only downside is when I fell off writing my blog (because I was actually writing or working on the business side) then the traffic to my FB page dropped dramatically.

Net: FB (for authors/businesses) can be very helpful if employed the right way.

Instagram

Let me count the ways I used to love this app before it was purchased by FB. The primary reason I loved it (I’ll list the reason’s I still like it in a moment).

  1. I could control the timing of my content. what I posted was done at that moment
  2. the culture of IG is nicer, more interested in the images than opinions
  3. the focus is global, vs FB which tends by its nature to be more demographically US

Unfortunately, FB has ruined a few features…now they are offering up random postings at random times (which is beyond annoying). As a biz person and author, the last thing I want to do is annoy my followers with too many posts. Well, thanks FB. Now they annoy my followers for me…their algorithms just offer up whatever, whenever. It’s horrid.

That said, until something better comes along, I’ll keep using it. Here’s why.

  1. my book sales have a direct connection to certain posts. Seriously. It’s been about 2 yrs, and I post, on average, once a day, but at times, I’ve gone for 2 weeks without a post. In that time, I have been able to determine what images/text a) increase traffic to my site, b) increase ebook reading, c) invigorate print book purchases and more
  2. my holistic approach to how I market “my business,” which is multi-faceted, is completed by my website, Instagram and facebook
  3. Instagram seems to reach a completely different audience than FB. I could go into detail on this (and may do at another time) but suffice it to say that whereas I can track direct postings and sales from IG, I have no clue on FB. Even when I advertised on FB, I saw very little (as in, negligible) sales connections.
  4. Video on Instagram essentially increased my followers (and hence, book sales, event attendance) 30%. Seriously. I just recently started doing videos (I was scared. yes. I get scared), and it’s been dramatic.
  5. The ability to connect with people on an individual basis is really great. It’s nearly impossible to do with other apps of a similar nature, and I truly love seeing and hearing from ppl of all walks of life, all cultures and countries–and we are bound by common interests from inception.

Twitter…sigh. I abhor what I see on Twitter, and for that reason, only joined it about 2 weeks ago. I posted a bunch in a few days, realized it just wasn’t for me, and stopped. I’m not a politico, comedian, or other major personality that has the acumen or desire to engage in that world. Further, the demographic of the people on twitter doesn’t seem to connect with the folks I’m trying to reach.

If I had to make one observation about Twitter is that the people who responded to my (few) tweets were mostly international, which wasn’t surprising. My captions were of places I visited and used in my recent novels.

So this is a snapshot of what I’ve experienced. I’ll continue to explore and track other apps as the come about, but for now, I’m still a big fan of Instagram.

 

 

A fashion turnabout…what men really think of those boots

In between books I’m taking a completely unnecessary and full-on break of slovenly proportions to write this piece on boots. Well, it started with boots but quickly digressed into a full-on relevatory experience about thighs, ankles and what makes a woman attractive.

As the caveat, I will say I was so disturbed by this conversation which I had with my husband, I had to validate it with other men. Acquaintances, friends, you name it–short of the man at the grocery store. Well, actually I did that too, but it was Home Depot. Does that count?

It started like this. Over the summer, I start planting the seeds about buying new boots (you see, I must do this so I can later justify that I’d brought up the notion that I “need” new boots. When one has a closet full of boots, one must start early). I invariably point out that the boots are too pointy, too straight, too high, low, old, hurt my feet, out of style. Whatever. What really happened is that in July I saw the fashions in Europe where styles always precede the US by about 6 months. Thus, I’m all about fringe boots at the ankle height but also love the over-the-knee look.

Skip forward to September. The boots are out in full force (I didn’t buy any in Europe. That’s another story about a fight we had on the streets of St. Moritz, which I’ll save for the right time) and so I am on the scout. I start dropping hints that get less and less subtle, hoping he’ll pick me up a pair. You see, when he goes shopping, he always does a better job than me. He’s very metro that way.

Days, weeks go by, and he’s avoiding the task. Always some excuse. Subtle goes out the window. I show him pictures. I use my index finger to point out items in the window. Nothing works. October comes and goes and now we are at the tail end of November. The leaves have fallen, the temperature has dropped along with the first snowflakes and I’m irritated I am still lacking some new boots and worried I’ll miss out. Finally, I call him out.

“What is up with you and no boots?” He shakes his head, grimaces like he recognizes the sound of an inevitable fight and says this:

“The ones you want are so ugly!” I start to dispute this of course, because I like my taste. Then he pours a vat a salt in my wound by adding: “Knee high boots and over the knee boots make a woman look fat–even skinny women.” My mouth falls open, because in 18 years, I swear I have never heard this from him before. He continues to rapid-fire all the reasons why women of any size, shape or sense of style should avoid boots over the calf like the plague.

“It cuts a woman’s legs in two,” he explains. “It doesn’t matter if it’s in a skirt, which you want to see the leg by definition, or in jeans, which is worse because women tuck their pants in and then bulges come out.” I protest that a thin leg or even a woman with a pear-shaped curve can wear boots well.” Rog simply shakes his head. “No. It’s not good. Ever. Ask any guy that’s straight.”

Ok, I tell myself. I will, so I do. I ask church-going men, those in grocery stores when we are stuck in line, my dad. Sure enough, the comments start.

“I prefer low cut,” says one. “I can see the calve that way.”

A gym rat says: “Mid calf is as high as I like. Most calves bulge out and are gross.”

A professional in a suit offers: “Heels are the best. No boots at all.”

Lurking from under a cowboy had, a man at the local grange intones: “Unless it’s under jeans or in the mud, I don’t like boots on a girl. Too manly.”

And so it went on. What about over the knee? Isn’t that sexy?

“Not to me,” said a mid-twenties wearing skinny jeans and a leather jacket, the type I imagined at a dance club on a Saturday night. “A short skirt and low ankled boots. The kind with fringe, you know what I’m talking about?”

Uh, yeah, I do.

I decide it’s too early to tell Rog he’s right. I don’t want that vibe as I’m eating my turkey dinner. I’ll save that piece of information and pull it out just before I’m ready to go shopping for much needed calve-baring, ankle concealing, form-fitting leather shoes with a slight heal. I suggest you do that same. We’ll have a legion of women on black Friday descending on the stores with a singular mission, since now of course, we know what men really think of our boots!

Grandpa Ken & Making a dramatic life change

It’s been a year since we moved to Idaho and the question of “Why did you move there?” has gotten old. Decrepit, like zombie stretching it’s moldy hand from the Earth old.

I’m all for curiosity, but when I start to answer the question, I lose the person shortly after The. Rog and I have discussed how we are perplexed, then pissy and now inwardly roll our eyes at the question because no one really wants to know. What they are saying, without saying, is “You two have gone crazy. You’ve given up convenience, good food, a great house and traded it all in for land, lakes and skiing?”

Shake your head with me. Who are the crazy ones?

But let’s back up and let me give you the backstory. It started with a wisened old grape-of a man I’ll call Ken. He married young, graduated college and proceeded to have a family of seven kids, typical of a couple now in their late sixties/early seventies. He went military while she stayed home. They both served in their church as he started and grew two profitable businesses. Over time, they were able to build an understated six bedroom home on three acres next to a creek.

We met Ken and his wife while their youngest daughter, Janaye, was fourteen and in high school. She became our first and only babysitter, during which time we had hours to observe her actions, attitudes and behaviors. Certain circumstances allowed us to get to know her parents better and years later, our eldest daughter was a flower girl in Janaye’s wedding.

Grandpa Ken, as he’d come to be known, adopted us as his children. Grandma Shari was my mom away from home, so this was awesome for us as a couple and our kids. Grandpa Ken, although not of my husband’s background, faith or profession, always held the easy, relaxed and non-intrusive countenance of a man who had nothing to prove to anyone but God. He retired early, set about puttering in the garage, fixing up an old car for about six months before he got bored. He went back to work, this time, not starting a new company, but at a mortuary.

A mortuary.

Think about that for a minute, because Rog and I sure did. In fact, we did more than think. We pondered. We wondered. We worried. Was he crazy? He sure didn’t seem crazy. In fact, they were the most sane people we knew. Yet Shari said it best.

“Ken wasn’t made to sit on this Earth and do nothing.” Helping others during their time of pain and crisis as a funeral director kept him busy, employed his organizational skills and ability to interact with people of all backgrounds, religions and cultures. In his spare time, he continued to invent new products, in his garage and on the weekends.

As witnesses to Ken’s decisions, we admired his work ethic and humility. We also applauded Shari’s attitude towards her husband’s career. She didn’t care a thing for title or position or the size of his office (which was good, because a funeral director has no real office). She simply wanted him to be happy and busy. How many men can boast a woman who, after having the trappings of a CEO husband, would so easily accept a change in status?

The move

It’s about this part in the story that we’ve seriously lost our listeners, which is a shame, because this is the most important part. As Ken told Roger one day, he and Shari had a plan, one they created when in their early twenties. Get a job, have a family, build a house, send kids to college, sell house, downsize. The end. When Janaye was in college, they got serious about selling their custom, seven bedroom home on three acres. We watched as they put their home up for sale, sold it within a month and moved into a two bedroom, one-bath home that is maybe 1,000 square feet. Gone were the double Subzero refridgerators and four ovens, marble countertops and dual bathrooms. Enter a four-burner stove and as Shari say’s “Grandma drapes.”

“We are following the plan,” Ken told Roger. It wasn’t about ego or square footage, just as it hadn’t been about title or office size. “It’s about freedom of mind and worries. The ability to travel and live without the overhead.”

This had a transformative effect on Rog and me. In our thirties and early forties, it was all about growing, building buying. When Ken talked about overhead, we knew exactly what he was referring to. The maintenance, management, worry and general costs associated with what we had. Rog and I looked at one another and asked a very simple question:

Do we want to wait another 20 years to have the kind of freedom Ken was talking about? The answer was no. That week, Rog started looking around at places to buy in parts of the country where we could dramatically downside while still having a nice standard of living. (Oh, and was close to civilization). After looking at many states and locations, he found Northern Idaho (which is radically different from Southern Idaho- think Boise or Twin Falls). We found a house on Monday, made the offer Wednesday and closed Friday. The following week, we started moving the few things over we were taking (we were like Moses. We left everything behind).

So here we are, a year later. Much smaller home but a lovely view of the lake. Far fewer restaurant choices but no traffic. Great academics, but no lacrosse. A Costco, but no Nordstrom (forget Saks or anything of the sort). At first, this bothered me, but then I realized, ‘It’s Northern Idaho. What does it matter anyway?”

Wisdom doesn’t help if you don’t act on it

Rog can’t have a conversation about moving without invoking Grandpa Ken’s name and philosophy, his gratitude oozing out of comments. He now has what we lacked when in our previous home with all the “luxuries of modern living,” all around us. We have peace of mind that comes with a safer area. We are also free of the major annoyances that we’d gotten used to because we couldn’t affect change: traffic, taxes, crazy rules that governed everything from Christmas lights to  trees and driveway rocks. Gone. All, long gone.

Was it hard, “giving it up?” Sure. For a while, I stopped cooking and gained weight (that’s what happens when you load up on hot chocolate and don’t exercise), but it was temporary. We’ve found ourselves more centered and yes, probably a bit more boring or sedate, but then, when most restaurants close about the time we were used to starting our evenings, it does put a damper on the social life.

The final questions is always this: Would you do it again? And our answer is an immediate, unwavering yes. I’d rather have a smaller home and live a less sexy part of the world for joy and contentment I feel every day, waking up to a lake, pine trees and no stress. I’m eternally thankful to Grandpa Ken for being the example to us, although he didn’t mean to be. I will also admit that the dramatic change, while temporary, had its brutal moments. But then again, what kind of great transformation didn’t cause a little bit of pain?

 

 

Save the drama. Back up your data

It’s not sexy. It’s safe. I’m talking storage, not condoms.

Three days ago, my main computer goes blue screen. Even non-techies know that this is the sign of immediate death. 13 hours later (that means Rog was working through the night, giving up at 6 am), the blue screen was still blue, but the data was transferring off onto a back-up drive. That process had taken hours (for he had to tap into who-knows-what). Only a former Microsoft guy with mad, Jedi-skills could even make this happen.

Still, the computer was dead, the culprit a bug in the Microsoft OS software. As Rog mutters to himself, red-eyed and hair sticking up like a slee-stack from Planet of the Apes, I divine the computer is going back to the manufacturer (thank you extended warranty). Me, on the other hand…I silently slip out of the room, retrieve my external hard drive and create a new folder backing up everything on my computer. I recall the time 2 yrs back when my entire system went blue, and unlike my desktop, was unable to EVER get the files back. In a panic, I contacted every editor, friend etc. for the files I might have sent.

New Year’s Resolution for sanity…

First of all, use the cloud for documents if you feel comfortable doing so. I use Dropbox–or rather, my clients and companies I work with use dropbox and I access the information. Personally, I’m ultra paranoid about hacking and never put a thing in the cloud that I’m going to regret, from pictures to documents. If others want to do that, fine. Just not me. (Think Sony, Facebook and just about every other system that’s been penetrated).

If you don’t know what a cloud  is, fuggetaboutit. Go for an external drive, either in small or large form. I have both- a USB for my word documents that are tiny files by comparison to pics. I use my drive for a complete transfer of my desktop folder. It’s solid state (no moving parts), safe and sits in my safe that is fire proof. It’s not real expensive either, but obviously more than a $10 USB stick.

I used to do make a full back up once a month, but now do USB backups once a week and only have a full backup if I’ve had major file changes.

For my sanity, it’s worth the time and effort. In my latest case, it was worth at least 12 hours of my husband’s life.

My new method of being:

  1. backup drive. once a week. for primary files, after every major upgrade or version
  2. in the cloud. for non-sensitive documents that if hacked, or not going to bring me down in a critical way
  3. outlook. I will send my other computer (desktop) a final file and archive it. because I’m now terribly paranoid, I send major files to my husband’s computer as well, stick it in my file folder and archive it.
  4. a USB. just to be ultra safe, I have a wonderfully happy Minion USB that I have my word files on. It’s tiny and portable, which is ideal only for my most critical documents, but I have it nonetheless.

Is this all redundant? Absolutely. And that’s the point. I will never, ever, be caught without my information again.

As a side note, an associate I work with on a frequent basis (he’s an attorney at a land development firm and is always calling me for language and ideas on creative land, manufacturing and investment partnership strategies), recently suffered from a complete technology breakdown. Apparently, the company was hacked, the IT critically compromised. All. Data. Gone. Was the info supposed to be in the cloud? Yes. Was it compromised (e.g. wiped out). Yes. All bad.

So, when it comes to having a backup, it truly is the same principle as sexual safety. One can never be too safe.

Halloween Treats- Gross Earwax Marshmellows (gluten free)

This is a great, gross, gluten-free idea that I found on Pinterest but decided to modify. In that version, a marshmallow was cut in a triangle and put on the end of a toothpick. I thought

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Bags of plastic bones

that was OK, but why not upgrade it? I went to the Halloween store (Spirit Halloween) and purchased two packages of small bones for $3.00 each. I then used my Ghiradelli chocolate used for melting and once I affixed the small marshmallows to either end of the bones, dipped them in chocolate.

Walla!

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bones with the marshmallows attached. You can see I basically pushed the marshmallows on the ends, which were helpfully curled. you have to be fast about this, because they start to harden, and you want the chocolate on before they turn crusty!

See the pictures. BTW- this also doubles as a game. The bones have two holes. String some fishing line in between and suddenly you h

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after dipping in chocolate.

ave a game that kids, or raucous adults can play–as in, eat the marshmallow off the line first without it falling to the ground. (I’d recommend you confiscating iphones before you do this however. It gets pretty silly).

 

Storage
Refrigerate (on parchment paper) because the chocolate will stick to a regular pan. Even then, be careful when you lift it off, because the chocolate/marshmallow may slide right off the bone. This happened probably 10% of the time so it wasn’t big deal.

Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Beyond that they taste stale.

 

Halloween Treats- Gruesome Ripped Ears

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after using the heart-shaped cookie cutter, take your edged knife (this is a pastry/fruit knife) and make a curl that will make the form for the inner ear. carry it all the way down

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The finished product

This is my other divinely gruesome treat. Ripped ears. It is made from the same dough that is in my recipe for Witchy Fingers. Since I’m sure you’d hate popping back and forth, I’m putting it below. This is far easier to create and form the ears–so once again, don’t be intimated. Let your inner spooky-self flow as you create these.

Requirements
Food coloring and a small paintbrush
If you have it, a heart-shaped cookie cut-out will make your life a LOT easier. If not, you can use a round one and modify it. OR, you can free form with a sharp, non-serrated edge knife.

Ingredients- Dough
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (bourbon or Madagascar are my preferred choices)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) salted/sweet butter (not unsalted. The taste is SO much better this way)- room temperature

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this is what it will look like after. make sure to take eat the center circle:)

1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar)
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
Pinch of salt (I tend to use Himalayan pink salt as it gives the recipe a pop), and when it says “pinch” I use my grinder, and that means 3 turns of the grinder
1 2/3 cups of all-purpose flour

 

Directions
Separate 1 egg. set aside the white in a bowl.

In a small bowl, which together the yolk, remaining egg and vanilla. Set aside.

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mold and shape the ear using your thumb and forefinger. Before this, I will typically pick it up and work it in my fingers for the basic shape, then put in on the Siplat cooky sheet and get it a little better.

In a large bowl (like a KitchenAid), use the padded attachment and combine the butter, powered sugar, granulated sugar and salt. Beat on medium speed until well combined. Add the egg mixture and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the flour, mixing on low speed until just incorporated (over mixing makes the end result hard).

Wrap the dough first in parchment paper if you have it, the plastic. If you have neither, an airtight Ziploc bag will work. Chill until firm, 20-30 minutes.

Making the ears

Divide the dough into two halves. Put one half back in the fridge to keep it cold.

Roll out to be @1 cm thick. If you are going to err, make them a bit thicker. If the dough is too thin, it will tear and you have to start all over (e.g. chill, roll out then form).

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using the end of the paintbrush (or a toothpick) create a hole to represent an earhole (so you can make it black or colored later)

Use the heart-shaped cookie cutter. Using a knife, make a basic ear (see the pictures). Lift one side out, then start to form the ear. The key technique here is to use the thumb and forefinger to create the ridges of the outter and inner ears. The bottom lob can be modified, but again, don’t make it too thin or it will rip and not hold its shape.

Tip: as with the witchy fingers, if you are going to ERR, do so on the side of overexaggeration. It’s better to have an ear that is thick and has form than one that’s too thin and doesn’t hold a shape.

Once this is done and the ear if formed, take the edge of a knife (I use a pastry end that has a ridge for texture) and make some ‘cut-lines’ in the inner ear–which is actually the ripped part.

Painting the ears is really the easy part. First, color the holes. This does nothing more than make it look ‘ear-like’ and gorey. The next painting is on the inner ear, the part that’s ripped. Play around with this. Brighter red makes the blood look fresh while darker blood (red mixed with some blue or green) gives it an older, burnt look.

The both taste great!

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food coloring in a little pie dish (I use these micro pie dishes that are only about 2 inches across) for convenience

Tip: wait for a few minutes before you brush on the egg white, and AVOID the painted parts, trying to get along the edges and in the depressed area.

Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes. You should underbake these little because you’d rather have them moist than dry. They hold for 3 days in an airtight container. After that, they simply don’t taste that great.

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painting the inner (ripped) ear

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sometimes, after baking, the ear will raise, and you will want to counter this by using the edge of a spook or whatever is handy an press down along the inner ridge. This will give the ear the best shape possible. It holds, so you only have to do this once.

 

 

 

Halloween treats- Witchy Fingers

One of my two, personal favorite bite-size treats. The other is the gruesome ripped ears. Both of these are divinely gross and absolutely delicious. They are also made from the same dough. The only difference is the witchy fingers are cooked longer while the ripped ears are slightly undercooked. I might also add that these take a bit of time (about an hour and a half) but are great to do with kids. They are also big attention getters, which I also like!

Promise- people get intimidated by the nails (the almonds) and creating the actual fingers. This is super easy. My motto is: if I can do it, so can you. I’ll give you step by step pictures on this. You can do it!

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Took a picture to show what “just incorporated means.”

Requirements
Food coloring. A box will give green, yellow, red and blue. You will use all but the yellow.
A knife, rolling pin, and small paintbrush (to color on the blood and moldy ear slice).
Parchment paper

Ingredients (first, the nails)
Food coloring – you will use this last
30 blanched almonds

Directions
In boiling pot of water, dump the almonds. You may want to do more than 30, just in case a few split.
After 1 minute (exactly) remove and strain. Immediately run cold water (from the tap) is fine. Only need to do this about one minute.
Dump on a paper towel. As you start to rub the almonds, the peels will come off. Not all though–perhaps not even half. Don’t worry. With your fingertips (thumb and forefinger) you can easily rub once or twice and the shell slips off.
Place the blanched almonds on the cookie sheet (this is where you will paint them once fully dry)
At this point, stop and make the cookie dough. The reason is you will need to refrigerate the cookie dough. As this happens (about 30-40 minutes or longer) you will paint return and paint the fingers.

Ingredients- Finger Dough
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (bourbon or Madagascar are my preferred choices)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) salted/sweet butter (not unsalted. The taste is SO much better this way)- room temperature
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar)
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
Pinch of salt (I tend to use Himalayan pink salt as it gives the recipe a pop), and when it says “pinch” I use my grinder, and that means 3 turns of the grinder
1 2/3 cups of all-purpose flour

Directions
Separate 1 egg. set aside the white in a bowl.

In a small bowl, which together the yolk, remaining egg and vanilla. Set aside.

In a large bowl (like a KitchenAid), use the padded attachment and combine the butter, powered sugar, granulated sugar and salt. Beat on medium speed until well combined. Add the egg mixture and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the flour, mixing on low speed until just incorporated (over mixing makes the end result hard).

Wrap the dough first in parchment paper if you have it, the plastic. If you have neither, an airtight Ziploc bag will work. Chill until firm, 20-30 minutes.

Tip: For rolling out, divide in half. The reason is simple. It takes time to roll, parse (or separate) the individual dough pieces for fingers. then you must roll, detail and place the finger. The remaining dough will get too soft, and become gooey. So take out only as much as you can reasonably use before it gets warm, which is about half.

At this point, place the dough in the fridge and paint the fingers.

Painting the fingers
place red, green and or blue food coloring in separate bowls. holding the almond between fingers, paint both sides. Tip: I use a rubber glove so I don’t stain my fingers. It takes several days to come off and I hate that. Then again, it is Halloween so who cares? Let stand until you are ready to roll out the dough and make the fingers.

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this is the dough, already rolled out, then cut and formed into a 2-2.5 inch piece

Making the fingers
This fun. Don’t be worried. Just put on some good chill music and go for it.

Take half the dough and place the other half back in the fridge. Roll it out to @1 cm thick. Using a cutting utensil (I use a pastry spatula), cut the pieces into a manageable size (e.g. about the length of half a real finger. It will elongate as you roll it out.

Roll the dough out into @a 3-inch piece. Then using your forefinger and third finger, depress a little, which will raise the middle (to create the middle knuckle). Adjust the end tip, to resemble the end of the finger. Adjust as necessary– e.g. raise the center, depress the in-between parts (as they will raise slightly during baking).

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depress the center. this makes the knuckles. 3 simple lines will do it

Take one of the almonds and wedge it within the end. Don’t place on top, as this will ensure it falls off after baking (I’ve done this before and ruined the whole batch). Make sure you have a bit of dough above, below and on all sides.

Take a knife or other untensil and create the ridges for the knuckle. Walla! you have created your finger.

Tip: Create the entire batch of the fingers and then brush lightly with the egg white. If you do this too soon, you will depress the ridges on the knuckles and it won’t look that realistic.

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now you are ready place the almond as the fingertip

Tip: Err on the side of exaggeration. In other words, if the ridges and length of the fingers aren’t pronounced enough, the finger will come out basically smooth. So if you are worried, its better to have a finger that’s super bony rather than one that looks flat and normal. You don’t want normal!

For cooking
Heat the over to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats (French non stick baking mats are my preference).

Using a non-stick brush, brush lightly with egg white.

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this is what it looks like before its cooked. you can add as much dough around the edge as you want. for fun, I sometimes go back and make them scraggly, but it tends to gross people out then they won’t eat them!

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This is a row PRE- covered with egg whites. I forgot to take a picture of that, but they slightly glisten when covered with the egg white

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this is a pic of just the green-tipped ones. This year I made red, green and then black.

For the presentation, my favorite way to display for eating is sticking out from within a cauldron. That way they are reaching out to you, saying EAT ME!

 

 

 

Halloween Treats- Mummy Milanos

Easy. Fast & delicious.

Requirements
Milano cookies (every grocery store has them). Tip: get the dark chocolate. Every stinking time I get the milk chocolate, the inside is crumbly and the milk chocolate tastes old. Clearly, people prefer the dark chocolate. It holds up better and is fresh. And yes, this is a IRK.
Milk chocolate especially made for melting. I use Ghiradelli. It is fresh, melts well and delicious.
A spoon or knife (to drizzle the chocolate)
Either chocolate icing (with a tip) that can be had for @$2.50 at most stores

Ingredients
1 package Milano cookies
1 package Ghiradelli white melting chocolate
1 container chocolate icing (or little chocolate speckles for the eyes)

Tip: do NOT use the gel icing sold in the stores. I used this and it doesn’t dry, even after four hours in the fridge. They smudged when I tried to layer them. Next time I went for the fast-dry icing.

Directions
Arrange the Milano cookies on a cookie sheet.

Melt the chocolate according to the directions. Short version is place the white chocolate in a microwave-proof bowl. Heat for 30 seconds. Every 30 seconds, stir. It will melt. By minute 2, it will be completely melted.

Immediately dip the end of your spoon or knife in the end and drizzle according to your desire. Before the chocolate dries, add the sprinkles. If you are using the icing, wait until the chocolate dries before applying.

 

Best Caramel Apple Dip

After many attempts to perfect this recipe, I’ve yet again mutated it into a dip that gets completely devoured at parties. The reason is it’s not “too caramelly,” which is a way of saying the caramel is overpower. Personally, I hate things that are overdone, which is what the original recipes is. This isn’t. It’s perfectly balanced between the caramel, cream cheese and marshmellow. For those people (e.g. men) who claim to hate cream cheese, they can’t even tell. As in, my husband Roger, hates the divine, bovine created product. Even he loves it. This recipe is a winner.

Requirements
A beater with a three-pronged paddle. The creamcheese need to be room temperature (softened, but not warmed in a microwave. I’ve done this and it curdles the product, ruining it).

Ingredients
1 package (8 oz) cream cheese. tip: on this, don’t go light. go full cream cheese. the consistency is much better and creamier
1/2 cup packed brown sugar (dark has richer flavor, but I prefer the light brown)
1/2 cup caramel- I hate the liquid, ice cream topping this calls for. Most versions have a horrid aftertaste. Go for the kind in a container. it’s very thick and can be found an most all grocery stores.
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup marshmallow crème
3 medium tart apples
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons water

Directions
In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese, brown sugar, caramel topping and vanilla until smooth. Fold in the marshmallow crème. Cut apples into vertical thin slices–I actually use my fun, holiday cookie cutters just to be different.

In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice and water. Toss the apples in the lemon juice mixture. Drain. (it prevents the apples from turning brown).

Tip for serving: you have a lot of fun options for making a simple dip look impressive. You can:

a) drizzle some caramel on the top
b) add nuts of any type to the top
c) put paprika on the top (don’t use Hungarian Paprika though. it’s too strong and will give a weird aftertaste whereas regular paprika won’t).

Lastly, on the color and flavor. If you want a darker look, simply add more caramel. This will enhance the flavor. Adjust to taste.

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