Ain't no cookie decorator - and turnip soup

A big bowl of turnip soup can cure a a myriad of woes — or at least help soothe a bruised ego.

I knew cake and cookie decorating wasn't my thing when I told C, founder of SpiceLines, that I wanted to participate in her first ever sugar cookie decorating contest.  I wasn't prepared, however, for just how humbling the experience would be. I tried to channel Martha and kept friends' helpful hints and creative suggestions in the back of my mind when I approached this project. (Kitty thought I should dress the camels in party clothes, Rhett suggested using butter icing for more control, Lisa voted for Indian-inspired garb, and Jane pointed out that Martha's staff would actually do the work). I made cookie dough and royal icing, broke out vials of food coloring, and made a big 'ole mess. Such a mess that I couldn't share it with anyone.

So SpiceLines isn't getting photos of my camel cookies — my messily marbled, polka-dotted, and sort-of-geared-up-in-a-circus-outfit camel cookies. I broke the news to C this Friday afternoon, and she was incredibly gracious, confiding that she can't decorate cakes and cookies either. That made me feel better, but I needed a culinary win to really turn my day around. The win came in the form of turnip soup.

This soup is a simple puree — it's a meal when paired with salad and bread. You can use another root vegetable in place of the turnips. Use vegetable stock in place of water for a more flavorful soup.

I think this soup tastes better the day after it's made.

Cream of Turnip Soup
Serves  6

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 medium leeks, white parts only, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 large turnips, about 2 pounds, peeled and chopped
2 small yukon gold potatoes, about 1 pound, peeled and chopped
3 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
6-7 cups water or vegetable stock
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
about 1/3 cup half-and-half or heavy cream
minced chives for garnish

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed soup pot. Add the leeks and garlic and cook over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes, until softened. Add the turnips, potatoes, thyme leaves and water, a pinch of kosher salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

Puree (I used an immersion blender), adjust seasoning, and add half-and-half or cream if desired. Garnish with minced chives.


What Would Martha Do?

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Decorating camel-shaped sugar cookies sounds like fun, doesn't it? Make a few cookies, break out the royal icing, and spend a few hours playing with sanding sugars. It could, it should, be fun. But right now I'm suffering from some sort of sugar cookie paralysis.

Last month, Chapel Hill food blogger C. of SpiceLines decided to hold a cookie decorating contest. She provided the fabulous camel cookie cutters (the camel is the SpiceLines mascot) and inspiration (the lucky winner will receive a copy of Alice Medrich's Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies). April 25, the deadline for entry photos, looms. Baked, naked camels sit on a cookie sheet in my kitchen, sanding sugars and bottles of food coloring gels at the ready. And I have no clue where to start. My initial impulse: camels-masquerading-as-other-animals. Zebra stripes, tiger spots. Purple sanding sugar doesn't really work with this theme, though.

I can't remember the last time I tried to decorate a cookie. So I'm up the proverbial creek, asking myself, "What would Martha do?" Suggestions welcome!