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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Confectionary Architecture…

Cow jumped over the moon“We’re just a young family and want to start our own traditions,” Mike Kahler told me as my pickup jostled us along the perimeter of Dale Reiner’s tree lot-brambleberry patch. Mike is riding shotgun on a Christmas tree hunting foray. The last several weeks I have been functioning as a southpaw, following Dr.’s directives that I lift no more than ten pounds with my right arm. Doctor’s orders, then, precluded activities like cutting down the annual Christmas tree and doing the necessary manhandling required to bag  it. “I’ll cut it down for you,” Mike offered…”even set it up if you want.” Thanks to Mike the tree is now a part of our Christmas décor, trimmed and lighted, awaiting Christmas morning.

Mike’s correct about traditions. They play an important role in festive occasions whether they be secular or religious. Traditions connect to memory, are retrospectives of the past, and carry over into adulthood and beyond. A rite need only be performed more than once, I guess, to be considered a tradition; thus new traditions need only repetition to become old ones.

For the third year this December we have left the quiet of the Valley for a day and headed for the holiday glitter and crush of the big city. We do a little shopping but mostly gape in awe at the fancy trappings and window displays and let the tsunami of commercialism wash over us. But there is one spectacle in particular we look forward to: the annual display of gingerbread houses in the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel.ginger bd beanstalk Each Christmas season for charity The Sheraton challenges local architectural firms to put aside the drafts and blueprints of brick and mortar edifices on their drawing boards and apply their drafting skills and imaginations to the media of gingerbread and sugar. The competitors work within the parameters of a common theme: two years ago, landmark buildings; last year Disney animated movies; this year fairytales. Our tradition is only three years old, but in that short period of time we have noticed a definite “stepping up” by the competition and some of this year’s entries Frank Lloyd Wright would have been hard pressed to beat.Hickory dickory dock

Given a little gingerbread and candy, it’s amazing what a little creativity can do. Icing and spun sugar, tootsie pops as light posts, M&Ms for tree ornaments and redhots for trim, baby marshmallows and sugar-coated pretzels, cocktail mints and gumdrops…each display equals a counter in a candy store. A candy holstein cow leaping over a sugar glaze moon…a gingerbread galleon gently rocking in a sugar icing sea….I saw a ship a'sailing...

London Bridge is falling down, Hey, diddle, diddle, the cat and theThe cat and the fiddle fiddle, Jack and the bean stalk, the Old Woman in a Shoe…all rendered in gingerbread and confectionary.Gingerbread 1

If you looked carefully,you could find a candied representation of  several Mother Goose verses. As the onlookers filed by, cameras flashing, I could tell they were awestruck by the gingerbread artistry; we all left hyperglycemic, every sweet tooth aching.

Old shoe's tongueDish running with spoon

Another Christmas tradition in our household was the Advent calendar.For the days of Advent, we would engage in a Christmas-related activity: baking, decorating, writing Christmas cards, watching a Christmas movie or taking in a Christmas performance at a local theatre, hunting down that special Christmas tree, stringing the outdoor lights, reading the kiddos A Christmas Carol, photos with Santa…. If Advent is a tradition in your household, I suggest a project sure to involve the entire family: construct a gingerbread house, especially if your holiday resourcefulness falls short of a project a day for twenty-five days. In fact if your Advent ideas are stymied, why not plat out and bake an entire gingerbread village?London ginger bridge

Several years ago before the Advent calendar was passed down to the next generation, we pulled an advent activity out of one pocket and read: “Make gingerbread house.” And so we did. The blueprints came from a holiday cooking magazine. I made tag board templates for the walls, roof, and chimney. The magazine article included the gingerbread recipe plus another for the sugar icing used as mortar. After the dough was made and chilled, I rolled it out to a quarter inch thickness, overlaid the templates, cut around them and baked the walls, roof, and chimney. LB2


The next day of Advent we raised the house, mortared the roof to the walls, and cemented the chimney with a substantial pool of icing to the ridge peak. Then we created a frosting snowscape on a sturdy piece of foil-covered cardboard. Now the fun part began: candying up the cottage in such a way that Hansel and Gretel themselves couldn’t resist a visit. That was long ago, so I can only remember a few details of our candy adornments. I remember purchasing  assorted candies I thought appropriate to trim a gingerbread house. I know we used candy canes for the door frames and lintels. Windows we piped on the walls with icing. We draped the eaves with frosting icicles. A portion of the foil we left exposed to represent a frozen pond. Beside the pond we upended an ice cream sugar cone, covered it with frosting peppered with candy dots to create an outdoor Christmas tree. Although I can’t recall the various sweetings we used to appoint our little confectionary cottage, I do remember the confection we used to shingle the roof: Necco wafers. The roofing stage was time consuming and required two Necco cylinders: a drop of icing, slap down a Necco, making sure that no two like-colored wafers overlapped. The Necco shingles I’ll never forget and for this reason:Westin Gingerbread house

After Christmas that year we stored away all the trappings including the gingerbread house. We found a cardboard box that fit the little display perfectly and up into the attic it went with the rest of Christmas. Next year we retrieved the box and found the gingerbread house stale, but intact. Once again it complimented the other Christmas displays in the household. That Christmas passed. Post-Christmas up into the attic again with the gingerbread house. Year two. Once more we hauled Christmas down and set about to decorate. Space was cleared for the gingerbread display. To our surprise, when we opened the special box to remove our gingerbread creation, the box was empty, not a crumb of gingerbread to be found… empty that is except for Necco wafers scattered willy nilly across a stale frosting snowscape. The snow frosting was littered with chocolate sprinkles which turned out to be mouse droppings. Truth be told, Necco wafers, should I feel the urge for a candy snack, I wouldn’t give a moment’s consideration. Apparently the tastes of mice and men run pretty much the same.

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