Thursday, November 30, 2006

Of Mice and Gingerbread Men

Five years ago was my first and most likely last attempt at making a gingerbread house. My family's old and ancient kitchen aid, though reliable, was just unable to keep up with the thick, gluey dough. I was making a "simple" gingerbread nativity using a simple shaping kit and an "easy" gingerbread dough recipe.

This was all in my attempt to have a perfect christmas; culinary speaking. I had strung popcorn for the tree. (A mind numbing task, and I pricked my finger more than once on the needle). Made gingerbread men ornaments. (The dogs ate some, I ate some, but overall a success. Just a pain to make.) I mulled my own cider. (I left the spice in too long and it went nasty bitter.)

But the gingerbread nativity scene. The pain and suffering that went into it. The mixer almost died, the cookies almost broke, royal icing the pieces together was a royal pain in the ass. I was about ready to bite the head off the Virgin Mary.

In the end, it all worked out and no gingerbread virgins were harmed. I went and called Amy, a family friend who had inspired me to give this arduous task a go.

You see, as kids, Aunt Amy called all the families and kids together. The kids would watch holiday movies, drink rich cups of hot cocoa, play games, and have fun. The parents would vanish in the kitchen, sharing stories of success, sorrow, and smiles over the past year all while baking the making of about 10 gingerbread houses. Then assembling them. All from scratch.

Afterward, they would call over the kids and allow them to decorate the whole damn thing, the parents maybe getting to laydown an M&M stepping stone or a licorice roof tile. They watched from the side smiling and content. The houses would then go with the families to decorate homes as tablescapes and decorations. Slowly over the month, bits of candy or roof would vanish as the kids nibbled away. Hansel and Gretel never had it so good. The parents never said a thing. Half the fun for the kids was using stealth to eat the gumdrop hedge without your parentals catching you in the act, even though the proof was there.

These all make my holiday memories which make me smile and cry with joy each year. The scent of gingerbread, strung up popcorn, and gumdrops fills my nose and makes me remember all the times we shared. It's these little things. The ups and downs. Miserable looking gingerbread Christ children and decadent, hard candy covered houses. Bitter cider and rich cocoa.

I should make sure to get Amy's number from mom so I can thank her again. Maybe I'll even give those gingerbread houses a try again this year.


  1. So precious! Sometimes the memories are good enough that we don't even need to re-create them. This sounds like one of those...

  2. You are a lot braver than I am. I tried to make one of those gingerbread kits you can buy at Costco with my daughter 2 years ago and got so frustrated with the icing not working! It was such a pain! lol.

  3. My mother did this ONCE with us when we were kids. It was such a nightmare that we never did it again. Now she's talking about trying it with the grandkids, so my sister and I are trying to remind her of the sheer rage she shared with us when we were finally done....9 hours later. LOL

  4. Considering I can't make roll-out type cookies of any type, trying to do a gingerbread house, bake cookies for ornaments, would never hit my baking list! But I enjoyed your telling of the doing!

    My memories of Christmas as a child involve a lot of scents too - one is smelling veal cooking, with lots of onions, peppercorn and other spices to be ground up and made into a jellied veal dish - traditional Swedish Christmas fare - and the other odor is one that wasn't exactly pleasant and stunk up the house for 2-3 weeks - soaking dried cod in a lye solution so my grandma could cook "Lutfisk" for our Christmas Eve supper. Smells terrible, it does but I loved the taste when it was all cooked up! Haven't had it now in over 40 years though.


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