Sunday, December 23, 2007

Gingerbread, at Last

My kids are finally big enough (4 and 8) that I actually have the presence of mind and time of day to think about things like gingerbread houses. Never mind grad school, financing an addition to our house and catching up on world news. It's gingerbread season, and I'm going to be part of it.

Still, even with both my kids in school five days a week, thinking and doing remain opposite sides of the same spectrum. This is my new strategy: I plan the day and invite people over, weeks in advance, when I am still in the hopeful, dreamy it's-really-going-to-be-a-Martha-Stewart-kind-of-Christmas-THIS-year land otherwise known as early December ("Hey, I pulled off Thanksgiving, right? I'll probably put up garlands and buy new Christmas dessert plates and should it be bûche de Noël or a croquembouches after Christmas dinner?, and maybe we should start a hot toddy tradition...").

Well, it worked (not the hot toddies, nor the garlands, nor the bûche de Noël; but yes to the gingerbread houses): since Friday friends were coming over to decorate houses, it meant that Wednesday I had to buy candy and pretzels and anything else that could conceivably stand in for a northern European cottage's architectural detail, and that Thursday I had to bake and assemble the houses. I stayed up after the kids were in bed, melting sugar and gluing houses together. Since I made the templates myself, there were, um, a few architectural shortcomings. Roofs too small, windows too crooked, doorways too weird.

Oh well, because my other strategy, the one that makes me love cooking and baking and celebrating holidays, is this: nothing has to be perfect. Maybe the process is not quite as important as it is at my daughter's pre-school (where it trumps everything), but it still shares billing with the product, in my kitchen. It has to be fun, right? So you can't get all freaked out about things turning out perfectly. Plus, it's better for kids to see you having fun with it, than flipping out about not getting the medieval German period details down. Or, uh, the pretzel logs perfectly lined up (see below).

Epicurious had a recipe from Bon Appetit that looked good, and it was. Instead of making one big house, though, I made my own templates for six small houses, so everyone could have their own house. Then, a stomach virus upset our group decorating plans, but my kids and I went ahead with decorating our houses. (Tomorrow we're bringing the rest of the houses to the now-recovered child's house, for a final decorating party.)

Here's what we came up with: my son's minimalist take on the gingerbread house motif:

My traditional log cabin, with a valencia peanut chimney and pretzel log walls:

And my daughter's anything-goes take:

Like a real designer, she didn't stop here; the house was nibbled on and re-designed several times over the next few days:

Nobody's documented it, but I've joined in the nibbling, too. Nice thing about this recipe: the gingerbread is actually delicious!

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