The Making of a Gingerbread House

Back in 2008, I wrote a funny blog post about entering my first (and to date only) gingerbread contest. To get you all geared up for this year’s HOLIDAY BAKE-OFF! I wanted to re-share.

As a reminder: there are still a few days to send me your favorite festive cookie or candy recipe. It need NOT be salt-free or original; I’ll be adapting submissions and as long as you provide the source (whether Great Aunt Milly or The Joy of Cooking) it’s all good! So send me your recipes!! Details here.

Now onto the show!

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The Making of a Gingerbread House.

My dear pal Curly’s recent post about gingerbread got me thinking. Specifically, about the time I entered a competitive gingerbread contest…..

[INSERT WAVY MEMORY LINES …]

The year: 2006. The Place: Philadelphia. Bush Jr. was in the White House. Gas was $2.23 a gallon. And I was feeling the heady surge that was completion of my first culinary course “Cake Decorating I.”  My instructor suggested I undertake the annual Peddler’s Village Gingerbread Competition. Being a complete novice as well as over-confident newbie, I said what the heck. Although I’d never created anything out of gingerbread before (not even cookies), I was PSYCHED. After all, my cakes looked better than they ever had.  No gloppy sides and hanging out middles for me! NO Sirree! And so, ignorant of the fact that this competition is PROFESSIONAL GRADE ALL THE WAY, I dove into the gingerbread pond headfirst.

The contest rules state ALL VISIBLE MATERIALS must be edible.  I knew I was going to need a sturdy structure.  Something interesting, and yet not too difficult to build.  I thought if I did something a little bit different, it might score me bonus points.  And then it hit me.  I would do a CHURCH.  It was Christmas after all!  The judges were bound to love that.  And so I decided I’d build a small chapel.  Simple and clean.  An unadorned building with a steeple and humble stained glass windows.  I would surround it w/ a shallow “stone” wall and to the side & back I’d lay a graveyard.  Oooooh. This was IT.

I had to design the building = draw it out the way I envisioned, and then craft the dimensions.  I cut each piece out of cardboard to use as a template with the actual dough.  And so it began.

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Each piece had to be individually measured, cut, remeasured and then baked.  I used the back of an ancient cookie sheet circa 1980, b/c I didn’t have anything better.  It worked.  The most important thing is precision, and I took my time.  The last bit I needed to make were the windows – since they had to be affixed internally.  I made them out of broken-up lifesavers I melted in the oven.

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Finally all of the pieces were done & I was ready to start assembling the structure.  The base had to be a flat piece of wood.  I forget the exact dimensions now, but my husband gave me a piece of scrap from the basement.  I must mention once again, as a newbie, I had no idea you could cheat your way through this competition.  I now know people glue their stuff to the base, and do all sort of “tricks” to get ahead.  But, for good or for bad, my entry was 100% legit.  The only adhesive keeping my church together was icing.  YES, sticky and hard as hell once dry, but simply icing nonetheless.

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Finally the structure was standing.. on its OWN!  Now for the details and decoration.  I’d made gingerbread “wreaths” to decorate.  On the frosting went.

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The miniature tombstones were painted grey w/ watered-down food paint, then planted in the snowy coconut yard.  The retaining wall was made of dried beans and frosting.  It took me FOREVER to build – and I am not kidding.  If I’d laid one more bean I would have screamed bloody murder.

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I did like the effect of the tombstones.  Too bad I didn’t know they’d be BLOWN OUT OF THE GRAVEYARD by the stellar competition.

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Here it is, completed.  You can see the proud gleam in my eye, of hope and happiness and every other good and noble thing.  Note also the crucificial positioning of my arms and hands, which will definitely come in handy later.

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It’s a damn shame I didn’t know my poor pathetic church would be competing with the likes of (insert THIS YEAR’S competion)

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Oh well.  At least I tried my best.

It’s beginning to SMELL a lot like CHRISTMAS!

It’s the HOLIDAYS!  And for me that means COOKIES!!!!!

As many of you know, I run a low-sodium recipe site – also called THE DAILY DISH.  From now until Christmas, I will be highlighting holiday baking & gift-giving ideas.  AND I AM LOOKING FOR SOME MAGICAL ELVES TO HELP ME.

Do you have a favorite cookie recipe you would like to share with the world??  Do you LONG for FAME AND/OR GLORY?? or simply want to WIN A PRIZE?!

WELL, YOU and YOUR RECIPE could be featured on The Daily Dish.

I am holding a contest now through the end of this week, looking for delicious Christmas cookie and/or candy recipes.  If you have a tried-and-true personal favorite you would like to share, then please LET ME KNOW!  Although my recipe site is devoted to low sodium cooking, Your recipe does NOT need to be salt free.  I will be adapting entries to meet sodium restrictions.  All you need to do is THINK DELICIOUS and let me handle the rest.

To make a submission, please email me: CHRISTY at THEDAILYDISH dot US.  Put “Recipe Contest” in the subject line and be sure to include not only the recipe title, but list of ingredients and step-by-step directions.  If you have a photo you would like to include as well, by all means do so.

I will be accepting submissions now through the end of this week – Friday, December 12th – and YES. You may enter more than once.

ALL of the winning recipes will be announced here, Monday, December 15th, and will be featured on The Daily Dish website – one per day – beginning Monday, December 15th. All winners will be contacted via email, and will receive not only the honor of appearing live on The Daily Dish, but ALSO A FABBBBBULOUS PRIZE!!

So what are you waiting for?? ENTER NOW!

Home again home again jiggety jig

Returned from Atlanta last night, about 1 am. It was a LONG trip. 13-1/2 hrs there and another 13 back, and it rained both ways. I don’t mind driving, but 800 miles in a torrential downpour is a test of wills. I made a point of renting audio books from the library to pass the time. We listened to Charlie & the Chocolate Factory on the first leg and a Wrinkle in Time on the 2nd. I enjoyed both greatly, but Wrinkle seemed to terrify as much entertain my older daughter and had her asking questions a little too perplexing for a road trip. Is it possible to condense a rudimentary explanation of Evil into a 5-minute potty break at a rest stop?? Note to self: throbbing disembodied brains not for 7-year-olds.

Christmas itself was lovely. We got way too many presents, my mom & I cooked and we all feasted merrily.

The rest of the week was spent relaxing. We hit the wine cellar, did a little mindless shopping, ate out a few times. Explored my parents’ property. Watched TV (my parents have CABLE!!) and I especially loved the holiday Dirty Jobs marathon. We also watched a bunch of episodes of Arrested Development from my sister’s box set (*Annyong*) – that show is absolutely hysterical. I got a new board game called EAT IT! which is a lot like trivial pursuit for snack food junkies. My mom, the eternal gambler, staked a $5 Starbucks card for the winner, which turned out to be my sister, Queen of Cookies. We played quite a few games, which we haven’t done as a family in a long time, and it was really fun.

Today we did just what you want to do after spending a day and a half in the car. We drove to Bucks County & back, returning the rented minivan and picking up our beloved pets.

Don’t I look thrilled? I think I may have carbuncles. Fortunately, we do have a whole host of new CDs to listen to. I have to say the best of new order is awesome. I must be old.

Unfortunately, we spotted this poor creature by the side of the road:


You might be able to swing this into a joke about Santa’s sleigh or some such nonsense, but I will not. I took it simply as one more reason to get the hell out of the car.

For the rest of the photos, click HERE.

A Christmas story

My older daughter has been begging me for a Baby Alive doll for over a year.  For those of you without kids, Baby Alive is an especially coveted doll because she eats & drinks and then says “uh oh I made a stinkie” – and then the lucky owner gets to change her soiled diaper.  For a while my husband & I were able to stave off our daughter’s begging with the response that if she wanted to play mommy so badly we could easily have another baby and she could start changing some real diapers.  But for some reason this idea never caught on.

So at some point last year I went to Toys R Us to check out Baby Alive and see what was what.  A baby doll didn’t seem objectionable – unlike some of those other “little girl dolls” which in reality look like a bunch of libidinous ho-bags.  I’m thinking okay – a baby doll.  Not bad.  And I wasn’t mistaken, Baby Alive is indeed a baby doll – no objection there – but (last year anyway) she cost over $50(!!!) and was ugly as sin.  So.  My older daughter’s birthday rolls around and she’s wondering why No Baby Alive.  I’m frank with her – I know she’ll understand.  I tell her: Well, honey, I went to the store with every intention of buying you Baby Alive, but when I got there I found out it cost a fortune and was hideously ugly.  The brown Baby Alive was actually very cute, but she was still too expensive.

And surprisingly, she did understand, and dropped the Baby Alive beg-a-thon until just recently.  In this interim she had actually seen Baby Alive up close and personal in several stores and agreed wholeheartedly that White Baby Alive is indeed scarily bizarre looking, with its freakish frying pan eyes 4 sizes too big for its head.  But we both agreed that Brown Baby Alive is really quite cute.  So, this Christmas, you can of course guess what was top o’ the list for my older daughter.  Numero Uno: BROWN BABY ALIVE.

So, I go back to Toys R Us a month ago, and what do I find??  Every single one of the very cute Brown Baby Alive dolls are G-O-N-E.  And, of course, not surprisingly they are overstocked on the waaaay ugly White Baby Alive.  What to do?  Well, of course, as any good mother would do, I bought the ugly one before they sold out of that one too, took it home and wrapped it up.

So this morning when my older daughter unwrapped White Baby Alive (after saving her for the very last present because she had of course guessed that this was her longed for “big gift”), what does she say:

“BABY ALIVE!!!!

Oh man, it’s the creepy one…”