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.

Weekend w/ Mommy part two

It’s hard to top the March Madness that was Weekend w/ Mommy (part one), but we were willing to try. That’s right everyone, my Mommy is HERE.  IN PHILLY. RIGHT NOW AS I TYPE!!! take THAT, Atlanta.

Saturday night. The Borgata. After the buffet, a decent $5 chardonnay and 2 cloyingly sweet but free white wines, here were the totals.  Me $161.50. NOT TOO SHABBY. John $69. WOOHOO.  My mom: HAD FUN ANYWAY.  And we’ll leave it at that.

Sunday. Peddler’s Village. Brunch @ the Cock n’ Bull. The corn pudding was excellent and the petit fours a dream.  Post meal roundup: Me, Mommy, Maddie & Georgia, ALL OKAY.  John: NOT.  B/c John got food poisoning and spent the car ride home vomiting into a shopping bag.

Afterward, John & I went to the Eagles game. YES MY HUSBAND IS A TROOPER.  And thank Goodness.  B/c the game was AMAZING. Except that this was my view.

And this was John’s.

Yes, that is a security guard sitting on my husband’s lap.

Although my husband put a brave face on things, by the end of the game it had gotten OLD.  When we complained, we were cursed out by the higher-up security guards on the field – the one even threatened to beat the hell out of John.

On a good note, I was not sat upon. And after the game, David Akers threw his wristband to ME! And I also caught Deshawn Jackson’s sweaty towel.  Both of which I immediately put on.  ANd even though everyone around me said EWWWwWWwWwW.   I said AHHHhhHHHHHHhHHHH.

Weekend with Mommy

My weekend in one word:

CHA-CHING!!!!!!!!!!

And in two:

CHA CHING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

For those of you who are vision impaired, Saturday night I won $738.50 at the Borgata Casino Hotel & Spa on a slot machine. I will NOT tell you which one b/c it is now my secret luckiest winniest machine ever and MINE ALONE. Plus I do NOT want to encourage anyone in the folly that is gambling. Let’s face it folks, you are probably better off going into the bathroom, taking out your wallet and flushing it down the toilet than to try to WIN AT GAMBLING b/c it ain’t gonna happen. EXCEPT FOR ME!!!!!!!! WOOHOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

What a magnificently crazy fun-filled weekend!! Today I am trying to get back into the swing of things, but frankly I’m really not feeling much inclined. And who can blame me? The prospect of laundry and chores, bleech. I haven’t even brushed my teeth yet, and I might not now b/c I AM RICH. I am ready to retire for good. Like my good friend Jim next door who has thrown in the towel after 36 glorious years. And I am not speaking of 36 years of WORK – Oh NO! He is 36 and has decided to retire. B/c THAT is West Philly living and I LOVE IT!

SO where was I?? Oh yes, the weekend was grand. Well to be honest it started out a little shitty, but what else could it be when a sewer line backs up into your basement? Ahhhhh. Nothing like the smell of poop in the morning. Or the afternoon. Cause that’s how long it took us to remedy THAT lil problem. And by US you know of course I mean my beloved husband, b/c he’s the one who had to touch the stuff. YUM-YUM. Here is a photo for your enjoyment:

Look at that hand. He joked that he was going to rinse it in gasoline, but I do not think he actually did. At least not while I was watching. He had to go to the Home Depot and rent a big giant snake. It is a tool for plunging out your sewer line and not the fanged animal of course, though that would have been preferable to the poo. So the weekend’s festivities got off to a bit of a late start, but you can see how Saturday night finished, so who cares. right? My husband is the BEST.

Sunday we took in the last day at the Philadelphia Flower Show. They were not being persnickety about which door you used either, much to my relief. Though of course you had to buy tickets which of course did not come cheap. But that’s o-kay b/c our weekend was ON THE BORGATA. So the flowers were fun, the swarming masses much less so. We ate lunch across the street at the Reading Terminal Market. We had cheesesteaks at Rick’s, which is still there, at least until the court date in June. I had not eaten at Rick’s for quite some time and realized why. No offense to Rick’s, but they are one of the few (if only) Philly cheesesteak joints that 1) don’t chop their meat, which I don’t care for, and 2) offer the “works” aka lettuce & tomato on the steaks. As a Philadelphian I have to say this is weird. I have eaten steaks all my life and have yet, until this weekend, to see hoagie fixins on one unless it’s a HOAGIE. Oh well. It was otherwise o-kay. And of course we had Bassett’s which rocks above all others. I had pumpkin AND peach on one cone and it was simply Heaven in an ice cream.

Yesterday we spent the day at Peddler’s Village in Lahaska. My parents used to live minutes from there in New Hope, and my mommy hadn’t been back since moving to Atlanta. Almost a year and a half ago. So we took the tour and tooled past her old pad. It was not looking too bad, but it just wasn’t the same. We spent the rest of the afternoon eating and playing games at Giggleberry Fair, the Peddler’s Village (slightly) less commercial equivalent of a Chuck E. Cheese. Since it was a Monday afternoon, it was D-E-A-D. My mom took the girls on the carousel and the older man who runs the thing let them stay on waaay longer than normal. I believe out of sheer boredom. It was great fun the first 5-10 minutes, but after that all three of them looked a bit queezy. My husband & I were both very glad to be watching from a bench. Afterward, we hit the outlets. My mommy bought the girls a HUGE bag full of stuff from the Children’s Place, they must have gotten like 5 outfits each. Everything was BEYOND CHEAP, like 99 cents, $2, $3. CRAZY. I think she spent $70 total on the whole lot of it. I really like the Children’s Place very cute & colorful clothing, but some of their stuff can lean distinctly towards trampville. Hoochie mama gear on women is mildly entertaining; on a 4 year old it is criminal.

My mommy also bought me the rockingest pair of shoes. They look like granny shoes, here I am wearing them:

YES they ARE COOL. They will look better w/out my fuzzy polka dot socks, but they still look great even with them. WOW. I love these shoes. I used to have a pair like this back in the early 90s (that’s 1990s NOT 1890s, though they probably looked just like this back then too). My friend Daffy just bought a similar pair. Yay! Okay now all you crazy salivating foot and shoe fetishists can MOVE ON.

SO I had been thinking of buying a sewing machine with my remaining Borgata winnings, but when we went to JoAnn Fabrics yesterday to check out the machines all they sold were Vikings. I’d read great things about Brother machines; not only are they inexpensive but they are supposed to be FABULOUS. So I passed on the $400 unknown Viking. I am going to continue researching. or maybe I will stumble into one at a thrift shoppe for an irresistible LOW LOW price and go for it. I am lucky, you know. But now that my mommy has once again returned south, the whole idea seems less pressing. Or maybe just less fun.

My mommy left at the crack of dawn this morn, leaving behind the faint scent of her perfume and the familiar dull ache which has returned once more to my heart. I know that there are people out there who have awful mommies. and I feel so badly for them. BUT I do not exaggerate when I say that my mommy is simply THE BEST MOMMY IN THE HISTORY OF THE WHOLE ENTIRE WORLD. Unfortunately for us, she is also a successful executive who now lives 800 miles away in ATLANTA. SO unlike yours truly, she can’t just hang out in West Philly for all eternity not brushing her teeth. Don’t get me wrong, I am beyond proud of my mom. To me as well as the rest of the world she is a certifiable SUCCESS in every way. And being a success is a good thing. But being on the receiving end of success sometimes truly sucks. I miss her. I wish she didn’t have to work so hard for people who don’t really care about her. My daughters sob when she leaves. And so do I.. Which is better?

All-in-all, this weekend of fun with my mommy has reminded me of several things. Poop smells. Gambling does not pay unless YOU WIN. And I would rather be with my family and have less money, than be rich & successful apart from them. YES money can be great, especially when you are poor. But it cannot buy you happiness. A lesson that Eliot Spitzer should have learned, but. unfortunately some never do.