(From the December 2014 archives)
My favorite holiday tradition as a child was a three day process of creating a gingerbread house from scratch.
Day 1 – Bake the gingerbread house pieces and let cool. “Glue” the pieces together with a thick frosting made from sugar and water and let set overnight.
Day 2 – Use a combination of M&Ms, taffy, Dots, Tootsie Rolls, and whatever candy we had left over from Halloween to create a gingerbread house of epic proportions (at least for a 12 and 15 year old) where everything was edible. There wasn’t a toothpick in sight. Most years, being the Harry Potter nerds that we were/are, we themed the house “Hagrid’s Hut”. Did you know that when you put Tootsie Rolls in the microwave for a few seconds they become pliable enough to create “chocolate frogs”, Fang the dog, and even Norbert the dragon? Leave them in the microwave too long, though, and they pop, explode, and fizzle onto the plate (do not try this at home, kids). We made a stick pretzel fence, carefully gluing the thin pretzels together with sugar-icing and molding birds (more Tootsie Rolls) to sit atop of it. There was often a birds’ next inside the unused chimney which was made out of picked-apart Life cereal and Jelly Bellies. And of course, on the side of the house was a giant pumpkin patch (taffy) that Norbert the dragon was sneezing on and catching fire to (more taffy).
Day 3 – Clean off all the sugar that has caked itself onto the countertop – but Dad could do this job, right? Eventually, he tired of this duty and the only way we were allowed to continue our tradition was if we promised to complete the daunting cleaning task ourselves.
My sister and I haven’t seen each other for Christmas in several years, so unfortunately this tradition died out and a new one has taken its place. After moving away from home, I soon came across a miraculous find – “Already Been Chewed” gingerbread men cookie cutters. The cookie cutters themselves were made to look like they had bite marks taken out of them. Some were missing heads, others arms, and the rest legs. I bought two sets – one for myself and another to send to my sister, and from different states and time zones we set to work. After baking and letting the men cool, I spent hours hand decorating each one with toothpicks. Some had hats, scarves and mittens, and each had a different facial expression ranging from shocked to infuriated. One of my favorite parts of the process was creating inner monologues for them. “Ah, my leg!” – “Why, God? Why me?” – “Ooooohhhhh noooooooooooo!”
I soon began giving these out as gifts to my friends. Each decorative bag was met with a large smile and much laughter as the cookies soon disappeared, only crumbs remaining. “Your cookies were almost too cute to eat!” I began inviting friends over to my apartment for a massive cookie decorating party where creativity bubbled over. Some cookies started dressing in bikinis, skirts, or ties; others had veins popping in their eyes out of anger; a snowman or two appeared in the mix. And each cookie found a home for the holidays.
Moving, losing loved ones, creating new families – traditions may not stay the same forever. But we can adjust and create new ones that are just as meaningful.
Happy baking! Stay tuned for more cookies and holiday recipes!