Monday, December 28, 2009

Help! Mother Trapped in Gingerbread Houses

If you've been following my blog for a year (thank you!), you know that last year Evelyn and Clementine designed and constructed gingerbread houses and I was not that into it.  I had to convince myself it was a learning experience.  Then, for Christmas last year Evelyn got the book, The Gingerbread Architect: Recipes and Blueprints for Twelve Classic American Homes.

When the topic came up this year and the book came out, I blithely agreed.  I did insist that the kids choose houses that, on the 4 gingerbread man scale of difficulty, rated only a 1 or 2, but otherwise I was game.

Was I deterred by the weeklong gingerbread house construction schedule provided in the book?  Not at all.  I thought it was a grand idea to set the kids expectations!   We'll just spend an hour or two each day on the houses instead of leaping into an all-day marathon.  Excellent!  Did I quail when Evelyn revealed that the book was the collaboration of a baker and an architect?  Why should I?  I even laughed off the section titled "Historical Accuracy and Reinterpretation in Gingerbread".  And that is how we ended up spending almost every waking hour of one solid week on three historically and architecturally accurate gingerbread houses.

And we didn't even finish them.

Greta: the Dawson City gold rush house
Clementine: an Adirondack cabin
Evelyn: a Victorian farmhouse

Day 1 was a shopping day.  It took 3 stores to get all the ingredients and five hours of shopping.  Five hours!  In two of the 3 stores cashiers were prompted by the piles of candy to give me a stern look and admonish the children not to eat all the candy.

Day 2 was the day to make the gingerbread and enlarge and cut out the templates.  Five batches of gingerbread dough--25 cups of flour!--later it was a lot later than I anticipated.  I finished the last batch when the kids were in bed.

On the third day of gingerbreadhousemaking we baked the gingerbread.  Roll, lay on the template, cut, bake.  Repeat 55 times.  This took so long that we baked on the fourth day, too.  For walls with windows the girls crushed jolly ranchers and sprinkled them in the window holes. 

Alas, if we ever do this again we'll have to research the best candy for glass because after a couple days the window glass ran leaving jagged holes.  Evelyn's vandalized Victorian mansion, particularly when unlit, took on more of the flavor of Halloween than Christmas.

Day 5: Assemble houses...  Some of the decorating had to be done before the assembling.  2 gallons of royal icing later...

Gold rush house roof:

...Greta had finished her Dawson City gold rush house.
She chose to decorate the facade with historical accuracy and my help, and
to decorate the rest a la the witch in Hansel and Gretel.

And Clem's Adirondack cabin was also coming along.

Hers was complicated by a chimney.

And a porch.

Getting the pocky stick porch supports just the right length for the warped porch roof was a trick.

She covered the chimney in candy rocks.

And tiled the roof in cinnamon gum.  FYI 12 unwrapped packs of cinnamon gum work better than any aromatherapy candle.

Evelyn's house was also coming along.  But we didn't bake it long enough and its soft walls were sagging.  Here is Evelyn blow drying the icing and gingerbread walls.  Also, we assembled hers wrong and had to take of a couple walls and put them in the right place.

Clementine's completed cozy Adirondack cabin!  I wish I had a photo of the marzipan deer's head with chocolate pretzel antlers mounted on a gingerbread trophy board that she made to decorate the cabin.

My mom arrived and released me from round the clock gingerbread house construction and freed me to do some shopping and menu planning.  Evelyn turned to making gifts along with constructing her house.  Our homemade icing was gooier than the mix we'd bought and used up.  When she tried to dry it with the hair dryer it turned liquid and her roof slid off and cracked.

She had to patch it and let it dry before completing her house with grandma's help.  She built her porch and I helped her cut and nibble the mint stick porch supports to the right length.  Oh the sacrifices we mothers make.

On the left you can see the chimney bricked with cinnamon gum.

And she began tiling the roof with slabs of chocolate.

But here her work ended.  She says she'll finish it, but we may just eat it first.  We've hardly made a dent in the pile of candy, by the way.  Most of it was supposed to decorate the site surrounding the houses with rice crispy treat Christmas trees and wood piles and fences and lamp posts.

We've resolved to make just one collaborative house next year.  The girls have settled on the modern house with a green shredded coconut lawn and sugar sand zen garden complete with candy rake.

Anyone need a big pile of candy?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

My French Fry

I am forever imagining up ambitious projects. For a while this summer I decided I was going to try to teach my kids French by immersion at home! I speak horribly broken French and that was going to make it even more fun! I even registered a blog on Word Press called My French Fry. I was going to have photos of my small fry in berets sipping cafe au laits and reading Le Petit Prince. But the idea died in its infancy. C'est la vie.

Another project, which I blogged about here, was starting a potager (that's a french kitchen garden), just FYI. You have to scroll down to the bottom of the post to see the kids shoveling dirt.

The great thing about planting things is that they grow on their own. Ok, there was some watering. But our neighbor did that for two weeks while we were in Hawaii and when we came home we already had food!

We had mint and basil and lettuce and thyme and arugula and peas.

Some things took longer, like the pumpkins.
And the potatoes.

Here Greta and her friend Cat dig them up. Cat was game even though she does lots of farming with her mom.

We washed them. I cut them into matchsticks with a mandoline, because I didn't want any matchsticked kid fingers.

Look at the red color of these ones. I swear it is not blood.

And fried them.

Evelyn found some that were green on the inside. She says that potatoes that grow too close to the surface develop chlorophyll.

These matchstick fries are the kids' favorite.

So, I don't have homegrown French fry.

I think if I really want that to happen I'll have to plant us for a year in the native soil of France, where their language skills can bloom and grow without my cultivation.

But we sure enjoyed our homegrown french fries.