This is going to be a great Christmas in our home. We had a truly roller coaster year that has ended on a very positive note. While this blog may come across as a charmed life of one who zips through markets and food stores for the finest produce, ingredients and dishes followed by endless hours in the kitchen cooking up dozens of different recipes, it isnâ€™t the only thing that I do. I wonâ€™t get into details but suffice it to say that the past few years have contained enough material for a bizarre and stressful bestsellerâ€¦though most of you wouldnâ€™t believe half of the things that have gone on. I am incapable of writing anything really coherent in a food post, what more a novel! But a lot of it has come to a screeching end in the past few weeks and it looks like everything is going to be more than just fine, thanks. I actually used this blog to get my mind off of other things and it has done a brilliant job of thatâ€¦with the huge bonus of interacting with so many readers through comments, emails, eyeball, etc. I have learned so much this year and I am truly grateful to each and every one of you who have visited the site over the yearâ€¦ So here is a very personal post on a cherished family gingerbread tradition in our home, and I wish you all a truly Merry Christmas!
Gingerbread has been a constant in our home since our daughter was born 10 years ago. The fragrance of spices that permeates our living room during the season is almost better than the smell of a fresh pine tree. Over the years I have evolved a gingerbread recipe that does well in our humid weather and which is great for â€œconstruction projects.â€ I had all these great plans to post several more entries before the holidays but I got overrun with other obligations so this year I will simply show you what we made and maybe next year post the recipe a few weeks earlierâ€¦ Ostensibly, the gingerbread is for my daughter and often her friends, as the concept of something edible made into houses then covered in sweet snow white icing that you then glue obscene amounts of candy to is just too good to be true! However, I have to admit that I take a tremendous amount of comfort and satisfaction out of the process as wellâ€¦
First there is a discussion about what the gingerbread creation will be. Early on I dictated this as my daughter was still in pampers. The first year we made a simple house that was perhaps a foot square. Subsequent years we made a castle, a working carousel, large houses, Madeleineâ€™s home (including cast iron grilles in front of the windows) from the cartoons, a block of city townhouses, a New England ranch/barn, St. Basilâ€™s Cathedral in Moscow (with curved towers), a log cabin, etc. St. Basilâ€™s Cathedral pictured here featured several domes that were covered in colorful icing that swirled up into the skyâ€¦ the most time consuming design attempted to dateâ€¦ Once the design is decided, plans are drawn up and cut out. The gingerbread is made and several back-breaking bouts with the rolling pin result in all of the pieces of the puzzle as it wereâ€¦ Some designs take over 100 man hours of work and I find that this is the most calming activity for a harried mind. Concentrating on my gingerbread means my mind is turning off everything else.
After assembling the pieces against a styrofoam base and form to prevent structural collapse, the fun part of sticking the candy on begins. Early on this is a haphazard effort that sometimes results in a wild but charming gingerbread house. As my daughter got older, she started to plot candy patterns and by now at 10, she has inherited a good dose of her fatherâ€™s anal retentiveness and thinks carefully before she applies and candy to the house. The result, whatever the underlying structure is always stunningâ€¦why? Because we made it ourselves, thatâ€™s why. I keep thinking that yearâ€™s gingerbread will be the last one as my daughter will eventually outgrow this, but she continues to ask for it.
This year we were running late because of all the distractions but I managed to get it together last weekend and make the gingerbread village pictured throughout this post (except for St. Basilâ€™s cathedral). It is made up of several â€œshopsâ€ â€“ a village strip mall as it were, and there are several figurines out in the snow to add interest. My daughter picked out the design herself and she was wonderful and patient about waiting until I had enough time to bake the dough. I also added lights inside the structure and a backdrop of black cardboard with twinkling lights for starsâ€¦ My daughter decorated the house with a friend and they did it all on their ownâ€¦
I like the gingerbread tradition so much, I introduced it to a small school that my daughter attends and now nearly 250 kids decorate gingerbread houses every holiday seasonâ€¦there is nothing that equals the fragrance of 2-3 dozen massive gingerbread houses displayed in the schoolâ€™s lobby every yearâ€¦then each and every house is wrapped up and donated to a childrenâ€™s ward at hospitals around the city, orphanages and other charities just in time for Christmas. The look on the faces of the kids in a hospital ward or orphanage upon the arrival of their gingerbread house is worth more than all the presents you have purchased this yearâ€¦
Memories are the most priceless things we can accumulate in our lifetime. In our home, the past ten years of gingerbread ranks high among those cherished family memories that will stick with us foreverâ€¦ I have done a poor job of conveying exactly what I wanted to say, but when any of us gets a whiff of that gingerbread and sugarâ€¦we instantly know everything is going to be just fine.
Along with the gingerbread effort each year, my family usually donates books to public schools or orphanages in the Philippines as the state of our educational system and the lack of reading materials is just so severe and depressing. At one public school in Batangas with over 500 children, we found their library had just 40 books! This past year I have poured a part of my heart and psyche into Market Manila. And I have taken away a tremendous amount of knowledge, pleasure and satisfaction from the effortâ€¦ I have rarely asked for anything from you except for a comment when someone or something has truly irritated me. So how about we all do something that is really in line with the Christmas spirit of giving and charity? If you leave me a comment on this post (say anything you like, just one comment per person please, and no, I have never used your email addresses for anything bad in case lurkers are reluctant to write in), I will endeavor to donate a childrenâ€™s book to a Philippine public elementary school before the end of January 2006. The more comments (yikes, I hope there is no limit to this software or it may crashâ€¦) I get, the more books the kids will receiveâ€¦ From my family to yours, we wish you all a very Merry Christmas!!!