Flip or Flop – gingerbread edition

I hope our houses look this good when they’re done!

So, yes, it’s been a while since I posted – over a year now. Up until recently, I hadn’t the heart to write about grandchildren. You see, we had a family tragedy – we lost our grandson, who was still-born.

That was a shattering experience for all of us, especially my son and daughter-in-law. Witnessing their overwhelming grief and feeling utterly helpless in the face of it has been one of the hardest experiences of my life.

But grief has a way of softening with time, and our family is slowly recovering from our great loss. And our 3-year-old granddaughter is back to her usual bouncy self.

Among other accomplishments, she’s learned to call me – sort of. She can wrest the cell phone away from my son and tap my phone number, but whether she’s doing it intentionally is uncertain. 

Sad Doggie

And she is branching out into texting as well.

Recently she dictated a text for my daughter-in-law to send me. At the time, we were all in full emergency search mode because her beloved stuffed animal, Sad Doggie, was missing. (Don’t worry, we found him).

Here’s the text I received: “Hi Grandma hi. Come to my house now.”

Hemingway at work

As you can see, her prose style is succinct and wonderfully minimalist, with just the right amount of repetition. Obviously, we have a future Hemingway on our hands.

But this post is chiefly about my troubled history constructing holiday house decorations for my granddaughter.

It all started a month ago, with Halloween. 

This was the first year the child was noticeably excited about the holiday. Doting grandmother that I am, I purchased a paper and foam-based haunted house kit from Michael’s craft store for us to put together.

I understood that she probably wouldn’t have the dexterity to assemble the house itself, but I thought I could do that bit and she could help me put the stickers on the little Halloween figures.

Well, I was wrong. The box says the kit is for “Ages 6+” but I believe “Ages 60+” would be more accurate. I couldn’t get the blasted foam pieces to fit together, and the “instructions” were nothing but a cruel joke.

The architectural ruins of our first haunted house kit

Next, we tried making a gingerbread haunted house, using a kit I bought at Trader Joe’s.

However, our house-building session also devolved. It became a candy and frosting free-for-all.

Our scary mansion looked like it’d been hit by a wrecking ball, without a single gingerbread wall left standing. However, the little candies, especially the black bats and white bones, were a big hit. We had a sugar-fueled, riotously good time picking through the debris.  

But when it comes to learning from experience apparently I’m a slow study, because now I’m planning to make another gingerbread house with my granddaughter, this time for Christmas. 

So I got another kit. And I decided to call in reinforcements, specifically my sister-in-law, who has a history of making very respectable and structurally sound gingerbread houses for her family.

The secret to a great gingerbread house, I’ve been told, is to assemble the walls and let the frosting “glue” (otherwise known as royal icing) that holds them together dry thoroughly before attempting any decorations. So we’ll give that a try. (And here’s a complete tutorial from the Food Network if you want to try to make a gingerbread house from scratch, rather than using a kit.) 

I wonder how much royal icing was needed to hold this almost life-size gingerbread house together?

The tradition of making gingerbread houses at Christmas isn’t new. It goes back at least as far as early 18th century Germany. And did you know that the cute little structures we delight in making with our kids are modeled after the candy-bedecked house that the wicked witch in  Hansel and Gretel used to lure innocent children into her oven?

Now that’s a terrifying fairy tale. You have to admit that immortalizing this scary story at holiday time by making an edible house like the witch’s is kind of weird.  

But grim fairy tales aside, (or should I say Grimm?) you can’t throw a candy cane around Christmas without hitting a gingerbread house.

These tasty homes are fodder for competitions, Hallmark movies, and cozy Christmas scenes of all sorts.

And if you look around this holiday season, you’re bound to see gingerbread as a  building material for more than just houses. You may also find gingerbread boats, castles and other structures, including replicas of just about any architectural landmark you can imagine. (If you like, can see a gingerbread Eiffel Tower, Empire State building, and Hogwarts Castle here.)

A gingerbread White House, covered in white chocolate

I’m not that ambitious. I’m just hoping our pre-made gingerbread walls stay up. If you have any tips for me, please share them in the comments!