Wednesday, December 08, 2004

An Advent Memory

When I was a kid someone made one of those gingerbread houses for our family. I don’t know how or why we became the recipients of this house, but it was without a doubt the most magnificent thing to ever cross our threshold during Advent. You see, my mom had very inflexible ideas about not jumping the gun on Christmas. She referred to all Christmas parties as “Advent parties” and refused to attend them. Nor could we ever put up our tree before December 23rd--no matter how much wheedling, griping, and whinging we did to try to wear her down.

There must have been a good reason that my mom didn’t throw a tarp over the gingerbread house and wheel it into a closet until December 23rd, but she took that reason with her to the grave. Most likely she thought there was a slight chance that the gingerbread artisan would drop in unexpectedly and if the gingerbread house was nowhere to be seen, well that would not reflect well on us. Social niceties trumped religious convictions.

Whoever this person was, she was an excellent craftsperson, and she didn’t cheap out with the materials either, making use of Nilla wafers, candy canes, red hots, licorice all sorts, Chuckles, chocolate kisses, starlight mints, and Necco wafers—no expense was spared. The roof was shingled with chocolate nonpareils. That must have cost a bundle! The house also had a little multicolored hedgerow fence made of oversized gumdrops.

My brother and sister and I spent much of our free time inspecting that fabulous gingerbread house. We weren’t supposed to touch it, and it goes without saying that we weren’t supposed to nibble on it. It wasn’t actually meant to be eaten. The “gingerbread” that the walls and roof were made from was hard enough to chip a tooth and about as flavorful as a long-abandoned kitchen sponge. Still, there was all this actual candy on it. Wasn’t that edible?

Well, in fact, yes. Soon it came to my mom’s attention that portions of the gumdrop hedgerow had been “trimmed” rather severely and unflatteringly. Here and there gumdrops had been gnawed down to nubbins. The fence was beginning to look like a jaw that had had a lot of its teeth knocked out. My mom interrogated us, but none of us copped to it. Then one day I walked into the living room to find my dad, mouth open, hovering about an inch above a gumdrop, poised to engulf it!

I raised the alarm and everyone rushed into the living room. (How often do you get to nark on a parent?) Even though he’d been caught dead to rights, my dad still made a feeble denial, mumbling something about how he had just been trying to get a closer look to see if he could tell whose teethmarks were on the other gumdrops. Yeah, right.

Of course, my sister, my brother, and I had all been engulfing gumdrops whenever no one was looking. My mom was a health-food nut and we rarely got to eat sweets, so we can’t be blamed. My dad, however, was not under the jurisdiction of my mom’s antisugar laws and was always going off and buying himself half-gallons of Neapolitan ice cream and these fake chocolate eclair things called Kreme Kurls. Yet, he still found it necessary to horn in on our territory and snarf the gumdrops that, by rights, should have belonged to us kids.

Actually, we all thought the whole episode was hilarious, and after that, it was like a condemned notice had been posted on the gingerbread house. Shingles were pried off in sheets and eaten publicly. After every single candy decoration was consumed, frosting snowdrifts on the window sills were chipped off, sampled, and rejected. We took a hammer to the walls and roof and tried to eat them, which is why I’m such an authority on just how inedible they truly are. Within a few days the whole thing was reduced to rubble. What a bunch of sugar-deprived barbarians we were.


Blogger Betsy said...

I love it!

My son's class made gingerbread houses last year, spackled together with gallons and gallons of that white frosting that hardens within minutes.

These houses were candy monstrosities, toppling over with the weight of fifty gazillion different kinds of candies. And even though it was sugar nirvana - you couldn't even pry a candy loose from the house in order to consume it.

Not that I tried...uh...not me...

9:44 PM  
Blogger Jamie said...

Wow...I always wanted one of those! But you needed it a lot more than I did, it sounds like.

We were a little health-foody, e.g. never any colorful cereals and only whole-wheat bread, but we had an honest-to-goodness COOKIE JAR stocked with Keebler chocolate chip cookies or pecan sandies. And while Advent was indeed a word used in our house, it only meant that our family would volunteer to do a candle-lighting ceremony at church one Sunday. Christmas did indeed rule the house for the last two weeks of December.

8:00 AM  
Blogger Rusty said...

I've never been privy to a gingerbread house, and as such I'm incredibly jealous. They've never been the norm in my family, and indeed I can't recall ever seeing them at friends' homes, either.

The two tasty Christmas treats that I have been privy to:
1) Advent calendars, by far the greatest fun in the world as Christmas approaches, and always a touch of drama. Will it, or won't it, last until Christmas? (I think we all know the answer...)

2) Home-made egg nog. Certainly not the greatest stuff for me, but so good it's a sin that must be committed. Family recipe:
Egg Nog6 eggs separated
2 cups powdered sugar(1 cup to whites/1 cup to yolks)
3 cups rich milk (1/2 & 1/2)
1 quart vanilla ice crean

Beat whites until stiff. Add powdered sugar. Mix yolks, powdered sugar, milk & ice cream together. Fold in whites, sprinkle with nutmeg.

I encourage you to try it. Not bad to have some rum around when you do...

9:46 AM  
Blogger Rozanne said...

Betsy, Gingerbread houses can be made by children? If a kid can make one, maybe I could. Oh and you just have to be persistent with your prying, the candy *does* come off.

Jamie, I am so envious of your childhood cookie jar and the store-bought cookies within. Whenever I babysat as a teenager, I would--in stereotypical babysitter fashion--raid my employers' cookie jar. Really raid it--like empty it.

Pieman, You know that eggnog enthusiasts read this blog, don't you? I'm sure that recipe will be much appreciated--it sounds wonderful! I'm going to try it, but I will have to ration it out or B will gain 10 lb on the spot.

10:09 AM  

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