Adventures in Gingerbread House Making!

For years, I’ve wanted to learn how to make a gingerbread house from scratch, and luckily I recently stumbled upon a six week course on the subject, but what would I make?

If you ask me, the worst day of my life, by far is the day I told my father that Ford would stop making Broncos. Nearly 20 years ago, I read a magazine article that started with the sentence, “The Bronco is a dinosaur.” My father was livid when I broke the bad news. I explained that something called an Expedition would take its place instead.

Nineteen years later I think I finally helped heal that irking wound. Not only did Ford (kind of) announce that it would supposedly start production on a new version of its Bronco (fingers crossed), but I also created my father’s beloved 1974 yellow Ford in gingerbread.

The first thing I learned during the class – and this is important – ‘house’ is an arbitrary word. Like, very arbitrary.

I was quickly relieved when my instructor said, “You can make anything you want.” But then I also realized I could make *anything I want.

Oh no.

Fellow students threw out options like the Nightmare Before Christmas and Dr. Seuss’ Whoville. I wanted to focus on something that required a light, and some sugar work, for windows. I considered a church, the Elizabethan Theater in Ashland, Oregon and the Oscar I’ve been praying for since I was a little girl.

After much shallow soul-searching from friends’ Facebook comments, I decided on my father’s SUV.

It’s boxy, with some windows and tires. How hard could it be? By the third class my teacher said, “You’ve actually chosen one of the harder designs in class.” Oh good. Another student conferred, “Yeah, I was like ‘Wow, ok. She’s really going for it, ok.’”

Great.

I learned very quickly that I would be slowest – in all the various steps.

Fellow students busily created barns, and houses with cute little animals – and then there was me, meticulously sketching a box with wheels. It took me two classes alone to sketch it out! Fortunately, my father still had the original brochure (!) on hand, and made copies for me.

Right away I made the decision to use the bottom of a coffee mug for the tires. And for the first time, I got a glimpse of its real-life dimensions. What have I done?! Oh, and did I mention math?! I never thought that algebra and fractions would haunt me decades later, but guess what?!

I kept going.

Next up, making the dough and freezing it for later. Then, cutting out the various pieces and rolling out the dough. Need to burn off some extra holiday calories? Roll out gingerbread dough. As my mother would say, “it’s harder than the hubs of hell.” No joke, I huffed and puffed. And puffed. Many times I had to sip water. It was ridiculous, letting others see how out of breath I was. But by God, I built some guns that night! I will show you! Why hasn’t anyone tapped into this exercise program? Million dollar idea!

Depending on the size, I cut out pieces with either a normal knife, an X Acto knife, or my fat finger!

While I thought that was nerve-wracking, my nerves took another serious blow while I watched my beloved shapes bake in the convection oven.  You know when you watch baking shows, and the contestants peer through the glass biting their nails? Guilty. I’m one of those people now. I get it. You have no control over what happens. Like a moron, I assumed my tires would come out as cute little round tires. Nope! They baked upwards into warped Whoville-like biscuits. Awesome.

Some ‘mistakes’ can be remedied with a knife with concise shaving. But not too hard, or your heart will break into a million pieces as you hear a very audible crack.

I made the decision beforehand to light my ‘house,’ so the wooden board it sat on was cut open. Yes, woodworking is also involved! Get out your drills and bandsaws people!

Drying is a very important component. I was lucky in that since I was in a weekly class, by the time I returned the next week, roofs, tires, windows, and my grille were already to go.

Royal icing was made beforehand, so all I had to do was some adult assembly required. But, now physics took hold, along with careful balancing and patience. Lots of patience. See that royal icing sliding down that side paneling?! No amount of yelling – or cursing, in my case – will fix it. Either you stand there with your hand covering the affected area, or you luck out and place a canned good, preferably something big like green beans, to alleviate your growing annoyance.

Yes, it becomes a real-life gingerbread smackdown. Spoiler: the gingerbread will tease you and win every time.

But with perseverance and patience (!), I built a 1974 Ford Bronco.

I knew I was on the right track when one of the culinary instructors came by and said, “You know what that looks like? It looks like my ’72 Ford Bronco. It was also yellow.” I raised up my arms and yelled a celebratory “Yes!”  “Oh, that’ll make her happy,” said the student across from me. He then told me how he replaced engine parts multiple times, but “it could still go up a hill.” Yep, those are also some of my childhood memories.

I will not lie. It really is gratifying seeing something you created with your hands, albeit, food. But I said along I wanted to learn everything from scratch. And boy did I ever.

Photos do not show its real proportions. It is pretty big in real life. Co-workers were surprised to see how large it was, like 8×12 inches large. Yep, damn those coffee mug bottoms!

Before I finished the class, I was urged to enter the 9th annual Wilbur D. May Museum Gingerbread House Competition. Only 100 entries would be allowed. Plus, it was a $10 entry fee. If I didn’t finish in time, who cares, at least it was only $10 I lost out on.

The next week my very yellow Bronco aired on Channel 2 News This Morning. It doubled as a preview for the weekend’s competition. No turning back, now, it had to appear!

When my father and I arrived at Wilbur D. May Center, my creation was placed next to a mansion of candy canes, white frosting and gummy drops. I almost had a heart attack.

“What did you think would happen,” my dad asked.

“I know. Some entries are better than mine, and some could be worse, but it’s different now that I actually see it with my own eyes!”

I was crushed. I knew food professionals were allowed to enter, so my anxiety overwhelmed me at times.

But, I used the opportunity as a learning experience. One entry in particular had straight lines, smooth icing, and clean cuts. It showed me how I could improve, you know, for next year.

Before we left, we were asked on the way out if we wanted to vote for our favorite. “Why, yes I would!”

Apparently lots of other people did too. I won SECOND PLACE in People’s Choice! I was shocked! Shocked!

broncosecond

While I don’t know who won first or third place, it really doesn’t matter to me. I now own a giant red ribbon that says SECOND PLACE. I couldn’t be happier!

And as for my father, he’s very proud of his only child making him a touching gift. But he’s stressed over where to put it. Not my problem! I just bake ‘em.

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PBS to Air Restored Version of ‘The Civil War’ in September

PBS says it will air a newly restored version of Ken Burns’ “The Civil War” this fall, 25 years after the documentary’s debut.

The high-definition “Civil War” will air on five consecutive nights in September, PBS said Thursday.

Viewers will be able to see more details in the film’s images, according to Daniel J. White, who handled the restoration. In a statement, filmmaker Burns called the new version “truly remarkable.”

“The Civil War” proved a blockbuster when it debuted in September 1990, drawing an audience of nearly 39 million. It remains the highest-rated PBS series broadcast to date, according to the TV network.

The announcement of the film’s rebroadcast coincides with the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s April 14, 1865, assassination, and the end of the Civil War. (AP)

Obama Personal Chef to Hang Up Apron After 6 Years

Sam Kass cooked up policy as well as meals for President Barack Obama and his family for six years.

He was not only their personal chef but also their senior adviser for nutrition policy, something new for a White House chef. The title gave him a seat at the table where administration officials hashed out everything from updated food labels to new requirements for healthier school lunches.

But Kass is also a newlywed. And he’s leaving the White House at the end of the month to join his wife in New York City.

The 34-year-old Chicago native also helped first lady Michelle Obama develop her garden.

The plot led to her signature anti-childhood obesity campaign, which Kass eventually came to oversee as executive director — his third White House title. (AP)

France Reclaims Title as World’s Largest Wine Maker

France has reclaimed its crown as world’s biggest wine producer after a poor 2014 harvest saw Italy’s wine production plunge 15%.

French vignerons will produce around 46.2 million hectoliters of wine — about 6.16 billion bottles — this year, up 10% from a year earlier. Italy, whose winemakers have out-produced France’s for the last two years, will produce 44.4 million hectoliters of wine in 2014, according to figures released Thursday by the Paris-based International Organization of Vine and Wine.

Total world wine production is set to fall 6 % this year to 271 million hectoliters. Spain, which leapfrogged France into second place in 2013, will see its wine production fall 19% this year to 37 million hectoliters, the organization said. (AP)

New Mexico Chile Gets Certified-Product Safeguards

New Mexico is looking to a new certification program to protect the reputation of one of its signature crops: chile.

Gov. Susana Martinez and other officials unveiled the program before a packed room of chile aficionados gathered Tuesday at The Range in Bernalillo. The Range is the first restaurant to sign up.

New Mexico Certified Chile joins other well-known trademarked products such as Vidalia Onions and Idaho Potatoes.

Martinez says chile is a way of life in New Mexico and contributes more than $400 million every year to the state’s economy. She says people shouldn’t have to ask whether it’s really New Mexico-grown chile.

The program builds upon on existing law that makes it illegal to advertise any product as New Mexico chile unless it’s actually grown in the state. (AP)

USDA Overhauls Decades-Old Poultry Inspections

The Obama administration is overhauling poultry plant inspections for the first time in more than 50 years, a move it says could result in 5,000 fewer foodborne illnesses each year.

The final rules announced Thursday would reduce the number of government poultry inspectors by around a fourth. But those that remain will focus more on food safety than quality, requiring them to pull more birds off the line for closer inspections and encouraging more testing for pathogens. There would also be more inspectors ensuring plants are clean.

The changes would be voluntary, but many of the country’s largest poultry companies are expected to opt in.

USDA originally proposed the rule in January 2012. Consumer groups criticized that proposal, saying it would shift too much of the inspection burden to industry. (AP)

Lay’s Newest Flavor: Cappuccino?

American palates have changed considerably over the years, but is the country ready for cappuccino-flavored Lay’s?

Frito-Lay, the snack division of PepsiCo Inc., will announce on Wednesday the coffee-flavored chips as one of the four finalists for its second annual “Do Us a Flavor” contest in the U.S., which gives people a chance to create a new potato chip that is sold nationally and win $1 million. The other three finalists are Cheddar Bacon Mac & Cheese, Mango Salsa and Wasabi Ginger.

Frito-Lay says the four flavors are expected to start hitting shelves in late July. People will then be able to vote online for their favorite through Oct. 18.

The promotional stunt is intended to boost customer engagement online and send fans to stores in search of the flavors.

But it also reflects how Frito-Lay is trying to keep up with changing tastes, with its ever-evolving lineup of potato chips now including several Hispanic flavors. Later this month, it also plans to roll out Lay’s Stax chips in a Korean barbecue flavor and Lay’s Stax in Thai Sweet Chili flavor.

That would make them the first Asian flavors of Lay’s chips sold nationally in the U.S., not counting the flavors it has introduced as part of the “Do Us a Flavor” contest. Last year, Cheesy Garlic Bread beat out Chicken & Waffles and Sriracha, a sauce commonly used in Thai cuisine.

“I can’t imagine us 10 years ago doing a wasabi ginger flavor,” said Ram Krishnan, Frito-Lay’s senior vice president of brand marketing.

Despite the growing popularity of ethnic flavors, the top four Lay’s flavors remain the same: Original, Barbecue, Cheddar & Sour Cream and Sour Cream & Onion.

Frito-Lay notes that its cappuccino flavor doesn’t contain any actual coffee or caffeine. The company last year discontinued a variety of Cracker Jack that contained caffeine after the Food and Drug Administration said it was concerned about the proliferation of caffeinated food and drinks. Frito-Lay says it halted production because of weak demand, rather than regulatory concerns. (AP)