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.

Ben & Jerry’s Launches “Scotchy Scotch Scotch”

scotchscotch

Ben & Jerry’s announces its newest Limited Batch ice cream flavor, “Scotchy Scotch Scotch.”
Created in honor of beloved Ron Burgundy, the TV news anchor with a penchant for all things scotch,
the flavor is a creamy concoction of butterscotch ice cream with ribbons of butterscotch swirl. Don’t act like you’re not impressed!

“Scotchy, Scotch, Scotch is a delicious ice cream and I hope Ben and Jerry consider my other suggestions,” said Ron Burgundy. “Malt liquor marshmallow, well liquor bourbon peanut butter, and cheap white wine sherbet.”

The flavor was officially unveiled at New York City’s Pier 36 where members of the press attended and witnessed the announcement first-hand. True to the iconic ice cream company’s untraditional style, the event kicked off with – what else? – a performance by Nutty The Waterskiing Squirrel, as seen in the first Anchorman film. Nutty’s amazing performance was immediately followed by the appearance of a Ben & Jerry’s scoop-truck-turned-Channel 4 News-truck, which rolled onto the scene transporting a legion of blazer-wearing Ron Burgundy look-alikes. After “Scotchy Scotch Scotch” was officially unveiled, attending media and fans were treated to free scoops of the new Ron Burgundy-inspired flavor.

Fans anxiously await December 20th, when Ron and his elite news team return to the news desk in “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.”

“As a company who believes our fans deserve nothing but the best, we have great respect for Ron Burgundy, who takes the same belief to heart,” said Lisa Sholk, Ben & Jerry’s Brand Manager, who lead the team on the Scotchy Scotch Scotch flavor project.

“Having Ben & Jerry’s celebrate the return of Ron Burgundy to the big screen with the introduction of this special ice cream is an exciting and delicious way to build anticipation for the film,” said LeeAnne Stables, President of Consumer Products at Paramount Pictures. “We especially enjoyed the sampling process over the last several months to find the perfect Scotchy scotch flavor.

Scotchy Scotch Scotch is available now at participating scoop shops across the country. Pints of the flavor will arrive on store shelves over the next few weeks.

“To help locate the flavor as it rolls out, we’re asking fans of Ben & Jerry’s and Anchorman to log onto http://www.benjerry.com and share when and where they were able to have a taste,” Sholk said. “We want fans to be able to experience it all first-hand, because as Ron says, this flavor is ‘kind of a big deal.'”

With the 70’s behind him, San Diego’s top rated newsman, Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell), returns to the news desk in “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.” Also back for more are Ron’s co-anchor and wife, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), weather man Brick Tamland (Steve Carell), man on the street Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) and sports guy Champ Kind (David Koechner) – all of whom won’t make it easy to stay classy… while taking the nation’s first 24-hour news channel by storm. Produced by Judd Apatow, Will Ferrell and Adam McKay. Written by Will Ferrell & Adam McKay. Directed by Adam McKay.

To learn more about Ben & Jerry’s and to find a scoop shop near you, visit http://www.benjerry.com.

(Business Wire)

Say it With Food

I have the best father in the world. Not only does he take care of me, but he’s starting to enjoy cooking/baking with me.

Recently (while bringing me my forgotten cell phone charger), he whipped up this little spice cake for me and my co-workers. I had no idea. He beamed as he walked into my workplace, and told everyone, all 4 of us, that he created this.

“Wow!”

“Oh my God dad. You didn’t have to do this.”

“I know.”

“As my co-workers say dad ‘say it with food!'”

I later found out he woke up at 6:30am to start baking our scrumptious surprise. I couldn’t be more proud of him. It’s the thought that really counts on this one.

And my co-workers loved it! The cake was so nice and fluffy, oh my God, I would have eaten it all if I could have.

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In December, we both started this little snazzy creation, but he ended up finishing the whole thing for me instead.

I wanted to say thank you for all the goodies other people bring to work. I too can contribute to the fatness of the company, and not just take, take, take.

He was a hit. People took photos and posted them online. He even made a special wooden board to bring it on to work. He’s always taken enormous amounts of pride in his work!

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To give you an idea of how big it really is… oh yeah, we’re not screwin’ around! It’s seriously the size of a toddler.

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For years I’d look up on my parents’ wall and see this giant copper cookie cutter. But then my mother got sick…so I finally made the decision around last year’s holidays to finally bake one.

But I of course have to make this process even harder, like not allowing molasses in the recipe, because well, I don’t like the taste. So for two months I searched for that elusive recipe, then found it.

Next – how do we bake it? I consulted many fellow bakers/cookers as how to bake it – and in one piece. I finally decided we could cut him neckwise, and add a frosting scarf later. No one would know!

But that didn’t work out. While I was at work, he baked it, but broke it at the tip of the shoulder, leaving an awkward line to disguise. He baked another batch of gingerbread, from another recipe, just to cover the mistake.

When I came home to see what he’d done, he showed me he even attempted baking several 2’s – for the news station I work for. He wanted to put it on the man’s shoulder. I almost burst into tears over the show of affection.

He also told me that every five minutes he’d open the oven and turn the pieces so they could cook more evenly. He did that for 2 hours straight.

He’s always liked to surprise me with things like this. When I worked the morning show, he’d visit me and bring the entire crew McDonald’s apple pies. Because he wanted to.

I can’t believe my fortune, that I chose these two people to be my parents. I am so lucky.

I now look forward to coming home and seeing what he’s doing. We still even bake/cook together sometimes.

And that’s really the best gift I could ever have – quality time and wonderful memories.

On This Mother’s Day…..

I wanted to share a recipe I found a few weeks after my mother died. Literally hours after she died, I scoured the kitchen for recipes I remembered growing up hoping she wrote them for posterity.

I’m lucky I found a few written in her hand, and even more written in my (also) decreased grandmother’s handwriting. It’s those recipes that mean the most, not because I may or may not like the food, but because she enjoyed it enough to preserve it in her pantry.

More than a year later I still stumble across handwritten letters or post-its. At first glance I tear up at its familiarity, but I also take comfort in that I have a tangible memory. Some are smeared or covered in grease spots; I don’t care. She will never walk this earth again.

Recently I came across her recipe for apple sauce cake. Sadly I don’t know much about it, or where it came from. I just remember eating it and enjoying it.

applesaucecake

I hope you will too.

Apple Sauce Cake

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup cold unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon soda
1 cup raisins or nuts, cut in pieces
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon powered clove
2 cups flour
3 eggs – beat in one at a time, add to sugar and butter. Next step then applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla

Cream butter, add sugar gradually. Then do eggs. Add soda to applesauce and add to butter and sugar. Add other ingredients and baked in buttered and floured pan 40 minutes in a 350-degree oven.

This cake may be frosted or left plain and it keeps very well. Freezes well. It is particularly good with coffee any time of day.

My mother loved cooking and baking for my father and I. Many times I’d come home from school and be surprised with giant Valentine’s Day cookies or cakes, or stews. I do miss that dearly.

But I take comfort that she’s enjoying her time now wherever she is, and hopefully making new friends and traveling the world.

I really couldn’t ask for a better mother.

I hope you feel the same with yours.

Happy Mother’s Day

Can’t Have a Derby Without a Mint Julep!

Big pastel-colored hats. White pressed business suits – and the occasional hip-hop playa.

Where else can you get this kind of random action than at the Kentucky Derby?

And – what better way to celebrate this collision of pop culture than with a sweet mint julep?

mintjuelp

The four-ingredient drink has been promoted by Churchill Downs since 1938 – and each year more than 120,000 mint juleps are served at the prestigious horse race over the course of two days. That breaks down to more than 10,000 bottles of ready mix, 1,000 pounds of fresh mint and 60,000 pounds of ice.

Traditionally this drink is served in a silver or pewter cup and held only by the bottom and top edges of the cup, allowing frost to form on the metal.

For more than 18 years now the Derby has served the Early Times Mint Julep Cocktail as its official drink.

The Early Times Mint Julep Recipe
• 2 cups sugar
• 2 cups water
• Sprigs of fresh mint
• Crushed ice
• Early Times Kentucky Whisky
• Silver Julep Cups

Make a simple syrup by boiling sugar and water together for five minutes. Cool and place in a covered container with six or eight sprigs of fresh mint, then refrigerate overnight. Make one julep at a time by filling a julep cup with crushed ice, adding one tablespoon mint syrup and two ounces of Early Times Kentucky Whisky. Stir rapidly with a spoon to frost the outside of the cup. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.

The Early Times Mint Julep Ready-to-Serve Cocktail is located at local retailers.

The 139th annual Kentucky Derby airs this Saturday on NBC.

Happy Income Tax Day!

incometax

I know it’s a tough question, but I gotta ask it – would you rather file your income tax – or drink it?!

Tax Day is a procrastinators dream, but it can also be just as easily enjoyed with juice and vermouth.

And what better drink to enjoy today than an Income Tax Day Cocktail!?

Yes, it’s a real drink.

Enjoy!

2 ounces gin
1/4 ounce sweet vermouth
1/4 ounce dry vermouth
1 ounce orange juice
Aromatic bitters to taste
Orange slice or twist for garnish

Combine in iced shaker, shake, strain, and pour into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange wheel or peel.

(photo from kitchenriffs.com)