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!

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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)

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)

At Your Service

Is this a thing? Or does it seem to only happen to me?

I’m noticing more and more that when my boyfriend and I go to restaurants to eat dinner, I’ve noticed that our waiter always seem to focus on me when asking if we’re ok, or if we need more pepper or drinks.

And it doesn’t matter if the server is male or female, somehow my boyfriend disappears into surroundings. Odd.

Somehow over the time I’ve become the unofficial spokesperson for the both of us. Servers can also ask him too, but no, I seem to possess control over new rolls, napkins and eventually, the check.

Does that mean I wear the pants in this relationship? Do I give off something? Or could it be that I seem more friendly than him? He always allows me to order first, but still, we can *both answer if we need something, it’s ok.

Is this some secret forgotten to be mentioned in Kitchen Confidential? Is it part of polite society, and I’m just learning it now?

Can I really be that slow?

Website Wednesday: 101 Cookbooks

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This week’s selection is 101 Cookbooks.

The first thing you notice is the giant – and very clear and close-up – photos of dishes. Underneath are mostly small personal stories, which is nice instead of straight-up recipes. Sometimes stories behind the dishes are just as delicious as the food itself!

The photos and accompanying stories really exude a comfort-feel vibe. Which is kind of nice. Stuffiness is nowhere to be found here! I feel like I really know blogger/author Heidi Swanson with each post.

Foods are further separated by season and ingredient. So if you love tomato or lemon, this site is for you! I’m a pasta geek, so I was stoked to see her category on it. I won’t lie – the recipe page for macaroni salad nearly killed me it was so damn pretty!

And then I made the lethal mistake of going to the very bottom of the webpage to see a ‘no bake chocolate cake’ recipe. Super simple to make too. Apparently I’m into torturing myself! (Before my mother died, she made the best flourless chocolate cake ever. I can still taste it now…….)

Despite 101 Cookbooks being food focused, duh, it does offer a nice side helping of travel! London, Paris, San Francisco, Tokyo, Rome and even Lake Tahoe are featured! Articles give off a ‘Favorite Things’ Oprah feel.

Website Wednesday: Foodista

foodista

This week’s selection is from Foodista.

I really enjoy this site because it just feels like a never ending spiral of tasty delights!

Besides the obvious professional recipe section, this site also dishes out a healthy community added recipe section. The day

I visited there were instructions for strawberry sauce tartlets, lemon curd coconut bars and chocolate-date cake with chocolate sticky toffee glaze.

And like me, they offer Wednesday ‘specials’ like Whiskey Wednesday, Wheatless Wednesday and Wine Wednesday! Way better than mine huh!

Various food and drink blogs ‘of the day’ are also featured on the right side of the webpage.

I’m also a huge sucker for infographics. I’m a visual person so anytime I see them, I zoom right in. I spied candies to make at home, how to make grilled cheese sandwiches and ten foods that will help you burn fat fast.

God, just makes my mouth water thinking about all the possibilities on this site!

Brennan’s, Landmark New Orleans Restaurant, Closes

brennans

Brennan’s, a dining landmark in New Orleans, has unexpectedly closed and its future is uncertain.

The closure is the latest development in a longtime family feud.

Owen “Pip” Brennan is a son of the founder and until recently a manager of the restaurant. He is involved in state and federal litigation with his brother Ted Brennan over control of the business.

Amid the family management squabbles, Brennan’s was heavily in debt and sold in foreclosure this year to a company called Leggo/4.

Attorneys and representatives for those involved in the lawsuits were not immediately available for comment Friday.

The Brennan family has been a fixture of New Orleans’ vaunted culinary scene for decades. Its famous Bananas Foster dessert was invented in 1951. (AP)