The Magic of Gingerbread

Gingerbread. A word to stir in ceramic colored bowls of molasses memories atop kitchen counters at Christmastime. Frosted lips of little children upon their mother’s cheeks with imprints of white icing left behind. Warm cups of cocoa atop plastic tablecloths decorated with Santa. Mini mallows floating to the top. Treats of striped canes of sugar hanging to the sides waiting for Mama to test the temperature. Ahhh, just right!

Gingerbread houses have a distinct history behind the craft dating back to the 17th century when baking them became an acknowledged and esteemed profession. After the publication of Hansel and Gretel, the Grimm’s fairy tale in 1812, some of the first gingerbread houses were made in Germany at Christmastime. Not long afterward they became popular here in America.

Late in November, the Grove Park Inn held an annual National Gingerbread Competition, It was simply by chance that I happened to stop and stroll through the hotel’s massive halls during the same week of the contest. How lucky to catch sight of the pure artistry that was on display. Gingerbread? I would have never guessed.

While stopping to view each entry, audible “Ooohs and Ahhhs” were heard inches to my right. Children and adults alike were taken in by their next sight. Each house had its own theme, its own story to tell and all one had to do was stop to see. “Look at me,” kids made of sprinkled sugar whispered quietly.

I lost count of the number of Gingerbread Houses entered into the competition. Nor did I know of all the rules with the exception that every piece was required to be edible. Gazing at the intricate details in construction, it was amazing. There were herds of candy cotton sheep, valleys of painted sugar snow, miniature acres of black licorice fencing and much more than I ever could have imagined. So tempting it was to snatch a chocolate shingle off of a roof or two!

At the end of the day, I wandered into the lobby to order a cup of hot chocolate from an adorable cottage decorated in red brick gingerbread fashion. To the left of a green gumdrop was a recipe card listing a vast quantity of baking ingredients. Such a surprise to learn that the sweet girl behind the counter was standing inside an actual house made of the same!

This coming weekend, I’ll be baking my own Gingerbread House where the oven will spill until it fills my home with scents of cinnamon and molasses and cloves. Luckily, the final baked confection won’t be entered into any competition. Yet, surely my little grandchildren will be delighted with my attempt at artistry.

Yes, there is a plastic table-cloth decorated with Santa where my family will gather round full of excitement. Christmas memories will be made of imprinted baby lips frosted upon my cheeks. Warm cups of cocoa will be served with mini mallows floating to the top, striped canes of sugar hanging to the sides. And, in the quiet of the night their mama will test the temperature.

Ahhh, just right.

What Are Your Traditions?

Seven days ago on March 19th a few steps were taken back in time down the carpeted stairs of my red brick home.  There, below the main level slept a spare bedroom with a nondescript bathroom.   Together, they waited all cozy and warm for March Madness to begin.

A buzz was in the air, much like you see and feel during holidays minus decorations everywhere.  Our big television was ablaze in all its LCD glory!  Red, white, royal blue and emerald-green uniforms waited for imaginary cheerleaders to jump out of their metal chairs.  To the left, a natural wicker table was set for a boys day of play.  On top, colorful bowls and baskets overflowed with taco chips, salsa dips, chicken wings and candy in case of low blood sugar attacks.

Ding-Ding!  What was that I heard?  ‘Doodle’ dog barking at the leaded glass door up above.  Running to open it, there he stood.  My oldest son, Jay, who took time off from work in order to watch basketball with his brother and father.  It had been a long-standing tradition in our small family for years and years.  Ever since the boys were very young like my husband had once been too.

In bounced my son’s service dog, Nimbus, his jet black tail knocking everything off tables before I had time to get to them.  Nothing mattered.  How glad I was to see them both!  Doodles jumped up and down with kisses of, “Hello.”  The two dogs rolled on the floor then chased each other all over the house.  Soon, the lab’s master firmly commanded, “PLACE!”

Minutes later, my youngest son popped over, jovial with a bear hug for his mama.  Warmth through and through.  A few minutes later my husband arrived home from his trip on the road, delighted to see his two sons already waiting for him.  So thrilled he was at the prospect of tradition.  Basketball together with March Madness plus so much more.

Jay and his dog were spending the night.  Too late to drive home after games played into overtime, he planned to sleep in a room that had once been his own.  How kind of his wife to extend this special gift to her husband.  Bonding time with his father and brother like no other.  Rare in these days of work that included varied shifts of hours never known.  Days and nights of travel, duplicate families, little children and babies of all ages.  Yes, grown-up lives….

And, an enormous “Thank You,” to my youngest son’s wife for holding down the fort all by herself with three babies at home.  Yes, three.  T.H.R.E.E!  Twins girls who are three months old plus a 17 month old daughter scattering every which way!  Such a gift to us all, but especially to my husband who rarely has such special time with both of his sons together.

March Madness.  Yes it’s about basketball, but in our house it’s so much more.  When I hear those two words, “March Madness,” it’s not a brown ball tossed through a hoop of white rope that comes to mind.

No, to me March Madness is all about tradition.  The tradition of family.  Bonding over munchies set on an old table of wicker.  Screaming faces in front of a screen that doesn’t respond.  Brackets, favorites, cheering and choosing.  Stomping feet, tossing heads in disbelief or smiling faces slapping high-fives!  Balancing paper plates on laps of sweat pants while taking notes with pencils of yellow.  Wiping mouths with printed paper napkins or hopping up in the air to yell, “No Fair!”

And, in the end hugging Good Bye to a son and brother in the dark of night.