The last couple of years we’ve loved looking at the gingerbread houses at the Port of Bellingham Gingerbread Christmas Contest. Gingerbread houses had a huge tradition in Colonial America and so this year, Tom and I decided we’d try our hand. Tom had never made a gingerbread house and I’d only done a kit when I was eight-years-old, which I gave to my grandparents.
Deciding what to do was quite a task. We loved the “Up” entry last year and Awesomez suggested a paddleboat after “The Princess and the Frog”. We were sold.
“Personally, I think you should do Mt. Rushmore with Eva Marie Saint hanging on,” Chris snickered. “A paddleboat just isn’t ambitious enough.” He chided. “Come on! challenge yourself!”
(the cardboard mock up --a little worse for wear- began as 4 decks but was reduced to three - it just looked too ding-dang tall)
Tom designed the cardboard mock up at Halloween, then built the 24” x 24”wooden base and was going to have it shipped. I didn’t really think Tom would get to participate too much more than that since he always has Thanksgiving with his older kids, Craig and Laura, in California and the competition is December 1st but then again –
Some women buy lingerie some bake gingerbread. Because - where there’s a will there’s a way. And as it happens – This year for the first time - Tom flew in the day after Thanksgiving, bringing the base and the battery-powered motor he’d rigged to light the inside and outside lights as well as turn the paddlewheel.
For as much planning as I’d done, I thought I’d have all the pieces baked before Thanksgiving so all we’d have to do is start to assemble. However, I did not count on the cows escaping to the neighbors, the power outage, the pipes freezing or Lucky needing to be put down. And of course there was a lot of trial and error. Some pieces were too thick others too thin. There was a huge learning curve. You have to add any details to the rolled out dough before you bake, but you don’t cut them out until after the first 20 minutes of baking so they hold their shape.
We had a gingerbread recipe that created rock hard pieces – we scored the decks like hardwood – a pattern I’m intimately familiar with having put in more hardwood floors and ceilings than I’d care to think about.
The plan was to have everyone participate in the assembly. Unfortunately, Toby had to leave on Saturday so she helped bake some of the pieces and worked feverishly on window molds. Naturally, she was in constant communication over the phone with ideas and suggestions. Ayumi proved to have a knack for royal icing but alas she too had to leave to go home before assembly began. Phoebe got a fever of 103 knocking the entire Donaldson team out of the picture and it goes without saying Mike is all thumbs.
My mom was a big believer in making Christmas more than a day. She always told me that Christmas was a big disappointment to people and such a difficult time because of all the expectations put on one day. So it’s best to do things and share things as a family like going to a play rather than just opening presents that can hardly measure up to everyone's Norman Rockwell image. So I threw some pancakes on the griddle and kept Henry home from school for a dose of holiday cheer. Christmas music blared from the game room on the jukebox and decorated The Evangeline and snacked on royal icing.
We had plenty of mishaps. The chocolate fence didn't work, the wiring had to be fixed about a thousand times, the lollipop water cracked all over the place, Tom and Alexis couldn't cut the pretzels for the second deck fence. Luckily, Henry turned out to be a pretzel cutting savant. Oh and we planned to have the characters from the movie on board and in the water, but the modeling chocolate we made turned out to be greasy and weird. Not to mention the gum paste fiasco. We tried to make about 17 things from gum paste, but having never worked with it we just couldn't get it together. But we persevered and it came together.
“Your mother was right,” Alexis turned towards me thoughtfully as he Elvis and Tom finished their duet of “Blue Christmas”. Adirondack gingerbread deck chair and fondant towel in hand he said softly, “This is Christmas.”
When we ran out of time and the Evangeline had to get to the ferry terminal. Tom went up to take a quick shower before his flight. He’d rented a car and was going to meet me at the ferry terminal to help me carry The Evangeline inside before heading to the airport. I was going to go ahead in my car with The Evangeline and pick up Henry early from school so he could be there for the official delivery.
Clearing a path to the car so as not to trip over any cats, balls, deck chairs, dog beds, dog bowls, water dishes, baseball bats, geese or sundry other stuff. I got an old clean sheet from the linen closet and put it down on the floor of the van. Next I got a cushion and some boxes to brace The Evangeline in place and keep her steady.
“You know, this was so fun and I’m so proud of it, I don’t care one bit if we win or not. I just want someone to go – oh look at this one!” I told Alexis as he helped me carry our entry out to the Odyssey.
“I think that’s going to happen, no problem,” Going through the front door we rested the box on the railing. We took it slow being uber-careful, as we had been the whole time. Each night we locked the pieces of gingerbread and the lollipop water in the laundry room to keep them safe from pouncing kittens or snacking canines.
(Tom and Henry work on the white chocolate mold - fence for the second deck. - unfortunately it was not to be- it kept breaking)
(Tom drills holes for the blinking lights that will be the fireflies - ala Disney and Pirates of the Caribbean)
(In an attempt to make the pretzel fence white - Alexis cut a piece of chicken wire and formed a dipper - but alas it didn't work. The fence clogged when the icing was thicker and it didn't cover the pretzel when it was thinner - had to redirect - Henry had to recut all the pieces- after I ruined them)
(Alexis's deck chair, fondant towel and life saving box -my candy corn bunting now on-Tom icing cemented them in crescents on parchment -so I could put them on as a unit)
(ready to go!- with cotton candy smoke)
Never once did we worry about Edward. However as everyone knows horses love sugar and here we were carrying one big giant sugar cube out to the car. Pesky, fuzzy, naughty Edward sniffed out this equine sized snack and mounted his attack. Our arms full we couldn’t push him away. We had to carefully hold on to the large wooden box on which rested our precious entry. Alexis tried forcing Edward to move backward by using his entire body and walking backwards, but Edward is 17-hands-high and he just came over the top of Alexis with his long arching neck. Bobbing his head back and forth to thwart Edwards’ attempts Alexis looked like he was having a seizure. Edward tried plucking the fondant smoke stacks right out of the Evangeline with his horse lips.
“One nibble just one and it’s off to the glue factory for you!” I warned. Edward was non-plussed. Like a misbehaved toddler he knew full well this was just one more idle threat. Desperate, Alexis and I knew losing was not an option, in unison we dashed toward the open van right past his accomplice Miracle and quickly slid the van door shut.
(State Capital building)
I gathered up Henry who held onto the last minute icing bag I’d brought with me for last minute touch ups. Tom had secured a space close to the terminal for easy access. Henry and he carried it in while I held my breath. As Tom and Henry hemmed and hawed about where to place it and at what angle we looked around at the other entries. There was an impressive state capitol building and a hilarious crypt with a dead gingerbread man, but we felt confident we’d kicked some gingerbread butt.
“A good first effort,” Tom said as we left to grab a bite to eat. “Now how will we top it for next year?”
“I’m still basking in the gingerbread afterglow, I can’t think about next year.”
The next day, I was running errands with Awesomez when the call came in, “Is this Denise?”
“This is Marie Duckworth and I’m calling to congratulate you. The Evangeline has won the family category of the Port of Bellingham’s Gingerbread competition.”
“We won!?” Ok - now I could think about next year.