Task #57 on my list of 101 Things in 1001 Days is ‘Build a gingerbread house’.
Build a gingerbread house, they said.
It will be fun, they said…
They must have been from the Northern Hemisphere, making their gingerbread houses in the chill of a frosty winter. In winter royal icing hardens quickly and acts like glue, allowing you to build incredible sculptures without fear of gravity or satan or kardashians.
I did not build my gingerbread house in winter. I was not rugged up in a Christmas sweater, there was no egg-nog and I didn’t once contemplate the beauty of the snowflakes falling outside my window. There was no wood popping in the fireplace because there was no fire.
And that’s because I made my gingerbread house in Austrayyylia mate, g’day!, in the middle of December, in the middle of summer, on a day that turned out to be the first 40C/104F day of the year.
Crikey dingo. I was a bloody idiot.
I chose that day to build my gingerbread house because it was on my list, and because I was running out of time to do it before Christmas. I had grand plans of doing the entire thing from scratch, but when I ran my recipe past a workmate of mine (in her spare time, a gingerbread house master) she told me to STOP RIGHT THERE and PUT THE RECIPE DOWN and hey also, ARE YOU INSANE?
Because apparently making gingerbread in summer – much like making royal icing in summer – is a really dumb move. She explained to me how gingerbread will sag in the middle if it’s not cooked properly, and then your house will come crashing down taking with it all of your hopes and dreams. She reminded me that my house was not airconditioned, that I’m constantly complaining about the uneven heat in my oven, and that I have a
crippling slight issue in the overachievement department.
She made me promise with my hand over my heart that I would go and buy a kit and just have fun decorating it. Promise me, Elizabeth. Swear to me that you will not overachieve. LOOK ME IN THE EYE.
I looked her in the eye. I bought a kit.
I considered buying two kits! Because, you see, then I could use the second kit to build a second floor! And there would be a little verandah and a carport and maybe a treehouse with a ladder. And later, when I found myself wondering how to build a simple circuit to power a tiny gingerbread chandelier, I agreed that my friend was maybe pretty insightful after all.
So, just the one then.
It would be fair to say that during the construction of this gingerbread house I said a number of things that I’m not entirely proud of. There are all sorts of ways to soundproof a room these days if you want to protect the people you love from your violent outbursts, but that’s a whole other blog post.
Here are some things I learned.
- Buy a kit. For the love of God, buy a kit.
- Add a bunch of extra powdered sugar to your usual royal icing recipe or all that shit will slide off your house. It should be thick like toothpaste, even on a 40C day.
- Go ahead and build a fence out of pretzel sticks, but not before kissing the rest of your day goodbye.
- If you find a miniature sugar Christmas tree and snowman at a supermarket go ahead and buy them and stick them down. Later, when your family asks how you made them just shrug and offer to show them someday. Then change your name and move to another city.
- I built the shingles on the roof from wafer biscuits, splitting the layers and then breaking them into thirds. You definitely want to do this before gluing your roof in place because otherwise? Crying.
- Ask yourself whether your house really needs a fence. However, if your gingerbread family has a gingerbread dog you should be a responsible pet owner and build a secure yard.
- There will come a point during the construction of your house when you realise that for every piece of candy on your creation, there are another fifteen in your belly. Ensure that you have plenty of salty snacks on hand to counter the sugar you have eaten because that was the secret to my dietary success last weekend.
- You may think that you want to build a teeny tiny wreath for your front door but that’s just your diabetes destroying the brain cells in your frontal lobe.
I also learned that there are other ways to have fun at Christmas, like for instance not building gingerbread houses.
I was so relieved when it survived the 45 minute drive to my cousin’s house on Christmas Day, perched precariously on my lap. I made Tim take every corner carefully and cushioned every bump in the road.
I needn’t have worried, because later in the day when I armed my little cousin with a meat tenderizer and asked her to smash it it turned out to be stronger than a piñata. My cousin’s struggle against my gingerbread house was more horrifying than that scene in Breaking Bad with the ATM and I’m not even kidding.
It tasted really good.