Jesse Raymond: Gingerbread idea no piece of cake
It’s almost time for the Vermont Folklife Center’s annual Gingerbread House Competition and Exhibit. This could be the year I finally enter.
I say that every November but I’ve always chickened out. I’ve learned from past attempts at making gingerbread houses that the whimsy of the final result belies the blood, sweat and multiple batches of burnt gingerbread that go into the process.
Still, when I heard about this year’s theme — holiday songs — it sounded like a piece of (gingerbread) cake. I love holiday songs. I love sweets. And gingerbread isn’t even a required element in the contest, as long as everything’s edible. How hard could it be?
A lot harder than it sounds.
First, in order to brainstorm ideas, I forced myself to turn on Christmas music a full two weeks earlier than what I consider a reasonable post-Thanksgiving start date. I’m already having nightmares about figgy puddings. By the time Christmas finally rolls around, just hearing the phrase “pa-rum-pum-pum-pum” is liable to make me go holly-jolly hysterical.
Second, turning a song into a confectionary sculpture requires fine motor skills — not my strong suit — and a level of creativity I am convinced I possess until it comes time to actually think up ideas. I suffer from baker’s block.
To get the sugar syrup in my brain flowing, I started running through all the Christmas songs I knew. I rejected many of the traditional ones out of hand, mostly because I am uncomfortable with the idea of fashioning an edible baby Jesus out of Rice Krispie treats. I’m not religious, but that just doesn’t seem right.
I’m also not capable of sculpting lifelike creatures. This rules out reindeer, as well as Santa and Good King Wenceslas, not to mention French hens, partridges and calling birds (whatever those are).
“Sleigh Ride” is my favorite holiday song, but turning it into a display would involved creating horses. I’d end up with a sleigh being pulled by something more closely resembling a team of mutant plesiosaurs, sure to confuse the judges and frighten younger exhibit-goers.
I briefly toyed with making “The Carol of the Bells,” but my version would be just the top of a human head suffering from a repetition-induced migraine. Not exactly festive.
I also considered “Deck the Halls.” Surely, with the clever use of green M&Ms, cinnamon red hots and frosting, I could figure out how to form boughs of holly. But then I’d have to make halls, and that brings up a technical problem: architecture.
Required or not, gingerbread is the most obvious element in a gingerbread house competition. But building a gingerbread structure demands careful planning and measuring skills.
I have neither.
If you are at all casual about your dimensions, or sloppy with the consistency of your frosting to hold it all together, you will end up with a building the folklife center will have no choice but to condemn for safety reasons. I wouldn’t dare construct anything more elaborate than a gingerbread lean-to.
Then I checked the folklife center’s website: The registration deadline is Nov. 22, this Saturday. And entries must be submitted by Dec. 1. The pressure was getting to me.
Out of desperation, my ideas started getting more and more bizarre, like this one: Picture a gingerbread Christmas tree. It is decorated with tiny candies and garlanded with royal icing. Underneath it there are no presents — just two front teeth.
Sometimes, however, a looming deadline is exactly what I need for inspiration.
Last night it came to me.
Let the happy-go-lucky entrants have their Frosty the Snowman and Grinch displays. Let the meticulous geniuses depict every verse of “The 12 Days of Christmas” (complete with swans actually a-swimming). I’ll go with something so simple, yet so transcendent, I’ll be surprised if a single person even knows what it is.
My entry will be a giant mound of vanilla frosting topped with a pile of mini marshmallows and dusted with powdered sugar and flaked coconut. I’ll call it “White Christmas.”
I just hope the judges appreciate modern art.
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