River City Jules: Gingerbread fantasies quickly crumble

How to enter the Big Brothers and Big Sisters Gingerbread House Competition, by River City Jules:

Step one: Commit. Just like moving from the low dive to the high dive, moving from home-displayed gingerbread house construction (whereby your children decorate spiced cookie abodes with minimal supervision and the hope of one day vacuuming the last green sprinkle out of your dining room carpet), to an original creation (built upon plywood for judges and a paying audience) takes commitment.

This year, a friend asked if I would be willing to help with the annual competition. It is entirely possible that she had envisioned me doing my part by handing out fliers, but in my mind, I was winning the grand prize for my exact replica of the 700 block of Massachusetts, complete with gingerbread street performers, itty-bitty parking tickets and teeny, tiny homemade-candied holiday lights hanging from my hand-sculpted chocolate trees.

A final dusting with glistening sugar snow would propel it to the forefront of the judges’ score cards, just barely edging out the second-place winner (I pictured a March of the Toy Soldiers-inspired Ewok Snow Village).

Which brings me to step two: Be realistic.

Visions of sugarplums danced in my head, but the reality of manipulating confections into crowd-pleasing art came to a screeching halt when I remembered I do not know how to bake. But I was not about to let that stop me. After all, I had committed.

So the challenge moved from how to bake gingerbread siding to how to pimp a store-bought kit into a showstopper. Being all-too familiar with high-fructose corn syrup, I took my design staff to Penny Annie’s, where we mulled over our options while sampling cinnamon popcorn and chocolate-coated Gummi Bears.

We left with hope, inspiration and one very heavy bag of candy.

Step three: Redefine your expectations, and then lower them.

Maybe constructing a hammock out of candy canes and hand-weaved black licorice is not necessary. And perhaps I should have remembered gumdrops do not taste nearly as good as they look, no matter how many I eat. The important thing here is that I learned to redefine my expectations (Santa’s beach house doesn’t need a hammock) and then lower them (the gumdrop sandcastle will never taste as good as the hammock does, anyway).

Finally, credit should be given where credit is due, as a project of this magnitude is not a one-woman job.

Therefore, if you make it by the Eldridge Extended this week and take particular notice of one Santa’s Gingerbread Beach House, please know that each grain of vanilla wafer sand and every Swedish fish swimming (note: they are not floating belly-up, no matter how it might appear) in the ocean was lovingly placed by a team who only recently learned to make icing from scratch.

I hope to see you there. I will be the one in stretch pants with powdered sugar in my fingernails, picking licorice from my teeth.


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