I guess I’m just a sucker for kits: painting kits, make-your-own-candle kits, scrapbook kits, compost kits, you name it—if it has the word “kit” in it, it just sounds like fun. I guess that could explain why one Christmas several years ago I bought into the idea of a make-your-own-gingerbread-
One December evening, my husband, Billy, was out of town and my brother Keith was staying with me. As he headed into the den to turn on the football game, I casually mentioned that while he was doing that, I was going into the kitchen to whip up this gingerbread house. Certain was I that I would have this masterpiece ready by the time the game was finished and we could nibble on it for the next few days.
I had not been in there half a minute when I called for Keith to see if he could come in the kitchen for a second; I am pretty sure that he never even made it to the television to turn it on. All I know is that neither he nor I emerged for three days and even then, I’m not really sure. It could have been a whole year that went by. We had stepped into an alternate universe, one that only included our kitchen, our car, the Bruno’s grocery store that was on Montclair Road, and my bank account. Nothing else existed but this gingerbread house. And we became obsessed that it had to look exactly like the picture on the package. Otherwise, why even do it?
All I can say is that I have made a gingerbread house completely from scratch. Actually, it was more than a house. It was a castle (it even had a dormer window and a round turret.) And this was not one of those gingerbread house kits of today that come completely put together with the candy and the bags of royal icing and all you do is snip the bag and pipe it on there and voila, you have a gingerbread house—no! But that’s what I thought it was when I stepped into the kitchen that night long ago.
Once again, my lack of cooking and experience with recipes had gotten the best of me. It just did not register with me that there were no walls, or roof, or castle cookie turret packed in this flat wrapper. The whole thing was deceptive. To me the word “kit” implies that everything you need is right there in the box. You do not need to go to the bank and take out a loan to buy all the parts to put it together; this was not a Barbie house. In reality, the only thing it contained was a booklet of instructions, some paper patterns, and a gingerbread man cookie cutter.
I practically had to take out a mortgage to build this house, just like a real one. The gingerbread house was a money pit. We baked countless gingerbread walls and roofs and cookies trying to get one that was usable, but there were always cracks. And we were constantly running out of the most expensive ingredients and made countless trips to the grocery store at all hours for three straight days and nights. We never even considered sleep. We were on a mission and wanted it finished in time for Christmas, which was only two weeks away. Sleep deprivation can turn even the most exciting of holiday things ugly.
The first night that we began the project my husband called and asked what we were doing. I cheerfully told him we were putting together a gingerbread house. The next morning he called, and I somewhat tiredly said we were still putting the gingerbread house together. Later that night when he checked in, I stifled a yawn while telling him we were still working on it; next morning, same thing. That night I groggily said we were still baking the damn gingerbread house and I began feeling irritated that he kept calling me and asking me about it. The following morning, I heard the phone ring and I was pretty sure it was him, but I couldn’t answer it because my feet were glued down to the floor with royal icing. That’s when I began to cry. I hoped Billy would get back home and rescue us before everybody showed up on Christmas Day.
Truly, I am possessed during the holidays because I am the least DIY person that you will ever meet. I was never the craft mom. I don’t know why I have tortured myself and my family for years trying to be one. I have nothing to try and prove. But that was the first time I had ever seen a kit to make a gingerbread house, and they made it look like so much fun in the picture on the box!
The fact is, you don’t want to actually make the house—you just want to decorate it. That’s the fun part. The Christmas people finally figured that one out and started selling houses that all you have to do is decorate them, and that’s what I always did with my kids. Believe you me—I always checked the box to make sure a fully intact house was actually in there. Last year, I just went and splurged on a gingerbread house from the bakery that was already completely decorated. I just cut off the plastic wrap and tied a ribbon around it. It was a little costly, but the clean kitchen and plenty of sleep? Priceless. As are the laughs we have every year about the time we made one from scratch. FYI: We shellacked that thing and used it for our table centerpiece for several years. I never want to do it again, and I’m here to help you and convince you that you shouldn’t want to, either. Merry Christmas!