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Saturday, December 07, 2013

Foundation of a Gingerbread House

Today's edition of A POP CULTURE ADDICT'S ADVENT CALENDARis brought to you by the number 7 and by the letters Y, U, and M!

Yes, Day #7 is here, and I thought that for Day #7, I would do a spotlight on a holiday treat. Okay, so I know that technically, the Saturday Smorgasbord entry for the first Saturday of December is supposed to be about some sort of toy or game, but somehow, I think that you will understand why I've decided to offer up a sweet treat in place.

Besides, it's one of the few foods that you are actively encouraged to play with.

Now, I'll preface today's entry by saying one thing. I am a huge fan of sweets. In fact, I probably eat way more sweets than I really should admit to, but they are likely the one thing that I find incredibly difficult to turn away. I mean, you can keep your potato chips, pretzels, and nachos with cheese and sour cream. Give me chocolate cake, ice cream cones, and Mars bars any day of the week. Whether it's caramel, chocolate, nougat, or fudge, there is very rarely an occasion in which I will turn down sweets.

(The only way I won't eat them is if they are covered in strawberries or coconut. The first one I have an allergy to, and the second one is just...yuck.)

So, needless to say, my insatiable sweet tooth was attracted to all kinds of sweets, and of course, the more creative looking and visually appealing the sweets were, the more I wanted to eat them! Let's just say that there is a reason why I stalk the local Tim Hortons restaurant in order to get my hands on a “Smile Cookie” or the latest doughnut flavour.

I honestly don't know where my love of sweets came from. Most everyone else in my family prefers salty snacks over sweet ones. But I'm pretty sure that the moment I bit into my first Jersey Milk chocolate bar, or swallowed my very first Junior Mint, I was instantly hooked.

And, certainly I had my favourite candies.  I find the combination of peppermint and chocolate to be absolutely irresistible, which explains my love for York Peppermint Patties and Terry's Chocolate Mint Oranges.  I am also equally in love with the marriage between chocolate and peanut butter, which is why it has taken everything inside of me to avoid those new gigantic size Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.  Sure, it would be tasty, but I know that I would pay for it later.  And, don't even get me started on the wonderfully tempting store known as "Bulk Barn".  From sour jujubes to broken bits of Skor bars, I find it a struggle to avoid sometimes...especially since the closest Bulk Barn to me is just a block away!  

Yes, my name is Matthew, and I am a choco-holic.  But, I suppose being a choco-holic is slightly better than being an alcoholic.  Maybe only slightly better.

But, you know, there are many more uses for candy other than eating it.  After all, when it comes to one familiar Christmas pasttime, candy makes a perfect decorating tool!

I'm talking about building a house made entirely out of gingerbread!  Or, as Hansel and Gretel would call it...lunch!

Seriously, if you've ever built a gingerbread house, you know exactly how much fun they can be.  They can also be a lot of hard work, mind you, but they can be a lot of fun too!

In fact, I think I can go back in time and remember the first time I ever built a gingerbread house...well...okay, maybe it was more along the lines of a gingerbread shack, but it was most certainly one of the coolest things that I ever remembered doing in school.

Now, here's the kicker.  The teacher who taught us how to build the gingerbread houses (I think her name was Mrs. Shannon), was a teacher who I don't remember ever having in school.  But back when I was in the fourth grade, we would have Christmas activities in which all the fourth, fifth, and sixth grade students would swap classes every period, and perform a Christmas activity in class.  And, Mrs. Shannon's class was the place to go if you wanted to build a gingerbread house!

Or, I called them, gingerbread shacks.

You see, because a standard elementary school period lasted at most, forty minutes, we didn't have the time to build a huge, elaborate gingerbread mansion.  Anyone who has ever tried to build a proper gingerbread house knows that it takes a lot longer than 40 minutes to build one from the ground up.  So, Mrs. Shannon decided that we would make a miniature version using graham crackers.  I mean, yes, graham crackers weren't exactly gingerbread, but they did the trick for the time being.

Now, when building a gingerbread house, you never ever use glue.  Glue may hold the walls together, but it also tastes terrible.  So, instead of glue, we used icing sugar.  And, if I remember correctly, I think the teacher gave some of us trouble for actually eating the icing sugar and not using it to build our houses.  But how could you resist it?  It was so tasty!

Because the icing sugar was so tasty, I knew that I had to put as much icing sugar on top of it as I could.  Luckily, Mrs. Shannon had made more than enough for the entire fourth, fifth, and sixth grade classes to use, so it didn't matter if I coated the entire roof of my gingerbread shack with icing.  After all, in Canada, Christmas falls just a few days after the official start of winter.  There's likely going to be snow on the roof!

Once the icing sugar dried enough for the gingerbread shack to stay up, we then had the opportunity to decorate the shack with whatever candies we wanted.  And, because the gingerbread shack activity was so intricate and filled with a lot of steps, it was actually split up into two separate days.  And on day number two, my group was in Mrs. Shannon's classroom again to decorate our gingerbread shacks.

And, believe me, there were a ton of supplies to use.  We had sprinkles in both chocolate and coloured varieties to sprinkle on our shacks, or we could use those swirly mint candies for windows.  My personal favourite decoration to use were the coloured chocolate candies known as "Smarties".  Now, I myself prefer M&M's to Smarties, but Smarties were better to use for gingerbread shacks because they came in a bigger variety of colour options.  Keep in mind that when I was in elementary school, there were no such thing as blue M&M's, so we were fairly limited in colour combinations that we could use had we used M&M's.  So, needless to say, I pretended that the Smarties were Christmas lights and I put every colour under the sun all over the roof to make it stand out from all the others.

In the end, my final creation was absolutely beautiful.  A realish gingerbread shack that was designed and decorated with love.  I only wish I had the idea to snap a picture of the gingerbread shack when I brought it home from school, but it ended up getting eaten before Christmas Day!

(What can I say?  I designed such a good gingerbread shack that it became too irresistible for me to not nibble on!)

Now, over the years, various family members have made gingerbread houses at their own leisure.  My sister made one in the late 1990s that was beautiful and delicious.  And, it actually took her two whole weeks to get the whole thing finished, it was that beautiful.  And, again, I wish that someone had the foresight to take a picture of it because it really was that good, but at the time, nobody had a working camera.  I hate it when I have all these memories, and yet I have nothing to show you.

So, to finish this blog entry off, I thought I'd post some examples of gingerbread houses from all over the world, just to show you just how beautiful they can be!

Coming up tomorrow, it is Day #8 in the calendar...and for the upcoming edition of the Sunday Jukebox, I thought that I would post a song that combines winter imagery, heartbreak, and 1980s New Wave?  Interesting combo, don't you think?

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