Taking the Gilt off the Gingerbread
Once again this year, Chow Bella writers are gnawing on the holidays -- in the form of stories of Christmas and food. Hope you have some Alka-Seltzer handy. Enjoy.
I feel obligated to create an elaborate December for my daughter.
When I was eight years old, my mother bought Martha Stewart's first Christmas book and she and I tried to create everything within its pages in just one month, which made for a beautiful, delicious--stressful--holiday season.
We dipped pinecones in scented wax for the fireplace. We baked gingersnaps, almond crescents, meringues, and two-tone, mint candy-cane cookies that we delivered to everyone in a three-block radius.
As we moved through the month, I didn't understand why one holiday dinner required so many stores, or why we needed to hunt down both red and green aluminum foil to dress up baked potatoes. But I embraced elaborate undertakings, like the Croquembouche -- cream puffs stacked in a Christmas-tree shape, encircled by a web of spun sugar.
Nothing topped our gingerbread mansion.
Using real ginger, real molasses, we baked pieces to build a structure three feet wide. I broke the walls, picking them up before they cooled. So we baked more, and over three days, we assembled them on the front table.
Two stories tall. Two chimneys. 28 windows, each fitted with carmelized sugar windowpanes.
My mother covered the gabled roof with gold leaf. She turned icing into shutters, bricks, and shingles. Then we landscaped with garland and fed a string of Christmas lights through the back, admiring the mansion's sugared glow. A monument to how magical only December can be.