Saturday, December 12, 2020

Gingerbread Houses: or an excuse to eat candy

Two Announcements:

First, the Jungle Red Writers will be LIVE today for our holiday cocktail party on the Poisoned Pen's FB page (click HERE) where we'll be giving away SEVEN books! To be entered in the random drawing, simply leave a comment on the livestream and if you want an extra entry, use the secret code "I READ RED" in your comment!

Second, the winners of a Fixer Upper measuring tape from Kate Carlisle are:

Grace Koshida
David Wright
Myersgirlmeli
Pat D
Bibliophile/Diana

Please email your mailing address to Kate@KateCarlisle.Com


Jenn McKinlay: In the before times, one of our family traditions was the annual Gingerbread House decorating competition or as I like to think of it, an afternoon of unrepentant candy eating. For anyone who knows me, it is no surprise that the lure of frosting and candy is a bigger draw than the competition for best house. Did someone say "spice drops"?



The love of gingerbread began when the Hooligans were young: 




We took in some inspirational displays along the way:

And as they became teens, we expanded to meet up at my in-laws' house for a much bigger decorating event with more fam and the houses took on what one would call some holiday teenage snark: 


The Fam

Monster House!
 
Overall, it became an afternoon to spend together with my mother-in-law arranging the houses and supplies, which is her gift (former teacher) while we all chatted and decorated and ate our body weight in candy - okay, that was mostly me, my father-in-law, and Hooligan 2.

Jenn's taste-tested house!


Last year's winner was Hooligan 1 with this news inspired house: 

Totally a mystery writer's kid! LOL.

Because, as we discussed earlier this week, I'm a former librarian, here are some random gingerbread facts for you to share as you will...

The first known recipe for gingerbread comes from Greece in 2400 BC.

The first gingerbread houses date back to 16th century Germany.

The record for the world's largest gingerbread house was broken in Texas (naturally) with a house that was 40,000 cubic feet and required a building permit.

More facts and sundry here: https://www.pbs.org/food/the-history-kitchen/history-gingerbread/


Okay, Reds and Readers, are you a fan of gingerbread houses? If not, what are some of your holiday traditions?




73 comments:

  1. Okay, I am chuckling over the gingerbread house that required a building permit!

    Christmas cookie-making is the tradition in our house. We make dozens and dozens, then share with everyone. It’s fun for us . . . and it’s another yummy excuse to eat sugar . . . .

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    1. Cookies are a big deal in our house, too! Just had a Snickerdoodle for breakfast!

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  2. What a great holiday tradition, Jenn! So much fun and candy. Your boys are so cute. I do enjoy seeing gingerbread houses, but I can’t remember ever making one.

    Our tradition used to be making chocolate fudge. One of my favorite pics of my two children is when they were little and had aprons on to make the fudge. When they grew up and left, the fudge kind of stopped.

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    1. You had me at fudge, Kathy! I know our GBreadhouse days are numbered (sob) so I enjoy it while I can.

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  3. Jenn, you have a great holiday tradition and the hooligans are adorable in the pics!
    Like Kathy, I enjoy seeing gingerbread houses but I have never made one.

    My Christmas tradition is to make Christmas stollen and homemade boozy chocolate truffles to give out as gifts. I have not done this for a few years, though.

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    1. Aargh, they just issued a freezing rain warning for Ottawa. Snow and freezing rain all day. Hope my power and Internet stay on and I can join the Reds party at 5 pm. It would suck to drink these cocktails alone, LOL.

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    2. Be safe, Grace. This storm is looking like a nasty one.

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    3. Yeah, Kait, my three most hated weather words in a forecast: PROLONGED FREEZING RAIN!

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    4. Fingers crossed for your power staying on, Grace.

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    5. Yeah, Karen, I just came back from errands and I can hear and feel the ting-ting-ting of the ice pellets hitting me and the ground. The storm is ramping up from noon onwards, so I am keeping my fingers crossed that I can join the Reds and friends at 5!

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    6. To support local bakeries and coffee chains, I did buy a stollen already but it was only ok. Half the size of mind and $14?! Maybe I will bake my own stollen later on next week.

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    7. Grace, I LOVE stollen. One of my favorite Christmas treats.

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  4. I love these! I hope you're still going to make houses with the hooligans this year, even if it can't be a bigger family event.

    We bake cookies - five kinds. And I often make rum balls, too, although Grace's boozy chocolate truffles sound even better. This year I haven't even started, partly because of my healing hand, partly because nobody's coming to bake with me (sniff). But I know my son in Puerto Rico would love a shipment from home, so I might be munching on a cookie or two with my cocktails this afternoon!

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    1. I should have added that we did make them when I was a child. My mother, master baker that she was, baked all the walls and roofs and made the royal icing. She had a super sweet tooth like you, Jenn, so it made sense. I haven't had a gum drop in years.

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    2. Oh, we buy the kits. Your mom is my baking shero!

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    3. She was mine, too. She could make frosting roses! But I felt like I earned a bit of cred when I hand-fulfilled every birthday cake request from my own two hooligans. You want a bug cake? Done. I also baked and decorated a fire engine, a building, a soccer ball, a car, and more.

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  5. We used the Bahlsen cookie house kit to make cookie houses for years...and still bake a variety of cookies. I printed out several WaPost cookie recipes from this year's feature article, including banana bread chocolate chunk cookies.

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    1. Whoa, banana bread chocolate chunk cookies sounds unique and yummy!

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    2. I second your YUMMY, Grace. I missed that WaPo article. Must find it.

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    3. https://www.washingtonpost.com/recipes/caramelized-banana-chocolate-chunk-cookies/17583/

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    4. Yum!!! We always make extra icing with the kit - they simply don’t include enough.

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    5. Thanks for the WP link, Margaret!

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  6. Jenn, thanks for sharing--your Hooligans were pretty darn cute as little boys and seem to have grown into good-looking young men as well! The gingerbread houses are awesome!

    Our local museum has held a gingerbread house crafternoon for several years and last year my nephew and his little one participated. Alas, the museum is closed this year due to Covid.

    Gingerbread holds a special place in my memories--it was a favorite of my mom's, but something she didn't make often. We will be baking cookies and making sauerkraut balls and maybe fudge here at home--activities usually done with my sisters. I will miss that this year.

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    1. Sauerkraut balls??? Off to investigate recipes!

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    2. Flora, I am guessing the sauerkraut balls are savory instead of a sweet treat? But I do remember a childhood neighbour making one of the BEST CHOCOLATE CAKES I ever had and it had sauerkraut in it.

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    3. Grace, yes, the sauerkraut balls are savory--sausage, sauerkraut, cream cheese are the basics with crushed cracker crust--we love them fresh from the deep fryer with gourmet mustards.

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  7. I love gingerbread, and have been craving it lately, but alas! I don't have all the ingredients, and Debs has spoiled me with the fabulous gingerbread she always makes. Perhaps the porch fairies will come through for me again sometime this season.

    Growing up, we didn't have a lot of holiday traditions except for spending the week between Christmas and New Years at my grandmother's working horrifically hard jigsaw puzzles and eating a lot of cheese popcorn. Many of the holiday traditions I developed with Warren went away with Warren. But I do still decorate and light a small tree that my cats won't knock over, and this year I've added a lighted and decorated wreath for my mantel as well.

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    1. I have learned with loss that traditions are fluid. Some you just have to let go. Hugs.

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  8. I don't believe I was ever involved in making a gingerbread house. Gingerbread men,yes. I think maybe my kids made them in preschool but even that was long ago. My mother was the cookie baker, known far and wide for all kinds of holiday treats. I might be making a batch of penuche. Or maybe not.

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  9. I'm still chewing on the gingerbread house that required a permit. Is it still there? Do they accept tenants? Oh, wait, that's a fairy tale :).

    I love gingerbread, all kinds, cookies, wet, cake - it's all great. I don't make it at Christmas though. I'm a cookie baker, mostly of the cut out butter variety. Didn't do any baking this year, though. Not in the spirit, I guess. Next year, hopefully I will and I plan to add rum balls to the repertoire.

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    1. Ha! I thought the same. This sounds like my dream house!

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  10. Last year I attended a gingerbread house party and decorated my first ever gingerbread house. We planned to do it again this year, but of course that’s not happening. Since I’m no artist, my house was pretty awful, but I had fun!

    I used to bake cookies as a hobby and bring them to work or to family gatherings. I’m retired now and Covid is preventing the gatherings, so there will be no baking. That’s not really a bad thing, though, because another hobby was eating the cookies I baked. Especially the broken ones. Or the ugly ones. It’s amazing how many cookies broke or were not aesthetically pleasing. A couple of years ago I lost a lot of weight, and have kept the weight off. I “retired” from baking. When I have a craving for cookies I go down the street to a cookie bakery owned by a baker who prides herself in making homestyle cookies. In addition to selling bags of cookies, she also sells small samples packets that are perfect for people who need a cookie fix. I can enjoy four cookies over the course of a couple of days, support a small local business, AND maintain my healthy weight.

    DebRo

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  11. Jenn, the hooligans sure were cute little boys and are now handsome young men. So lovely to see!

    No gingerbread traditions here. What I crave at Christmas is Christmas cake but I've never made one. To satisfy my craving, this year I've been making Mary Berry's Fruit Tea Loaf. Super easy, one-bowl recipe and very tasty. It fits the bill of a bread-like sweet hit, eat it thick or thin, with or without butter (and a slice of cheese) and, yum: I feel it must be Christmas...or close enough to it, anyway.

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    1. Amanda, I am also a fruitcake lover but it is too much work to make my own.
      So the Christmas stollen or panettone is my easier alternate fruit bread for the holidays.

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    2. Grace: I've watched the participants on the British Bake Off make stollen and I cannot say it seems easy to me! I admire your making it, and Panettone, also. My local Italian grocery shop sells them, tho' I've never bought one. Stollen, though, I've bought often from my local German deli. I love the marzipan in the centre...

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    3. Amanda, stollen is very easy to make....it's just a quick bread with dried fruit and marzipan added. I buy my panettone since there are plenty of Italian grocery stores in my area.

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    4. Grace: I'll be looking up some stollen recipes now. And will see if your 'easy' matches mine!

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    5. Mystery writer Ellie Alexander posts great recipes, For this year's 12 Days of Christmas giveaway, she did post both a video and recipe for Christmas stollen. I have not tried it but it is pretty close to the ingredients in my stollen. But I definitely do not use chocolate.
      https://www.elliealexander.co/12-days-of-cozy-bakes-christmas-stollen/
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_ix1Og7B0c (Christmas Stollen video)

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  12. Your Hooligans look like such fun, Jenn. Gotta love that thumbs up for the house display!

    I made gingerbread cookies one year, along with a gingerbread bowl to display them in (easy: drape the dough over an ovenproof bowl on a cookie sheet, bake, cool, dislodge). The recipe I used made millions of cookies. Unfortunately, none of my family would eat them. But I used to make sugar cookies cut out into stars and bells and Christmas trees and the like. My cookie cutter collection is huge, and sits unused now. They do make dandy ornaments, though.

    If we're entertaining or need to take a gift I usually make bourbon balls, but they aren't the typical kind. These are made with a fabulous microwave brownie recipe with lots of dark chocolate. When the pan is nearly cool, I break it up with a spatula, sprinkle bourbon on the exposed dough, then mix it and roll into balls. Then I dust with powdered sugar and put into small paper cups. I can't make these unless we can share them, because I will eat all the bourbon balls myself.

    The other thing I'm not doing this year is making fruitcake, the first time in over 35 years. I simply can't find the ingredients. Again, we don't need it, but it's my husband's very favorite and it makes me sad that I can't make it for him, especially this year.

    A friend used to make gingerbread houses every year, getting more elaborate over time. One of her twin daughters is a chef, and the other twin, who's an architect, now has a toddler, and it's been fun to see their gingerbread construction this year. The girls are in their mid-30's, older than their mom was when I met her, and I love watching them carry on this kind of tradition.

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    1. Karen, I understand about not making the fruitcake but can you buy a small one from a local store to satisfy your hubby's cravings?

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    2. It's not the same. There's a bakery in Texas called Collin Street that makes really good fruitcake. The kind I make is very similar, but he likes it better.

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    3. OK. I understand. We all have to make changes for this year's Christmas holiday and do without some fave foods, then.

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  13. Those "little" boys are SO ADORABLE! (please don't tell them I said so.) I am so in awe of all of you gingerbread house builders... I love gingerbread cookies and I've made and iced more than my share of them, but never attempted a house. PS my favorite decoration is simply powdered sugar mixed with fresh lemon juice and piped onto the cookies. It hardens and is absolutely delicious.

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  14. No gingerbread houses here, but I and my children made many a sugar cube house. Same idea but no baking involved, Sorta like legos with icing. And they last for several years if carefully packed away.

    Last week we did manage to get some lights up outside, but we haven't even dragged the fake tree down from the attic. Maybe this weekend. I knew my mother was old when she stopped putting up a tree. I was horrified because we always decorated everything but the toilet. I guess I've reached that stage.

    Christmas baking will be limited to mince pies and sausage rolls. Oh, and Julie's mother's date nut bread.

    None of this will commence until I hear from my eldest grandson. He and his wife Ally have a nice suite in Labor and delivery, Duke University Hospital, Raleigh. This is far away from any family, and Covid makes it impossible anyway. Ally's grandmother died yesterday morning so just as well litt Finn is putting off his debut until today. Ally's been pushing for the past three hours. She's very tiny, and I've been afraid of a C section. Still not ruling it out.

    Anyway, the next time you speak my name, you may refer to me as Great Grandmother. No grandmas or grannies please.

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    1. Congratulations, Great Grandmother!

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    2. Mince pies and sausage rolls, yum! And congrats, when it happens, Madam Great Grandmother!

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    3. Great Grandmother is is, Ann! Very Clarisa Pincola Estes, and I approve.

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    4. How about Grand Oma? Or Great Oma? So sorry that little Finn will miss meeting one of his great grandmothers. Fingers crossed that all will be well for Ally.

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    5. This is so much sweeter than the best gingerbread cookie! I know someone who makes everyone refer to her as Duchess. Not suggesting it.

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    6. Oh Ann! Prayers for Ally and Finn and family! Love the name Finn, btw, Great-Grandmother!

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    7. Keep us posted, Ann! Congrats, and can't wait to meet little Finn!!!

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    8. Griffin Alexander Allaun
      6lbs 13 oz, arrived via c section after thirty hour of labor and four of pushing, 12/12/2020
      My daughter, Melinda, is a grandmother!

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    9. Hurrah!! Congrats, Great Grandmother!!

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  15. Jenn, the family photos are wonderful. Great memories of special times with your boys, who are the cutest in the whole world, right? What a super activity for a family and cousins to bond together over the years. (Sigh.)

    One of my very best friends always sent a gingerbread house kit to Jonathan and Rachel and some years Rach would be here to build it with her little brother, sometimes not. I do remember that it was fun, but don't remember if we ever took photos. It was really hard to throw the silly thing away, but sometime in late winter, we'd finally toss it.

    I am a cookie baker and for years I would make dozens of cookies for the mail delivery person, usually 5 or 6 different types. I would also give an ingredient list, just in case there were allergy concerns, but there never were. My current mailman passes us off to other delivery people during the holiday season, so I don't even try to bake for him any more.

    Because it is just us, I have to choose one or two different types of cookies to make and freeze some. Irwin and I only eat one or two cookies a day, even during the holidays. Sweets do not like me very much (actually making me dizzy if I overdo it) so I am careful, and I watch him, too, although he's pretty good. Also, I do not burn it off like I used to and I refuse to go up another size without a fight.

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    1. Judy: I like that phrase of yours, "I refuse to go up another size without a fight." I'm going to borrow that. Just yesterday, I was lamenting to my mum on the phone that none of my pants require me to use a belt anymore. I 'naturally' hold them up. Sigh.

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    2. Judy and Amanda: I am the opposite. I have lost so much weight this year that I need a good belt to hold up last year's pants which are all saggy and baggy. It takes a lot for me to lose weight and keep it off since I LOVE TO COOK, BAKE AND EAT! Thanks COVID, you did one good thing for me. I am down two dress sizes from 4 years ago.

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    3. Grace, as long as you are recovered and feeling Ike yourself again, I am happy for your weight loss! Amanda, there is only one way to do it and that is to not overdo it! Let's share that phrase with resolve!

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    4. OK, Judy: but I'm not yet ready to commit to not overdoing it. I think I'll overdo a bit first and then reign myself in to get back on track. I do feel that all the COVID deprivations gives us all permission to indulge a bit, no?

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  16. No gingerbread houses in our home. Paintbrush cookies was a tradition that we shared with cousins and then nephew and niece when they were little and still in town. I haven't made a rolled cookie in years. I have made yeasted gingerbread men. I love the bread, maybe this will be my project this year for the long weekend. Jenn: Your pictures of the boys are great but how did you keep them so clean while making those houses then they were little? We would have had flour on our shirts and sugar frosting on the corner of our mouths. (And, YES! to spice drops.)

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  17. Big Fan of Gingerbread houses though I never tried to build a gingerbread house. Perhaps one day. As a child, I remember seeing homemade gingerbread houses at friends' houses.

    However, I just learned how to make gingerbread cookies.

    Favorite holiday traditions: Decorating the Christmas tree, Sending Christmas Cards (not this year with the pandemic), Decking the Halls with Christmas cards of past, Baking Christmas cookies, Christmas services at church (not this year, though), Buying Christmas tea, Making Mulled Spices Apple Cider, Wearing my favorite Christmas sweater, Reading Christmas stories, watching Christmas movies and giving Books as gifts for Christmas. Going to Nutcracker Ballet (not this year). Ice Skating (not this year). Christmas Caroling (not this year).

    Diana

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  18. So much fun! I love the idea but never had the courage to try making a house. Maybe next year with the grandkids. However, I am always up for cookie baking and have a date for Monday with oldest (7) grandgirl. We are lucky, in this isolating time, that they live in our downstairs apt, essentially we are under one roof. With school on and off, we have had some Grandma School. Cookie cutters out for this Monday, with sophisticated peppermint frosting plans, her own idea.

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  19. No gingerbread house attempts for me! I had issues with Lincoln logs as a kid. We made and decorated sugar cookies with sprinkles. I did that with our son too until one year we both simultaneously got sick to death of the neverending process and vowed nevermore! I still make different kinds of cookies but none that require festive decorating.

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  20. Jenn, I love the pics of your boys - so cute as little guys, and so cute as teens!

    I've always loved fancy decorated gingerbread - remember, I spent several Christmases of my childhood in Germany, where gingerbread decorations are practically a religion. But aside from a few occasions when we did so with a group (I recall a couple years when Youngest was in Rainbow Girls, and I think once at church) we've never made gingerbread houses at my house.

    I wish we had done so now, because it's something you can continue, even if it's just you and the hubs and the Hooligans. Our Christmas family traditions - attending the Magic of Christmas concert, going to midnight mass - are all verboten this year. At least we can still watch DIE HARD on Christmas Eve.

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  21. Jenn, your Hooligans were--and are!-- adorable!!
    I've never made a gingerbread house, but I do usually make lovely dark, spicy gingerbread. It's Laurie Colwin's recipe and I've used it for years.
    My favorite Christmas tradition is probably the Christmas tree. Always a live tree, which I did get this week although it's a bit of Charlie Brown tree. There is a Christmas tree shortage and there wasn't much to choose from.

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    1. As someone who lived around the corner from Mr. Schulz's ice arena and museum, I see nothing wrong with a lope-sided, sparse of branch tree. :-) Our trees always had at least one bare spot, it went to back, against the wall.

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  22. Fantastic illustrated family history! My sister and I made one gingerbread house from scratch. The thick walls were inedible, but maybe the point isn't about the eating but the making.

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  23. We only created Gingerbread houses for a couple of years. I enjoyed it, but it never became a big tradition for me.

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  24. Thank you, Jungle Reds and Poisoned Pen’s Barbara for most enjoyable company at dinner this evening.

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  25. I echo Elisabeth, that was great fun! I couldn't comment on the laptop, but
    had to use the phone, so slow going. Thanks again, everyone. Now I finally get
    to dry my wet hair, lol.

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