Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Gingerbread Love

I took a blogging sabbatical over the holidays.  

Wait, according to Wikipedia, it might not have been a sabbatical, so to speak.

A sabbatical is a prolonged hiatus, typically one year, in the career of an otherwise successful individual taken in order to fulfill some dream, e.g. writing a book or traveling extensively.

I mean, if we are going to be picky with definitions, I wasn't exactly fulfilling a dream....and I didn't write a book or travel extensively.  But I did read quite a few books (13, to be exact) and I sat extensively on the couch with a heating pad (that's a dreamy thing to do on a cold winter day) and I  researched a number of other blogs while I was on my own blogging sabbatical.

One of the things I discovered during the blog research segment of my blogging sabbatical was that all the mommy bloggers out there with pretty pictures on their blogs made gingerbread houses with their families over the holidays.  

We didn't do that.  After all, I was on sabbatical and my superpowers were at a diminished capacity.

But I'm not going to despair.  And you shouldn't either, if you didn't include gingerbread as part of your Christmas celebration.  Because gingerbread isn't a one time of year, oh-no-Christmas-passed-us-by kind of thing, and I'm going to prove it.  In fact, you could say that I've come away from my sabbatical with a gingerbread thesis.  

Gingerbread:  It's Not Just for Christmas. 

This is one of our family's favorite books.

I LOVE reading anything Jan Brett illustrates to my children.  There is just so much to look at and discover on each page.  And this book is proof that gingerbread can be for enjoying after you have run around outside in the cold or while you are snuggled up next to your mommy enjoying a good book.  Gingerbread houses are also a fun way to keep the kiddoes occupied during some of those random winter holidays....Martin Luther King Day, for example.

Take a look at these non-Christmasy gingerbread creations:

Candy rocks!  (No, I'm not cheering for candy, I'm pointing out what they used to decorate this darling gingerbread house with....those candy rocks.)

Hmm.  There appears to be a Santa on the roof of this house.  But still, it is very cool.  Take down the Christmas decorations, and you have quite a work of architectural art!  Gingerbread is nothing if not versatile.

Further proof of gingerbread's versatility, and of the fact that you need not be a whiz in the kitchen or an architectural genius to be able to enjoy it:

It can keep you warm on cold winter nights!  This quilt is too, too cute.  If I were a quilter...which I most definitely am not....I would make this very quilt in blues and browns so I could display it all through January and February.

Which months I hereby declare "The Gingerbread Months"!

I happen to know that Germans really love their gingerbread, and they love it practically year-round.  They love their gingerbread so much that they call it "lebkuchen," which literally means "little love cakes."

Little love cakes!

In fact, Germans use lebkuchen to share messages of love.  They give away cookies decorated with loving notes and symbols  on special holidays like Valentine's Day, Christmas, and Oktoberfest.  (Seriously, Oktoberfest is all about the love!  Betcha didn't know that the first Oktoberfest was a royal wedding celebration!)

Now, is that better than a card, or what?

Little love cakes!

Now, as you may have learned, no blog post of mine would be--well--a blog post of mine, without a story.  Here it is.

The Bionic Man and I were married during our last year of college, over Christmas break.  December 30th, to be exact.  I had a heavy load of classes during the semester before the wedding, and had to let my parents handle much of the planning and preparation.  

During one of our early planning sessions, I was asked if I wanted a wedding cake.  For some reason, I half-jokingly suggested that since it was a Christmas wedding, there should be a gingerbread house instead of a cake.  After I said that, I really started to think it was an amusing know, imagining the possibilities of replicating my fiancee' and I in gingerbread next to the house, using gumdrops in shades of our reception colors (navy blue and green, hahahaha), etc., etc.  At some point, feeling really hilarious, I giggled out the suggestion, "Hey, what would be really cool is if we had a gingerbread replica of the Logan Temple!"   (The wedding ceremony was going to take place in the Logan Temple.)  After laughing uproariously over this with my mother, I went back to planning and agreed that yes, the roses should be white.

At this point in the story, I think I should show you a picture of the Logan Temple.  

Side note:  Beautiful, isn't it?  See those mountains?  Those were in my backyard.  This is why I can never quite feel at home in the Midwest.  No mountains.  Lots of nice people, lots of beautiful farms.....but no mountains.  

I was so busy with school that semester that I hardly had time to wonder why my newly-retired father had suddenly taken an interest in baking.  Over Thanksgiving, I was startled to discover that Dad was intent on creating the perfect formula for.....royal icing.  When I pressed my mother for details, she sighed with exasperation and confessed, "Oh, he's just playing around with gingerbread.  That's all he does now, is experiment with gingerbread.  And icing.  He says he's making your wedding cake."

My wedding cake?!?!?!?

Further inspection proved that my 65 year old father--formerly an engineer and physics teacher--was indeed, making my wedding "cake":  A gingerbread replica of the Logan Temple.  

Perhaps the word "replica" isn't descriptive enough, however.  It was a scale model.  Being a historic building, it was difficult to find any information on dimensions (engineers need numbers when they work with gingerbread), so my father found a historic document that mentioned Brigham Young (yes, Brigham Young) had paced out the area when he gave instructions for the construction of the building.  Using a complex mathematical formula based on the  approximate length of Brigham Young's legs, Dad came up with the dimensions for his scale model.  (If you don't believe me about engineers, then you need to visit the website Cooking for Engineers An engineer in the kitchen can be a dangerous thing.)

The end result was startlingly impressive.  In fact, I think there are more pictures of the gingerbread Temple at my wedding reception that there are of me!    

How many other brides have a father who works that hard to give his daughter exactly what she asked for?  (Even though she was totally kidding when she made the request.)

Except for the gingerbread bride and groom.  There was no gingerbread bride and groom.

Now, my father being a former engineer, the gingerbread replica was designed to withstand flames, water, windspeeds up to 75 mph, and pressures of up to 150 kg/cm.  (I jest.)  It was not, however, designed to be eaten.  So, when the wedding was over, my dad carried his masterpiece home.  He put it on top of a shelf in the living room, out of reach of the grandchildren.  And there it has sat, for twelve years now, though it occasionally ventures out to win a prize or two.  

A few weeks after our wedding, my sister saw an advertisement for a nearby town that was hosting a Winterfest, complete with a gingerbread competition.  Dad placed his Logan Temple replica on the judging table, next to the little houses made of graham crackers, gumdrops, and candy canes.  He won a trip for two to San Diego!

Like I said, Gingerbread:  It's Not Just for Christmas.  It's for weddings and cold winter days and fun and good books and especially for saying "I love you."

Because nothing quite compares to the warm, loving comfort of gingerbread cookies on a cold, wintry day.

Now, if that isn't enough to convince you of the validity of my thesis, go try this recipe for yummy, soft gingerbread cookies.  It comes from the historic bakery in Nauvoo, Illinois where my ancestors used to buy their baked goods.

Scovil Bakery Gingerbread

1 c. sugar
1 c. molasses (I like to use Brer Rabbit brand)
1 c. oil
1 c. hot water
2 eggs
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/3 c. whole-wheat flour
6-7 c. white flour

Combine sugar, molasses, oil, and water.  Add eggs and mix well.  In a separate bowl, mix together dry ingredients.  Combine wet and dry ingredients until they form a well mixed dough.  Refrigerate dough several hours or overnight.  Roll out and cut shapes with a cookie cutter.  Bake cookies on parchment or a greased baking sheet for 10 minutes in a 350 degree oven.  After cooling, you may decorate with icing.

Little love cakes!


  1. I love the story of your dad building the replica of the temple! That is something my dad would so totally do!
    When I was in the 8th grade I had to dress up as the Statue of Liberty. My mom and I found some old white sheets, wrapped them around me, pinned them, and voila! costume was done - except Lady Liberty's crown.
    Dad insisted on making this and it took forever because it had to be an exact replica with proper to-scale dimensions and architectural details and everything. At the time I was exasperated but I look back now laughing. That's my dad. Once an engineer, always an engineer.

  2. When I first started reading your post, all I could think about was your wedding cake, and then there it was! My kids go NUTS over gingerbread and Mom's chewy gingersnaps. I agree that it should be a year-round thing. Did you know that it used to be tradition to decorate a piece of gingerbread with a sun on it for winter solstice to remind you that the days are about to start getting longer? I have a great bread-machine gingerbread (that is more bread, less cookie) that I'll have to send you.