Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sea como sea

We had the opportunity to go for a few days to Cancun—mostly business for Bob.

However, I usually love to do an excursion of some kind and see the area and learn or experience something new when I accompany Bob.

However, this time, I wanted to be careful not to spend any extra money because after all, we are building a new home and have not sold our current home.

However, I did want to enjoy the water and sunshine and relax and read books. I went well supplied and read four books that were just fun.

However, the weather was uncharacteristically cool and rainy with two downpour drenching rainy days and temperatures never getting above 62 degrees.

However, we did enjoy watching the coatis. I loved sitting and listening to their chirping sounds. They were quite tame and although I did not have my camera ever with me, the phone worked well enough to capture a couple of shots.

I do so wish that I could speak Spanish.

However, it was a joy to hear “Hola” and other gracious phrases every time I stepped out of our room.

Sí, gracias, I am remembering this trip con mucho gusto.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Let’s say really really early, okay?

A couple of people one person asked me to post my recipe and tips on gingerbread house construction. This post is either really, really early for 2011 or months late for 2010.

I usually make the gingerbread houses in late October or in November.

The grandchildren come the day after Thanksgiving to decorate their houses.

The recipe, that I use, makes ten of these little gingerbread houses.

In recent years the grands enjoy experimenting with designing their own houses—if they have time. In that case, of course, the recipe does not go quite as far but it is easy to put together. It is very fun to see their creativity.

If this is your first time baking gingerbread houses, you will want need to gather your equipment and supplies a few days before you want to start.

Equipment needs include two cookie sheets (jelly roll pans) and a good mixer.

These next items are available at craft stores like Hobby Lobby or Michaels or JoAnn Fabrics. You can get some of these things from but be careful. Some are much more expensive from Amazon than from the craft stores.

Meringue Powder

12” disposable frosting or pastry bags

Frosting tips (Do not pay more than $.99 for them.)
I think that
Wilton Decorating Tip size #4
Wilton Decorating Tip size #5
work best for children.

8” rounds

You will need cookie cutters. I bought a three piece set from You have to look under Christmas and Holidays until you get to about the 4th page or look on the second page of Cookie Cutter Sets. I created another little piece by bending a small cookie cutter into a door shape. The cookie cutters are also available several other places as well. Yes, they are flimsy but we have used ours for about 10 years anyhow.

Here are some tips/suggestions that make the process easier.

When baking the houses, roll the dough out on the underside of a cookie sheet.

Put a damp towel under the cookie sheet so that when muscles are applied to the rolling pin, the cookie sheet stays in place.
Don’t move the cookies after they are cut because it will change the shapes.

Just peel away the extra dough and put it back into the covered bowl to roll it out again for the next batch.

The difference between a front and a back is that that we cut a door in the front pieces. We use the same cookie cutter for both pieces but press my make-shift door cutter for a front piece.

Keep a chart to make sure you bake the right number of pieces. We have ten columns across the top and then four rows. The roof pieces need two slashes per house; the sides need two slashes per house and we need one back and one front. Be sure to mark your chart each time you put a tray of cookies in the oven.

After the cookies are all baked, assemble the houses using the Meringue Powder frosting recipe. Sometimes I assemble on baking day and other times I wait until later. I never assemble them on the day that we decorate because they could collapse during decorating.

I only beat the frosting for seven minutes with my Kitchen Aid mixer. The recipe says to beat for ten minutes but I think that makes the frosting too stiff.

Do not use rubber or plastic when making the frosting or it does not get stiff enough. Just use a regular spoon for putting the frosting in bags.

Snip the ends of the bags and put a tip in each pastry bag.

Kids and adults have a difficult time with the frosting squeezing out the top of the frosting bags so I secure the bags first with a twist tie.

Then I roll the end of the bag and secure it even further with a piece of masking tape.

I wrap a just damp piece of paper towel around the tip of the frosting bags so that the frosting does not harden. I put the tubes in a gallon plastic bag and refrigerate them until we are ready to use the frosting. The frosting recipe is enough for six houses.

The frosting keeps in the refrigerator for up to a week.

When assembling the houses, start with a back and a side.

Then the next side and the front.

Construct all of the houses first and then go back and roof them all after the sides have dried for a few minutes.

It takes me two hours to make the dough from scratch and cut out and bake the pieces for ten houses. It takes me another half hour to put the houses together. When Jessica and I worked together, we made the dough and constructed eleven houses from start to finish in two hours.

Here is the recipe . . .

Gingerbread - 10 houses

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup margarine
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup molasses (use unsulphered--I use Grandma's original)
7 cup flour
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
2/3 cup water

Use a Kitchen Aid or another good mixer.

Cream butter, margarine and brown sugar
Add molasses

Mix dry ingredients and add slowly & alternately with water to creamed mixture. Mix only long enough to mix so that all ingredients are mixed together.

Keep unused portion covered at all times. Can be refrigerated--bring back to room temperature before rolling.

Oil and flour back of cookie sheet lightly.
Roll out dough and press the cookie cutters. Remove the extra dough.

Bake at 325 to 350 for 10 to 12 minutes or until cookie shapes are just beginning to brown on the edges.

Royal Icing with Meringue Powder
6 T. meringue powder
2 lbs. powdered sugar
12 T. hot tap water

Beat for for 10 minutes.
Use only grease free utensils--stainless steel spoon--no rubber spatulas
Keep covered--air tight
One recipe is more than enough for 6 houses.

If you cannot get the meringue powder, here is an alternative frosting. However, it must be used immediately after you make it. Otherwise it will separate.
3 large egg whites
1 pound powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar

Now file this away for nine months and then if you have any challenges during the process, send me an email and I will give you my phone number to talk you through it.

This year, I made or helped to make around sixty little houses.

Jessica and I made 22 houses for her November birthday party.

I contributed houses for an adult Christmas party at church hosted by our small group.

and a few extras for three little girls . . .

I wanted to include my NC grands so we had another party with them and some of their friends the week before Christmas. I had temporarily misplaced my camera and got no photos of our party. That happens to me too frequently--losing my camera.

I was honored when our oldest grandchild, Kent, sixteen years old, borrowed our mixer and a few supplies and made gingerbread houses by himself for a decorating party that he hosted for some male and female friends. I contributed a few houses to that endeavor when he needed a few extra.

This photo was taken in 2001. This is a photo of my dad and stepmom, my mother-in-law, my first husband's sister-in-law and her two kids and my sister. Anne in the striped sweater now has three children of her own. I cannot look at a picture of Dad without thinking how much I miss him. But I digress . . .

I cannot resist one more old photo. Jessica was three in this photo. Now she is eleven.

This post is much, much too long. What can I say? Maybe that's the point. It is time to quick talking. Blessings my friends.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Better than a Partridge in a Pear Tree

1 shining star

2 darling shepherds

3 overnighting grandkids

4 singing grandsons
(Away in a Manger with motions as part of their Christmas challenge)

5 Christmas concerts

6 cups of tea

7 swimming cousins

8 of us seniors

9 card-playing cousins

10 or 11 ?

Dozens of students

A few bonus photos

1 delightful crawling baby

A comfy caring brother

Modeling of new clothes

A very skinny snowman

A daddy that is towing

Sipping on hot chocolate

And a sapsucker on a bird feeder