Sunday, December 7, 2008

COOKIE HOUSES

Today’s the day---the First Sunday In December---forever to be known in our family as Cookie House Day. Not Gingerbread Houses---no baking involved, and the scope and variety of cookies and decorations knew only the bounds of the local Sunflower, Kroger, and Fred’s Dollar Store. We bought whatever took our fancy---salty or sweet, just so the shapes were interesting, or they LOOKED like part of a Witch’s Architecture. Or a Fairy's, perhaps even a Gnome's. We used candy corn for window-trim and pretzels for fences or tiny sugar-dusted shredded wheat pillows for thatching---anything goes in a child’s eyes, especially one armed with a big cup of sugar frosting. Imagination is ALL.

We'll have a very small version this year, at our breakfast table, with only one little girl and a pair of one-year-olds to participate. So we'll have safe candies and their kinds of cookies and a lot of help from Moms and Dads and us Grandparents. And probably baths in the pink TeleTubs for the two small ones.

The first year, we started out with about five little ones from our tiny church, who came over after Sunday Dinner, and we made up the rules as we went along. Pretty much, the rules were: You had to be five, or no older than twelve. Past participants were welcome to come and assist the little ones in their own creations.

I had cut little cardboard patterns, maybe 9x9x7 boxy shapes with two triangular peaks, duct-taped the forms together from the inside, then taped those to thick cardboard squares, a couple of inches bigger all around to make room for a little lawn or woodpile or some Christmas trees (or a moat---that's what I'd opt for).

Sorry---that outburst was surely caused by endless afternoons in close proximity to twenty or so seven-year-olds with unlimited access to sugar.

On the long bar, paper plates of all kinds of "bought" cookies and candies and pretzels, gumdrops and canes and crackers stood ready. I usually made a gallon of the butter/powdered sugar/flavoring frosting we used for birthday cakes, but for this one, I always used a drop or two of orange extract and a tiny sprinkle of salt, so all that finger-licking wouldn't be so overpoweringly sweet.

Each child got a paper plate or platter, to choose all the building materials and attach them to the roof first---it was a rectangle a bit wider and longer than the housetop; the hangover made neat eaves for applying icicles. A gentle score down the center, and the flat board bent in the middle to set neatly onto the house. The finished roof dried while the house was decorated.

Everyone also got a plastic punch cup filled with icing, and a small plastic spatula for spreading. You could smear it on the cardboard and attach stuff, or smear the backs of the cookies to attach, or however you could fulfil your dreamhouse. And when, at time for icicles and other decor, we handed each a filled pastry cone, eyes widened and faces lit up even brighter. Children just LOVE being trusted with pleasant grownup tasks, and this was not the TIME for "no, you can't do this; it's too messy." They strewed icing with merry abandon. Licking fingers and arms for stray icing, even an experimental squeeze into an open mouth---that's what the BIG bowl of homemade dill pickles and the bowl of salty pretzels and all those pitchers of ice water were for.

When all was finished, handfuls of the leftovers, the broken cookies, the unused candy, pretzels and other edibles, all were distributed into the houses, and the roofs were set on, the weight of icing and cookie-shingles keeping them in place. We made pictures, Mamas returned to carry the sticky carpenters home, and we cleaned the kitchen. And I never waxed my floors for the holidays until after the party.

After about the third time, several adults requested to come make a house for their dining tables or for an upcoming party in their home, or to relive or just LIVE some childhood moments once again. So several years, we had a wine-and-cheese party on Saturday night; everybody brought bags of goodies to decorate with, I made the icing and cardboard forms, and when it was over, they all helped clean up and set out the decorations for Sunday.

This got to be so popular over the years, we had people calling in October to reserve a place, and we finally had to move it to the Fellowship Hall of the Church. Several Moms in other churches around the county called for instructions; I gave out the icing recipe, drew them the pattern, and they started having parties of their own.

I haven’t been there for Christmas in years---I wonder if they still do. And I really hope some of the children remember.


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