Food Column: Sad sign o' the season: Gingerbread house vandalism


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It's not quite Christmas, but our gingerbread house has already been stripped for weeks.

Does anyone else deal with this annual problem? A little thief makes off with the goodies on the gingerbread house, and sometimes even the gingerbread part itself, egg-white icing and stale nastiness notwithstanding.

It has become our traditional family drama. Every year, Meme (my mother, who has far more patience for this stuff than I, not to mention greater precision with a pastry bag full of frosting), constructs a gingerbread house with our kids. In years gone by, she started this tradition by making a gingerbread train with my son, Andy. But he never showed much interest, preferring to eat the candy from the get-go.

My daughter, Beth, however, really latched on last year. Despite her autism, which can lead to a short attention span for other things, she has displayed persistence during kitchen projects. She enthusiastically slices apples for hours to make chunky applesauce, and I've turned the job of frosting cupcakes and cookies over to her (though I can't guarantee they won't get a few licks along the way). She even says she wants to "be a bakery" when she grows up.

For Christmas 2012, my dad struggled valiantly with a particularly poorly designed gingerbread barn kit and finally managed to put the building together. Beth meticulously lined the roof with cereal squares representing individual shingles, and Meme added a horse's head sticking out of a window.

And by that same evening, Andy already had broken off the horse's head and eaten it.

After a bunch of threats and hoohah, Andy left last year's gingerbread barn alone for the remainder of our visit to Pop and Meme's house. Meme slid the barn onto a cookie sheet so we could transport it home with us, where Beth constructed a fence of paper strips and Nerf gun pellets (as if this would truly deter a thief) and added a sign: "GINGERBREAD HOME KIT. We made this kit for us to keep. Do not touch and do not eat. just look. because this is a project decoration."

Well, that lasted for all of about two minutes. Once Andy had swiped a couple of major candy items, the barn had obviously been vandalized and I started looking the other way, figuring I couldn't undo the damage. He pretty much ate it down by the end of the holiday season.

This year, in a blatant display of parental ineffectiveness, I tried to change the rules. I told Andy not to eat the gingerbread house, and this time I actually meant it. I figured if Beth and Meme could spend several hours on this work of art, and if it meant so much to Beth, the least I could do was protect the property.

So when Andy chomped his first few pieces of candy, I took away a privilege and ticked him off. Meme still was around to help Beth repair the damage, and I even coated the whole house with a liberal amount of hairspray as an added deterrent.

Andy got the hint. Not so much as a single little candy ball disappeared after that.

That is ... until Beth schlepped the gingerbread house off to her bedroom and started eating it herself.

I have officially resigned as the keeper of the family gingerbread house. From now on, it's every man for himself. Maybe next year I'll even swipe the first gumdrop.

Student winners

High-school seniors were recommended by their culinary instructors to compete for Pittsburgh Technical Institute culinary scholarships. Participating students attended a master prep class and then prepared a chicken dish and a green vegetable displaying their creativity and technique.

First-place winners of $5,000 scholarships were Kiarah Nelson and Sabrina Staats of Central Westmoreland Vo-Tech and Bethany Fisher and Taylor Broniszewski of Parkway West Vo-Tech.

Second-place winners of $3,000 scholarships were Cheyene Edwards and Brandy Peoples of Parkway West and Alexis Hollen and Isabella White of Jefferson County AVTS.

Third-place winners of $2,000 scholarships were Alicia Ehrensberger and Renee Graham of Northern Westmoreland CTC and Miranda McConnell and Sunshine McCollough of Western Area AVTS.

Fourth-place winners of $1,000 scholarships were Sam Wilcox and Michael Scimio of Parkway West.


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