Saturday, December 13, 2008

Easy Gingerbread Houses

I thoroughly enjoyed an early Christmas gift this last week. I spent the weekend with my grandchildren, aged 4 1/2 and 3. They live in another state some 12 hours away (or even 14, if I happen to get lost on the way), but the trip was a total success.

The kids opened their Christmas toys early so we could play with them, which is a great perk for any grandparent. I don't usually like battery-operated toys - they have a whole lot more natural energy than I do, so I wanted something to burn off some of that energy. Both games were a big success, even when the sound effects became annoying.

In addition to the usual pastimes of games, reading and playing with Thomas the Tank Engine trains, I cautiously tried out the new trampoline in the backyard. We had a ball, even though I wasn't anywhere near as agile as the kids.

One of my favorite memory-makers with the kids was to build individual gingerbread houses for each of them, which is a tradition we started last year. We all put on aprons, including some I had made for the kids with gingerbread on them. Given how young the grandkids are, we opted to use graham crackers to speed up the process and keep it geared toward their relatively short attention spans.

To make gingerbread houses this fast & easy way, you will need a box of graham crackers, a pound of powdered sugar, water, food coloring and assorted candies for decorating. We had an eclectic mixture of candy to include their favorites, such as gummy goldfish, as well as gum drops, miniature candy canes and M&Ms.

We carved the crackers into squares for the walls because they did not cooperate in breaking evenly and dry-fit them around a smaller floor section. The roof was two more squares, plus a square cut diagonally for the end pieces. The frosting we made was super simple - 2 cups of powdered sugar blended with 3 Tablespoons of warm water until smooth. Add more water if needed and a few drops of food coloring if desired.

To keep the kids occupied while my son & I assembled the two houses, I gave them each a plate of graham cracker pieces in various broken shapes covered with a dab of frosting. They delighted in sprinkling the "cookies" with colored sugar, red hots & M&Ms. They had a ball and grinned each time they popped one in their mouth.

We found it worked well to put a bit of frosting on a plate to anchor the walls while the frosting set. We assembled the roofs separately until set, then attached them on top of the walls.

Once the houses were firm, the kids decided how to decorate them with just a little help from us. Who says gummy goldfish don't belong on a house? We had a great time building gingerbread houses and memories.

As soon as the houses were decorated, the kids were ready to eat them, which may have been the most exciting part of the afternoon. Daddy made a loud growling noise and took a huge bite out of each roof, while the kids happily broke the walls apart.


Patty Newbold said...

I LOVE gingerbread houses! And graham crackers sure cut down on the patience and steadiness required for assembling them.

Looks like the grandkids had a great time with their grandmother. The photos really add to the story.

My grandson recalled a family story on his birthday last week, as we ate a very proper marble cake with white frosting. It made me think of your website and books.

For his 6th birthday, last year, his father purchased a cake in the shape of a penguin. The black, white, and orange frosting covered a dozen cupcakes. Each cupcake, when separated, had excess frosting hanging off the sides, a total mess. The kids were 3 and 6, so their lips, teeth, tongues, noses, hands, and eventually hair were covered in sticky, black goo. Even a year later, we were laughing at the attack of the birthday penguin.

Thanks for your great blog and the reminder to capture and revisit our family stories.

Elizabeth (Beth) LaMie said...

I love your story about the attack of the penguin cake. Children (as well as adults) associate so many wonderful memories with food and celebrations. That's exactly what makes memories. And if we go a step further to write down those events, then they stay with us forever.

Whenever I get to spend time with my grandkids, we always make something to eat, even if as simple as crackers & cheese cut into shapes. We have fun in the process, plus it keeps them out of potential mischief, at least for a little while.

What food-related memories do other people recall? I'd love to hear about them.

Rachel Cornell said...

What a fun time it looks like everyone is having. I really like the idea of the grahambread houses for the ease and ages of your little elves. And I really love the expression on the kids faces as their daddy takes a munch out of their houses.

Thanks for sharing this.

I don't have a gingerbread story. My mother did make cupcakes in flat-bottomed wafer ice cream cones for my birthdays. I always got to help make and decorate them. When I took them to school the next day, they were always like the coolest birthday treat.

Elizabeth (Beth) LaMie said...

Thanks for the reminder about the cakes in icecream cones. That is something different I can do with the grandkids next week when they are here for a day or so.

Like I've said before, I always have something ready to make with the kids so they build memories about what we do together. Plus it is fun to eat what they decorate.

Susan Kuhn Frost said...

Beth, you are da BOMB when it comes to grandmas. I hope when my turn comes I can be half as much fun as you are. Thanks for making a project that seemed impossible something I could actually imagine doing with wee ones!

Elizabeth (Beth) LaMie said...

I'm glad you liked the blog. I've learned that kids (especially when very young) recall only a few of the details from an event.

The great thing is to keep it simple and FUN for everyone, so we don't worry about doing anything too complicated.

Shayne said...

It looks like you all had a wonderful time creating your gingerbread houses. Thanks for sharing your story with our readers on

- Grandpa Shayne

Elizabeth (Beth) LaMie said...

I'm glad you liked my blog post. We did have a wonderful time and it was quite easy to make the simple gingerbread houses. Now when I talk to my grandkids long-distance, that chatter on about how much fun it was.

Memories like this are so precious. One of my goals is to encourage all kids to start capturing their own stories. Photos will help keep them alive, but the words will make them immortal.