Monday, December 20, 2010

Cookie Houses, The Slacker Version

I am ignoring the emails that scream LAST CHANCE FOR FREE SHIPPING! ORDER NOW OR DIE!!!!!!

I am not making the gingerbread cookie dough that was on the docket for the evening.

I am not even wiping the freezer out after a tragic exploded-bottle-of-carbonated-beverage incident.

Instead I am telling y'all about a funny little tradition that sneaked up on me, and became my favorite much like the quietest kid in the class makes his way into the teacher's heart.

Cookie houses.  I know.  I know:  the minute I type that phrase your insides clench up like they do in an particularly mortifying episode of The Office, and you think gaaaaaaaaah. no.  NO COOKIE HOUSES.  ARE YOU INSANE?  

I'm not.  Really I'm not.  I'm nowhere near an over-achiever, and my perfectionist streak has been handily beaten out of me by 3 kids, and old house, and an extremely phlegmatic husband. So.

We are talking cookie houses of the non-threatening variety.  Cookie houses made of graham crackers, and Royal Icing.  Now hang on, don't start hyperventilating on me.  Royal icing is simply that really hard, bright white icing that they stick gingerbread houses together with, and I'm here to tell you [I'll whisper, in case Martha Stewart's listening in]:  it's really easy to make.

Here's the super secret recipe:  3 egg whites, 1 lb of confectioner's sugar (icing sugar, for all my Euro pals),  and 1 tsp Cream of Tartar.   Whip it.   And I'm not kidding - you have to whip the heck out of it.  Like, way way past the nervous 'is it getting stiff yet?' stage.  You really want it to be, well, stiff. (I'm such a juvenile.  Am I really the only one sniggering when reading these directions?)

So you take a graham cracker, snap it in half, then cement the two halves together with a dab of the icing.  That's your first wall.  Do it again, that's your 2nd.  Glue them parallel to each other on a paper plate/fancy platter/piece of cardboard with more globs of icing,  then finish your house shape with two single squares of cracker.  Snap another in half,  and use the two pieces for a leaning-against each other roof (see, a fancy blogger would call it Cantilevered.  ooooh.)  And you're done.

Really.  Let it dry - a few hours maybe.  Yesterday I needed to speed it up so I stuck it in my oven at 100 degrees, and it worked a treat.  Then, give your kiddos all the leftover icing, a bunch of different candies & sugar cereal pieces, and let 'em have at it.  My rule was 'no candy in your mouth until your house is done'.  This left the 3 year old's house very minimalist, and gave her a head start on 'tasting'.

Do it with just your kids, or do it with 11 like we did yesterday.  It really is the simplest, happiest little exercise that makes you feel virtuously domestic, them happy that they got to play with frosting and make a house, and everyone a little bit cheerful-er about all this holiday nuttiness we get into.

Try it.  You won't be sorry.  (Unless the royal icing gets in your shag carpet.  Then you will be sorry.  But you should already be sorry that you believed it was back in fashion. So. There you have it.)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Snow, and stillness

The Worries clamored like a pack of hungry preschoolers at snack time.  I stood in the shower this morning and let myself be assaulted by every single anxious thought my brain could manufacture in the space of ten minutes and the shampoo-soap-razor routine.

Forgot to... why didn't I... need to pay... have to remember... what IS it she thinks Santa is bringing?  this bill... that list... those emails.  On and on the siege raged.

Out of the shower, drying off, I noticed the very first snowflakes of winter swirling past the window.  I peered out into my backyard, and saw the faintest dusting on the kids' swings, on the Adirondack chairs, on the picnic table.

Funny, how often it is that nature will speak to us when rational thought eludes.  Stop, Kirsten. Enough. Enough. Be still.

Once dressed, I went outside to take photos, my kids fully occupied by sweeping off the front lawn. [Bizarre, I know. They're just goal oriented, I guess.] The heavy snow-filled air demanded silence of me, and I obliged.  I watched as the white flakes covered all that remained unfinished - the abandoned toys of summer, the leaves of fall - and I was still.  I silenced my anxieties, and chose peace.

Enough. There will always be more, always be not-quite-right. But for now, especially now, I will simply be still. I will find quietude for my head, for my home, for my family.  The stillness of the snow came early enough to teach me.

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