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FOR THE KIDS : Some Tasteful Designs for Home Sweet Home : Classes teach a number of easy ways to build and decorate this season’s traditional gingerbread houses.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

‘Tis the season for baking, and the kids want to make those little Hansel and Gretel gingerbread houses all decorated with sweets. Too complicated for a child, you say?

Not so. Art instructor Anne Matsuk had a dozen kids, some as young as 5 years old, putting them together in a class she taught recently through Ventura’s recreation department.

Her method is faster and simpler than the traditional route with real gingerbread. So if your kids want to tackle one of these at home, they won’t get frustrated and give up on it.

Here’s how she did it:

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She first made frames for the little houses out of poster paper. (One of those Manila file folders will also work.) Cut the roof and two walls five inches by 2 1/2 inches. Cut the two end pieces three inches along the bottom, by 2 1/2 inches, with the roof 2 1/2 inches. Tape all the pieces together to form the house.

The next step is making the edible frosting glue, the white sticky goo that holds everything onto the house. For one house, Matsuk beat one egg white with one-eighth of a teaspoon of cream of tartar, then she added 1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar. (Add water to thin, sugar to thicken.)

Instead of using gingerbread for the siding, Matsuk brought chocolate graham crackers. The crackers are the same dimensions as the house and, because they are lighter than gingerbread, they stick to the sides and roof better.

Once the walls and roof are glued into place, the real fun begins, and almost any type of candy can be put to some use decorating the house. Those miniature marshmallows are almost a must, though.

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“They’re great for filling in cracks,” Matsuk told the children. “Just slap on some frosting and stick them on.” Also, the roof looks great covered in marshmallows, and Lifesavers make colorful chimneys.

Once the houses were finished, the kids put them in a cardboard box top so that they could create a whole winter scene. For snow, Matsuk doled out polyester fill. Cotton works well, and so does coconut. Gingerbread men can be added to the scene by gluing them to folded cardboard so that they stand up.

“It looks like fun--I’d like to make one myself,” Janet Danner said as she watched her 7-year-old son, Lucas, create his house in Matsuk’s class.

There are probably as many ways to build a gingerbread house as there are to build a real house.

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Marge Dudkowski, who teaches children in Port Hueneme how to do it, has an even simpler method.

She has the kids in her recreation classes use empty half-pint milk cartons for the frame. She passed on the idea of parents secretly putting a little toy inside the carton before giving it to the child to decorate. Then, as it gets closer to Christmas, the child can disassemble the house and find the treat.

She advised parents and kids to keep their cool when decorating the houses. If a graham cracker breaks, just cover it with frosting or a candy--or turn it into a window.

“Nothing is unfixable,” she said.

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Anne Campbell, also an art instructor for Ventura, is a gingerbread house veteran, too. For kids, she has used half-gallon milk containers cut in a variety of ways to form the house frame.

She also had a slew of decorating ideas: pretzels for fences, Necco candies for the roof, licorice for windows and doors, stone-like candy for the chimney as it extends up the outside wall, candy canes by the front door or for a fence, and marshmallows for snowmen.

Here are some other ideas: To make paths, make a trail of frosting, or line up M & Ms and Lifesavers. For trees, try green gum drops, lollipops or pine cones. Snowmen can be shaped from leftover frosting glue.

And, if you want to see the granddaddy of gingerbread houses, stop by the Doubletree Hotel, 2055 E. Harbor Blvd., Ventura. In the lobby, hotel workers have again set up a 20-foot-tall house with all the trimmings. It will be up until Jan. 1.

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The dynamo duo, Janet & Judy, will be in Moorpark on Saturday for a 2 p.m. family concert at the Moorpark Community Center, 799 Moorpark Ave. Admission is $2 at the door.

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The Flora Robb Studio of Dance and Music is putting on a “Holiday Show Dance” at 1 p.m. Saturday at Gull Wings Children’s Museum, 418 W. 4th St., Oxnard. Free with admission to the museum. Call 483-3005.

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