By Sajni Shah
By @S F Brooke
“Mom….how are you going to do this?” Sixteen-year-old Katie asked. She looked at her mother in the middle of their huge kitchen, the granite countertops covered in bags of flour, cartons of eggs, jugs of milk, bags of flour, and three mixers.
Katie’s mother, Maranda, looked at the mess and put her hands on her hips. “Honestly, sweetie, I have no idea.” She chuckled, “Your father dared me, and now…” She waved a hand towards the ingredients. “We have this problem.”
The teenager grinned as she took a picture to put on her Instagram, “I was pretty sure he was joking about the life-size Gingerbread men Mom.”
Maranda tsked her tongue, “Never dare your mother on anything. I’m too stubborn.”
Katie laughed and made her mother take a picture of the gigantic mess that the kitchen was and they hadn’t even started baking. Her mother told her to get her siblings to help, thirteen-year-old Todd and seven-year-old Oscar had enough energy to use on making lifesize replicas of themselves in Gingerbread. She didn’t dare let them near the icing.
Bursting into the boys’ room Katie yelled, “Attention!” The boys were startled but grinned once they saw it was their sister. In unison, the boys stood in a line and saluted.
“Alright, soldiers, Mom needs help on her mission of making gingerbread men. We have,” Katie looked at her watch for emphasis, “Twelve hours to work on it. Can you accept this mission?”
Todd and Oscar yelled back in unison, giddy with the prospect of playing with flour and eggs and sugar. “Yes, ma’am!”
Katie gave a mock salute and about-faced, turning around she started marching back to the kitchen. Their mom had set up several stations of steps to make the gingerbread men.
Usually, once December and the Christmas season hit their mother would make batches of her famous Gingerbread men to give the neighbors and for their family. The ginger that their mother would always use was fresh from a farmer’s market, the honey that was used was hand-made from a beekeeper in the next town, and the Royal Icing was made from scratch the morning of the baking. Now the process was multiplied by ten…maybe closer to twenty.
Oscar put on Christmas music, matching the wonderfully warm feeling that the family had. The girls pulled up their auburn-colored hair into ponytails before Maranda put Katie on mixing duty, she was in charge of the wet ingredients while Todd was in charge of the dry ones. Oscar was helping his mom start rolling out the dough, he was concentrating so hard that he almost looked constipated. The gingerbread baking had been their tradition ever since Katie’s mom and dad had gotten married. Gingerbread was Dad’s favorite and their mom would always make a batch that looked decorated with frosting and candy and sprinkles that looked like their family. This year they were going lifesized.
“How exactly are you going to bake all of these, Mom?” Todd asked turning his hazel eyes towards his mom as he added in the flour to one of the three full-sized mixers.
Maranda flared her eyes with a twinkle in them and a grin as she lifted her rolling pin, “I guess I’m going to have to Frankenstein them after I bake them.” She patted the tubes of frosting with a flour-dusted hand. “This will work as glue and when we decorate them the seems will be hidden beneath all of the frosting and icing.”
Oscar licked his finger that he’d swiped through the batter, “It tastes super yummy!”
Maranda laughed and kissed her youngest on the head, “Let’s get to work.” She told the kids and with that thought in mind, they set out to bake, cut, roll, decorate, and eat enough gingerbread that it would make them sick.
They worked through the morning, the endless white noise of the mixers whirring seemed to help the hours go by. It wasn’t without incident though, a few smaller batches were overbaked, Todd once accidentally lost half an eggshell in the mixers and Katie nearly lost a portion of her hair from being too close to the spinning beaters. They each took turns putting pieces that Maranda cut out into the hot oven, then stopped for a quick lunch.
Snow started falling towards the evening and it only made the inside of the house cozier than normal. The fresh sharp smell of ginger and cinnamon was filling the house like a candle that you could eat. Katie made sure to take many pictures on her phone to send to her friends and to add to her Christmas album. Todd and Oscar were almost vibrating now with how close their favorite parts were. Decorating was a favorite for everyone involved. Maranda always used orange buttercream icing, Katie loved to use small candy dots, Todd liked using food coloring and sprinkles, while Oscar added twirls and spirals with the pipping tips, their dad did everything and anything. Most of their cookies had no real designs or ideas about what they were supposed to be, except for Maranda’s whose job as a pastry baker came in handy for decorating.
“I think that’s the last piece that needs to be baked,” Oscar told his mom as he leaned close to the over’s glass window to see the cookies raising.
Maranda wiped her face and hands on her apron, “I think so too, kiddo.” She nodded at all the hard work that she and the kids had done so far. The large pieces of gingerbread were cooling on the dining room table on large baking sheets. Maranda’s and her husband’s, Noel, gingerbread man and woman took a total of three baking sheets each, so did Katie’s. The boys were two, two, and a half baking sheets. The gingerbread men were not exact size replicas, Maranda chuckled to herself as she imagined making six feet of cookie for her husband, but they were close enough to lifesize. She set about to start gluing pieces together with freeze spray to try to set the cookies together. It worked well enough for the time being. Checking the clock on her phone she started pulling out all the tools of her trade. Frosting spatulas, piping bags and tips, cookie scribblers, decorating pens, sprinkles, candies, and large edible pens. The kids went wild and picked out their supplies, asking their mother to mix the white frosting with food coloring of their choice to start decorating. Maranda gave each of them a piece of their cookies to decorate before she pulled out the last ones from the double oven.
“Mom…does this look enough like me?” Oscar asked, sticking his tongue out as he added another squiggle.
Looking over his mother saw a large gingerbread boy with dark brown icing for hair, playful candy eyes, and the beginning of a marvelous decorating shirt collar. “I think it does, sweetie. It looks amazing!” She checked the other kids and saw that they too were working very well on their individual pieces. Eventually, they had their gingerbread men and women all set and decorated. It was nearly eight at night when they finally finished. Maranda stood on a stool and took a large picture of each of the kids and their replicas. They placed huge sheets of parchment paper on the table and settled, extremely carefully, the cookies on the table all together to look like the family they represented.
Todd grinned at the cookies, “They look like giant cookie soldiers.”
Oscar nodded, probably thinking the same thing. “Like from the movie Godzilla!” He added, having just recently seen the film a few weeks before.
The younger teenager gripped his brother in a headlock, “Sure Oscar, Gingerbread soldiers of Godzilla.” Todd laughed while giving his brother a noogie.
Maranda’s phone started ringing and she called excitedly to the kids, “Guys it’s Dad!” She accepted the call and came face to face with her handsome husband in his Army fatigues. “Great timing, honey, you will not believe what we just finished.”
It was in the early morning in Afghanistan but Noel looked excited to be able to see his family, “Really? What did you do?” He asked with a knowing grin.
Maranda flipped the camera around to show the giant cookies while the kids all did a flourishing, “Ta-da!” The gingerbread men and women were similar enough to the real-life people that made them that it was easy to tell who was who. Katie’s and Maranda’s both had auburn-ish color hair with shirts of their favorite colors, and their brown eyes. Todd’s had his blonde hair and hazel eyes plus a blue shirt with many candy decorations, while Oscar had his dark hair and blue eyes, and finally, Noel’s was dressed in army camo with blond hair and their last name spelled out in edible marker on his name tag.
“Since you’ll be deployed this Christmas, Dad,” Katie explained slightly melancholy, “We made a copy of you. Now we have Gingerbread Dad!”
“Dad, Dad,” Oscar interrupted, jumping into the screen, “the cookies are nearly as big as us!” He suddenly grew serious, “I don’t know how we’re going to eat it all.” His words drew loud laughter from the older kids and their parents.
Flipping the camera around, Maranda turned it back towards her and the kids. “We made some smaller ones to snack on as well.”
Noel was grinning from ear to ear, “You do know I was kidding right?” He told his wife, tone teasing.
Maranda nodded, but her eyes were twinkling. “I take dares very seriously.”
Noel laughed and then sighed peacefully, “I miss you guys,” He said with a sad smile. “The cookies look amazing, oh, and guess what?” He told them before reaching out of the screen and pulling the care package they had sent into his lap. Noel pulled out a wrapped cellophane package and took a bite of the gingerbread cookies that had been sent overseas. “I got my own gingerbread men right here.” He told them, smiling around a mouthful.
Katie handed each of her family a small regular-sized cookie, “Merry Early Christmas, Dad.” She said before saluting with the cookie and taking a bite.
Noel smiled, “Merry Christmas, Katie,” He nodded to his whole family. “I love you guys.”
The gingerbread men cookies sat on the table as the family that had made them reconnected with their Gingerbread Dad, the permanent smiles on their decorated faces matching the ones of the family.
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