Two years ago, I went to Target and bought one of those ready-to-decorate gingerbread house kits, thinking it would be a fun thing to do with the Roommates during one of our pre-Christmas date nights. The house featured on the box cover looked like a standard center-hall Colonial, somewhat stylistically similar to the house the Roommates lived in, except their parents hadn’t allowed them to festoon the roof with candy.
The kit claimed to eliminate the worst step in the process–baking the cookies–and I believed it. Given walls manufactured to the correct specifications, I figured the rest should be as easy as assembling a pre-fab house. Since I have no experience whatsoever with assembling pre-fab houses, that proved a very poor foundation from which to start.
Speaking of foundations, the kit did not provide one, which I did not discover until we opened it. Even a pre-fab homebuilding rookie like me understood we might be in trouble if we were relying on a piece of cardboard covered with tinfoil to hold this thing up. As I read the diagram it became clear the walls were supposed to do all the work of keeping the structure vertical, a mechanical engineering feat accomplished through proper wall placement and the use of powdered sugar frosting to adhere the walls to each other.
I held up a side wall and slathered its edges with icing. Then I instructed the Roommates to grab the shorter walls and press them to my side wall at a 90-degree angle, give or take. We held that position for two minutes and then did the same thing with the remaining side wall. After letting the walls dry for a few minutes, I laid the two roof pieces atop the walls with the deft, delicate touch of a neurosurgeon. (It should be noted that I know less about neurosurgery than I do pre-fab homebuilding.)
The structure remained upright, giving us the impression that it might be able to withstand some gentle decorating. But as my niece attempted to apply a gumdrop, the wall on my nephews’s side started to collapse. Pretty soon the whole thing fell down as if it had been made of a royal flush rather gingerbread.We tried to rebuild three times and then gave up. We settled for decorating the slabs and then laying them on the foil-covered cardboard in a mysterious pattern, like a cookie Stonehenge.
The Roommates and I had another Date Night planned last night, and I decided it would be hilarious to have another gingerbread house kit waiting for them. I spotted one while shopping at Trader Joe’s yesterday and tossed it in my basket without paying much attention. Had I taken a closer look, I’d have seen the TJ design reflected a major architectural shift: they’d ditched the center-hall colonial in favor of an A-frame chalet.
The Roommates and I unpacked it last night and saw right away that it included a slab, as your better pre-fabs do. The slab had a hole at each corner, into which we spread icing and then sunk the footers for the front and back walls. They seemed pretty steady. The roof pieces, which were meant to rest on the ground rather than the top of the walls, leaned against each other perfectly, making the line of icing we applied to the top seam of our gingerbread teepee nearly superfluous.
We felt confident enough in the soundness of the whole thing to plop the people and dogs TJ had included in the package right in the front yard. Death by gingerbread/frosting avalanche seemed unlikely.
As we studied the house and noted its disappointing resemblance to the one featured on the box cover, our faces all said the same thing: it looked nice enough, but we’d had a lot more fun when the walls came tumbling down.