This gingerbread isn't for eating. It's for viewing only, through Sunday (Jan. 2) at the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse.
The museum's annual Gingerbread Gallery, now in its 25th year, has been open since Thanksgiving. So it's the end of the run for the handcrafted gingerbread houses, cottages, mansions, motorhomes, courthouses and more. Some constructions are coming apart at their seams held together with royal icing and fondant. Peppermint stick pillars are crumbling and candy decorations are sliding from some roofs.
A lot of work goes into gingerbread architecture. And such creativity! Necco wafers for roofing tiles, graham cracker sidewalks, clever embellishments like Peeps Christmas trees and snowmen, sticks of gum and waffle-style pretzels as window shutters, shredded coconut as snow...
In all, there are about 40 creations by both amateur and professional baker-artists on display. Get down there and check it out. I promise it will make your spirits bright.
The Erie Canal Museum is at 318 Erie Blvd. East, Syracuse. The Gingerbread Gallery is on the museum's second floor. The museum closes at 2 p.m. Friday (New Year's Eve) and is closed New Year's Day. Sunday hours are 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
I'm a fairly organized person. I make notes on the calendar, ride herd on the pile-up of newspapers, magazines and mail and strive mightily to keep our house in order. How my recipe file -- an old, wooden cigar box handed down by a former roommate -- was such a complete, overflowing, unorganized catch-all for so long I don't know.
But it was. Stuffed, literally, with hundreds of recipes, it had no dividers or categorization, making finding anything a chore, guessing game and time drain.
Earlier this year, I emptied out its contents and started going through the pile one recipe at a time. I tossed recipes I had never used or hadn't used in years. Weeding through the thicket, I taped newspaper and magazine clippings to plain 4-by-6-inch cards and started organizing: meat, meatless, soups and stews, pasta, poultry, cakes, cookies, breads, muffins, etc.
The only absolute keepers: anything in Mom's and Mother's (grandmother Heenan's) handwriting; anything from my sisters; anything in the perfect penmanship of former Post-Standard restaurant reviewer and food writer Yolanda Wright; and anything clipped from the original Dinosaur Bar-B-Que "Bullsheet,'' a newsletter originally sent out monthly, by snail mail.
In the process of cleaning out, I found so many wonderful recipes I had forgotten about. Mom's Lemon Bread. Mom's Apple Crisp. Aunt Dorothy's Popovers. Martha's Guinness Stew. Mary's Cheese Souffle. Anne's Pie Crust. Eileen's Layered Taco Dip.
Maureen Nolan's Pub Cheese and Sausalito Crab Dip. A quartet of Italian sauce recipes from Nancy Radke (Italy lover, president of Ciao, Ltd. and co-author of "Dinosaur Bar-B-Que: An American Roadhouse"). Yolanda's Hot Fudge Sauce (a holiday tradition) and dozens of other recipes clipped from the "Yolanda's Kitchen'' feature (RIP) in The Post-Standard. Countless recipes from "Cook(s) of the Week," another bygone newspaper feature, some with my byline on top.
I went to Smith Housewares & Restaurant Supply and after much internal debate purchased a RSVP Endurance Classic Style Recipe Box ($35), some divider cards and clear plastic protector sleeves for faded, oft-used and food-splattered recipes.
The new box, constructed from stainless steel, has a satin finish and a polished lid with a swirl pattern inside. In addition to being stylish, it is solid and durable. It closes tightly, like a vault. A Recipe Vault! I told Robert it can be used to hold my remains when it's done holding heirloom recipes.
The end result is a recipe file that's neat and tidy, easy to use and a pleasure to open each time. And with holiday baking and cooking in full swing, it has been open and closed a lot lately.
I'd love to tell you that the Recipe File Project has helped me change my ways with hunting and gathering recipes. It hasn't. That's a disease with no cure on the horizon.
Next up: Cleaning out, trimming down and organizing into an expandable, divided file the three-inch thick folder of print-out recipes from favorite websites (like SmittenKitchen.com and Epicurious.com) and pages torn from Cook's Illustrated, Gourmet, Martha Stewart and other magazines.
That should keep me busy until spring, when it's time to start trolling for new recipes for the grill.
The winner of the first annual Eat First homemade holiday cookie giveaway is Elizabeth Wimer, of Syracuse (@erwimer on Twitter).
Elizabeth loves to bake, so I know she will like sampling a small selection (baker's dozen) of cookies from someone else's kitchen and having a new, seasonal cookie cutter to play with.
Thanks to everyone who stopped by and took the time to leave a comment. It's nice to have visitors!
I'll be having a couple giveaways in January. The first will be a giveaway of some gently used cookbooks (January seems like a good time to do some housekeeping) and the second will be a giveaway of -- gasp! -- something red and in a can.
Duh! I don't know why I didn't think of this earlier: It's time for the first annual Eat First Christmas cookie giveaway!
Free to a good home: a selection of 13 (a baker's dozen) homemade holiday cookies. Your winnings will include six thin and crispy cut-out cookies like the one shown above (now slightly smudged, because Wilton's decorating gels in a tube don't exactly firm up, even after an hour in the freezer, live and learn!).
The baker's dozen will also include a couple cut-outs decorated with colored sugars only, a couple decorated gingerbread cut-outs and a couple lemon-poppyseed crisps (right).
To enter: Please leave a comment in the comment field below. You must be a resident of Syracuse or Central New York and you must pick up your cookies in person at a time and place TBA. Family members excluded. A winner will be selected at random, notified by e-mail and announced here.
The deadline to enter is 12 noon Friday, Dec. 17. Good luck!
Sorry I haven't blogged much lately. I been busy baking, working on freelance projects, baking, working on my job search, baking, shoveling, baking, trimming the tree, baking, going to a parties, baking, going to a cookie exchange...
You get the idea.
I shared a sampling of cookies from Sunday's cookie exchange (cocoa shortbread Scotties, Spritz cookies, coffee-flecked cookies topped with chocolate-covered espresso beans, two kinds of chunky, nut-fruit-and-chip cookies) with my sister Annie, and told her the only thing missing were the Almond Horns I brought along.
You don't come home from a cookie exchange with your own cookies. That would defeat the purpose! There were some extras but I shared them with Robert, who was pleased to have a plate of his own, real-deal cookies -- not his usual lot of misshapen, broken and/or overly brown rejects.
I'd been wanting to try this recipe for Almond Horns, from Martha Stewart's "Cookies,'' for a while, and was glad I did.
They're formed by hand, so you get to play with the dough. Better still, they're crisp and crumbly, not super-sweet, easy to make and easy to enjoy with coffee or tea.
Going to a cookie exchange or holiday party this weekend? Take some along!
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted, plus more for dusting
1 large egg
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup whole raw almonds, toasted and finely ground in a food processor
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.
Put butter and and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Mix in egg and extracts. Reduce speed to low. Mix in flour mixture and almonds until just combined. Wrap dough in plastic; refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.
Roll 1 tablespoon of dough (yes, measure it!) into a 4-inch log; gently shape into a horseshoe. Repeat with remaining dough. Transfer to baking sheets lined with parchment.
Bake cookies (rotating sheets halfway through) until pale golden, about 20 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire racks using a spatula; let cool completely. Transfer to waxed paper. Sift sugar over cookies. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature 2 to 3 days. Makes 36 to 42 cookies, depending on size.
Linda O'Boyle, owner of Metro Home Style at the Regional Market Commons, is a busy lady this time of year. She's working long days and having extended hours at the store on Wednesdays during December, but still carving out time to bake.
She writes: "Any suggestions for a cookie that will add some pizzazz to the holiday cookie tray that doesn't require frosting and freezes well?''
Answer: Yes, yes and yes! How about a batch of World Peace Cookies?
The recipe is the brainchild of master baker Dorie Greenspan, and it's included in her wonderful book, "Baking: From My Home to Yours.''
The beauty of these cookies -- besides their rich, double-chocolate, combination sweet and salty flavor -- is that you can make the dough in advance, roll it into cylinders and stash it in the freezer.
Later, all you have to do is slice and bake.
World Peace Cookies get a lot of coverage in the media and in the blogosphere. Click here for the recipe, which is included in "The Splendid Table'' recipe box.
Enjoy! If you make the recipe, stop back and let me know what you think.