Gingerbread men invade the holidays

June 5th is National Gingerbread Day and I can’t for the life of me imagine why. Who thinks about gingerbread in June? We’re outside tending our gardens, graduating our children, and dreaming of afternoons out on the water. We’re inviting friends with crab pots over for dinner and bringing perfect meals to a brilliant conclusion with strawberries, piled atop flaky shortcake and mountains of freshly whipped cream.

Each year, deep into fall, when the short days and breezy chill draw me inside, I experience a culinary wanderlust. I dig through my collection of cookbooks stored in the kitchen and haul volumes I’ve not perused in months over to the fireplace. I spread out on the floor, read, and create menus for the holidays. My two Chihuahuas can’t believe their good fortune. Down on their level, they drape over my legs in fits of slumber and stop pestering me for affection only when I keep one hand idly tickling their bellies.

It is in this setting that thoughts of gingerbread invade me on a yearly basis. I’m not sure why. It’s akin to my fascination with sourdough, but it doesn’t require the tending and attention that sourdough starters do. It is, however, about as versatile. By tweaking the ingredients just a bit, one can easily create gingerbread pancakes, cake and dip, gingerbread lattes, houses and people.

Really good gingerbread is hard to come by if you don’t create it yourself. This week I stopped my shopping to investigate a kit, handily assembled to help the purchaser create gingerbread men. All one would need to produce a small tribe was included in the shrink-wrapped packaging. In a pinch, and if your oven suddenly called it quits, it just might keep kids occupied for hours. But absent was the enticing aroma. And their manly shapes resembled brown cardboard cutouts. I imagined chewing with extreme care and calling out for an emergency glass of cold milk to subdue the dusty burn of powdered ginger.

Gingerbread today differs from what it used to be. In time past, gingerbread simply meant preserved ginger. But by the 15th century it usually referred to a cake made from a dense dough of breadcrumbs or ground almonds mixed with honey or spices. This dough was often pressed into intricate molds. People created treats from ingredients readily available and worked it into their celebrations and gift giving.

I’ll bake this year’s gingerbread cake in the coming days and my newest recipe discovery includes an array of bold ingredients: ground and fresh ginger, robust molasses, a touch of fresh pepper, and stout beer as the primary liquid. I want to linger with anticipation over that cake when it’s merely a batter, stand over the oven as it bakes to breathe in the emerging aromas, then let each bite sit on my tongue for a moment when it’s cool enough to taste. I hope for a malty tang, a moist dense cake, and a peppery bite from the ginger.

If it’s good enough, I may give it as a gift this year ... the year a whole lot of us take a deep breath and stop the mad crazy spending. The year we step back and reexamine the purpose of gift giving. The love and sentiment we hope surrounds our giving. The impact we want our lives and our gifts to have on those with whom we live and work.

I don’t want to become a shrink-wrapped, prepackaged person of faith —- especially now. I don’t want what I do and what I’ve come to believe about God to become a message that’s dry and nearly impossible to swallow. The world around us is in flux. Change is being thrust upon us, forcing us to rethink our values and habits. The rampant consumerism we’ve witnessed in recent years has collapsed powerful businesses and the entire world is shivering from the impact.

So I’m looking for just the right recipe -— the right mixture of faith to understand the issues facing people around us and the energy to care about those impacted. Let’s make this holiday season about bold, spicy choices. If we see a need, let’s find a way to fill it. Let’s spend time creating memories, expressing support, love and appreciation. Let’s send cards and e-mail messages to people we regularly think about but get too busy to contact. Let’s schedule time to pray and worship. Let’s get a little uncomfortable and stressed because reaching out beyond our normal routines and associations can be challenging and worthwhile.

Read the paper. Read your church bulletin. Talk with your neighbors and coworkers. Call social agencies. Make it your business to find out what’s really needed this holiday and create a recipe for change that draws from the best you have to give.

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