Tom Eblen

Tom Eblen: A holiday tradition of Lexington landmarks in gingerbread

This year's project was People's Bank, the 1962 Mid-Century Modern building that is to be moved across the Rupp Arena parking lot to save it from demolition. The building's signature turquoise glazed brick was rendered in Powermint Tic Tacs. The window glass was poured from melted crystals of isomalt, a sugar substitute. The sidewalk is Graham crackers and the grass is colored coconut.
This year's project was People's Bank, the 1962 Mid-Century Modern building that is to be moved across the Rupp Arena parking lot to save it from demolition. The building's signature turquoise glazed brick was rendered in Powermint Tic Tacs. The window glass was poured from melted crystals of isomalt, a sugar substitute. The sidewalk is Graham crackers and the grass is colored coconut. teblen@herald-leader.com

Each Christmas, my daughter Shannon and I become gingerbread architects, working with her mother to create edible models of Lexington landmarks.

This year we made Peoples Bank, the 1962 modernist building on South Broadway that is to be moved across Rupp Arena’s vast parking lot to save it from demolition.

I posted pictures on social media, and after they generated more than 600 likes, shares and comments, I decided our two-decade family tradition might be worth a column.

Each gingerbread edifice has had its challenges. Peoples Bank posed more than most: turquoise glazed brick, pointed glass walls and its most distinguishing feature, a zig-zag, folded-plate roof.

Shannon discovered that shiny Powermint Tic Tacs were just the right color, so we bought a dozen boxes. Each of the 719 Tic Tacs (OK, I ate one) was carefully arranged on beds of royal icing spread over gingerbread wall sections.

To make windows, we poured melted crystals of isomalt, a sugar substitute, into holes in the gingerbread walls. To create entire walls of glass, we made a gingerbread mold, then tore it off the edges once the isomalt hardened.

The bank’s walls were assembled with royal icing, which quickly turns to cement. Then Shannon and I started piecing together the folded-plate roof, hiding our imperfections with more royal icing — aka sugar stucco.

Shannon used a cake tip and gray icing to add aluminum window details. Candy canes made great columns and added holiday cheer. For landscaping, we used shredded coconut, shaken in a plastic bag with green food coloring, gumdrop trees and graham cracker pavement.

Our gingerbread avocation began about 1994, when my wife Becky wanted a table centerpiece for a holiday party and thought Shannon and her older sister, Mollie, would enjoy a sugary craft project.

Our first creation was Santa’s sleigh and reindeer. Then, as now, Becky was the master of materials — rolling and baking gingerbread, mixing royal icing and sourcing candy decorations.

The next year, we built a two-story house decorated as Santa’s workshop. Inside, a plastic tree ornament of Santa sitting on a roll top desk was placed on the second floor above the elves’ workshop. But within days, the floor beneath Santa began sagging and eventually collapsed.

After consulting gingerbread books, we learned the first of many valuable lessons: Construction-grade gingerbread requires a slightly different recipe than the soft stuff used for cookies.

Over the years, our projects included a church with stained-glass windows made from melted candy discs; a Santa train; a gazebo and Christmas tree; a carousel with gingerbread hobby horses and a Wizard of Oz house, complete with a squashed witch’s legs dangling from the foundation and a road of yellow M&Ms.

When we lived off Tates Creek Road, an ostentatious mansion was built on a former farm behind our house. Friends would look out our back windows and say, “Wow! Is that a hotel?” When we created the mansion in gingerbread, everyone got the joke.

After Shannon’s first summer in New York, we made a gingerbread version of her Brooklyn brownstone. Near disaster struck another year when we assembled gingerbread luminaria boxes with votive candles inside. One box caught on fire, and things got worse when I poured water on it.

In recent years, Shannon and I have focused on Lexington landmarks. (Mollie is now married and chasing a toddler; she has no time for this foolishness.)

In 2012 we made CentrePasture, then a grassy field where 14 downtown buildings were demolished for the CentrePointe boondoggle. CentrePasture was a hit, despite its simplicity: a flat piece of gingerbread covered with shredded green coconut. Black licorice fences enclosed a field of grazing gingerbread reindeer.

The next year, we made the Hunt-Morgan House. I scaled the cardboard pattern based on the Hershey bar sections we used for window shutters. The house ended up being so big that it covered most of our dining room table.

When Shannon flew back to Philadelphia last weekend, we hadn’t decided what to make next year. I want to do our circa 1906 home if I can figure out how to make its complicated, cottage-style roof in gingerbread. Other possibilities include the old Fayette County Courthouse, Pope Villa and Henry Clay’s Ashland.

Now that CentrePasture is CentrePit, we have thought about ways to replicate it without cutting a hole in the table. But I think we will wait to see if anything worth rendering in gingerbread is ever built there. We’re not planning to stop this family tradition anytime soon.

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