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Outside the Box Gingerbread Houses

Beyond trees and wreaths, there are few symbols of the holidays so well venerated as the gingerbread house. Throughout the country, gingerbread house displays and contests attract everyone from culinary architects to kids who love to savor the decorations. Visit Historic Inns of Rockland, Maine's Holiday House Tour held every year on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, where among other ideas, you'll learn first hand from Frank Isganitis, Gingerbread House Architect and LimeRock Inn co-owner, tips on creating your own award-winning gingerbread houses. The Holiday House Tour is part of Rockland's Festival of Lights, and Historic Inns of Rockland will feature workshops including Gingerbread House Making, Victorian Customs for Christmas, and Package Wrapping Workshops, along with tours of lovely historic inns during this event, held from 1pm to 4pm every year on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Tickets and information are available at www.HistoricInnsofRockland.com.

Frank Isganitis spends the year planning his original gingerbread designs, which are always the highlight of the family holiday party. Each year young nieces and nephews arrive not with visions of presents and toys, but with eager anticipation of the annual creation of their own personal gingerbread house. Workstations are set up with candy and tubes of frosting, and the family goes to work creating a Christmas town, for in Frank's eyes, it takes a family to create a holiday village.

Frank's Gingerbread Guide: Tips from the Expert

Start early. Gingerbread keeps for a long time, so you don't have to wait until the December holi-daze has set in to start creating your gingerbread house. Baked gingerbread can be stored for up to one month in airtight plastic bags.

2. Divide the steps into baking, assembly and decorating to keep from suffering from gingerbread overload. For example, make and bake the gingerbread one week; assemble it the next; then decorate it after that. A single gable house is the easiest to build and probably best for the novice. For the adventurous, there are no limits on unique and creative designs. For complicated designs, a cardboard model is recommended. Walls can then be built atop the cardboard model. It takes extra time, but will save time on the assembly end for detailed designs, and the cardboard pieces can be used as templates when cutting and baking the gingerbread.

3. Assemble gingerbread houses in stages. As a base, use a large holiday platter or a heavy cardboard square covered in foil or other festive material. Assemble the sides first, and then let them sit for at least three hours to ensure that the "glue" (i.e. frosting) sets. Follow next with the roof pieces, and again, let them set up before the final decorating begins.

4. An inside secret: canned frosting works great. Says Master Designer, Frank "One year, I could not get my frosting recipe right, so I "cheated" and bought canned. The rest, as they say, is history."

When asked for insider advice for novices on creating his successful gingerbread house designs at home, Frank Isganitis shares these ideas:

1. Nothing is off limits as long as it's edible. Let your imagination run wild and don't be confined to just holiday candy. Jelly beans, gummy worms, nuts, potato or nacho chips, pepperoni, Raman noodles ? you name it, and it can work.

2. Mix things up. Necco wafers, peanuts or raisins make great roof or walkway tiles. Original Good & Plenty can be set like bricks for a fireplace. A gumdrop or chocolate chip makes a great door knob. Crushed chips make interesting wall textures. Figure out how you can use your favorite candy or foods.

3. Don't stop at decorating the house. The company that makes marshmallow peeps at Easter makes marshmallow Christmas trees too. Surround your house with a forest of edible flora and fauna.

4. Take your original recipe for one house and divide the dough to create as many as six smaller houses. By doing this, you can create your own edible Christmas village.

Come see Frank at work during the Holiday House Tour presented by Historic Inns of Rockland, held the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Demonstrations including Packages that "Pop" at Captain Lindsey House, Gingerbread Houses & More at LimeRock Inn and Victorian Customs for the Holidays at Berry Manor Inn will take place Throughout the day. Tours of the inns, decked in all their holiday finery will be ongoing from 1:00pm to 4:00pm. See www.historicinnsofrockland.com for information about the Festival of

Lights package offered by Historic Inns of Rockland, and for more information on the member inns. For more information or to book reservations, call 1-877-ROC ?INNS (1-877-462-4667).

Sidebar: Gingerbread House Recipe

Uncle Frank's Gingerbread House
From Frank Isganitis at LimeRock Inn, Rockland, ME

1 1/3 cups honey
3 1/3 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine
2/3 cup lemon juice
2 beaten eggs
2 beaten egg yolks
12 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup baking powder
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground Cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt

In a very large pot, mix the honey, sugar, and butter or margarine. Stir over medium heat until the butter melts. Remove from heat. Add lemon juice, eggs, and yolks. Stir together 1 cup of the flour, the baking powder, spices, and salt. Add to honey mixture. Stir in as much of the remaining flour as you can with a wooden spoon. Knead in remaining flour on a floured surface until it forms a smooth ball. Cover. Follow step by step directions for building the house below.

Begin rolling out pieces of dough to about ΒΌ inch thick. Cut 4 pieces of gingerbread, 7x 10 inches (2 for, the sidewalls, 2 for the roof) and 2 pieces 7 x 11 inches for the ends of the house. Mark off 7 inches on each 11-inch end panel for shaping the pointed gable. Then cut from this mark to the center of the top of the gingerbread.

Bake on non-stick or greased cookie sheet in 350˚oven for 20 minutes or till browned. Cool and store. Assemble when ready starting with a large platter or piece of heavy cardboard covered in aluminum foil.

Fill a pastry bag with canned white frosting. Don't worry about detail decorating yet. Using a large flat tip, make a line of frosting where you want to place two sides of the house. Also, frost one of the adjoining sides of gingerbread. Repeat with the remaining two sides. Then, frost the remaining ends and allow all four sides to sit for at least three hours.

Take the two roof pieces and gently put them in place. Use more frosting to "glue" them to the four side pieces and each other. Allow the house to sit for at least another three hours. Now, you can take a scalloped or other tip and put the finishing touches on your seams, and the gingerbread house is ready to decorate.

BEAUTIFUL PROFESSIONALLY-SHOT PHOTOS AVAILABLE.

The LimeRock Inn is a beautiful Victorian inn on Maine's Midcoast. Filled with romance and hospitality, this is the perfect place for your next getaway. Visit http://www.limerockinn.com for more information.

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