Originally published December 13, 2011. Updated on 7/30/2021
My tornado memoir - "Twisted" was released on 05/22/12! click here for more details, or to purchase!
Back on May 22, when a tornado smashed our house, I had no idea how long the road ahead of us would be.
I had no idea that, coming up on Christmas, I would be without a kitchen, would still be fighting the city, and that I'd only be beginning to process the trauma of the whole thing.
In fact, up until a few days ago, I was pretty sure I’d dealt with the trauma. I was convinced I’d managed to just put it aside entirely, and get to work.
I thought that we were so “over” the tornado, that we could have a bit of fun with it.
I have no idea why we thought it would be a good idea / funny to make a gingerbread house representation of our house on May 23. No clue.
It seemed like a good idea at the time, and hey - I’d never made a gingerbread house before. If it turned out looking horrible, I had the ultimate excuse: It being “tornado smashed”, it’s SUPPOSED to look awful/be falling apart.
So, I did a bit of research. I obsessed over fellow Food Bloggers of Canada member Barry Parsons' Rock Recipes Blog - where he has detailed instructions for making gingerbread houses.
He does just phenomenal work, you should check it out!
Designing The Gingerbread House
Anyway, armed with Barry's gingerbread house recipe and TONS of source material photos from back in May, I set to work.
It all started out well. We measured the house, and used those measurements together with photos to design a to-scale template in photoshop.
I cut everything out, baked the gingerbread, and made a complete mess of pouring sugar “windows”.
On the upside, I broke my track record for burning myself with sugar work, coming out of this project completely unscathed!
As I started to pipe the stucco and bricks - leaving “holes” untouched, for where the trees shot through the wall - I did start creeping myself out a little.
It was really weird to see this house taking shape in front of me, the house we haven’t seen in some time.
The ugly purple-red trimwork that was replaced with nice, new blue trim.
The red bricks. Well, overall they looked red, but were really a bizarre, random mashup of red, orange, and brown... With pink mortar.
I couldn’t bring myself to use pink frosting for the “mortar lines”. It was so, so ugly.
The house now looks nothing like it did, even before the tornado. Freshly painted stucco - light blue, rather than the ages white. The bricks painted a medium blue - mortar and all - with dark blue sponged over the actual brick parts.
We were so, SO happy when all the painting was done, and we could sit back and admire our newly-adorable house. I don't know. It was weird to assemble a representation of the old version.
The stucco. By popular vote, I didn't add the "skid marks" that trees left on the side of our house. Skid marks. Can you imagine?
I had to shudder as I attached 2 pretzel sticks to the side of the house.
There is something wildly surreal about going up the stairs to the bedroom, and seeing a tree sticking in the wall. Amazingly, it ended in the cat litter - which managed to protect the wood floor.
Like the wall was just... nothing. I can’t even imagine the force that took... I can’t believe only one person died in the tornado.
There had to have been - from the appearance when it was all over - thousands of trees flying around, with similar force.
Kinda takes the breath away to think about it.
I'd poured extra melted sugar in a pan, to be shattered and used for "broken glass".
It was sort of fun at first, very carefully placing the shards in the "doorway" for the upstairs mini deck. It looked really good!
Well, as good as a candy version of a smashed door can look...
It didn't really shake me up until I walked upstairs a little while later, past that door. I just vividly remembered ALL. THAT. BROKEN. GLASS.
I never thought we'd get it out, it was everywhere... along with plant matter, and broken chunks of vinyl tiles from someone elses' house.
I can't even imagine what the cats went through, that day.
Extremely vivid memory... and now, we walk around on that same carpet in our bare feet. Surreal.
Placing the Chex "shingles" and Fruit Roll-up "tarp" was a lot of fun.
You know, though... creating "destruction" is actually really difficult.
When you're doing straight lines of shingles, it's easy.. but skipping some, leaving room for the "hole in the roof", etc? It's a lot to think about!
Once the Chex was placed, the roof was airbrushed with a combination of black and silver food coloring, thinned with vodka.
The deck and porch were also a little difficult to set up. I was trying to get a fairly accurate representation at first, but the logistics got in the way.
Some debris was holding up parts of the remaining deck, blah blah. So much stuff EVERYWHERE. I eventually just set up my gingerbread "planks" in the general shape that our deck was left in, and called it "good enough".
It wasn't until I started to sculpt the 100+ year old black walnut tree (modelling chocolate), that I started to lose it.
I remember how excited I was last spring. It was a month or so after we'd moved in, the snow was melting... and I found these weird, wrinkly objects on the ground.
I quickly realized that they were black walnuts, and - OMG THEY CAME FROM OUR TREE. I was so excited.
I'd never had a walnut tree, never had access to one.
We excitedly researched what to do with the walnuts, and we made plans for all sorts of stuff we'd make with those walnuts.
As I was shopping for my Christmas baking this weekend, I felt a little bitter as I reached to pick up a pack of walnut pieces. I shouldn't be buying walnuts, I should be using OUR walnuts. We never had a chance.
That tree was huge, and gorgeous. I couldn't wait to see it with summer - and fall - foliage.
Not only will I not get that chance, the tree is completely irreplaceable.
Ripped out of the ground like it was nothing, leaving a huge diameter of toxic soil behind as a twisted "memorial" ground.
Did you know that black walnut trees render the soil below them toxic? I didn't either, till we lost ours.
I started tearing up as I carefully wrapped floral wire with chocolate clay, watching this representation of our beloved tree take shape in front of me.
I gently placed in over the house and deck, and then just lost it for a few minutes.
When I started this project, I had NO idea that just the act of placing a chocolate tree on my gingerbread house would cause me to just break down.
It was just so... I don't know. It just really hit me, right then, just how screwed up this whole thing was.
Beyond the gingerbread house, even... losing what will end up being an entire year of our lives to this, that such an old, healthy, HUGE tree could just be ripped up like that.. like it was NOTHING... all of it. Just surreal.
In the end, I quit working on it earlier than I had planned. I wanted to make the 3 arborvitae trees that used to stand just a couple feet in front of our house.
We lost all 3 in the tornado, with one almost blocking the door, leaning up against the house. I wanted to more accurately represent the waist-deep-and-deeper debris in our side yards. I just... couldn't.
When I placed that tree on the house, I knew I'd done all I had the strength to.
Man, I've always had a twisted sense of humor, but I never in a million years expected that it would hit me as hard as this gingerbread house project has.
I may not have ever made one before, but I'm *pretty* sure it's not supposed to make you sad!
You know, the day after the tornado, I was interviewed a few times by the CBC, back home in Canada. I was still in shock, and was cracking HORRIBLE jokes. "Several new skylights!", etc.
Was told I was "Handling it like a Canadian". I wonder what that reporter would think of THIS? LOL!
Next year, we'll be making our second gingerbread house ever. It will be the "after" picture, and it will be a celebration of FINALLY being all the way done with the tornado damage - I HOPE!
Updated to add: We never did get around to making the "after" version, mostly because we are still repairing things in late 2013.
I AM happy to report, however, that - as emotional as MAKING the gingerbread house got me at the time - I now find the whole thing hilarious. Looking at these photos really cracks me up, now!
More Tornado Posts
Going through a tornado - and the resulting rebuild - was a wild experience, with a LOT of learning involved. Here are some more posts about that whole ordeal!
More Random Posts!
Looking for more of my random posts that may or may not even have anything to do with food at all? Here are a few more:
Fairy Godmother Project
Moving Back to Canada? Here's a Timeline!
My Convention Survival Guide
My First GISH!
My Training for Masterchef
Ravings of an Expat: Christmas Oranges
So... You've Been Hit by a Tornado
The Toilet Paper Wars
The Value of Believing in Yourself
Waxing Poetic on Canadian Living
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