Tag Archives: candy

How Not to Build a Gingerbread House

by Lillian Csernica on December 19, 2018



Hi there. Right now I’m spread thinner than Nutella on the last three pieces of shortbread. Mom will be out of the hospital the day after Christmas. Tomorrow I have three appointments, then my younger son takes his first test for a new belt rank in tae kwon do. And then there’s all the Christmas prep to keep doing.

I need a laugh, and by some strange bit of good fortune I happened across something I wrote years ago at this same time of year. For your Yuletide entertainment, I present it to you now.



How Not to Build a Gingerbread House

Never ever attempt to make a gingerbread house with somebody who’s never seen one before and yet, thanks to his control freak tendencies, immediately mutates into an expert on the art.

It’s difficult to sustain an intelligent argument about the precise technique of using industrial strength icing to glue peppermint candies, gummi bears, M&Ms, and gumdrops to the various flat and angled surfaces of a gingerbread house. Believe me, we tried. Too much icing. Not enough icing. The grouping of the gumdrops on the roof lacked the right balance of colors. The little candy canes lining the walk to the front door weren’t maintaining their lines with military precision. And the windows. This is where things almost got violent. Making window panes out of pretzel sticks might seem like no big deal, but when you’re dealing with a man who thinks we should have been using a carpenter’s balance, you’ve entered into a whole new realm of the bizarre.

Then came the argument over building the chimney out of Pez candies, licorice bricks, Jolly Rancher cinnamon bites, or graham crackers iced in proper brick and mortar formations. I’m not much for drinking, even during the holidays, but by the time I was about halfway through this delightful holiday pastime, I was ready to forget the eggnog and go straight for the brandy.

At last our masterpiece was complete. It resembled nothing so much as a perfect 3D schematic of what would happen if the two of us EVER tried to share the same living quarters. The yard was a wreck, green icing spilling onto the graham cracker walkway like rank weeds erupting through broken concrete. The cast off wrappings of Hershey’s Kisses, peanut butter cups, and Lifesavers lay strewn across the porch, revealing us for the white trash we really were. The snowman in the front yard listed like the drunken uncle at the wedding reception. It was a mercy that we never had to bother with the inside of the house. I shudder to think what horrors would have been dissolving in there. Gummi coke bottles piled in the corners…silver foil gum wrappers wadded up in the little black licorice fireplace…cotton candy webs hanging from the corners of the ceilings…. It would be just too heartbreaking.



I can’t recall now what became of that gingerbread house. I know it sat on my kitchen table for some weeks during that holiday season. And as for the man himself, my partner in committing this crime of both taste and art? No, it was not in fact my husband. This was another man, whose story must wait for another time.  This fellow is no longer among the living, so that time will probably be Halloween.





Filed under chocolate, Christmas, classics, creativity, Family, family tradition, fantasy, Food, frustration, Halloween, Humor, Lillian Csernica, perspective, therapy

My Favorite Moments (Kyoto Roundup)

by Lillian Csernica on December 9, 2015

There were a few moments during the trip that stand out as particularly memorable.


Turning on the lights in our hotel room.  There was no main switch just inside the door.  We did find the switch for the bathroom (located on the wall outside the bathroom, which is just asking for pranks and accidents).  There were small reading lights at the head of each bed, along with a table lamp and a floor lamp.  How did we turn them on?  There was a slot on the wall in the entryway similar to a credit card reader, only this was vertical.  I put my room key in the slot, then pulled it out again.  Voila!  Light!

Two minutes later the lights went out.

We went through this twice more, trying to figure this out with brains that had long since turned to cottage cheese.  I called down to the desk for help and told them the lights wouldn’t stay on.  They sent a man from Maintenance, who had me show him what I’d been doing.  I had the process half-right.  To keep the lights on, one leaves the key in the slot.  So every time Pat and I left the room on an outing, we’d check to see who had a key in hand and who had put hers in the light “switch.”  This resulted in dialogue that would have done Abbot and Costello proud!


Norimono, 19th C.

The taxi drivers.  I love Japanese taxis.  The lace antimacassars on the seats, the white gloves, the automatic passenger door….  Sometimes the drivers were quite formal, and that’s fine.  Other times we’d get a driver who was happy to have a chance to practice his English, or maybe he just thought Pat and I were entertaining.  (Can’t imagine why anybody would think that!

One driver said, “English is just three words.  I love you.  I miss you.”  My cynical sense of humor kicked in and I told him, “You’re missing one. ‘I want money.'”  Fortunately, we were at a stoplight right then.  The driver burst out laughing.  He mimed writing something down, saying, “I must take notes.”  That made us all start laughing again.

On our way back to the hotel from Kiyomizu-dera, we had a driver who wanted to be friendly, but as is often the case, he was nervous about speaking English.  He had the radio on, playing classic rock.  That was a welcome glimpse of home.  Once I said, “American rock ‘n’ roll!” that broke the ice.  By then Pat was speaking enough Japanese to get into the conversation as well.  The driver revealed his secret stash of chocolates and gave each of us one.  Music and chocolate are the perfect ways to go from strangers to friends.



At the smaller gift shop inside the grounds of the Imperial Palace, Pat and I got into conversation with Yuki, the lady behind the counter.  She was surprised by how much polite Japanese we could both manage.  When we explained our purpose in Kyoto as doing research for our writing, she thought that was quite exciting.  Before we left, she brought out two little packets of those sugar star candies like the ones Chihiro feeds to the dust sprites in Spirited Away.  She insisted on giving them to us.  That was a lovely surprise!



The weather was so mild at the start of our stay I didn’t need my jacket day or night.  As the end of October closed in, the nights got colder.  In Kyoto Station one night, everybody else had begun to bundle up and there I was.  As I came up to the escalator going down, I made way for the older lady ahead of me with a polite, “Dozo.”  It was a long escalator.  The lady turned around and said, “Are you cold?”  Her tone of voice was like my mother’s just before she’d tell me to put on a sweater.  This came out of the blue, so I was glad to be able to answer in English.  “Outside, yes.  Inside, no.”  The lady nodded and faced front again.  As we neared the bottom, she turned and wished me a good trip.  The whole thing was rather endearing.



The ladies at the front desk.  Thanks to my endless questions, Miss Nakanishi and Miss Kinjo knew our daily itinerary almost as well as we did.  When Pat and I came back from that day’s adventures, they’d greet us and ask specific questions about that day’s activities.  I think my boundless enthusiasm for all things Japanese plus my grasp of Japanese history and culture resulted in answers different from the ones a more typical American tourist might give.  Over and over again, Japanese people would ask me, “How do you know about that?”



Miss Kinjo is from Okinawa.  That gave me a perfect opportunity to ask her about the kijimuna, the “little people” of Okinawa.  They’re on the large side for little people, being about as tall as a seven year old child.  Flaming red hair makes them unique among Japanese folkloric creatures.  All they wear is a garment like a fundoshi made out of leaves.  Kijimuna are tricksters.  They can be helpful when they want to be, and you’d better not offend them.  Miss Kinjo said her grandmother had told her stories about what the kijimuna had done when her grandmother was a little girl.



With Halloween right around the corner, I was curious to see how Japan handled that holiday.  I saw decorations and party goods and some costume supplies.  The Japanese kids don’t go trick-or-treating the way we do in America.  The idea of dressing up as monsters to go door to door demanding candy under threat of “tricks” might strike the Shinto mind as the basis for a Takashi Miike movie!

This is what Halloween looks like in Kyoto:










Filed under chocolate, cosplay, fairy tales, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, Halloween, historical fiction, history, Humor, Japan, Kyoto, memoirs, research, travel, Uncategorized, Writing

S is for Sea Dragon

by Lillian Csernica on April 21, 2014



Apologies for the delay in posting my entry for this letter.  Russian Easter is a lot of work and a lot of fun.  Somewhere along the line I came down with some kind of illness which kept me in bed today.  Nevertheless, I bring you today’s chocolate wonder:

From nowimhungry.com, “Jean-Phillipe Maury’s Dragon Sculpture in Chocolate. The tree, dragon and large flowers are dark, white and light chocolate. The pearls and small flowers are sugar, and lanterns are pulled fondant.”


Next comes a marvel from Black Mountain Gold, Fine Artisan Chocolate.  This company has an entire page of Dragon Bars.

Sea Salt Dragon


Last but far from least, a marvelous Chinese Dragon from the Highland Bakery.  No, strictly speaking it’s not a sea dragon, but it’s just so fabulous I had to include it here:

From the Highland Bakery Blog: “Chinese Dragon head, made by Karen out of fondant and modeling chocolate. The bride used to work at Highland Bakery and instead of a traditional tiered cake, she made little individual cakes that snaked back behind the dragon to mimic the shape of its body. ”

What’s your favorite breed of dragon?  How would you like to see it rendered in chocolate?



Filed under birthday, Blog challenges, chocolate, fantasy, Food, romance, Small business

C is for Chocolate Cage

by Lillian Csernica on April 3, 2014


Here is an example of the confectioner’s art suitable for any romantic occasion, especially Valentine’s Day:

Cage-coeur & gingembre The ultimate in chic, the “cage-coeur” box is made with a 70% Guarana chocolate! Inside, find little red passion hearts, composed of a raspberry-ginger ganache and a piece of candied ginger. A natural association, since tastes match perfectly. For connoisseurs. (http://cadran-hotel-gourmand.com)


If chocolate alone isn’t enough to sate your desires, consider this amazing display.  Yes, folks, somebody out there in Fashion Land was crazy enough to create this:

Actress Nubia Esteban wears a chocolate outfit inside a chocolate cage at Salon du Chocolat 2010.

If you could make a chocolate cage, who or what would you keep inside it?  White, milk, semisweet, or dark?  Nuts?  No nuts?  Fruit or flowers, perhaps?  Indulge that imagination!


Filed under Blog challenges, chocolate, fantasy, love, romance, Writing

A Share of the Loot

by Lillian Csernica on March 17, 2013

Special occasions at my house are unusual, to say the least.  Most holidays involve a family dinner of some sort.  This is problematical.  Michael can’t eat by mouth.  He has a G tube and a Mic-Key button, which means he eats through a tube that goes into his stomach.  He’s on a liquid diet of KetoCal, which keeps him in a state of ketosis.  It’s our hope that this will prove effective with seizure control.  It did for a while at first, but Michael’s medical complications make complete control of his seizure disorder unlikely.  If you’re new to the world of seizure disorder and the possible treatments, I highly recommend the book Michael’s neurologist had me read:


Then there’s John.  Like many boys and girls on the spectrum, John has very specific preferences regarding what he will and will not eat.  I’m pretty sure it’s a matter of texture.  He likes what he likes, but thanks to persistent effort and the family stubborn streak, my sister has helped us get John to eat a more balanced diet.  He’s allergic to peanuts, but the school is so careful that hasn’t been a problem yet.  He would live on McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets and all the fries he could get his hands on, but we manage to keep that down to about once a week.  Since I’m mentioning helpful reference books, let me recommend one that did a lot for my understanding of how John experiences the world:


Now as you can see, both of my boys have a peculiar relationship with food.  On holidays Michael looks forward to a taste of gravy or stuffing, perhaps a lick of whipped cream or frosting, and in particular something spicy.  Holiday foods are typically special, once a year foods, so that means John doesn’t recognize them and wants nothing to do with them.  Recently we’ve been able to coax him into eating turkey at Thanksgiving and the pork roast at Christmas.  He loves potatoes in almost any form, and he’s pretty tolerant of vegetables in general.

Now we come to the heart of the matter.  For Christmas, it’s stocking stuffers.  Now that Easter is approaching, it’s the goodies we put into the Easter baskets.  What do you give to special needs children who have food sensitivities, restricted diets, sensory processing disorders, allergies, fine and gross motor issues, and Heaven knows what other difficulties?  Answer: You do your absolute best to get out there and find whatever they can have!  It’s easy enough for me to buy candy and little toys and gifts for John.  He can use both hands, he loves chocolate, and right now he’s big on superheroes.  What about Michael?  Again and again the family will ask me what Michael likes, what he wants, or, more and more often, they’ll send gift cards for Toys R Us or Amazon.com.  That’s fine.  For Christmas this past year, Michael communicated his wish to go bowling, go to the movies, and take a trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium again.  We’ve gone bowling, and now we’re waiting for the kind of movie that won’t be too overstimulating in the theater environment.

The real trick is finding the little things, the jelly beans and chocolate rabbits and a fluffy duck like one of those long-armed monkeys, the light-up squishy chick and the shiny green Easter grass that will end up all over the place.  Yes, I do my best to find things Michael can play with, things he’ll enjoy.  The most important point is to include some of those items he can’t eat, he can’t really do much with, just because those items are traditional and they are part of the goodies that all the normal kids get.

No matter what his disabilities might be, Michael deserves his share of the loot.  The surprise, the delight, the laughter, the shredding of giftwrap and the taste of the chocolate and the family fun of the board games he loves to play.  If Michael can’t get out there and experience the world, then I will do everything I can to bring the world to Michael, especially when it comes to special occasions.

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Filed under Family, Humor, Special needs