Gingerbread house brings joy to all

he holiday season is officially in full gear. For many families, decorating a gingerbread house is an annual holiday event and at Houston Methodist Hospital we are no exception. What started as an idea back in 2006, has now become the norm for patients, their families and employees to enjoy during the month of December.

Gerardo Rosas, pastry chef at Houston Methodist Hospital, teamed up with other members in the hospital to create a life-size gingerbread house that would be put on display in our hospital lobby. His vision starts becoming a reality in September and takes about three months to complete. Gerardo sketches his design and works closely with the carpentry department to create a plywood frame that holds the cookie house together.

Some of the key ingredients used to complete his masterpiece:

  • 200 pounds of powdered sugar
  • 4 gallons of egg whites
  • 1 pound cream of tartar
  • 8 ounces of almond flavor
  • 80 pounds of candy
  • 45 sheet pans of gingerbread. 

Once the frame is complete, Rosas goes to work rolling out 45 sheet pans of the gingerbread and starts designing the house. He takes the gingerbread and turns it into the logs and stone to create a cabin like feel.

Our gingerbread house contains over 200 pounds of sugar and 4 gallons of egg whites Click To Tweet

After he lays the gingerbread on the framework he begins icing and decorating the house using 80 pounds of candy. Each year his design and vision are different from the last. The roof is made of 50 pounds of cake icing. To ice and decorate the entire house it takes about two weeks.

The Monday after Thanksgiving Rosas and his team begins to assemble. The house is wired with electric lights, some of which can been seen through the gelatin windows. The carpentry department builds a picket fence, installs the lit Christmas trees and wrap the fake presents.

“I do this for the patients,” said Rosas. “The holidays are a time to be merry and bright and I want them to feel at home. A gingerbread house feels like home to me.” 

The gingerbread house process

Planning the gingerbread house:

Planning the gingerbread house

Cutting the gingerbread:

Cutting the gingerbread

Making the house:

Building the house

Decorating begins:

Decoration begins

The front of the gingerbread house finished:

The front of the house is complete

The completed gingerbread house:

The completed gingerbread house December 2014

The completed gingerbread house December 2014

5 nutrition tips for a healthy holiday plate

When do the holidays start for you? Is it October 1st when you pull out the fall decorations and start dreaming of pumpkin spice lattes? Perhaps it’s Halloween when candy, and the excuse to eat it, is everywhere. Maybe you even hold off until the office Thanksgiving potluck, but even then your holiday season may last from mid-November until the first full week in January.

Holiday season and the plethora of sweet and savory indulgences that tags along may extend for almost a quarter of the year! If you’re tired of the painful, uncomfortable feeling that may accompany your holiday meals and don’t want to start 2015 several pounds up on the scale, consider some of these ideas for a healthier plate.

Simplify. Whether you’re cooking or not, try reducing the number of dishes. Do you really need green bean and asparagus casserole, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, pasta salad, turkey and ham? It’s a lot easier to shop, prepare, and serve six or seven dishes compared to a dozen, plus you’ll help your guests limit their plates, too.

Baked sweet potato
Eliminate sugary extras from dishes. For example, instead of a sweet casserole, bake your sweet potatoes and garnish them with herbs.

Eliminate the extras. Does the sweet potato casserole really need a full cup of brown sugar plus marshmallows and crushed-up corn flakes? Try baked sweet potatoes with butter, brown sugar, and nuts on the side. This gives your guests control.

Careful with carbs. Thanksgiving is a carbohydrate nightmare! Rolls, stuffing made with more bread, cranberry sauce, applesauce, potatoes in all forms and colors, perhaps some crackers and cheese beforehand, and before dessert has even begun you’re well over what your body needs. Instead, take an extra slice of turkey, a lean meat, and pile up the vegetables.

Holiday meals have lots of carbs. For a healthier plate, opt for more lean protein and vegetables Click To Tweet

Be selective. Whether it’s setting parameters around snacking on treats in the break room, like only indulging on Fridays, or deciding to have either alcohol or dessert but not both, make your food choices wisely. Save room for the dishes you really enjoy and skip the ones you know aren’t a favorite.

Leave space. Try to leave white space on your plate as you’re adding on your favorite dishes. Don’t let your food touch and don’t pile on layer after layer. Leaving space on your plate will help leave space in your stomach, too!

So much goes into a healthy holiday, from the right food choices, to sticking with your exercise routine. Remember the holidays were originally just a day or two (not several months) and it’s refreshing to start the New Year feeling healthy and satisfied rather than lethargic and disappointed. The energy you’ll get from successfully navigating the holidays will be worth those changes you’re considering!

Looking to cut back on the carbs during the holidays? Check out our low-carb Pinterest recipe board

Follow Houston Methodist’s board Low-Carb Recipes on Pinterest.

Holiday caregiver tips for dealing with Alzheimer’s

“Holiday season.” These two words, in my mind and probably in your mind as well, bring up many images and memories of traditions and events; most often with family and friends. Year after year, we look forward with joy and sometimes trepidation as the celebratory time draws close. For individuals and families dealing with memory and behavior changes due to Alzheimer’s disease, finding joy might be challenging, but it can be done.

My experience with families and individuals over the years has taught me the keys to a positive holiday season are about managing expectations and planning early. The hustle and bustle that is a common theme of this time of year brings some stress for all of us; but it can be a constant companion for individuals and families dealing with dementia or cognitive impairment.

When dealing with Alzheimer's memory and behavior changes, it's all about managing expectations and planning Click To Tweet

Instead of giving up on enjoying the holiday season, I would suggest making some minor adjustments to your family traditions such as:

  • Keep your loved one as involved as possible. Consider what areas they can be involved in safely to give them a sense of purpose – open cards together, discuss gift selections, or allow simple baking tasks. Try to focus on the moment about the memories you are making rather than the outcome or perfect results.
  • Be consistent with medications and physician recommendations. Even though you are busy, you will find that maintaining the structure of medications, treatments and day programs will be better for your loved one and, ultimately, for you.
  • Choose decorations and allow yourself to make changes from past celebrations. Make sure your loved one’s living space is safe – lighted candles may be a hazard and large blinking lights can cause disorientation. You can still create a beautifully decorated home, accepting that the décor may be very different from years past.
  • Recognize the effects of overstimulation. Minimize overstimulation and your anxiety level as this can transfer to your loved one. Keep activities simple and alert your guests ahead of time about your own needs and wishes. Lessen the number of visitors; simplify the plan; and allow a few days on either side of an event to be quiet and relaxing.
  • Care for YOU. Make a list of the usual things you do during the holidays. Decide which you want to keep in your plan and what you can skip. Allow others to help you and be clear in what your need for them to do. Include time away for yourself and ways that help you regain your energy. 

For more information on Alzheimer’s diseasevisit the Nantz National Alzheimer Center or call 713.441.1150. 

What is dementia?