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Decorating the holidays with tradition

By: Gloria Young Home & Garden
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By now, the tree trimming, baking and decorating are done. Now it’s time to enjoy it all with family and friends. It’s also a time when families’ holiday cheer is infused with traditions, often passed down through generations. For Cathy Bianchi, owner of Gimmie Cake Too! in Downtown Auburn, many fond holiday memories center around baking. One of Bianchi’s specialties is gingerbread houses, something she’s been doing since her children, now in their 30s, were very young. “I got started when I was teaching cake-decorating classes,” she said. “The company where I taught had a gingerbread-house kit. So I began doing demonstrations in the store. The first house I made always came home to my kids.” They weren’t allowed to touch the tempting confection until Christmas Eve. “Then they got to smash in the roof and eat the candy,” she said. These days, Bianchi doesn’t create from a kit and varies the look of the gingerbread houses depending on the candy available — Red Hots, M&Ms, Life Savers, even gum. Over the years she’s even developed a little story to go with her unique constructions. It centers around reindeer corn. “For every house I do and every class I teach, every student gets three pieces of reindeer corn,” she explained. “The story is they have to incorporate the three pieces on the house or in the house and it helps guide Santa’s reindeer to the house on Christmas Eve.” Reindeer corn is actually candy corn, but the color is red, white and green. “Now that my kids are older, they come up to the house for Christmas and their wives and girlfriends do the houses,” Bianchi said She also donates one of her specialty gingerbread houses each year to the Rotary Club to auction as a fundraiser. Christmas means fruitcake for Karen Killebrew, president of the PlacerGrown board of directors. “I’ve been making it for more than 30 years,” she said. “It’s a Sunset magazine recipe for a dried fruit fruitcake with grated zucchini.” It’s something her family loves. In fact, fruitcake has been a must-have on the family holiday menu for generations. “My grandmother made a traditional fruitcake. My mother always said the reason my grandmother made fruitcake is it gave her a reason to keep Irish whiskey in the house,” Killebrew said with a laugh. Killebrew took on the tradition after she got married, trying out a lot of combinations before finding the perfect mix of ingredients. “It doesn’t have all those candied cherries and citron and jellied fruit things — non-food items,” she said. She does the baking in early November, quadrupling the original recipe. Then she freezes the cakes until “they get shipped, gifted, eaten, whatever.” “I make it for the family and friends. I take it to parties. I serve it at my own parties,” she said. Over time she has perfected a system for preparation of the 24 loaves. “I make it in two double batches, back to back,” she explained. “My oven holds 12 pans. I make one whole big batch and while it is cooking, I make the second batch. The whole thing takes about four hours.” For one of the main ingredients — mixed dried fruit — she goes to Machado’s in Auburn. “I used to cut it all up with scissors,” she said. “Now I buy chopped dried fruit. It has apples, apricots, peaches and things like that in it.” It has become such a tradition in the family that the one time she didn’t make the fruitcakes, it made quite an impression. “I was on the phone talking to my mother, brother and sister. My sister said, ‘We’re trying to figure out what we did that you took us off the fruitcake list. And I said, ‘Oh I forgot (to make it).’ But it is nice to know every once in awhile that people appreciate it,” Killebrew said. At Avantgarden in Downtown Auburn, owner Kim Wright’s traditions center on holiday activities. “Definitely a tradition we have is we go to Christmas Eve service and go out to dinner afterward,” she said. “It has kind of carried throughout the years. We’ll come home and sing carols or we’ll go out and look at lights. We usually decorate the house right after Thanksgiving.” Making and sharing memories are what stands out for Linda Robinson, owner of Sun River Clothing Co. in Old Town Auburn. “The last 15 years, it has been all about Country Christmas in Old Town,” she said. “It’s one of my favorite events I’ve participated in and shared with others.” It reminds her of her childhood. “I have a lot of great childhood memories and have been able to share those through Country Christmas,” she said. “I have three great-grandkids now. I’m looking forward to spending the holidays with them.” That means lots of holiday treats. “When I was growing up, my grandmother and mother baked everything from scratch,” Robinson said. “We had a beautiful Christmas dinner with all the baked goods you could think of. That’s how I grew up and that’s what I did as a young mother. You hope you impart some of that to your kids too, and my daughter has done that over the years.”