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A Taste of the Holidays
Written by Kelly Kalb Correspondent

Dee Mihalek of Pennsburg displays five of her most recently created gingerbread houses. Each house takes 10 to 15 hours of her time and dedication. Mihalek's creations are most often seen on display in the homes of family and friends.

                What better way to celebrate  the holiday season and bring joy to those around you than by creating meticulously decorated, handmade gingerbread houses?

                Pennsburg resident Dee Mihalek has a passion for doing just that.

                Her decorating adventures began in 1974 with a cardboard Bavarian house that she iced cookies onto. The following year her father was traveling in Germany and brought back a cookie-cutter gingerbread house set. After reading many books on gingerbread houses, Mihalek started designing her own creations.

                "Forty two years later, I'm still rolling out the dough!" Mihalek explained.

                Her interest in the confectionary arts began about 20 years ago, so she decided to take a Wilton cake decorating class. Now, she creates cakes throughout the year for friends, co-workers and family occasions. She's made cakes for birthdays, bridal showers and many other events.

                The gingerbread houses and cakes she creates are completely edible and, as she described, are different from the traditional holiday box of candy, cookies or fruit baskets. The majority of her creations are displayed in the homes of friends and family, but some are also auctioned off at charity events.

                "When I make a gingerbread house or cake I put an extreme amount of thought into it, more so then the average person or baker, and even some professionals. I personalize and customize each cake or gingerbread house that I make. I do this by knowing the person, their hobbies, profession, their favorite color or flavor of cake. The kind of candy they like also. And their style, modern, traditional, edgy, etc.," Mihalek explained.

                This year, she made her biggest gingerbread house to date: A replica of the City Tavern Restaurant of Philadelphia that stands over 3-feet tall and contains more than 4,000 pieces of cinnamon Trident gum. The replica was created along with the tavern's chef, Walter Staib, and was intended as a display for the Fairmount Park Association.

                The City Tavern has a lengthy history that began when it was built in 1772. In 1773, the tavern opened for business, and hosted many well-known visitors over time, including Paul Revere, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. The original structure was destroyed by fire and razed in 1854.

                The establishment was rebuilt and is back in business today offering traditional 18th-century cuisine. And now, thanks to Mihalek's efforts, it can be viewed as an edible historical landmark, covered with snow and holiday wreaths.

                After taking 110 hours to create the replica, the gingerbread tavern made its way to One Liberty Plaza, a 61-story skyscraper in the heart of Philadelphia, where it was displayed from Nov. 7 to 18. The replica now resides at the Harriton House in Bryn Mawr, a restored 1704 historical house and estate.

                "I consider this to be my biggest accomplishment when it comes to gingerbread house making," Mihalek said. "It was an honor and a great learning experience."

                Typically the gingerbread houses Mihalek creates are much smaller than the tavern replica and take between 10 to 15 hours to complete. She makes all her houses in stages, starting with the dough.

                She constructs the various  elements  over several days, letting the smaller pieces rest before decorating can occur.

                Mihalek said she truly enjoys the entire process of gingerbread house creation and is sharing that joy with others. "I'm an economist by education and I am involved in activities at an assisted living and memory care facility. It's a great position because it allows me to use my creativity and make people happy."

                With the help of the residents, six gingerbread houses were made for an upcoming craft bazaar this month, she said.





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