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Thursday, September 18, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 51.0° F  Fog/Mist
The Paper
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Mama Madison: "Home" for the holidays
Dane County CASA advocates for abused and neglected kids

The semi-volcanic gravy catastrophe from Thanksgiving has been meticulously scratched off the stovetop with the edge of a butter knife. I think I have all the stuffing crumbs and wayward flour out of every corner of the kitchen. And, I can finally say with confidence, that the very last of the holiday pots and pans (I had no idea I owned so many 9 x 13 casserole dishes) have been washed and put away.

Hosting a large, extended family dinner, while very fun, is a lot of work. And it's also a lot of mess, especially if your kids are as sloppy of cooks as mine are. It's not just me that needs a break from all the cleaning. My poor kitchen certainly needs a rest, as well.

But the kids have moved on from pumpkin pie and sweet potato making. They are now itching to rustle up some overly decorated holiday cookies just as soon as I allow them back in the kitchen. Which, as of right now, might be December of 2013.

But even if I'm not quite ready for them to put my oven through the paces, the family can get out this weekend for our seasonal ooey, gooey icing fix. This Saturday, December 1, and Sunday, December 2, Dane County CASA , the organization that advocates for abused and neglected children in our court system, is hosting its annual Gingerbread Casas for CASA event at Hilldale Mall.

If you have never before witnessed this decorating extravaganza, you are in for both a figurative as well as literal treat. The event will start at 11 a.m. on Saturday, with local artists, confectioners, architects and other varied gung-ho gingerbread aficionados transforming "blank" cookie houses (constructed by local baker Dave Bowden) into Food Network-worthy, or maybe even HGTV-worthy, works of art.

Then, when every last candy cane and gumdrop has been securely fastened to its foundation at around 3 p.m., you can vote for your favorite (via a donation to CASA) in the People's Choice voting. And for those interested in what the Simon Cowells of holiday baking have to say, a panel of qualified judges will evaluate and give awards to houses and decorating teams in a special presentation at the Hilldale Great Dane at 4 p.m.

To find out if the house of your (very sweet) dreams won, return to the mall on Sunday afternoon when the People’s Choice winner will be announced. And if you can't make it out this Saturday or Sunday, all the houses decorated in the contest will remain on display at Hilldale throughout the holiday season.

But I'm really going to try to get there this weekend, mostly so my kids can visit the "Gingerbread Factory." This interactive activity, which will take place both Saturday and Sunday, allows kids (and hopefully Cake Boss-obsessed moms, as well) to create their very own confectionary masterpiece for a $3 donation to CASA. The non-profit, through generous community sponsorship, will provide all the crumbly cookies, sticky icing, and gummy decorations.

And if all this decorating happens at the mall you see, instead of at my casa, it means my battle-weary kitchen will be spared at least one more weekend -- until Chanukah starts next Saturday night.

Unless, of course, I can convince Hilldale to take on a latke fry-off, too.

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