Serves: 1 house plus a variety of cookies, depending on cutter size
Special equipment: parchment paper, ruler, scissors, rolling pin, pizza cutter, cookie cutters, disposable pastry bags, small and medium decorating tips
For the dough: Whisk the flour, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Mix the eggs and vanilla with a fork in a small bowl.
Beat the butter, granulated sugar and icing sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer on low speed until the butter has picked up the sugars, about 30 seconds. (If using a hand mixer, beat about 2 minutes.) Increase the speed to medium, and beat until slightly creamy, about 1 minute (about 3 minutes with a hand mixer), stopping halfway through to scrape the bowl.
Reduce the speed to low, slowly add in the egg mixture and beat until combined. Add the flour mixture a heaping cup at a time, in 3 additions, stopping a few times to scrape the bowl and beaters (if using a hand mixer, increase the speed as the dough gets thicker to keep the beaters spinning). Once all the flour is just incorporated, increase the speed to medium (higher with a hand mixer), and beat until the dough is very smooth, about 2 minutes (about 5 minutes with a hand mixer).
Turn the dough out of the bowl and bring it together. Divide the dough into 3 even pieces, each about 13 ounces. Shape each piece into a 6-inch square and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough for at least 3 hours or overnight.
While the dough chills, cut templates for the house from paper:
1 base, 8 by 8 inches
1 roof, 5 3/4 by 6 1/2 inches
2 slanted side walls, both 5 inches wide, one 4 inches high on the left and
3 inches high on the right, the other 3 inches high on the left and 4 inches high on the right, with optional windows cut out
1 front wall, 5 inches wide by 4 inches high, with a door cut out
1 back wall, 5 by 3 inches
To roll, cut and bake the cookies and house: Position oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven, and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper (have extra parchment on hand). Take 2 of the dough pieces out of the refrigerator, and let them soften until just pliable but still cool and firm, about 15 minutes.
Dust a piece of parchment with flour. Dust one square of dough with flour, and roll it out to about 1/4-inch thick (no thicker) and 9 to 10 inches square. Lift the dough occasionally to make sure it isn't sticking to the parchment. Cut out cookies with cutters; transfer to a prepared baking sheet, leaving 1 inch between them. Freeze while you cut the rest of the dough. Reserve the scraps for the house pieces. Take the last piece of dough from the refrigerator to soften.
Dust the parchment and the second piece of dough with flour. Roll the dough about 1/4-inch thick and 9 to 10 inches square. Lay the base template on top, and use a pizza cutter or a very sharp knife to cut out the base. Peel off the scraps from the sides and reserve. Pick up the parchment with the base on it, put it on an unlined baking sheet and freeze while you finish cutting the other house pieces.
Dust a third piece of parchment and the third piece of softened dough with flour. Roll the dough to about 1/4-inch thick and 11 by 7 inches. Put the roof and the front wall templates on top, and use the pizza cutter to cut the pieces. Transfer the pieces to the last prepared baking sheet, leaving 1 inch between them. Cut out a door from the front wall. Combine the scrap pieces with the reserved scraps, and gently knead together on the parchment; flour, roll to 1/4 inch thick and about 8 by 9 inches and cut out the remaining walls. Transfer the pieces to the baking sheet, leaving 1 inch between them. Cut out windows from the walls. Freeze for 10 minutes before baking.
Bake the house pieces until golden brown around the edges, about 20 minutes. Rotate the pans front to back and bottom to top halfway through the baking time. Let cool completely on the baking sheets on a cooling rack, about 30 minutes.
While the house pieces cool, dust the cookies with sanding sugar if using, and bake until very light golden brown, about 16 minutes. Let cool 15 minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer to a cooling rack to completely, about 30 minutes.
To assemble the house: Put 1/3 cup royal icing in a pastry bag fitted with the larger pastry tip. Place the roof browned-side up on a work surface with one of the short sides facing you. Pipe a thick 5-inch line of frosting along the short side 1 inch in from the edge. Let the icing harden while you build the rest of the house. (This will prevent the roof of the house from sliding off.)
Put the base on a large platter or board on which it will be displayed. Next, assemble the house using the royal icing as glue and making sure to turn the walls lighter-sides out: Hold up one of the side walls and pipe a line of icing along the bottom and up both sides. Set it down while you hold up the back wall and pipe a line of icing along its bottom edge. Stick these two pieces together on the base with the icing, pressing them gently together so they adhere. Hold the pieces for a few seconds, until they can stand on their own. Repeat with the other side wall and the front wall, pressing all four walls together.
Reserve the royal icing in the pastry bag. Whisk water about 1 teaspoon at a time into the rest of the icing to thin it slightly to the consistency of molasses. Transfer to a pastry bag fitted with the smaller pastry tip.
To decorate the house: Decorate the walls as desired: Use the thin icing for piping lines and decorations and for decorating the cookies. Use the thick icing to glue heavy pieces of candy to the sides and roof of the house. To make a grassy yard, spread a thin layer of icing with a butter knife around the base of the house. Press some of the coconut grass into the icing. Put some coconut grass inside the house (you don't need to ice inside). Decorate the yard as desired. Fill the house with candy and cookies (make sure the icing has set).
Set the roof on top, lighter-side up (don't attach it), and decorate as desired.
Combine 2 cups of the icing sugar and the meringue powder with a fork in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. (Alternatively, use a hand mixer and medium bowl.) Add 3 tablespoons of water, and mix on low speed until smooth and thick, with a consistency like caulk. (If using a hand mixer, beat about 3 minutes.) If the icing seems a bit loose, mix in a tablespoon of icing sugar at a time until thickened. Transfer to a clean bowl, and lay a damp piece of paper towel on top. Cover tightly until ready to use.
Toss half the coconut and 3 drops food coloring with a fork in a medium bowl until the coconut is uniformly green. Add the remaining coconut, and toss gently to combine. Cover tightly and set aside.
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Rolled dough is easier to work with when it's cool so it's important to start with butter that is pliable but still cool. If your kitchen is hot and the dough gets soft, pop it back in the refrigerator for a few minutes.