The Gingerbread House

Somewhere in this house, there remains a photo of the “Gingerbread House”, but I cannot find it. It was a spectacular creation. As an annual tradition, all the hotels in New Orleans had a pastry chef competition for the best gingerbread house. I entered one time…. and won….. the whole thing… which came as a big surprise to a whole lotta people.

The story behind The Great Gingerbread House is better. That one grand and indulgent confection made me who I am today…. in a way…. it “hatched” me. Strange how events evolve. It turned into a life lesson on why taking chances is usually a good thing, and why forgiveness is easier to obtain than permission.

Here’s the backstory.

In school I skipped a few grades, so by the time college rolled around, I wasn’t 18yrs old. It created problems for me, socially, when it came to friends who were of driving or drinking age, but I tried to fit in as best as possible. I was lucky, however, with a new law passed in Louisiana against elder discrimination. It meant employers could no longer ask a person’s age on an application. It meant, they didn’t know how old I was…..

One of my first jobs was as a hostess for a local Sheraton Hotel, about 2 miles from our home in suburbia. Didn’t have a car at the time, but I did have a Honda Mo-Ped, which required a helmet, but it also meant Daughn was mobile and no longer dependent on others. The hostess uniform was a rust-colored-bullet-proof-polyester-formal-evening gown with a big slit up the middle. Obviously, I could not wear a formal evening gown on a Mo-Ped. Thus, every day, I packed a bag, wore shorts into work, changed clothes in the restroom, and re-curled my hair. It was the 80’s and big hair was mandatory.

The new job started on a Monday, early summer, after graduating high school. Surely, this job would be so much better than working as a cashier at A&P. I was excited. After a day or two of training on the register (which was easy after A&P), and training on how to seat people and be polite (no kidding – lessons on how to be polite), I blended into the group. Miss Gloria, the other hostess, was an elderly lady who had been there a long time, but she wasn’t good at adding up tickets and dividing up tips correctly, and I quietly rechecked her numbers.

Unknown to me, the restaurant business has added tension, stress, and a great deal of drama. The Restaurant Manager got into a scuffle with the Food and Beverage Director, while the General Manager was there. Restaurant Manager was fired, on the spot, the first Friday. On the way out of the door, still upset, the GM handed me the keys to the front door and promoted me to Restaurant Manager. I hadn’t been there a week.

The ride home that night was exhilarating. I was a MANAGER, my first promotion! My little Mo-Ped rolled along the right side of the thoroughfare, top speed of 22 mph, but I wanted to ride in the middle of the road and scream to the heavens. Of course, I wasn’t REALLY a manager. I wasn’t REALLY in charge of anything. All it REALLY meant was I was responsible enough to have the keys, remain last and come in first, vacuum, turn in the receipts, and lock the doors. BUT I was oblivious to all that…. after all, I had a new name tag which said, MANAGER.

Glory of new status faded quickly as I waded through the drama of wait staff and kitchen chefs who argued all the time. Why couldn’t they just get along? As part of my new duties, I had to go to “meetings” for “managers”. Ohhhh, I was so happy and felt so important…. only to be crushed. I learned a new Restaurant Manager would be hired by a “corporate” office in the faraway land called….. Pennsylvania. They owned over a hundred similar hotels. I was sad. At least they let me stay in the meeting.

It was a real managers meeting, where we talked about “revenue” and “sales”. Gee whiz, Dad was an exec. Yeah, I knew what “revenue” and “sales” meant. I knew they had to go UP, otherwise I was a bad manager…. and now I was fighting for my job. Hmmmm…. what to do?

Well, if I had to pass the keys to someone older and more experienced, at least I should hand over a clean”ship”, right? I started deep cleaning, re-organizing old storage closets, when I found a mountain of old banquet equipment, tiki bars that rolled into place, and decorations for every holiday. The next day, I asked Miss Gloria about my find. She confirmed “those were the days”, the “heyday” of the hotel.

Sometimes ignorance and naivety is a good thing. It sure helped me. Too young to realize I couldn’t do something and too young to be intimidated. As an added plus, I went to work at about 3:00pm, and the REAL managers left the building at about 4:00pm, which meant….. I had no one to tell me I couldn’t do something.

I was UNSUPERVISED.

Naturally, I assumed if we brought back the “heyday” of the hotel, then revenue would go up, and Daughn could keep her job as a manager. Pretty simple formula, win-win situation, and made sense to my teenage brain. I had a long talk with the “Bar Manager” and he liked the idea. We never asked anyone else for permission…. to expand. Our joint boss, the Food and Beverage Director was an Italian, who spoke broken English, and was never there.

The restaurant and bar were configured in a large “L” shape, with a gorgeous but “BARREN” hotel pool nestled in the middle. Yet, the restaurant had heavy curtains across the glass wall, always drawn, so no one could see the pool. I wondered, “Why?” The far side of the pool had a wrought iron fence, next to a busy interstate intersection. So, if you were wearing a bathing suit, you might “feel” naked in the middle of an intersection and awkward, as Gloria explained to me. I was confused and frowned. “Well, why not just put up a bunch of plants and screen the traffic?”, I asked. “Good idea.”, she said. At some point in the evening, I went to the restroom, down a long corridor, glass wall on one side, lined with tall PLANTS. I stopped about half-way, realizing, those were the plants which were supposed to be outside, along the fence. We moved the plants/trees, cleaned off the pool furniture, and spruced it up. The pool was lovely and inviting.

As we geared up for our first “pool party”, we needed special drinks and food, right? The bar manager was totally on board but another problem surfaced. My head chef, master of the kitchen, was Swiss, barely spoke a word of English, mid-30’s and highly temperamental. He hated the sight of me and the kitchen was his domain. Message was clear – I should keep out. Yet, our menu offered nothing from Louisiana…. which didn’t make sense. He told me the restaurant catered to people who were travelers and not familiar with the “spice” indicative of Louisiana. I reread my “Dale Carnegie – How to Win Friends and Influence People” and, as best as I could, asked him to add a couple of recipes for the pool party….. boiled shrimp, oysters on half-shell, etc. I even brought him mom’s recipe for marinated shrimp. Can’t remember how it happened, or what I had to trade him, but he conceded. Vaguely, I recall, he was convinced the idea was doomed to fail…… and he wanted to watch me go down in flames.

The first pool party was a great success. I called friends who were young and attractive to attend. All the activity brought guests to the pool. We made money… which was a GOOD thing. Revenue was increasing……….. and all of a sudden, there was no more talk about replacing me with a Manager from “corporate”. Our events (and even Mom’s shrimp) made a few local papers. We became a hot spot for the locals.

We added items to the menu, slowly but surely, traditional LA fare. A killer red beans and rice on Mondays as was tradition. We added a lunch buffet after church on Sundays to draw the local crowd, and a late night burger stop on Friday nights after local football games, and LA chicory coffee and fresh beignets at Check-Out desk. More revenue. Looking good. Every time I turned around, I was getting a raise… but I was having the time of my life.

College started but classes were easy as a freshman. It did cut my sleep and I was burning the candle at both ends, but young people can handle it. There were several big events which happened. The Swiss Chef quit in a big kitchen ruckus (a whole nother story)……. and I learned to be a temp chef that day… there was no one else. He was replaced quickly. The Italian F&B Director quit and a decision was made not to replace him. A busboy was completely out of hand and I fired my first person. He vandalized my Mo-Ped, killing it. Bummer.

As the weeks rolled by and more people were fired, I took over the food and bar ordering, and I still was not 18yrs old. It was far more involved than I thought – again, ignorance and naivety was my friend. A few mistakes but nothing serious. Not supposed to be in a place serving liquor, let alone ordering the liquor. It worked out well though, because I knew all the Bacardi/Seagram’s/Beer and Wine vendors from time spent at A&P.

I was spending a lot of time at the hotel, and the GM offered me a suite to use. I moved a few things in and sometimes slept there. That’s when everything came to a sudden crash.

Dad was not happy with my newfound business sense and independence. Spending the night in a hotel was not working for him at all. Of course, nothing was happening, I wasn’t sleeping with anyone. Heck, I lost my boyfriend because I didn’t have time. Didn’t matter to Dad. I had to come home after work….. Okay, fine. I still had the suite at my disposal when I needed it to nap or change clothes/shower/whatever.

The fall passed quickly and we geared up for Christmas season. Suddenly, we had a banquet division, and we were scheduling big office parties for the month. Again, the “heyday” was back! December was approaching and soon I would be 18yrs old. The GM called me to his office for my Christmas bonus and offered to pay for my college tuition if I would major in HRT. Wow, paying for my college as well? I was thrilled.

But Dad had other plans. I had to have my wisdom teeth removed before age 18 and while his insurance would pay for it. I would be “down” for several days. “What?”, I objected. How could I possibly be absent from work during the holidays? Of course, I thought I was so important nothing would happen without me……. but I was responsible for the effort and wanted to see it through. No compromise. Dad made his decision. I told my GM and arranged for extra staff at work for a few days.

I went “under the knife” on December 8th, after my last final at school, but there were problems, and the Oral Surgeon had to break my jaw in three places to remove the impacted wisdom teeth. One look in the mirror and I was mortified. Sure, I was a shallow female teenager who looked like she had been in a car wreck, but I couldn’t possible let anyone see me with a purple face! The pain and swelling were terrible. When I leaned over, I thought my head would explode. The surgeon said I would be “down for at least 10 days”.

Phoning my GM with the bad news, he returned with more bad news. I would be….. “replaced”. Immediately, my mind raced to the threat of “corporate Pennsylvania”. My heart sank to my toes. I wanted to throw up. I was….. “fired”? Dispensable? Just wiped away with a brush…… casually. Someone else, stealing my glory….. but time marches on. After all I did, I was heartbroken, but it was a valuable lesson.

Moping around the house, I went from bad to worse. Gheez, I was foul. Not only could I not go out on my 18th birthday, finally able to celebrate being “legal”, but I lost my boyfriend and my job. I blamed Dad for my utter ruination. My social life was dead for the holidays, I lost my suite at the hotel, now had to pay my own tuition. I was a walking talking big black storm cloud.

Most of all, I was bored out of my mind,….. when I got a call from Miss Gloria that changed everything.

Apparently, I signed up the hotel for the annual Christmas Gingerbread Pastry Chef competition, but I made a mistake, and filled out the form in my own name as “entrant” for the hotel. Gloria told me that the hotel didn’t want the entry as they were scaling back “outside activities”, but I had to call the Association and withdraw myself, otherwise it would embarrass the hotel with a “Non-Entry”. I agreed, hung up the phone and started dialing the association ……… and then I stopped.

Why couldn’t I enter the competition? Again, ignorance and naivety, forgiveness instead of permission. No, I didn’t call my GM back and ask for permission. No, I had never made a gingerbread house. No, I wasn’t that good of a cook, and I sure as hell was no pastry chef on the level of grand hotels in New Orleans…………. but I was bored and mad, occasionally spitting lightning bolts from my fingertips.

I made up my mind.

I took over the dining room to make a gingerbread house, three storied Victorian, why not? I had a picture to go by and thought, “Sure, I can do this”. Over the next week, it consumed me. I worked late into the night, while my parents were asleep. Finally, Dad took pity on me and cut a piece of plywood for my masterpiece….. With a 2’x4′ piece of plywood, that meant I could make a garden and small village for the house. As the deadline approached, my step mother helped, teaching me to make frilly scrolls…. perfect touch. Dad and I were back to normal as I calmed down. He helped me engineer a licorice swing for the gingerbread garden. Dozens of trips to the grocery and specialty stores plus 60lbs of flour later, I was finished. It really was beautiful.

Dad and I took the House downtown to the competition, my jaw was still nine shades of yellow but I had almost recovered. Other pastry chefs had installed their exhibits and gosh, they were breathtaking. That was December 16th but the houses would not be judged until Christmas Eve. I walked away feeling better. It was good to be outside and in a Christmas atmosphere. Never in a million years did I hope for an honorable mention.

Over the next few days, I was back to normal, out and about, playing with friends, scurrying around to get ready for Christmas. Kind of forgot about the house competition because I didn’t enter to win it, I entered because I was bored.

Christmas Eve rolled around and all the repeat winners for the competition were awaiting the big announcements for this year’s division champs and grand prize winner. They were all dressed in their finery, waiting for the obligatory photo in the local papers. I wasn’t there….. cuz it was Christmas Eve…… Grandma and Grandpa were in town, and we had stuff to do.

And I won, grand prize.

I didn’t learn about it until Christmas Day and the news came as a complete surprise. MANY other entries, I thought, were far better than mine. My old GM called and told me the “hotel” had a “mystery entry” for the Gingerbread competition and THEY took first place. I got my job back, another raise, school tuition……. and still can’t remember what presents I received that year.

It was a good Christmas.

The decades flew by and I went to work in Manhattan, then Miami, in the Finance biz……. Yet, when I could afford to live where I chose to, and do what I wanted, I bought a little B&B back in Mississippi. And again, I’m thinking about making a Gingerbread House for Christmas.

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thinkthinkthink

Daughn, it would seem you have ALWAYS been a force of nature. Fantastic!

jamcooker

There’s a lot of work that goes into those gingerbread houses. I didn’t realize how much actually goes into one until my sister in law made a cardboard template for all their grand children to make a Hogwarts school. I saw it just after they had finished covering the cardboard template with gingerbread, but before all the grand kids and their parents came over to decorate it. It was quite a production, in spite of being used as a purely fun activity for a group of children of various ages.

jamcooker

I admire all the effort and ingenuity that goes into those sorts of projects – not my forte.

pgroup

Two problems.
Dogs, cats, & toddlers not allowed to be in the same building with the G-House. For obvious reasons.
There is no peaceful method to choose who gets the first piece. Southern decorum would prevent the maker from getting the first piece.
Great story. One question – have you ever screwed up anything? Asking for a friend.

pgroup

I was trying to imply that you have a blessed life and thus errors are rare and/or unnoticed. Sorry if I screwed it up but was certainly not trying to insult.
Keep your wonderful Americana tales coming!

cthulhu

That’s part of being American that the rest of the world doesn’t quite get. We “love it when a plan comes together” — whether it’s tiki nights or gingerbread houses.

Gail Combs

“That’s part of being American that the rest of the world doesn’t quite get…” is we just don’t understand what the word IMPOSSIBLE means so we go ahead and do it anyway.

wolfmoon1776

Another awesome story! 😀
Ah, yes. Wisdom teeth. Thank God for dentistry!

Gail Combs

UGH, I had all three impacted wisdoms out the same day and then got shipped off to farofflandia as a camp counselor.

Deplorable Patriot

All four pulled the same day. The worst of it was actually the oral surgeon and his assistants trying to find a vein for the anesthesia. I had track marks on both arms and looked like a junkie.

Teagan

A bit off topic (and a wonderful,story it was, Daughn!!)….here’s my wisdom tooth story.
Peace Corps training at a university in New Mexico (believe it’s all done in country now…a good thing…we learned Castilian Spanish, for example, and being assigned to Central America).
One of items in the check-off list.,along with every preventive shot, malaria pills, etc. known to mankind…was having our wisdom teeth extracted. (Dentist made a fortune!)
Problem was, literally everyone one in our group came down with severe amoebic dysentery shortly before our scheduled departure and many were unable to have the dental work. The ones that did have it were a mess…black and blue, very swollen jaws, etc.
I was one that got the dysentery so escaped the dreaded ordeal. Of course, within 6 months of being in country I started having wisdom teeth problems….sent a telegram to the Director asking for directive. Response…find dentist, have extracted. Yay!
Oh sure…in a third world country and trying to find someone other than a village witch doctor….had been dealing with several of them in our villages….was not impressed.
A couple of spinster sisters who befriended us, gave me the name of a dentist so I warily made an appointment for 2 extractions. Long story short, he spoke perfect English, had an Advanced Degree from the U of Pennsylvania Dental School and with very little fuss extracted the teeth without any after effects at all!
I asked him why in the world he was practicing there and he replied, I came back to help my country. The bill was sent to Headquarters so I never saw it, but I can assure it was a mere fraction of what was paid in New Mexico.

Sadie Slays

I love how the “wood” part of the house looks like it’s made out of planks. Impressive details! Impressive gingerbread house!

patfrederick

I’ve never done a gingerbread house…but they are lovely and intricate!!!
I do however LOVE to make cakes in shapes–I’ve won a few awards in high school for making a 3 dimensional beer stein, complete with foam-and Hansel & Gretel. (foreign food competitions–I made German Chocolate cakes for the base)
I also made a small castle (but not gingerbread), a tool box, Easter Eggs (3-d), Superman, and many others. When I graduated high school I was top of my class and the local Key Club held a dinner honoring the top 2 kids in my class. The guy in second place was a financial wizard (but his English grades were lacking–he couldn’t write worth a spit). His father offered to bankroll my bakery dream because he couldn’t quite understand what his son would go to college for…lol
I politely declined–I had no business skills–just the dream and the passion…

patfrederick

my mom had this great celebrations cake decorating cookbook–and i loved looking at it when i growing up–it not only had the bunny face cake (where you use 2 round cakes and cut them to make bunny ears and a bowtie) but it also had one where you cut a round cake in half…then cut out a triangle–the indentation creating the “neck” and the triangle placed behind to create the tail–add paper ears and you had a different bunny…it made me realize I could so many things with cake.
if you want to make Easter eggs–use a hot milk sponge cake batter and a metal coffee can… when it’s cooled, you merely have to round off the top of the “egg” and then frost…easy peasy…

patfrederick

can’t take the credit…but happy to pass it along!

patfrederick

IKR…one of my neighbors (when i was growing up and first attempting cookies) passed along her tip to plump raisins before adding them to oatmeal cookies…OMG! it makes the raisins big and soft and juicy! so I pass along tips too…

patfrederick

oh yeah–the ONLY thing I did sculpting wise that was non cake was a wooden spoon…one winter hubby brought in a pine log –not going to burn well in the stove–so I whittled a large wooden spoon out of it…gave it to my good friend when she moved away…I may have to try another one of those…

patfrederick

ok…gotta admit something…lol…when we first moved here to the middle of nowhere…I bought a book on how to do chainsaw carving…I mean we live on over a hundred acres of woods…we’re gonna be cutting down some trees for firewood…I thought how cool would it be to leave bear sculptures on the stumps for future generations to find…
it’s been 13 years and haven’t attempted one yet…LOL

patfrederick

i do plan on trying it at some point…but maybe not till spring…hunters out there now…don’t want to drive the animals from our land right to them…
but it’s on my bucket list for sure…

patfrederick

when I am comfortable enough, I will invite y’all to come and try it too…as long as you bring the drinks!

patfrederick

the chainsaws for carving are really small and lightweight…nothing like the ones hubby would use…and we have plenty of stumps already…some near the house i want to make those fairy houses out of…

Gail Combs

I was drooling over the Great Northern catalog earlier this week. They ‘supposedly’ had an battery-powered ELECTRIC Sthil chainsaw on sale. (Turns out it was at ‘select stores’ and none in NC.)
You might want to look into those battery-powered electric Sthil chainsaws since they would be much lighter in weight without the bother of dealing with a cord. Some of the reviews recommend it for ‘decorative work’ I am probably going to save my pennies to get this saw.
https://www.stihlusa.com/products/chain-saws/battery-saws/
(We bought a Stihl used thirty years ago and it is STILL going strong.)

kalbokalbs

Fun story…lots lessons learned… Thanks.

Alison

“Impossible is just the starting point.”
That’s why folks like POTUS and Daughn accomplish so much!
Fun read. I know the restaurant business well, and really enjoyed this trip down memory lane ☺️

prairie123

What a fun story!! I know what you mean about being young, naive and full of energy. I look back and see myself there too, but that was years ago. But I WISH I still had that passion and drive, not listening to the haters (or realists). I still mostly do what I want to, I’ve been finishing up several quilts and recently took on acrylic painting – super fun and it brings calming for my frazzled life.
Years ago I made a gingerbread house, nothing too extravagant, but it still took all day… that was enough. When the kids were little we made “gingerbread” houses using royal icing and graham crackers, and of course random candies. The best candies to use for kids houses are Skittles, Mike and Ikes, fruit shaped Sweet tarts and of course candy canes. Oh!…. good times, good times. 🙂
Thanks again for a fun story Daughn! Have a great Sunday!

Alison

Prairie – I have a few new hobbies, too, to replace sports I can no longer do. Your acrylics reminds me of my ‘playing’ with water colors, markers and washi tape. Immersing oneself in anything related to color and patterns has been a real joy for me. I have no skill for painting images, figures, scenes, but the satisfaction of experimenting with colors has been an unexpected boon to me.
I ‘sew’ wish I could quilt, but alas fine motor skills elude me. Another artistry that finds pleasure in colors and patterns. I enjoy quilting shows whenever I see one locally. 😊

singingsoul1

I only made a ginger bread house one time with my kids. We were all snowed in and the kids were bored. We used cardboard to cut out the dough and glued the house together with some strong thick icing. The kids put candy on the roof .
I was surprised how cute the house came out. We had in on display until after Christmas and then the kids tore it apart and ate most of the ginger bread house. I had the recipe from a German cookbook and the house was supposed to be eaten. The dough was hard and I am surprised no one broke their teeth off.

churchmouse

Kudos, Daughn, for building a gingerbread house — and for winning Grand Prize!
It pains me to watch contestants on pastry competition shows make these. Can’t imagine doing it in real life.