Gingerbread House Competition Teaches More Than Baking

gingerbread house made for The Omni Grove Park InnFor the second year now, my kids made a gingerbread house as part of The Omni Grove Park Inn’s National Gingerbread Competition. It’s a pain-staking process that takes a ton of time. People think I’m crazy for doing it.

Each time we visited Asheville during Thanksgiving or Christmas we would go to the gingerbread competition an aww at the entrants. It’s am amazing event that really gets you in the spirit of the season. Once we moved to Asheville, I knew we needed to enter something ourselves!

Making gingerbread houses is a messy business.The dining room was mission central. It looked like this for over a week. Chocolate pretzels, candy canes, gum drops, and a ton of other types of candies and decorations. And sprinkles. Tons and tons of sprinkles. They were everywhere.

gingerbread house made for The Omni Grove Park InnBut the results are so sweet. We learned so much throughout the process. This would be a great home school project.

Project management — there is a ton of planning to create a gingerbread house. You have to decide how large, what materials you’ll need, set a budget and create a timeline.

Budgeting –how much are you willing to spend? I have to admit this is a category that I glossed over this year. I didn’t set a budget, but did put a cap on supplies after I’d been to the store already. We try to get ingredient that are on sale or from the Dollar Store. This is an area we’ll improve upon next year and I’ll include the kids so they will have to do more pre-planning.

Time management — ahh, time management. We did not budget time wisely this year. The key design phase of this project overlapped with the birthday cake making week. MISTAKE!! At the end of this project I declared that if we don’t begin the gingerbread houses by October 1st, we won’t do them.

Art — the creative process to design a house is the most fun (well, eating is the most fun!). My kids each designed their own house on paper before we began. Then they learn to mix colors, create patterns, and artistically fill a space — it’s truly a mixed media project. What we’ll work on next year is the importance of a clean design — about making sure your work is clean and tidy and paying attention to the details.

Engineering — this is one of my favorite teaching moments in this project. How large should the structure be? What size do you need each piece? What material (i.e. gingerbread recipe) should you use for the structure. How will you get it to stand up? What materials should you use to glue it together and how think does the icing (i.e. glue) need to be? There’s a ton of math involved in building a house. How many sides do you need? How many pieces of candy do you need to cover the roof.

gingerbread house made for The Omni Grove Park InnThere are so many other lessons we learned — too many to list. And, some that I don’t think I even know about yet.

gingerbread house made for The Omni Grove Park InnOnce we completed them, we needed to transport them to the Grove Park Inn. Luckily, we live close by so we didn’t have too many bumps in the road to get over. Some competitors drive for hours to get there.

gingergread repair kitAnd, I packed an emergency repair kit just in case we had a casualty on the way. gingerbread house made for The Omni Grove Park InnWe made it!

About Alicia: Alicia is the founder of Last year, she managed to stay sane while completing an MBA, working full-time, blogging, and still baking amazing birthday cakes — all while raising a young family at home.

Customized Boy’s Birthday Cake

Boy's birthday cake with Diary of a Wimpy KidAs many of you know, I make a big birthday cake for my kid’s each year. That’s two cakes a year. Not too bad. This year my son couldn’t decide on a theme for the cake. It’s been easy in the past. We’ve done a pirate ship for a party at a pirate-themed mini golf course. We did an orange cake-pop alien. There was the Lego cake, and of course, last year was a Minecraft creeper cake. Hard to top that one.

So, what to do this year? Normally we start sketching and planning several months in advance. Since we didn’t have a theme yet, no sketching could be done.

Boy's birthday cake with Diary of a Wimpy KidSo, I decided to do a simple, two-tier cake — OK, not totally simple, but I’ve done enough of these that I’ve got this process down. I’ll put fondant on top and then decorate the sides with his favorite characters. Ones like Diary of a Wimpy Kid. He’s read and reread these books several times in the past year so it seemed fitting to have Greg Heffley on his cake.

I cut out small squares from fondant and asked my husband to draw the characters with edible ink markers (I used these Wilson markers). He was a little confused about exactly what to draw and then recommended we have the birthday boy draw them.


So, above you’ll find: Greg Heffley, a Minecraft creeper, Emmet from the Lego Movie, and Shamu. There were a few other characters that went around the back of the cake too. All things my son loves. It became a cake that we adored because it was special — specific to him. He loved it so much, he decided to sign the top of the cake!

multi colored birthday cakeI almost forgot about the inside of the cake so I snapped one of the last pieces with my iPhone.  I used a special cake insert to get each of the three layers to be different colors. Truth be told, it was supposed to look like a checker board. NOT! I couldn’t tell what it looked like until we cut into it. Even though the colors aren’t perfect squares … heck, they aren’t even straight. But, it looks kind of cool. The kids loved it!

Embrace the mistakes!

Birthday memoriesHere we are with the final product, right before he blew out the candles and made a wish.

Here a list of some of my other birthday cakes:

Disclosure: An affiliate link is used in this post. If you make a purchase, I get a small commissions, at no additional cost to you.

About Alicia: Alicia is the founder of Last year, she managed to stay sane while completing an MBA, working full-time, blogging, and still baking amazing birthday cakes — all while raising a young family at home.

Broccoli and Mushroom Quiche

broccoli and mushroom quiche recipeI love quiche. They are simple and elegant and can be eaten for breakfast or for lunch. Secret: we eat them for dinner too!

mushroom and swiss cheese quicheThis guy is a fan favorite at my house. I have a basic base recipe for the quiche and then add different ingredients based on my mood or what I have in the refrigerator. The other day I had mushroom and swiss cheese. The mushrooms turn golden brown in the oven. And, I always like to use broccoli. It’s the great way to get veggies on the table — hide them amongst eggs, and cheese! In a PIE!mushroom and swiss cheese quicheThis is such a versatile recipe. You can add so many different items and completely change out the dish.

Broccoli and Mushroom Quiche
Use the liquid ingredients as a base and change up the solids for a new twist on this classic dish. Be careful not to swap out milk for cream... you'll have a hard time getting the quiche to thicken enough. For the broccoli -- the fastest tip is to use a box of chopped, frozen broccoli florets that you can microwave
  • 1 9-inch pie crust (recipe of your choice or use a store bought one)
  • 1 cup chopped and cooked broccoli
  • ½ sliced mushrooms (about 3 sliced mushrooms for top garnish)
  • ⅓ cup chopped onion
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup shredded Swiss cheese
  1. Heat oven to 425
  2. Prepare your crust in 9-in pie pan. Set aside
  3. Saute mushrooms, and onions in butter until tender and just slightly golden. Reserve a few mushrooms to place on top of quiche. Set mushrooms and onions aside.
  4. Cook broccoli until al dente (use your preferred method since it's such a small amount. You can use the microwave with a few tablespoons of water, or steam on the stove top. If using frozen broccoli, heat per directions on package.) Set aside.
  5. In medium-sized mixing bowl whisk together eggs, cream, salt, and pepper.
  6. Mix in cheese.
  7. Stir in broccoli.
  8. Add mushrooms and onions. Stir
  9. Pour mixture into prepared pie pan. Place reserved mushroom slices on top for decorative touch.
  10. Bake 15 minutes
  11. (If crust is browning too quickly, place foil around edges of crust)
  12. Reduce heat to 300, bake 30 more minutes until knife inserted into center of quiche comes out clean.
  13. Let cool for 10 minutes before cutting


About Alicia: Alicia is the founder of Last year, she managed to stay sane while completing an MBA, working full-time, blogging, and still baking amazing birthday cakes — all while raising a young family at home.

Chocolate Caramel & Pecan Bundt Cake

chocolate caramel pecan cakeThis weekend I had a little afternoon dinner party and wanted to serve a simple, yet elegant chocolate dessert. To save time I used a box mix. I know it’s a sin in some worlds to use a box mix, but sometimes it’s what you need to do keep it simple.  Just add a few ingredients and you’ve got a masterpiece that you’re friends will rave about.

chocolate caramel pecan cakeThis cake is moist, decadent and covered with caramel.

chocolate caramel pecan cakeAnd it’s covered with sugared pecans.

chocolate caramel pecan cakeIt’s got a secret ingredient that makes it super moist.

chocolate caramel pecan cakeThis cake is so easy to make because it’s got a box of instant chocolate pudding in it.

chocolate caramel pecan cakeIt’s topped with caramel sauce and sugared pecans a. Just chop pecans and put in a frying pan on your stove. Add a few tablespoons of sugar. Heat on low, stirring occasionally so pecans are coated. The pecans add just the right crunch and rich flavor on top of this rich and delicate cake.

My tip to you busy families is to keep a box of chocolate cake mix, a box of instant chocolate pudding, a jar of your favorite caramel sauce, and pecans (freeze these) in your pantry. Then you’ll be ready the next time you need to make a quick dessert — and no one will know the difference!

Chocolate Caramel & Pecan Bundt Cake
  • 1 box chocolate cake mix
  • 4 oz. box instant chocolate pudding mix
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup butter (softened)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • ⅓ cup caramel sauce
  • ¼ cup chopped pecans
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • sheet of wax paper
  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. Grease bundt pan
  3. In large bowl mix cake mix, pudding mix, water, butter, and eggs
  4. Mix on medium speed until batter is smooth, about 2 minutes
  5. Fold in chocolate chops
  6. Pour into prepared bundt pan
  7. Bake 45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean
  8. Cool 15 minutes in pan
  9. Remove from pan and cool for 10 more minutes
  10. Prick top of cake with toothpick in several spots, pout caramel sauce on top of cake
  11. Top with sugared pecans
  12. While cake is in oven, prepare pecans
  13. Chop pecans with knife
  14. Put in pan on stove top with sugar
  15. Heat on medium heat, stirring occasionally until sugar is melted and pecans are covered, about 4-5 minutes (be careful not to let them burn)
  16. Spread warm pecans onto a sheet of wax paper on counter. Allow to cool
  17. Use to top cake
Adapted from Betty Crocker.


About Alicia: Alicia is the founder of Last year, she managed to stay sane while completing an MBA, working full-time, blogging, and still baking amazing birthday cakes — all while raising a young family at home.

Sweet and Fluffy Cornbread

delicious cornbread recipe | so easy to make and the BEST recipe you'll findI love this cornbread. It’s like no other cornbread recipe I’ve ever made. Unlike traditional cornbread, this is light and fluffy. Because it mixes all-purpose flour with cornmeal, it’s not course.

We had quite the cold snap around here on Friday evening, with rain turning into an early snow! It was the perfect evening for a bowl of chili and this cornbread to warm out tummies.

delicious cornbread recipeIt’s perfect to go along side a bowl of steamy chilli on a cold day.delicious cornbread recipeYet, it’s tasty enough to eat alone. And this recipe doesn’t fall apart when you cut into it or pick it up to eat.cornbreadtopdown2Any way you eat your cornbread, this version doesn’t require anything on it. It’s moist enough to eat just as it is, but you can still add butter (or even a bit of honey if you must.)

Sweet and Fluffy Cornbread
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup cornmeal
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • ¾ cup milk
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • ½ cup applesauce (unsweetened)
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
  1. Instructions
  2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  3. Grease 9’ round baking dish (you can use square, but make sure it’s not too large as the cornbread won’t rise enough.)
  4. Whisk together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
  5. In separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients: eggs, milk, melted butter, applesauce, and maple syrup.
  6. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, stirring just enough to combine.
  7. Pour into the prepared dish.
  8. Bake 25 minutes until lightly golden or a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Be careful to not over bake.
Adapted from Melissa d'Arabian's Brunch Cornbread recipe from


About Alicia: Alicia is the founder of Last year, she managed to stay sane while completing an MBA, working full-time, blogging, and still baking amazing birthday cakes — all while raising a young family at home.