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Gingerbread house building brings 'sweet memories'

By ERICA RODRIGUEZ
Dec. 13, 2010 at 6:13 a.m.

Schorlemmer Elementary child food nutritionist Linda Lopez admires the gingerbread house she and her cafeteria coworkers spent a week constructing for VISD's annual gingerbread house show and competition. The holiday homestead was created out of fondant and an assortment of sweets and will be given to one lucky elementary student before winter break.

IF YOU GOWHAT: VISD gingerbread house competition.

Residents can vote for the school of their choice to win the People's Choice Award.

WHEN: Tuesday through Thursday, 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m.

WHERE: 102 Profit Dr.

A SUGARY INVESTMENT The school district invested $600 into its annual gingerbread house contest. All 25 school cafeterias use bags of sugary goods to compete for first place. Here's some of the district purchased:

75 pounds candy

28 boxes of cookies

26 boxes of Graham crackers

14 boxes of sugar cones

10 bags of marshmallows

10 bags of pretzels

8 boxes of cereal

FOR A LIST OF WINNERS SEE FRIDAY'S ADVOCATE

For one week in December, school cafeteria workers become experts in sugar and architecture.

"It's like an architectural job," said Irene Briseno, a child nutrition specialist at Schorlemmer Elementary School, after chopping candies for the campus gingerbread house. "You've got to get your boss guy, and your foreman, and then you got your landscaper, and we all put in our two pennies. And it just comes out so pretty."

The school's two-foot, snow-laden, sugary mansion is one of many in the district created for the annual gingerbread house competition, a district tradition since 1993.

The process starts with blueprints - which is usually just a photo printed from online or a past winner. Eggbeaters follow closely, along with pounds of candy as workers frost, chop, crumble and whip their way into the Christmas season.

"You're heart starts to patter a little because you get so excited," said Linda Lopez, a child nutrition specialist at Schorlemmer Elementary. "You feel Christmasy. That's a good word. You get into the spirit."

This year, the nutrition team hopes for a win with its design. The home took two pounds of candy, heavy fondant, hot glue and lots of powdered sugar to stay in one piece.

At the district level it takes $600, three shopping carts full of crackers, cookies and 75 pounds of candy to build homes at all 25 campuses.

"The students as well as the school, they find it traditional and part of the Christmas spirit," said Dana Bigham district food service director. "Everybody get's excited about it."

It's an excitement Briseno documents well.

For years she's collected photos of past projects in a Christmas cookbook that she shuffles through for inspiration.

"It's memories," she said. "It's sweet memories. That's why I keep them."

But the most rewarding part comes after the homes are finished. After being displayed a few days at the administration building this week they'll return to the campuses and go to one child selected by the school.

"My favorite part is when they get to give it to one child, and they come in and they're so excited," said Kristy Armstrong, cafeteria and district marketing manager. "It's really rewarding."

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