***In case you don’t bother reading to the end, just trust me and text “FavHouse Kathy” to 27126 now.
You may recall my personal highlight of 2021: winning Reliant’s annual charity gingerbread contest at the Dallas Arboretum, besting a roomful of media-affiliated and media-adjacent competitors. It is no overstatement to say that it was the greatest moment of my year — nay, of my century to date. What was the winning design, you ask? The Dutton family’s Yellowstone Ranch. The crowning design element? A tiled roof meticulously made of sunflower seeds.
In all modesty, it was truly spectacular for a 45-minute endeavor with limited supplies. My cohort and lead confectionery architect, Sam Murphy, even crafted a stone chimney and hay bales out of Rice Krispies Treats and a mounted a trophy reindeer head, which she constructed from some pretzels and a Rolo, above the marshmallow columns on the front porch.
This year, we knew we had to go even bigger, even bolder. Starting in October, I sent Sam inspo boards. What about a play on Chrissie Teigan’s $650 treehouse design? Perhaps a Tuscan villa or a seaside cottage in Wales? Maybe Victor Vescovo’s submarine with schools of gummy fish and coral reefs of Nerds Holiday Rope? Sam, per usual, had a better idea.
“House of Dragons,” she simply said.
And we were off. She’d Facetime me as she worked on options for towers, turrets, and a moat. We figured we’d have graham crackers aplenty, and maybe some ice cream cones, which would make construction a breeze. She mocked up stained glass windows made from Rolo wrappers. Rainbow-colored Fruit by the Foot created a softly undulating waterway.
My sole focus, as it was last year, was the roof. I would paint an icing dragon.
I ran time trials at night with tubes of store-bought icing gel on blank graham cracker canvases. Arthritic hands cramping and back aching, I figured I was ready as I was ever going to be.
On Thursday night, as we confidently strode into the Tasting Room like Beyoncé in “Formation,” we were lauded as returning heroes. No longer the rookies, we knew to wear comfortable shoes, wicking fabrics, and to show up early to scout the supply table. Event organizers approached us to reminisce about last year’s surprise victory. One woman said that she had taken photos of the ranch house and re-created it at her own family’s gingerbread contest, where she dominated the event, triumphing over what I like to picture as tearful grandmothers and wailing nieces and nephews with precious, predictable candy-covered Hansel and Gretel cottages.
Everyone wanted to know what we planned to do. And what the pizza box was for.
When time was called, we ran to the right side of the supply table to grab tubes of frosting and our last-minute gambit: the tower-shaped boxes of Pillsbury Funfetti frosting kits, which were going to have to stand in for what turned out to be a lack of graham crackers and ice cream cones.
Sam’s daughter Reese gets credit for the last-minute additions of a bloodied sugar-cookie John Snow in the shredded coconut and an ascendant queen on a throne of pretzel spears.
Did we think we’d win? Probably not. Just cuz we knew Reliant would want to spread the charitable wealth. But do we think we were robbed of one of the two runners up? Absolutely.
But don’t believe me. Judge for yourself.
Here’s the winning design from Cynthia Smoot with Katy Trail Weekly (on behalf of Broadway Dallas) and the two runners-up: Hannah Davis with SFAA/Good Morning Texas (on behalf of Operation Kindness) and Hanna Battah with Fox 4 and Marcel Clarke from NBCLX (on behalf of Genesis Women’s Shelter).
Do the log cabins feel a touch on the nose to our design last year? Absolutely. But can I get too upset about losing? Absolutely not. Thanks to the generosity of Reliant, each participant received $1,000 for the charity of their choice, plus an additional $3,000 was donated to Broadway Cares on behalf of Smoot’s winning entry.
Most importantly, we still have a chance to be a People’s Choice winner, which means an additional $2,000 for our charity, Girls Embracing Mothers. The nonprofit was started by SMU law grad Brittany Barnett and provides support to children of incarcerated parents. In particular, for the past 10 years they have partnered with Texas women’s prisons to provide monthly enhanced visitations between girls and their mothers in prison, including creative arts therapy, shared meals, and facilitated discussions to help reduce trauma, improve the child’s emotional response to incarceration, and reduce recidivism among parents.
So get out the vote! Text “FavHouse Kathy” to 27126 now! I mean, just look at this beautiful carnage: