Gingerbread rules. Cinnamon- and nutmeg-scented houses and other edible structures are priceless pieces of holiday real estate. The building and decorating are great activities for children at home. And, in the hands of culinary professionals, these pieces become stunning works of art. Pastry chefs at local resorts are renowned for their gingerbread masterpieces. And viewing them is free at Central Florida's luxury resorts. Here's a sampling of where to find these larger-than-life edible displays:
•Disney's Beach Club Resort, 1800 Epcot Resorts Blvd., Lake Buena Vista: Check out the carousel complete with chocolate and soft-candy ponies and oversize candy-cane poles.
•The Ritz-Carlton Grand Lakes, 4040 Central Florida Parkway, Orlando: Lots to see for free, but on Friday, Saturday and Monday-Dec. 30 guests can use the lobby display for inspiration to build their own creations at the hotel's interactive gingerbread school. The cost is $150 per house (maximum four people at each worktable) and the price includes a $10 donation to Children's Miracle Network and a personalized "brick" added to the hotel's gingerbread interpretation of Santa's workshop. (Reservations: 407-393-4648.) Or skip school and donate $10 to the Children's Miracle Network and get your name added to a "brick" as well.
•Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek, 14100 Bonnet Creek Resort Lane, Orlando: A 7-foot-tall gingerbread house created under the direction of executive pastry chef Kurtis Baguley includes a peek inside the front door so guests can see the whimsical interior as well.
•Loews Royal Pacific Resort, 6300 Hollywood Way, Orlando: Check out the elaborate gingerbread village complete with an electric train circling the cinnamon-scented community.
Displays can be found this year at Disney's Boardwalk Inn and Contemporary Resort.
Holiday homestretch: If you can't face another mall parking lot, step into the kitchen for some easy gifts that won't break the bank. Here are three favorites:
•Dip good-quality plastic spoons in melting chocolate and then in colored sugars and let dry on parchment paper. Pack in festive cellophane bags from a craft store and tie off with a ribbon.
•Cookies and bars in a jar are easy to assemble and they look like intriguing sand sculptures when the layers are well-planned. Check my blog today for some great recipes.
•Concoct a signature spice rub or herb blend using dried seasonings. Pour into small clear jars. Label and give with a recipe.
14th annual Foodie Awards. You have a chance to get your favorite restaurants of 2011 recognized. This year we have added nine categories. In the new online ballot, there are 47 categories, including food trucks, coffeehouses and bars that serve the best food. The results will be published in the Jan. 27 Calendar section. All votes must be cast by midnight Dec. 31. Put down that fork and vote today at OrlandoSentinel.com/foodies.
Heather McPherson can be reached at 407-420-5498, Twitter @OS_thedish and email@example.com. Follow daily food news at OrlandoSentinel.com/thedish.
Get the dish
Check out the Morning Mix with the Scott McKenzie recipe of the week Holiday Beef Roast @ Mix1051.com and OrlandoSentinel.com/thedish