Monday, November 15, 2010

Sweets Of the Season

Magnet # 395:  Downtown Asheville Photo

Material:  Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By:  Me

If I could be anywhere today, I'd pick Asheville, North Carolina where the 18th Annual National Gingerbread House Competition is underway at the historic Grove Park Inn.  Okay, maybe I'd better wait until Wednesday, when all of the entries go on display for the public to see.  For the moment, I'm pretty sure the event is closed.  But until then, I'm sure I could find plenty of ways to stay entertained in this idyllic spot along the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Asheville has topped all sorts of lists, from the best place to live to the top arts destinations, and with its laid-back demeanor, creative vibe, and scenic beauty, it's easy to understand how it can appeal to so many people.

The National Gingerbread House Competition has consistently grown in popularity ever since it was introduced in 1993 and now draws in competitors and audiences from all over the country.  It's open to all ages, with awards given in Adult, Teen, Youth, and Child categories.  There will also be a new prize given to the entry that comes the furthest distance from Asheville.  Last year's Grand Prize winner, Jodi Stowe of Polkville, North Carolina, created an elegant, intricate bird cage that featured two turtledoves.  While it strayed from the normal entries, it was still a home to the pair of birds and the judges appreciated her creative take on the theme.  She won a two-night stay at the Grove Park Inn and three thousand dollars which she and her husband intended to use to adopt a child from China.  All told, she spent around 150 hours on her creation - the Adult First Place winner, who created an incredibly detailed North Pole Library, figured she put in around 600 hours.  But the designer to look out for will likely be Ashley Howard of Winter Springs, Florida.  She took the Grand Prize with the first gingerbread house she'd ever made in 2006 and won again in 2007.  Her 2008 entry made it to Third Place and she took 2009 off, entering instead in the National Wedding Cake Competition.  However, she's expressed her intent to enter again this year, and I imagine her creation may again set the standard.  The competitors can get very resourceful with their use of materials - some might include marzipan, bits of cereal, coconut, ice cream cones, and even strips of gum.  But they have to ensure every part of their entries, except the base, are edible - in fact, the judges will break off a tiny piece and sample it as a confirmation.  The houses will be brought in no later than 8:30 this morning and the judging begins an hour later - that part is not open to the public.  The judges are a panel of twelve individuals with extensive cooking and artistic experience. Quite often, they're authors with their own books or editors who have worked for food-themed magazines.  I'm sure their task today will not be an easy one.  Still, at 5 o'clock, the winners of this year's event will be announced in the Grand Ballroom - I think ABC's Good Morning America will report on them tomorrow morning.  I'm certainly eagerly anticipating the results.

With its very artistic feel and community, Asheville is the perfect city to host such a unique event.  The area was settled back in the 1784 and despite setbacks, had grown to a thousand residents by 1790.  What had started off as Morristown was incorporated as Asheville, after North Carolina Governor Ashe, in 1797.  It became popular with an affluent crowd, particularly when George Washington Vanderbilt II had his Biltmore Estate constructed there in the late 1800's.  Even now, it continues to be a favorite among the wealthy, along with diverse other groups who both live there and visit, eager to take in its charm.  I've been to Asheville twice over the past two years, and really enjoyed myself both times.  When I went with my parents last year to see the Biltmore Estate during our trip to the Great Smoky Mountains, it was somewhat overcast, but we still had a nice time.  We were able to check out Broadway Street or Biltmore Avenue, which is a very popular spot filled with shops and restaurants, even though it can't settle on one name.  There, we ate at Suwana's Thai Orchid, which wasn't terribly impressive with its decor, but served some pretty fantastic Thai cuisine.  My Mom and I both got Pad Thai, and she's still talking about how much she liked it.  From there, we headed over to the Biltmore Estate.  What can I say about it?  It's amazing - this is America's largest private residence and if you like historic homes and haven't been there, it should top your list of places to visit.  That night, we stopped by the McDonald's at the nearby Biltmore Village.  It's justifiably been called the most opulent McDonald's in the world - to meet with the regulations of the elegant community, some changes have been made to this particular location.  Its Golden Arches are made of real gold leaf and its exterior is a subdued facade of wood and brick featuring columns.  Inside, there's more columns, framed art, marble, a fireplace, vaulted ceilings, and even a grand piano that serenades the customers.  And yet, the food served there is the same as that of nearly every other location.  Check it out if you're curious and in the area.  For this year's trip, I was on my own and stopped by the North Carolina Arboretum on the outskirts of town.  It was lovely and the weather was sunny and much more pleasant so I had a better chance to enjoy what so many people love about Asheville.  While I didn't get a chance to eat, I did make it over to Mast General Store on Biltmore Avenue - or Broadway - where I picked up this magnet.  From there, I ventured over to the Grove Park Inn, which is particularly nice even on an everyday basis.  I can only imagine just how amazing it would be filled with these incredible gingerbread houses.  Maybe I'll be able to check them out someday.  And if you're interested in seeing them for yourself, they'll be on display until January 2nd.  It's as good an excuse as any to venture over to this lovely city.  Asheville is a wonderful place to pass a low-key afternoon shopping or enjoying its impressive attractions.  I've certainly enjoyed my time there and look forward to future visits.

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