This year, Monica Eskridge—a Houston-based maker, baker, and the owner of Paper Flour Ink—wanted to create a confection that "binds us all, no matter where we live."

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The holidays always seem a little more festive when your halls are decked with evergreen trees, shiny ornaments, and seasonal lights. And even though this year's holiday season looks different than what we're used to, keeping up with our annual traditions—while still following COVID-19 guidelines—can help restore some sense of normalcy. Creating a gingerbread house is always a fun way to embrace the holiday season, but Monica Eskridge, a Houston-based maker, baker, and the owner of Paper Flour Ink, who is responsible for creating the epic confection seen above, takes her yearly gingerbread creation to the next level. Eskridge says she spends anywhere from two to four weeks perfecting her yearly project, which she generally starts just after Thanksgiving. The results speak for themselves.

As for inspiration, Eskridge says she looks to what is happening around her to dream up the gingerbread house designs. One of the cookie architect's favorites? Her design reminiscent of the Bob Casey United States Federal Courthouse in Houston, which pays homage to her husband's career and life. "Built in 1962, it is a remnant of Cold War-era architecture with thick concrete walls and tiny windows—476 of them, if anyone's counting," she wrote on Instagram of the building she created into a gingerbread piece.

Another standout design? Eskridge says her cookie version of the Eiffel Tower holds a special place in her heart, too. She created this gingerbread house to honor the lives lost after the Paris, France, attacks in 2015.

As Eskridge thought about her holiday-centric creation for this year, the idea was a no brainer. She wanted to make a treat to embody more than just a house—she wanted it to represent a safe space as the world continues to grapple with the novel coronavirus pandemic. "This year has been a difficult year for everyone around the world, and I just wanted to create something that binds us all, no matter where we live," she exclusively shares. "I thought the concept of 'home' was something we could all relate to—no matter how we define it."

And while Eskridge has called different places home—she lived in Bangkok, Thailand, as a child and now resides in Houston—she hopes that her gingerbread houses simply bring a little joy for the holidays, especially this year. "I think there is something festive and fun and comfortable and homey about gingerbread, even if it's not a culture you grew up with or if Christmas is not a holiday you celebrate," she says. "Every kid would love to live in a house made of sugar, I think!"

It's not all creativity, though. There's also some careful planning and smart details that help the cookie pro bring her visions to life: First, she relies on a hard gingerbread recipe (made with honey instead of molasses) to make her frame. She also uses a laser cutter and royal icing during the construction phase. Still, the most important factor to her success is her graphic designer eye, which enables her to turn her confection dreams into real-life masterpieces each holiday season.

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