For a brief spell after finishing college I moved back home and looked for a job. To fill the space, I went to work at a small gift shop my neighbor ran. It was a quiet little spot that only required one clerk at a time to take care of everything. When I was scheduled to work Black Friday, I decided to make and decorate a few jumbo gingerbread men cookies to sell at the front counter. It is funny now to think about my audaciousness, because I didn’t even ask anyone if that was ok, I just set up a basket of cookies for sale. Each cookie had its own personality: the boys wore bowties and neckties, striped shirts, and plaid ones; the girls were dressed in bows, rickrack, and scalloped-edged dresses. I was planning to charge $2 for each large cookie—a steal for something decorated by hand—but my parents talked me out of it as they were sure no one in our small town would pay that much for a cookie, even a big one. So for that weekend, the kick-off of the official Christmas shopping season, my decked-out cookies sat at the counter of the Purple Rooster gift shop looking super cute and packaged up with ribbons; priced $1.
One woman came in and bought one for her grandson who was with her. Later a man in a hurry grabbed two gingerbread girls for his daughters waiting in the car. Then only one more sold before I closed up shop for the evening. I left the cookies there and went home. The next morning when I came in they were gone with a sticky note in their place: Call Scott.
Scott was the owner so I was worried that he was unhappy with my little bake sale. I called the number given and spoke to Scott: Yes, I was the one selling the cookies. Scott had been by the store that evening with a friend who loved the cookies and bought all that were left. He wondered if I would be willing to make more. And just like that I had sold the 10 or so that sat in the basket by the cash register, plus 100 more for a party. Then through word of mouth I got another order for another party, and another. By the time the holiday season was over I had sold around 300 cookies and learned a valuable lesson in the detriment of underpricing handmade work.
This was just a few short weeks in my life, but it encouraged me in my job search and I eventually got an office job and began as a freelance food writer for the local newspaper, which led to culinary school, more food writing, and all that I have done since.
The gingerbread motif became one of my favorites of the holidays and every year I like to decorated at least a few gingerbread boys and girls. Recently my daughter saw a gingerbread ornament on my parents’ tree that I got as a present that year and asked about it. They told her all about my short-lived cookie business (they were part of the packaging department) and since then every time she sees a gingerbread man she excitedly points it out and notes that it is like what I made. This year, I have been wanting to make gingerbread with her, but ended up making these clay cut-outs instead. We are using them as gift toppers and ornaments.
If only I could have known what the future held as I played shopgirl so many years ago, when I would stare out on to the quiet downtown streets of my hometown and wonder what my life would be like while waiting for the sound of a customer coming through the door.
Find the how-to instructions, below.
Oven-Baked Clay Gingerbread Gift Tags and Ornaments
–Original Sculpey Polymer Clay
-Small gingerbread man/woman cookie cutters or shape of choice
-Extra-Fine Sharpie pen
Preheat oven to 275°F. Knead clay to soften and make maleable. Roll to 1/4-inch thickness and cut desired shapes. For the gingerbread people, make a small strip of clay and adhere it to the back of the gingerbread man’s head to form a hole for thread the cord onto it after baking. For the other cut-outs make a hole in the top with a toothpick. Place cut-outs on a glass or ceramic baking dish and bake for 15 to 30 minutes depending on the size of the cut-out or until hard. Cool. Decorate with an extra-fine Sharpie pen. Attach hemp cording.