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Kansas State Fair 2012 part 5: The Banana Bread Journey

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know about my quest to beat my baking nemesis* this year in the banana bread competition.  Well, as you may also know, I didn’t place in the banana bread category at all this year!  But I wasn’t very disappointed.

*I don’t want to share the name of my nemesis here b/c she is actually a very nice woman (I met her the first year I entered the fair, 2009) and don’t want anyone to connect a negative feeling with her name, but I will tell you her initials are CW.  How funny is that?!

How could I not be disappointed, right?  I mean, I baked twenty-four different banana bread recipes.  You can see them all here if you don’t believe me–complete with every recipe I used.

I froze a piece of bread from each loaf.

And at the end of the baking, Haus and I tasted each bread to see which one was the best.

We used grading papers and agreed on one.

Then I couldn’t resist, and baked three more loaves.  With the last loaf, the recipe for which not coincidentally came from my Foodie Mama who has won multiple blue ribbons for it (yes, I was kicking myself for not making this recipe FIRST since I had it all along (hello, obliviox here!) and could have had a much shorter journey to find the best recipe), we decided we had finally found the best banana bread recipe.  And I made it for the fair.

Well, guess who else didn’t place?  Yup, CW.  So that is a big consolation.  If the woman who has won multiple blue ribbons and even BEST IN SHOW for her banana bread didn’t even place this year, could my banana bread really be so unworthy?

While I won’t get my grading papers until Sunday (which means there might be a part 6 to this series next week, if the comments written on the grading papers are degrading enough…because really, only the mean comments are fun enough to share! lol), I have a few insights into why my banana bread didn’t place.

First, I put a lot of butter on top prior to baking.  This created a lighter stripe down the middle where the solids settled, and made it looked like it might be under-baked.  Judges won’t even taste something if it isn’t fully baked, so this could be a possibility.  I know it was fully baked as I stuck a toothpick in it, but they might have judged otherwise based on appearance.

Just some of the banana breads. Mine is third row back, second from the right (it’s kind of dark colored). CW’s entry is right in front of mine, a little to the left.

Second, and you might not believe this since I took so much time to find the perfect bread, but I didn’t buy my bananas early enough! I usually let my bananas ripen for at least a week, preferably two, before making them into bread because the more ripe they are, the more banana flavor you get.  I bought mine only five days before I had to bake the bread so I put them in a paper sack along with a tomato so the gas would make them ripen faster, and they were just barely speckled after five days.

Third, the judges might have been thoroughly fed up with me for refusing to listen to their advice of greasing the bottom only of the bread pan.  The first year they wrote the advice kindly, saying that the crust would be more tender if I greased the bottom only of the pan.  The second year they put it in caps with an exclamation point…or at least I remember it that way but I tend to exaggerate things, even in memory.  In any case, the advise seemed to have turned into a command.  But dude, I did try and my bread stuck and looked totally terrible and mangled by the time it finally came out.  Plus, the crust was totally hard and definitely NOT more tender.  Maybe I need a better pan?

Fourth, I think the judges might have contracted too-much-banana-bread-itis.  There were a lot of banana bread entries this year, possibly more in this category than any other.  And I know from experience that after tasting more than 15 different banana breads, they all start to taste terrible.  I nearly puked while doing my own taste test and started grading all the banana breads with C’s and D’s after a while.  This year no one got a blue ribbon in the banana bread category.  The judges only awarded a 2nd and 3rd place ribbon.  So I think my assumption is a fair one–they got the itis.

So there you go.  There’s probably a lesson to be learned here.  Like maybe don’t work so hard to accomplish a goal that doesn’t really matter?  Don’t lose sleep over something that isn’t going to improve your life because in the end, you might not actually accomplish your goal?  But hey, I had a lot of fun with it, and it’s a story I love to share because people always get a kick out of hearing I made 28 banana breads to find the perfect one.  Now I can add…”and then I didn’t place at all!” which kind of makes the story even better.  :)  I don’t have any regrets.  Well, except that I have definitely lost my taste for banana bread and may never bake another loaf again.  lol

Here’s to celebrating life’s victories…and it’s failures.  Sometimes they are just as fun.

I know you’re ready for the winning recipes and those will start next week!  Thanks for sharing in my happiness for this year’s successes and laughter over  the epic failures.



Kansas State Fair 2012 part 4: Thankful Thursday #83


I’m killing two birds with one stone today! I’ve got a Thankful Thursday for you, and it’s also part of my Kansas State Fair series!

While on the way home from the fair on Saturday, I started to think about how many people helped me win those ribbons and realized I never could have done it alone.  Then I laughed out loud, realizing that in my head, I was preparing somewhat of an award acceptance speech, as if I had just won a music or acting award.  Well, baking may be small time but it’s a big part of my life and what I love to do so I figure, why not give an acceptance speech?

So here you are, an embarrassed and awkward impromptu acceptance speech to thank everyone who helped me win my ribbons.



Kansas State Fair 2012 part 3: You Miss Every Shot You Don’t Take

*Update: You can now get my updated recipe that I submitted to the fair here.

So that you won’t have to endure reading this whole blog to find out whether I won or lost, I’ll tell you right now.  I got a ribbon. :)  Read on if you’d like to hear the whole story.

Wayne Gretzky is famously quoted as saying, “You  miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

That is really good life advice, and though I do miss a lot of shots because I’m too scared to take them, I can proudly say I would have made Gretzky proud with the way I put myself out there for the state fair competitions this year!  Well, either proud, or at least impressed by my audacity. ;)

From my snot sauce cookies, to my un-risen bread (not to be confused with the risen dead, though almost as horrifying from a baker’s perspective), to my burnt up and crust-fallen-off pies, I took a lot of chances this year and really set myself up for a lot of criticism, which I will be reading come this Sunday when I get my judging papers.  But as with the short loaf of bread that won third place, you just never know what the judges will think or how your entry will compare to others, and sometimes you just gotta take the shot and put yourself out there, ready to be disappointed & embarrassed, so that when you succeed, it’s even sweeter.

Such is the case with Grandma Joy’s Oatmeal Candy.  I did learn a lesson this year (make that many lessons), which is READ THE RULES VERY CLOSELY.  I scanned the information about the Heritage Recipes Contest, gathered that they were looking for old recipes that had been passed down in families since at least 1950, got excited and stopped reading.  I made Grandma Joy’s Oatmeal Candy recipe, which has been in Dennis’ family since 1890, put six of the candies on a white paper plate, following the requirements for the baked goods contests, and sealed it in a Ziploc bag, ready to submit it for judging.

It wasn’t until 1 AM the day I was to enter the contest that I read the rules and information more closely.  To my chagrin, I discovered that not only were they looking for “recipes suitable for family or community dinners” but they wanted you to include an entire aesthetic set-up with props.

Since there were only about five hours left before I needed to get up in order to get to the fair on time to turn in my entries, and I was already sleep-deprived, I decided I wasn’t going to enter it after all.  How could I?  Candy isn’t served at a dinner, is it?  And what in the world would I use for props? I had no idea, and no time to figure it out.

I was crushed.  This was the contest I was most excited to enter and that mattered most to me, because the recipe was special and I’d actually harbored fond dreams of presenting Grandma Joy with a ribbon for her recipe.  But I underestimated the power of my hope.  I do know after almost thirty-two years (yikes) of living with myself, that my hope has great strength and is very hard to kill, if not impossible.  If I want something bad enough, that hope inside me will rise up even after I mentally decide against trying for it, and force me to find a way to make it happen.

So only a few minutes after telling Dennis I wasn’t going to enter the Heritage Recipes Contest, and should probably just opt out of the pie contest too, that hope forced me to find a way to make it happen.  Maybe candy isn’t usually served with dinner, but I oculd see the judges accepting it because at a big dinner, it might be passed out afterward.  On my second wind, I hustled to the kitchen and piled the candies on a Blue Willow plate because although the plate is new, the pattern has been popular since the 1800s so I thought it would be suitable as a prop.  I searched desperately for any picture of Grandma Joy that I could frame and place beside the plate but couldn’t find one that had the right old-timey feel.  I did find several copies that my Mom made of an old photo of my Great Grandma Millner (her Grandma) and in a crazy act of desperation, I cut one down to fit a frame and stuffed it in there to set beside the plate. Well, I never said anything about the woman in the photo being the Grandmother mentioned in my history write-up.  So it wasn’t even a lie.  I mean, I can’t help it if they just happen to assume the woman in the photo was the one who gave me the recipe, simply because she’s sitting right next to it.

I then experimented with using dried roses and potpourri to round out the setting but it just looked terribly wrong and in the end, decided to use ingredients in the recipe as part of the props–oatmeal in a measuring cup, and powdered sugar and cinnamon in little dishes.  I knew it wasn’t the best, but I thought it was passable.

As I set up my presentation later that day next to the other ladies and gentlemen that entered, oh how unprepared I felt.  This was the first entry I saw and that unfailing hope nearly died on the spot.

Now this lady was prepared.  Miniature cast iron stove with miniature baked Zwieback rolls in miniature foil baking pans and the regular sized ones in front, with a gorgeous display with sunflowers, wheat, miniature enamelware used as backings for old family photos, and a sign over the top!

And here’s my sad presentation by comparison.

I didn’t even have a place mat.  I knew I was doomed.  But still…my hope was there.  Small, but alive.

I was watching the pie judging nearby and would get up and check on the Heritage Recipes contest judging from time to time.  I happened to get up just as they were reading and tasting mine…

It went fairly quick.  They each took a bite of the candy and set it down, reading the history about it and the recipe.  I felt even deeper that it would not place.  There were so many attractive entries…

I got caught up with talking to one of the other ladies that entered the contest and almost missed it when they announced I won third place!  The microphone was so quiet it would have been easier to hear her without it and I moved forward, catching only that they liked my presentation and the taste and history, and mostly how unique it was.

Everyone somehow knew it was me that had won despite no one there knowing my name, perhaps by the look of pure shock on my face, and they all turned to me, clapping.  If I had been alone, I would have been jumping up and down.  But knowing that almost-thirty-two-year-old women are generally more collected and mature, I smiled and nodded  and celebrated with the second and first place contestants.  Then I proceeded to exclaim “I can’t believe it, Dennis!” at random intervals throughout the remainder of the day.  So much for acting my age.

I went back later to see how they had put the winning entries on display and ran into Jane, the first place winner with her beautiful Zwieback.  We took pictures of each other in front of our displays and she sent this one to me by email:

I know I don’t look excited here but I was pretty exhausted by that point, only having had a couple hours of sleep.

She also sent me a picture of the second place entry, which I failed to catch somehow!  These are kolaches. a Czeck pastry (I actually have a recipe for them here, though my fillings aren’t the best):

And here’s Jane with her blue ribbon winner!

So there you have it.  I nearly opted out of a contest that I ended up placing in!  And if I hadn’t entered, I wouldn’t have met Jane, which I count as one of the best things abut my fair experience this year-the ladies I met.  There are definitely times when I regret my decisions, but as for this one, I’m just so happy I went through with it.  I can’t wait to give Grandma her ribbon! :)

If you’ve missed the previous entries in my 2012 State Fair series, you can check them out here:

2012 State Fair part 1: Murphy’s Law

2012 State Fair part 2: How I fared at the fair

Kansas State Fair 2012 part 2: How I fared at the fair

First off, let me come right out with it and tell you that despite my quest to beat my baking nemesis in the banana bread competition this  year, my banana bread did not place at all.  Aw, don’t cry for me, Argentina, I promise it’s all good. :)  I’ll share more about that later, in part 5 of this State Fair series.  (I have so much to share about this experience that there will be a post every day this week for a change!)

I also did not place for the pies, which was no surprise.  I was reading the judges lips as well as I could and for the cherry, I saw the word “burnt.” LOL!  They only took a teensy bite of my burnt up cherry pie, but they really took a lot of bites of the triple berry and did a lot of head-nodding.  I think it might have been a contender if it hadn’t been for the fallen-off crust.  So I still have yet to place at all with pie, but maybe next year will be my year.

So let’s get to the winning entries, shall we?

Blue Ribbons:

My Sugarless Sugar Cookies (AKA “Snot Sauce Cookies”) may not have placed, but my regular Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies got a blue ribbon!  And it was my own recipe, yo!  I have to say this was fairly shocking.  I really didn’t expect this blue, or that I’d place at all.  This is a different recipe than I won 2nd with two years ago, and I never did get around to sharing that one, so I’ll probably just share this one instead since it ranked higher! Exciting!

The Kansas Honey Producers have their own set of baking contests for honey-sweetened baked goods.  There are two cool things about winning these contests: the ribbons are prettier, and they pay more! :)  I won a blue ribbon for Honey-Coconut Macaroons.  I was really hopeful for these because most honey cookies have a cloying honey taste, but these were very nice and delicate in flavor.  I was very happy that they did so well.

I was so excited to see I got a blue for my Raspberry Almond Fudge Cookies in the “Extra-Special Chocolate Cookies” category that I couldn’t internalize it.  I started jumping up and down and jabbing at the glass and saying, “Dennis!  Dennis!  Dennis!”  I couldn’t even formulate the words to express that I’d won and for what, he had to come over to figure it out for himself.  haha!  The coolest thing about winning this is that I beat another big-time contestant, a lady I’ll call DP.  To give you an idea of her baking prowess, several years ago she not only won the Pillsbury Pie Contest in KS, but also won nationwide out of all state fair entries that year!  You can see her chocolate whoopie pie behind my cookie.  When I saw those after entering my goodies, I just knew they were going to win, and that was before I even knew that DP made them.  Well, I’m glad I was wrong! :)

You guys!!!  I’m sorry for all the exclamation points but in this case, any I use are still inadequate to express my excitement.  <hyperventilating> OK, not only did I win first place for my carrot cake this year (a new recipe, which means I’ll have a third carrot cake recipe to share on my blog! But you can never have enough carrot cake, right?), but I also won Sweepstakes!! Sweepstakes!!  *breathe, just breathe* That means that not only did the judges think my cake was the best carrot cake, but the best of all the cakes entered at the fair this year.  Just look at that beautiful purple ribbon.  I could die.  You guys know that cake is my biggest passion and what I like baking most, so it was so gratifying to get this award.  I’m in shock.  I’ve never gotten this award before, I’m just so thrilled!

Red Ribbons

My Chai Snickerdoodles!  I have to admit, I was hopeful for a blue with these since they’re just so cool (I can say that because I didn’t think of the idea-lol), but 2nd place ain’t too shabby.  I have reader Amber S. to thank for this idea–she sent me some Chai Snickerdoodles for last year’s cookie swap, and while I used my own recipe based off the idea, I wouldn’t have thought of it without her help!

Hey Joanne, do these look familiar?  I won second for my version of your Snickerdoodle Biscoff Sandwich Cookies in the “Extra Special Non-Chocolate Cookies” contest!  Thank you for the wonderful idea!

They had a new category for cakes this year-chocolate sponge cake.  There usually isn’t a chocolate category because they reserve that for the King Arthur Chocolate Cake Contest, which is a special contest that is turned in and judged on the same day during the fair.  But I bet the judges were really wanting something new after so many years of the same cakes, and I’m glad they decided on a chocolate cake because I have never been able to go on the day they have the KA chocolate cake contest and I have wanted to so badly the last three years.  Anyway, I made a chocolate version of a Victoria sponge cake, which has added fat in it–butter in this case (but of course).  The cake I trimmed off the top tasted a little funny, probably because I used some really old self-rising flour for the recipe (I was in one of those desperate states where I ran out of ingredients but didn’t want to go to the store) but I guess my frosting saved it from being awful. Yay for 2nd place!

I tried a new Pineapple Upside Down Cake recipe this year but my rank stayed the same.  But that’s OK because guess who got 3rd? My banana bread nemesis! Bwahaha! ;)  Last year she got first, so I gloated a little but am trying to keep the gloating to a minimum so I don’t jinx myself for next year.

White ribbons:

My sour cream pound cake just goes to show you can’t always judge a book by its cover.  Trust me, this ugly pound cake is some velvety soft, delicious lovliness.  If I’d baked it in a bundt pan like the recipe says, it would have been a lot prettier.  But for some reason I thought it wasn’t allowed.  Well, as you can see by the bundt-shaped pound cake to the left, apparently it is allowed. Good to know for next year!

Nope, that isn’t my peanut butter cookie but I had to share this with Amanda, who won third place for it.  (She found my blog yesterday while trying to find the state fair results!  I thought that was so cool.)  I met her in line while we were waiting to submit our entries, and got to chatting.  I was so rooting for her because this was her very first year entering the fair contests, so I searched for her cookies as soon as I was done searching for my own and did another squeal when I saw her name with a ribbon.  Amanda, my first year I entered three things too and only got a single 3rd place ribbon as well, and it was for a cookie too, so I really hope this makes you excited enough to enter for next year!!  Congrats, girl, I’m just thrilled for you!

Remember my embarrassingly short loaf of bread machine bread? Well, there you go.  I’m so glad I didn’t just throw it out!  I guess you never know, right?  The recipe I used was Honey Oatmeal Bread, adapted for the bread machine.  We did keep the first one and it is very delicious, just a lot more dense than it should be.  Maybe next year I’ll get it to rise properly…and then it won’t place at all! haha

The Gluten-Free Cookies contestants have stepped up their game and I’m going to have to step up my own next year! I placed first with these Almond Fudge Cookies in this category for the last two years, but only got third this year.  That’s one cool thing about the fair competitions, they make me always try to do better.

Now what about that oatmeal candy, you may ask?  Well, I have a whole post about that one.  Hope you aren’t fair-ed out and will come back tomorrow to check out that story!

2012 Kansas State Fair Part 1: Murphy’s Law

*This was drafted before I found out if I won anything.  Check back tomorrow to hear how I did!

Entering the fair contests was quite the experience this year, to say the least!  Murphy’s Law reigned supreme over my kitchen, for sure.

*I made a honey chocolate cake and didn’t put the right amount of butter OR honey in the cake so it was dry and not sweet.  EW.  Baked it again–wowza, that batter was good!  I couldn’t even tell it was honey-sweetened.  I’m very hopeful for this, but since Murphy’s Law is prevailing over everything fair-related right now, I likely will not place because of something like it was supposed to be a layer cake, not a bundt cake.

*I made a bread machine bread which did not rise well.  So I made a second loaf.  Same results.  I turned it in anyway, but feel sorry for the judges who will have to choke it down.  Hey, if I had to suffer to enter the bread, someone else is going to suffer with me. hehe.  BTW, I looked at all the other bread machine breads that were entered and I’m proud to say mine was the shortest one of them all.  I should win an award for worst bread.  Maybe they’ll invent that award this year, just for me.

My sad loaf is right in front–mine has a vertical pan and it’s barely as high as those baked in a horizontal bread machine pan!

*For some reason, I thought sugar cookies would be a good recipe to make to enter into the sugar-free cookies category.  Um, what was I thinking?  The cookies I made were actually pretty good since I used NuNaturals MoreFiber baking blend, which bakes well and doesn’t seem to have a funky aftertaste, but I couldn’t just turn in plain unglazed sugar cookies.  But how do you make a glaze without powdered sugar?  What I ended up doing was cooking milk and cornstarch and stevia together and ended up with sweet & milky snot sauce to put on top of my cookies.  And yes, I entered those too.  Snot sauce cookies!  :/

This is the only photo I have where you can halfway see the snot sauce cookies–upper right on the cart, on top of a cake.

*When I put my pies in the oven, the edge of the crust on one of the pies fell off.  Just bam–melted right off.  And burned to a crisp on the bottom of my oven.  What in the world?!  In what universe does this ever happen?  Apparently mine!  And then I forgot to tent the other one with foil (it had to bake a long time) and it got way over-browned and ugly.  :(  And yes, I still submitted them for judging–I’m cruisin’ for an ego bruisin’.  I present to you, my crispy pies.

On a happy side note, I did get to take advantage of the gift I got from Kerry.  The pie carrier was perfect for transporting my crispy pie!

*Baby decided she was going to bite down on the key in the ignition so it could not be removed or turned, rendering the flaky car totally unusable until we get the key out.  And I wasn’t going to throw all my baked goods in the back of the truck and hope they didn’t fly out during the 45+ minute drive to Hutchinson.  Thankfully, we were able to borrow my Dad’s Suburban to drive all my fair entries out there, which meant a lot more gas money, but on the bright side, everything fit with room to spare.  What a nice break!

*They made a special rule just for me this year: NO VEGETABLE BAGS WILL BE ALLOWED.  (Yes, they even put it in caps to get it through my thick skull.)  The last two years I  have put my breads on cardboard and then put them in produce bags I nabbed from the grocery store b/c I couldn’t figure out what other “food grade bags” (what the rules state we have to put our entries in) could be big enough to fit my entries.  I seriously never thought of turkey roaster bags, dude.  Obliviox, much?  So despite the rules saying it had to be in bags, I covered my entries with plastic wrap (you can see most in the photo below) and hoped for the best.  It was a no go.

*I had six of my entries covered with plastic wrap, and thought I’d have to return home with them, but they actually were selling turkey roaster bags for $1 each to raise money for the food department. Phew!  Except that meant we needed cash.  I sent Dennis off, God bless him, to get cash and an hour later, he arrived with cash in hand.  Since we were there so late, all the gates closed while we were inside and he had to go through hell to get out and back in.  Thankfully, it took all that time for me to get my entries in, plus more, so it worked out fine from my end, just very frustrating for the Haus.

Poor Haus ran into this at every turn.

*The contest that I was most excited to enter was the Heritage Recipes contest.  But I didn’t read the information and rules very closely.  All I gathered was that they wanted recipes that have been passed down in families from at least 1950 or before.  Well, Grandma Joy gave me an oatmeal candy recipe that’s been in the family since at least 1890!!  And it’s good!  I was super excited and had visions of presenting Grandma with a ribbon for the recipe.  Well, after making the candy and then reading the rules, I saw that they were wanting “recipes suitable for a family or community dinner.”  Ummm, is candy ever served at a dinner?  I nearly decided not to enter but as with the short bread, crispy pies, and snot cookies, I forged ahead and hoped for the best.

To be continued…

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