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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!

Thankful Thursdays #71: tragedy makes us human

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A tornado moves on the ground north of Solomon, KS on Saturday evening, April 14, 2012. {Photo source}

Several E3 tornadoes passed through southeast Wichita last Saturday, damaging all three of our aircraft plants and causing significant damage to a mobile home park and the Oaklawn neighborhood.  I live on the west side of town, and I can tell you I’d have much rather been at home with my husband and scared doggy than at work, which happened to be quite close to the path that the tornadoes took through Wichita.

This map shows my location (A), along with three areas nearby that were hit: (B) Spirit Aerosystems (C) Pinaire Mobile Home Park, and (D) McConnell Air Force Base.

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

Although not officially the USPS motto, it may as well be, and it was going through my head as I continued to key mail even when our lights went out (the computers never went down, I believe they are on a backup power supply) and I feared our revolving doors might be ripped from their hinges.  Tornado sirens blared, our lights flickered, went out, came back on, went out, our revolving doors were banging back and forth against the force of 135-165 mph winds,  rain & debris pounded our roof,  and lightening and thunder cracked and rumbled outside.  Our windowless cement single-story building was designed to endure the toughest Kansas weather so that mail delivery will never be delayed due to our plant losing power or being damaged, so although many of us may have preferred to crawl underneath our desks and suck our thumbs, there really was no safer place to go and we carried on.

Aerial view of some of the tornado damage in the Oaklawn neighborhood in Wichita. {Photo source}

It’s the closest I’ve ever felt to a devoted mail carrier that endures frostbite and heat stroke in order to get the mail delivered (thank you, Dad!).  Keying the mail through a tornado definitely made me feel a little more like one of those hard core mail carriers like my Dad, but although it was a proud moment in retrospect, I have to admit I was terrified out of my mind and a tear or two might have escaped my hard core eyes.

Damage to homes in the Oaklawn neighborhood of Wichita. {Photo source}

I probably didn’t do my best work that night, but hopefully I didn’t direct any of your mail to China…I hope you’ll forgive me if I did.  I was praying without ceasing while I typed and listened to updates on where the tornadoes were headed and the devastation they had left in their wake.

Tornado damage to Pinaire Mobile Home Park in Wichita. {Photo source}

As soon as I left work, eyeing the insulation scattered in our parking lot and wondering what unlucky building it had come from, I texted everyone who I thought might have been affected to make sure they were OK.  I’m so thankful God answered my prayers—every single person reported back that they were fine!  There was some damage to homes reported, but everyone was alive and well and thank God for that!

I’m also thankful that the tornado missed my workplace.  All three nearby aircraft plants were hit and damaged by the tornadoes, the worst being Spirit Aerosystems, which is just 1 ½ miles away.  A little too close for comfort!  I wouldn’t doubt the insulation in our parking lot came from one of their buildings.  These photos shows the damage to one of their plants:

{Photo source}

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Yowza, this could have been us.  You guys can give thanks too that we were unaffected, as your mail delivery will not be affected by the tornadoes!  (We key mail all over the US and even to foreign countries-we’re pretty important! :) )

Oaklawn residents join together in the middle of the night to clean up fallen trees after the tornadoes.

{Photo source}

One thing that always touches me when tragedy strikes, is how people and communities pull together to help those affected by the devastation.  Last week I commented on how animals can make us human by learning from the kindness and love they have for each other, and I think tragedy is another thing that makes us human.  It can bring out the best and worst in a person, but ultimately, I think it brings out the best in us because we can’t stew in our own sadness when there are so many that need help.  We come together and help each other out!  And those unaffected come forward to help those in need.  It heals us, and it is such a wonderful thing to behold.

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I know it is a cliché expression, but God does work in mysterious ways.  Who knows whether he sent these tornadoes for a specific reason, or if they were just a result of the natural occurrences that happen in his creation.  I do know that all these natural disasters are a sign of the end times (Matthew 24:7), and while they are tragic, there is something beautiful about the human kindness that is sparked by them.  Sometimes I wonder…if we never had tragedy and disaster in our lives…would we be better people or worse?  (I’m speaking in the terms of this world, not the one to come, in which we will be perfect and happy!)  I’d hate to think we need tragedy and suffering in this world to give us a reason for kindness and empathy, but I wonder if it wouldn’t lessen.  Something to think about.

Why I’m thankful post-Midwest tornadoes April 16, 2012:

  • That we had 24 hours notice and plenty of time to prepare for the serious storms brewing.
  • For the sirens that warn us to take shelter.   And for the people operating them.
  • For the technology that allowed that very advance notice.  And for the people using it and delivering the notice.
  • None of my family or friends were killed, and in fact, there were NO DEATHS in all of Kansas.

And when it comes down to it, that’s all that matters.  Material things are necessary to our lives on Earth, but they can be replaced.  Thank God for sparing so many lives that night.  He is truly holy and awesome.

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If you’d like to help those who have been affected by the Midwest tornadoes, please visit the Huffington Post’s page with links to the different relief efforts helping the different areas.  Thank you!

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