Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Pesto Bread

 

I'm a bread gal. As I've said before, I've never met a carb I didn't like and I love love love bread! I decided to expand my horizons and entered a new category at the State Fair this year - Herb Bread. This is the recipe I created for my entry... and it's the perfect bread for an awesome grilled cheese sandwich.

Pesto Bread
4 cups bread flour
1 package RapidRise yeast
4 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup mashed potatoes
4 tablespoons jarred pesto (I used Rana)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
margarine to brush on top
 
Combine bread flour, yeast, sugar, salt, and baking powder in a bowl and stir together. Heat water and milk together to 120-130 degrees. Add mashed potatoes, pesto, water, milk, and egg to dry ingredients and stir until well blended. Knead for 4-5 minutes until a soft dough forms.
 
Place dough in a greased bowl; cover and allow to rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
 
Turn dough out of bowl and divide into 2 pieces. Shape into 2 loaf pans. Allow to rise again until doubled.
 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 35 minutes. You can cover the bread with foil after 20 minutes to prevent tops from over browning.
 
Remove from oven and turn out on racks to cool. Brush tops with margarine while still warm.
 
 
 
It took me three tries to get this recipe just the way I wanted. This is the loaf I didn't turn in on Sunday. It's sister loaf went to the Fair. This one was browner and had a big bubble on the top that then deflated. It's sister was paler but flatter. I thought this was the prettier shaped loaf but the bubble worried me so I kept it to eat. Decisions decisions. I'll find out Friday how I did.
 



Wednesday, July 29, 2015

2015 Johnson County Fair Week - Bittersweet

This started as the best Fair week ever and ended as the worst Fair week ever, a week that started with joy and ended with heartbreak, a week that will be hard to forget...

The Fair opened on Sunday. I spent the day at work then sped home to go to the Fair. Got to the fairgrounds, parked the car, and walked to Scott Hall to see the exhibits with that all too familiar feeling now of my heart starting to pound and butterflies in my stomach, trying not to run. How did I do?

Loaded Potato Rolls - Yeast Breads Class Champion - Baked Goods Grand Champion
 
Pineapple Iced Coconut Macadamia Cookies - Cookies Class Champion
Baked Goods Reserve Grand Champion
 
Chocolate Espresso Stout Cake - Cake Class Champion
 
Maple Walnut Drops - Candy Class Champion
 
Cranberry Oatmeal Flax Cookies - Heart Healthy Class Champion
 
Baby Afghan - Crochet Class Champion
 
 
Deep down inside, I had wondered if I could win both the Baked Goods Grand Champion and Reserve Grand Champion ribbons. Had anyone done this before? Could I do it? I was absolutely elated when I did. My baby afghan winning the Crochet Class was a pleasant surprise too. Making the afghan, I thought the judges were either going to love it or hate it. It is made of a heavier cotton yarn because I loved the feel of the yarn and it has great stitch definition. My worry was that it was not a delicate afghan like most baby afghans... but the stitch definition was beautiful. I guess the judges agreed with me.
 
As far as my other baked goods...
Molasses Cookies - 1st in Molasses Cookies
Buttered Popcorn and Malted Milk Ball Cookies - 1st in Drop Cookies
Apple Cider Caramels - 2nd in Caramels. This will be a work in progress. I like the recipe. I will try this again.
Blueberry Pie - 1st in Fruit Pies. I think the soggy crumb crust kept it from Class Champion.
Honey Pecan Bars - 1st in Honey Cookies. Maybe if I had remade the crust it would have taken the Honey Class.
Two-Layer Fudge - 3rd in Microwave Candy. I should have made this over.
Bacon Date Scones - 3rd in Other Quick Breads. Just not competition quality.
 
Other crocheted items...
 
Infinity Scarf - 1st in Scarves

 
Infant sweater - 1st in Sweaters
 
Patriotic Child's Beret - Honorable Mention in Hats.
The colors bled when I tried to block it.
 
Patriotic Child's Dress - Honorable Mention in Child's Dresses.
Since the hat bled when I blocked it, I didn't block the dress...
 
Photographs...
 
Top photo took 1st in the Human Interest category
Bottom photo took Honorable Mention in the Single Portrait category
 
 
Scrapbook...
 
 This was my Spring Break scrapbook.
I entered it because I made it. I was thrilled it took 1st.

 
 So, all in all, a VERY successful showing at the Fair this year!
 
I also found out that, for the first time ever, I won the Building Award. This goes to the Open Class Exhibitor in Scott Hall with the highest number of points. It used to be that the top exhibitors won money. Now it's just bragging rights.
 
 
 
I didn't have much time to relax and revel in my success though because the Strawberry Baking Contest was on Tuesday. Every year there is a Baking Contest at the County Fair on Tuesday and every year there is a different "theme" food. This year the theme was strawberries. I was so busy baking for the regular fair that I hadn't even thought about my strawberry recipes until after I got home on Sunday.
 
Usually, there are four categories in the baking contest - cookies, breads, pies, and misc. I started thinking about what to make for each category and then it occurred to me to just double check the entry form and rules to make sure nothing had changed this year. Good thing I did. There was no pie category this year. Instead of pies, the category was cakes. Key to this contest is that the theme item has to be the predominant flavor of your item and it has to be BAKED into your product. I'm assuming pies were taken out as a category as most strawberry pies use fresh strawberries.
 
So... remember the storms on Friday? The storm took out our cable. No cable = no internet. No internet = ack!! I'm scrambling for strawberry recipe ideas. One of the things I've learned though is to use different baking "elements" to create a whole item. For example, I have favorite cake recipes and icing recipes and filling recipes and I can create different combinations from these elements.
 
I spent Monday making a Strawberry Bread, Strawberry Buttercream Torte, and a strawberry cupcake with strawberry filling and strawberry frosting that I called "Strawberry Shockcakes". The Strawberry Buttercream Torte used a cake base from my friend Isabelle's Strawberry Cake (recipe HERE). I figured everybody would make a strawberry cake with strawberry frosting and I wanted to be different so I used my favorite buttercream recipe and put a layer of fresh strawberries between the cake layers. Initially I was going to put fresh strawberries on the top too but then I made the strawberry filling for my cupcakes and decided the filling would look better on top of the cake so I made another batch of filling for the cake. Plan was to make some strawberry cookies Tuesday morning. Tuesday I took G to her dance intensive then made the Strawberry Angel Cookies. This was a new recipe. It's basically a box of angel food cake mix with some strawberry jam. It's suppose to bake up like a meringue cookie. It might have been that it was another hot humid day, but in any case these cookies came out INEDIBLE.
 
This is what ended up going to the Strawberry Contest...
 
 
 
Strawberry Shockcakes
 
The mid-week baking contests at the fair always have open judging where the judges judge all the items in front of the participants, offering critiques as they go. Cakes were judged first. I felt like my Strawberry Buttercream Torte was the best item I had brought. There were three home ec judges. I had seen all three of them before. Judge #1 was my favorite. I know from past experience that she likes my style of cooking. She also is the one that tells all the participants that "we eat with our eyes first." How true. Presentation is a big part of food competitions and I always make sure my food LOOKS good as well as tastes good. Judge #2 and #3 were the "stricter" judges. They generally are more critical of the food and offer more comments as to what a participant could have done better with their item.
 
So... my cake ends up in front of judge #2 midway through the cake category. I'm sitting too far back to see her face as she tries the cake. Then, she says "Very good cake. Blue star." That's it. Nothing else. Ack!!! What does THAT mean?!! She didn't say anything bad about it. She just didn't say much. The other thing that's different about the mid-week baking competition is that every item will get either a blue, red, or white placing. All the blues will get judged again to determine 6 Honorable Mentions and a Reserve Champion and Champion for each category. The four Champions will then compete for the Grand Champion. The judges had been very liberal about giving out blues but mine was the only one that said "blue star." Everyone else's cake also looked like I had predicted - strawberry cake with strawberry icing and some fresh strawberries for decoration.
 
The winners of each category are announced as soon as the category judging is completed. My heart started pounding out of my chest as the judges milled around all the blue ribbon cakes. Then... they picked up my cake and set it aside. My cake was the category Champion!
 
My Strawberry Bread ended up with a blue placing and my Strawberry Shockcakes ended up with a blue placing plus an Honorable Mention in the miscellaneous category.
 
In the end, my Strawberry Buttercream Torte was announced as the Grand Champion!
 
the half that was displayed...
(thank you Heather for the picture)
 
... and the half I took home
 
 
What a week! Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would sweep all the baking contests this year. Now to enjoy a couple days before starting in on my State Fair baking...
 
...or so I thought.

 
Friday morning I got home from taking G to her dance intensive when my older daughter called me into the kitchen. "Mom, Olivia Buck's mom and brothers died last night." I heard the words but didn't comprehend. What?!! My daughter handed me her phone. On it was a breaking news story. I read the words but my brain refused to process... car accident... fire... mom and boys... succumbed... a photo of their burned out vehicle.
 
I think my heart stopped and I couldn't breathe. I still can't think about it without a lump in my throat. Olivia and my older daughter used to be best friends. My daughter practically lived at her house one year and was part of their family. Olivia's mom and I were never close friends but I saw her regularly because of our daughters. I unloaded fair cookies on their family and they asked for more. They took my daughter to football and basketball games. It seems like just yesterday that Jill and I sat at the airport watching our daughters board a plane by themselves to go to Florida. The girls went down the jetway by themselves, never looking back. We sat at the terminal and watched the plane until it taxied away, talking about how grown up the kids were getting and what a disaster their bedrooms were. And now she's gone.
 
Suddenly life's moments become distilled into memories like these... we're still sitting in the terminal. How could this happen? A whole family destroyed in one breath. I can still see the little boys playing in the driveway as I pull up. What right do I have to cry or grieve? Our daughters have gone their separate ways. I haven't seen any of them in a year but they're all I can think about. The things in life that seemed important yesterday are trivial today. I can't imagine life for the rest of family... the ones that have to continue living. I have no words that seem appropriate. I find myself with tears welling up when I'm alone.
 
Her memorial service is today. I pray her family finds some peace.
 
 
 
 
 


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Friday

Friday was a looooong day. This is going to be a long post. Grab your bowl of popcorn and settle in.

Cakes got done Thursday night and I put them on their cooling racks and went to bed at 1 am.

Alarm went off at 5 am. First thing I made was the Blueberry Crumble Pie. This is my "go to" pie. I invented this recipe for the Blueberry Contest at the 2007 Johnson County Fair. It was pie champion that year and I've had great success with it ever since.

40 minutes to make the pie. 60 minutes in the oven. G and I had to leave for Carmel at 7:30 am so I had just enough time to cook  the bacon I needed for my Loaded Potato Rolls later in the day.

Blueberry Crumble Pie
 
Everything is better with bacon!
 
 
I dropped G off and headed back to the Interstate. Gotta get home QUICK today! I am on the highway ramp when traffic comes to stop. A towing RIG with flashing lights squeezes by, followed by a fire truck. NO! Oh yes, there's an accident. A semi rolled over onto its side ON the highway ramp. Lucky for me (I guess), I was only about 10 cars back so I was able to pass around the whole mess in about 15 minutes. Around the Interstate I go, then onto SR 37... and traffic comes to a crawl again. Another flatbed semi had dumped it's entire payload onto the right lane of the highway so everything was down to one lane. Ugh. Another delay.
 
FINALLY home. Next up are the Loaded Potato Rolls, my Fancy Dinner Roll item in the Yeast Bread Class. Another "go to" recipe that I created for a State Fair contest several years ago. Dough mixes up like a dream and I put it in my car to rise. Yes, my car. It's another 90 degree day. The black interior of my SUV makes it the perfect proofing oven.
 
 

Next up are Honey Pecan Bars, my Honey Cookie item in the Make It with Honey Class. You have to use honey as your primary sweetener in this Class. Another "go to " recipe. In this recipe you bake a bottom shortbread crust first, cook up a honey pecan filling on the stovetop, then pour it over the crust and bake it some more. My notes from past years told me to bake the crust really well to make sure it's nice and firm for the filling. It's a bar cookie and bar cookies need to be firm enough to pick up and eat.

The crust comes out of the oven nicely brown. There are a couple cracks across the bottom but I figure the filling will hold everything together. Filling goes in, bars go back in the oven, then out to cool on a cooling rack. I've lined the whole pan with parchment paper so once it's completely cool I can lift the whole thing out and cut it into bars on my countertop.

By now my Loaded Potato Rolls are done with their first rise so I bring them back inside and shape them into rolls. Three trays of rolls then go back into my SUV for their second rise.

Next up, I put my macadamia nuts into the nut grinder to make them into coarse chunks, then under the broiler to toast them. Nut tray goes on the bun rack to cool.

Now to cut the caramels. They have set up for well over 18 hours now. I chill them briefly, then try to cut them. They cut beautifully but it's so hot and humid in my kitchen that they won't hold their shape for any length of time, especially after it's been cut into a little square. I had cut squares of wax paper that had been lightly greased to wrap them up in but it was a cumbersome process. I could only cut one row of caramels at a time before I had to return the pan to the refrigerator. I wrapped about 16 pieces (since I only needed 6) then put the rest of the pan on a cookie sheet and threw it in the refrigerator to deal with later.


Loaded potato rolls are now done rising so in the oven they go. Perfect. I love this recipe.



OK, 2 pm. I have time for one more item. I settle on making Molasses Cookies. Another recipe I've made for many years. In years past when I've entered more items I would always make all my cookie doughs several days in advance and put them in the refrigerator. Then, on Friday, all I had to do was scoop out the premade dough for my cookies. Now there is a BIG difference in how the cookies bake if you chill the dough first. There is an excellent explanation over at King Arthur Flour HERE. Most cookies bake and taste better if you chill the dough at least overnight. There are some exceptions. The other two cookies I planned to make were the exceptions so I just didn't pre-make any dough. In retrospect, I should have pre-made the molasses cookie dough.

First tray of molasses cookies came out too flat and spread out. I put the second tray in the refrigerator while the first tray was baking because I could see how fast the first tray was spreading. I then made a third tray and put that in the freezer. I generally put 8 or 9 cookies on a cookie sheet. This way once I get a cookie sheet of cookies I'm happy with, I can pick out the 6 that are the most uniform and take a bite out of another one to make sure it tastes OK. I end up with a lot of cookies with one bite out of them. Once I get the six I want, I put the rest of the dough away to bake later and move on to the next recipe.

It took all three trays of cookies before I got a tray of Molasses Cookies that I was happy with. Now it's almost 3 pm. I put all the cookies on the cooling racks and left to go pick up G.

The skies opened up and it started pouring rain while I drove to Carmel. Traffic on the Interstate was very stop and go. It will just be a matter of time before someone wrecks...

I pick up G and head back to the Interstate. I can already see that it's a parking lot on the overpass. I'm not taking any chances. I decide to drive through the city instead. At least that way if there's a wreck I'll have side streets to bypass it. Suddenly, traffic on the street I'm on comes to a standstill. What?!!! There's a stalled car in my lane. We all have to slooowly scooch past it. We finally get to SR 37. We made it in exactly the same amount of time it would have normally taken on the Interstate so I'm feeling pretty good about things now. We're flying down SR 37 and... it turns into a parking lot.

I can count on one hand the number of times I've pulled a U-turn on the highway and today was one of them. After about 10 minutes of crawling down the highway I turned around at the first cut-through I saw and decided to drive back up north then cut east over onto SR 135. We had to stop at the grocery store anyway. G was making an apple pie for the Fair and needed apples and I needed more bacon. So... we're tooling down SR 135 and, once again, traffic comes to a complete stop. WTF!! I'm ready to pull my hair out (plus I have to pee...) Inch along... inch along... I can see the problem now... the storm knocked the power out to the traffic lights down SR 135.

We finally get to the grocery store; hit the bathroom and pick up our groceries. The sky is BLACK as we're running to our car. As soon as we get in the skies open up and it DOWNPOURS. Lightening everywhere. G breaks open the bag of candy she had just bought and tells me, "We're going to die so I want to eat my candy first."

Well, we lived. We got home at 7pm. Ate something for dinner; I can't remember what. I turn most of the kitchen over to G to make her pie. I go over to plate my Molasses Cookies... pick up a cookie...and the whole thing just droops in my hand. All the cookies had sucked up more moisture from the humidity in the air in the 4 hours that had passed. The cookies are suppose to be soft and ever so slightly under baked in the middle but firm on the bottom. These were no longer firm. ACK!!! OK, I will have to try and gently crisp them somehow in the oven.

It then occurs to me to look at my pie. It has a crumb top. Usually it takes 2-3 days for the crumb top to get soft. It's always nice and crunchy for the first day or so. Not today. The top was already soft. I put it under a glass dome to prevent any more sogginess but the damage was already done.

G is making her pie so I made the Espresso Buttercream for the cake. I love this buttercream recipe but it involves heating a sugar water mixture on the stovetop to 240 degrees - so more heat in the kitchen.

Now to ice the cake... it occurs to me that the cakes have been sitting out on the racks since last night. Hopefully they haven't dried out. I touch their tops; they're sticky. Hmmm... no chance of anything drying out in this kitchen tonight! I use a cake knife to level the tops and then realize the cake is VERY moist - like so moist it gums up the knife. This is a very moist and dense cake to start with. It melts like fudge in your mouth because of it. I just hope the judges don't think the cake is not done. Nothing I can do about it now. I iced between the layers and crumb coated it, then stuck it in the refrigerator.

Moving on to Two-Layer Fudge, my entry in the Microwave Candy category in the Make It in the Microwave Class. It's a super easy recipe with chocolate fudge on the bottom and vanilla fudge on top. The chocolate pours fine. The vanilla is stiff. I'm not happy with it. I should make it over but I just want to move on at this point.

G's pie is now done and the kitchen is mine again. It's after midnight.

Next up are Bacon and Date Scones, my Other Quick Bread entry in the Quick Breads Class. First I had to fry up more bacon then I made the scones. Scones go in the refrigerator to chill an hour.

Buttered Popcorn and Malted Milk Ball cookies are next. They are my entry in the Drop Cookie category in the Cookie Class. They were the winner of the Popcorn Contest at the State Fair several years ago and a favorite of mine. The cookies have popcorn baked in them and taste best the day they are made or else the popcorn gets soggy so that's why I made them towards the end of the day.

After the popcorn cookies, I make the dough for the Oatmeal Cranberry Flax Cookies. They are my entry in the cookie category of the Heart Healthy Class. This has been a Class Champion before. The dough has to sit for at least 30 minutes for the oats to soften so while this dough is resting I make the dough for the Iced Pineapple Coconut Macadamia Cookies. This is my entry in the Other Cookie category in the Cookie Class. I created this recipe several years ago for the Ellison Bakery Cookie Contest at the State Fair.

Now to bake everything. Scones go in first, followed by the Oatmeal Cranberry Flax cookies, then the Coconut Macadamia. Check, check, check.

While the cookies are baking I start cutting my Two-Layer Fudge and Honey Pecan Bars for plating. The fudge cuts fine; the Honey Pecan Bars are another story. So... remember the cracks in the crust? The gooey filling leaked out through the cracks and collected under the crust in places, making the crust soft and gooey too. I managed to cut 6 pieces from near the edges where it wasn't quite as bad but it definitely was not a firm crust like it should have been. I really should have made this over but now it was the wee hours of the morning and I just couldn't do it.

One more batch of Espresso Buttercream to make, then the final layer of icing on the cake.

I still needed to ice the Coconut Macadamia cookies, type up some of the newer recipes, and finish weaving in some yarn for my crochet items but I just couldn't do it. I was hot and sticky and gross and tired. It was 5 am. I took a shower and went to bed, alarm set for 7:30 am.

Two hours later I was up and at 'em again. I finished icing the cookies. Typed the recipes. Finished the crochet. 10 am. It was time to load the car and GO.

 
 
Another exhausting night before the Fair. Some days I wonder why I do this but then I know... I love creating food that is beautiful to look at as well as wonderful to eat... and I love the competition.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Turning Lemons Into Lemonade

 
 
This is the week of the Johnson County Fair. Fair season for me though started last Thursday. All the County Fair items were due in by Saturday July 18th at 11am. For me, that meant I started on my food items on Thursday. Some years I've started earlier. This year I changed my strategy some.

There are 12 different baking Classes at the fair. Each Class is subdivided into items - for example the Cookie Class is subdivided into brownies, drop cookies, chocolate chip cookies, etc. Each item will place a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winner. All the 1st place winners then compete for Class Champion. The 12 Class Champions then compete for a Reserve Grand Champion and a Grand Champion.

In years past, I have brought upwards of 20 baked goods to the Fair. Crazy, huh? This year I decided to try and bring one good item for each Class, the item that I thought would be capable of being Class Champion. OK, there were a couple Classes where I just couldn't decide on one item but I was close... I ended up entering a total of 12 items across 9 different Classes.

One of the Classes that ended up with 2 items was Candy. I had a Apple Cider Caramel recipe that had been sitting in my recipe box for over a year and I was dying to try it out so that was going to be my Caramel item in the Candy Class.

The State Fair next month has a Maple Syrup Contest - basically, you cook or bake something with maple syrup in it. I am entered in this and I thought I'd practice my State Fair recipe at the County Fair. My plan was to enter Maple Walnut Fudge so I decided I would do a practice run and enter it as my Other Candy item in the Candy Class.

So...
Thursday rolls around and it's like 90 degrees with 90% humidity.

The Apple Cider Caramels use boiled cider. I usually order my boiled cider from King Arthur Flour. I wasn't organized enough this year to order it ahead of time so I had to make my own.

Making your own boiled cider is simple; just a bit time consuming. Take a half gallon of fresh apple cider and boil it down to 1 cup.

I make my boiled cider. I think it heats my kitchen up another 10 degrees...

The caramels have to sit in the pan they are poured in for 12-18 hours at room temperature after they are made. I only have one square pan and I need it for both the caramels and the fudge...

So, plan is to make the fudge first, lift it out of the pan as soon as it sets up, then make the caramels.

I make the fudge according to directions, cool it to 110 degrees, add walnuts, then start stirring... and stirring... and stirring. Fudge is tricky because you have to stir it until it starts to candy but if you're too slow in pouring it into your pan it will set up right in your saucepan. I could feel the fudge start to thicken so I poured it. If fudge is going to candy it will do so in a matter of minutes.

Ten minutes later... fudge is still "oozy." Crap. You can re-melt fudge and try to get it to candy again as long as there is nothing already mixed in. I already had walnuts in it so re-melting was not an option. Think, think... what to do?

The whole mess was actually the consistency of caramel. With this type of candy you cook it to a certain temperature to get fudge; cook it a little hotter and you get caramel and even hotter, you get toffee. It's all about how you heat your sugar. I figured I cooked it too long and made caramel instead of fudge. That's just fine except that I already had an item for my Caramel entry and you can't enter two things under the same item number.

What to do? I could remake it. Each batch contains, among other things, a cup of maple syrup. Maple syrup is expensive. I'm cheap. And I'm hot... and I don't have a lot of time -
- Side note: my younger daughter is at a dance intensive in Carmel, at least hour away from my house. She is dancing from 9 am to 4 pm everyday. That means we leave the house at 7:30 am and I return at 10 am. I'm "free" until 3 pm when I have to leave and pick her up, then fight rush hour traffic on the Interstate to get back home.

Anyhoos, I had 5 hours of food prep time on Thursday and I'd spent half of it already making boiled cider and cooking fudge that wouldn't candy. I threw the whole disaster into the refrigerator and thought some more.

Got it! If it was turning into maple walnut caramel instead of fudge, I can still enter it in the Other Candy category as long as I don't call it a caramel. I decided to use it as a caramel filling in a piece of candy like you get in a chocolate box and call them Maple Walnut Drops.

I melted a bag of white candy melts. I then started scooping the oozy mess into balls and threw them in the freezer to get hard so I had some chance in Hades of handling them. You have to turn in 6 candies for each entry. I made about 10 balls, covered them in white candy melts, then decided I was done with this project. Ten gives me enough for me to pick six that look similar and "good."

I left the rest of the oozing mess out on the counter on a sheet pan and moved on to making the caramels. I'll clean that whole mess up later.

Short while later... I look at the oozy mess on the sheet pan and the edges are lightening in color... it's losing it's shiny surface sheen... and it's solidifying into fudge...about 3 hours late.

I made the caramels, poured them in the square pan then left for Carmel.

After dinner I made my cakes. I am entering the Chocolate Espresso Stout Cake that I entered in the State Fair last year. Plan was to make the cakes on Thursday then ice them on Friday. Cakes were made without incident.


Now back to the failed fudge. My new creation looked pretty good...


Were the centers solid or caramel? I bit into one. Solid.


OK then. Maple Walnut Drops it is. My entry into the Other Candy category.

I didn't have the heart to throw out the rest of the now hardened mess so I cut it into pieces and brought it to my co-workers at work on Saturday. Surprisingly, they ate it all... but I'm convinced people at the hospital will eat anything.

Sunday I went to the Fair after work to see how I had done.


 
 
Winning the Candy Class with this creation was a total surprise. I don't think I could re-create it if I had to! Needless to say, I am also making a different item for the Maple Syrup Contest at the State Fair.
 
Tune in tomorrow if you want to hear how my Friday went.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Week 1 - Roller Coasters, Late Nights, Beer and Bacon

Well, it's was Week 1 of Monumental training and I ended up spending it like a twenty-something, which I'm NOT...

Sunday - 0 miles
Spent the morning buying food for King's Island and then went to work til midnight.

Monday - 0 miles
Took my daughter and 5 of her friends to King's Island for the day for her 16th birthday. All of us rode rides all day long. First thing I did was get on the Racer, the wooden roller coaster that had been a favorite of mine as a child...yah, as a child. I quickly discovered that I no longer have the back and neck of a 12 year old. I thought my teeth were going to get shook out of my head and I had a headache by the time it was over. But, did this stop me? Nooooo. We had Fast Pass bracelets for the day. We were going to ride rides all day. Thankfully, the newer metal roller coasters weren't quite as rattlely. In the afternoon, the girls went to the water park and played in the wave pool while the boys continued to ride rides. I took it upon myself to hurl myself down every waterslide I could find because I'm like that. Waterpark closed at 8 pm and all of us rode more roller coasters until the park closed at 10 pm. The kids all fell asleep before I got out of the parking lot. I had to drive 2 and a half hours home. I could hardly stay awake. Finally got to bed after 1 am.

Tuesday - 5 miles
Ohhh... I was sore from riding roller coasters. Sucks getting old!

Wednesday - 30 minutes of swimming + 5 miles
I hadn't been in the pool for over a week and I'm still thinking about doing a Sprint Tri next month. The swim is 300 meters. I can still only go 50 meters before I have to stop. It took me 15 minutes to complete 300 meters. Ugh. After that I did my run. SO much easier to run!

Thursday - 0 miles
Had to work the morning shift which means getting up at 4:30 am and as you all know by now, I am NOT a morning person! I was too tired after I got off work to do anything.

Friday - 6 miles
Had to work that same morning shift again but decided I would do the Midnight 5K in Seymour that night as my speed work for the week. I was so tired after work that I had to lay down for a couple hours and almost decided not to go since I wasn't even registered for it yet. However, I'm suppose to be marathon training and I'd only run 10 miles total for the week so I felt I had to go get some miles in.

Once I got to the race, it turned into a perfect night to run. Clear and temps in the mid-60's. I did a 2 mile warm up and got done right before the start. My goal was to see if I could run under 25:00. So...

Mile 1 - 7:32
Mile 2 - 8:11
Mile 3 - 8:19
last 0.1 - 0:35.7

Official time - 24:37.7 (7:55 pace)

Mile 3 read long for me so I probably ran 3 faster and the last 0.1 slower. Anyhoos, what's interesting was that I looked up last year's race post tonight and discovered I had run pretty much the exact same time last year at this race and I had had the same goal last year! I ended up finishing second in my age group this year. Did a 1 mile cool down and finally got back to my in-laws house in Columbus at 2 am to pass out.

Saturday - 0 miles
Frankly, I should have run but was too tired to run in the afternoon. That evening, my friend Hope and I went to the Beer and Bacon Classic.

Yup, all the craft beer and bacon related food you can eat between 7 pm and 10 pm.



This was my favorite bacon item - a beer flavored marshmallow that was toasted over an open flame then rolled in bacon, chocolate bits, and cookie crumbs. Pop it in your mouth in one bite. Heaven on a stick! Yes, this is why I'm in the "run to eat club!"

We didn't even make it to 10 pm. We were so full of food and beer (well, me beer; Hope was my designated driver) we had to roll ourselves to the car shortly after 9 pm and I was passed out asleep by 11.

So that's the Week 1 summary. 16 miles total. Lots of playing and not a whole lot of running.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Square One... Sparkler Sprint



Last week was back to square one. Time to start thinking about training for something again. I finally wanted to race again.

Admittedly, I had a pretty full first half of the year. Three full marathons in 98 days. I never planned it that way, it just happened. Then, the 500 Festival Mini on May 2nd, seven days after the last full. I'm one to chase times but not numbers. I ran the Mini because I was registered. The original plan had been to try to run a half PR either at Derby, the 500 Festival, or the Seymour Half on May 16th but since I didn't BQ in Napa I had to run the full at Derby. After that my legs were toast. I jogged through the 500 Festival Half purely on residual marathon training feeling like it was not the brightest thing to do then decided that I really didn't care to collect any more meaningless finishes. I pulled out of the Seymour Half as well as the Indiana Timing Memorial Weekend Triple (5K, 4 mile trail, and 1 mile) - all races I had pre-registered for - and decided not to register for anything else until I wanted to race again.

I think watching Western States was what did it. I finally wanted to get back into a training cycle. Then I perused my calendar... and then my work calendar. Not a lot of choices at this point. I settled on Monumental. It is roughly 18 weeks away.

So last week was square one again. The week before the first week of training. Time to start running more consistently again. I watched the finish of Western States online then went out for a run on Sunday, taking the rolling hills by my house. I was still thinking about Western States last year when I realized I was already at the 2 mile mark. I guess I was so deep in thought that I don't even remember how I got to where I was, but there I was already at the 2 mile mark. I got to 3, then turned around and went back home for 6 miles for the day.

Monday I was suppose to take my older daughter and her friends to King's Island for her 16th birthday but it was pouring rain so we decided to postpone the trip. The kids watched movies at our house all day and I went for a 7 mile run.

Tuesday was the same. I just started running and ended up doing 7 because it just seemed like a good number.

Wednesday was a 12 hour work day and decided it was a rest day since I was already up to 20 miles for the week which is the most mileage I've done in a week since the Derby Marathon in April.

Thursday I saw my chiropractor. I hadn't seen him in over a year. He spent a full hour with me and it was wonderful. I ran another 7 miles after that.

I couldn't decide what to run on Friday. 7 miles a day seemed to be a good number for me but I didn't want to go crazy my first week back either. Plus, I decided last minute to do a road race on Saturday as a kind of a time trial to see what kind of shape I was in and I had to go to work so I ran 3 miles instead.

Saturday the alarm went off and I didn't want to get out of bed. I thought about blowing off the race and just running by myself at a reasonable hour. However, I had to go to work again by 2:30 pm so I knew if I didn't get out of bed NOW, I'd probably not get a run in, so I climbed out of bed and went to my race.

It was the 4th of July Sparkler Sprint. I haven't done a 5K since April 4th so I really had no idea how this was going to pan out. I decided I'd be happy with anything that started with 25.

So... get there and find out the course had to be rerouted due to flooding and it's a bit short. Then, stupid Garmin won't track my distance. It's the same problem I had in Charleston. The watch says I have a satellite but when I start running it will only track the time so I essentially am wearing an expensive stopwatch. I discovered this on my warm up. I had planned on a 2 mile warm up, race, then 1 mile cool down to get 6 miles total for the day. Since the stupid watch wouldn't track distance I decided to just go out on the course and run 10 minutes out and 10 minutes back.

Now it's race time... I get to the 1 mile mark. Watch is reading 7:06. No flippin' way! The course markers have to be short too. 2 mile time is 15:06. Finish time - 22:56. The course was only 2.85 miles. I ended up running an 8:03 pace which translates to a 25:00 5K so I guess I should be happy I'm not terribly out of shape.

Nora Jo, me, and Jane

So 36 miles for my warm up week. Now I just need a training plan.

Monday, June 29, 2015

I Have a New Hero

It's hard to believe it's been a year. A year ago today I was out on the Western States trail pacing my friend John to his first 100 mile finish line. This year I stayed home. Last year I missed my oldest daughter's birthday to be at Western States. This year is her 16th birthday. I needed to be with my family.

John ran again this year so I relegated myself to following the race online and getting text updates from his friends. As I watched the webcast though, I missed it all. I'd like to go out there again to work the race. It's an experience unlike any other...

An experience unlike any other...

Shortly after the race ended one of his friends texted me a link to a finish line video. Western States posts all the racers finish line videos on their Facebook page. It was the finish line video of Gunhild Swanson. Last person to finish the race in 29:59:54 - 6 seconds under the 30 hour cut off. Gunhild Swanson is 70 years old. Today I saw her post-race interview.



She's my new hero. What she did at the end of her race is beyond amazing. If you read my post from last year's race, you can see that we struggled with that 30 hour cut off time for almost the entire race. When we reached Robie Point at mile 98.9, we had 62 minutes to go the 1.3 miles to the finish line but it was never a sure thing until we reached the track at Placer High School. John finished with 33 minutes to spare and I was having a heart attack the whole time. I was so emotionally spent at the finish that I had to leave before they blew the final horn at 30 hours. I had heard that sometimes there are runners still on the track at 30 hours that miss the cut off. I didn't think I could handle seeing that after our own team racing the clock the whole race.

Now, THIS WOMAN, takes a wrong turn late in the race - so she ends up running more than 100.2 miles - then gets to Robie Point with 17 minutes to get to the finish line! She finally gets on the track with just over 90 seconds left. You enter the track just after the second turn so it's about another 300 meters to the finish line. She had to run that at a 7:00 pace to make it! I remember at the end of the Derby Marathon this year I was running as hard as I could to finish... and it took me 2:27 to run my last 0.2 miles. This woman is not only 24 years older than me, she also had another 74 miles on her legs and runs it in 90 seconds.

Yes, I want to be Gunhild Swanson when I grow up.