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...
Top photo took 1st in the Human Interest category
Bottom photo took Honorable Mention in the Single Portrait category
 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.

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