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(A behind-the-scenes look at the ongoing saga of a woman's quest to garner more blue ribbons)
November (fair is ten months away): Although she has only a family of four to feed, decides to make two pies for Thanksgiving. Tries out a new layered pumpkin pie recipe, and makes up one for triple chocolate chunk pecan pie, sans pecans. Makes a definite decision about the pumpkinwith whipped cream in the middle, it is different and delicious. Not so sure about the chocolate pie; serving it with pumpkin is like serving red wine with pork chops, and its taste is hard to discern. Older daughter announces she'd like the pie for her birthday, so it becomes a go.
December (fair is nine months away): Mastering all the various baking entries is a goal, so she decides to try out cookie recipes. Bakes mini chocolate chip cookies. Taste like packed dust, and they languish in the snowman cookie jar all through the month. Wonders if her snowball cookies will pique the judges' interest. This idea is put on the 'Maybe' shelf, because while they are rich and delicious, they are time-consuming to make. Plus, they are comically known to the adults in her life as 'nipple cookies', and the judges might wonder why a pervert entered the cookie category.
Finds a recipe for grasshopper pie, which can be entered in the 'Other' pie category. Makes it; immediately renames it 'Toothpaste Pie', for it has the consistency and smell of Colgate. Three-quarters of the pie remain in the fridge for several weeks until it is finally tossed out.
January (fair is eight months away): Begins to think of ways to win first place in the higher paying national contests. Thanks God there is no longer a Spam contest. Tries to come up with original recipes for Martha White cornbread and Hidden Valley Ranch dressing. Thinks horseradish might be a good ringer. It will certainly stay on the judges' tongues long after the actual tasting.
Settles on a wedding cake design, gleaned from the Modern Bride website. She has already won Best in Show in the decorated cakes category, but an ex-professional baker has dominated the category, as well as the wedding cake one, for the past two years. With sparks of vengeance (and jealousy), she wants the title back. The dubious tone her sister uses as she tells her she can do it is not lost on her.
Drags out fondant and tints it blue with food paste coloring. Seven years ago she tried to cover her older daughter's cake with fondant and nearly wrecks the cake (by wanting to throw it out the window), but now she knows to treat it like a pie crust, and flattens and rolls it out accordingly. She successfully covers a small blue bowl without cracking or tearing the fondant, and does a little happy dance. Tries to figure out how to get the cornstarch off the fondant without ruining it. She leaves the bowl on the counter for her husband to see. Husband comes home after a late night at work, thinks the bowl is dirty, and almost washes it before realizing it is covered with what he thinks is Play-Doh.
Younger sister make pact to compete against each other and grow giant pumpkins this spring and summer. If she can get it over three hundred pounds, she will enter hers in the appropriate category at the fair. Last year's winner was around two hundred and fifty pounds. Wonders how she's going to get it into the car, though.
February (fair is seven months away): Finds a 1,000-page illustrated baking cookbook in the bargain bin at the local bookstore and buys it, hoping to find more recipes. She settles on a citrus bread for the fruit bread category. The flavoring ingredients are lemon, lime and orange. After tasting it, she decides that maybe lime should be omitted. Younger daughter hands back the bread after one bite, and husband will not touch it. The bitter taste cannot be removed even with toothpaste.
Makes homemade fudge for the first time: chocolate honey. Her children love it, and she splits it up into baggies so she will not eat the entire pan herself. Husband takes it to work; when asked, says he can't stop eating it. When asked if he can taste the honey, he falls silent, apparently not having heard his wife say twice beforehand that it was chocolate honey fudge. Good to know that his allergy to bees does not also extend to the product they make.
Purchases giant red zinnia seeds. Hopes cornmeal will truly prevent the brown rot that destroyed her chances at a ribbon last year.
Gets the trial use of a cookbook for thirty days, and finds a recipe for spiced pumpkin bread. Hopes it's not as misleading as the citrus bread. It is not, and covered with a thin glaze it is determined to be her fair entry. Wonders if pumpkins are fruits, although she's grown them before.
Tries to think of more original recipes for the Hidden Valley contest. Wonders if some type of sweetener can be added to the ranch dressing to turn it into a dessert. Filled crepes? Husband grimaces when this is suggested. Checks last year's premium book, sees that there is no dessert category. Goes back to the drawing board.
Next Time: the results of the Dia de Los Muertos cake for younger daughter's birthday, and if horseradish-bacon cornbread is a 'yay' or 'nay'.
"S is for SUSAN who perished of fits
T is for TITUS who flew into bits..."--The Gashlycrumb Tinies, by Edward Gorey