Have you given much thought to how your obituary is going to appear in the newspaper? You know that many more people will read your obituary than will attend your funeral. For many of us prairie dwellers, this will be our moment to be on the red carpet - and we won't worry one minute that Joan Rivers and her daughter Melissa will be ripping our wardrobe to shreds! You see the souls that truly care about us put more value in our deeds and the written word our printed obituary.
It is difficult to realize that we all cannot list in our obituary that we served as president of the Sons of Norway, Minot Camera Club, Garden Club, Lions Club or even the very smallest, but truly unique club - that being the African Violet Club. We are now assuming that you did try to make the world a better place and much of this was accomplished by your generous giving to missions: worthwhile causes such as the Red Cross, American Cancer Society, American Legion, etc. and also by stopping often at lemonade stands set up by darling children all across the Peace Garden State.
That being said, what else makes your obituary unique, rare and maybe even matchless? You do realize that next to watching steamy soap operas, some folks claim their next height of adventure is checking out the obituary page. You can add interest by noting that you collected 110 inkwells, restored several threshing machines, embroidered a set of pillowcases for all of your grandchildren - complete with tatting - or danced with Lawrence Welk in California and Strasburg, North Dakota. But none will give you as much satisfaction as baking and entering your favorite recipe at the North Dakota State Fair. Some of you might have baked for your local fair, but now is the time to do a sweet foxtrot with baking pans and glide them to the showcases at the State Fairgrounds.
Several years ago, I had the pleasure of entering a pie-baking contest at the North Dakota State Fair sponsored by North Dakota's first lady. Mikey Hoeven served as the judge. It was nearly 100 degrees by the time I walked my lemon meringue pie into the contest. (Thank goodness the meringue had not fallen!) It was a delightful afternoon as she commented, "You can make lemon pie for me anytime." (That's one way to get to Washington, D.C.!)
If you're looking for a straight shooter, perhaps like yourself, and you are clear where you stand in the kitchen when it comes to baking cookies, cakes, breads and so forth, the North Dakota State Fair is a match for you. The baking rules are laid out and easy to follow. I recently visited with Shelly Parish, who is in charge of the baking exhibits. She informed me that the deadline for completing the entry form is July 8. Your baked items will not be brought to the fairgrounds until Wednesday, July 16, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Thursday, July 17, from 8 to 11 a.m.
Quit worrying that you didn't get to be president of the Eagles Club. You have been getting compliments for years on your sugar cookies. So baby, take a bow, because your cupcakes are going to get even more rave reviews. They might even bring you the sweetest success - such as a blue, red or white ribbon. In fact, who knows - maybe even the "Best of Show" will be yours. Don't think for one minute that a purple rosette is not going to be noticed in your life accomplishments!
The State Fair in Minot is your fair and they are depending on you to bring a real sweetness, beauty and pleasure to the 2014 event. So open your recipe box, cookbooks, or travel online to find an entry that you want to claim. If you are still having trouble deciding what to enter, ask the most truthful people in your world - the ones who let harmony and tact sift through the floor cracks years ago: your family. (They will let you know if your buns could break a window!) Finally, remind yourself that ambition is still a prized quality in the world, even if the couch potatoes think it went out of style years ago.
Here are 10 tried and true baking tips I like to use on the first lady and all judges at the State Fair and beyond:
Before starting a recipe, ALWAYS read it carefully. Make sure you have all the ingredients and proper equipment. (I would rather eat linoleum than have to stop in the middle of baking to run to the store - thus the reason we have vintage maple hardwood in our kitchen.)
Eggs should be at room temperature. It is important to use the size called for in the recipe. I experienced a few flops by ignoring this. Large means U.S. Grade A large; use extra large or small only when specified.
Sift ingredients. I believe cakes especially turn out much better when the flour is sifted. Either use a sifter or simply dump dry ingredients into a fine-mesh sieve, and shake into bowl.
Measure well. Use dry measuring cups for dry ingredients, such as flour and sugar, and liquid measuring cups for liquids such as water, milk and oils. When measuring for dry ingredients, spoon into cup and scrape level with knife. For liquid measuring, place the cup on a level surface and watch at eye level as you pour. Measuring can make or break a recipe.
Set out all items you plan to use for the recipe such as bowls, knives, spoons, measuring cups and so forth. This makes baking movement flow with ease.
In recipes that call for milk, I prefer to use whole milk unless otherwise noted.
Cracking eggs. Now my wife is a whiz at separating eggs with her hands and the shells. Not so for myself - I use a plastic egg separator over another bowl.
When recipes call for zest - such as lemon or orange, grate only the colored part of the peel, as the white part is bitter.
Knowing when something is done depends on so many factors. I find using a timer and watching closely are my best two defenses for getting perfect doneness. Baking experience also gives you a great advantage. As I have noted before - my mother-in-law wins the rosette in this category as years of steady baking have laden her with a keen sense of "it is done - take it out now!"
Now The Archies are not the only ones who should be saying "Sugar, Sugar." Get to know that sugars come in superfine, which is white sugar ground finer that standard sugar. It loves to duet with meringues and boiled frostings. Brown sugar - both light and dark, is granulated sugar with some molasses mixed in. I most often used light, but there are times such as in cakes and fruitcakes when dark is preferred.
I know I said "10" but . When a recipe calls for nuts, it is always best to go for freshness. Nuts contain oil and will go quickly rancid if not properly stored. (I prefer to use glass jars in the freezer.) I look forward to seeing you at the fair!