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View From Lodi, CA: Not An Immigration Column! Or, "Baking in the Hot Sun"
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August 20, 2004, 05:00 AM
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[VDARE.COM NOTE: We interrupt our defense of the historical American nation, and our complaints about the historical Mexican nation coming to America, to bring you a message from real life. There are more things in life than immigration reform. Or as Samuel Johnson put it

"How small of all that human hearts endure,

That part which laws or kings can cause or cure!"

It`s still summer, you know. Enjoy yourself.]

Previous Guzzardi food columns

Krispy Kreme Kraters (Plus: Amazing Joe Doughnut Recipe

Bon Appetit, Julia Child!

Fruitcakes—As Memorable As A Story by Capote

Keylime Pie for Christmas!

What To Do About Bananas

Hot Chocolate For Thanksgiving!

When people ask me what I did during the summer of 2003, I have a unique answer:

"I ran for Governor of California and I entered the world of competitive baking."

Although I had fun at both, I did better at baking than at politics.

I won about a dozen ribbons—mostly blue and red—at the San Joaquin County Fair and the California State Fair.

And while I will never return to the campaign trail, I`ll be spending the next three weeks in my test kitchen getting ready for Sacramento—the fair, that is, not the Governor`s job.

I`ve identified my long-term goal as winning more blue ribbons than Karen Chesnut. Last year in Sacramento Chesnut won the staggering total of 12. Chesnut had 32 entries at the California State Fair and another 50 in the Yolo County Fair.[Smells like victory By Blair Anthony Robertson, Sacramento Bee, August 13, 2003]

I won`t be able to top Chesnut`s record this year since I only have eight entries. But I am working up to multiple entries at fairs up and down the state.

One thing that Chesnut and I have in common is that baking takes up a good portion of our lives.

What started as a simple pastime has become a passion. Rarely does a day go by that I don`t bake something. I have no fewer than 25 different kinds of flour in my special freezer that is reserved baking items only.

Mapping out my strategy for this year, I compiled a list of "Do`s" and "Don`ts" that I hope will make it possible for me to go eight for eight.

Here, in a nutshell, is what I learned last year:

Enter chocolate dishes. Although baking is all kinds of wonderful breads and pastries, if you want to win, chocolate gives you the best edge.

Triple chocolate chip cookies win. Fig bars lose.

While my "DO" advice is limited to using chocolate, I compiled a long list of "DON`TS"

  • Don`t enter items that taste best fresh out of the oven. Last summer, I entered two killer items…an orange-current scone and sky-high cinnamon rolls loaded with butter and golden raisins. Still warm, they are nothing like the commercial products that you may have eaten at Starbucks or at the airport. But they suffer when judged eight hours later. Chocolate, on the other hand, improves slightly after the flavors blend. Or as the old saying goes, "Bake today, cut tomorrow."

  • Don`t enter anything with cream toppings or fillings. Despite all precautions, by the time they arrive at their destination—on an August day in Sacramento with temperatures around 100 degrees—your lovely cream peaks are mush. Last year, at the Pomona County Fair in Los Angeles, it was so hot people fainted waiting in line. Imagine the effect of that heat on your banana cream pie.

  • Don`t attend during the actual judging of your creations. This can be a real downer. A judge will bite off a small crumb of a cupcake you woke up at 3:00 AM to make, roll it around in his mouth, then say, "Needs more cinnamon."

  • Don`t put too much credence in the panelists written comments. Judge A says to make your cookies smaller; but Judge B recommends larger. My rule of thumb—from which I will not vary—is that cookies cannot ever be too big.

  • Don`t—and this is a big one—take your dogs along when you deliver your entries to the fair grounds. The Tupperware has not been invented that can keep the scent of a freshly baked cake away from my dog`s nostrils. Even though the treats are in the passenger`s seat and the dogs are in the back, I had to fend the hounds off the entire trip.

No column about baking would be complete without a few words about Julia Child.

Two years ago while I was in Washington D.C., I was invited to preview the Julia Child exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum. I discovered to my embarrassment that I have a larger inventory of whisks than Julia had. But it was a thrill to get a behind the scenes tour of Julia`s kitchen and to hold the pearl handled lobster forks that someone had generously given to her.

Many of the recipes that I will be entering in the California State Fair were originally in Julia`s book, Baking with Julia. And I picked up important pointers from the five volume video collection titled Julia and Jacques: Cooking at Home available at the Lodi Library.

Finally, I remember Julia`s greatest advice for cooks at all levels. I pass it on to you now on the chance you haven`t heard it before:

"All cooking and baking errors can be overcome with either parsley or whipped cream."

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.