My Culinary Styles at the Fair

LA County Fair before it opens
I've gone to the LA County Fair for the last three years and it's always been fun, but this year was different. It was different, because I had a horse in the race.

As soon as I get through the fairground gates, I head to the barn-like building that houses the Culinary Styles and craft competitions. To your right: lines of canned and pickled vegetables, marmalades, jellies, jams and preserves lining a wall and shining like jewels. To your left: the tablescape contestants with scorecards on view for each entry. I like the tablesettings themselves, but I kind of love the scorecards, with comments from judges like, "your setting includes a soup spoon, but there is no soup on the menu," and "glassware is... questionable."

Between the jars and the tablescapes: cases filled with the winners of the baking competition. I entered the baking competition this year. In early August, I downloaded a list of the categories and started making some picks, which was no easy task. There are eight classes in the "Yeast Bread" category. Twice that in "Baking Powder and Quick Bread." Twenty-one classes in "Cookies"--molasses, pumpkin and Mexican Wedding Cookies each get their own. No "decorated houses" allowed in "Sugar Art" and all cakes must be real, except anniversary cakes which can be Styrofoam, but frosting must be fresh.

It was all a bit overwhelming, but I ended up selecting four entries. I submitted Fruit Muffins and Scones in the "Baking Powder and Quick Bread" division; Brownies in the "Cookies" division; and, my wild card, Other in "Confections." I filled out the forms, sent in my entry fee and started gathering recipes.

Entries were due to the Culinary Styles barn on Tuesday, August 31st between 3 and 7pm. I took the day off work and between 6pm on Monday an 9am on Tuesday, I made Banana-Granola Muffins (with homemade granola, of course), scones with vanilla bean-infused cream and a vanilla-lemon glaze, my favorite brownies (no nuts!), and caramel corn with a blend of spices (cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, I may be forgetting something).

my entries & recipes fit perfectly in this bag

Then I went to the DMV to renew my drivers license. While I waited, I considered how I would pack my entries and what kind of burrito I should order at my favorite burrito place in Pomona (Los Jarritos).

safety first!

By 1pm, I was eating a carne asada burrito. By 3pm, I was driving onto the fairgrounds. I actually got to drive through the lines of empty food kiosks and skeletons of rides, just beginning to be assembled. I noticed a stream of people carrying plates and boxes covered with foil and followed them into the Culinary Styles barn. There, I bid farewell to to my little baked good babies and headed back to Hollywood.

entries being dropped off at the fair

Last Sunday, I was back at the fair and I didn't win anything, but I took a good look at the entries that did win and got a feel for my competition. I think I'll enter again next year. The lady who checked in my fruit muffins, scones, brownies and other said they were expecting 700 entries this year and we can't all be winners. But it was genuinely fun to feel like I was a part of the fair. I noticed that all the winning brownies had nuts. To me, nuts in brownies are ... questionable.