Rule Reading FAIL at the Iowa State Fair...and Winning Recipes

I hate rules. Especially reading them. Especially pages of rules in 9-pt type that run all the way to the margin. This is why I didn't read the Iowa State Fair cooking contest rules. Looking at that first very full page of nested bullets and all the pages behind it, my brain said, "Run away!" which is why I had no idea that our cooking contest entrants had to pre-register by some date in July (I still haven't read the rules) to enter a State Fair cooking contest. I thought you could just show up with a dish, which is dumb. That'd be like a speed boat contest that didn't require a boat license: you'd get a lot of yahoos showing up with dented speed boats hitched to their hoopties.

When our crew first arrived at the Elwell Family Food Center, one of the volunteers at the check-in booth looked at my Saltlickers t-shirt. I watched her eyes grow wide in terror. "Are you the Saltickers lady?" she gasped. "No, but that old bat owes me money!" is what I should've said, but instead I said, "Why?"

"Your entrants..." she muttered, so aghast, I thought one of our customers must've set themselves on fire. Suddenly the capable and awesome food contest superintendent, Karen McKilligan, was at my elbow. I wondered if the volunteer had pushed some silent emergency button under the table. Karen explained what happened. "This is totally because I didn't read the rules," I said, and Karen agreed.

This meant we could still have our contest, but it wouldn't be sanctioned by the Iowa State Fair, which meant our entrants couldn't get ribbons or their names added to the roster of winners that's kept in a radioactive-proof vault at the center of the earth, I imagine.

At first, I was really bummed. Then I had a giant plastic cup of Firetrucker's Cat in a Tree ginger cider and thought, "Sanctioned, shmanctioned! Screw ribbons! We're gonna give trophies!" I love trophies—both getting and giving them. Wanna see someone go apes*t? Give 'em a trophy with golden kid doing a karate kick on top and their name on it. It's magic.

Let's call it an auspicious coincidence that only three people entered the contest that day: my old college buddy, Lisa, who drove all the way from Iowa City (thank you/I'm so sorry), her daughter, Rachel, and Susan, who actually had read the contest rules, emailed me about it, and when I responded, "I think you just show up!" had her husband email me to triple-check! Susan, you are a great reader AND a great cook.

When it was time for me to take the mic and introduce the contest, I was ready to own my mistake. I was so nervous, I don't really remember what I said, but I could see the volunteers in their red State Fair regulation smocks beaming and people laughing. I'm pretty sure I mentioned the trophies. The next day, Collin said that I'd told everyone in the Elwell Family Food Center, "I'M TIRED OF LEARNING!!!!!" Tara's friend, Paul, corroborated this. "You did indeed. Several times."

Bottom line: we had a ball. All three dishes were wonderful and totally different. The scribes who wrote down everything judges say about the dishes said it was the best contest they'd ever scribed. Afterwards, all the volunteers got to chow down on the grub, which isn't allowed in a sanctioned contest. Next year, we'll do it right, but it was fun doing it all wrong—and it still turned out delicious!

Huge Thank Yous to judges Barbara Ching and Tara Kammel. You gals are marble jar friends, indeed.

For the recipes, click here and type STATE FAIR into the search bar.

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