It was dark this morning. Very dark. It was also raining. The week had been a little stressful, and my early morning self (who is an uncooperative punk) did not want to get out of bed. But then I remembered: Bacon competition at the State Fair. It was on. It was SO on. I found coffee and was out the door before the sun came up.
This whole thing started with smack talk. PJ, the one who won a ribbon for her angel food cake this year, had just announced that she’d be entering the fair. She’s always a good sport. She encouraged competition. She sent around an e-mail about all the categories.
“I am going to win the bacon contest,” I announced loudly.
PJ’s husband, JJ, raised an eyebrow. “Oh really?” he said. “Because I might challenge you.” More trash talk ensued. But he wrestled my idea out of me, by being sporting enough to share his idea first. “Bacon sushi,” he said. ” Take that to the bank.” I said, “Mine’s a bite-sized shrimp and grits appetizer, heavy on the bacon. Like on a homemade cracker, something you can pick up and eat at a cocktail party.” At that point, we realized that our groundbreaking, world-improving bacon ideas were not all that far apart. Bite sized things, wrapped in bacon. We combined forces. We went heavy on local ingredients, and worked on our recipe’s “story.” A poetic North Carolina narrative.
JJ, I should add, is a scientist who makes Iron Man suits for a living. He won’t admit it. But when you press someone for details about what science they’re research-sciencing, and they start mumbling into their beer about “classified” and “advanced circuitry” and “responsive textiles” and “special applications,” Iron Man suits are a reasonable assumption.
Whatever. He won’t make me one. Damn it.
The important thing here, though, is that working on a cooking competition with scientists is a smart move. The combined scientific knowledge in the PJ/JJ household is intimidating. They’re great collaborators. And great experimenters. And great cooks.
This morning we gathered, baconed up, and assembled. PJ dropped me off at the fair and went off to her job doing science things, and JJ was teaching a lecture on science things, while I delivered our dish to the North Carolina Pork Council. I traipsed around the fair in the rain while the judges deliberated, and then JJ and I met up to hear the results. I was suddenly really nervous. I had more emotion tied up in the Bacon Competition than I had admitted to myself. There were a lot of serious looking cooks there, loitering around the judges. It was intense.
And we took second place. We were absolutely thrilled. We won $150, a pig-shaped cutting board, an apron (they were nice enough to give us two since we were a team,) a pork thermometer, and a toothpick dispenser. And the Pork Council people were really nice to us, and wrote out names on the big sign at the fair, and then sent us off to be on television.
Have mercy. Tell a girl ahead of time, and she’ll get up early enough to do something to her hair and consider her outfit choices. Also, we pre-arranged that JJ would be our spokesperson, but then they put the mike in my face and I had to talk. I look, on camera, as though I have spent the last several weeks consuming bacon. Unflattering. But funny, and it all made for a way better than average Wednesday. I am seriously delighted that Team Bacon is runner-up, for North Carolina’s pork challenge. The Miss Congeniality, if you will.
I stopped at a drive-through for a drink on the way back to the office. I still had on my pork council apron, with the big red ribbon tied to the strap. The guy in the window handed me a Coke, and his face lit up with a smile and he said, “Are you queen?”
“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I am.”