The city of Lafayette has been hosting the Quaker Oatmeal Festival since 1996. This annual celebration starts with an oatmeal breakfast, which leads into an oatmeal baking contest, a health fair and a 5k run, and ends with hundreds of people getting plenty of fiber in their diets -- and free, full-sized cans of Quaker Oats to take home. Along the way, they can also hug a gigantic, inflatable box of oatmeal. This was my first oatmeal fest, and I wasn't sure if I would find a few bored senior citizens or a huge crowd. I definitely found the latter: There was no parking for miles around, and this picturesque, charming small town was swarming with folks in athletic gear, all heading toward Pioneer Elementary School. Lafayette residents take this festival seriously. But then, so did I.
I was entering my signature Oatmeal-Banana Cookies with Toasted Saigon Cinnamon in the oatmeal bake-off. I had spent the week prior designing and building the display, checking lighting and making test batches. The night before I hit the road, I'd finally made the perfect batch of cookies: moist, fragrant with banana, and topped with a titillating combination of hand-toasted ground cinnamon -- thank you, Savory Spice Shop -- and edible gold powder for a good, glowing shine.
I paid my $5 entry fee, set up my display and had a look at the competition. There weren't many categories, but it appeared that I was far from the only one who'd decided that entering cookies was the way to go. There were oatmeal bars, pies, muffins, breads, kids' recipes, oatmeal pet treats, gluten-free goodies and every kind of oatmeal cookie imaginable -- chocolate chip, peanut butter, M&Ms, white chocolate, strawberry, raisin, chocolate...and my banana cookies.
To help fortify myself, I headed off to the oatmeal breakfast, billed as having the world's largest toppings bar. I haven't been around the entire world, so I couldn't say for sure on that one, but the toppings bar was huge, divided into sections like "Fruit," "Nuts" and "Candy," which included everything from Heath bar bits to Hot Tamales. Democrat Mike Foote, who is running for the Statehouse in District 12, was there on oatmeal-scooping patrol; after I got my oatmeal, I headed over to the fresh fruit section of the toppings bar -- but like everyone else, I ignored the bowl of cantaloupe. So much sad there.
I stuffed a tray with hot oatmeal, oatmeal muffins, oatmeal pancakes and a double coffee, and went to find a spot at one of the packed cafeteria tables. I ended up seated across from a nice married lady with kids, and while we discussed how progressive Lafayette was, she made a point of telling me that there were lesbians there. "There's a few of them -- my mom babysits for them!" she proudly exclaimed.
My gut crammed with delicious oaty fiber goodness, I walked across to the recreation center for the health fair, where I learned about sleep apnea and Oriental medicine, and discovered after a free hearing test that my decade or so of concert-going hadn't permanently damaged my hearing, as I'd assumed it had. I also stopped by the Quaker Oat booth, where a pleasant representative gave me the rundown on new and exciting (subjective, but I like oatmeal) products such as Whole Hearts, an oaty-full cereal shaped like little hearts. She also gave me a full-sized box of Quaker oatmeal, so my regularity would be assured for the next couple of weeks.
On the way out of the health fair, I saw the poor, dehydrated Quaker Oats mascot being unzipped from his stifling costume so that he could get some air, but the poor thing was still being mobbed by inconsiderate parents and eager children. I suggested to the mascot handlers that they hide Mr. Oats behind a tree for a ten-minute break sans shorties and camera-toting parental units.
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But I had no time to see if this was carried out, because it was time to hit the atrium for the People's Choice voting at the baking contest, where I ran into Brutus and Rob -- my pals from the IKEA free fish sleepover. Brutus had entered her best raw-foods recipe for gluten-free chocolate-chip cookie balls. The place was mobbed with people sampling the goods, and my cookies were almost gone, so I took that as a sign that they had a chance at being voted the best. I certainly thought they were the best. But I did notice that my display was a bit bougie compared to the gingham-lined picnic baskets and unadorned casserole dishes that other people had used to display their cookies.
The votes were tallied and the winners announced: Brutus won third place for her gluten-free cookies, receiving a heart-shaped gift box filled with oatmeal/baking accoutrements -- and I didn't win anything. I went to pack up my display and was less loser-gloomy after I saw that all my cookies had been eaten. Maybe the edible gold powder was over the top....sigh.
Still, the day wasn't a total wash. I left still incredibly full from that breakfast, and also full of ideas for how to win the cooking competition next year. Maybe I could come up with a new oatmeal bread recipe -- and also find an old-timey picnic basket lined with gingham.