The Metamorphosis of Miss NiNi

It’s always amazing how the personality and self confidence of a child metamorphoses as he or she matures.

Take me, for instance. As an expressly shy little girl, I thought the reason mom dressed up in a skirt was so that I could hide behind it when in public. Fortunately for me, it was the 1950s, the era of full circle skirts. Mom had spent time at the Singer treadle sewing machine and had sewn a skirt of this design for herself. It was beautiful! (I should know as I often got a bird’s-eye view of the design when my shyness brought me up close and personal!). She was a strikingly tall woman, so when she attired herself in this pink and grey floral skirt, her pink dotted Swiss blouse and wide grey elastic cinch belt that so fashionably emphasized her waistline, she not only made Dad proud of how she looked, but her skirt became the cloak of protection that, on demand, hid me from the glares and stares of the world.

As a 10-year-old, I excitedly joined 4-H, and from that point on, my self-assurance grew by leaps and bounds. I must say though that it was the experience of having given annual 4-H demonstrations (now called educational presentations) that really was the catalyst that brought me out from behind Mom’s skirts and into a world of ever-gaining self-assuredness.

Are you asking yourself, how does this tie in with baking? Let me explain.

I can pretty much recite the titles of each yearly 4-H demonstration that I had presented on the county, district, and state levels. All but one of the ten given in my 4-H career involved food preparation. Titles such as “Making Muffins,” “Making Banana Bread,” “Making Shrimp Salad,” Making Humpty Dumpty Salad Boats” headlined the pages of information that I learned in order to try to gain a blue ribbon and advance on to the next level of competition. (We weren’t very creative with titles, were we? But you get the picture!)

Most memorable was the very first 4-H demonstration I gave, “Making Muffins.”

Let’s talk first things first though…what should I wear for this big event? Since I needed to sew something for my first 4-H clothing project, it was decided I would make a skirt and top to wear as the “merry-muffin” maker.

Mom gently guided me as I selected fabric in the basement of our J.C. Penny store. She then taught me the basics of clothing construction as I sat at the Singer gaining coordination with my foot working the treadle and my hands guiding the fabric. With outfit completed, I proudly wore the lavender top and lavender and white floral print gathered skirt underneath my crisp white apron that was imprinted with the green 4-H clover. Back in the 1960s, no 4-H food presenter stepped on to the stage without a white 4-H headband tied around her head (great for flattening the curls of my Toni home perm). I certainly looked official!

However, I will never forget how I kept adjusting my top so that it would stay on my shoulders. Wouldn’t you know, the judge commented on that. She suggested that in the future I should wear clothing that would fit me better so that I would feel more comfortable as a presenter and my adjusting actions wouldn’t distract the audience’s attention. (Great advice I still heed today!)

As I mixed my muffins and put the batter into the metal muffin cups, I not only passed on a recipe but also knowledge about food ingredients and nutritional information.

Did you know that “flour settles as it stands”? That quote has been imbedded in my brain for over a half century. Why is that important to know? I’ll tell you. If the flour wasn’t sifted before measuring, it was possible to have an inaccurate measurement with too much of that ingredient in the muffin batter. Result: Dry muffins…not good!

AND did you know that if you stir the batter too much, the muffins can develop tunnels as they bake? Result: Muffins that are tough to eat…also not good!

I had practiced my demonstration multiple times before the contest. For days prior to the contest, each noon meal featured 12 of my practiced beauties. Dad was truly relieved when he could put his muffin-eating days behind him! He said so!

Funny how the events of childhood do truly precede the passions that are expressed as adults! Even as a young North Dakota 4-Her, I loved learning about food and passing that information on to others. That desire was nurtured with university food and nutrition classes. They prepared me for my first job in the food industry at which I comfortably gave food presentations on television and at innovative cooking schools. As a wife and mom, life’s experiences in the kitchen fueled my passion for competitive baking and recipe creation. And now, my opportunities in the food industry keep broadening as a food entrepreneur and baking columnist. Who knows what experiences within the food industry are in my future? I’m excited to find out!

Step by step, the green and white 4-H boost was the kick start I needed to build my confidence and start me on the way to a lifelong love of the food industry. I no longer need Mom’s circle skirt of protection to shield me in this big world. But it was sure comforting when I did need it!

Miss NiNi

Want to talk about baking? You can chat with Miss NiNi at chat@missnini.com