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These were some tasty books

Library event elicits cooking creativity

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As a literary genius and great humanitarian, I strongly believe you should never judge a book by its cover.

No, in a free and democratic society, I believe it is essential to judge books by the way they taste.

I made this discovery over the weekend when I served as an "expert judge" at the Millennium Library's fourth annual Books2Eat Festival, wherein contestants were required to whip up edible works of art inspired by books.

The idea here is the masterpieces had to be made from items we judges would be willing to put inside our mouths, and they had to either physically resemble a book, or a character from a book, or reference a scene from a book, or even be a pun on the title of a book.

"It's just a chance for people to get in touch with their creative side," Danielle Pilon, the library's head of reader services, explained when I arrived at the Carol Shields Auditorium on the second floor. "It can be anything, as long as it's edible. We had a raw fish in a skillet entered the first year. I don't recall what it symbolized."

Luckily, there was nothing fishy about this year's entries, all of which were incredibly clever and unlikely to cause the judges' gastrointestinal systems to go into reverse-thruster mode, if you catch our culinary drift.

Joining me on the judging panel were Carol Bigold, co-owner of the High Tea Bakery and an expert in everything to do with cake and cookies, and local author Anita Daher, who, like me, used to own a basset hound and has written several novels for young readers featuring a plucky basset named Sausage.

The way the judging worked is the three of us would wander around and frown at each entry, then make professional judging comments such as: "Oh this one is adorable!" Or: "How (bad word) cute is this?"

If you have never been forced to sit in judgment of cake, it can be extremely stressful. "It's going to be very hard to pick a winner," declared co-judge Carol.

This caused me to scowl in a literary manner. "No," I told her, firmly. "It's going to be a piece of cake."

"OK, you need to stop saying that, Doug," Carol politely replied, and, in her defence, it was probably the 15th time I had spouted that particular joke.

In the Professional category, it was a neck-and-neck battle between a cake inspired by the kids book The Very Hungry Caterpillar that featured a green caterpillar tunnelling through a cake version of the book, and a cake replica of Humpty Dumpty wherein the oversized egg was sitting on a brick oven and being lured into a giant frying pan by two tiny cake chefs.

In the end, the caterpillar created by Lachance Custom Cake Designs crawled to victory. "The entire story was laid out in cake," judge Anita gushed as we nibbled the hindquarters of the big green-icing insect.

In the kids category, Most Bookish went to a cake based on The Cat Who Went to Paris that featured a delicious chocolate tabby cat perched on a suitcase sporting a "Paris" sticker and the French flag.

Most Humorous went to a cake rendition of the final agonizing moments of the Big Bad Wolf who was being boiled in a pot surrounded by The Three Little Pigs, who were dancing around in brightly coloured overalls.

The award for (take a deep breath) Best Symbolic Use of Cake to Convey a Complicated Literary Concept -- inspired by the teen novel Crush. Candy. Corpse. -- went to a turquoise cake resembling a broken human heart stitched together with chocolate icing. It certainly touched our hearts and taste buds.

But the big winner of the day -- and I am using the word "big" very loosely here -- was 51/2-year-old Anson Stefanyshen, who is literally as cute as a bug's ear, just not nearly as large.

Along with winning for Most Creative, the little guy also snared the People's Choice Award for a cake inspired by the kids book Dragons Love Tacos that featured an orange dragon with cookie scales and marshmallow eyes that was attempting to devour some bite-sized tacos.

When I asked Anson how it felt being a double winner, he chirped "Good" and then plopped to the floor and began playing with his prize, a bag stuffed with assorted baking and cooking utensils.

His mom, Darya, who is from Mexico, explained her family frequently eats tacos and Dragons Love Tacos used to be her son's favourite book, "but now he's into robots."

"He loves to cook," she gushed. "Last year his birthday party was a cooking party, a chefs' party."

So it was a truly great day at the library, and for once I didn't mind eating my words.

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 7, 2014 0

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