Prize-Winning Provisions

082214_StatefairDr. Steven Adashek is expert at many things: from birthing babies to baking bread. The latter has garnered him much attention from judges at the Maryland State Fair, where, in 2011, he won the highest Home Arts honor possible, the prestigious Hellen Burns Smyth Award — the “best of” across all possible categories — for his challah bread, his first-ever entry in that division. Yes, there is a challah division.

But Adashek’s state fair reputation began years earlier in 2004, all because he couldn’t pass up a deal, eight quarts of strawberries for $8, at a farmers’ market.

“My wife said, ‘What are you going to do with all of that?’ and I said, ‘I’ll make jam!’” recalled Adashek, who loves baking, cooking and entertaining in his specially designed kitchen at the Lutherville home he shares with wife Aimée, an accomplished concert flutist and the development director at Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts. The jam turned out so well, their sons, Michael and David, 12 and 15 at the time, insisted Adashek enter into the state fair competition.

There were competitors dropping off a lot of jars of jam and baked goods, said Adashek with a smile, and “then here’s this Jewish boy who walks in with one jar of jam. I won second place [$4 and a ribbon], and I was hooked.”

The following year with his first baking entry — ethereal chocolate mousse cake with bittersweet chocolate sauce (a dessert recipe he converted for Passover use) —he won fourth place in the Ghirardelli chocolate contest. Adashek, who has missed only one year since he began submitting entries, has since collected dozens of ribbons and prizes for his jams and baked goods.

“It’s therapy, it’s my creative soul that gets energized when I cook,” said Adashek, who began his culinary love affair at 14 when he worked at Davido’s Pizza outside of Chicago and learned to bake dough, make pizza and cook. “And I’ve carried that love ever since.”

Adashek, an OB/GYN, is also a mohel and has performed hundreds of circumcisions, “and at the end of every bris there is motzie, so there’s always a challah and it’s often homemade by someone,” he said.  “After tasting so many over the years, one of them was so good I asked for the recipe.”

Adashek added a special signature touch. The secret ingredient, he divulged, is blood orange syrup, and not surprisingly, he makes his own. Again at his sons’ encouragement, he entered the challah in 2011, and it landed him the Smyth grand prize that included a blue ribbon the size of a dinner plate and a Lucite plaque bearing his name.

This year, Adashek will enter his blood orange syrup and blueberry, strawberry rhubarb, peach and cherry jams as well as his oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.

Adashek and his wife, members of both Beth Am Synagogue and Oheb Shalom, create a special meal every Shabbos. “I love to cook, and I love to share,” he said. “I think food brings people together.”

The Maryland State Fair begins Aug. 22 and runs through Sept. 1. For tickets, hours and parking information, visit or call 410-252-0200, ext. 227.

Ellen Saks’ World of Needlepoint

As advertised, the Maryland State Fair has something for everyone, and that stands true for competition as well.

Ellen Saks, a secretary at Torah Institute of Baltimore and member of Ner Tamid, won in the needlepoint division for the first time in 1986 and has continued to collect ribbons ever since. She has even conducted needlepoint demonstrations at the fair as a member of the needlepoint guild.

“I find it very therapeutic, it’s very relaxing,” said Saks. “And I love to see my artwork on my walls. At one time I had all 12 Chagall windows [12 inches by 16 inches in needlepoint] on my walls.”

Saks’ hands are almost always busy with needlepoint or knitting, whether waiting in a doctor’s office, attending a meeting or watching TV. The finished sizes range from 2 inches by 2 inches to 36 inches by 48 inches. She custom designs pieces for friends, gives them as gifts and also donates knitted baby caps to the maternity ward at Sinai Hospital. She uses silk, metallic or rayon threads but no longer uses wool due to allergies. Saks said she loves designs with lots of colors, sometimes adjusting the patterns to her tastes, and will use “anything but yellow. I don’t like yellow.”

The needlepoint designs are mapped out on graph canvas, usually 12 holes to an inch, but Saks prefers to work with 18 holes to an inch canvas, making her handiwork even more intricate and challenging. Sometimes Saks creates original designs like one that “just came to me while sitting there, with stars and geometric shapes,” she said, remembering an emergency room visit for husband.

In 2011 she branched out and entered the state fair’s Christmas category.

“So I entered a [three-dimensional] dreidel, and I placed first or second,” she said. Saks said there were no other Jewish pieces entered in the Christmas category, but in other categories she’s seen tallit bags and Jewish scenes of Jerusalem. Each year, she suggests to the state fair administration they change the name from Christmas category to something more inclusive, and they acknowledge it but haven’t changed the name yet. This year, Saks will enter a purse, a beaded necklace as well as several pieces of needlepoint.

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