Who The Folk?! Kris Cramer

What’s it like to win at the Minnesota State Fair? Kris Cramer knows all about it. Kris is the PJ Library coordinator in St. Paul but brings a lot of experience in cooking as the author of multiple cookbooks and the baker of the best chocolate chip cookie at last year’s fair. We talk about how she got started in the kitchen, what’s happening with PJ Library, and what she’s got planned for this year’s State Fair baking competitions, in this week’s Who The Folk?! Podcast.

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PJ Library in St. Paul is under the umbrella of Federation, while in Minneapolis it’s under JFCS. Are the expectations different because of the different parent organization?

Not really. PJ is housed through those agencies but it really runs fairly independently through either agency. I do a lot of partnerships with JFS, so I think that it naturally fits well with the work that happens there because already doing programming for families in the community. But I know all over the country PJ library sets up at all different institutions and we also kind of do our thing wherever we are.

Does it help to be part of something like PJ Library that does have this huge nationwide network?

It’s definitely helpful that the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, which created PJ library and oversees all of its operations, is so organized and provides so many resources to the coordinators all over the country. We have a very active Facebook group for event ideas and even people sharing marketing assets that you can just swap out your logo. Everyone’s very generous with their resources and their time and so definitely is nice to be a part of a larger community that we’re all working towards the same goal and want to see each other succeed.

You don’t come from a traditional sort of programming type background; What was it that led you here?

My background is actually in development and I worked at Minnesota Public Radio for a long time doing fundraising, mostly digital fundraising and strategy and then did a short stint for about two years at the Animal Humane Society also doing digital fundraising. Then I have my daughter and I want to be able to stay home with her part-time. I was just looking for a part-time opportunity that also just work for our family it’s an amazing program so when Marnie stepped down from the position it seemed like a natural fit.

Is there anything coming up program-wise in the PJ Library in the future?

We’re approaching summer which is when things have slowed down a little bit. I am planning some work with (Minneapolis coordinator) Carrie Fink to collectively bring the community together more and

In addition to the library and having worked at NPR you’re also a cookbook author I am and you have won many blue ribbons at the Minnesota State Fair. What led you down that path?

So I started food logging back in the glory days when nobody had a food blog and people actually read your blog before Pinterest ruined it. I started food blogging probably in like 2005-2006 and built a good arsenal of recipes. At that time I’d gone vegan and was trying to navigate the world of vegan baking and at that time there were very few books available. I documented a lot of what I came up with a lot of recipes and then published a zine. I was living in Portland and that’s what you do when you live in Portland is publish a zine. I was contacted by a book publisher and was offered a cookbook contract and from there wrote a handful of books. My most recent one was maybe three years ago.

How did the fair thing start?

I lived away from Minnesota for a while and I moved back here in 2011 and you know the State Fair is a thing here, and I love the State Fair. I was immediately drawn to refining my skills for the State Fair and the first year that I entered I got two blue ribbons for peanut butter cookies and oatmeal cookies. Then this past year I got to won for chocolate chip cookies which was a big deal of my family because they’re also hardcore State Fair people and it’s the hardest category because it gets the most entries. I beat out 127 other people for the chocolate chip cookie. I got a blue for oatmeal chocolate chip and then I got a red ribbon for brownies. I felt pretty terrific because my brownie recipe is actually dairy free. Now my husband’s like ‘what categories are we entering this year?’ Like where’s the ‘we’? I mean he does a lot of recipe testing and he does not mince words so I’m always guaranteed very honest feedback.

So he’s not a Minnesotan?

No, he’s from Chicago and he’s got all the opinions.

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