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February 17th

So, after a fulfilling time in Topeka I have set off again – by rail this time, taking a BNSF train to Hutchinson, then hopping onto the Union Pacific railroad to Liberal, 350 miles away, almost in the diagonally opposite corner of Kansas.

These last couple of journeys have made me appreciate what the early travellers faced to cross these great plains. Violent and unpredictable weather is the norm here, tornados, thunderstorms and hail are common and temperatures in Topeka can range in any one year from −18 °C to 38˚C (100˚F).

Kansas never seems to end. It’s a place of vast plains and big skies, with rolling crops of sunflowers and wheat as far as the eye can see. Imagine what it was like to cross this landscape before it was inhabited. Now though it’s farming on a giant scale – since 1990 Kansas wheat farmers have produced enough wheat for 33 billion loaves (or a fair few cakes I guess!). It has inspired a couple of great baking ideas nonetheless. Firstly, these cookies are made using seeds of the plant you see everywhere in Kansas – sunflowers.

Click here to find out how to create Sunflower Cookies

The fertile soil here is the inspiration for another local favourite – Kansas Dirt Cake. Crunchy Oreo topping over a cream base. Try it for yourself!

Click here to download a recipe for Kansas Dirt Cake

I arrived in Liberal just in time to catch their Annual Pancake race. Amazingly an International Pancake race (http://www.pancakeday.net/) has taken place between Liberal, Kansas and Olney in Buckinghamshire, UK for 65 consecutive years. On Shrove Tuesday every year the ladies of each town compete in this ‘world famous’ Pancake Race, keeping a tradition alive which dates back to 1445.

February 1st

Hi, well having left St Louis early this morning, I drove west, still on I70, (which seems to go for ever and ever in a dead straight line…), I am now in Topeka, state capital of Kansas – a city that originally grew up as a ferry crossing on the 2,200 mile long Oregon Trail. At first glance Topeka seems like every other US town, built on a grid system with wide boulevards, but on March 1, 2010, Topeka Mayor Bill Bunten made a bid to put it on the map (and get better internet connection), by issuing a proclamation calling for Topeka to be known as “Google, Kansas.” On April 1st Google reciprocated by changing it’s name and home page logo to Topeka!

Read about it here:

http://edition.cnn.com/2010/TECH/03/02/google.kansas.topeka/index.html

http://googleblog.blogspot.co.uk/2010/04/different-kind-of-company-name.html

Feeling peckish, I just HAD to visit a donut and bagel outlet called Baker’s Dozen – they really do give you thirteen donuts if you order 12! Their restaurant is open from 4am to 10pm (Yes, 4 AM!) and the drive-though is open 24hrs. So, any time you get that urge for a donut or thirteen, you can just pop along to Baker’s Dozen and choose from pumpkin donuts, donuts for diabetics made with Stevia, frosted strawberry cake donuts and many more! Honestly, it’s another world over here – there is even a cupcake outlet, Billy Vanilly, where the cupcakes come in three sizes – ‘big kid’, ‘baby’ or ‘preemies’ – which are tiny so you can try lots of flavours at once. I am told they sell shots of pure frosting too – just the thing when you need a sugar hit! There are some strange laws here in Topeka too. It is illegal to sing the alphabet at night, or to catch a fish with your bare hands…. See what I mean? Another world altogether.

I have heard about a highly important international race that takes place right here in Kansas, so I’ll be off to check it out soon. Rumour has it that pancakes are involved…. Personally though, instead of running up the street tossing a pancake, I’ll be racing to the local diner to try their Valentine Breakfast Pancake special. A gooey delicious concoction of chocolate sauce and raspberry filling on a long stack (that’s how you order pancakes here, long or short stack…) I am glad I am travelling alone – I am not sharing this with anyone!

Click here for the recipe