Fair Husband and I at the Fair

The annual event of pigs, crop art and food-on-a-stick calls me once again.  It was a remarkable day of endless walking, sights and sounds as only a fair delivers (particularly redolent as experienced from the Sky Ride overhead), and two highlights in particular (food to come in a moment).

Raptor Show: a little bit of environmental awareness, falconry and, yes, even patriotism.  An hour at the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) building watching up close, owls, hawks, falcons and the grand finale: the American Bald Eagle (nice way to stir up the emotions and get the crowd to donate to the predator bird demonstration).  Which I gladly did.  It was wonderful.

Miracle 0f Birth Center: as it sounds.  A building dedicated to the actual births of farm animals: from rabbits to pigs to cows, goats, and other ruminants.  Pretty much every year, by the time my fair buddy Steve (see above: Paul Bunyan) arrive at the pavilion, we have missed the LIVE births, left to just watch the videotape version of the ‘miracle of birth.’  I thought there would be a repeat of that this year, when I spotted 30-minute old piglets (‘oh, you just missed it!).  Until we saw the crowds gathering five deep around the cow pen.

We watched a calf born.  Cow in labor (and eating while doing it, btw) – baby dropped to the hay.  While little children and families and young couples and urban folks, too – all gathered around to watch this Miracle of Birth.  It was — don’t use this word lightly — awesome.

After that, we wandered to take in the rest of the fair and check off some items from the “new foods” list.

So — drum roll please: here is what we ate on the opening day of the Minnesota State Fair (not necessarily in order – the carbs killed some brain cells along the way, methinks).

FOODS I ATE AT THE FAIR

  • Slow-Roasted Pork Mole Tamale
  • Ear of roasted corn
  • Bowl O’ Dough
  • Chicago mix of popcorn: kettle, cheese, caramel
  • Pronto Pup ®
  • Honey Vanilla Bean Swirl Ice Cream
  • Beer
  • Vanilla Milkshake
  • Land o’ Lakes Cheese sample
  • Brown Ale and Onion-Gouda Tipsy Pie
  • Walleye Cakes
  • Duck Bacon Wontons

My goodness, I must be slipping — is that really ALL we ate at the fair?  There could be some updates to come, once the carbohydrate hangover passes.

 

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What a great time at the Fair this year. I often have trepidation at the outset: will I see and eat everything I want to? My fairmate always teases me: remember, we ARE professionals.

We attend the Great Minnesota Get-Together every summer, always on opening day. Gotta catch it when the deep fat oil is fresh, and there are still yardsticks to be had in the Merchandise Mart.

I train for this event like a seasoned athlete. Study the new foods, decide what I want to try: yes, on the deep-fried bread pudding, no, on the Idaho nachos. That kind of thing. Make sure I have enough room in the tum for what I want to eat. In years past, I have made the mistake of eating breakfast before attending. Wrong. Why waste the precious stomach room, ya know!?

I have seen changes in my eating marathon through the years. Honestly, I don’t have the capacity to hold that much, I have a better internal monitor for fullness. And discriminating. Yes, I know when you are weighing deep fried dill pickles with chocolate sauce against pork belly sliders, it may not seem like a gourmet challenge. But this is the fair, dammit! Whadya expect? Corn dog foam? And, when you have a companion, you can share. Which we did.

Let’s get to it: honey ice cream with sunflower seeds, battered and deep-fried green beans, deep-fried bread pudding, Pronto Pup (pictured above, you may know it as a corn dog), Walleye roll (think lobster roll except made with a Minnesota native fish that’s in the perch family), a dough-sant (state fair version of the cronut) with iced coffee, sasparilla, a sip of Guinness, thick vanilla shake purchased outside the Moo booth at the cow barn, dream peach (a big ol’ succulent, drip-down-your-arm juicy sweet peach), miniature pumpkin pie served with cinnamon ice cream, sausage sampler (bourbon wurst, wild rice sausage with jalapeño and Swedish sausage with potato), lots of water and the evening capped off with a flight of admittedly mediocre but earnest Minnesota wines.

What I loved: the mini pie with crust worthy of a French bakery and, surprisingly, those green beans. What I did not like: deep-fried bread pudding needs to go back to the drawing board, and that dough-sant was frankly inedible. Or, as I said in my Instagram post (nyproducer) “dough-sant: don’t give up your day job!”

Not all 10 hours at the fair was Food. We made our usual pilgrimage to watch Roger demonstrate the fascinating craft of bowl turning on a foot-operated lathe. He’s a talented, personable, humble man who started turning bowls because he loved history. He dispenses aphorisms as nimbly as his flying wood chips. He makes exquisite pieces for daily life — those bowls. He uses them himself to drink his beer. Isn’t it frustrating, I asked him, to put all those hours into these bowls, knowing that if you hit a knot just wrong, it will break?

This is workmanship of risk

I love that phrase. As I love those bowls.

My friend and I set out on the fair history tour: visit 13 sights, punch your card at the kiosk, win a gift! I learned that several of the notable Art Deco buildings were WPA-built. That Teddy Roosevelt made his “carry a big stick” speech at the MN State Fair. That Matisse, O’Keeffe and Picasso showed their work at the Great Minnesota Get-Together. For our prize, we each picked a sheet of State Fair postcard reproductions.

We capped our night with what seems to be becoming a tradition: a walk through the crop art exhibit (seeds and stems made into “fine” art).

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It was truly a fair to remember.

Published in the New York Times!!

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I admit, I have not shared this year’s Swine-stravaganza known as the Great Minnesota Get-Together because it just didn’t feel like a typical fair-on-a-stick experience. Honestly, Janet Eats’ favorite food at the fair this year didn’t even come on a stick.

Actually, favorite foods (plural) because it was pretty much a toss-up between Sweet Corn ice cream with Honey Bacon sauce and the Walleye Roll. Neither on a stick. And almost not even fair food per se, because I could see eating either of those dishes at a sitdown restaurant.

The ice cream. Oh my god, that ice cream. Rich icy (not creamy — I like my frozen confections granular on the tongue not buttery) ice cream studded with nuggets of sweet corn kernels and toasty almost praline-like corn nuts. On top: crispy bacon bathing in a warmed honey sauce. I hate to say it, but this sublime smoked porky corny treat has supplanted the Honey Sunflower Ice Cream cone that was my perennial favorite. Yes. Sadly. True.

As to the Walleye fair fare: think Lobster Roll. It was prepared at a booth — way at the end of the fairgrounds. Sandwiched between the lumberjack competition arena and the pets building where, if you schedule your visit just right, you can watch them spay a dachshund. In other words, not far from Machinery Hill.

The booth has several other Walleye dishes (I think one of them is fried and on a stick but don’t hold me to it) as well as salad on a stick, and batter-fried bacon. The Walleye Roll — oh walleye is in the perch family, popular with Minnesota fishermen. Anyway — like a lobster roll it has a mayo base and is served in a buttered roll. Appropriately enough it also contained wild rice. The mayo was very light. The sandwich was placed on a bed of shredded lettuce and peppered perch-fectly.

My fave at the fair this year. Steeled me for the afternoon parade of prancing pickles, marching bands, and giant heifers on wheels.