Monday, November 14, 2011

Destination: Clarks Grove, MN

Despite having about 23 years of Minnesota living under my belt, I still have huge gaps in my Minnesota knowledge. There are, for example, MANY towns I've never heard of, let alone visited. Maybe that's why I love walking around in the Fair's animal barns and checking out all the farm signs. It's a totally different world, and I find myself wondering about what it would be like to live in location X, or, for that matter, where exactly in Minnesota IS location X? This  year, I've decided to periodically post on various towns or hamlets who had representation at the Fair, starting with tiny Clarks Grove, Minnesota, home to the Busch family and their sheep.

Clarks Grove is apparently VERY small; I had a difficult time finding information online. According to 2000 census data, however, Clarks Grove's zip code (which may extend beyond Clarks Grove) had a popuation of 1,126 people, and 433 households. Clarks Grove is located in Freeborn County southern Minnesota, near Albert Lea. According to Mapquest, the Shepherd's Ridge sheep traveled approximately 92 miles to reach the Minnesota State Fair.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Magic Maze's Green Dragon

Ever wonder who is responsible for all those distinctive Midway ride art? To be honest, I never did in the past; it was just something in the background, helping provide some sort of thematic difference between each ride. Ride X was all about wizards and dragons, while Ride B is about genies and harems. This year, however, I spent more time actually looking at these fully mobile murals, and grew to appreciate the genre.

The dragon above was on the Magic Maze, and was designed and painted by Duncan Design, a company based out of Santa Rosa, California. Duncan Design is headed by "Artistic Director" Greg Duncan, an artist with a degree in Theater Arts. His eight employees come from diverse artistic backgrounds, with many of them having expertise in theatrical design. They do a little bit of everything; as the website states, "we offer award-winning design and fabrication for entertainment venues, restaurants, amusement parks, and retail malls." Checking out companies like Duncan Design always makes me wonder what life would be like if I'd taken a different career path. While I'm happy with the route I've taken, I still think it would be pretty cool to work at a place like this, and to get to be a part of the long tradition of carnival art and design. For now, I'm content just wandering the Fair and checking out all the background details that sometimes get lost behind the flashing lights, blaring music, and clanking machinery of the rides themselves.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

March to Your Own Drum at the Minnesota State Fair -- or to Theirs

It's November, and you know what that means... International Drum Month! Presumably for these young drummers, members of Minneapolis First Church's Pathfinder Club, every month is drum month. They're regular participants in the Minnesota State Fair parade; they marched here on August 26, 2011.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

The Fair is the perfect opportunity to get a crash course in pretty much anything. The Minnesota Chapter of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) had a booth overflowing with sample skeletons and bones, staffed by helpful physical therapists able and willing to explain how they work. Each year the local APTA chapter picks a different physical therapy focus for the Minnesota State Fair booth; in 2011 their volunteers concentrated on the role physical therapy can play in combating back pain.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Hanging out with the Twins at the Minnesota State Fair

Yes, I know the Twins didn't make it to the World Series this year, but here's a little shout-out to the Minnesota team anyway. My son, Jack, went to his first baseball game at Target Field this year (first baseball game anywhere, for that matter) and had a wonderful time. So he had a ball when we got to the Fair and checked out the "Minnesota Twins Experience," the Twins-themed area that comes complete with photo opportunities aplenty, the chance to play "yardball," and -- if you time it right -- attend autograph sessions with  players.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Spam Can

As a vegetarian, there's a lot of Minnesota State Fair food that I just can't eat. Needless to say, the deep-fried SPAM curds were therefore out. An aversion to eating meat, even the Minnesota-produced canned pork (or is it "meat product"?) international phenomenon otherwise known as SPAM, doesn't mean that you can't get the (nearly) full SPAM experience, though. Hormel has a relatively large freestanding building open to curious public, no tasting required. You can buy an entire wardrobe of SPAM-themed t-shirts and other gear, as well as pose for photos on this SPAM throne. Can't do THAT at home, can you? Chalk it up as yet another reason to visit the Minnesota State Fair.

And for those who DO enjoy a good SPAM meal, there's a food booth out front where you can buy SPAM burgers, deep-fried SPAM curds, and pork tenderloin sandwiches.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Big Fat Bacon. Any Questions?

A stand with the name "Big Fat Bacon" doesn't belong in Minnesota. Not because Minnesotans don't like big fat bacon -- there's ample evidence that they do -- but because this is the land of 10,000 words. We Minnesotans don't like direct. We dance around, ramble on and on and on, and take FOREVER to get to the point (or to say goodbye, but that's another topic...). In other words, Big Fat Bacon really should be called something like "Pretty Big, and  You Know, Fat, or at Least Really, Really Wide, Bacon," although I suppose that doesn't fit so well on a sign. So Big Fat Bacon it is, and I appreciate the direct nature of the name, Minnesotan or not.

So what IS "big fat bacon," you wonder? Besides the obvious, of course? According to their website, Big Fat Bacon is "1/4 pound of hand-sliced bacon flash-fried, grilled, maple-glazed, dusted with a seven-pepper and sea salt blend and served to you hot and on a stick." In other words: Big. Fat. Bacon.

To get a Big Fat Bacon of your own, the booth is located on Carnes, across from WCCO TV.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Getting Saucy in Edina; aka the Tomato that Grew and Grew and Grew...

Who says farmers have a lock on growing the state's most prize-worthy produce? This year's largest tomato, a Sicilian Saucer, was grown by Edina resident Jonathan Braman, and weighed in at an enormous 2 pounds, 1.5 ounces. In the Minnesota State Fair competition, "largest" refers not to weight, but to the dimensions of the vegetable (fruit?);  they are measured in two locations: from stem to blossom end, and then again in the middle perpendicular to the stem to blossom measurement. The two numbers are totaled to arrive at the final definitive competition number, in this case a prize-winning 27 inches. For his efforts Braman won $10, a ribbon, and bragging rights.

If you, too, are growing produce in  your urban or suburban garden and want to take it to the next level, consider becoming a Certified Urban Farmer. You'll join a growing group of other serious Twin Cities urban farmers, and pick up some tips to grow some mega-sized Sicilian Saucers of your own.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

State Fair Grandstand Needs Your Help

The Minnesota State Fair Grandstand, built in 1909, is perhaps THE most iconic building at the Minnesota State Fair. It looms over the Fairgrounds, its large lettering reminding everyone (as if we could forget!) that yes, we are indeed at the STATE FAIR. During fair-time its innards are filled with hawkers and purveyors of all sorts of wonder gadgets, as well as old standbys like Jacuzzi tubs, spectacles, cleaning supplies, and nearly anything and everything else you could potentially wish to buy. At night, performers take to the stage, and live music floats across the Fairgrounds. In short, the Grandstand is an essential part of the Minnesota State Fair experience, and a place that holds a great deal of significance to Minnesotans of all ages and backgrounds, and from all parts of the state.

It is, therefore, unfortunate that the grand entrance to such a grand building (a GRANDstand, no less!) is so... well, ungrand. You've all seen it: a long, sloping ramp that leads from down by the Star Tribune building up and over the crowds into the Grandstand itself.  The existing ramp was built as a WPA project in 1937, and replaced an earlier earthen ramp. It's beautiful, certainly, but a little down on its luck. The chain wire fencing, in particular, detracts from the beauty and grandeur of the structure, while the lighting is harsh. Luckily, help is on its way. The Grandstand is one of twenty-five Twin Cities historic sites in the running for some of the $1 million in funding offered through the Partners in Preservation program. Fair officials hope to bring some grand back to our Grandstand, and to fulfill its original promise. The $185,000 project would include:

  • the installation of 70 recessed groove lights;
  • upgrades to the lighting on the ramp's ten towers;
  • electrical upgrades; and
  • (perhaps best of all!) replacing the ugly and historically inaccurate chain link safety fence with something more appropriate.
Take a minute and imagine a new scenario. It's a balmy evening in late August. The smell of chocolate chip cookies mingles with grease and who knows what else waft about as thousands of fair-goers stroll by the Grandstand. You can hear shouts of mingled terror and excitement coming from the Midway. Hand-in-hand with your significant other, you stop at the base of the ramp, gaze up to the Grandstand itself in the distance, and catch your breath at the perfection of the scene. The new recessed lighting creates the perfect mood lighting, while the new tower lights highlight the sheer aesthetic attraction of the ramp and its many subtle architectural flourishes. Funny, you never fully realized its true beauty when all that chain fencing was there to distract you. Looking forward to the evening show, you join the throngs of fellow fair-goers as you wander up the ramp, basking in the glow emanating from the new lighting, as well, it seems, from the crowds of happy people who are coming together here, on this ramp, to join in a night of community, walking in the steps of generations of Minnesotans who came before them, as together you make your way into what you can now truly call a Grandstand, a Grandstand befitting that most Minnesotan icon of all: the Minnesota State Fair.

Want to help? Vote for the Grandstand on the Partners in Preservation Facebook page. Winners will be announced on October 13, so get your votes in now. You can vote daily, and to sweeten the deal all voters can enter to win a set of four round-trip Delta tickets. You can also visit the Grandstand this Saturday, October 8, for an open house (10 to 3); consider it a pep rally of sorts on behalf of the ramp project. 

And, of course, you don't have to wait for Partners in Preservation to dole out the money. The Minnesota State Fair Foundation is working tirelessly to raise money for all sorts of important Fair projects, and will happily accept your tax-deductible donation today. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Boy Eats Pickle

And yes, he ate the ENTIRE thing. So much for my plan to give him a few bites and then eat the rest of it myself...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Scotch Eggs on a Stick

What exactly IS a Scotch Egg, you ask? According to the Minnesota State Fair's Food Finder, it's a "hard-boiled egg, wrapped in sausage, rolled in breadcrumbs, and deep-fried," and then speared on a stick. In other words, it's the perfect Fair food. 

Lest you suffer under the misapprehension that a Scotch egg on a stick is somehow considered healthy, be aware that these fried, sausage wrapped eggs are fried in fat that contains oil containing the dreaded TRANS-FAT. What's more, owner Joe Cranston isn't about to change that just for the sake of a few health-nuts out there. "It's what we've always used, and what we probably always will," he told the Pioneer Press in 2007. So, healthy readers, should you be looking for some Fair food cooked in the healthier oil, you'll have to look elsewhere. Perhaps, say, the deep-fried cheese curds at the Mouth Trap.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Now THAT is a Pumpkin!

My one attempt at growing pumpkins failed miserably; I think our garden's dirt was too compacted and poor-quality, and we didn't do enough to counteract that. My visions of monster pumpkins adorning our steps (or yard, if they were too large to fit on the steps) died about the same time as did my poor little pumpkin seedling. I've decided giant pumpkins aren't in my future, but that won't stop me from admiring those pumpkin wranglers who produce specimens like this year's adult winner, an 849.5 pound pumpkin grown by Adam Johnson of Foley, Minnesota.
The logistics of giant pumpkin competitions are a bit more complicated than, say, judging a loaf of banana bread. These pumpkins are -- to state the obvious -- BIG, heavy, and awkwardly shaped. After the growing itself is done, the competitor has to get his or her pumpkin picked and haul it to the Fair. (Perhaps it's just as well that I'm not competing in this category, as I don't think I could haul one of those on the bus!) According to some internet research, 4H kids used to help haul the pumpkins off the truck upon arrival; they've since switched to skid loaders in more recent years (at least for the really big ones), as no one wants to see a 4Her smashed in the line of pumpkin duty. The pumpkin is on a pallet, the pallet goes on a vintage livestock scale, and the total is tallied. Pumpkin growers grumble that the process leaves room for improvement, but for now, anyway, it works well enough.

To learn more about giant pumpkins in Minnesota, check out the documentary Bill's Big Pumpkins; I haven't yet seen it (just found out about it today!), but I hope to be checking it out for myself soon. The website also has Bill's pumpkin seeds available, should you wish to try your own hand at growing a giant pumpkin of your own.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Forget about Kate -- I met Kay!

No need to hover outside Buckingham Palace (or Anglesey, for that matter) to get a glimpse of royalty. Here in Minnesota, we have our very own Princess Kay of the Milky Way -- can't get any better than that as far as royal titles. And here I am, with Princess Kay 2011, also known as Mary Zahurones in her other life. She's an 18-year old new freshman at the University of Minnesota (Twin Cities campus), and is apparently about 6 1/2 feet tall. Must be all that fresh milk back at the family farm.

Princess Kay, aka Mary Z., is from tiny Pierz, Minnesota. In case you, like me, don't know where that is, it's a town of about 1,500 residents in Morrison County in Central Minnesota. Her family owns a 400 acre dairy farm outside of town. Congratulations, Princess Kay, and thank you for the photo!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Behind the Brick #1: Congratulations to a New Grad!

NOTE: I wrote the post below in August, then decided to post-date it in case this official recognition brick was a surprise gift scheduled to be unveiled during the Fair. 

Before I continue, let me say this: no, I am not a crazy, weird online cyber-stalker. I just  happen to be fascinated by the stories behind the commemorative bricks found scattered in locations throughout the fair, and have decided to harness the power of Google to do some quick research into the inscriptions that catch my eye. This particular brick, brand new for 2011 and awaiting its turn to be embedded in the brick sidewalk near the Grandstand, grabbed my attention for several reasons. I went to the U myself, and spent a fair amount of time on the St. Paul campus; the Goldstein Museum of Design always has fabulous exhibits and a wonderful decorative arts collection, and the St. Paul library was a favorite study spot. I even once perused 1950s dairy industry trade journals at St. Pauls' Magrath Library while researching a 1950s ice cream box for a graduate school project of my own -- not the kind of thing you can pick up at your local library (or even most of your local  university library, unless, of course, your local research university happens to have a dairy program), and for that I say: Minnesota, Hail to Thee! I think this newly graduated dairy genetics grad student is very lucky to have her achievements written in stone -- literally! -- within walking distance of the science labs and dairy classrooms at the U's St. Paul campus.

In case you're wondering, Amy Hazel researches the "improving the health, fertility, and longevity of dairy cattle through genetic improvement and cross-breeding," and is an all-around dairy and cow expert. Apparently she recently received her degree, for which I say: congratulations! I'm still thinking of pursuing a PhD at some point, and I've decided that if or when that happens, I'm going to buy myself my own state fair commemorative brick to celebrate the occasion. I don't know who bought Amy her brick, but it's a GREAT idea. And Amy, enjoy your time at the fair. Completing a graduate degree is worthy of celebration, and a commemorative state fair brick, perhaps supplemented with a feast of fried food on sticks (and, of course, a glass of all-you-can-drink milk) sounds like the perfect way to toast this achievement.

Commemorative bricks (and benches, and other donor benefits) are managed by the Minnesota State Fair Foundation. It's too late to have your brick ordered in time for the 2011 fair, but they are presumably willing and able to start taking orders for 2012. Information on the 2011 recognition brick program can be found here.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Minnesota Nice

To the couple who gave my son a tiger "pillow chum" (a stuffed animal that can also double as a pillow) at the Midway on opening day -- thank you! My son LOVES his tiger, and I love the fact that it comes complete with a story about friendly strangers at that "Great Minnesota Get-Together," the Minnesota State Fair.

The story: while Jack, age four, is still a bit young and short to go on the Midway rides or play the games, he's not too young to enjoy watching the show. It was early evening, the Midway looked inviting, and we were checking out the height signs. I noticed a couple standing about ten feet away, gesturing at our small group; a minute later the man came up to me, asked if he could offer Jack a stuffed animal, then, when I said yes, offered Jack a "Toni the Tiger" pillow/animal. Jack, being (just) four and sometimes still being prone to shy fits, accepted the animal and then promptly hid his face in his stroller. We thanked the man, but I hope he realizes that yes, my son really does love his pillow, and it will be a much-loved reminder of the Fair. He told us that they do this every year; they like to play games (and are apparently really good at it, given their armful of animals!) and enjoy giving away their winnings to children they see at the Fair.

Both Jack and I happen to love his tiger pillow for its own sake -- it's cuddly, cute, AND functional (important, as we're moving to a small NYC apartment) -- but even if we didn't, I'd still love the fact that this is yet another reminder that there are some very nice, good people out there. And while I don't tend to go into the sweet saccharine or cliched sentimental posts, these random acts of kindness really do lend some credence to the idea that yes, this REALLY is the "Great Minnesota Get-Together," a place where Minnesotans (and visitors) of all ages and backgrounds get together for a shared experience. It's that spirit of community, of tradition and innovation, and the opportunity to interact with and learn about get the worlds of so many different people from all over the state, that keeps me coming back.

So once again, for both the pillow and the warm, fuzzy memories, thank you to to the wonderful couple who made my son and I so happy. Your tradition of sharing your winnings has undoubtedly made equally warm memories for many families like ours. Enjoy these last few days of the Fair, and perhaps our paths will cross again in 2012!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Cheese Curds as Health Food

In case you were concerned, you can now rest easy knowing that the deep-fried cheese curds you buy at the Mouth Trap contain absolutely NO trans fats. So eat up, safe in the knowledge that while cheese curds probably can't really count as health food, hey, they could be worse. And definitely a LOT healthier than a deep-fried candy bar.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"Super-Spectacular" Vomit Inducer, aka "Tango"

New to the Midway roster in 2011, Tango looks like the perfect option for those of you who like thrill rides. Full disclaimer here: I don't. I don't mind a little whirl, but anything that brings me upside down is an automatic no-go. I get a headache just watching this ride. In other words, do not take this post as an actual review.

That said, this is one of the few rides on the Midway that caused our small group to stop and gawk for nearly the duration of the entire ride. My son, in particular, was VERY impressed. You'll have to see it in action for yourself to get the full picture (or better yet, try it out), but the gist of it is that the riders are strapped into open seats on three arms. The arms revolve, while at the same time the individual three gondolas (each holding eight people) simultaneously spin around on their own axes.

For those who like numbers, Tango weighs 26 tons, approximately 75 1/2 feet in height, and can be assembled in four to five hours by three people. It was designed and constructed by KMG, a Netherlands-based company specializing in what they describe as  "fun fair attractions." While riding Tango does not admittedly look like MY idea of fun, I had fun watching those with stronger stomachs try it out. And those of you who do enjoy such rides should make the trek down towards the far end of the Midway to try it out for yourself.

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Day of Fair Food

It's been a busy week, and I will catch up with lots and lots of Fair posts in the coming days (and weeks, and months... the State Fair has no shortage of things worthy of comment!), but in the meantime, here's a quick run-down of our first day's Fair food:

  • Mini donuts -- the family favorite. Jack liked them just as much this  year as he did when he was one. And, if possible, I think he made an even bigger mess eating them this year than in years past. Good thing I came prepared with wipes!
  • Roasted corn
  • Falafel on a stick (hint: there's a coupon for these in the coupon book; you can get them at Falafel King in the Food Building)
  • Root beer float
  • Chocolate milk shake
  • Birch beer
  • Root beer
  • Cotton candy
  • One glass all-you-can-drink milk
On our next visit we'll fill in the gaps. French fries, some more mini donuts, a pickle on a stick; am also considering getting some Sweet Martha's cookies, because -- not sure how I missed this! -- I've never actually had them before at the Fair. It seems like a major oversight,.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

It's TIME!!

That's right -- the Minnesota State Fair is now officially open for business, and has been for several hours. I have my tickets in hand, and will heading over there in about fifteen minutes. On the agenda for today: 
  • Ye Old Mill (with my son, Jack, for the first time!)
  • Mini-donuts
  • Stop at the Dairy building to check out the Princess Kay butter blocks in their mostly "before" state (and, I hope, catch a glimpse of some carving in process)
  • Pigs, sheep, and cows
  • Something on a stick -- a pickle, perhaps? 
  • Little Farm Hands with Jack
And who knows what else? That's the beauty of the fair -- there's SO much to see, and part of the fun is just wandering around and seeing what looks good at any given time. I have a lot of "must-sees" to pack in, but we're not trying to fit in all into one day.

See you at the fair!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Pour Some Sugar on Me

Are you heading to any of the Grandstand shows this year? I'm not, unfortunately, but if I had the money I'd be there for the Def Leppard and Heart show on August 26. If you think about it (and do some selective mental editing) Def Leppard is the PERFECT Fair soundtrack accompaniment. Think about it:

"Take a bottle, shake it up.... pour some sugar on me... c'mon, fire me up,  oh I can't get enough..."

I mean, really, they're talking about mini-donuts, right?


"I'm hot, sticky sweet, from my head to my feet...."

Well, we've all been there. It can get HOT at the fair, and part of the fun is the inevitable coating of grease, sugar, salt, and sweat.


"You've got the peaches, I've got the cream, sweet to taste, saccharine."

Good sharing of the fair food, guys.

Tickets for Def Leppard and Heart are still on sale, but going fast. (The perfect gift for, say, anyone celebrating the big 3-3 in the near future...) The rest of the 2011 Grandstand lineup, along with ticket information, can be found on the Minnesota State Fair's website.

Photo courtesy Minnesota State Fair

Friday, August 19, 2011

New Fair Food 2011: Northwoods Salad on a Stick

Looking for something relatively healthy, yet also screams "Minnesota" and "State Fair"? If so, get yourself over to Giggles' Campfire Grill (Cooper and Lee, in the log cabin near the water tower) and order up their brand-new 2011 offering: Northwoods Salad on a Stick. It's essentially a vaguely Minnesota-style kebab, with the "stick" loaded down with grape tomatoes and mozzarella, served over a bed of wild rice. It's not fried, but the chicken fried bacon (described by the owner himself as a "heart attack-on-a-stick") or the foot-long walleye sandwich also offered on the menu will help you up your calorie count.

Giggles' Campfire Grill doesn't have a non-Minnesota State Fair location, so eat up while you can.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Alligators Spotted at Minnesota State Fair

The rumors have been confirmed: yes, indeed, there are alligators on the state fair grounds. No, it's not a result of global climbing or yet another worrisome invasive species. These alligators are fully Minnesotan in form: in other words, dead and served on a stick. You can find alligator and a host of other Cajun-themed food options, at Bayou Bob's, located on the southeast corner of Nelson and Dan Patch.  For those not into the whole on-a-stick thing, the basket of fried alligator comes in a basket accompanied by -- what else? -- alligator-shaped fries. And while I doubt most people seek out fried food for its health value, Bayou Bob's reports that, at only 217 calories per serving, its fried alligator  is one of the lower-calorie options at the Fair. 

For those of you who like to know where your food comes from, Bayou Bob's uses alligator meat from Parker Island Gator Farm, a family-owned farm and processing plant in Lake Placid, Florida.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Room With a View

Want one of the best views the Fair has to offer? Want it free? You'll want to check out the DNR's fire tower exhibit. I haven't had a chance to visit this place yet -- it was closed to the public for all of my youth, and in years since I have been at the fair with a young child in tow (children under six are not allowed up) -- but by all accounts this sounds like it's worth a visit. Approximately 300 people are allowed up daily, 25 at a time, and enjoy panoramic views of the Fair in all its glory. Assuming this year's rules are the same as years past, visitors must be physically able to walk up 84 steps, must leave their food and drink outside (the DNR thinks its tough to climb the stairs while holding a pronto pup in one hand and a souvenir cup of soda in the other), and need to be flexible about the time of their ascent: assigned time tickets are handed out on a first-come, first-served basis.

For a bit of context, the DNR's fire tower was built in 1966 specifically for the purpose of being a State Fair educational exhibit. It was closed to the public in 1978 due to safety concerns, but reopened in 2006 following an extensive renovation.

If you want the fire tower experience without the steps or the tickets, the DNR will once again be offering its popular fire tower webcam during the run of the Fair.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Get Ready for Greased Lightning at Andy's Grille

While poking around at the fairgrounds last week, Bob Andrus of Andy's Grille invited me to step inside and check out what Andy's looks like in the quiet, pre-fair days. Take a good look, because come August 25 this space, along with its neighboring restaurants and bars, is going to be overflowing with hungry and thirsty customers, along with a roster of dancing staff members. That's right -- Andy's is known for their on-the-hour dancing, or, more specifically, for their rendition of Greased Lightning. Stop by and see for yourself, or get the preview courtesy of the wonders of YouTube.

If you do stop in to visit Andy's, make sure to wish them a happy anniversary -- this year they're celebrating their 25th year at the Fair. For those who are counting, they've only been Andy's Grille since 1998; before that the restaurant was known as Andy's Diner, and were located closer to the Grandstand. You can find Andy's now at their newer, much larger space on Carnes Avenue just west of the DNR building.

An interview with the extended family, as well as a glimpse into what it might be like to have been raised truly growing up "at the Fair," see Julie Pfitzinger's 2009 profile of the family-run business.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Canine Carny Cowboys Coming Your Way in 2011

Like dogs? Like old-fashioned, western-themed vaudeville acts? Like to see dogs from rescue shelters get the chance to strut their stuff? If so, then you'll want to check out a new addition to the Minnesota State Fair's entertainment line-up: "Doggies of the Wild West," complete with a "Pooches of the Prairie" canine comedy act.

The show, run by Gary Noel and Giovanna Cardella, has the makings of a made-for-TV doggy rags-to-riches story. Down on their luck, stuck in a shelter, along comes dog trainer Gary Noel,  and -- voila! -- suddenly (well, presumably after many, many  hours of hard work and a lot of dog biscuits) these eight dogs are now canine celebrities, traveling the country with their now-expanded human and dog carny family. See them in person at the Minnesota State Fair at noon, 3:00, and 6:00, just east of Heritage Square, north of the Skyride.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Hamline Dining Hall's State Fair Ham Loaf

Church-sponsored dining halls have long been a familiar sight at the fair, and are part of the yearly tradition for many. The fair's oldest operating church dining hall is Hamline United Methodist Church, which has had a presence at the fair since 1897. Yes, you read that correctly -- since 1897. That means they've had lots of time to finesse their recipes and work out all the kinks, and have fine-tuned their offerings to fair-time perfection. While nothing can fully replace the total package experience of enjoying a meal served up by volunteers at the fair itself, there's no reason to limit your dining hall experience to a measly 12 days of the year. If you can't wait another 11 days to enjoy it in person at the fairgrounds, here's the recipe for their famous "State Fair Ham Loaf." Don't forget to wash it down with your own cup of bottomless coffee!

Hamline Church Dining Hall's State Fair Ham Loaf
1 1/2 lbs ground ham
1 1/2 lbs ground beef
3 cups dry bread crumbs
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp curry powder
1/2 tsp ground sage
1/2 tsp allspice
2 cups milk
3 eggs, slightly beaten

2 cups brown sugar, packed
2/3 cups vinegar
1/4 cup prepared mustard

Combine all ingredients except sauce. Pack mixture into a 9x5x3 inch pan. Combine sauce ingredients and spoon half  of sauce over loaf. Bake at 325 degrees for 1 1/2 hours. Pour a little sauce over ham loaf when serving if you wish.

SOURCE: Hamline UCM's website, as published in the Hamline Cookbook

To learn more about Hamline Church or its dining hall, or to learn more about Hamline volunteer activities, check out their website.

Friday, August 12, 2011

New Fair Food 2011: Minneapple Pie

Fair eaters seem to be divided into two categories: those who like their favorites (and who have little room to add new options to the roster -- there's only so much one can eat in one visit!), and those who are always looking for the new and exotic, or, well, at least new. Those looking for new but with a familiar twist, or something as American as apple pie, can check out one of the new options for 2011: Minneapple Pie. "The Original Minneapple Pie" is exactly what one expects out of a fair-time apple pie: an individual apple pie battered and fried. The pies have been around for a few years now, and are currently making the rounds at smaller county fairs (and the recent Uptown Art Fair) before heading to the big leagues at their new space on the south side of Judson between Nelson and Underwood. And speaking of big leagues, you can also get a preview (or a post-fair fix) at the State Fair Classics stand at Target Field. You can also make a visit to Rogers, Minnesota, where the Minneapple Pie is just one of many tasty options cooked up by Minne's Diner. And, like any good business these days, you can also find them on Facebook.

Oh, and if you like the logo (and all related Minneapple Pie/Minne's Diner designs), thank local design experts Sussner Design Company.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Harness the Bear Within

You know the drill. There's a bear, his name is Smokey, and he's out to spread the word. Only YOU can prevent forest fires. Want to help do your part? One of the neatest Minnesota State Fair volunteer opportunities has got to be with the DNR. They're looking for both bears and "voices" -- the people who speak for Smokey, since we know bears can't talk, especially bears wearing heavy fake fur suits -- to work the crowds at the DNR building. You, too, could be Smokey (at least for a shift) if you meet the following requirements:

  • Are 17 or older
  • Are 5'7" or taller
  • Have a chest or waist no bigger than 46"
  • Must be able to handle the heat!
If you're short, wide, or don't like the idea of sweating under all that fur, you can apply to be Smokey's voice; you'll lead him around, answer questions from bystanders, and help Smokey and the good folks at the DNR remind Minnesotans of the importance of fire prevention safety.

In addition to fleeting fame and bragging rights on Facebook, volunteers also get free admission to the fair on their day of volunteering. To learn more about Smokey, as well as other DNR volunteer activities, check out their website. And bear with me here, as I throw in one last reminder: only YOU can prevent forest fires.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Princess Kay of the Milky Way: Butter Beauties, aka "Goodwill Ambassadors"

This group looks straight out of the stereotypical all-Minnesotan casting department, doesn't it? Perhaps that shouldn't come as a surprise, given that these young women are the 2011 Princess Kay of the Milky Way finalists. Princess Kay herself will be crowned later this month, but all 12 finalists get the fun of having their bust carved out of butter during the fair itself. I LOVE the Princess Kay competition -- what could be better than combining elements of pageants, the state fair, and butter, all in one package? How much more Minnesotan could one get? And how cool would it be to be able to bring your head home on a platter -- figuratively speaking, of course -- to share with friends and family at a big homecoming corn roast or pancake dinner? Watching the butter carving is a must-stop of any Minnesota State Fair visit, and I'm sure these lucky women will remember this summer for the rest of their lives.

Think you have what it takes to be a dairy princess? Check out the rules at the Midwest Dairy Association's website. My ship has sailed -- I'm too old, married, have a kid, and don't work in the dairy industry (or have parents who do) -- but there are plenty of other potential princesses out there, all ready and willing for their turn in the revolving butter case.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Minnesota Beer Hits the State Fair

The Minnesota State Fair is about all things Minnesotan, so it's about time that our Minnesota beer options at the fair have expanded. According to City Pages' Hot Dish, this year's fair will have vastly expanded beer options, including plenty of brewed-in-Minnesota options. Visit the Ball Park Cafe to get local and national beers on tap, including a Minnesota sampler. While I admit that I don't drink beer at the fair, you can't go wrong with Stillwater brewery Lift Bridge's Farm Girl -- what could be more appropriate for the state fair than that? If you don't want to wait until fair time, or, if you're like me and prefer to drink your beer at home (and save your fair calories for things fried or on a stick) you can find Farm Girl at restaurants, bars, and liquor stores across the state. Find the details at Lift Bridge Beer Company's website:

Monday, August 8, 2011

Do You Remember Your First Mini-Donut?

The Minnesota State Fair is home to a LOT of delicious sugar and/or fat-laden treats, but my favorite has always been a bag of fresh, hot mini-donuts. I generally try to keep the sugary stuff away from my son, but everything goes out the window at fair time. Here's 13-month old Jack eating his very first ever mini-donut, at the 2008 fair. They were a hit; he licked the sugar off his sticky fingers, wiped the rest on his stroller, and reached out for another.

FUN FACT: Around 338,000 bags of mini-donuts are sold each year at the Minnesota State Fair!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Hey, What Happened to Minneapolis Day? (Six Days in 1910)

We're all familiar with the State Fair's "Promotional Days" -- Thrifty Thursdays, Seniors Days, Read and Ride Day, and so forth. While the specific offerings change over time, the basic concept has long roots. Take a glance, for example, at the six promotional days for the Minnesota State Fair of 1910:
  • Labor Day and President Taft Day
  • St. Paul Day and Roosevelt Day
  • Derby Day and G.A.R. Day
  • Territorial Day and Conservation Day
  • Minneapolis Day
  • Automobile Day
"President Taft Day" was no long-distance nod to the sitting president; the president himself addressed the crowds. He was accompanied by Teddy Roosevelt, who had delivered his famous "speak softly and carry a big stick" speech at the Minnesota State Fair in 1901.