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.