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...