Monday, December 17, 2012

Behind the Brick: Donut Booth

This one caught my eye because, well, I like donuts. Turns out there's an interesting little story behind it, too. An initial search for "Ramsey County donut booth state fair" brought up the intriguing blog post titled "State Fair donut booth deception revisited." Donut deception? What, were they passing off something -- fried bits of non-donut pastry puffs, perhaps -- as the real thing?  Had I, as a member of the donut-eating public, ingested something non-donutey?

Nope. Never fear, fellow donut connoisseurs, at least not those of you with DFL leanings. Turns out the 10th Ward Rural Ramsey County Donut Booth -- aka Grandstand Donuts -- is run by the Ramsey County DFL PAC, with proceeds used to support local DFL districts. In 2012 the booth had more than $116,000 in sales, netting them about $34,000 in profits. Who said politics and fried dough can't mix?

As for Fran Voerding and Lora Lindorfer? I don't have much information about these two women, but they must have worked tirelessly indeed to have earned their own commemorative Minnesota State Fair brick, which, after all, will be around far longer than will one of their mini-donuts.

To get a brick of your own, contact the Minnesota State Fair Foundation.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Five Things: Sweet Martha's Cookies

  1. Sweet Martha's has been serving up cookies at the fair since 1979!
  2. When not practicing the art of cookie baking, Martha Rossini Olson is teaching art at Highland Catholic School in St. Paul [UPDATE: make that enjoying art outside of the classroom! She is now retired.]
  3. Sweet Martha's has a tradition of celebrities and VIPs getting behind the counter to serve up cookies to fair-goers; in 2004, Vice-President Dick Cheney took a turn as cookie vendor.
  4. Sweet Martha's is high-tech! In 2012, their 450 employees used the new "When I Work" scheduling app. Sweet Martha's is also on Pinterest
  5. They can bake more than 23,000 cookies in 12 minutes!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Favorite Meeting Spot

Do you have a favorite meeting spot at the Minnesota State Fair? If not, you might want to get inspired by this piece of chainsaw art. "A Favorite Meeting Spot" was carved by artist Dennis Roghair in 2005. If you've been to the fair, you've seen Roghair's work. This Minnesota sculptor's hand (and by extension, saw) can be seen all over the state fair, where he has transformed the stumps of long-dead trees into lasting works of art. If you want to check out "Favorite Meeting Spot" for yourself -- or use it for your own meeting spot in the future -- it's conveniently located by the giant corn roast stand.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Five Things: Heritage Square

  1. Before it was Heritage Square it was Teen Fair, then Young America Center, then Youth Expo. In 1975 the name -- and the concept -- was changed to Heritage Square. Out with the lava lamps, in with ye olde pioneers.
  2. In 1976 (the Bicentennial), all Heritage Square vendors were required to wear "historic" costumes!
  3. Heritage Square is now home to the Minnesota State Fair History Museum, a must-see attraction for any self-respecting state fair buff.
  4. Heritage Square is "only" open from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm, so pace yourself accordingly. (The main fairgrounds are open from 6:00 am until midnight. But hey, there's a lot to do and see in only 12 days!)
  5. Heritage Square's entertainment stage is sponsored by the August Schell Brewing Company -- the perfect fit, given that Schell's, based out of New Ulm, was founded in 1860. Can't get much more "heritage" than that.
What's your favorite Heritage Square destination?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Sausages by Cynthia at the Minnesota State Fair

Do you ever walk by Minnesota State Fair concessions and wonder about the back story? Who are the people who run these places? What do they do when they're not at the fair? And when you find that dream food, there's the big one: can I get this the other 353 days of the year, and if so, where?

Those of you with a thing for sausage, you're in luck. Sausage by Cynthia will sell you sausage and jerky via phone, and is even available to cater parties! (They can also provide cow parts such as kidneys and spines for classroom science projects!) The Forster family of Plymouth, Minnesota has been producing sausages for three generations at their smokehouse and sausage processing plant. This stuff is truly made in Minnesota. And if you're wondering what the "Minnesota" sausage is, as advertised on their sign? It's sausage made with wild rice.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Five Things: Ole's Cannoli

  1. The name -- Ole's Cannoli -- symbolizes that perfect blend of Swedish and Italian food traditions! In other words, Italian cannoli accompanied by hot Swedish coffee. How's that for perfect Minnesota State Fair combinations?
  2. Co-owner (with her mother, Pam Olson) and Roseville native Marta Lindey now lives in San Francisco, where she perfected her cannoli business chops at local street fairs. Luckily for Minnesota cannoli connoisseurs, the Bay Area foodies gave them a big thumbs up. And as an aside, how come I was never lucky enough to come across these when we lived in San Francisco? Now I've got to wait until August to get my Swedish coffee and cannoli fix!
  3. It took three years to land a concession spot at the Minnesota State Fair.
  4. How do they stuff so many cannoli in such short time? With a sausage filler!
  5. New business, new baby: Marta Lindsey was pregnant with her first child during the first year of the stand. (and random suggestion for the Lindsey family: wouldn't a cannoli costume make a wonderful first Halloween costume?)
Did you get a chance to enjoy Ole's Cannoli in 2012?

Follow  Ole's Cannoli on Facebook or on Twitter, and visit them at their cute Swedish cottage in Heritage Square.

Photo: Minnesota State Fair.

Friday, November 16, 2012

I See RC

I love RC Cola. The taste is okay, but I think the real reason I like it is because it reminds me of the fair. I rarely drink RC elsewhere (save the full sugar soda for special occasions, like the fair!), but we've been going to this RC stand -- on Underwood near Dan Patch -- for years! The price is right, the lines move fast, and it made it into our roster of Minnesota State Fair traditions. You can always pick up RC Cola at a grocery store, but it always tastes better when enjoyed on hot August day at the fair. And it's cheap enough that you'll have money left for that extra bag of mini doughnuts or a last swing through Ye Olde Mill.

The booth is run by American Fountain Services LLC, owned by Scott Palmer and Richard Redding. As for RC Cola itself, it was invented in Georgia in 1905.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Break the Routine with Poutine

Fair goers tend to be split into two groups when it comes to food. There are those who have their set list of must-eats, beloved favorites that are essential parts of the annual fair tradition. Never mind that they've been eating the same exact items since they were old enough to chew. There's only so many things one can eat in a day (or in 12 days) and no time to clutter it up with new-fangled fried items on sticks when there's cheese curds and corn on the cob to be enjoyed! (disclaimer: I tend to fall into this category, although I like ogling the new stuff.) Then there are those who look to the fair for the novel and new. Where else, after all, are you going to be able to eat bacon ice cream or fried cheesecake?  Many of the newest fair food creations aren't exactly something you can pick up at your local drive-through or downtown bistro. 

One of the new-in-2012 fair foods manages to straddle the line between new and traditional. This summer, in fine fair tradition, Duke's Poutine did its part to further clog fair attendees' arteries. While new to the Minnesota State Fair, Duke's Poutine's feature item -- its poutine -- is a favorite food in Quebec, and seems lately to have taken the upper Midwest by storm. And why not? Duke's Poutine does indeed seem like a quintessential Minnesota fair food, like something we should all have been eating for decades. The basic recipe: take french fries, add gravy, top with cheese curds. If not for the large moose on the stand, you'd think this was invented in Brainerd.

So if you missed Duke's Poutine in 2012, get yourself over to their stand and order yourself some this coming August. After all, what can be more Minnesotan than fries and cheese, eh?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

If It's Good Enough for Paul Bunyan, It's Good Enough for Me

If you pay any attention to the food and drink scene in Minnesota, you are by now well aware that the craft beer scene has exploded in recent year. Sure, Minnesotans have always liked their beer, but today you can't swing an uprooted hops vine without hitting a home brewer or encountering a restaurant or bar with a line of local craft beers on tap. No surprise, then, that this renewed interest in beer made good showing at the Minnesota State Fair. And, really, where better to pay homage to this state's brewing culture? Whether rural farmer, urban homebrewing hipster, professional brewer, hops grower, or barrel maker (or, for that matter, just enthusiastic Minnesota beer drinker), this state -- and our State Fair -- had something for you. The Minnesota Craft Brewer's Guild's "Land of 10,000 Beers" proved wildly successful, and introduced thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of visitors to Minnesota beer and history through its exhibit and extensive public programming.

Here's raising a glass to Minnesota's thriving brewing scene, and to the Minnesota State Fair. And for you home brewers out there: it's never too early to get started perfecting your own secret blend. Last year's Home Brew competition received 680 entries! Congratulations to the winners, and happy brewing!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Days Gone By: Market Gardeners, 1905

Who can resist the plentiful displays of the state's finest examples of produce? The Minnesota State Fair is THE place to see it all: the state's largest pumpkin, longest green beans, and newest apple varieties, among other delicious prospects. I love that in 2012 this link to the state's agricultural roots is still very present. It doesn't matter if you own acres of farmland or whether your "farm" is a pot on your windowsill (or eve if your produce experience taps out at picking the finest cucumbers at your local supermarket); Minnesota -- and the Minnesota State Fair -- has room for produce admirers of all varieties.

Perhaps it's my appreciation for current Minnesota produce that draws me to the photographs of agricultural exhibits from years gone by. This photograph, featuring the 1905 bounty of the Minneapolis Market Gardeners Association, looks just as delicious 106 years later and in black and white as I'm sure it did to the visitors who walked these pathways before us. And now, I'm off to find myself a nice, juicy Minneapolis-grown apple -- all those baskets of beautiful, lush local produce are making me hungry!

Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Minnesota's Couture Kitchen Designer (Apron Elegance Meets the MN State Fair-Style)

This is how I dress when I'm making stock or baking cookies. Sometimes I even match my apron and heels to my food -- the orange stilettos with the carrots, while the green pumps look fab with the roasted asparagus. You do too, right? If not, and your cooking wardrobe needs a little spicing up, might want to check out Rachel Hart's Apron Elegance booth in Heritage Square. This photo was taken in 2011, her first year at the fair, and I don't yet know if she'll be returning.

Last year in addition to buying glam aprons, you could have the lovely Ms. Hart or her assistants type up (yes, TYPE, as in peck it out on an old-fashioned retro typewriter) an "Aprongram" message to include with gift orders. Hart says she takes inspiration from the "greatest generation" and their gift-giving, but my guess is that while Grandma might not be so impressed with a typed message (typewriters might be seen as a bit fuddy-duddy by those who actually used them), your younger friends will find the typewritten gimmick to be killer-diller.

Rachel Hart is a Duluth-based apron artist. You can buy her couture aprons online, or check to see if she'll be making a return to this year's Minnesota State Fair. As I'm sure she'd point out, a snazzy apron would be a GREAT way to keep sugar crumbs and ketchup splatters from ruining your fair clothes, so might as well wear your new apron right out of the shop.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Cars and Cows

Helio Laurin Porsche (left) and Mercedes (right) were exhibited by Danielle and Bradley Bye of the Pine Island FFA chapter (at Pine Island High School). And no, your eyes are not deceiving you. Yes, they are cows. Helio Laurin Porsche is a registered Holstein, and Mercedes is a Brown Swiss.

I have no idea how the Bye kids ended up with car-themed cows, but it reminds me of the story told by one of my California friends. She raised animals, too (for 4-H, I think; not sure if she did FFA), and all the kids in her family raised and sold huge pigs to fund their first cars. Perhaps Bradley and Danielle have similar ambitions. Unfortunately no one (other than Helio Laurin Porsche and Mercedes, but they had no comment) was around to ask, so the name choice will simply have to remain a mystery.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Her Boyfriend Rides Bulls

As a city kid from Minneapolis, I never had the opportunity to either (a) ride a bull or (b) don a shirt announcing to the world that my boyfriend rode bulls. If it were not for the State Fair I would, honestly, have had no idea that rodeos even existed in Minnesota. Perhaps that's part of why I like the Minnesota State Fair so much -- it brings together EVERYONE in the state, which (despite stereotypes to the contrary) is really a pretty diverse bunch.

The guys shown here were participants in the fair's High School Rodeo, held in the Coliseum. 2011 rodeo events included bareback, calf roping, goat tying, and steer wrestling, among other options. Although the competitors in this photo are male, it's entirely possible that the happy couple on the left had matching his-and-her shirts made up: there are plenty of rodeo opportunities for the girls, too, and, girls, in fact, now outnumber the boys in high school rodeo events. For more on the topic of girls in high school rodeo in Minnesota, check out this 2011 story in the Star Tribune.

If you'd like to get involved in Minnesota's high school rodeo scene, contact the Minnesota High School Rodeo Association.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

In case you haven't yet used up your calorie allotment for the day...

So it's not health food. But you knew that. And besides, the Minnesota State Fair only comes twelve days a year.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Forget Peru: Alpacas May Live Near YOU!

According to Butch and Pat Hansen of Pure Country Alpacas, 99 percent of the world's three million alpacas live in just three countries: Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. You can find some of the remaining one percent in Prior Lake, Minnesota, where the Hansens have raised award-winning alpacas since 1997. They show their alpacas at shows around the country, as well as sell alpaca goods (including very soft sweaters!) both online and at various markets and festivals, or at their farm (by appointment). Or, of course, wait until August and meet them (and their beautiful alpacas) in person at the Minnesota State Fair.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Lynn's Potato Lefse

Forget all the fried food on a stick. If you want a REAL Minnesota experience you've got to embrace your inner Scandinavian. None of your ancestors ever sailed the fjords of Norway or tilled the fields of Sweden? No matter -- you're in Minnesota now, right? And besides, most of the "Norwegian" stuff is Norwegian done Minnesota style, anyway. So order yourself some lefse, throw around some "uff das" like a pro, and you'll fit right in.

Lynn's Potato Lefse, located in the Food Building, is the perfect place to start. For the uninitiated, lefse is essentially a potato tortilla. Spread some butter on it, add some sugar, roll it up, enjoy. Or splurge and order it with lingonberries.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Eye'll See You at the Fair!

There's so much to see at the Minnesota State Fair, so why not make sure that your eyes are up to the job? You can buy almost anything at the Fair, so perhaps it should come as no surprise that the Spectacle Shoppe has set up shop on-site for more than 30 years (they also maintain several permanent stores in the metro area). They usually offer special fair deals, so check them out next year if you want to ensure you (and your eyes) are prepared to get the most out of the best State Fair activity of all -- people watching.