Monday, August 26, 2013

Is Everything Really Better With Bacon?

It's been a few years now, and the better-with-bacon trend is still going strong. Being a vegetarian, I don't have the opportunity or interest in trying out all the bacon-flavored or bacon-garnished items (although in some cases I think the "bacon" comes out of a flavor house in New Jersey, not off of an actual pig, but I digress...), so I'm going to leave the big bacon questions to those of  you out here who have a more varied diet. So what do you think? Does bacon really make everything better? Where do you draw the line? Or maybe there's not a line. Maybe that "everything" should be taken literally.

In any case, should you be of the bacon-loving persuasion, the Minnesota State Fair is full of bacon-filled options, including this bacon ice cream. Find it at Rainbow Ice Cream (and a few other places, too, I think): it's a maple-flavored ice cream base mixed with bacon bits.

Other Fair bacon offerings include Ole Cannoli's candied bacon cannoli, lots of fried bacon, and, of course, Big Fried Bacon's Bacon on a Stick.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

It's 7:30 am -- TIme for a Corn Dog!

Photo courtesy Minnesota State Fair

It's here! That's right, the Minnesota State Fair is once again open for business. I saw the photos of all you hard-core fair-goers standing outside at 6 am. Some of you must be looking for breakfast by now (or, like me, are busy planning their itineraries for tomorrow or future days), so if looking for some new breakfast food-on-a-stick options -- start your Food Challenge off in style! -- this brand-new breakfast sandwich corndog should do the trick. It's available from Hansen's Foods on Judson Avenue, and is described as a "breakfast sausage link dipped in pancake batter, deep-fried and served with a side of maple syrup." Eat up; after all, the State Fair only comes 12 days a year. Enjoy it while you can.

See you at the Fair!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Meteor Cherries: They're Out of This World!

Anyone else fascinated by the seemingly millions (well, at least hundreds or maybe dozens) of contest categories at the Minnesota State Fair? I can't walk through the Agricultural or the Creative Activities building without thinking gee, maybe next year I should work on becoming the state's foremost expert on baking some obscure type of pastry, or at the very least try my hand at raising a record-breaking turnip. And maybe one of these years I will. But for now, I'll enjoy looking at the fruits of other people's labors... in this case, that fruit being the meteor cherry.

While skimming the various categories in the Ag-Hort premium booklet, the "meteor cherry" description caught my eye. As any cherry connoisseurs out there can already probably tell, I don't know much about cherries. I know I like to eat them, and I know that they look awfully pretty growing on trees. But I've never heard of a meteor cherry, let alone what makes them special (other than the super-cool name.) So, for the benefit of any other cherry-challenged folks out there who want to know what it takes to bring home the blue in Minnesota State Fair Ag-Hort lot #777 -- besides one pint of perfection, that is -- here's the inside scoop.

The meteor cherry is a type of dwarf sour cherry, cold-hardy and (obviously) grow in Minnesota. They're tart, bright red, and bigger than North Star cherries (which I have tried). They are a true home-grown fruit, having been first bred in 1952 by William Aldermann at the Fruit Breeding Farm in Excelsior, Minnesota, and introduced to the cherry-growing public by the University of Minnesota. Its lineage traces back to France and Russia, with one of its parent cherry varieties having made its way to this county in 1830. I haven't yet been able to figure out how they got their name, but I'd like to think it's because these cherries make for an astronomically good cherry pie.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Ice is Nice

Photo courtesy D1 Ice

This is Minnesota. Kids are born here with skates on their feet, or so I've been told. Yet here for all these years our state's biggest event, the definitive Minnesota experience, hasn't had ice! Sure, you could check out all the old figure skating stars in Heritage Square, and you can even ice skate at the coliseum during the off-season, but that's not the same as strapping on some blades and swinging around the ice while digesting a corn dog.

Minnesotans, those days are behind us.

New for 2013, synthetic ice manufacturer D1 Ice will be offering fair-goers the opportunity to torch some calories at its demonstration rink. They provide the "ice" and the skates; 10 minutes of skating time costs $3. The rink (decked out in NHL glory; when do we we figure skaters get OUR rink?) is located on Randall Avenue, just south of the Progress Center.

Monday, August 19, 2013

How to Improve Ice Cream? Add Mini Donuts! New for 2013: Mini Donut Batter Crunch Ice Cream

Photo courtesy Minnesota State Fair

Man, just when you think there's no more room for improvement, something like this comes along. Yes, folks, this is what you've been waiting for all these years without knowing it.... mini donut batter crunch ice cream! And it gets better. This isn't just any ice cream. It's made by hometown favorite Izzy's Ice Cream, and sold by beloved State Fair institution Hamline Dining Hall!

Really, what more is there to say? The name speaks for itself. Although I will note that proceeds from Hamline's dining hall (run by volunteers!) benefits the church, which in turn supports a bunch of different admirable social justice-type programs, like food banks, meals for the homeless, and combating malaria in Africa. Pretty sweet.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Dough-Sant: Do or Don't?

Image courtesy Minnesota State Fair

We all know that half -- or more -- of what makes a State Fair food success story is the pure novelty value of the food in question. Edibility often comes decidedly second. But sometimes the most over-the-top, seemingly disgusting food can be, well, actually GOOD. I love doughnuts. I love croissants. But could I ever learn to love -- or even simply digest! -- something called a "dough-sant"? This new-for-2013 item is just what it sounds like: a hybrid of croissant and a doughnut.  I'm not in the pastry trend loop (deep fried or not), so I was a little slow to learn that these are a hot new food item sweeping bakeries nationwide. Blame it on pastry chef Dominique Ansel of New York, whose "cronut" launched in May and have since vaulted to pastry fame.

I'm not sure if I'll have time to try this or not (so many new foods to try, so little time!), but if you want to give it a whirl -- and a review -- you can find it at the French Meadow Bakery on Carnes Avenue. No word yet as to whether this will find a place on the regular year-round French Meadow menu or not, so get it while it's (deep-fried) hot!.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day 2013!

Are you doing something special to celebrate Mother's Day? If only it were August -- there's nothing like the Minnesota State Fair for a fun outing with your mom!

Monday, April 15, 2013

2013 Fair Food Challenge

Photo: Spaghetti Eddie's super sticks (pepperoni and cheese battered and fried; photo courtesy Minnesota State Fair)

Food on a stick: it's the fair's ultimate cliche. The way people talk about it, you'd think that you can't even buy a cup of coffee without the cup somehow perilously perched on the end of skewer. But, stereotype of not, we all know that food on a stick IS the ultimate fair food. And the numbers are now there to prove it. In 2012, the Minnesota State Fair Foundation reported that of 500 food types available at the fair, an amazing 70 of them came served on a stick! 

And that, dear hungry reader, brings us to our 2013 Fair Food Challenge. How many foods on a stick can YOU eat during the 2013 Minnesota State Fair? Are you the type to stick to the tried-and-true classics, or will you be chasing the newest exotic food-on-a-stick offerings? I can't promise a prize, but let me know how many different types of food-on-a-stick you manage this fair season (no need to do all 70 in one day!) and you can at least get some public bragging rights.

And yes, I know it's only April -- I'm issuing this challenge now so that you have time to plan your dining schedules and stretch out those stomach muscles. Just don't blame me if you find that your training sessions also lead to the need to stretch out your waistbands. 

See you at the fair!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Meet (Meat?) Your Sausage Match

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Browsing the meat competition entrants at the Minnesota State Fair will inevitably leave you with the impression that there is literally a sausage or piece of processed meat out there for anyone. (Well, perhaps the vegetarians among us will have to broaden our search parameter beyond the meat refrigerators.) These 2011 offerings, for example, entered by Steve’s  Meat Market of Ellendale, Minnesota, included pepper jack sticks, cranberry sticks, apple cinnamon breakfast sausages, garlic ring bologna, and hickory smoked apple cinnamon bacon, among other options.

Steve’s Smokey Acres, for the uninitiated, is run by the mother-and daughter team of Rachel Lee and Donnavon Eaker (the business gets its name from the late Steve Eker)  and they have racked up an impressive array of industry prizes, including the Minnesota Association Processors’ top award in the specialty snack stick division for their cranberry sticks.

If you want some specialty snack sticks of your own, the market sells directly to the public. They are located approximately 84 miles south of the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, in the heart of tiny Ellendale, Minnesota (about 15 minutes south of Owatonna and 15 minutes north of Albert Lea). While you’re there make sure to congratulate them on their 40th anniversary!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Corny Romance at the Minnesota State Fair

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Well, to be fair, I don’t know if this is truly a “corny” romantic gesture. My ability to identify seeds is a bit lacking, but I don’t think is a single corn kernel on this piece of crop art. But corny or not, what loving couple couldn’t appreciate commemorating their big day in the time-tested medium of Minnesota seeds and beans? I don’t know the back story to this entrant in the 2011 Minnesota State Fair crop art competition, but I’m assuming that’s Todd holding his offering to his bride, Hannah. My best guess? A memorable and personalized wedding gift to the couple from a friend or family member. Given that the wedding date was August 20, I can’t imagine that either Todd or Hannah had the time to finish painstakingly gluing every lentil or piece of wild rice and arranging delivery to the Fair between dress fittings, floral runs, and the rehearsal dinner. I like to think that, wherever they live now, this piece of personalized art hangs in a place of honor, bringing back memories to their August 2011 wedding.

I don’t think I know anyone getting married in August 2013, but if anything, er, crops up, I might be doing some mad gluing myself come this summer. And to Hannah and Todd, I hope you can celebrate your second anniversary in style at the Minnesota State Fair in 2013. Congratulations!

Monday, March 25, 2013



Not all visitors to the Minnesota State Fair can sustain themselves through a busy day of cows, thrill rides, free ruler giveaways, and funny cat videos by scarfing down fried food on a stick. Now granted, some of the younger fair-goers -- like my son, when he was a baby -- might be perfectly fine to embrace new foods like mini donuts (or even the more healthy baby-friendly foods, like hummus), but man -- and infant boys and girls -- cannot live on fried food alone. And for those of you with very young babies who don't even have the fun of finger foods, you may be wondering about the logistics of how to handle feeding of the baby variety while at the fair.

First, of all, breastfeeding mothers can feed their babies wherever they feel like. You want to feed the baby while on the sky ride, you go right ahead. But if you're looking for a quieter environment, somewhere a bit calmer and out of the hustle and bustle, or perhaps you're pumping and you don't relish the idea of locking yourself into a bathroom stall somewhere, the good folks at the Minnesota State Fair have you, er, covered. They offer formal "breastfeeding facilities" at the Care and Assistance Center, located on Dan Patch across from Heritage Square. Private rooms are available on a first-come, first-served basis. I've never used this facility so can't vouch for how well it works, but it's nice to know that it's there.

In years past the radio station 107.1 has also hosted a Lactation Station, which is an enclosed tent outfitted with rocking chairs, water, and some outlets for those who want to pump.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Are You Fired Up for the Fair?

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I love the Minnesota State Fair for a lot of reasons. If I had to pick one TOP reason, though, it would be easy: because it’s weird. Think about it. The Fair has everything! Where else can you watch butter sculpting, drink frozen wine slushy samples (hey, it was worth a try), ogle pumpkins as big as your car, buy wool on a stick, and watch pigs being born, all in the same day? Or, if you’re really fast, even in the same hour? There is ALWAYS something new and unique around the corner or up the street at the fair, and much of it is, well, kind of strange. Or in many cases, perhaps not strange by itself, but mixed in with everything else it becomes part of a great, random, assortment of stuff that would never coexist in any other setting, which of course is part of the appeal.

And that leads me to this place: the DNR’s indoor rifle range. Why spend your money at the Midway booths when you can do some shooting courtesy of the state of Minnesota? No, you won’t win a huge purple stuffed animal, but hey, assuming you’re over the age of six, what are you going to do with that giant bear, anyway? Now maybe a shooting range in itself isn’t weird, but it’s both odd and totally fitting that this one is tucked away inside the DNR building. Maybe it's just me, but I was surprised when I learned this place was here. I didn’t have the patience to stand in line to try it out for myself, but apparently this one lets you pretend to shoot (it’s laser – sorry, no, the DNR isn’t going to really let you shoot real firearms in their large, but not THAT large, historic building) at moving targets before moving on to shooting pretend ducks or quail.

And then you get to virtually pluck and roast the birds for your virtual lunch. Just kidding. If all that hunting has made you hungry, there are plenty of concession stands ready to sell you some turkey or chicken on a stick (I don’t believe pheasants, quail, or duck are available, although the 2013 new foods have not yet been announced…).

As far as the real guns go, please leave yours at home. The Minnesota State Fair bans guns on the premises during the duration of the fair.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Behind the Brick: Toy Dinosaur

Well, no real "behind the brick" story for this one. I just liked it. Luckily for the noses of State Fair attendees, I doubt that this poet goes hungry while at the fair, and if he (she?) does, there are certainly more appetizing things to be found than your schnoz.

If you have words that need to be said, get your own Minnesota State Fair brick through the Minnesota State Fair Foundation.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Toast to Toasty Toes

I appreciated these socks on a hot August day for their artistic value (these went home with a blue ribbon in 2011), but on a chilly January night these works of textile art transcend appearance and technical expertise and remind me of their function -- to keep one's feet warm! I don't, alas, have the name of the master knitter responsible for these cozy-looking red and white socks, but I hope he or she (or a lucky friend or relative) is sitting at home right now, wool-clad feet up on an ottoman, enjoying toasty warm toes while working on whatever sweaters or socks are headed for the Minnesota State Fair in 2013.

Do you knit? If so, have you ever entered your creations in a State Fair competition? I can knit hats -- very nice hats, thank you very much -- but nothing else. Maybe one of these years it will be time to branch out to socks, and from there onward to sweaters. And of course there's nothing like a jaunt through the Creative Arts building to get inspired!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

New Improvements Coming Your Way in 2013!

There's always work to be done at the Minnesota State Fair. Maintaining existing buildings and landscapes, building new attractions, adding new public art, making tweaks here and there to meet the evolving needs of visitors... all this takes a tremendous amount of time and money. The Minnesota State Fair recently voted on nearly six million dollars of improvements to be made this year, including the following:

  • A new bathroom west of the DNR building
  • New roofs for the Ramberg Senior Center
  • Utility infrastructure improvements
  • A grab bag of "hundreds of painting, maintenance, and landscaping projects throughout the 320-acre State fairgrounds."
It's not glamorous, but it's these types of improvements and maintenance projects that keep the place humming for an INTENSE 12 days each summer. So next time you're there take a moment to look around, check out the landscape, and appreciate the massive amounts of manpower and money that goes into keeping our beloved Fairgrounds looking (and working) so fair.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Behind the Brick: Taopi Post Office

Have you heard of Taopi? Nope, me neither. Not surprising, I suppose, as Taopi has a population of 58. Until recently, however, they also had their own post office. It was -- as the brick suggests --   Minnesota's smallest post office, and reportedly the second smallest in the country.

Unfortunately you can probably guess how the story goes. Budget cuts across the land have hurt post offices everywhere, and communities across Minnesota and across the nation are, unfortunately, losing their local post offices. Taopi managed to hang on to theirs until November 2011. These days Taopi residents have to head to Le Roy. These days, the memory of Taopi's small post office lives on, both in Taopi as well as in brick form at the Minnesota State Fair.

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