Sunday, August 28, 2016

State Fair Diaries: new levels of cool

Due to a bird flu epidemic, last year's Poultry Barn was empty except for a few paper cutouts of hens and chicks, and the occasional stuffed (cloth) bird peeking out of the wire cages. This year, the birds are back!

This weekend a new Poultry Prince and Princess will be crowned, but we ran into outgoing 2015 Poultry Prince Nathan Vonderharr on Friday. He spent the final days of his reign in the Poultry Barn at the Minnesota State Fair with other kids and their birds, answering questions from city gals like me about eggs, roosters, and beak colors.

I asked Prince Nathan if there was more to winning the title than just good looks and the swimsuit contest. He didn't skip a beat and quickly answered, "Well, actually those are the categories that put me over the top. That's how I won."

God I love 4H kids.

And I love The Fair! Here are a few snippets from our pre-weekend Fairing:
Ever tried Hmong-style Tator Tot Hotdish? It's heaven. Chef Vang demoed his coconut and Thai curry flavored ode to Lutheran grandmas at the Sustainability Stage on Friday. I am glad that Minnesotans are finally embracing spices beyond white pepper. Considering the first three days of our Fair weather have been mild, a little heat is in order.
A friend of a friend's bundt cake won THIRD PLACE! Bundt cake is the most competitive division in the baking contests, and a third place ribbon is an amazing feat.
You know those chickens that look like Phyllis Diller? They have blue beaks, earlobes, and feet, and their skin is blue! Black chicken is actually from a Phyllis Diller bird (also known as a Silkie. The More You Know.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

State Fair Diaries: The return of my true love

This summer I engaged in a futile attempt to slow time down; like when I was a kid riding my brakeless one-speed, dragging my foot along the road so hard that the toe of my red Chuck Taylor sneakers wore through to my big toe.

I woke up Thursday morning to the sounds of the Minnesota State Fair beckoning. It is a bittersweet moment when we acknowledge that summer is ending and our favorite twelve days of the year has begun.

Honestly, I felt a little out of it. I've been entering the baking contests for a few years and this year decided to opt out. Much as I love the competition (and blue ribbons) it doesn't feel right for someone who gets paid to teach others to cook and bake to compete against homecooks. For other various reasons, friends who normally compete at the Fair also opted out. For the first time in five years I approached the Fair without any horses in the race.

All it took to get my spirits up was the heat of a ticket in my hand and a glimpse of the main gate as I walked across Snelling Avenue. I hustled past Creative Activities, Education, and 4H, taking time to exchange greetings with the Pronto Pup workers and joking with the Kiwanis about what a great breakfast their shakes make. Salem was my destination and a block away I could see my breakfast companions waving at me.

The line for breakfast at Salem Lutheran (one of two remaining church diners on the Fairgrounds) winds along the pretty little white building where guests wait patiently to sit close (VERY close) to strangers on picnic tables and order egg coffee with their pancakes, eggs, French toast, cinnamon rolls, and bacon. A guy at our table showed us a framed photo he took of his dad's State Fair Staff hat as it appears in the History and Heritage Center (the State Fair's museum). The enormous art was to be a gift to one of the museum workers, as thanks for including the hat in the new exhibit.

After breakfast we began our volunteer shift in the Eco Building at the Renewing the Countryside Sustainability Stage. My friend K and I spent the morning prepping organic cantaloupe while my daughter gave samples out to fairgoers who repeatedly asked about the difference between cantaloupe and muskmelon is. (I always thought it was a regional thing. However, Google tells us: The North American cantaloupe, common in the United States, Mexico, and in some parts of Canada, is actually a muskmelon, a different variety of Cucumis melo, and has a net-like or reticulated skin covering. It is a round melon with firm, orange, moderately sweet flesh and a thin, reticulated, light-brown rind. The More You Know.) The guest chef made a gorgeous and refreshing ground cherry salsa, and I immediately decided I'll serve my ground cherries in salsa from here on out.

We shared a Gizmo and a bison dog for lunch, ran into two of my favorite local writers from Heavy Table (who gave me a sip of their blueberry basil lemonade from Blue Barn, and recommended the Carpe Diem from The Rabbit Hole and the Cheesy French Onion Monkey Bread from Blue Moon), and ate so much yummy carby monkey bread that we could hardly move. The French fry flavored chap stick at the Star Tribune giveaway drew a crowd, which we became part of. We met some nice animals. We heard some great music. We waved at the new Princess Kay and her entourage in the parade (Did you know it is Fairchild's 50th Birthday this year? Gen Xers unite!).

Eventually, we found some beer loving friends and walked with them from beer garden to beer garden to sample all of the new beer flavors at the fair. We shared the Deep Fried Grilled Cheese Bites with Bloody Mary-inara dipped sauce alongside the Sweet Corn Ale at O'Garas. Everyone loved the cheese bites - sort of an updated version of our beloved curds. Surprisingly, the bites made Heavy Table's Number 1 least favorite new Fair food list. I guess we Minnesotan's don't always agree on everything, except that our State Fair really is the best State Fair. Don't miss it, don't even be late. Like summer, there is no slowing down the State Fair and there are only a few more days to enjoy it!


Sunday, August 21, 2016


The American Swedish Institute hosted their annual Crayfish party last night. T kept joking about bug loving and mud, while I was in hot pursuit of the little freshwater crustaceans.

We sang Swedish drinking songs, drank Gamle Ode dill aquavit (as well as some inspired Gamle Ode cocktails), then dug into a feast of salads, cheeses, rye crispbreads, cheese and potato paj (Swedish quiche), and as much dill and beer boiled crayfish as we could possibly eat. Almond cake with strawberries and cream completed our night.

My favorite recipe for using up leftover crayfish appeared at Chef Marcus Samuelsson's website a few years ago. It is an updated version of my mom's shrimp and carrot salad.


Thursday, August 18, 2016

Glorious summers and heading up north

What a glorious summer we are having in Minnesota. T and I took advantage of my need to research at distant locales and enjoyed a few wonderful road trips. Last week we drove past Bemidji, where near the shores of Lake Itasca and close to Itasca State Park (home of the Mississippi headwaters) I had the privilege to speak with Chef Eric from the Swedish Village at Concordia Language Village camp. (This is the same camp where Chelsea Clinton spent six summers during her youth. She was in the German Village.)

The 800+ acres are breathtaking. Each language has its own village where kids spent up to four weeks immersed in learning a new language. I heard campers singing a post-lunch Swedish song of thanks, speaking Swedish to one another while hustling through the hallways of the main Swedish camp building, and carving Dala horses in a craft class. For a moment I transported back to childhood and begged my parents to send me to Swedish camp! Swedish camp is almost as awesome as horse camp! Lucky for me, the camps offer adult experiences in the fall.

After my afternoon at camp, T and I drove to the headwaters and admired the clean, clear, and tranquil water where the Mississippi begins. Did I mention our glorious Minnesota summer?