Monday, September 1, 2014

State Fair Diaries: A farewell to barns

Friday night in the Grandstand we were damp from the evening downpours and happy to take our place among the mostly grey-haired Berk-wearing Boomers that seem to frequent Prairie Home Companion performances. Garrison Keillor spoke a lot about death and endings; fitting if morbid themes as the final State Fair weekend crept up upon us.

"There is nothing hip or cool about the Minnesota State Fair," Garrison told us between his trademark whistled "ssss" into the microphone. It is true, we Fair lovers are uncool. We don fanny packs, comfortable shoes, and chubby tummies. We juggle fried food eaten from sticks while maneuvering our way through crowded barns and the Midway. We snap our fingers when Bluegrass comes a-calling at one of the free stages.

As the world outside changes the State Fair does its best to keep up with trends. They remodel and update, add foods and attractions. Sure we admire the modern Heritage Center and eventually some food gimmicks (cheese curds, anyone?) become staples.

But we non-hip folks don't come for the new stuff. The real draw for us is tradition.

We come to eat a corn dog and gawk at the animals. We come for the Skyride and Ye Old Mill. We march up Machinery Hill and recall when the place with littered with tractors and farmers. We drink cold overpriced beer as though it is manna from heaven, because it is. Kids still beg parents to ride the Ferris wheel just one more time. Teens still flirt at the Fresh French Fries stand. Fallen cookies still litter the sidewalks around Sweet Martha's and there is always someone who "doesn't look so good" at the All You Can Drink Milk stand.

The Minnesota State Fair is our tradition. We count on it to return at the end of every Minnesota summer. We need its familiarity to prepare us for what is to come: autumn's harvest and, yes, winter's chill. Soon enough we'll be raking fall leaves and shoveling driveways and ringing in 2015. But for twelve glorious days every year time slows down and we are reminded of all we are grateful for in this beautiful state of ours.

Today we took our final stroll through the 2014 Minnesota State Fair. We hit the Fine Arts Building one more time and made sure we'd seen everything we could in the Bazaar, the hort building, and Midway. T had a footlong and a corn dog and we decided the lines for Lobster on a Stick and Fried Pickles were too long. We shared the Deep-Fried Buckeyes (goopy gooey peanut butter lumps skewered on a stick, coated in chocolate and batter, then deep fried and handed over to the sap who shelled out $6 for the thing). Our group was split on whether these newfangled Buckeyes are winners or if they'd be better off in Ohio.

And then as if to nudge me back to reality one of my beloved orange sandals broke. I knew our time together was growing short. Like summer and the Fair, the sassy orange stappies weren't long for the world. They probably should have been retired years ago but I insisted they had one more summer, one more mile, left  Some spry young studs at the cotton candy stand donated a few inches of duct tape and my sandals took their final steps before dying doing what they loved best: walking the Fairgrounds. Someone suggested I spread the ashes on Dan Patch Avenue.

Now all that's left to us are memories, and hope that next year we shall return to the Fairgrounds as we always do. Next year we'll still be terribly uncool, sporting neato fanny packs filled with the essentials (Tums, floss, and cash). We will return to admire the Butterheads and the artwork of some amazing school kids. We will be in awe over our 4Hers and celebrate our rural past. We will sit in the Grandstand loudly singing along with Garrison Keillor and we will be filled with Minnesota pride when the fireworks go off. Until then we shall overflow with nostalgia and ache for the traditions that draw us back year after wonderful year.


 

 


 


 


 


 





 


 


 

  



Saturday, August 30, 2014

State Fair Diaries: 4H, food, faces, feet


I spent the best parts of my week hanging with friends and 4Hers at the State Fair. With friends I walked miles and shared mini-donuts, and caught up on important things like how the kids were preparing for back-to-school orientations and how many marathons a few of our husbands ran over the summer. And the 4Hers?! They treated my coworkers and me to a delicious brunch and an entertaining Arts-In musical performance. They also impressed me with their knife and cooking skills at a cooking event I helped judge.

Somewhere during all this Fair bliss I found time to try some more foods I'd not had before including Spaghetti Eddie's Super Stick. I missed it when it debuted last year and just had to give it a try this time around. Imagine an entire pizza on a stick: folds of thick chewy bread wrapped around melted cheese and bits of pepperoni dunked in a spicy marinara sauce. Foodie snobs scoff if you must, but the Super Stick is simple and life changing.

Did I mention the Lobster on a Stick at newish vendor Lulu's (formerly Axel's, that hit or miss vendor at the Food Building)? The prices over in the new West End are shocking but so are the flavors vendors are selling. Lobster claw meat tucked into a sweet batter reminded me of the best hush puppies ever served alongside a steaming tail. The tangy horseradish and coarse mustard sauce married the corn batter crunch with the tender seafood. Even at $9 a pop I'll go back and wait in line for another. (Hint: the line on the north side of Lulu's is shortest. And the prime rib taco? Meh.)

Along the way we made new friends, chased down Fairborne and Fairchild, and one kid lost her sandal. What else happens when a girl gets caught in the whirlwind of the Fair and has no time to post daily blogs? The following: