Making the Most of the Minnesota State Fair

It is once again time for the Great Minnesota Get-Together. Twelve days of an almost-overwhelming array of food, art, music, gardens, animals, shopping, and people. What you need are Minnesota State Fair Tips (#MSFTips) to help you create a plan of attack to maximize the fun!

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  1. Let Someone Else Do the Driving.

With so many options for transportation to the fairgrounds, why hassle with driving yourself and hoping there is an open parking spot nearby?! Free Park & Ride, Express Bus service, Lyft … there are plenty of options for enjoying the ride and guaranteeing a short walk to one of the entrance gates.

Link to MN State Fair transit options, here.

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2. It’s All About the Food

Go hungry.   With 27 new foods for 2018 alone, and a growing list of favorites from prior years, planning to share is a great way to optimize the number of foods you have the chance to sample throughout the day.  The State Fair Food Finder will help you satisfy your craving! I will even give you a sneak preview of our food list to get you started (remember, pacing is important!):

New Foods to Try?

  • Earth Wings (deep-fried cauliflower with sesame BBQ sauce) from French Meadow Bakery
  • Firecracker Stuffed Shrimp Avocado from the Hideaway Speakeasy
  • Mangonada Shave Ice (from Minnesnowii Shave Ice) is on my son’s list, while Honey Cream Soda Float (from Minnesota Honey Producers) is on mine
  • Nordic Waffles (the Slammin’ Salmon-on-a-Stick variety, perhaps?)
  • Smoked Soft Serve Ice Cream (cold press coffee flavor) from Blue Moon Dine-In Theater
  • Wood-Grilled Elote from Tejas Express (my son added this one, while I will stick with the classic Roasted Corn instead — see “Old Favorites” below)

Old Favorites on the “Must Eat” List?

  • Fruit and whipped crème crepe from the French Creperie
  • Roasted Corn from the Corn Roast (because sitting on the curb next to dozens of your Minnesota friends chewing on a cob of corn before tossing it into the communal compost bin is a classic Fair experience)
  • Blue Barn’s Blue Cheese & Corn Fritters with Chimichurri Sauce and their Blueberry Basil Lemonade
  • Pronto Pup – I can’t leave the Fair without having the flour-battered, deep-fried hot dog on a stick, generously brushed with ketchup and mustard.
  • Chocolate-dipped frozen bananas (my boys always make sure to find space for one)
  • Mediterranean Lemonade at Holy Land Deli (in the Int’l  Bazaar) — when you are ready to melt from heat, humidity, and crowds …
  • Wine Slushie – another perfect refreshment for a hot day (at the French Creperie).
  • Cheese Curds from the Mouth Trap (in the Food Building)

While I love Sweet Martha’s cookies, they are best when fresh, so if you buy that overflowing bucket o’ cookies take a tip from the cookie veterans who bring a gallon-sized ziplock bag and put the cookies that don’t fit in the bucket into the bag, so they can put the lid on the bucket for the ride home!

And don’t forget to pick up a Blue Ribbon Bargain Book and help support the Minnesota State Fair Foundation with your $5.00 purchase.

3. See a Show, Watch the Animals, Learn Something New

Grab the daily schedule from one of the information booths after you arrive on the fairgrounds for the day, or scouting out the day’s events ahead of time, either on the website or through the mobile app.

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4. Remember: The Agriculture-Horticulture Building is more than Farms and Plants!

One of our favorite stops of the day is the crop art competition and display. Creativity, political themes, cultural icons … it’s all in the Ag-Hort Building!

Check out my Minnesota State Fair posts from prior years for additional photos, tips and links:

~ Kat

Coffee (30 Days of Gratitude: Day 9)

Dear Coffee,

I am truly grateful for you.

XO Kat

Cafe Latte Artistry

Time Again for the Great Minnesota Get-Together

You either love it or hate it … the Minnesota State Fair has few “meh” responses. Coming from a Fair lover, there is a strategy to maximizing your time and experiences (and food!) at the Great Minnesota Get-Together (taking place now through Labor Day)!

Minnesota State Fair crowds

I have some of my top tips (“use the free ‘park & ride’ system”) in my blog post from a couple years ago, Minnesota State Fair 201: An Advanced Fairgoers Guide.  Heads up – bring lots of cash – and be prepared to spend an obscene amount of it! (ATMs on the fairgrounds.)

Print out a map from the website to help map out a plan of attack! And generally figure out how you’ll tackle the fairgrounds so you don’t spend the day zigzagging to where you want to go or what you want to eat! If you’re taking transit, you’ll get dropped off at the transit up in the upper left corner of the map, so you can plan your journey from there (e.g. the Blue Barn is one of the first food stops on your right as you enter the gates … always several great items at that location…. However, we always start our Fair visit with a fruit and whipped creme crepe from the French Creperie!!).

Minnesota State Fair crepe at the French Creperie

Look at the day’s schedule of events for the day you plan to go – are there certain shows or exhibits or special events you want to try to attend? Seating fills early in some venues so you want to make sure you’re there before the lumberjack show starts, for example, in order to grab a seat. Take note of where any scheduled events are so you can plan your trek accordingly.

Plan on sharing foods to maximize sampling different items!  E.g. one order of curds for several people, but maybe you have your own roasted corn, share a shake, but have your own lemonade, etc.  We learned that a Fudge Puppy needs at least 3 people to share so as not to fill up with rich sweetness! We would rather sample more items with smaller portions each but everyone has their own strategy!!

The Blue Barn's Blue Cheese Corn Fritz at the Minnesota State Fair

That being said, what are some of our favorites?!  (the website “Food Finder” is a great tool to plan ahead of time!) We don’t always get to all of them but these are ones that have made the list many years:

  • Fruit and whipped crème crepe from the French Creperie
  • Ice Cream Shake from the Gopher Dairy Club or from the Dairy Bar
  • Roasted Corn from the Corn Roast – rolled in butter, eaten nearby, and then cobs thrown in the big bins for composting!
  • One son swears by the Mexican tortas from Manny’s (I get too filled up with them but will do a bite or two) – I love Manny’s pina colada in a hollowed-out pineapple (family-friendly and non-alcoholic).
  • Blue Barn’s Blue Cheese & Corn Fritters with Chimichurri Sauce and their Blueberry Basil Lemonade (this year looks like the Blue Barn mixed things up with blueberry lavender lemonade or basil blackberry lemonade)!
  • I can’t leave the Fair without having a pronto pup (flour-battered, deep-fried hot dog on a stick) slapped with a streak of ketchup and mustard – while others swear by the MN State Fair corn dogs!
  • Deep-fried vegetables (Vegetable Fries) at Vegie Fries with dipping sauce are quite good.
  • Mediterranean lemonade at Holy Land Deli (in the Int’l  Bazaar) – best, most refreshing lemonade and one of the better lemonade values!
  • Sweet Martha’s cookies (this, too, fills me up too much – but when fresh they really are great! – you’ll see many people walking out with a bucket o’ cookies that are overflowing – the veterans bring a gallon ziplock bag and put the ones that don’t fit in the bucket in the bag, so they can put the lid on the bucket for the ride home)!
  • Mini donuts – Tom Thumb’s are my faves!
  • Chocolate-dipped frozen bananas – my boys always loved these.
  • Wine slushie – on a hot day, I love these (at the French Creperie).
  • The Rabbit Hole in the Int’l Bazaar always has some fun and tasty food offerings if you’re there the days they are (they rotate with another vendor).
  • Walleye Cakes from Giggles Campfire Grill.
  • Honey ice cream (various flavors) from the Ag-Hort building MN Honey Producers booth.
  • With the Original Cheese Curds closed, the Mouth Trap cheese curds would be the second choice (in the Food Building) if we need curds

If there are certain items you know you want to eat/try, note where they are on the map so you can coordinate with other exhibits and buildings you want to visit.

As for the new foods to try this year – we will pick a few, and that is really a personal preference thing!  I look at the list posted on the website and then check out some of the early reviews of them, too. And then a lot of times it depends on the weather – is it hot? Is it cool? Are we thirsty? Etc. Makes a difference for what food or drink sounds good that day!

Here are some of the early reviews:

Some of the new foods that may make that “had to try” list this year:

  • Maple Cream Nitro Cold Press Coffee at Farmers Union Coffee Shop or Vietnamese Iced Cold Press Coffee at Que Viet
  • Hamline Dining Hall’s Cranberry Wild Rice Meatballs with Lingonberry Sauce
  • Slow-Roasted Pork Mole Tamale at Tejas Express
  • Thai Rolled Ice Cream at Rainbow Ice Cream
  • Steak Taco on Naan at San Felipe Tacos
  • Duck Bacon Wontons at Giggles Campfire Grill

Minnesota State Fair

But it’s not all about food, and you need something to help pace yourself! The group activities page has a “Best Bets Guide” to help organize your trip, as well as fun print-outs like a Bingo card and scavenger hunt.  Some of our non-food Fair favorites:

  • Animal Barns — wander the eclectic poultry aisles in the Poultry Barn; get a set of paper headband pig ears from the Oink Booth in the Swine Barn and see the piglets and biggest boar; take in the array of cattle or goats or llamas ….classic slices of Minnesota farm and 4-H life.
  • Creative Activities and Fine Arts buildings – see the winners of arts and crafts of all sorts!
  • Miracle of Birth Barn – – watch live births or see newborn farm animals – warning: this barn takes patience as it is PACKED with people – or get there early early in the day to try and beat some of the crowds.

Miracle of Birth Barn at the Minnesota State Fair

  • Shopping in the Grandstand shops or Int’l Bazaar – really something for everyone!
  • Check out DNR’s fish/trout pond and climb the fire tower.
  • Crop Art! In the Ag-Hort building – State Fair creativity at its best!!

Minnesota State Fair Crop Art

  • Eco-Experience, Education … every building has something interesting – wander and explore!
  • U of M’s “Driven to Discover” building – find a research study to participate in while you’re at the fair! Just takes a few minutes of your time, sometimes with follow up, sometimes not – some interesting projects.
  • Don’t forget the classic butter head carvings of Princess Kay of the Milky Way and her court (in the Dairy Barn).

Butter head carvings of Princess Kay and her Court at the Minnesota State Fair

  • Listen to a live MPR broadcast and visit their booth. https://www.mpr.org/statefair
  • Find some deals and freebies! http://www.mnstatefair.org/pdf/17-DDGG.pdf
  • Free music and dance shows in the Int’l Marketplace area’s stages; various bands and talent competitions on other stages, etc. – check out the daily schedule for what might interest you or just see what captures your interest as you wander.
  • Enjoy the perfect venue for a warm summer evening concert or show in the Grandstand.

Classic summer concert venue at the Minnesota State Fair

  • See if your favorite senators or other political personas are in the house.
  • Grab something to eat, sit and watch the parade that goes through the grounds at 2 PM daily.
  • If you want rides or fun houses or carnival games … or a Haunted House …. All that is there, too!
  • Take a ride on SkyGlider or SkyRide … when you need to give your feet a break, relaxing and fun to get a bird’s eye view of the fairgrounds – or handy if you want to get from one section of the grounds to another.

Riding the SkyGlider at the Minnesota State Fair

It is called the Great Minnesota Get-Together for good reason. Embrace the people-watching experience, grab your favorite food-on-a-stick, and join almost 2 million other folks doing the same during the last hurrah of summer!

~ Kat

Supporting the Little Guys

As the crab apple trees and lilacs both came into their full glory, filling the yard with the fragrance of a delayed Spring, I took an additional day of vacation to extend a long weekend, and frantically scrambled to eliminate as much dog and cat hair as possible, while putting together an extra-special spread for the women of my book club.  We are usually pretty low key, but it’s not every day we are honored with the author at the table with us!

Crab Apple Blossoms and Lilacs in Duluth

With a couple of mutual friends in the club, the author of Locally Laid was gracious enough to find time in her busy schedule to join us for the evening to discuss her book.  Lucie Amundsen was fresh off the circuit of events surrounding “One Book Northland,” the annual community-wide book event in Duluth, Minnesota, and is a frequent speaker and instructor on both writing and agriculture-related topics.

Locally Laid, the book

In full disclosure, but honestly not influencing my review of the book (otherwise, I would simply not have put together a blog post at all!), I have come to know Lucie through a variety of intersecting organizations and activities. Before I became acquainted with Lucie personally, though, I became acquainted with her eggs — those of you following my blog for some time may recall this frittata recipe and encouragement to vote for Locally Laid Eggs as part of the Super Bowl commercial promotion contest (link to that post here)!

Lucie herself is kind, smart, and humor-filled — and the book reads as you would expect from someone like that: well-written, funny, and enlightening about what smaller farmers face in trying to break into the big ag industry and over-crowded grocery shelves. While my family has been a fan of “LoLa,” the little chicken that could (along with her “truly worth-every-penny” eggs) from the beginning, I was not aware of the full story behind this start-up until reading the book. Alongside the business story you also receive a healthy dose of classic Northern Minnesota life and understand why we love it here.

Chicken napkin rings to honor Locally Laid.

My book club has gathered every other month or so for the past 5 years, rotating among our dining room tables in the evening after work, enjoying interesting conversation (sometimes which even touches upon the book!), while sharing a light dinner and wine. The book’s theme this time gave me a chance to break out the chicken napkin rings, and do a little fun browsing for “compatible” wines.

Poultry, Agriculture, and "Uncaged" Wines

And a special book club guest provided an excuse for a festive (yet simple-to-prepare) dessert: Fresh Blackberry Napoleons with Cream Cheese Mousse (link to full recipe provided).  To add a little color, I mixed in some raspberries with the blackberries, and used a four-berry preserve.  The recipe is easily adapted to a variety of fresh fruit preserves and berries.  It can be partially prepared ahead of time and ready to assemble just before serving – a perfect book club option!

Fresh Blackberry Napoleons with Cream Cheese Mousse

If only I had hosted this book later in the summer, I could have gone to “Farm LoLa” and picked the berries myself to use in the dessert!

Locally Laid is an award-winning book, and is an excellent choice for an engaging book club discussion.  If you are fortunate enough, perhaps you (with or without your book club in tow) can catch Lucie at one of her upcoming speaker events, listed on Locally Laid’s website: http://locallylaid.com/the-book/.

~ Kat

Weekly Photo Challenge: Relax 

After some holiday shopping, how do you spell R-E-L-A-X?  A little cheese and charcuterie …. with a side of hand-crafted cocktails from Vikre, Duluth’s local distillery (Juniper Gin and Tonic on the left, and Spruce Gin Gimlet on the right).

Ciao! ~ Kat

This post was in response to the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge. “Relax” is this week’s theme. Everyone is welcome to join in the Challenge; further details on how to participate and links to others’ responses are found here: Relax.