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.

 

Minnesota State Fair 201: An Advanced Fairgoers Guide

That red-letter day is almost here – our annual trip to the Minnesota State Fair!

fair calendar 2015

I have written before of my love for the Great Minnesota Get-Together, in my post “One in 164,694 (People): A Day at the Minnesota State Fair.”  As my boys became teens, and now with one now in college and the other poised to leave the nest next year, I have treasured this tradition of quality mother-son time that is often hard to come by!  Recognizing that we may not have the chance to keep up our tradition attending together every year as they pursue their studies and whatever life holds for them beyond, we make sure to maximize our visits to the Fair — the food, the bargains, the exhibits …. you can’t see it all, but you sure can try.  How do you pack it all in?  Follow me, friend.

Minnesota State Fair crowds, 2014

1.  Do Your Homework.

MN State Fair website

The Minnesota State Fair website is your go-to resource for daily event schedules, entertainment options, logistics, and more.  We map out exhibits and any special music or culutural shows we want to watch, in addition to annual standards.  Key sections of the website to check out?

MN State Fair mobile app

Download the free Minnesota State Fair mobile app.  You can flag the food, merchandise and fun things you want to do while at the Fair, and then scroll through the list of marked items while at the Fair.  The app’s map feature  is particularly useful at the Fair, as it has a feature that allows you to follow the blinking blue dot marking your location to the food, merchandise or fun items on your list.  And if you are craving a certain food item at some point during the day, pull up the app, and use the proximity-based search tool to view the options near you.

Star Tribune's State Fair Guide

The Minneapolis Star Tribune publishes a guide to the Minnesota State Fair the Sunday before it opens.  Then once the Fair opens, the newspaper has helpful and entertaining updates in their Minneapolis Star Tribune online edition.  Rick Nelson, the Star Tribune’s restaurant critic, is always spot-on with his food recommendations (on Twitter @RickNelsonStrib).

Another Minnesota foodie worth following is Andrew Zimmern (on Twitter @andrewzimmern), who outlines his “Top Picks” for the Minnesota State Fair, as well as previewing new foods each year.  And be sure to bookmark Zimmern’s Instagram Scavenger Hunt to join in some photo fun.

2. Park & Ride is the Only Way to Go.

Entrance to the MN State Fair from the public transit parking lot

Parking on the fairgrounds can be a reasonable option if you arrive early in the day and are willing to pay $13.00.  The convenient and free options at any time of day, however, are the Park & Ride lots.  Park your car in one of the many lots scattered around the Twin Cities and hop a shuttle bus to the Fair.  Some lots are popular and may fill by noon on busier days, but a short distance away you are likely to find an alternate option.  Buses run from 8:00 a.m. to midnight.

3.  Support the MN State Fair Foundation and Enjoy a Cool Drink, Air Conditioning, and Clean, Uncrowded Bathrooms!

MN State Fair's J.V. Bailey House

Supporting the Minnesota State Fair with a donation to the Minnesota State Fair Foundation provides multiple benefits — not the least of which is helping to perpetuate the Great Minnesota Get-Together!  Become a “Friend of the Fair” and stop by the Foundation’s J.V. Bailey House when you arrive at the Fair to pick up your Blue Ribbon Bargain Book, calendar, supporter ribbon (contribution level may determine eligibility for different Fair gifts), and enjoy the old-fashioned setting and hospitality of the old groundskeeper’s house.  Contributions made after early August will go toward the following year’s Fair, so make your donation now and look forward to that clean, uncrowded bathroom option next year.

4. Don’t Miss the Crop Art.

Crop art can be found in the Agriculture Horticulture Building, as can the display of fantastical scarecrows. What is crop art?!  I provided some background information on this fascinating creative display in this earlier post.

Scarecrows at the Minnesota State Fair

5. Pet a Piglet.

While the avian flu concerns have emptied the poultry barns of the noisy array of chickens and roosters this year, the animal barns still have plenty to keep you entertained.  Baby farm animals have that universal “aawwwwww” factor, and the Miracle of Birth Center is aptly named.  Seeing a newborn lamb or piglet always invokes a sense of wonder.

Lamb at the MN State Fair

Piglet at the MN State Fair

2014 Poultry Barn, MN State Fair
I’ll be back …..

6.  Prioritize Your Food List — You Can Try, But You Simply Can’t Eat It All.

MN State Fair crepes

Saving the best for last:  At its heart, the Minnesota State Fair is all about the food!  Any regular fairgoer has a list of food favorites, and everyone’s list is different.  We have our favorites, but always try a few of the new foods for the year (see #1 above, with research resources for scouting new foods before you arrive).  With our trip looming, here’s our food plan — the key is having several people to share some items, so you each get a taste without getting so full you can’t sample the next selection.

Our tried-and-true?

  • Fruit and whipped cream crepe from the French Creperie ~ we each get our own to kick off our day at the Fair, no matter what time our day starts.
  • Cheese curds ~ from the Original Cheese Curds
  • Corn Roast ~ roasted ears of corn dipped in a vat of butter, with big composting bins nearby to collect the cobs
  • Mediterranean lemonade smoothie at Holy Land Deli at the International Bazaar ~ THE most refreshing drink on a hot day!
  • Pronto Pup
  • A new favorite after the 2014 Fair?  The Blue Barn’s Blue Cheese & Corn Fritz with Chimichurri Sauce and their Blueberry Basil Lemonade

We often share a shake from the Gopher Dairy Bar or a treat from the Dairy Goodness Bar in the Dairy Barn , after viewing the Princess Kay butter head carvings, of course!

Blue Barn's Blue Cheese & Corn Fritz with Chimichurri Sauce

And, finally, the new foods (either new to us or new to the Fair) we intend to add to the list this year!?

  • Butter Queen Coffee Ice Cream from the Hamline Dining Hall
  • Chocolate-Dipped Cherry on a Spoon from Jonny Pops
  • A Salad Named Soo at the Rabbit Hole in the Midtwn Global Market ~ a watermelon, basil, mint, and arugula salad with chili honey lime sauce
  • Minneapple Pie
  • Maple Bacon Funnel Cake from Funnel Cakes

What are your Minnesota State Fair favorites?  Share your tips and Fair traditions in the comments below.

Ciao! ~ Kat

Happy Third Anniversary (to me)!

Three years ago this week, I took the leap and hit the “publish” button for the first time.  The blog “Travel. Garden. Eat.” entered the blogosphere.  Three years of blogging = 314 posts, 21,118 visitors, and 48,048 views.

As I begin year four of my blogging journey, it is interesting to look back on posts of interest — whether yours or mine.  Some have been shared far and wide, others that I hold dear because of the memories they evoke may have stayed closer to home – it’s all good.  When one first tentatively puts that post out for public consumption, whether the effort is viewed or “liked” holds more importance, but I think over time that becomes less and less a point of attention.  Instead, this blog continues to be my creative outlet, for words and images.

Versailles on a Rainy Day
Versailles on a Rainy Day

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”

~ Anaïs Nin

The topics of traveling, gardening and eating merely serve as a base — life is rich and varied, and I think blogging often provides the opportunity to remind oneself that the little things in life are often the most rewarding.  A walk in the woods can be just as rejuvenating and eye-opening as a journey across the sea.  Our own backyards often yield just as much interest as the backyards of our neighbors far and near.

Beargrass in Glacier National Park
Beargrass in Glacier National Park

The most viewed posts over the past few years reflect that philosophy of interest near and far.  For the five months I blogged in 2012, the posts with the highest views were all in response to Weekly Photo Challenges — a great way to engage bloggers on a wide variety of topics, and  help inspire a little creative stretch from time to time!  The challenges of Big, Renewal, and Everyday Life generated the most traffic that first year.

Buona sera, Trastevere!
Buona sera, Trastevere!

In 2013, traveling and eating both were reflected in the most viewed posts:

Pre-wash rinse, courtesy of the cat

Moving on to 2014, one of the most popular posts for visitors was my visit to the Apostle Islands’ Ice Caves, “It’s Not Too Late for the Party: Day-Tripping to the Apostle Islands Ice Caves.”

Kat in the cold seat
Kat in the cold seat

And, finally, 2015 — a year not over yet, but one in which I finally returned to gardening in “Gardener’s Mecca in Minnesota: An Illustration of the ‘Why’” for the most viewed post this year-to-date.  Interestingly, one of my older posts, “Iceberg Lake Trail ~ Glacier National Park” also has been a popular post this year — it is a favorite travel memory, so always happy to revisit that one!

“A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.”

~ Ansel Adams

Iceberg Lake Trail ~ Glacier National Park
Iceberg Lake Trail ~ Glacier National Park

Thank you to all who have followed along since the first year, as well as those who have joined more recently — all 989 of you (spammers and all — I don’t flatter myself to think that I have almost 1000 engaged followers, but I am grateful and amazed by how many truly interesting and engaging bloggers and readers I have met along the way!).  For a little celebratory fun, I updated the look of the blog, and welcome any feedback you have — Font hard to read? Like the layout? Miss the old look?  All comments welcome.

lakewalk kathy corbin 2 4_22_13

Thanks for reading – blog on!

Ciao! ~ Kat