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

Morning Climb to Castelmola

We had arrived in Sicily the day before, traveling from the airport in Catania to our hotel in Taormina on a gloomy, rainy day. The next morning dawned clear, with temperatures already climbing toward 50ºF (which for these Minnesotans was akin to beach weather).

Mt. Etna from the Hotel Bel Soggiorno

We only planned for one night in Taormina, so we would not have time to exhaustively explore the area. But I was determined to make room in the schedule to see the mountaintop village of Castelmola. What better way to battle jet lag than by lacing up the running shoes for a morning run with my son …. winding our way through Taormina to reach the zig-zag path up the mountainside.

Climbing the stairs in Taormina

My much-speedier son bounded up the steps, and on to the path that led to Castelmola via the Madonna della Rocca. At one point, striped tape was tied across the stony steps. When I paused and questioned whether perhaps the path was washed out up ahead, my son cavalierly responded, “Looks like fake news to me.” And away he went … as I huffed and puffed behind him, trying to maintain some semblance of running form.

The Stairs to the Madonna Della Rocca church

Thankfully, there were many reasons to pause and take in the view of Taormina below, with the Ionian Sea beyond. Periodically along the path were sculptures depicting the Stations of the Cross, giving the rigorous morning outing a feeling of a pilgrimage, as well.

Stations of the Cross overlooking the Ionian Sea and TaorminaMadonna della Rocca high above Taormina

Upon reaching a plateau, the street sign reminded us that the climb to Castelmola was not over yet.

Road to Castelmola

The last stretch of the path sent my heart rate through the roof, as the incline seemingly never-ended, with the tease of the village straight above us.

Piazza Sant’ Antonio ~ Castelmola, Sicily

Our climb finally opened to the Piazza Sant’ Antonio with the charming Caffe’ Bar San Giorgio perched on the edge of village square.  The combination of jet lag and a challenging run/hike uphill left us parched, with the downhill journey back to the hotel  still ahead of us.

Caffe Bar San Giorgio in Castelmola

Thankfully, I had stuffed a 10 euro note in my jacket pocket, so we could take advantage of the picturesque cafe seating and a classic cappuccino, with a bottle of water to rehydrate for our downhill trip. We also ordered a freshly squeezed glass of orange juice, which ranks up there with the tastiest and most refreshing beverage ever! What we learned as the week went on, is that everywhere in Sicily the fresh-squeezed orange juice is spectacular  — a benefit of visiting during January, when the oranges are in season.

Mountaintop dining at Caffe Bar San Giorgio, Castelmola
Our eyes scream “jetlag” …. the view says, “no worries” ….

We entered the square in Castelmola and a rustic truck drove by with its loudspeaker calling out to the residents, announcing the arrival of fruits and vegetables for sale.

My son and I took a few minutes to wander the narrow, meandering paths of the village, still quiet as the day began.

Narrow alleys of Castelmola

Mt. Etna provided the postcard-worthy backdrop to Castelmola’s public library.

Castelmola's library with a view

Knowing my husband and younger son were waiting for us to join them for breakfast back in Taormina, we headed down again, refreshed and refueled after our mountaintop stop.

Descending from Castelmola

Completing our run with a circular route, we took the path off of Via Branco to Taormina.

Returning to Taormina from Castelmola on Via Branco

The village of Castelmola quickly receded from view, as we bounded downhill and wound our way along the narrow path leading to the touristed streets of Taormina. I encouraged my son to go on without me, since he had so patiently waited for me to catch up on several occasions on the first half of the trek, but he kindly hung with me as we finished what ended up being an almost 5-mile outing.

Mountaintop Castelmola viewed from Salita Branco

Oftentimes the best vacation memories are not the iconic sights, but instead the times when you soak up your surroundings without the fancy window dressings of a tour or excursion or timetable in hand. Do more than just visit a destination … enjoy the journey.

~ Kat

Preserving Moments, Part II (30 Days of Gratitude: Day 8)

On Day 6 of the 30 Days of Gratitude, I recalled fond vacation memories and spending time with family on St. John, USVI … years before the devastation of the Hurricane Irma ripped so much of the island to shreds two months ago. Before we even had time to fully comprehend the damage done by Irma, Hurricane Maria barreled through.

This time, Puerto Rico took the brunt of the storm’s wrath.  The post-hurricane images showed a land barren of green foliage, wiped clean by the powerful storm. Turning to the digital archives from 2014, I gratefully recalled the moments preserved by the camera as we explored that often-underappreciated isle.

The headlines are full these days, and we cannot forget about the people and places that need our help to restore even the most basic of services. News articles from the last day or two reveal the long road of recovery that Puerto Rico has ahead of it:

The animals of Puerto Rico are struggling, as well, with updates posted regularly on the Facebook pages of Save a Gato and Island Dog, two of the hard-working organizations collaborating with others to find displaced and stray companion animals loving homes, and caring for those left behind.

Many opportunities are available if you are interested and able to donate to relief and recovery efforts. There are many doing good work, but if you need a few ideas, we chose to direct our donations to these organizations:

Thoughts and prayers are great, but Puerto Rico, the USVI, and so many other regions which took the brunt of these monumental storms need action and money to help get them back on their feet again. Do what you can, even if it is only to spread the word to others about doing the same.

~ Kat

Preserving Moments, Part I (30 Days of Gratitude: Day 6)

Photography is amazing — it allows us to capture a moment in time to revisit again and again. Some of those moments are heartbreaking. We have seen its power during times of tragedy and disaster … too many times in the recent days and months.

Gratefully, photography also allows us to revisit happier times. Even as the video footage and still photos continue to document the unfathomable destruction that Hurricanes Irma and Maria wrought this fall, I was reminded of the beauty that filled many of these locales, that hopefully will return in full force again.

St. John, U.S.V.I. was one of the tiny islands gutted by Hurricane Irma. It still struggles to recover, as reflected by some of these recent news stories:

One of the local non-profits supporting post-hurricane recovery efforts in the U.S. Virgin Islands is the Community Foundation: http://www.cfvi.net/.  As described on the USVI Recovery website:

To help those affected by the hurricane, the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands (CFVI) has established the Fund for the Virgin Islands.

100% of your donation will benefit those in crisis.

CFVI is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that has been operating in the USVI for more than 25 years. It has supported past relief efforts in the region and is working closely with government and community providers to identify priorities and direct resources for immediate needs as well as long-term recovery efforts.

 

The USVI is just one of many areas still struggling to rebuild after the devastating natural disasters earlier this year. Consider supporting these regions’ recovery funds, as you are able.

~ Kat

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