That red-letter day is almost here – our annual trip to the Minnesota State Fair!
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.
1. Do Your Homework.
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?
Blue Ribbon Bargain Book ~ scout out coupons and deals to use and then buy your book at the Fair if you missed a pre-Fair sale opportunity
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.
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).
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!
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.
Creative Crop Art
Crop Art Fairy Tales
Crop Art Music
Crop Art Gallery
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.
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.
6. Prioritize Your Food List — You Can Try, But You Simply Can’t Eat It All.
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.
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!
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!
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
Maple Bacon Funnel Cake from Funnel Cakes
What are your Minnesota State Fair favorites? Share your tips and Fair traditions in the comments below.
Summertime is perfect for lazy afternoons on the patio, with a book in one hand and a beer in the other. Grilling ribs is an art that requires several hours, so it is a perfect companion for the lazy afternoon on the patio (especially if it is your spouse or partner doing the grilling while you sit with the beer and book!).
My boys and I decided to improve the probability of this scenario by splurging on my husband’s 50th birthday present …… a Primo Oval XL 400 Grill. Yep, that’s 400 square inches of cooking surface and a ceramic grill construction that allows for perfection in grilling and smoking. Some men have their dream sports cars, my husband has his dream grill. When I went shopping for the grill, I texted my sons jokingly, “Do we love him that much?” My oldest replied, “Well, the grill is a show of love as well as an investment in future meals for ourselves, making the deal substantially more attractive.” With meals like this Fennel-Spiced Pork Ribs with Onion Cilantro Tempering, we have been quickly realizing that return on our investment!
After marinating the pork ribs overnight, they were ready for hours of slow roasting on the grill. In order to help keep the ribs moist, my husband sprays them down every 20 minutes or so with a mixture of juice, vinegar and water.
After smoking the ribs in the rack, and cooking them for a couple hours, he then wraps them in foil to cook for another hour. The last stage is to put the ribs directly on the grill with indirect heat to finish them with a glaze.
Using a silicone brush, he glazes with a heated mixture of mango chutney and chicken broth.
After the grilling stage is done, the ribs are transferred to the kitchen for application of the Onion Cilantro Tempering.
We served the ribs with a side of cucumber raita, and bookmarked this recipe for a repeat performance!
Peri’s newest cookbook, Tikka, Tikki & Spicy Bites, is a bargain at only $5.99 (USD) through Amazon, and also available through Amazon’s international sites. I have followed Peri’s blog since I began blogging several years ago. If you are not familiar with Peri’s Spice Ladle, it is a feast for the senses with delicious recipes and food ideas (ranging from family-friendly weeknight meals to more sophisticated dinner and party options), as well as interesting writing on the Indian culture and cooking techniques.
The seasonal fiori di zucca dishes offered when we traveled to Italy a few summers ago were some of my favorite food memories! Each restaurant prepared them slightly differently, and my husband found a little grocery in Rome which had the delicate flowers delivered in the mornings, providing an opportunity for him to attempt making the savory stuffed appetizer himself.
Our shaded yard (not to mention the often short summers in northern Minnesota) does not provide an optimal space for growing squash, pumpkin or zucchini, but when we visited my parents in South Dakota recently, the zucchini blossoms in their garden were plentiful. My husband carefully packed a half-dozen blossoms in our cooler for the 8-hour road trip home, and treated us to memories of Rome that evening. Fiori di zucca fritti is a perfect mid-summer small plate to share!
Do you have a favorite zucchini/squash blossom recipe to share? I would love to see it!
Café Levain’s Sunday Suppers … I dare you to say that seven times fast! Actually, if you indulge in the three-course treat, you will be too busy enjoying the simple but savory fare to bother with tongue twisters.
Upon the recommendation of a foodie friend, I made reservations for Café Levain’s “Sunday Suppers” while visiting the University of Minnesota campus with my son. I am often skeptical of prix fixe menu options, but Café Levain made me a believer in the concept that a good value can still mean a top quality dining experience.
My friend let the chef (a friend of her husband’s) know we would be dining with him that evening, and we were welcomed with a complimentary prosecco (with the non-alcoholic option for my high school-aged son), a nice touch to start the evening. The ambience was reminiscent of a Paris bistro, warm and cozy, with a simple yet enticing menu. I had browsed the menu on the website beforehand, and when I saw that a couple of the dishes I had hoped to try were options for the three-course special, I was sold.
I started off with the Mushroom Brodo, with an amazingly flavorful broth.
For the main course, my son ordered the roasted chicken and I had the short ribs. Both entrées were served over a potato puree with cider-braised cabbage, and the flavors of the entrées and sides complemented each other beautifully. Chef Adam’s recipe for Braised Beef Short Ribs with Port Reduction is on the Cafe Levain website. This dish has received rave reviews from numerous critics and food bloggers, with good reason.
While I should not have had room for dessert, I never say “no” to crème brûlée, and this one was definitely worth making room for. My son had the banana bread pudding and he usually says “no” to dessert, but did not leave a bit on his plate.
The service was attentive, the dining room casual and relaxed without losing a sense of refinement. For $25.00, the three-course “Sunday Suppers” menu was a steal! And the pours with the wine pairings (for a reasonable additional charge) were generous and well-matched. Whether Sunday, or any day, I highly recommend this hidden gem in South Minneapolis. I know we will return.