Fair Fare

Various Vendors,
Minnesota State Fair

1265 Snelling Ave. N., St. Paul;
642-2200.

           I CAUGHT A glimpse of the Milky Way Princess as she steadied herself while climbing into a white convertible last Friday night, getting ready for a rough ride of waving and smiling to the crowds at the 1996 Minnesota State Fair. It is almost certain that she did not obtain her white, blank complexion or sleek figure by daily consumption of Ben's brats, sausage on a bun, hot dogs on a stick, or fresh French fries. But the truth is, people go to fairs to stuff themselves full of these nasty, decadent foods. How does it feel? Well, it feels a lot better than you might think, though it's still a good idea to have a friend eat half of everything that you order. Also, be sure to remember to leave a little something for the trash can, or for the kids for that matter (I witnessed plenty of parents shoving gobs of fried cheese into their children's mouths while shrieking "eat this!" just in case their kids didn't understand).

           We were impressed by the amount of beautification that went into setting up the food stands--plant and flower arrangements next to geometrical displays of fruit and vegetables. The fresh produce was a particularly nice reminder of what the food had been before the vendors got ahold of it.

           Take, for instance, the popular Australian battered potatoes. (What makes them Australian you ask? The owners of the stand are Australian.) The windows of the place looked like a crime scene, splattered everywhere with batter instead of blood. We stood in a comparatively long line to see what the fuss was about, intrigued by the number of people standing around with paper plates saying "ouch!" each time they took a bite, though they seemed not to let the pain deter their pace of eating. These treats come $3.50 plain, $4.50 with melted mild cheddar cheese, ranch dressing or both. They are gigantic slices of russet potatoes battered with a nondescript batter and deep fried. "This is so gross!" said one woman next to me, clutching her stomach with one hand and reaching out with the other to fish another piece off her boyfriend's plate. We were no different than anyone else; even though they burned our fingers badly (thus the cries of "ouch!" we'd been hearing), and even though they were pieces of fried starch drenched with a pools of runny ranch dressing and tasteless orange cheese, we kept right on eating them.

           We followed a leggy blonde over to the all-you-can-drink-for-50-cents milk stand across the way. How much 2% do most people drink there? Anywhere between 3-6 glasses according to the freshly scrubbed kid working there. We split a glass and moved onwards, passing plenty of chubby kids whining "I'm so hungry" at their parents. A charbroiled porkchop on a stick ($4) was our next item, found right across from the milk stand at the Charbroiled Chicken & Chops place. It sounds ghastly, yes, but was the best thing we had I dare say; lean, tender, smoky tasting, and well seasoned with paprika, garlic, salt, and pepper. Delicious.

           We retreated for awhile to the poultry barn to admire the frizzle hens, and would have eaten again if the first thing we saw after emerging hadn't been the Turkey Tenderloin booth, featuring the best in grilled turkey ($3), cold turkey ($2.75), and for the kids, gobble snacks ($1.75). No thanks. Instead we made a stop for water at the nearby Steichen's Complete Food Market, the only complete market on the fairgrounds where you can find fresh fruit, coffee, aspirin, and other survival tools.

           Of course we had to eat a pronto pup; the cheapest stand is right across from the Grandstand entrance, $1.75 compared to $2 charged elsewhere on the grounds. This is the ultimate fair food, a hot dog dipped in a vat of cornbread batter and deep fried, then brushed with your choice of ketchup or mustard. The batter might be a little runny and cold on the inside, but you'll eat it anyway.

           Dessert can be more interesting than caramel apples and cotton candy, if you're brave enough. We didn't have the guts to try "fudge puppies" on-a-stick; if you do, you can find them outdoors on the west side of the Food Building. We fancied the latest trend in ice cream, "Dippin' Dots," to be found just outside the Main Grandstand. You get a scoop of hundreds of minuscule balls of ice cream in a cup for $2.25, made by pouring ice cream batter through a strainer into liquid nitrogen. Was it the liquid nitrogen that made me feel nicely light-headed or the spray paint booth next door? Yum.

           The silliest food we saw, as I remember it anyway, was the Pickle dog ($2), a dill pickle wrapped in pastrami and treated to a smear of cream cheese. We had to decline this final challenge, remembering the quasi-axiom that you will never eat enough, have enough money, or have enough time to experience the whole fair.

           The Fair runs through September 2; general admission is $5/$2.50 for kids ages 5-12.

           TABLEHOPPING

           MALL FINDINGS:Oh, the things you'll be missing if you're under 16, parentless, and at the Mall of America on a Friday or Saturday night. Things like the magnet store, the mustard store.... That's right, you'll be missing out on Mustard Dan's, one of the latest stores to appear in the consecrated halls of the Mall of America (635 W. Market, Bloomington, 851-9900). Located on the first floor near Macy's, Mustard Dan's features over 100 kinds of mustard ranging from raspberry to roasted garlic, cajun to cranberry, and honey to habanero, with a wide variety of salsas, hot sauces, and cookbooks to fill in the corners. If your sandwiches seem sadder and more lifeless than usual, a purchase here may be in order; mustard is also rumored to aid in digestion, clears sinuses, and increases blood circulation. So kids, grab the biggest pants you've got, take mom or dad's hand, and head down to Mustard Dan's for a night to remember. Here's a recipe, courtesy of Mustard Dan's, for a tasty dressing:

           Cranberry Vinaigrette

* 1/2 C. salad oil

* 1 T. sugar

* 1/2 tsp. paprika

* 1/8 tsp. pepper

* 1/3 C. white wine vinegar

* 2 tsp. dried thyme, oregano,
or basil

* 2 tsp. Cranberry Mustard

           Combine all ingredients in a screw top jar or salad dressing jar. Cover and shake well. Store in refrigerator up to two weeks.

           ENJOY IT WHILE YOU CAN: Day by Day Cafe (477 W. Seventh St., St. Paul; 227-0654) has completed its expansion, consisting of a new, smoke-free porch and an outdoor water garden with patio seating. Breakfast lingers over into lunch here at a casual rate, so sleep in a bit and then stop by for a plate of eggs done any way you can imagine.

           MORE SUSHI PER MINNESOTA CAPITA: Dragon Jade recently opened its second location at 7985 Penn Ave. S. in the Southtown shopping center (881-0020). The 140-seat restaurant offers fine Cantonese and Szechuan dining including appetizers, soups, lo mein, and vegetarian and seafood entrees. Trifle with the walnut shrimp, sizzling orange duck, tiger pork, and Hong Kong steak, or examine your hedonistic tendencies over the lunch express steam table, which features daily specials and appetizers in varying combinations served with fried rice and cheese wonton.

           TOMATO MISERS TAKE HEED:You planted all of those vines, the tomatoes grew, they're lovely, but now you're miserable. Every tomato that falls gently on the ground reminds you that you are alone, that you couldn't find any friends to share the wealth. You tried to eat them all, but you began puffing up like a tomato yourself. Here is your solution: store those toms and enjoy them throughout the cold, lonely winter to come.

           Ball brand jars has the following advice to give on the subject: "Before the hard frost sets in, rescue the reddest tomatoes from the vine. Keep them at room temperature, out of the direct sunlight, to ripen further. To hasten the process, place the tomatoes in a paper bag with a banana. The banana releases a gas that speeds ripening. Save the greenest tomatoes for several weeks by leaving them on a vine. Pull up the plants, tomatoes and all, and hang them upside down inside a paper bag. The garage is an ideal place to store green tomatoes." Now, with the goods nicely tucked away, you'll have some time to spend to think about all the nice ways you'll be eating your tomatoes. My plan is for Honeyed-Yellow Tomato Butter, quite lovely spread thickly on French bread. Here is a recipe for it, courtesy of Alltrista Consumer Products Co.

           Honeyed-Yellow Tomato Butter

* 5 pounds yellow tomatoes (about 15 medium)

* 2 cups sugar

* 1 cup honey

* 1 1-inch piece fresh
ginger, peeled

* 1 Tbsp. whole allspice

* 2 sticks cinnamon

           To prepare pulp: Wash and quarter tomatoes. Cook tomatoes in a large sauce pot until soft. Press through a sieve or food mill. Measure 8 cups tomato pulp.

           To prepare butter: Combine tomato pulp, sugar, and honey in a large sauce pot. Tie ginger and spices in a spice bag. Add spice bag to tomato mixture. Cook mixture slowly until thick enough to round up on a spoon. As mixture thickens, stir frequently to prevent sticking.

           Prepare home canning jars and lids according to manufacturer's instructions.

           Ladle hot butter into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Adjust two-piece caps.

           Process 10 minutes in a boiling-water canner.

           Yield: about three 8-ounce jars.

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