Late August in Minnesota can mean only one thing: the Minnesota State Fair. I've been going to the Fair since I was a kid, when my main goal was to accumulate as many free trinkets as possible from the different vendor booths. Although I still like free stuff (I walked away with a nail brush and an "I love Metro Transit" button this year), I have realized that there is so much more to the Great Minnesota Get Together.
10. Butter Heads
There is something delightfully whimsical and uniquely Minnesotan about sculpting busts out of 90 pound blocks of butter. Each day of the Fair, a different "Princess Kay of the Milky Way" competition finalist is memorialized in a butter sculpture that takes six to eight hours to carve. The best part? You get to watch the sculptor at work in a giant revolving glass walled refrigerator.
9. Cotton Candy
Yes, I know that cotton candy isn't really unique to the Fair. However, the sheer density of cotton candy vendors makes my sugar-addicted heart pound a little faster. Added bonus: compared to the deep-fried Twinkies on a stick, the mere 114 calories in an entire bag of cotton candy makes it seem downright healthy.
8. Fine Arts Building
No pictures of this one, but the art show at the State Fair is enjoyable even for the unartistically-inclined. Some of the works have a Minnesota twist--photographs of isolated lakeside cabins, paintings of the Minneapolis skyline, and sculptures of leaping deer.
I am by no means a farm girl, but once a year I like to ooh and aw over newborn piglets, gaze up at giant draft horses and look down at miniature ponies, and walk down aisle upon aisle of dairy cattle. There is even the the biggest boar in the state, which Mike won't go look at with me because he finds it "grotesque".
6. Minnesota Cooks Demonstrations
This was the first year I had ever gone to the Minnesota Cooks Demonstrations, but this will definitely become one of my State Fair traditions. Minnesota Cooks features local chefs creating delicious gourmet meals with locally grown ingredients, such as grass-fed beef and heirloom tomatoes. After the demonstration, you get to try a sample. My bite of grilled hanger steak with heirloom tomatoes in chive and basil dressing was the best thing I ate all day.
5. Giant Vegetables
1,000+ pound pumpkins--enough said.
4. Soft Serve (The Dairy Building)
The best soft serve in the world is at the Minnesota State Fair. It's in the Dairy Building, right next to the butter heads. It's smoother and richer than anything you've ever tasted before, and you will never regret eating it, even after you've already consumed a year's worth of deep-fried food on a stick.
3. The Creative Activities Building
As a knitter, cook, and baker, I feel inspired by all of the beautiful handicrafts and food that people enter in the Minnesota State Fair. The neat rows of sweaters, beautiful loaves of bread, and array of jams and jellies remind fair-goers that yes, people do still make things from scratch, and the results are wonderful.
2. Cheese Curds (The Mouth Trap, Food Building)
You can't get just any cheese curds, they have to be the ones from the Mouth Trap in the Food Building. I don't eat cheese curds anywhere else, all year long, because nothing can live up to the exquisite deep-fried and delectably gooey mozzarella cheese curds that the Mouth Trap serves up. The night before the State Fair was like the night before Christmas--Mike and I couldn't fall asleep because we were so excited about the cheese curds.
The best thing about the Minnesota State Fair is that you can it all again next year. As this file image from 2007 shows, I was enjoying the Dairy Building soft serve back then, and I hopefully will be in another five years. As life changes, it is nice to know that you will always have a day in late August to eat junk food, marvel at butter sculptures and prize-winning pies, and revel in being a Minnesotan.