Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Great Minnesota Get Together

It might seem like I made up the clever title of this blog, but it was the great marketers of the Minnesota State Fair aka The Great Minnesota Get Together.

John and I visited the annual convergence in the midst of a heat wave. The temps here have been in the 90s all week with humidity at 50-60%. That's dang hot. Apparently not hot enough to keep us away from fried foods and loud music.

The fair is much bigger than the Colorado fair (sorry, friends) and more interesting than the Texas fair (sorry, family). Over 100,000 visitor peruse booths and entertainment every day during the 12 day celebration of everything Minnesotan.
Fun fact: Over 450 types of food are sold at 300 booths. 

With a fair app downloaded on my phone, we hopped on the bus after work ready to explore. I took the obligatory first-fair-experience pic at the gate and then we headed straight for the fried food. My choice: a Pronto Pup. As a non-native midwesterner, I didn't know what the hell a Pronto Pup was until a few weeks ago. I visited the Dakota County Fair with some co-workers. We were checking on the recycling containers but, of course, we had to get a snack. A Pronto Pup, so I'm told, is similar to a corndog but instead of a cornmeal outer layer it's made of half cornmeal and half flour. Before serving, the vendor brushes ketchup or mustard all over it and hands it over. It's delightful!

Next up: a whole building dedicated to environmental stuff called The Eco Experience! Inside were displays for public transit, wind and solar energy, science research for new materials, green building info, and recycling. I could have spent the rest of the evening here if John wasn't getting hungry.

We walked around the fair for the next three hours and saw crafts in the Creative Activities Building; plants in the Ag Building; semi-wildlife in the Division of Natural Resources building; and education booths in the Education Building. We also saw Hanson--that's right, HANSON--at one of the free stages. Mmm ok. In between all this fun I had a peanut butter and chocolate shake and John had a pail o' fries.We also saw public radio in action with Mark Wheat blastin' some tunes.

To get back to our entrance, we took the Sky Ride across the park. It's a great way to see the sites and also Depeche Mode who happened to be playing at the Grandstand. To complete our fair adventure, I had a last snack of deep fried Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and John slurped down an over-sized root beer.

Our fair experience was complete!

Cute stitchery at the Creative Activities Bldg

Bicycle exhibit

Some recycling 

John, Speaker in the Hizzouse

Oh My! 

Recycle your cans!
Beautiful '40s building 

Cool display about plants' roots

Art made from seeds. Yep

We blitzed the Republican booth

Deep fried Reese's. So good

Sunday, August 25, 2013

I'd Rather Be Tubing

I got an intense urge to go on the river late last week. Maybe it was the forecast of 95 degrees all weekend. For once, I didn't have too much to do Saturday or Sunday, so I convinced John and Rachel to float down a river. The closest tubing operation is Apple River, but I read reviews and heard from friends that it's more like Girls Gone Wild: drinking, nudity and littering. The latter is what really disgusted me. Instead, we headed an hour south to Welch Mill near Hastings, Minnesota. The employees were all very friendly and efficient.

For a mere $10 each, you get an innertube and a shuttle ride up river. Anyone who's floated the Arkansas River in Pueblo (or anywhere) knows the most annoying part of tubing is vehicle logistics. Pueblo really needs to start a shuttle operation!

We passed up the short trip of 40 minutes and opted for the longer 3.5 hour trip. In hindsight we should've chosen the 40 minutes trip and gone a few times. Over 3 hours is just too long to bake in the sun. Although each bus carried 50 people every 20 minutes, the river was never overwhelmingly crowded. Tubing was a perfect way to spend a 90+ degree day!

John is super excited!

Rachel braces for the cold water

Friday, August 23, 2013

New Kids on the Bocce

I totally stole that title from the name of a bocce league team in Minneapolis. I played my first bocce game tonight! 

I met some friends at The Nomad in Minneapolis to have a beer and throw some balls. I had never even heard of bocce (pronounced botch-ee) until I moved here. You basically throw four heavy balls across a sand pit towards a smaller ball and aim to get them closer than your opponent's balls. 

I have to say I did pretty well for my first time. The refreshing Purple Haze brew from Abitas might have helped, too. It's fun and a way better way to drink a beer than sitting on a lame barstool. 

Rachel tossin' some balls

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Berry Pickin' in Minnesota

Andrea's prize
I gotta tell ya: I had heard a rumor you could pick your own produce at farms, but I thought this was limited to Consumers Supported Agriculture (CSAs) or people with connections. Apparently I have a connection! Well a friend with experience, anyway.

Andrea, my crafting/baking/awesome New Yorker friend, regularly goes to pick produce from area farms. She picked strawberries earlier this summer (can't believe I missed that!). I was lucky enough to be invited to gather blueberries with her last weekend.

Bauer Berry Farms is an adorable family farm in Champlain, MN--about 40 minute north of Minneapolis. (It would have been a shorter trip if we didn't get detoured 3 times.) From their website:
"The Bauer Berry Farm has operated as a family farm since 1977. Throughout the years we have attempted to reduce our impact on the environment. We have planted wind shelter belts and rye cover crops to minimize soil erosion. A grass buffer zone around our wetland reduces run-off. We have introduced the use of many organic plant and soil amendments to our crops. We monitor our fields and apply pesticides only when absolutely necessary."

Berry picking wasn't as hard as I expected. We rolled in with our containers--me, a large salad bowl and lid; Andrea, an empty beer bucket and Rubbermaid bin--and were directed to a row of bushes we could start to assault. Each family or friends had a line of about 100 feet that you could pick. The bushes are about 3 feet high so sometimes squatting or bending over can become exhausting, especially for the berries that like to hide. After an hour we were satisfied with our haul. We got our buckets weighed so we could pay. I picked 5.3 lbs of blueberries for a grand total of $17! Find other Minnesota options for pick-your-own here.

Now to the fun part: using all those berries. Here are the usual options:
  1. Freeze 'em. Put berries on a baking sheet or plate in one layer and place in the freezer. Once they're frozen, put them in a freezer bag. Individually freezing them takes out the mushy factor. 
  2. Bake 'em. Make pancakes, muffins, breads, pie, and other delicious items while they're fresh. You can use your frozen berries later, of course, too. 
  3. Liquefy 'em. With a little sugar, water, and heat, you too could have delectible berry syrup. It lasts up to three months in the fridge
  4. Can 'em. Besides making syrup, blueberries can be made into jams and jellies and sealed up nicely in canning jars. 
  5. Dry 'em. Fancy people have food dehydrators to dry fruits and veggies. You can also use your oven; it just takes longer and is probably not as energy efficient. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

To-do #4: Art in Powderhorn, Yo!

[To-do List #4: Buy some goodies at the Powderhorn Art Fair--DONE!]

PAF 2013 design based on a flag by Maggie Dobbin
The first weekend in August is apparently art fair weekend. Three different festival were buzzing around Minneapolis: Uptown Art Fair, by far the biggest and most crowded; Loring Park; and, Powderhorn Art Fair.

I live right across the street from Powderhorn Park so I had no excuse to skip out on visual stimulation. The 2013 fair marks the 22nd year for local, regional, and U.S. artists to sell their wares. Over 180 booths wrapped around the picturesque lake to showcase pottery, jewelry, fiber art, stained glass, paintings, and woodwork.

I wish had enough money to buy some bigger artwork or jewelry, but I could only afford a few smaller items. Several friends and family have birthdays in August and the fair provided the perfect opportunity to buy some unique gifts. Some of my favorite artists were:

Lakestone Jewelry morphs found rocks from Lake Superior into beautiful jewelry. 
I bought a simple pendent necklace

Little Pieces of Art creates intriguing mixed media collages
Emily Gray Koehler's paintings explore nature with vibrant colors.
I enjoyed her trees so much that I bought a little piece as a gift.

Puzzle Mist carves intricate, unique wood puzzles. A mere dozen pieces can be put together literally 100 different ways. And very affordable!

Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association and the Minneapolis Parks and Rec Board puts on the event each year and, I must say, it ran very smoothly. To get as many people to all three fairs as possible, Metro Transit ran a free bus route in between each fair all day. That's amazing!

John and I volunteered for the morning shift on Sunday. We worked at the information table and sold t-shirts and tried to answer questions. Fair attendees were all around happy-go-lucky (except for the 2 assholes we had to deal with). This was the first year the event tried to go waste-free, but I have a feeling it didn't go so well. I'll just have to volunteer next year to help out with that!