Minnesota State Fair

img_3193

The crowd at the last sunday of the 2016 Minnesota State Fair

One of the last celebrations of the Minnesota summer and its quick and exorable transformation into fall, and winter, the Minnesota State Fair, also called “the Great Minnesota Get Together,” and I’m sure a lot of other self-aggrandising nicknames. Lindsay and I spent the last Sunday of the venerable Minnesota tradition enjoying its treats and braving the crowds. It was surprising that I had avoided the fair for the last decade or so, and so I really enjoyed getting to rediscover it with a newcomer to our strange state. After moving here, Lindsay found herself enchanted by many aspects of the Fair and attends faithfully each year, and I was eager to experience it again with her.  I was definitely not disappointed by my return!

img_3190

So much honey…

A lot had changed, and a lot had stayed the same, since my last visit. As our local media is dutiful to report, there were a lot of delicious, if not exactly healthy sounding, new culinary innovations being hawked throughout the Fair, some delectable and some, not so much. In any case, we had to track a few of the most promising sounding ones down, and as we explored twisting grounds of the fair, weaving through the throngs, we encountered some of the weird and wonderful quirks that make our state a little bit different. By all accounts, this was the largest attendance ever for the Minnesota State Fair, an event not known for a small turnout.

We started out with some breakfast near the in the Blue Barn in the new West End Market, a welcome transformation of what I found the chintzy old “Heritage Square.” Nothing says breakfast like a cup of beer, so I started off with that, a Caramel Apple Pi beer, which was the closest one could get to drinking a caramel apple pie, along with some fried french toast. The important artifacts remain, the cabin and the windmill, and there’s still plenty of taxidermied animal carcasses to take home (if you must).

img_20160904_132250

Saying hi- photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Heading over to the livestock, always a popular attraction at the fair, we wandered through the goat and sheep barn, echoing with bleats, munching, and that goaty smell. Even better, Lindsay and I were enchanted by the rows and rows of Lindsay’s favorite creature, rabbits. There were so many, of so many different hues, sizes, fur types, and ear shapes, but all adorable. Some stood up, inspecting their surroundings with concern, if not interest, while others simply took it easy on their furry little bellies. Of course, some were winners and some were losers to the farm kids who raised them to show at the Fair, but they were all great to us city kids. The baby animals of the Miracle of Birth barn, with calves born just hours before and was also an interesting stop.

img_20160904_140338

newborn calf- photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Hungry for lunch and other refreshments, we walked towards the Agriculture Building, but not before grabbing some fried croissants from the French Meadow and floating through the Old Mill, the oldest surviving attraction at the Fair. The Mill, a rickety contraption that propels brightly dyed water and boats of visitors through a cramped, dark, damp maze, past pastel murals of gnome villages, is what is known as a “tunnel of love.” The place is so old, as you creak through the maze, attempting to find the lips of your loved one in the darkness, you can think of Garrison Keillor doing the same years before. Sorry!   

img_20160904_154639

Dahlia- photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Finding our way to the Agriculture-Horticulture Building, I again subjected Lindsay to a slew of beers courtesy of the Land of 10,000 Beers, the Minnesota Craft Brewer’s Guild exhibit. With a sampler of four different local beers by theme, Lindsay and I picked out a couple, the sweeter beers and the “Cicerone’s Choice.” By the time we were done with them, we were both a little overly indulged. What better time than to tour lovely displays of Christmas trees, rows of precisely arranged jars of honey, and tables covered with dahlias of every color. Of course, the iconic seed art was worth checking out, too.

img_20160904_182702

wow, that’s a lot of cookies!

 

After drinking a few more State Fair themed beers, I needed something to soak it all up, and Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar definitely had enough. I had never heard of this stand before, but judging by all of the fairgoers dragging around piles of chocolate chip cookies throughout the fair, it was a popular place. I was enticed to get the giant bucket option, a tub overflowing with cookies that we snacked on as we rode the SkyGlider over the busy crowds, marveling at weird agricultural vehicles of Machinery Hill and all of the stuff that somehow ended up on the roofs of the nearby buildings. By the time we escaped from the dangling cable cars, the sun was setting and our feet were burning. It was time to escape the Fair and make our way home. I would definitely recommend taking advantage of one of the bus shuttle services that bring people to the fair (there was one a short walk from our home), as the fair only seems to be getting more crowded and parking more difficult to come by. It was nice not to have to worry about that as we stumbled back and boarded our shuttle to return home, to relax and try to massage our feet back to life.

img_3195

Happy times on the SkyGlider

Advertisements

Madison Bound

 

img_20160212_133640

Stained glass, Winona County Historical Museum

Over the next few days, I will be tackling a small backlog of adventures I missed writing about back in February. The first adventure is a fun road trip for those times when you might require a change of scenery from the Twin Cities. Over Valentine’s Day weekend, Lindsay and I crossed state borders for a little trip to Madison, Wisconsin, a fun college town that makes a nice weekend getaway from the Twin Cities. Here are a few highlights and recommendations from the trip!

Taking the scenic route down the Mississippi from St. Paul, we stopped for lunch in the sleepy but interesting college river town of Winona, Minnesota. This is the town where my grandparents lived, so I spent a lot of time here growing up, but it had been awhile since I visited so it was fun to stop again, see how things changed, and introduce Lindsay to another weird Minnesota town.

img_20160212_131227

Riverboat exhibit, Winona Historical Museum (Courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

We had a delicious lunch at the Blue Heron Coffeehouse, one of my favorite restaurants in the state. In addition to the yummy food and friendly, laid back artsy vibe, they share a space with a used and new bookstore, The Book Shelf, which always has good finds. We then explored the recently renovated Winona County Historical Society Museum, which I’ve found to be one of the best local historical museums in Wisconsin, displaying a variety of interesting artifacts from one of the oldest cities in the state. After climbing into a reproduction steamboat and marveling at some preserved storefronts, we then took the opportunity to explore some art in the collection of Winona’s ambitious and newest museum, the Minnesota Marine Art Museum. It may seem like an unusual location for the collection, but Winona does have a historic port supplying lumber and flour for shipment down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico and beyond. The Marine Art Museum explores the “historic human relationship with water,” an apt mission for a museum set on the banks of the Mississippi River. Featuring contemporary photography as well as work spanning the artistic movements from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries, including such luminaries as Monet and Picasso, it is one of Minnesota’s hidden gem museums.

img_20160212_204045

Capitol District Madison being transformed into a skiing track.

Crossing the border into Wisconsin, we were in Madison by early evening, where we had a date to catch comedian and actor David Cross perform at the Orpheum Theater, located on State Street, the epicenter for entertainment in Madison. The humor of Cross, of Arrested Development fame among others things, was a great way to kick off the trip, especially when he upset the more religious portion of the audience.img_20160213_133136

Madison, the capital city of Wisconsin and home of the University of Wisconsin, is always an entertaining place to visit. Situated on an isthmus between Lake Monona and Lake Mendota, with the Capital building sitting on top of a hill, it is a compact, walkable city that seems to pack a lot into a relatively small area. We were in town during the last big cold snap in the Upper Midwest, and it came just in time for the Madison Winter Festival, though a lack of snowfall required the city to haul in a layer of snow to surround the Wisconsin State Capitol building for racing cross country skiers. With folksy fiddle music playing on the loudspeakers and a few quirky little snow sculptures, downtown Madison became a wintery wonderland.  

IMG_2638

Spending the weekend exploring the isthmus area over the weekend was a fun and relaxing way to brave the cold and enjoy each others’ company. Particularly with the Winter Festival going on, parking was difficult downtown, but most things are in easy walking distance of each other. At the center of Capitol Square is, of course, the Wisconsin State Capitol building, a pretty impressive edifice of state government. They offer a free and quite informative tour throughout the building, visiting the executive, legislative, and judicial branches where we marveled at the ornate interiors and fossils embedded in the stone walls. It was pretty interesting to be standing right there behind the leather upholstered chairs where the Wisconsin state legislatures make laws (rather poorly, under current administration, eh?). The tour was full of the usual list of notable “bests” that Wisconsin’s capitol building can boast (taller than the US Capitol Building, largest granite dome in the world, etc.) Some of which seem a little questionable, perhaps, but now I am looking forward to touring the Minnesota State Capitol building, to see what we can boast!

img_20160213_140600

Wisconsin State Capitol building interior (Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

In addition to the Wisconsin State Capitol, we also visited the Wisconsin History Museum and its entertainingly goofy exhibit on Wisconsinites in Hollywood. The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art is also a good place to check out, which hosted several fascinating collections, including a surreal and energetic collection of 1970s prints by Wisconsin artist Warrington Colescott inspired by Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice. That’s one for the reading list! The exhibit goes on until April, so if you’re in town, stop in!

img_20160214_152044

Sculpture Garden roof of Madison Contemporary Museum of Art, enjoying the snow

Strolling along State Street, we stopped in a variety of charming boutiques and shops, either just browsing or in full shopping mode. Of course, the bookstores were where we found the most to peruse. Browzers Bookshop is a maze of used books, with plenty of weird things to look at and you’ll probably get quite the deal there too! At the venerable independent feminist bookstore A Room of One’s Own, one can browse a very wide selection of new and used books. This was a very nice bookstore to spend some time hanging out and picking out a new book or two (or, hell, more).

IMG_2654

Some of Wisconsin’s fine beers, at the Old Fashioned

 

Of course, nothing says Wisconsin like enjoying an alcoholic beverage and we certainly had our fair share, so leaving the car behind was a wise choice. The charming, quirky, and rowdy bars of State Street and the Capital Square serve up some tasty Wisconsin beers and delicious cocktails. The Old Fashioned, a bar and restaurant specializing in Wisconsin’s food and drink specialties is a good place to start. Offering more than a hundred Wisconsin beers and a half dozen versions of the Old Fashioned, along with cheese curds, cheese plates, and many other tasty treats, it is a good place to go to be overwhelmed by choices. Just arrive early, the place is packed to gridlock by 6 on weekends. Breakfast, though, is a more relaxing time to visit. We had a perfectly decadent Wisconsin breakfast: A rich cheese plate, giant (and affordable) apple fritter, a breakfast old fashioned, and a pint of Tyrena Brewing’s Devil Made Me Do It Coffee Imperial Oatmeal Potter.  

Paul’s Club, on State Street, is another good place to stop in for a drink. Where else can you go to a bar that has a full side tree inside of it, along with a good beer and cocktail list?The Great Dane Pub is a pretty cool place to stop by in the Capital Square area as well, a brewpub that offers a nice rotating selection of brews, including the Stone of Scone scotch ale. Also come for the shuffle boards (Wisconsinites are super serious about this game).

If you find yourself famished while shopping on State Street, a nice place to stop by for very filling Laotian and Thai cuisine is at Vientiane Palace Restaurant, which has a lot of delicious food for reasonable prices, including some very tasty pad thai noodles. My eggplant dish was also very tasty. Graze is a romantic and atmospheric choice for dinner. A new restaurant specializing in farm to table cuisine, we had a very lovely meal here and I would recommend it for a fancy evening out, with nice views of the Wisconsin State Capitol and very good food. Again, the cheese plate is highly recommended, as is the oyster plate.

img_20160215_143457

Some of the collection of the National Mustard Museum (photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

On the way out of town, we stopped by one of Wisconsin’s many “quirky” attractions. Where else, for instance, could you visit a museum devoted entirely to a condiment? Located just outside of Madison in Middleton, Wisconsin, the National Mustard Museum is worth a stop for anyone with even a little appreciation for mustard. An exhaustive selection of gourmet mustard varities from across the world upstairs, and a tongue in cheek celebration of the history and art of mustard downstairs, it is a cool and funny place to stop to sample some tasty sauces. After picking up some mustard for upcoming gatherings, we left Madison for St. Paul. A quick stop in Osseo, Wisconsin, for some top notch pies at the Norske Nook  Restaurant and Bakery rounded out or trip (and our bellies). All in all, it was a great weekend sampler of a winter town in Wisconsin, and I am looking forward to returning.  

img_20160213_120827

Did you know Tony Shahloub was from Green Bay? Display at the Wisconsin History Museum (photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

 

 

Where U Wanna Eat? #2: Sssude-Nutz

IMG_2589

Restaurant: Sssdude-Nutz

Zone: Dinkytown, 317 14th Ave. SE Mpls

Hours: M-F, 7:30 to sellout!, S-S, 9:30 to sellout! Fri-Sat 9:oo pm to late night!

Visited: February 6th, 2016

Last weekend, just before heading into the Kitty Cat Klub for a late evening of local indie bands, still a bit buzzed from the Beer Dabbler (more on this soon!), we felt the need to indulge in a little sugar and wheat based pastries and Lindsay pointed out one right next door the the KCK I had never even heard of before! What?

Sssdude-Nutz is a pretty kickin place. Crammed into a space on 14th Avenue SE, it definitely looks appealing. I mean, that name! That logo! How long has Sssdude-Nutz been here? This place is out-quirking Glam Doll! Where was this place when I was at the U? This is a certainly a place that knows how to style up its donuts. Under the motto “keep it sexy, eat donutz” they certainly offer an eclectic array of decadent desserts to get any student through a hard night, whether studying or partying. For we who have left school, we can stop by before a show, grab some ‘nutz, and go to town! Offering an always evolving roster of donutz, including some vegan options, there seems to be enough to trigger a paralysis of indecision for after drinks munchies.

We had an OH Fu$ck Yah!, a soft and fluffy toffee topped chocolate raised donut and a tasty cake donut too (I, sadly, was too tanked to recall the name right now…) But at $2-3 a pop (er, donut) that’s something you can nibble on anytime. They definitely have some heft to them, too! These nutz definitely satisfied! Open weekdays until they sell out of ‘nutz, on the weekends they’re open until the wee hours.

Check it, here!

IMG_2588

 

Secrets of the Skyway: Food

IMG_2522

View of Marquette and 6th St from simpls counter.

Over the years, I’ve relished any opportunity to work in downtown Minneapolis, which is always such a dynamic, ever changing environment. There are those who dislike the skyway systems as “suburban” eyesores that detract from the life of the streets and contribute to a feeling of disconnection and uniformity in the city, calling them glorified hamster tubes. I can see some of those points, but, to be honest, personally, I’ve always loved the maze of indoor tunnels and the secrets that can be found in them. I find them such an idiosyncratic, quirky solution to our frigid winters and some that gives our urban scene its own character and personality. Small businesses and even art museums hide out in the skyways, as people scurry from highrise to highrise heading to business and avoiding the extreme temperatures of the outside world. The skyways do also provide quick access to street level as well, for those looking to get some fresh air on the urban sidewalks downtown.

While other cities have used the idea, Minneapolis still has the largest continuous skyway system in the world, and I have gotten a bit lost in it on several occasions. It is true, though, that their semi-private, business owned status does make them less friendly for strolling than the streets and at night, are often closed and locked at inopportune times. Still, for those drones working downtown, it allows for some interesting lunchtime explorations.

Especially in the dead of winter, when winds drop the windchill into the double digits below zero or the temperatures warm up and start dumping wet, clinging snow onto the streets, it can be reassuring to have a dry, warm place to have a bite. Here are a few of my favorite places to grab a quick bite in the skyway, whether you are just passing through downtown on the way from your home in the suburbs to campus, or you find yourself among the many workers downtown who crave something to eat. This is just for the Minneapolis skyways, by the way, as the St. Paul skyway (owned by the city as it is!) remain an unknown to me.

Cafe Patteen

Early2015 013

Cafe Patteen

I discovered this one some years ago, hidden inside an unassuming office block, the International Centre, which I know mostly as being just under that blue crystally looking high rise, the AT&T Tower. Serving great coffee and tea (from Mrs. Kelly’s Tea), the freshly baked breakfast items are the best here. In a hurry and need a quick breakfast before you start work or class? Pop in and grab some delicious scones (seriously, I think some of the best in the city), some quiche, banana bread, or other tasty treats fresh from the oven. They even use seasonal ingredients- in the summer, be sure to have the rhubarb scones, but it’s best to get there early, things sell out pretty quickly in the morning. Also, they only take cash, so be prepared!

IMG_2496

La Loma Tamales

La Loma Tamales

The downtown Minneapolis location of this great place for tamales and other authentic Mexican dishes can be found- it, too, is a popular place for the lunch crowd to snatch up a quick, tasty lunch. The combos are great, though for this one too, you should probably get there earlier rather than later, for the tamale specials in particular can sell out!

They offer some great vegetarian offers, too!

Early2015 044

Le Belle Crepe

La Belle Crepe

While not technically in the skyways, La Belle Crepe, a fun little creperie on Nicollet Avenue, in the Medical Arts Building, is easily accessible by skyway and it may be one of my favorite locations for lunch in downtown Minneapolis. Specializing in French and Vietnamese cusine, it has many varieties of cheap and delicious crepes and pho, and even gelato in the summer. Always a good choice for a quick meal. I’ve been meaning to try out their bahn mi as well! The punch card they have is a pretty good deal as well.

simpls

One of the newer lunch spots in the skyway, simpls specializes in sandwiches, soups, oatmeals, kombucha, and other natural treats made fresh daily . They present themselves as kind of a farmers market vibe in a convenience store format, which seems to be just what it appears. Everything I’ve had here has been delicious, if not the cheapest option. Still, now that they are open until 6:00, it makes a great option for those times when I’m working later in the afternoon and need to score some dinner. I will definitely have to try the oatmeal.

IMG_2521

Cocoa and Fig

Cocoa and Fig

My family would often make bets with each other, like, was it that one guy who was in that one movie who showed up in that show that we just watched? After finding out that, no, it was not that guy, payment was needed and the currency of these bets was cupcakes. Often, I would be on the receiving end of these contracts, and if I was downtown, I could fulfill them by popping into Cocoa and Fig, in the Gaviidae Common, the skyway mall right off of Nicollet named after the Latin nomenclature of the common loon. They have great pastries, often rotating based on the season but my favorite is always the salted caramel cupcakes, or anything pumpkin. Needless to say, I would sometimes make bets I knew I would lose just to have an excuse to bring back cupcakes! Hey, why should I need an excuse, anyway!

 

 

 

 

Where U Wanna Eat #1: Shuang Cheng Restaurant

Entry #1 for our Where U Wanna Eat segment!

Restaurant: Shuang Cheng

Zone: Dinkytown, 1320 4th St. SE Mpls

Hours: M-Th, 11 am to 10 pm, F-Sat, 11 am to 11 pm, Sun 12 pm to 10 pm

File_005

Lindsay waiting to warm up inside Shuang Cheng

I mentioned Shuang Cheng Restaurant in my introduction to this U of M restaurant project, so on a very cold afternoon Lindsay and I stopped in there for lunch. Served a pot of piping hot oolong tea immediately, it was a pretty good way to warm up after the time spent in the sub zero temperatures to get there. A Dinkytown mainstay, Shuang Cheng (meaning Twin Cities) was filled with students, faculty, and local community members enjoying the inexpensive and varied lunch specials, which were quite affordable and ample, coming with rice and your choice of an appetizer.

File_001

Our lunch specials, minus the wontons which we already devoured

We chose the cheese wontons, served super hot, and had some delicious vegetarian entrees, sesame tofu and fried bean curd with mixed vegetables in garlic sauce. Both were very good, and Shuang Cheng is definitely a good choice for vegetarians, though they offer plenty of meat and seafood dishes as well. In addition to the Chinese-American style menu, they offer a more authentic Cantonese style dishes on the always changing daily specials menu. Being a seafood lover myself, I also ordered clams in a scallion ginger sauce, which were very delicious, if a little messy! I would come back to splurge on a seafood feast for a special occasion.

File_003

Daily Specials Menu for January 16th, 2016

I would definitely recommend visiting Shuang Cheng, especially for the lunch specials and the special menu as well. The Lunch specials are served daily 11:00 to 4:30 (except Sunday, which begins at 12:00) and run around $7! A very good choice for a lunch in between busy classes or if you just happen to be in Dinkytown.

 

 

 

img_20160116_133010

About to start up on the clams!

New Things, New Year!

IMG_2260.JPG

Famed Shoe Tree on West Bank, a few weeks ago before the snow fell.

So, we’re more than one week into the new year of 2016, and I feel that this year is going to be the best year ever here on MSP-Adventure Time, so expect a lot of fun new things to appear, as well as some of the fun old things, too!

I’m looking forward to the Art Shanty Project this year, after its hiatus for 2015, after having such an awesome experience in 2014, in one of my very first blog entries. This time I’ll make sure that my phone is charged! It is a great way to celebrate and take advantage of our winter weather. I’ll be going on some awesome day trips too, so keep an eye on that as well. Lindsay and I will also be checking out this cool sounding Tattersall Distilling place in Northeast, too, so keep tuned on that! I’m excited to sample some locally crafted spirits in addition to all the beer I’ve been trying, and they say spirits warm you up a bit more! (Seriously, scientifically inaccurate, but hey, who cares?)

IMG_1555

Dinkydale, home of Shuang Cheng and the Land’s End Pasty Company, among others

Starting this year, I’m beginning a new restaurant segment in my blog, “Where U Wanna Eat?” where I, with my friends and loved ones, will endeavour to eat at as many of the restaurants around the University of Minnesota campus, in Dinkytown, Stadium Village, and the West Bank. I still recall stepping out of classes and grabbing some great, cheap food around the U and I’d like to see how things are changing as all of these places are in periods of great upheaval and change. Are there still good eats for the student on a budget? I aim to find out! Really, I just love eating and am looking for more excuses to hang out by the U, of course. Oh, I think I can probably skip the chains, of course (for the most part). Of course, I’ve written up some of my favorite Dinkytown restaurants before, but now its official! Expect my first review soon!

Autumn Lū’au at United Noodles

ILOW9440

Dancing and Food at United Noodles’ Autumn Lu’au

United Noodles is an established Asian supermarket tucked away in South Minneapolis’ Seward neighborhood among warehouses and factory buildings. I remember first being introduced to it by students from a Japanese Student Association at the U of M. I recommend it for hard to find produce and grocery items as well as its delicious, and cheap restaurant, Unideli. My family liked to get huge sacks of rice to keep us supplied over the year, as well as treats like umeboshi and that Singaporean ginger drink I really like, Gold Kili. Importing products from nations across the Asian continent, and catering to the metro’s immigrant and expat communities as well as locals interested in trying some new recipe or food, I really enjoy stocking up for a staycation at United Noodles.  

On Sunday, the grocery store had a special event that made for a very nice staycation, their fourth annual Autumn Lū’au. This was the first time I attended this event, and it was definitely a fun one to visit. As I have not yet had the chance to visit Hawaii, I really enjoyed getting this sample of island cultures in the heart of the landlocked continent heading towards its months long deep freeze. Celebrating Hawaiian and Polynesian cultures in Minnesota, the event featured a special on Hawaiian specialties at Unideli and some demonstrations of hālau hula dancing and music from Keola Santos. Along with that Hawaiian specialty incorporating a beloved Minnesotan export, spam, spam musubi, and a plate of Hawaiian delicacies which really highlight the fusion of cultures in the state, the shoppers watched the elaborate dances, creating a cool beach festival like atmosphere inside a grocery store.

It was a very fun way to experience some things we might not have seen in the metro before. Keep an eye on the events hosted by United Noodles, and check it out sometime!

IMG_2195

United Noodles entrance

United Noodles, 2015 East 24th Street, Minneapolis, open daily 9-7, Unideli 11-6

Oktoberfest at the Black Forest Inn

IMG_2090

Black Forest Inn

It is good to be back in Minnesota for my favorite time of year. The leaves are starting to turn, pumpkins, apples, and other fall produce are at the markets, and it’s beginning to cool off. Many fun things are planned for the next few weeks!

Here in the Midwest, there is a strong German influence and a variety of German cultural and culinary institutions can be found in Minnesota. Like much of the rest of the Northern US, people descended from German immigrants are the largest European ethnic group in Minnesota. In late September and early October, several communities across the state offer Oktoberfest celebrations, playing tribute to the great funfest in Munich. Of course, the major component of Oktoberfest is beer, and we certainly have some of that!

A few places in the Twin Cities have Oktoberfest events as well, and this year I checked out the venerable Black Forest Inn’s Oktoberfest on Eat Street, i.e. Nicollet for the first time. I stopped in with some friends last Thursday for the Weisenheimer Night, one of the themed nights the restaurant offered, each with its own activities and vibe. It seems to play host to many literary and music events, and I will definitely keep my eye on their calendar. To be honest, I was too busy chatting, drinking German oktoberfest beers, eating hearty German fare, and listening to the jaunty tones of the accordions to hear the jokes, but that was fine, it was a fun time in any case. I must confess, German food is not my favorite in general, much too heavy on the meats and gravies, but as comfort food it can hit the spot on a chilly autumn night. It reminded me of my own trip to Germany a few years back.

A few vegetarian offerings were on the menu as well, such as a delicious autumn squash dish, counting the desserts, of course. If there is one thing I can get behind, it’s a German dessert. The beer, following quite freely thanks to the happy hour Octoberfest prices, was good, as well. I will definitely return next year, especially if they have the haunted Black Forest Night.

Minnesota Garlic Festival

IMG_1628

McCleod County Fairgrounds, hosting the Minnesota Garlic Festival, 2015

Made my way out of the Twin Cities Saturday morning, heading out a little less than an hour to the west, to the town of Hutchinson, for the tenth annual Minnesota Garlic Festival. I attended once before, five years ago, so it was nice to visit again, even on so muggy an August day. Held at the McCleoud County Fairground, the event was $5 a person with a dollar to park.

IMG_1629

Sometimes, garlic can be… frightening

Organized by the Sustainable Farming Association of MN, the festival celebrates the environment, culinary enjoyment, strong rural cultures, and local farmers. To reflect this, the festival was billed as a zero waste event who, in July, harvested the 2015 garlic crop planted in October and given them time to cure. Garlic is one of my favorite, most often used ingredients, and I just ran out, so of course this was the perfect spot to restock my supplies. And there was a lot of choices.

It is incredible, too, how many varieties of garlic there are, really, with the festival’s website citing more than a hundred different types from all over the world, from purple striped to porcelain. Some are ideal for baking, some perfect for roasting, and some are spicier and some are more mild; I picked up some purple Italian and some Bogtyr, both strong varieties that keep their flavor through cooking.

IMG_1638

Some of the garlic I picked up, in the hot, hot sun.

 

I also sampled some garlic ice cream from Cranky’s, the makers of the doughnut ice cream I’d had at the Northeast Open Streets a few weeks back. Garlic ice cream may seem ill matched, but the pungent, sweet- savory flavor of the roasted garlic chunks in the creamy ice cream really worked well together. I’d go out of my way to have it again!

In addition to the garlic, there were plenty of other local wares on offer, from honey, maple syrup, cheese, baked goods, alpaca wool, and of course, local beer and wine. At the main stage, local chefs and agricultural advocates demonstrated their cooking skills, and exhorted festival-goers to “buy local, eat local, stay local!” Throughout the day, there were also folksy musical interludes by local dancers and music groups.

By this time, I was getting hungry, so I checked out the Great Scape Cafe, which was serving up plates created by a variety of the Twin City’s most popular restaurants, including the Common Roots Cafe, Tilia, Birchwood Cafe, and Brasa, among others. I had some delicious Scandinavian style aged cod from the Bachelor Farmer. All in all, not too bad a little jaunt into the countryside on a summer morning. My breath still may be a little pungent.

IMG_1636

Chefs from Tilia demonstrate cooking techniques.

The Dinner Dilemma…

IMG_1021[1]

Dinkydale, home of the Lands End Pasty Company, along with Shuang Cheng (another good option in Dinkytown).

So, I’ve been back for a month now, subbing at library branches throughout the Hennepin County- I’ve been at nine locations so far, and its been great! I really enjoy being back in the Twin Cities, and working at different places every day is a great way to get to know the city after having been gone so long (well, two and a half years, anyway). With the weather warming up, there is less of the desire to barricade myself indoors after work as well. My attempts at biking to work so far have been, while enjoyable, more of a brief ordeal than a recreation. One problem that I find myself having, though, as I commute across the county, is trying to avoid the temptation to stop in at one of the many restaurants nearby instead of cooking the food I’ve already got at home! Leaving a shift at East Lake or St. Louis Park or Northeast, my stomach grumbles, there are so many options nearby and on the way home, so many old favorites and intriguing new places I’ve wanted to check out, that it can be difficult to avoid stopping in to grab a bit. Meanwhile, the groceries wait at home, ready to be cooked up for several lunches and dinners over the week. Okay, okay, I’ll make that pad thai recipe I’ve been meaning to try. But tomorrow, for lunch…

Here are some of my favorites are a few of the cheap eats that are hidden away throughout the city. I’ve been singing the praises of falafel, pizza, and hot dogs (vegan or otherwise) over the last few entries, so here are a few treats I’ve been meaning to mention.

One thing I really missed when I lived out of the metro was all of the places to grab a bahn mi, those delicious Vietnamese-French fusion sandwiches which can be had at numerous Vietnamese shops throughout the metro; my favorites are My  Houng Kitchen along Eat Street (i.e., Nicollet) in Minneapolis, and iPho, along University Avenue in St. Paul. Both can be gotten for about $5. I have heard it said that it is true that the Twin Cities have the best Vietnamese food in the States.

IMG_0975[1]

La Belle Crepe, inside the Medical Art Building in downtown Minneapolis

Maybe that’s true, but it is definitely really good! You basically can’t go wrong with a Bahn Mi and the many shops that sell them are always good stops.

Another place I missed, hidden away in the Medical Arts building on Nicollet Mall is La Belle Crepe, a great place to grab lunch in downtown Minneapolis. They have a variety of affordable crepes, both sweet and savory. It seems a pretty popular place for the downtown lunch crowd, offering sweet dining both in it’s little, cramped storefront, the ornate art deco marble interior of the Medical Arts building, and, now that the weather is nice, the sidewalk on Nicollet Mall. Also, be sure to take advantage of the punch cards offered to frequent crepe eaters. Incidentally, they do bahn mi as well, though I haven’t tried one yet myself.

IMG_1020[1]

Lands End Pasty Company, hidden inside Dinkydale.

If wrapping stuff up in a light, fluffy pancake sounds good, how about a nice, hearty layer of pastry? The filling specialty of the British Isles and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan has been popping up here and there as well of late; pasties, those savory, questionably pronounced gourmet hot pockets that used to be eaten by miners for lunch. There are a couple shops set up to dole out the humble pasty, Lands End Pasty in the Dinkydale building in the heart of Dinkytown, and the older food cart, Potters Pasties and Pies. If you haven’t been able to find the cart anywhere, they also have a shop hidden away in a basement behind a building on Como Avenue. Each have a fun UK theme and both are quite delicious, offering both vegetarian and carnivorous options. Of course, at Land’s End, anyway, the vegetarian options seem to go pretty quickly. The Banafee Pie at Potter’s is a great dessert, but at Land’s End, they bake a little apple pie into the end of every pasty. Not so good if you’re one of those people philosophically opposed to foods touching each other, but then, that’s what pasties are all about, right? Nothing better than a full meal you can eat in one go!

Now, I just need to find a good place for some vegetarian poutine. It is coming to be the season of the food trucks, so I’ll be coming my eyes open!

IMG_1015[1]

I often find myself flipping through free papers for advice on where I should stop next while waiting for the bus, mouth watering as I anticipate my next stop. Remember when the Onion distributed papers in the Twin Cities?