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Something about the kid’s expression…I can’t quite place it. It wouldn’t be out of place on a DEVO album, especially with the plate of giant sausages floating next to him.

These bright, saturated orange and yellows popped cheerily on the shelf and drew me right in. Then again that could be due to placement next to a refrigerated case full of de-fleshed cow legs. Whole cow legs, hoof and all. Mmmmm boy.

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Yes, it’s that time of year where laziness in writing has my vacations lapping each other in posts. This second visit to the Iowa State Fair was a more leisurely outing, with ample time to take in the numerous fried foods and, thanks to their website’s handy itinerary feature, get good seats for the Dairy Goat Obstacle Course.

Immediately upon arrival fellow traveler Angry Jim and I set out to do that which we dared not the year before- eat fried butter. “But how can you fry butter?” you ask, either in a tone of horror or with notepad and pen at the ready. I’ll tell you. First, take a whole stick of rich, creamery butter. Slice it in half diagonally so you have two butterwedges (yes, I’m making it one word). Dunk that thing into a vat of thick, gooey pancake-like batter spiced with cinnamon and magic.

Now, dunk THAT into a vat of superheated oil. Swirl gently and fry to a deep golden brown. For no earthly reason, top with a generous drizzle of sugar frosting.

Here’s Angry Jim contemplating the horror of what he has ordered.

Despite the insulating coat of batter, the butter mostly melted or soaked into the dough.

Mmm, delicious goo. The final product tasted like a cakier cinnamon bun, with the texture of a corn dog.

Yep, pretty much just like this.

Behold! Some of the largest vegetables this country has to offer:

These are greenbeans. GREENBEANS! What kind of freakish mutant-vegetable future are we living in?!

Two-headed corn
Just sitting on plates
The judges await
Now you’re greater than great
I can hear as your ear grows by far

That does not look like a ‘slow snail’, unless ‘slow snail’ means turd.

In front of the Pork Tent, obviously.

Not the kind variety, just All-American.

Everything is on a stick at the fair. Salad on a stick, eggs on a stick; a booth run by a Methodist church even handed out ‘Prayers on a Stick’. I hoped they’d be little parchment rolls skewered through, but it was just a popsicle stick with stuff written on it.

This probably took 20 minutes to reach capacity.

Here was the most charming surprise at the fair- amidst bacon-wrapped corn dogs and turkey legs on a stick, an entire cooking category devoted to vegan foods. Vegan! In a land where you have to ask to make sure the french fries aren’t served with a hunk of lamb on top!

Didn’t Wes Anderson make an animated feature with these two?

The Jelly Which Shall Not Be Named.

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Once again XKCD has dropped a major truth bomb, letting us all know a)Wikipedia has a delightful compendium of Common Misconceptions and b) at least one thing we’re currently sure of is likely to be debunked there. I’ll admit- I thought glass was a liquid. Turns out it’s totally an amorphous solid!

The major takeaway isn’t to just read this list and feel smug correcting people for the rest of your life, but to realize no one can be an expert in everything and learning really is an ongoing process. Also, the more specious something sounds, the more important it is to follow up on it.

In that vein, I’d like to contribute my little chunk of questioning. You know how whenever the Medieval Ages come up, at some point someone mentions spices being a rare and prized item used to cover up the taste of rotting meat? Well, why would people in Medieval Times be eating rotten meat in the first place?



Really, think about it- the rich had constant access to whatever they wanted, including whatever their peasant folk raised, so it’s unlikely they’d settle for rancid carcasses. Scraps were thrown to dogs or beggars, so they weren’t really holding on to leftovers that would then spoil before reserving. The poor wouldn’t really have access to spices, and if they did they most likely pooled resources and had cows or chickens among them that would be used for milk and eggs. If an animal was killed for food it would be right there, fresh as can be, and the carcass would probably be divided up amongst the village. Perhaps some leftovers would remain to be salted or used in soups, but I can’t picture them eating rancid meat when they’d have vegetables and grains to subsist on. Plus it’s not like there was a surplus of either food or people that it would be a common food source.

So who’s eating this rancid meat that needed spices to cover it up? If anything it’s far more likely spices back then were used in a similar manner to whatever food trend crops up today: to show off for friends and family. Again, thank you Wikipedia- I reread their growing article on Medieval cuisine and it has been most enlightening. What we picture today as a bunch of dirty peasants scraping rotten meat off bones turns out to be a far more interesting picture of religious ceremonies, a medical system based on humours, farming tradition and court life overlapping to give us the Medieval palette.


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Boredom in New York is usually the bored’s own fault. The city is crammed so full of parties, shows and events one runs into something just walking around. This makes for a slanted and somewhat jaded worldview where ‘fun’ gets taken for granted and something like the New York State Fair barely registers, what with agriculture and animal husbandry taking a backseat to nubile youth getting wasted in various states of dress. It’s easy to forget State Fairs in other states, particularly those in the Midwest, are a genuine big deal. The Iowa State fair is one of the grandest of all, with history and traditions stretching back to the turn of the century.

Visiting the fairgrounds for the first time, I asked a friend what the grounds were used for the rest of the year. He said not much really, the occasional 4-H show, but mostly the fairgrounds were just used for the fair. Wait, said I, not grasping this concept in the least, this large parcel of land with all these decorative brick buildings…just sits empty the rest of the year? Indeed, the friend said. And all the buildings are only in use the two weeks of the Iowa State Fair? Yep. As someone coming from a tiny island so crammed a closet will cost you $800 a month, this made my head explode.

To give you an idea of the fair’s history and general layout, this short film depicts the Iowa State Fair in the 1940s (via MST3K, hooray). The majority of the buildings seen are still in use to this day, and the fish tanks have been designated a historical area (an historical area?).

As can be seen, the fair is an enormous sprawling event reaching into every aspect of Iowan life: agriculture, health, family, religion, art, and local culture. As such I’ve broken up my coverage into separate subjects for easier consumption. Today’s topic- Food!

Meet food mascot Mr. Oinkers!

“Hi Kids! I’ll eat your soul!”
Oh, you kidder. Mr. Oinkers is one of many friendly fellows waiting to greet you at the kiosks!

“Eaaaaaat youuuuuur souuuuuuuuulll….”

Right! On to the food! You can’t take a step in any direction at the fair without seeing something edible and artery-clogging. For an agricultural fair, there were surprisingly few fresh fruits and vegetables available and those that were came dunked in batter. Generally food choices fell into one of two categories, with generous overlap between each: deep fried or sugar-coated.

Case in point.

Fried stuff in two sizes: plate- or tub-full.

The teenager working the deep-fryer plucked this guy out of the vat and plopped it on the plate without pause. As it oozed out a puddle of grease I vainly attempted to ask for at least a lift n’ shake to disperse some of it, but before I could even get the sentence half out he dumped a cup of powdered sugar on top. My friend and I agreed the sugar-grease absorption definitely made this the best damn funnel cake we’d ever eaten.

Normally, vegetarians traveling through the Midwest are out of luck. Vegetarianism in the flyover states is still mostly a foreign concept; the last time I stepped into Pizza Ranch (a local pizza buffet*) all the pies had meat on them, and asking for a vegetarian slice I was brought a pie with a half ton of olives dumped on top. Walking into the Fair and seeing people tearing at comically huge drumsticks Medieval Times-style, I figured here was more of the same. But lo! Shining on the main midway sat….

The Veggie Table! The shock of seeing a booth entirely dedicated to vegetarian fare at the State Fair knocked me for a considerable loop. Keep in mind this is a place where more than one booth told me God knows babies in utero and evolution is a liberal conspiracy. (See that girl in the foreground? Exactly the face I made too).

Bad pun name and Led Zepplin-inspired logo aside, The Veggie Table had a long line throughout the day for good reason: their veggie corn dog was perfectly crisp and squishy with a delicious toasted corn flavor, and their other offerings (including Portabello Mushroom Strips and Broccoli Cheddar Bites) looked equally tasty.

Another relatively inexpensive option for vegetarians (sorry vegans, you are way out of your league here): Nachos! If there’s one thing working in the cheapskate’s favor in the Midwest, it’s portion size. These weren’t even Grande!


After. Elapsed time: 2 minutes.

A word of explanation – as opposed to the East Coast, where pizza by the slice is as natural as breathing, pizza in many Midwestern states comes whole-pie or no dice, or is served buffet-style (*see Pizza Ranch. Yes, there are pizza buffets and yes, they are usually western-themed). Pizza by the slice is a novel concept in Iowa, hence the beatific glow around the slice above.

Another culture shock- condiments. You think you like condiments? You do not like them as much as Midwesterners.

Mayonnaise is a birthright here. All this stuff is from Heinz and only one of each were mustard and ketchup.

Food on a stick has become a part of State Fair culture- each year more and increasingly ridiculous food items are perched atop a dowel and served to the public. Reportedly beer on a stick was sold last year, but I didn’t see it this time around. However, I did see this stuff:

The classic corn dog, combining fried and meatstuffs on one convenient pole:

Proto-corn dogs are just hot dogs on a stick. Hot dogs on a stick look sort of sad.

Mmm, lookit that grease fly!

The Corn Dog in all its glory!

Chicken on a Stick,

Rice Krispy treat on a stick,

Some substance called Cheeze on a stick,

Meatballs on a Stick might sound like a good idea…

…but trust me, you do not want them.

Uh, some sort of German pastry on a stick,

Courtesy of the Iowa Egg Council, egg on a stick,

Deep Fried pineapple on a stick…really? Did it need to be deep fried? It did? Whatever.

Aaaaand Snickers on a stick.

I also read about but did not get a chance to experience salad on a stick and frozen twinkies on a stick.

There were a few other Fair staples that might need a bit of explanation- a number of kiosks sold something called ‘Walking Tacos’. Tacos are pretty portable already, so I asked my friend what made these particular tacos conducive to perambulation. By way of definition:

Walking Tacos: basically chili dumped into a bag of corn chips whether it be Doritos or Fritos and eaten out of the bag with a spoon or a fork.


Also regional- Shake-Ups. They’re just lemonade with a big half a lemon sitting in it. The name comes from squeezing the fresh lemon into the drink and, yep, shaking it up. It does add a bright flavor to the beverage, making it taste fresher.


Coming up next: People!

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Stepping into Penn Station after a 2-month hiatus was like stepping into the stupid future. After making my way around the ‘New Jersey Commuter’ wing of the station, a pointless array of marble levels and elevators actively preventing me from reaching my train (no stairs to the platforms = one way movement very, very slowly), I found all the (relatively) small metal ticket machines bearing the NJ Transit logo at the top had been replaced by hulking blue monstrosities with an even more irksome ticket-purchasing interface.

The old machines, looking like ticket machines…

…and the new ones, looking like plastic kids’ toys. Also fun: finding out ticket fares had been hiked twice since last I traveled. Sure, I enjoy riding the double-decker trains as much as anyone and appreciate their clever use of existing space, but two hikes in that short a space seemed gratuitous.

Life is short.

So is your cash.
You said it, vandalized casino ad.

Driving up to North Jersey it was sad to see how many older businesses closed, including long-running garden center Fountains of Wayne (yes, the one the band named themselves after). Fortunately some businesses were booming:
Guitars, Drums

Entenmann's Outlet
Ah, Entenmann’s Outlet. Filling our childhood with lopsided Devil’s Cake and oblong donuts.

Corrado’s, a local grocery chain, had also expanded wildly. No longer just a food emporium, they’d grown to include several stores, a bakery and in-house fish market, and across the street, a business college. Their selection of produce was vast and the aisles were crowded with carts and families.
Chefs chasing you with plates of stuff.
Chefs menacing you with plates of stuff was a popular design theme.

You will buy the rice.
As was having the mascot stare you down.

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