Life May Not Be Fair, But October Certainly Is

I am full of the milk of human kindness. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn a related note, I’m also full of about 27 pounds of fair food.

Today was the 2017 North Carolina State Fair media luncheon.  Each year the Ag Department holds this event to give the press all the information we need to cover the fair.

And this is where vendors show off the edible inventions that will have their debut this year.

Everybody that visits the fair every year (and if you don’t; shame on you, and get yourself to the fair this year) has their favorites.

Today I had a couple items that may become an annual must.Lamb burgers NeomondeNeomonde Bakery and Deli has a tent every year for baked goods and demos near the chapel.  But they also serve hot food at a spot near Dorton Arena.  And that’s where you can get their lamb burger.  It has fresh mixed greens, caramelized onions, and a harissa yogurt sauce all on their freshly baked brioche bun.  It’s pretty darn tasty.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis year La Farm introduced a hand pie.  This particular hand pie might remind you of a particular rectangular pastry tart from your youth that comes from the grocery store.  My mom never bought them, so I never developed a taste for them, but Petey was raised on them, and still occasionally indulges.Hand Pies La FarmMy very own grown-up kid may never eat those mass market, cardboard things again.  He loved Chef Lionel’s pies filled with fresh strawberries and Nutella.  The chocolate/rye pastry was perfect.  It was flaky and delicious, drizzled with chocolate ganache and sprinkled with big sugar crystals.

The award for craziest treat that probably shouldn’t have tasted so good came from Chef’s D’lites.  They had one of those deep-fried sweets that are usually stunt foods.  But the deep fried key lime bites worked.  The crispy/creamy/bright/citrusy combination was irresistible.  It’s probably a good thing they’re only available once a year.Steve Troxler and new food winner Arepa LocaAfter downing all this crazy fair grub, we get to vote on the best new food at the fair.  The winner this year, Steve Troxler, Agriculture Commissioner informed us, won by a landslide.

It was the arepas from Arepa Loca.  Arepas are little Columbian savory cakes made of masa, split and filled with meats and veggies.  They’re a popular street food found in many Latin American cultures.  You may know them as gorditas or pupusas.

I asked the owner to fill it the way he likes it.  He stuffed it with beef, veggies and topped it with some guacamole.  They were fresh cakes with fresh, bright fillings and were the favorite of everybody at my table.  I just hope that their newfound fame doesn’t make the lines too long so I can get some more at the fair.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA2017 is the 150th NC State Fair, and if you go on Thursday (10/12), you can get in for $1.50.  Food vendors will be selling $1.50 portions, and state fair staff will be handing out free rides and other prizes to attendees wearing commemorative buttons handed out to the first 15,000 folks through the gates when they open at 3:00PM that day.

If this column sounds a little like I’m drunk, I’m really not.  I am flat out giddy.  I love the fair.  It is one of the highlights of my year.  If you need to get up with me for the next couple weeks, I’ll meet you in front of the waterfall at Dorton Arena.  If I’m not there, I’ll be home sleeping it off, getting ready to do it all over again in the morning.150th cakesThanks for your time.

All’s Fair

Other than chocolate-covered raisins, I don’t like chocolate and fruit together.  And don’ bother me with raspberries—I hate those things.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAExcept.

Today I had a whoopie pie from La Farm.  A whoopie pie is a sandwich made of two cakes, usually chocolate with some sort of filling.  Thiers was vanilla raspberry.

And I loved it.

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From the cake decorating competition at the fair.

In the calendar in my mind there’s a hierarchy of special days.  First is Christmas-we get my mother’s cookies.  Next is my birthday for the Dewey’s birthday cake I score.

Then in the fall, when the summer fades, and there is that heavenly, oh so welcome nip in the air is my third favorite day.

It’s the red-letter, always awesome, day we visit the North Carolina State Fair.But this year is even redder and awesomer than ever before.  I was invited to attend the media preview day.

This annual event is held to allow the press to observe fair preparations and interview fair officials.

But best and most important of all (to me, anyway), was the unveiling of new foods that will be featured this year.  And believe it or not, there was a lot of seafood, and not everything was fried.

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The dip is in the center of the tray.  This is only half of my intake…

The winner of the best new food was the warm creamy, cheesy fresh crab dip from Captain Nell’s.  Also give their ingenious fried crab claws a try.  The meat is fried, and then they leave on the claw to use as a handle.

Among the others were two kinds of ice cream, a Low Country boil with perfectly steamed shrimp, and Cuban sandwiches made into egg rolls.   But three of the concessionaires greatly intrigued me.

Woody’s Wings had my favorite bite of the day. Bacon pimento cheeseburger egg rolls sound scary, but are almost sort of light, because the wrappers are crispy and they’re well fried. Woody likes to try out new creations at the fair. If it does sell, its put it on the restaurant menus. I think this one’s a keeper.Neomonde, who also has a restaurant/bakery in Raleigh, had Phoenician fish and chips.  The fish was Pollock, and very tasty.  The fries were tossed in za’atar; a spice mixture of thyme, sesame seeds, oregano, salt, and sumac.  I have some of the herb mixture at home and use it on all kinds of things.

Za’atar potato salad

2 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, cooked tender, peeled, and cubed

2 shallots, sliced into rings, and slowly cooked in 1 tablespoon butter until amber colored

Dressing:

1 cup mayonnaise

¼ cup olive oil + 2 tablespoons olive oil

1 ½ teaspoon za’atar spice

Juice of 1 ½ lemons

Salt and pepper to taste

zaatar-potato-salad

Whisk together dressing ingredients.

Place spuds and shallots into bowl while still warm, drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil, and juice of ½ lemon.  Season.  Gently toss.

Stir in dressing until potatoes are well-coated.  Cover and leave at room temp until service,  but no more than 1 hour.

Right before service, stir in last tablespoon olive oil, and check for seasoning.  Serves 4-6, or me all by myself.

They had three kinds of dipping sauce: harissa, herb tzatziki, and a lemon tahini that was so good I plan on trying to duplicate it very soon.  Like the za’atar, it would be good on an old shoe.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd that brings us back to La Farm.

I love those guys.  The Kid and I usually eat La Farm when we attend the Got To Be NC festival, in the spring.  This year, they have a couple new breads.  A spider bread, which is Italian dough made into the shape of a spider.

The belle of the ball though, was a new bread made with rice.rice-bread-1They make a rice porridge from Carolina Gold, an heirloom variety and mix it sourdough bread.  This is similar to Colonial era breads made by cooks with far less varieties of grain at their disposal.  The result is chewy moist sourdough that I can’t wait to get a loaf of.

So, I guess I am technically a raspberry lover.  But I’m not a complete convert.  I will now indulge in raspberries.  But only in whoopie pies, and only from La Farm.

Our state fair is truly a great state fair.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Thanks for your time.