Scene and overheard

Saturday I had my first go as a cooking contest judge at the 2017 NC State Fair.  It was for sweet potatoes.  Being judge-y and opinionated seems to come easy for me.Some takeaways: who knew sweet potatoes make such a delicious quiche?  A sweet potato pie is not fully dressed without a crunchy pecan streusel on top.  Sweet potato puree is a genius eggnog emulsifier and sweetener. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA quarter cup mayonnaise and a quarter cup barbecue sauce mixed with three-quarters of a cup of Greek yogurt makes a dressing for sweet potato salad that has the perfect mix of sweet/salty/smoky/acid, and tastes amazing.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANo matter how delicious it is, it’s folly to eat more than three bites of any one entry.  And with a belly full of sweet potatoes even Al’s French fries aren’t very appealing.

Afterward, Petey and I walked around the fair for a while.  And there were a few takeaways from that portion of our day, as well.rice-bread-1La Farm has a terrific setup just inside gate one, with baked goods, sweet treats, and sandwiches.  They have my favorite, Carolina Gold Sourdough bread, but they sell out quick.  Although, if you manage to score a loaf, they’ll hold it for you until you’re on the way out.Anne’s Dumplings is at the Kerr Scott building with plenty of her ambrosial One Dressing.  If you buy two bottles, they’ll give you a cookbook written by their founder, Anne.  And that’s also where you’ll find D’Vine Food with their refreshing, addictive Muscadine Cider Slushie.Image may contain: drinkAnd as usual, there are crazy things for sale.

At a booth selling some kind of space-age wallet: “Is your too-thick wallet giving you problems?”

No.  A too-thick wallet has never been a problem.  A wallet so thin and devoid of contents it almost floats away?


Never have I ever…

Too thick?  That’s a big negatory, Bandit.

I have a peculiar congenital defect.  My hips move less like a human’s, and more like the sticky bottom drawer in a warped, aged dresser.  I can’t hula, or even hula hoop for that matter.  The fetching swing of a girl’s hip on me looks more like the lurch of a drunken zombie or Frankenstein’s monster.  As you might imagine, this severely limits my dance moves.

I could probably river dance, where hip movement is prohibited.  But twerking was completely out of the question.

Or, so I thought.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABecause, Gentle Reader, they have invented a twerking machine.  Oh sure, they may say it’s for exercise and call it a whole-body vibration machine.  But if you stand on that puppy, you’ll be involuntarily twerking harder than Miley Cyrus in a teddy bear one-piece. And if you don’t feel like dancing, the view you’ll have standing behind the twerker will either send you into paroxysms of hilarity, or deeply traumatize you, requiring hundreds of hours of therapy, or possibly even institutionalizing.

For me, the sight induced flat out hilarity.  I could’ve stood there and gazed at the twitching of humanity all day.  Although I now have the mechanized ability, I still don’t think that twerking is for me.At any one time, approximately 90% of fairgoers are eating.  My estimate is the combined total of calories consumed by everyone on the grounds in one hour is at least 40 thousand bajillion and twelve.

In all my observations, I noticed something miraculous.  Maybe it’s the food, or the Autumn nip in the air, but there’s an overriding mood of the crowd.  It’s the joviality and good will similar to the height of the Christmas season.

I guess that makes Steve Troxler Santa Claus.

Steve Troxler (center), unidentified woman (right), and the best beard of the State Fair (left).

Thanks for your time.


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.