Highlights from the Iowa State Fair

We were driving on the interstate yesterday evening and saw a funnel cake stand speed by. "There goes the last of the State Fair," my mom said. Yep, the Iowa State Fair closed out another successful year on Sunday, so I thought for today's Quick 10 I'd provide you with some of the highlights "“ in no particular order, mind you.

1. Butter Shawn Johnson. The tiny, 4'9" Olympic medal-winning gymnast is from West Des Moines, so she's a pretty big deal in these parts (we also have track and field Olympian Lolo Jones). Every year, the butter cow sculptor does something in addition to the butter cow, usually something that corresponds with current events. Last year when the last Harry Potter book came out, a whole magical scene was created out of butter. So, this year's tribute to our local Olympian was a no-brainer. Shawn comes complete with an American flag and a balance beam.

porkchop2. Pork Chop on a Stick. Oh, man. This is the juiciest, yummiest pork chop in the history of time. And I don't even like pork chops. It's $6, which might seem a little steep, but when you think about the price you would pay for a chop like this in an upscale restaurant, the $6 is so totally worth it.

3. Pioneer Hall.

My friend Bridget refuses to go in Pioneer Hall because she has an aversion to antiques. Yeah, if you have a problem with old stuff, Pioneer Hall is not for you. It's part flea market, part showcase, part dance hall, part demonstration. You can peruse old record albums, see if one of the vendors has that piece of Depression glass you've been looking for, flip through some postcards from the 1920s, and watch a blacksmith do his thing.

I was fascinated by the blacksmith, but if dancing is more up your alley, there's always this:

4. Ugly Cake Contest.
Yeah, this is in the same building your typical State Fair food competitions "“ best pie, best jam, best cookie, best everything-under-the-sun. But this is my favorite. It's geared specifically to kids who compete to see who can make the most revolting, unappealing cake ever. This one didn't win a blue ribbon, but personally, it took the cake for me. Yuck.

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5. Big Boar and the Big Bull. Big Bull. "Tiny" the bull weighs 3,012 pounds. You can tell exactly how big he is by comparing his head with the head of that little girl in the background. I'm pretty sure he was heavily sedated.

bull

"Freight Train" the big boar"¦ well, he's just a really massive pig. It appears to spend most of its time napping. I caught it snoring, actually, but by the time I thought to turn the video on, I think it had quieted down. See for yourself:

6. Fried Hostess Cupcake. Well, fried anything from this stand, really. You can get fried Twinkie, fried Ho Ho, fried Oreos, fried Snickers. I think the Twinkie is the best, but we felt like we should try something new this year. Paul had the Hostess Cupcake; I had a Bloody Mary. Mmm. Only at the State Fair is this normal. Well, State Fair and maybe tailgating.

bloody inset

7. Garrison Keillor. Unfortunately I missed this, but I would have liked to see the "A Prairie Home Companion" Rhubarb Tour when it made a stop at the State Fair this year.

8. Fried Pineapple. Every year, there's a lot of hype around the newest food item. Last year it was the Hot Beef Sundae "“ a mound of mashed potatoes with gravy to look like syrup, shredded cheese "sprinkles" and a cherry tomato on top. This year, it was the fried pineapple. Sounds kind of nasty, but it tasted a lot like pineapple upside down cake. This is my husband biting into the fried pineapple"¦ be warned, it's not the neatest thing to eat.

butterfly9. Butterfly Garden. I hear the butterfly garden at Iowa State University's Reiman Gardens makes this one pale in comparison, but I've never been there, so I enjoyed myself at this version of the butterfly garden. There were thousands of butterflies hanging out in here, snacking on rotten bananas, attaching themselves to unsuspecting people, scaring and/or delighting little kids.

saddle10. Miniature"¦ stuff. I realize this is crafty, kitschy and weird, but I always enjoy checking out the miniatures. I mean, you could just buy a dollhouse and decorate it with stuff you can buy at Hobby Lobby and enter that, but some people really go all out. This lady actually created a 1:32 scale saddle. I'm not sure why, but it's fascinating.

tattooOh, and 10.5: People Watching. I'm going to be... objective, here, but let's just say there's no shortage of mullets and muffin tops, often on the same person. This dude to the left is really proud of his heritage. It says "Corn Fed Bad Ass", in case you can't see it. So, those are my State Fair highlights. I didn't get to experience the cow chip throwing contest or the beard-growing contest or anything like that, and I missed the giant vegetables. I always like to see onions that are the size of my head (I have a really large noggin, so that's no small feat). There's always next year.

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The Simple Way to Reheat Your French Fries and Not Have Them Turn Into a Soggy Mess
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Some restaurant dishes are made to be doggy-bagged and reheated in the microwave the next day. Not French fries: The more crispy and delectable they are when they first arrive on your table, the more of a soggy disappointment they’ll be when you try to revive them at home. But as The Kitchn recently shared, there’s a secret to making leftover fries you’ll actually enjoy eating.

The key is to avoid the microwave altogether. Much of the appeal of fries comes from their crunchy, golden-brown exterior and their creamy potato center. This texture contrast is achieved by deep-frying, and all it takes is a few rotations around a microwave to melt it away. As the fries heat up, they create moisture, transforming all those lovely crispy parts into a flabby mess.

If you want your fries to maintain their crunch, you need to recreate the conditions they were cooked in initially. Set a large pan filled with about 2 tablespoons of oil for every 1 cup of fries you want to cook over medium-high heat. When you see the oil start to shimmer, add the fries in a single layer. After about a minute, flip them over and allow them to cook for half a minute to a minute longer.

By heating up fries with oil in a skillet, you produce something called the Maillard Reaction: This happens when high heat transforms proteins and sugars in food, creating the browning effect that gives fried foods their sought-after color, texture, and taste.

After your fries are nice and crisp, pull them out of the pan with tongs or a spatula, set them on a paper towel to absorb excess oil, and sprinkle them with salt. Now all you need is a perfect burger to feel like you’re eating a restaurant-quality meal at home.

[h/t The Kitchn]

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Bone Collector
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