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Elizabeth Warren, Slipknot,Pork Belly on a stick at 2019 Iowa State Fair – Des Moines

I wouldn’t normally go to the Iowa State Fair on a Saturday — too busy. But I wanted to catch Elizabeth Warren’s brief stint on the Des Moines Register’s famous political soapbox, so we went. It was hot, although not as hot as it could have been, and very very crowded but we did get to see Liz, who performed well and apparently had the largest crowd of all the 2019 Democratic political candidates, to date. (I couldn’t tell – -we were in the thick of the crowd, standing next to a young documentary filmmaker from L.A. who was shooting footage for a film about the Iowa State Fair’s role in presidential politics, or some such.)

We also happened to hear former Colorado Governor Hickenlooper, who seems like a good guy — and although we skipped the Cory Booker soapbox appearance, we passed him and a large entourage, reportedly in search of vegen-worthy fair food.  Speaking of non-vegan-worthy food, I fell hard for the maple syrup cured-pork belly on a stick sold at the Iowa Pork Producers tent.

Dirck and “Captain,” the big boar (2157 pounds)

While Dirck had a proper pork chop, I went full stick — with what looked like a thick piece of well-cooked bacon, with a brown chewy gooey sweet glaze, twisted around a stick. Delicious. We double dipped in the ice cream department — getting a cone from the Iowa Dairy Producers early on and as we were leaving, a Bauder’s peppermint-hot fudge bar that we split.

The fair always makes for exceptional people watching but even more so this year because of the political campaign workers/reporters (telltale signs: a Princeton T-shirt, the DC regulation gear – blue button down shirt and khaki combo, etc), the unnerving folks wearing NRA T-shirts, camouflage gear and/or Trump 2020 shirts (Dirck had to restrain me from shooting them dirty looks. Probably best to ignore them.) Also, the hard metal band Slipknot (internationally-known, Iowa-born) was playing its first ever state fair concert to a sell-out crowd so there were some 20,000 maggots (slipknot speak for “fans”) — many wearing menacing black Slipknot t-shirts or other weirdo Slipknot gear (bright orange jumpsuits, creepy face masks like the band members). Many waited in a long line outside a trailer dubbed the “Slipknot Museum” that was parked in the middle of the Grand Concourse (fair speak for the fair’s main drag). It all added a little je ne sais quoi to the fair…

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Filed under Agritourism, Des Moines, Iowa City

Iowa State Fair 2017 – gorgeous weather brings lots of people but doesn’t feel crowded

The weather was so perfect (sunny and almost cool, not hot or humid) last Saturday that I feared the fairgrounds would be uncomfortably crowded. There were tons of people but the fair didn’t feel any more crowded than usual for a Saturday. There was a long line at the Dairy Barn, which is to be expected, and it remains the one place where I always feel sweaty, even in relatively cool temps, because there’s no shade.

But there was hardly any wait to get an egg-on-a-stick from the Iowa Egg Council inthe Ag Building or to get a ticket for the Sky Glider. We sailed right into the Pork Producer’s tent for dinner – maybe because it was relatively late? (about 7 p.m.)

The Midway did look cleaner, brighter and less seedy – as promised with the rebranding as Thrill Park. And I did overhear someone actually ordering a cheesy fried enchilada funnel cake – one of the “new foods” at the fair. No thank you. Other than that, just enjoyed the usual highlights, with the added bonus of having two of our grown kids and their significant others with us!

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Filed under Agritourism, Des Moines, DESTINATIONS - Iowa

Iowa State Fair tips – in a travel story I wrote for the Minneapolis Star Tribune


Here’s a travel story I wrote about the Iowa State Fair in this weekend’s Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Iowa State Fair has much in common with Minnesota’s

Iowa State Fair has much in common with Minnesota's
Iowa’s fair is a more “classic” counterpart to Minnesota’s get-together.


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Iowa state fair 2015: heat, prez politics, cattleman’s

As I was adding a kernel of corn to the jar labeled “Clinton” ( as part of a highly unscientific tv station prez politics poll)  some old crank grumbled “She won’t win.” Then he dropped a kernel into the Trump jar, and I couldn’t resist coming right back at him with “he won’t win.” So it goes during this Iowa State Fair during the run-up to the Iowa caucuses.

I was surprised to see how tiny the Des Moines Register’s soapbox is, where presidential candidates can hold court, if they can bear a heckler or two. Sunday’s selection was less than thrilling — Ben Carson (who I’ve already seen twice, without trying at the farmers market downtown) and George Pataki. My husband got to see Marco Rubio, amidst a sea of umbrellas on a very wet Tuesday at the fair.
Other fair impressions:
— we were astonished to see that the top prize is $2000 for the winning “casual appetizer” in the food hall. I am trying to convince my sister in law to enter next year (mums the world that she lives in LA.) another $2000 purse for the top bacon dessert.
– we finally tried the cattleman’s beef quarters for dinner. Good ribeye sandwich but couldn’t bear to try the hot beef sundae on a hot and humid day. next year, must try the lamb again.

– no real birds this year in “the avenue of breeds” due to the avian flu outbreak but the ceramic chickens on display instead was sweet. I did get an egg on a stick in the ag building..
– we seemed to know every other young wholesome kid working the applelicious food booths

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Filed under DESTINATIONS - Iowa

Iowa State Fair (and fair food) here we come!

We are looking forward to some of our fair food favorites for dinner tonight ‘
  •  ice cream at the dairy barn (we love the peppermint squares from Bauders – in photo – but can get those during the year in Des Moines)
  • pork chop (not on a stick) at the pork producers’ spot or lamb (my preference) at the less popular lamb producers’ spot) or ribeye steak sandwich from the Cattleman’s stand (never tried but well-recommended, as is the “”Hot Beef Sundae” which doesn’t sound appetizing in 90-degree weather)
  •  hard-boiled egg on a stick (given out free in the ag hall, even with avian flu jacking up prices)
  • fresh squeezed lemonade.
  • and maybe a cinnamon roll to take home for breakfast tomorrow… at Buni’s.

Also may try out some new things recommended  this story from the DSM Register on Fair Food.

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American Gothic, Kevin Costner at the Iowa State Fair

fair2014photo (85)Enjoyed the usual Iowa State Fair highlights at our annual outing last weekend but some new and old highlights below:

– Giant sculpture of the American Gothic sculpture near the Agriculture building, way cool. But what’s with the addition of a giant suitcase slathered with stickers from exotic destinations.

Field of Dreams in butter – but how did I miss Kevin Costner in butter (which made the British newspaper The Guardian, which a London friend – whose a fair veteran – excitedly sent me.)

– No color photography this year – apparently it has something to do with the anniversary of the photo exhibit which began in the black-and-white days.

Lamb instead of pork – yes, i finally talked my husband into this but found the lamb shishkabob kind of disappointing. Quality meat, not much seasoning.

– Campbell’s pecan roll – we never noticed this before but did this year and my husband gave it a thumbs up at breakfast the next day.

– Cutting edge/terrifying gizmo in the Varied Industries building – the “Aquamassage” which looked like a cross between an MRI machine and a drive-through car wash. And people were actually lying in the thing, trying it out.

– Curly fries – not new to the fair but somewhat to me. A noble guilty pleasure!

Guilty Pleasure: Curly Fries!

Guilty Pleasure: Curly Fries!



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Filed under Agritourism, Des Moines, DESTINATIONS - Iowa

Iowa State Fair: deep-fried cheese curds, carnies, funnel cakes

fair4photo(49)We took three visitors to the Iowa State Fair – two from Illinois, one from Israel – so we covered all the bases yesterday – six hours of wandering in and out of ag buildings, eating things we’d normally never eat, checking out the 99 county contestants in the Fair Queen Contest and watching an Iowa National Guard reserves band from Fairfield play that goofy gangham style song (“Do any of you speak Korean?” the lead singer asked before performing? After getting no response from the crowd, he said “Good” and started the song…)

Deep fried cheese curds anyone?

Deep fried cheese curds anyone?

Along the way, we tried deep-fried cheese curds (too salty and greasy for me); funnel cake topped with powered sugar (delicious but you paid for it later with a slightly queasy feeling); pork burgers (too dry); ice cream from the dairy barn and Bauder’s (delicious); lemonade (solid but overpriced.)

Illinois and Israel in the house!

Illinois and Israel in the house!

And we visited the usual suspects – the ag building to see the butter cow, butter Abe Lincoln, rose contest, produce contests, giant pumpkin; the animal barns to see the big boar and the big bull and all the hard-working farm kids; the sheep and horse barns; the varied industries building to see the winning cinnamon roll and winning ugliest cake; the culture building to see the winning photos. We also rode the sky glider, kicking our aching legs in the air high above the Grand Concourse. And we walked through the crowded midway past the carnival rides and games, bombarded by the squeals, screams, neon, flashing lights and tattoos.

Night on the Iowa State Fair Midway!

Night on the Iowa State Fair Midway!

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Filed under Agritourism, Des Moines, DESTINATIONS - Iowa

To the Iowa State Fair with visitors from Israel, Illinois

  • el bait shop
  • el bait shop
  • el bait shop

The Iowa State Fair has lured several visitors our way this summer – this weekend it’s my stepdaughter E. and her boyfriend from Chicago, plus our houseguest from Israel. Next weekend, my son is coming from Northwestern with three or four (he wasn’t sure last we talked) of his friends – from Oregon, Colorado, New Jersey and maybe California.

The weather is perfect today – Sunny, 80-ish, no wind – so the fair is bound to be packed and in its full glory. We got a glimpse of what we may be in for this morning at the jam-packed downtown farmer’s market in Des Moines. And last night, our visitors reported lots of people hanging out downtown at bars like the High Life Lounge , designed to look like a 1960’s tavern, complete with formica, shag carpet and wood paneling…plus Miller High Life beer, of course, (see photo above) and El Bait Shop

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RAGBRAI – Des Moines to Knoxville (about 50 miles)

Classic Ragbrai photo by my friend Gary Fandel (a professional photographer and it shows)

Classic Ragbrai photo by my friend Gary Fandel (a professional photographer and it shows)

Another perfect day of bike riding weather and another great RAGBRAI ride, this time from Des Moines south and west to Knoxville, passing through some lovely countryside and several welcoming small towns including Runnells (where we were greeted by the local high school’s boisterous, enthusiastic and totally endearing Pep Band) and Monroe (where riders could don firefighter gear and shoot water hoses at a bucket or some such dangling from a line – sounds strange but people stood in a long line to give it a go.)

It was exhilarating to ride out of downtown Des Moines today at 7:30 a.m. with the sun still rising and the air almost crisp and the light magical. We quickly got a taste of what we had in store for the day – with a steep uphill by the golden-domed Iowa State Capital building – and it was way cool to have the route go right through the Iowa State Fairgrounds. As we were riding up the midway in a seat of bikes, I heard one person say “What is this place?” So I put on my Iowa tour guide hat and pointed out various highlights of the famed fairgrounds.

The route was very hilly – up and down and up and down the hills we went. I gradually got more comfortable with soaring down the hill but it was often tricky because there were so many riders. I did see one scary accident which appeared to be a collision between two riders and saw one rider down but she was talking to the people helping her. There were ambulances stationed for precautionary reasons along the route – and we heard some with their sirens activated on occasion.

In Runnells, I ended up joining a flash mob that I happened into – locals and riders all doing a funny dance routine in the street. It was so much fun! I also bumped into even more friends and neighbors today along the route, which is always a kick. By the end of the day, I was very weary but wished I could keep riding tomorrow. Maybe I’ll try to do more next year. Such a great experience.

Last night, Des Moines hosted a fantastic party downtown on a perfect clear, not too hot or cold night – with bands, food, thousands of people all gathered along the river. It was Iowa at its very best!

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Filed under Agritourism, bike trails, biking, Des Moines, DESTINATIONS - Iowa

Prague Castle and thereabouts

133.JPGAnother day of perfect weather Sunday and we joined hordes of tourists — no joke, I’m talking Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade size crowds, Iowa State Fair Size crowds, Obama’s (first) inauguration size crowds – crossing the fabled Charles Bridge to head up the hill to the Prague Castle complex, a series of grand buildings centered around the massive St.Vitus Church, where we watched the rather amusing changing of the guards, who wore shades and powder blue uniforms designed by Hollywood director Milos Foreman’s costume designer Theodor Pistek (at the then-new president Vaclav Havel’s request, no less!). (see bottom photo) Church construction began in 1344 and ended in 1921. yes, you read that right. Although the glorious Alfons Mucha art nouveau stained lass window came later, in 1931. (This trip has made me a mucho Mucha fan.)

Much of the complex required an admission ticket, alas, which we didn’t feel like paying. We did pay to wind down from the palace through some lovely terraced formal Royal gardens (
Zahrady gardens) and landed at Besada, a surprisingly good restaurant in Malostranska Square for lunch that we just chanced upon, that served surprisingly good hearty Czech food- snitzel, pork medallions, potatoes, potato and sauerkraut pancakes.

Next stop, we walked up and up and up steps of a nearby park to the funicular, which we used to sail down the north bank. Then we walked along the river, admiring the boats and the Sunday strollers until we reached the Charles Bridge again, this time dominated by a French food fair and a boisterous French brass band that the locals and tourists seemed to love.

Back at our pension, the lovely Green Garland Pension (Pension U Zeleneho Vence) on Retezov Street, we had one last coffee (tea for some) at Montmarte, an atmospheric cafe across the street and excellent gelato at a good place near the hotel, Creameries Milano ( 12 Husova) before bidding a sad goodbye to our London friends who flew home to London. We had adequate Italian food near our hotel at Olive Nera, enjoying eating at the outdoor cafe overlooking a pretty square and people watching. (Our evening was marred only briefly by a garbage truck that parked right in front of our table to pick up, slowly, the trash. On a Sunday night no less.)

On Monday morning we took one last wander around the area behind the big church in the Od Town square, finding even more gorgeous art nouveau and art deco buildings. And then off to Prague’s airport where I flew to London (on a decent British Airways flight) and then to Chicago (on a worn-out American Airlines plane)  after going through three security checkpoints for that flight alone. (Another in Prague.)






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