Monday, December 14, 2009

The State Fair of Texas

Well, we finally did it – at the end of October David and I spent a day at the State Fair of Texas. Just for good measure, we brought a pair of native Texans with us – our friends Chelsea and Chris. Chelsea is in the MSM programme with me, and her husband Chris is a nurse and sings with us in the Seminary Singers (I think participation in the Seminary Singers should be mandatory for MSM spouses.... but I'm sure that's just me).

So yes, we know that everything is bigger in Texas – you hear that so often that you don't even hear it anymore (what? Oh well, I'll leave it). HOWEVER. The State Fair is HUGE. It would be impossible to see everything, and even more impossible to *eat* everything. Nevertheless, we did our best!

It was a chilly day, so we bundled up. David and I bundled up in Canadian fashion, with jackets, scarves, mitts and hats. Chelsea and Chris bundled up in Texan fashion – jeans, sneakers and sweatshirts. Guess who was cold?? ;)

We started the day by indulging in our first of many fried treats (yes, most things at the State Fair are fried) – corn dogs. David and I had never had a corn dog before. Only down here, they call them "corny dogs" – doesn't that make you think of Yosemite Sam?

"What in tarnation? That dadgum rabbit done stole my corny dog!"

Apparently *the* way to enjoy a corn(y) dog is with yellow mustard. David and I did so and they were very tasty indeed, and ironically, very warming on a chilly day, nevermind that most Texans would prefer to eat these heavy fried foods in 90-degree weather. (I am being worn down to using the Fahrenheit system, at least for the hot temperatures of Dallas summers. Every now and then I say something about temperatures being "in the thirties" and people think I'm in an alternate universe of perpetual deep-freeze. But I digress.) Fuelled by our tasty corn dogs, we wandered around and took in some of the bizarre sights of the Fair, not the least of which being the live alligator on display for a mere six tickets. Poor thing – being gawked at all day while stuck in a tiny wire cage. I hope there's a special place in heaven for carnival animals. Is that bad theology? Uh-oh, better get back to classes....

Next we made for the livestock pens. On the way there we ogled some majorly huge John Deere farming equipment. We were all over the photo op, but it did occur to me that it was something of a feat to even get onto this equipment, so I don't know how well I would do if I ever had to manoeuvre one of them! Yikes – thank you, farmers.

We went into the pig pavilion, which turned out not to be pigs at all but mostly sheep and goats – go figure. Some of them had just been shorn, apparently.

Then we saw a whole lot of cows. Seeing the cows, especially the array of prized bulls, made me realize how out of touch I am with nature. I mean, now and then when you drink milk you think about cows, but man – cows are BIG! They are seriously substantial creatures. They stand there all calm but they are seriously intimidating, at least to a Toronto/Montreal/Dallas city slicker like me. I was especially taken by a mildly exotic "Brahman" bull which is massive (and I mean MASSIVE) and a kind of mottled grey colour, with a big hump on its back kind of like a camel. Very Indian-looking. I didn't get a picture of the actual one that we saw but I do feel compelled to include a picture:

We also saw our first-ever real-live Longhorn. Again, the picture does not do justice to how huge and imposing this thing was. I don't really know that those little enclosures would do much if these guys decided they didn't care to stay in them any longer.

We also saw several milk-cows, of the smaller and gentler-looking female persuasion, but we unfortunately missed the milking demonstration by a few minutes. That would have been fun, and might have assuaged my sudden guilty feeling of being completely out of touch with nature. Ah well.

After that we wandered through the arts and crafts pavilion, and saw an array of weird and wonderful items from vintage Elvis dolls to beautiful hand-made quilts and – this is for you, Susan – smocked dresses. We also saw the butter sculpture, an annual fixture at the fair, which was an entire room of a saloon made totally out of like twelve hundred pounds of butter. This pic is only a part of the whole sculpture. They're not even kidding down here.

A real treat came when we went to see the bird show. This is a very popular show that showcases natural behaviours of birds and has a keen (but not heavy-handed) interest in education and conservation. They started by showing a video about condor repopulation (randomly enough, with an Alanis Morissette sing in the background – CanCon!) Then they showed a series of birds large and small. One funny bird with a long neck has a behaviour of picking up its food in its beak (clams or some kind of shelled bug, maybe) and slamming it down on a rock – kapow! The trainer had it doing it with this little toy alligator, and then as the alligator hit the ground the trainer would toss down a treat – I guess that's how they get the bird to keep doing it. Pretty funny. There were a few birds that they had fly out into the audience, including one whose looong legs grazed the tops of peoples' heads as it flew back! Talk about audience participation.

The highlight of the show, though, comes with an amazing feat of organization involving the Texas Star. That's the enormous Ferris wheel at the park, which is a good half a kilometre away from the site of the bird show. At 65 metres tall, it is the largest Ferris wheel in North America. At one point in the show, the presenter directs your attention to a gold cage which has (by some crazy feat of organization, see above) stopped just at this moment at the very top of the wheel. He signals, and the door opens, and a hawk flies out of the cage, over the fair ground and straight down over your heads onto his outstretched arm. Sweet.

Next up was a foray into the games and rides area, where David and Chelsea faced off on the bumper cars. They each got each other pretty good a couple of times, but I think Chris and I were the winners because the two of them were so hilarious to watch. Next, Chelsea tried to launch rubber chickens into a pot and David tried to win me a giant banana at the Scooby Doo game, but we were unlucky, apparently. Then, we went for a thrilling ride on the aforementioned Texas Star. Chelsea was apparently a little freaked out. We could see the whole Fair from up there – huge! It was also quite chilly up high – thank goodness for our Canadian mittens.

Next we headed toward the auto show, and happened to see the Navy marching band on the way. They played the national anthem, and "America the Beautiful," we think, or possibly it was some other patriotic song. I think I may have mentioned before that marching bands are A Big Deal here, and what more so than a military band? So that was pretty cool to see. It was later afternoon, and they lowered and folded the flags as they played (I'm sure there is a more official term for this ceremony that I don't know).

After taking in many shiny new cars at the car show (and some very cool retro cars from the fifties, sixties and seventies), we headed for our last event of the day. Something you can't go to a State Fair without seeing. Try to guess what it was. Just guess. Give up?



It was very hokey, an essentially five-minute event drawn out into half an hour. The first thing they did was to trot out (hah!) a former racing pig, who is now all grown up and weighs something like 900 pounds. Okay that number might be way off, but this was a huge, huge pig, and LOUD! Grunt, grunt, grunt... they put the microphone up so she could "talk" to us, and the sound was deafening. I didn't get a picture unfortunately, but this was an impressive pig.

Next came the races. The different sections of the room were supposed to cheer for different pigs. Our pig came dead last the first two races. On the last race, the guy talked up this one darker brown pig they had loaded into the gate, saying it was a superfast pig and you'd have to watch carefully or you'd miss the race completely. Well, here's a video of what happened when they opened the start gate:

Okay, so it was actually not a racing pig at all in the end but a pot-bellied pig from the petting zoo.

It seemed pretty hilarious at the time.

(Also note that the "bump" in the middle of my video is David gleefully elbowing me because our pig finally won!)

Well, after that we went home, exhausted but very happy. It was a great day spent with great friends, and best of all, Chelsea and I weren't holed up in the library doing homework. Ahh, the sweet smell of denial.

Speaking of sweet smells (like that segue? Hm?) I thought I would save all the amazing foodstuffs at the Fair until the end. They ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. First, here is the Fair fare that we enjoyed:


I have only ever heard of these in American books and movies, but here they were for real. Funnel cakes are made from squeezing batter through a pastry bag straight into deep-fry oil, in a squiggly webby pattern. I've always pictured them being funnel shaped (like, hence the name, right?) but they are more like those rosettes you used to be able to get at Griffith's, which is now Grumbels... do they still make those?? Anyways, the pastry bag is the funnel part. You can YouTube "funnel cake" and see how they make them; it's pretty cool. Then they douse them with icing sugar and away you go. So bad for you... but SO good.


This is a Texas favourite comfort food that I had never heard of before moving here. It's exactly what you're thinking of, Fritos like the Frito-Lay corn chips in a yellow and red bag. They put a handful of them in the bottom of a bowl and pour chilli on top, then sprinkle it with shredded cheese. Here is Chelsea not enjoying hers very much.


I finally saw the movie named for these last year – Chelsea lent it to me. I'm glad I lived in the South before seeing this movie (though Southerners would tell you that Texas isn't the South... but what do I know??) Fried green tomatoes, I can report, are very tasty. Because they're green they are crisper and hold their shape when fried. The ones we had had a bit of spicy kick in the batter – I don't know if that's always how it's done or if it was just these. This being Dallas, they came with a creamy ranch dipping sauce. Most things in Dallas come with a creamy ranch dipping sauce. Mmm... coronary.


Okay, so I didn't actually eat this, but Chris did. This was one of the Fair creations for this year – I think it won a prize in the "creativity" category. I had wanted Chris to eat a chocolate-dipped jalapeño, which was apparently in a booth somewhere else. He would have done it apparently (ew) but we couldn't find it. So he went for this. The name mosty says it all, and the picture says the rest. Apparently it was tasty.

I also had a Pokey-O's cookie-and-ice cream sandwich, but I didn't get a pic of that. You get to pick whatever fresh baked cookie and whatever ice cream flavour and they make a sandwich out of it. It appealed to every sweet gooey impulse in me. Mmm.

Here also are the pics I got of the myriad bizarre food creations at the Fair that our sense of self-preservation kept us from trying:

And that was the State Fair! Now back to the pile of homework....... dang.

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