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with Alex Friedrich

Monday, September 04, 2006

Day 12: Finale and results

Here's a rough version of the wrap-up piece in Tuesday's paper:

By Alex Friedrich

I lost two pounds.
Go figure.
I lost two pounds after nine days of eating nothing but grease and sugar and batter and meat on a stick.
My bad cholesterol went up only slightly, my waistline remained the same, and my glucose remained within reason.
Take THAT, dietitians. You can keep your calorie counters and U.S. nutrition pyramids. Chubbalard smells a new diet fad.
It was a diet -- a Pioneer-Press-financed binge through every State Fair treat on a stick -- that began as throwaway joke among editors.
It went from "Gee, imagine if someone had to eat everything on a stick," to "Gee, why don't we get some sucker reporter to eat everything on a stick?"
That sucker was me.
The rules: Eat only Fair food on a stick for the 12 days of the fair. And try to eat everything once.
After getting a check-up and blood-test at the Minnesota Center for Obesity, Metabolism and Endocrinology, I set out.
Friends grimaced and predicted weight gain and higher cholesterol counts.
I feared they might be right when my official page of 48 foods slowly expanded to more than 60 as I stumbled upon unlisted goodies.
I was living my old childhood dream of being locked overnight in a supermarket, free to gorge until morning. And it was all free.
I had stuff for breakfast my mom would have blanched at: deep fried Twinkies and candy bars, chocolate-covered cheesecake and nougat-filled, chocolate-dipped nut rolls.
I wrote like crazy on those sugar highs.
But I also got the jitters on the comedown. I sometimes found myself binging and going to bed with a rock in my stomach after one too many deep-fried meats.
That left me drained on a number of mornings -- even after eight hours of sleep. I dragged in the afternoons after eating deep-fried breakfasts, and couldn’t find the energy to write -- until I got real meat in my system.
The low point came when I got constipated like a grandpa, making me a little cranky and making every meal that much heavier.
A veggie smoothie, lots of water and a few fiber tablets later, I was a regular guy again.
Throught it all, I learned to appreciate fair food from some connisseurs I won't soon forget:
- Brent Roos of Blaine, a hoss of a man who fell in love with the much-maligned Scotch egg and once ate five of them during one state Fair.
- Doug Castle of Eagan, who chowed down on a deep-fried Twinkie after consuming a Scotch egg and some mini-donuts, only to head off for cheese curds and beer.
- John Thomas of South Minneapolis, who stuck his dining hall's deep-fried cheesecake in my face and proudly announced, "C'mon! Have a sniff! Get a whiff of that, wouldja?"
To be honest, I still feel a little schlubby.
But why didn't I gain weight? Why didn't my cholesterol shoot up?
Perhaps it was the amount of walking I did -- back and forth for hours at a time.
Perhaps it was because I did eat fresh, lean chicken, beef and fish on a number of occasions.
Perhaps it was because the paper's work-time alcohol policy meant I had only two beers and a glass of wine in my off hours.
Whatever the reason, it highlighted the point I heard many times from health-care personnel: Pigging out at the State Fair won't make or break your diet.
Margaret Churchill, a Minneapolis psychotherapist specializing in eating issues, used to emphasize this in a special State Fair lecture at Weight Watchers meetings she led years ago.
Half of her clients would binge at the Fair each year and, despondent, drop out of the program. She had to talk sense to them.
"Go to the Fair," she said. "Have a good time, and eat what you want to eat, but don't bring it home with you."
"The next day," she continued, "move on."
I will. The first thing I'm having today is the biggest fruit salad I can make.
But something tells me Chubbalard will be back next year.
On his own dime, of course.

Highlights on a Stick:

*Because the clinic was closed Sunday and Monday, blood was drawn Saturday.
Weight before: 191 pounds
Weight after: 189 pounds
Waist before: 34 inches
Waist after: 34 inches.
Bad cholesterol before: 145.6 (normal is 50-100) Bad cholesterol after: 146.6
Other factors: Normal range, little change
Cost of 12-day Fair diet:
Favorite foods: Porkchop by Peterson's, Scotch egg, beef-, chicken- and veggie kabobs, Pronto Pups and corn dogs Favorite sweets: Deep-fried chocolate bars, chocolate-dipped nut rolls, chocolate-covered cheesecake
Dislikes: shrimp toast, deep-fried lemon chicken, candy apples, coffee on a stick Most longed-for non-stick food: Corn, fruit bowls Stick food needed: beer on a stick, more fresh fruits and veggies
But would I eat fruits and veggies on a stick: Probably not.
Day 12: Loose ends

Taffy pop, check.
Candy apple, check.
Chicken kabob, check.

Just running around getting the last straggler items.
I grab a chicken kabob from the beef kabob guy on Underwood. Best of the bunch.
I finally spy a fruit kabob and frozen grapes -- but they're out. I'm crushed.

I realize a number of items on my list aren't actually being offered this year. And the list has missed a number. All told, I've tried 62 different items. Along with drinks, that puts me at just under $400.

I'm done. I'm beat. But I have enough energy to head to the corn stand to do some feasting. I grab some cheese curds, because I've heard so much about them.

And then I drive to Rainbow Foods to buy the biggest fruit salad I can find.
Day 12: Pronto Poll

Conducted by me at the State Fair:

Q: Which to you prefer -- Pronto Pups or Corn Dogs?

Total Questioned: 100

Pronto Pups: 41
Corn dogs: 24
I like both: 10
I like neither: 18
I've only tried one and not the other: 7

Typical answers:

"I like the texture and sweetness of a corn dog."
"The Pronto Pup is better. It isn't as sweet."
"It's the Fair. The Fair is the Pronto Pup. You can't mess with tradition."
"When you think of the Corn Dog, you don't think of the State Fair. You think of what you get at the grocery store."
"The wheat in the Pronto Pup has way less carbs."
"Pronto Pup -- It's got a cooler name."
"I just love corn bread."

'Nuff said.
Don't come 'round here no more: JD's Eating Establishment serves nothing on a stick.

Day 12: Well, pardon me

I stopped in my tracks when I passed by J.D.'s Eating Establishment.

"Nothin' on a Stick!" its front sign proclaimed.

Pure marketing schtick, I figured.

But I still felt unwelcome.

Stopped by Schumacher's New Prague Hotel for its Central European version of the pork chop. It's big, it's juicy, and it's boneless, with a stronger pork flavor than the charbroiled version to the south. If you're looking for less outdoor grill flavor and something more lightly roasted, this is it.

Perfect morning: Slurping on a mocha and a reading the paper

Day 12: The Last Supper(s)

It's coming down to the wire. Only a few items left, though I'll need to do some hunting to find the last -- frozen grapes, pork shishkabobs, a naked hotdog on a stick. I've already found that about a handful of items on my media list aren't actually being offered, and I've stumbled on others that weren't on the list.

I've got a Minnesota Public Radio interview today, so please check it out. I'll be interviewed at 1 p.m., though I'm not sure when it will actually air.

I start the day off with a mocha on a stick over at that great coffee place, The Bean Factory. I read the paper as I do it in an attempt to look educated and stylish.

The mocha bar is heads above its plain coffee cousin. It's actually ice cream, and has just the right amount of sweetness and chocolate flavor. Thumbs up.

In my dash to eat everything, I head to The Lamb Shoppe. I'd rather wait till later in the day to eat lamb -- Ugh, lamb in the morning? -- but it's close, and the clock is ticking.

It's actually quite good. I get seven or eight chunks of moist, mild lamb (kabob-style) with mint jelly on the side. It's new this year, and not on the media list.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Comfort food on a stick: Put some hot-dog bits in there, and it'll be just like my mom's.

Day 11: Mac attack

I was not looking forward to macaroni and cheese on a stick. It's tough to make the really good stuff.

But Axel's pulls it off. It has taken clumps of it and lightly deep-fried it. It's decently cheesy, and as a friend said, "The batter doesn't take away from the macaroni-ness of it."

Unlike a lot of deep-fried stuff here, it doesn't need extra salt. It could, however, use bits of hot dog in it. But that's just mac 'n cheese in the Friedrich household.

One lump or two?: This frozen coffee on a stick needs more sugar

Day 11: Coffee break

Coffee on a stick.
So do you like coffee after it has gone cold?
Nah, neither do I.
Hip-Hop on a stick: The Puff Daddy

Day 11: Sistahs o' Sausage

Perhaps the sassiest booth at the Fair is Sausage Sister & Me, with dish names like Twisted Sister and Nacho Sistah.
"It's the Fair," a woman behind the booth told me. "If it's tacky, hey, it sells."
The Puff Daddy is great for sharing, and for breakfast as well. You get five or six slices of sausage wrapped in pastry, and it comes with Thai peanut sauce on it or on the side.
That's an odd combo, but it's pretty good. And hey -- it sells.
Down, boy: The 18-inch Super Dog sniffs for other dogs while I take him for a walk.

Day 11: One big mutt

Wanna draw stares and comments while eating a stick food? Order a Super Dog.

This 18-incher is the Cujo of corn dogs -- so big I had to put a leash on it. Other corn dogs cleared a path as I made my way along Dan Patch Avenue.

It's a meal in itself. (At $8, it had better be.) Nifty thing was that after a bite or two, I was able to hold the stick on both ends. Quite handy.

The only problem? Putting mustard on -- and keeping it on -- was a feat in itself.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Day 10: Shake secret

Awesome raspberry malt from the dairy stand in the Empire Commons. Why hasn't anyone ever told me they make it with actual fruit?

The only improvement would be substituting chocolate ice cream for the vanilla.
No bagels here: Smoked salmon
Boatload: A higher form of fried chicken

Go for the sauce: Porcupine meatballs

Day 10: Elk?

So I'm not such a culinary sophisticate. So the idea of eating elk seems a little plaid-shirt.
But I go to Giggles' Campfire Grill because I'm open-minded. (And I really wanna know why such a rustic place is called Giggles. More on that at the bottom.)
I try the Boatload of Porcupine Meatballs, a new item. You get a half dozen made of lightly smoked elk-meat mixed with wild rice, sweet onion, portobello mushrooms and Gorgonzola cheese. The cheese gives them a tang. They're served on top of mashed potatoes -- which have their skins on -- and are covered in a great little mushroom-and-sherry sauce that's the best part of the dish. Swank.

I later have smoked salmon served cold with rye crackers, cream cheese, raspberry chipotle sauce and chopped sweet onion. I'm still not sure about the raspberry sauce, but then I've never been a fan of fruit and sweet sauces with meat.

I finally plunge into the Boatload of Chicken Strips with the side of mango slices. The breading contains wild rice and coconut, which is a bit sweet for me.

All in all, it was a great break from classic Fair food. Nice restaurant material.
I ask owner Tim Weiss where the heck the name Giggles comes from. He says it's his old childhood nickname.
Makes sense. But somehow I doubt I'd get very far with Chubbalard's Campfire Grill.
The schtuff: Deep-fried cheesecake

Get this man a used-car lot: John Thomas and his cheesecake work the crowd.

Day 10: A new dessert in town

I never would have known about deep-fried cheesecake had John Thomas not stuck it in my face.

"C'mon! Have a sniff! Get a whiff of that, wouldja?"

I've gotta hand it to him. He's good. The 52-year-old from South Minneapolis knows how to work the crowds outside the Robbinsdale Order of the Eastern Star Dining Hall.

He's pushing the deep-fried cheesecake on a stick, a new item this year. It's not on my official media list. I'm intrigued.

It's a pastry pocket of sorts that's sprinkled with sugar and drizzled with chocolate sauce. The cheesecake is warm, giving the dessert the feel of a cheese danish. The only dessert of its kind on a stick, I think.

We discuss the merits of coffee vs. milk with the thing, when suddenly the dude goes off on a talk about the lack of low-cal items at the fair.

"There's no 1 percent or skim milk here," he says. "There's diet cola, but when I go to the A&W stand, there's no diet root beer. We need to have diet items for those who need them."



This is the Fair.

You kinda got the wrong crowd here.

Day 10: Corn dog complaint

Now look, folks:

Ketchup is for hamburgers.
Mustard is for dogs and sausages.

Are we all clear on this?

Day 10: Breakfast of Fluff

Ever had cotton candy for breakfast?
It ain't filling.

I eat most off my cone/stick and use the rest in my coffee.

Friday, September 01, 2006

I'll start by eating your eyeballs: My Sponge Bob ice treat

Day 9: Evening cravings

I've had some odd mini-binges at night.

Last night on the way home -- despite the cajun sausage I'd just had --
I started getting some jittery craving for food.
First I ate a wild-rice-and-beef corndog. (Bits of rice are in the meat, and it seems a little
sweeter than the usual dog, but other than that it's just a corn dog.)
Then I had a pizza on a stick. (It's more like a pizza pocket, with melted cheese and
sausage on the inside. Not bad. And it's BAKED. Served with parmesan cheese and
crushed red pepper on the side.)
I finished it off with a Sponge Bob Fruit-Punch-and-Cotton-Candy-Flavored Ice -- with gumballs for eyes.
Best part of the night.

Tonight, after a late-afternoon snack that filled me up, I pigged out on four dogs -- two corn dogs, a Pronto Pup and a Poncho Dog.
It was all in the space of an hour or so.
Just wanted to compare the tastes.
More on that later.

Day 9: Victory

He shoots! He scores!

I'm not sure whether it was the fiber tablets, the gallons of free Culligan water, the deep-fried veggies on a stick or the veggie smoothie.
In any case, I am finally refreshed.

At least for now.
Day 9: Bratwurst in Bierteig -- Jawohl!

Back to O'Gara's for a beer-battered bratwurst.
It's like a corn-dog, but with a fairly juicy bratwurst-style sausage and batter laced with beer. It has a subtle tang to it.

Then I swing by the ostrich stand to get an eggroll on a stick.
It's ... an egg roll on a stick.

To wash it down, I buy a veggie smoothie -- cabbage, celery, carrots, tomatoes and cucumber combined with ice and white grape juice.
It's billed as "A Meal in a Glass."
Lady, I don't need a meal. I just need it for the cleaning.
Tools of the trade: Haven't been using
the right one much lately, though.

Day 9: They feel my pain

Found this on my desk yesterday.
Pity-gift from my colleagues.
Popped a couple of tablets.
Couldn't hurt.

Day 9: Sacrifice

I get up at 5:45 a.m. to meet a friend at the Fair by 6:30. She wants to visit before work.
Arrrgh, and I'm still clogged.
I haul myself from bed to car to Fair, where I immediately get coffee.

So we sit in one of the little diners, where she tucks into pancakes and coffee.
I just sip my java, unable to touch a bite.
No stick = No breakfast.

Go ahead and eat, I tell her. No problem. Really. Man of iron will, I am.
I stare at her pancakes -- just like that kid eyeing my cheesecake the other day.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

All in a day's work: Michael Saldana eats near the scene of his derring-do.

Day 8: Witness to mayhem and sausage

Tonight I dine with a man of action: River Raft Ride accident witness and rescuer Michael Saldana.

Saldana, a 48-year-old union iron worker and real-estate agent, was watching the ride from the pavement late this afternoon when he saw a boat capsize right in front of him. He jumped into the water and helped the injured riders to safety. He lost his cell phone in the process, and still bears a scraped shin and bruised knees. Much media coverage followed.

To recharge, he eats a wild-rice and jalapeno cheese sausage on a stick from Sausage by Cynthia. I choose the spicy Cajun Andouille. Mine is not as juicy as I'd like, but I like the spice. I dig the Gulden's for the sheer ballpark ambience it provides.

Saldana pronounces his "not bad" and "different," and is proof that men of action are spare in word.
Day 8: The Natural Way

Finally found the Veggie Kabobs, thanks to the Info booth.
The sign says "Veggie Fries," which makes me think they've sliced up veggies to look like French fries.
Heck, I've been passing the stand all week without even noticing it.

Anyone who likes vegetable tempura will like these kabobs.
They skewer slices of potato, broccoli, carrot, cauliflower, zuchinni and onion and then deep fry them in a light tempura-like batter.

(It's a corn-wheat batter, so it's not as light as the rice-based tempura batter, owner Kathy Rosenthal says. But it's the possibly the lightest batter I've encountered so far.)

I'm so stoked, I order two portions.

Now pipes -- get to work.


Day 8: Fair stick shirts

Looks like I've got my very own tailor at the Fair gift shop.
I'll just keep track of my life on a stick by checking off each dish as I go along.Very cool. $18 a pop.

Day 8: Clogged pipes

I can't poop.
There's no other way to say it.
It's been three days of no action -- nothing since my problematic Hot Dago occurence.
I'm starting to get a little cranky.

My editor says I can take measures.
But I'll try to do it naturally.
I'll hunt down the veggie kabob, wherever it is.
Day 8: Breakfast

This is about as light as it's gonna get in the breakfast department -- chocolate-covered marshmallows.
They're dipped individually, 50 cents each, in milk or dark chocolate. Three for $1.25.
I take six in dark chocolate.
What food group does marshmallow fall into?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Instant Deli: All it needs is a bag of chips.

Day 7: Mix-n-Match Dinner

I pick up a chicken shishkabob from Demitri's Fine Greek Foods. Though not as juicy as I'd like, it's in some mildly spicy drippings. (I think there's a little paprika in there.) Like Spaghetti Eddie's Chicken Spiedie, it's a nice variation.

I head over to O'Gara's for a Reuben Dawg. This one's a hoot, and one of the cleverest dog creations.

It appears to be a corn dog made with pumpernickle batter, and it has got some crunch to it. The dog has swiss cheese and bits of sauerkraut inside of it, and O'Gara's serves it up with Thousand Island dressing.

To accompany it, I order a Naked Pickle on a stick from the booth nearby.

Bam -- instant deli.

God, this cries out for a beer.

Day 7: Deprivation

I spy Mr. Ribs Sandwiches.
Barbecue -- my weakness.
And none of it on a stick.

There is no God.
Day 7: Lunch

I'm still a little full after that deep-fried candy bar -- and, I must admit, the fruit and chocolate from last night.

Had it as a late snack at Giggles. Good deal. Two long fruit skewers and brownies covered in whipped cream, with chocolate sauce on the side. Good fruit. Good brownies. Good dessert -- but heavier than expected.

I have a beef kabob at a little place on Underwood. Great stuff -- juicy pieces of meat on a skewer but with a tortilla wrapped around it to catch the drippings. Very good idea.

I pass "Rocket" Rod Raymond at the U of M's demonstration stage. He's the U's fitness guru in Duluth: endurance athlete, personal trainer, university lecturer.

I buy his book, "QuickFit: Your Guide to Optimal Fitness Two Weeks at a Time."

Lord knows I'll need it.
Who ya gonna call?: Greasebusters

Breakfast at 32,000 feet: Air Force gents Tim Cleaver (left) and Scott VanOort go where no weak stomachs have gone before. They also brush off my cheap shot.

Day 7: Air Force Won

This blog supports our troops.

That's why I have invited two of this nation's airmen to dine with me on and deep-fried candy bars and coffee for breakfast.

(Only the best for our country's defenders.)

Stepping forward are 22-year-olds Scott VanOort of Rochester and Tim Cleaver of Menomonie, Wis. They're helping run the computer lab -- and really cool flight simulators -- in the 4-H building. VanOort is an Air Force officer candidate and self-described "pilot wannabe." Cleaver is an Air Force ROTC cadet studying aerospace engineering at the U of M.

VanOort grabs a Milky Way, Cleaver a Snickers, and I take a 3 Musketeers.

The airmen describe the bars better than I ever could.

VanOort: "It's like having a candy bar in your pocket all day."
Cleaver: "It's like an inside-out donut."

I challenge the flyboys to another. They decline. I take a cheap shot:

"Umm, not to question your manhood or anything, but I bet if I went over to the Army guys over there, they'd be able to down at least two."

VanOort and Cleaver aren't even fazed.

"Yeah, but we're smarter," VanOort says. "And the Army guys probably have 40 pounds on us."

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Eat the tails: April Guillaume of St. Paul digs the Buffalo sauce on the Cajun shrimp.

So sue me: Minneapolis attorney Andre LaMere thinks the Cajun steak is a little dry.

Day 6: My Dinner with Andre

I think I need to eat with attorneys more often.

I'm going Cajun with Andre LaMere, 31, along with his wife, Melanie, and a half-dozen of their friends. The menu: Cajun shrimp and blackened Cajun steak.

The shrimp are nicely done in a Buffalo/Tabasco-style sauce. They're served on a bed of white rice with bits of scallion and slice of lime. I eat the whole shrimp -- tail and all. (The tail is the best part. Just like popcorn.)

But I reject the rice and the bourgeois spork that comes with it. (For those who have never been to KFC, a spork is a hybrid spoon-fork utensil. It's actually a wonder tool. With it, you can kill a man and eat him, too.)

LaMere isn't impressed with the steak -- a bit dry, he says -- though I find it a nice change from the usual Fair mush. He's big on the shrimp, though, calling them the best thing he's had so far.

Lawyer that he is, he helps me consider loopholes to my rules:

Could I eat food served with toothpicks on the side?
Is the nub of a turkey leg considered a stick?
Is there such a thing as a pseudo-stick -- such as the stock at the bottom of an ear of corn?

It's definitely a legal gray area, though a "yes" to any of those would vastly improve my menu.

But should I even listen to him? Why should I trust the judgment of a man about to go see a concert by ... Poison?

Day 6: Son of the Scottsman

I'm so stoked after the Scotch egg that I order its companion: Scotch meatballs.

They're of the same sausage that's in the egg. They're rolled into little balls -- I think you get four -- dipped into a batter and fried. (The batter is different from the coating on the Scotch egg.)

Not bad, but they're no Braveheart eggs.

I slather on more mayonnaise-based horseradish sauce.
Color-coding: The brown is batter. The gray is sausage. The white is egg. The hard-to-see yellow dot is the egg yolk. The dude in red is Brent Roos.

Day 6: Brunch

I've overheard a lot of hurtful things uttered about the Scotch egg at this Fair:
Gross. Heavy. Scottish.
But I am here to defend it.
For the Scotch egg is a thing of beauty.

It's a hearty three-course breakfast.
You have your egg -- hard-boiled.
You have your sausage -- wrapped around that egg.
And you have your toast -- breadcrumbs that baby is rolled in before being deep-fried.

It's about texture. The rubberiness of the egg complements the chewy spiced meat and the firmness of the breadcrumb shell.

Brent Roos of Blaine knows what I'm talking about. The 37-year-old U of M facilities manager calls the egg-on-a-kilt "the perfect combination."

He discovered God's Own Egg while working at the U's St. Paul campus several years ago. Fell in love with it. Came over for lunch five times during his first Fair.

To hosses like me and Brent, it's also about the sauce. He takes ranch. I take the mild horseradish.

His wife, Jo, complains he hasn't offered her a bite.

"I don't like to share," he said.

Spoken like a Scottsman.
Day 6: Late Start

Had to work in the office this morning, so I'm going to the fair later than usual today.
But does that mean I've eaten?
No way.
My stomach will just have to grumble as I talk to editors about stories.
Because I don't eat till I get to the Fair.
That's my guarantee.