The Last Days of Summer

It’s nearing the end of August, and in Oregon that means that I have to grudgingly admit that we’re nearing the end of the summer.  The rain has started coming back, and I can no longer deny that the leaves are beginning to change and it isn’t just one random branch of a tree dying.  I haven’t spent nearly as much time at the pool as I would like to have done, but knowing Oregon I’ll still get several chances between now and mid-October.

As a kid, my whole family was involved in 4-H.  So the highlights of the summer were county, then state fair.  State fair is always the two weeks ending with Labor Day weekend, and school almost always started the day after Labor Day.  Many years, as a teen, I would spend all of August frantically preparing for, then competing at State Fair, often going to the first few days of school with leftover supplies from the prior school year because I hadn’t yet had a chance to buy my school supplies. Yes, I purchased my own school supplies from the age of 10 on.  I also paid all the fees for any extracurricular activities, year books, student body cards, class ring, letterman’s jacket, etc myself as well.  Each year I raised a lamb to sell in the auction at county fair, and I had to spend the money responsibly, on things I needed.

Fairs are so much a part of the yearly cycle for me, that I really can’t imagine not going.  This year, I took my boyfriend for a day at the state fair.  He reluctantly admitted that he’d never been before.  With all the things that have been going on this past year, I didn’t compete at all this year, which feels a little sad for me.  So I was determined to give him the full experience.

We wandered around the 4-H exhibits, and I explained the various project areas and contests that youth in this program participate in.  I told him the story of the summer after my sophomore year when I made a formal dress for the modeling competition, then fell down the stairs in the public show.  We looked over the competition kitchens and I told him about the various challenges set for different age groups.  He then asked how big the fair was.  I had to stop for a moment.  There’s really no way to describe it.  So we went outside to the fair lift (it’s a ski lift, essentially, but it’s set up to run diagonally from one end of the grounds to the other.  It’s a flat area, but the lift gives you a nice arieal view of the layout and what all there is to see.) and rode round trip.  I pointed out the various attractions, we debated the merits of various fair-food offerings, and I told him a little bit about the history of the Oregon State Fair and the grounds.

Having gone so often, many times spending multiple long days at the fair, I’ve come to boil down the experience to some highlights that I try not to miss each year.  I always look through the 4-H and FFA exhibits.  Both youth programs are close to my heart, and I look forward to seeing how those programs grow and change through the years.  I always enjoy looking through the “creative living” open-class exhibits too.  Things like baking, sewing, embroidery, cake decorating, knitting, cross stitch, crochet…they’re always fun to see what others have made (and see how I placed if I’ve entered that year!)  In the same building there are always several of the craft guilds or organizations demonstrating their skills.  This year was the spinners and weavers, and the woodworking group.  I’m always inspired to take up yet another hobby that is dying out.

A newer tradition for me is to have a (temporary) henna tattoo done.  With my various allergies, I was afraid of this for a very long time.  Several years ago my mom had one done, and the woman kindly explained how the product is processed, what’s used in preparing it, and put a little bit on my skin to test for reaction while she worked on my mom’s piece.  When I had no negative reaction and was satisfied that none of the ingredients are known allergens for me, I happily sat for my own art.  I’m too big of a chicken to get a real tattoo, but I enjoy the temporary stain left by henna.

Having raised and shown animals at fairs for many years, I do enjoy walking through the barns.  As my allergies have become more assertive, I’ve had to take some precautions.  I don’t spend more than an hour at a time in the barns, so I usually break it up between looking at other things and make several trips to the various barns.  I also have to take additional allergy medication throughout the day, which makes driving home hard…I get very sleepy by the end of the day.  And I keep a fast acting allergy medication on hand in case I start having a serious reaction.

Most of the time I avoid the overpriced, and often poor-quality food from booths at the fair. But with a relative newbie in tow, we had to have some of the fair classics.  We had a brick of fries for a snack in mid-afternoon.  Mmmm…fry brick.  Then for dinner he had a bacon wrapped corn dog, and I had noodles and teriyaki chicken.  I knew there was no way I could eat gluten free at the fair without bringing my own food with me.  So I accepted the probable results and just enjoyed.  The one bit of fair food that I can’t possibly do without is stopping by the Oregon Dairy Women’s booth for ice cream on my way out.  It’s something that my siblings and I always did with our Grandpa before he passed away, and was one of his favorite parts of the fair.

I was skeptical of the bacon-wrapped corn dog my boyfriend ordered.  When it arrived, it was a standard hot dog on a stick, with bacon wrapped around it, then breaded like a corn dog and fried.  I had a bite.  It was delicious, in that very fried way that still makes me vagely guilty because it’s so unhealthy.  Several days later, at home and back to gluten free, I wanted one of those yummy corn dogs.  With bacon.

I started by using the corn dog recipe from Gluten Free Girl and the Chef.  My only alterations initially were to use Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Flour instead of the whole wheat mix that they call for, and to string a piece of bacon on each of the dogs before dipping.  The first two… didn’t come out as well as I would have hoped.  The batter just wasn’t sticking to the dog or the bacon or the stick.  Hmmm…. then I remembered a trick from frying food… dredge in corn starch, then dip in batter.  I tried it on the second two I made and it worked wonders.  The other trick, especially if you’re making these at home in a heavy skillet rather than a proper fryer is to let them cook undisturbed until you see that the sides are getting golden brown.  Then, with a pair of tongs, gently release from the bottom of the pan with a sort of rolling motion.  It’s important not to lift straight up, the batter will just stay stuck to the bottom of the pan and you’ll have naked dogs on a stick.  The second side won’t look quite as pretty, but it will at least still be covered in breading.

This is one of those things that works really well for making up a batch of, and freezing the extras for a quick meal another day.  Have kiddos who love corn dogs?  Spend and afternoon making a bunch of these up, have some for dinner, and pop the rest in the freezer.  To keep the nice, crunchy exterior, heat them up in the oven at 350 for about 10 to 15 minutes from frozen.  (I do the same thing with gluten free chicken strips.  I make up a huge batch, have some for dinner, and once the rest are cooled I pop them in a freezer bag and stash in the freezer for quick meals later.)

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