Thursday, July 29, 2010

#32 Sunflower Festival - Clarksville, MO - July 25, 2010

#32 Sunflower Festival - Clarksville, MO - July 25, 2010

You really have to hate life in order to dislike sunflowers. How could anyone not smile a little just looking at them. I got lost in their beauty, and spiraled into song...Then I realized something was missing. I quickly noticed there really wasn't a festival going on. There were no people, no tents and worse of all, no delicious food. But that was going to change, because according to the Internet a nearby restaurant was offering special sunflower creations.

You'll notice that nothing on this plate even resembles a sunflower. This unnamed restaurant advertised sunflower treats on the web, and when I arrived the hostess promised said sunflower treats. It wasn't until I was seated that I was told the sunflower treats would not be available. A single tear dripped down my face. My sunny disposition would not be shaken, and I ordered this Catfish Banh Mi. I hope loyal reader Bucky will regale us of this Vietnamese inspired sandwich. Maybe my taste buds were soiled with sunflower disappointment, but it didn't taste nearly as good as it looked.

I went by the sunflowers again to regain my festive mood and ventured into town. This is my new buddy Ralph who is the artisan at a local wooden chair shop. Ralph is an interesting guy and a delight to speak with (and makes damn fine chairs as well). Apparently he was a bad biker from LA until he decided to join the police department in LA. The way he tells it, local Clarksville police harassed him while he stopped on a ride into town and he stayed simply because they said he wasn't welcome. My kind of guy. He was injured and immobile, so for some reason he took a class in chair making taught by a master craftsmen. 10 years later, he is loving life slowly carving chairs with a view of the Mississippi from his shop. And yes, he is also the town Santa in the Winter.

Clarksville, MO is a town of artisans, most of whom are happy to share their craft. It is hard to see, but this artist rolled, blew and spun glass into this celebration shot glass in about 10 minutes right in front of us. Apparently a celebration shot glass' opening is on the bottom, and thus can only be used when in someones hand. Hence, a celebration shot glass. This shot glass is of their "dude" theme, which has a man with his hands in the air on top of the glass. See below for a video.

The funny thing was that there really wasn't a huge sunflower display. In fact, the flowers I have pictured above were growing in a large garden by someones house. Everyone in town was even telling me that the best ones in town were in front of the post office. The flowers pictured to the left here are actually growing directly in front of my residence. Maybe I didn't have to drive all the way to Clarksville.

But I would have missed out on the journey. The sign on the left says you can touch the Mississippi, and I did. Loyal readers will know that I love the Mississippi River. It embodies Americana and always reminds me of one of my
favorite soulful optimism songs of all-time. Ralph tells me that in the Wintertime it is common to see 40-50 Bald Eagles patrolling these very banks.

Video of the Week: I've seen glass blowing demonstrations before, but I was really impressed with this guy at the Glass Works in Clarksville. The shop had 8 theater seats poised in front of this window for an excellent viewing point. It was hot outside, but I would think it was actually much hotter inside somewhere where glass was melting. The video also includes the owner explaining the process.

I have had some bad luck with festivals as of late, and Clarksville, MO is a great example. I actually arrived at this festival last week, only to be told the festival was this week. I arrived expecting sunflower inspirations spilling over the banks of the Mississippi. Instead of a food festival, this is more about showcasing the local artisans. Each shop has certain hours for demonstration, and you can walk to each. Yet there is no posted schedule, and nothing is set in stone. (I did a lot of research and couldn't even find out what date it was on). Although it wasn't what I was expecting, it was still fun and meeting people who are proud to show off their craft is always refreshing.

I know what your first thought must have been when you read that I went to Clarksville (at least if you are old enough to remember the Monkees). Here you go. I used to love their silly antics on their show. Now that I got that out of my system, I didn't actually learn a lot about sunflowers here. That doesn't stop FFF from learning though.

This site has more than anyone should know about sunflowers. Did you know that sunflowers may pre-date corn as a cultivated crop, and the plant's journey goes from North America to Europe and back while being manipulated by man at every step (of course). Maybe you are a visual learner. Then you can join Sunny Sunseed in an educational coloring book. Or maybe you just want to grow your own sunflowers. I know what you're thinking, but Riz how do I achieve World Peace in a hippyish way using sunflowers? Well here you go too. If you would like nature to actually fight back then here you go, sadly it made me laugh but may not be to a small child.

The journey was definitely better than the destination on this trip. Talking with the local artisans, along with the scenic drive, was actually a lot of fun. So I didn't get some crazy sunflower food item, what I did get was a relaxing day popping sunflower seeds along the Mighty Mississippi. Sure beats the Home Depot. I also found out that sunflowers move throughout the day, always facing the sun (I'm not sure why the name wasn't a dead give away). Something about that just sounds really optimistic, and I left this festival with a smile on my face.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

#31 Pike County Fair - Pleasant Hill, IL- July 17, 2010

#31 Pike County Fair - Pleasant Hill, IL- July 17, 2010

I have to admit that this festival was not my first choice. Heck, it wasn't even my second. I had originally scheduled the Bagel Festival in Mattoon, IL, but decided at the last minute not to repeat this festival from last year. Instead I found a Sunflower Festival to attend. I arrived in town only to see a banner welcoming me to the festival with the dates July 24 & 25. Seeing as though it was the 17th, I quickly got on my android phone and crazily searched for another replacement. I found this county fair just across the Mississippi River. There is little more that captures All-American beauty than along the muddy banks of the Mississippi. Pictured is my beautiful view crossing the Champ Clark Bridge. Sometimes it is the journey...

Unfortunately, I arrived at the festival and there was nobody there. Apparently the action began at 5 and I arrived at 2:30. Some food stands were barely open, and I had the first order of these sweet potato fries. They were sliced too thin and cooked at a low heat which made them very greasy. There was no salt added, nor brown sugar, nor butter. Any or all of which would have greatly improved this travesty.

The second I walked into the festival, the workers were telling me about the chicken and noodles. they regaled me with stories of this dish's longevity at this fair, and how the noodles were homemade. They made it seem like little fairies came out at dawn and sang as they magically created this dish for the nourishment of Gods. I was excited. Then this came out. The first bite actually tasted really good, but the second revealed the lack of salt and any character. I would have been happy with this on a cold winter day, but on a steaming hot summer day, this stick to your ribs meal was just ok.

There was also a BBQ competition at the fair. There were only three competitors and they were good company as I waited for the fair to begin. They offered a very generous tasting of their brisket, and I walked away full. The bottom 2 slabs placed 3rd, the saucy meat on the left was 2nd and the smaller pieces on the right were the winners. The judges definitely got the result right. In fact, the team won all 3 major categories at the competition. They seemed like a professional team (they even had a banner) and beat up on two local amateur chefs. I almost felt bad for them as they got walloped.

I came across this monument celebrating the progress of Pike County's Fair from 1946-1976. Yet, a monument to progress over the last 34 years was nowhere to be found. I'm not sure how much progress this signifies, but the next picture displays today's Pike County Fair...

Oh Yes...The Lawn Mower Derby. I'm not sure I have the words. Some would ask why lawn mowers? Or, why a derby of lawn mowers? Or, why are people watching a lawn mower derby? Truthfully, I can't answer any of them. All I know is that it was entertaining for about 5 minutes, and the stands were packed.

Video of the Week: You can judge the Lawn Mower Derby for yourself. Witness the drama and competition of these athletes as they "race" through the mud with reckless abandon. Notice the steely determination, the cool concentration and the "blazing speed" of the lawn mower demolition derby!

Ok, so this festival wasn't my first choice and I showed up about 3 hours too early. I know all too well to not assume anything on the festival circuit, and it was a rookie mistake to think there was a festival preceding the lawn mower derby. I had heard of so many County Fair stories of crazy food concoctions, but they were not to be found here. Hopefully someday I can find some sponsors or advertisers which would help finance getting to some further away festivals. (Please email for opportunities)

Although there was also a full-sized car version demolition derby, the lawn mowers stole the show. Although the concept may sound humorous, the competitors really take it seriously (I mean they even had lawnmower rules). But I know my reader(s) are probably asking, "But how do I go about getting a lawn mower derby ready?" Well, Fatboy Dan has an instructional how-to video just for you. Or if you just want to win, then this jet engine powered lawnmower may be for you. It may also be one of the most dangerous, head scratching and crazy things I've seen in a while. If all of this seems too violent, then you can become a card carrying member of the US Lawn Mower Racing Association and simply go fast.

Somewhere out there the bagel Gods are laughing. I decided late Friday night to change my schedule. I attended that festival last year, and who among you would want to wake up at 6 am and drive 2 1/2 hours for some thawed out Lenders Bagels? It's really something you only do once. To be honest, the Bagel festival did have a pretty solid parade and the festival did provide my profile picture (A Fudge Puppy) for the FFF Facebook site. Check out the Bagel Festival Story here.

I will admit I was pretty frustrated having driven 2 hours to a festival that didn't take place until next week, but there is something very calming about driving along the Mississippi. Even in the 100 degree heat and humidity of the Mid-West, I managed to have a good time at a festival that hadn't even begun. I realized how many people and how much effort goes into putting on these festivals, in fact they even had a guy that just wet down the derby mud. Well, at least I know I won't get lost on the way to next week's festival.