Tuesday, August 31, 2010

#36 Festival of Nations - St. Louis, MO - August 28. 2010

Festival of Nations - St. Louis, MO - August 28, 2010

As you can see, this is a pretty well attended festival set in the sprawling Tower Grove Park. Although the pathways in front of the vendors was pretty treacherous, there was ample tree shaded space available to enjoy it. There were three different pathways just like this one at the festival, with each vendor tent offering food from across the globe. There was food from Ghana to Argentina to Russia and back to Eritrea (which borders one of my favorite country names: Djibouti). Sadly there was an American tent which featured hot dogs, but strangely no hamburgers.

Of course my first stop was to an Indian vendor, which supplied this samosa. The samosa is the quintessential Indian appetizer, and this sample of spicy potato and peas encased in a GBD pastry did not disappoint. The only problem was the tamarind sauce that was ladled into the same tray made the crust a little soggy. Normally the sweetness of the sauce and the spiciness of the samosa play well. For a festival food though, I was pleasantly surprised. A filled pastry is a standard in every country from dumplings to pierogis to empanadas. Check out the
Samosa Connection for even more examples (It even includes the runza of Nebraska for US)

My next stop was an Ethiopian vendor for this Doro Wot. You are looking at a chicken leg floating within a rich tomato based slightly spicy sauce. On the side was a very thin crepe like bread. This was much like an Indian dosa. It smelled amazing, and my taster ate every piece of it. This sure beats the normal festival fare so far.

Next on the tour was this Cevapi from Bosnia. It was advertised as a handmade beef sausage in a fresh baked bread. The bread was excellent. The sausages were a little rubbery, and looked suspiciously like the frozen links you can buy at the market for a dollar. They did have a mellow kabob taste that was actually pleasant with the excellent bread. Normally a sausage would be assorted meat, ground, and encased in its own intestine. This was not that. Instead it was more of a kabob taste. Normally a kabob is either chunks of meat or ground meat formed onto a skewer and grilled. Again this was neither. I'm not sure what to make of it in the end, but I liked it anyway.

Many of the vendors at the festival were from local restaurants. Yet, there were some booths like this one, where it seemed like local families got together for a picnic in the park and decided to share their food with strangers. These ladies were like an assembly line of egg roll making.

The best part of the festival is that while you are eating all the great food, there are 4 stages of music and demonstrations of cultures from around the world. Pictured here is a dancer from a West African drum and dance demonstration. It was entrancing, and I couldn't take my eye off that orange faced man.

Festive Trinket of the Week: A hand knitted Alpaca from Bolivia. The vendor told me that some ladies in Bolivia knit these animals, and a portion of the proceeds would return to them. I'm not sure I believed her, but it made my purchase a little easier to enjoy. What's the difference between a llama and an alpaca you ask? Well, one has banana shaped ears. Simply put, llamas are work animals that transport goods like mules, and alpacas are primarily used for their fur. I would prefer to be the alpaca.

Video of the Week: I had some technical difficulties this week. I had video of DJ Ranx and Dubtronix playing one of my all time favorite songs in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" by Michael Rose and Black Uhuru, but it didn't come out. I also had video of the dance routine pictured above, but again the same result. Sadly, I checked down like an NFL quarterback to this strange karate routine. It doesn't really go anywhere and for three people doing slow tai chi or karate they should have been more coordinated. I also would have preferred Carl Douglas' "Kung Fu Fighting" for the music.

This festival is quickly moving up in my favorite festivals to attend each year. I have been going to the
Festival of Nations for years, and remember when there was just one stage and only a handful of vendor tents. I would estimate there were about 100 vendor tents and there is always something going on. You can just aimlessly walk around the park and come across something you have never seen before, something I truly enjoyed here.

I'll be honest. I didn't actually eat any of these items at the time of purchase. Instead, I was lucky enough to be accompanied by Festive Friend Kim who courageously came along to be the official taster. I was able to stow away some items into her purse in order to try later. I am currently fasting for Ramadan, and can not eat or drink anything between sunrise to sunset (A fact that is very troublesome for a food blogger). If you want more information on Ramadan click here.

This festival reminded me of one of my favorite trips I ever took with my family to Dubai. Every year there is an International Shopping Festival in Dubai that features exhibits and even grandiose Country themed sections of buildings. Think of an authentic Epcot Center. Although on a much smaller scale, this festival made me think of it. (Pictured is the India section from the festival in Dubai to show the scale. Thanks to Bala of Flickr)

Here are some links if you would like to learn more about the aforementioned
Eritrea or Djibouti. Did you know Akon was born in St. Louis then moved to Senegal? How about trying a very simple game to help Maggie get around the world using the power of math? So you always wanted to learn how to say hello in different languages but never could find a suitable method to learn them. Well my Friend, here are some creepy muppets (and even creepier guy) singing a "hello" song from around the world. Or if you want to hear Olympic skier Lindsay Vonn try to pass off G'Day Mate as a different language click here. There are also a lot of weird paranormal alleged activities around the world. Finally, one of my favorite music videos of all time, "Around the World". (The song is mildly annoying but I can't stop watching it). It has always been amazing to me how much silliness is available in just a short radius from the middle of the country in St. Louis. Sometimes you don't have to go too far to get away. movie "The Namesake" (one of my favorite movies), "they say that's what books are for...to travel without moving an inch".

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

#35 Inland Seafood Festival - Cincinnati, OH - August 14, 2010

#35 Inland Seafood Festival - Cincinnati, OH - August 14, 2010

The $10.95 whole Maine lobster. This was the big draw at this festival, and I'll admit I was excited about a whole lobster for under 11 bucks. I should have expected that it would taste like a $10.95 lobster. The tail meat was mushy and had no discernible taste. The claw meat tasted a bit better, but it saddened me to think this critter gave its life to end up like this. The festival began on Thursday and I attended the festival on Saturday. This lobster tasted like it had been boiled to death on Thursday and held until I arrived. A theme I suspect was true for other items as well.

Meet the seafood coney. I was expecting some type of seafood patty or formed meat topped with some type of sauce. instead I was handed this pile of hot mess. It consisted of assorted seafood bits that was served out of an aluminum pan from a vendor who's sign simply read, "Seafood". All the warning signs were there, but I ignored them in an attempt to try something new. This bit of over confidence hurt me for the next 24 hours. I pride myself for having an iron stomach, and this little beauty had my stomach making sounds like a bear in a cave.

I was disappointed thus far to say the least, until I saw this shrimp cocktail. Despite the saddest plating of a shrimp cocktail I have ever come across, this was actually very good. I guess you really can't screw up shrimp cocktail, but nothing would have surprised me here.

For the second week in a row, I tried some alligator on a stick. This week's sample came battered instead of the breaded variety I had last week. I will have to admit that this alligator tasted better, and was actually a very good dish. If you haven't tried alligator, you should. It may be the most accessible and tame exotic meat out there.

I didn't actually taste this behemoth of a pita, but loyal reader Bucky assured me it was quite tasty. It was basically a seafood gyro, and definitely seemed more fresh than the other items I had sampled.

This was supposedly a lobster ravioli. Maybe I have a different definition of lobster ravioli, but I would assume it would require lobster. A fact that was overlooked in this dish. It tasted like ricotta cheese inside a dough ball. Disappointing, but I was more than happy to share my lobster tail meat to supplement this dish for other diners.

One of my favorite classics, fish and chips. It is really hard to screw up this classic as well, and I am happy to report that loyal reader Aaron described this dish as pretty good.

This festival took place on the other side of the Ohio River from Cincinnati, Ohio. This picture contains the downtown Cincinnati Skyline including the Great American Ballpark of the Reds. I always want to use Mickey Mouse's voice when I say the Great American Ballpark. The St. Louis Cardinals will always be my baseball team, and after the recent unpleasantness between these two teams, the Reds are a bunch of Cuetos. I kid, kind of. I don't know who this guy is, but I like his analysis.

Festive Trinket of the Week: A warbling bird whistle. You can fill the top of the bird with water, and it makes a warbling sound when you blow through it. The vendor put on quite the display with this simple concept, and I half expected birds to be miraculously drawn to him. They weren't and I can't get the whistle to sound like his. At least, I talked him down enough in price that it is now only slightly over-priced.

Video of the Week: This is the Darkstar Band performing the classic "Johnny B. Goode" by St. Louis native Chuck Berry. You can see that this show was in high demand and seating was at a premium. I'm still having video issues, but I couldn't rob my loyal reader of seeing the actual conditions at this festival.

I actually incorporated this festival into a trip to visit some old friends. Three of my friends were able to accompany me to this festival, which really increased the amount of food I was able to taste. I would never have been able to taste this much food by myself (Or at least I wouldn't have). Many thanks to my friends Aaron, Bucky and Tim for their company and willingness to explore.

Now the concept of an INLAND Seafood Festival had been troubling me way before I bit into that seafood coney. How does it even make sense? A seafood festival in Kentucky. It was a concept almost too weird to pass up. Yet, the inherent problem of an inland seafood is that all of the food must be transported in and I'm not sure how much attention was paid to safe food handling. Add to this calamity that the temperature was hovering around the 100 degree mark, and you have a recipe for disaster. Seafood coney I'm looking in your direction.

I was still disappointed, and surprisingly shocked, about the lobster. I wished it could have had a fate similar to Pinchy from the Simpsons. If you would like to know more than anyone should know about lobster then this page has a lot of good info and links to satisfy every question. I originally theorized that maybe the Gulf oil spill may have affected this festival. Apparently I was just making excuses for shoddy food. If you don't like seafood, or are now scared to eat it, then this may be a good compromise. Brilliant. It definitely could have been worse, I mean click here and look up sild from Iceland.

Bad seafood on a hot day may not sound like a good time to you, but I ended up having a blast with my buddies. It's always more fun to attend festivals with a group of other hungry people. It's kind of funny that my plans to visit friends in other cities are now reliant on whether there is a suitable festival during their availability. The seafood may have won this battle, but like the Reds, we'll see who wins the war. The next seafood festival I go to may actually need to be near...I don't know...a sea!

Monday, August 9, 2010

#34 Decatur Celebration - Decatur, IL - August 8, 2010

#34 Decatur Celebration - Decatur, IL - August 8, 2010

Meat on a stick is always good, but hard to determine exactly what it is. You are actually looking at alligator on a stick. And yes, it tasted like....well, alligator. It had a chickeny taste, but had a sweet fresh water aftertaste. It was actually pretty good, and to be honest, anything with a deep fired batter is better.

The next stop was this tasty treat. Deep Fried Brownies. I'm not sure what the actual batter consisted of, but it was a type of chocolate batter. The concept was ingenious but was not very impressive at first. The crispy exteriors of the batter made an excellent contrast in texture, and really grew on me. After eating half of the brownie, I was in desperate search of a tall glass of ice cold milk. It was actually very good.

Yet, my sweet tooth was not fully indulged. I came across this strawberry crepe, which looked too good to pass up. The looks did not deceive. There was a light crepe wrapped around a vanilla custard all topped with whipped cream and super sweet strawberries. There really isn't a way to make that taste bad. Pure simple genius, and proof that classics are classics for a reason.

I was aimlessly wandering the festival when I came across this oddity. Meet Scott Wade and his
dirty car art. It was actually very impressive. This is a car that is coated with dirt, and the artist removes strips of dirt by brush to create these beautiful images. Not the best long-term artwork, but something that is easy to appreciate.

Festive Trinket of the Week: I have already installed this trinket into its permanent place. Obviously this is a Pee-Wee Herman light switch cover that really scares me to turn that switch off for some reason. Luckily, that switch controls most of my electrical items, and should never be turned off. Regardless, it makes me laugh every single time I have looked at it. Solid Gold. Ok if you insist, here is some
classic Tequila Pee Wee, or his show's theme song, or even one of the most memorable magic words you ever did here. Side note, did you know Cowboy Curtis from the show was played by Laurence Fushburne? Everyone has to start somewhere.

Video of the Week: This was truly the highlight of this festival. Although the festival brought in many local and national acts, two artists caught my eye enough to change schedule and attend this past Sunday. Ton Loc and Young MC graced the stage this fateful day. You may know Tone Loc for his hits such as Wild Thing or Funky Cold Medina, but Young MC really entertained me with this classic song, "Bust a Move". Sorry for the poor audio quality as my phone is apparently not the solution to a lost camera.

Decatur, Illinois was an interesting city but not nearly as interesting as its
namesake. Take a moment to read the inscription on this tomb, and it seems as though it was written yesterday. Stephen Decatur was a hero in the War of 1812 and the Barbary Wars. He fought valiantly, and was the youngest officer to achieve the rank of Captain. His story comes to an end over and old school duel (At 8 paces though due to his opponent's poor vision). Although Decatur was an expert marksman, he did not attempt a kill shot (aiming instead to incapacitate his foe, one James Barron). Ultimately, Mr. Barron took the shot in the hip but was able to fire off a critical shot to Decatur's abdomen. Stephen Decatur died that day, but his legacy lives on.To learn more about Mr. Decatur than any non-history buff should know just click here.

Thank you to the two ladies I met at the Walleye Festival who originally advised me to go this festival. It didn't have a food theme, but boasted 62 different food vendors of varying interest. Thank you also to Kim who accompanied me to this festival, and made it that much more fun.

Although the food vendors provided a plethora of options, Tone Loc and Young MC were definitely the highlights. If you are not able to recite every word of "Bust A Move" you either didn't grow up in my generation, or were just not very cool at the time. I know my video audio quality is terrible, so I'll include Young MC's hits here as well. Hits such as, "Bust A Move", "Principal's Office", or "Fastest Rhyme". (If you want another retrospective on the 80's here he is on the Arsenio Hall show).The man has still got it, as he even performed the latter for his encore (yes an encore at the Decatur Celebration). The man has still got it, and may have been even better than I remember. Tone Loc was the actual headliner (at 5 o'clock on a Sunday afternoon at the Decatur Celebration) but was a little disappointing. He came off pretty self-important and brought along some fake reggae hype man named Poopadon (best I could make out). He did play his hits, but it wasn't as fun as Young. Here is Tone's hit, "Wild Thing".

Without fear for my waistline nor artery health, I have officially been on a deep fried food item kick. Yet, sadly I have only scratched the surface. Here are 25 great ideas to try at home, of which I have only tried 7. I need to stop slacking. If that didn't satisfy your inner-glutton, then visit the Chip Shop on your next visit to NYC and bring in whatever you want them to fry or submit an idea online.

This festival is a great example of one man's idea gone wild. Originally one man's vision to promote the city and boost morale, has spawned a festival covering 20 city blocks with 11 entertainment stages 25 years later. This festival was a last minute addition at the expense of Odessa, MO's Puddle Jumper Days. I took a risk on a larger festival based on a recommendation of a person I met over a fish sandwich,and it really paid off. We should all take a lesson from Stephen Decatur's life and death. Always go for all the money, and never take anything for granted.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

#33 Walleye Festival, Findlay, IL, July 31, 2010

#33 Walleye Festival, Findlay, IL, July 31, 2010

A fresh made-to-order Walleye Sandwich. After a recent string of disappointments, I finally found a festival featuring its theme ingredient. The walleye was perfectly cooked to a perfect golden brown, while the fish was moist and flavorful. The simplicity is genius and I enjoyed every bite.

The fish were flying this fateful day. These fryers were packed to the gills (sorry) with fish the entire afternoon. Normally, the walleye are caught in nearby Lake Shelbyville. Unfortunately there was not a fisherman living at the lake pulling in walleye 24/7 to provide the hundreds of pounds of fish to feed the masses. Instead the fish was brought in, but it put a filet-o-fish to shame.

I ventured away from the fish tent, and found some vendors to my liking. Nothing typifies festival food better than taking a perfectly good food, and then battering and deep frying it. Meet the deep fried peanut butter jelly sandwich. I may need to start a new food group for this one. What's not to like about a crispy crust with sweet jelly and creamy peanut butter oozing out? I like a toasted peanut butter sandwich now and then, but I may never have a pbj without deep frying it ever again.

The deep fried trend continued. This is a deep fried cheeseburger. They actually cook it with all of the toppings already inside. It was good, but couldn't compare with the pbj. It essentially tasted like a White Castle slider if you reheated and ate it the next day (Am I the only one who has done that?). The vendor was so impressed with my appetite that he threw in the fried oreos for free. Fried oreos are very sweet and delicious, but the frying process makes for soggy cookie crusts. You know it's good when they serve the food atop a napkin.

Go to a festival anywhere in the Mid-West, and someone somewhere will be dragging a man in a weighted sled by tractor for recreation. Walleye Festival featured a tractor pull, but bucking tradition, used garden tractors instead of the usual farm type. I'll never truly understand it, but I did enjoy the fact these garden tractors were named (Especially the Hillbilly Deluxe). Sweet rides.

Festive Trinket of the Week: This picture may confuse the scale, but this little fishing stool is very small. Notice the pack of baseball cards (featuring the polarizing Tony LaRussa) is almost the width of the seat. I did insist that the slightly more robust vendor sit on the stool as a testimonial before my purchase. The stool legs bowed, and I think I heard it cry, but it prevailed in the end. Maybe not the silliest item of the year, but one I will actually use at some point hopefully.

Video of the Week: Apparently I have lost my camera, and the phone I used for pictures didn't record the video sound very well. This was supposed to be the Misdemeanor Band playing "Boot Scootin' Boogie", and it was glorious. This will be fixed. Until then, enjoy the world's largest walleye (Walleye Willie) with poignant commentary. This actually is the country's largest walleye according to this site, although there is debate as to which city is the real Walleye Capital of the Country.

Did you know that walleye are actually carnivorous and eat other fish? Serves them right to be battered and fried to golden brown and delicious. As always, here is a link for all the walleye information anyone in their land loving mind may want to know. Once you have learned more about your potential catch, then why not watch an instructional video on how best to catch them? Well now that you know how to catch them, might as well learn how to properly clean them. I will have to warn you that this video is not for the faint of heart, as it depicts how to filet the fish with all sound effects included. If you still watched that video, then maybe now is a good time to remind you of my love for mascots. If you are ever in Toledo, Ohio you can have this slightly creepy little bugger at your next birthday party. I know what you want, and what you want is a hand painted wooden hillbilly walleye welcome sign but want to spend under $400. So, here you go! Did you know that there is a club dedicated to all things walleye in a town near you? Finally, this picture made me laugh for some reason, and yes "Walleye Central" has a Facebook page.

The Walleye Festival may have been the best festival I have attended since the Turkey Festival last month. I had the pleasure of some great table mates from nearby Decatur, IL who appreciated the subtle nuances of deep fried foods. As I was eating my fish sandwich, we began discussing my somewhat unrealistic goals for this site and other ventures when she mentioned the term BHAG. Having been to many leadership conferences in the past, she explained the acronym stood for Big Hairy Audacious Goal. Here is one of the creators providing some leadership conference drivel. Although I hate these canned conferences, I do agree with setting high goals. Today they may seem unrealistic and silly, but hopefully someday the thought changes to, "There is no reason I CAN'T achieve these goals". I have always believed that everything is possible, and your only limitation is your own imagination.