Category: festival (Page 2 of 2)

I Got My Ethiopian Food Fix At The World Food And Music Festival, Des Moines

As a new Iowan, I have a lot of exploring to do.

Since we just moved into our new house, I haven’t gotten to venture very far. However, I did make it to Des Moines this past weekend to attend the World Food And Music Festival with friends.

The festival weaves through Des Moines’ East Village and includes food demonstrations, live music, and blocks of food vendors.

When I was younger, I looked forward to attending the Festival of Nations in the Twin Cities. This World Food Festival was even better. I even found its food more compelling than the MN State Fair’s, which is blasphemy, I know. The sheer number of vendors astounded me and they offered dishes that ranged from Ecuadorian to Czechylslovakian.

In Fargo, ND and Mason City, IA, we’ve had to adjust to having a smaller variety of restaurants than we did in the Twin Cities. We can’t just call for Korean take-out anymore, but on a positive note, I’ve learned how to cook more foods myself. When I saw and smelled all of the food possibilities at the festival, I didn’t know where to start.

Some of the vendors were run by local restaurants while others were operated by cultural groups. Every vendor offered a tasting item for only $1 and these proved to more than substantial for the price. Plus, vendors’ regular menu items did not exceed $5.

The dollar treats I tried included this steamed pork shumei dumpling with a vinegary dipping sauce from the Filipino Store, an minty spring rolls and fried egg roll from the New Oriental Food Store and a pork taco from a Korean vendor (unfortunately, this particular version did not taste very Korean).

The afternoon became very hot and we cooled down with strawberry and winter melon flavored bubble tea shakes dotted with boba pearls and fruity jellies.

Most of all, I enjoyed this plate from the Ethiopian Association of Iowa.

It included spongy rolls injera that tasted like sourdough bread, spicy beef seasoned with berbere and a flavorful mixture of tender cabbage, carrots, and green beans. It was really, really good. I vowed to learn how to make these dishes at home, although I know I’ll never be able to compete with the grandmother who I saw sitting by the stove, cooking everything fresh.

Still, this doesn’t mean I won’t try.

My friends also tried dollar samplings of chicken laarb, a sweet egg roll filled with banana, iced milk tea and toasted marshmallows from Beaverdale Confections. They made them in many flavors and customers could pick two.

This stand also prepared gooey s’mores melted between waffle cookies.

While we were at the festival, we made sure to visit Raygun who sold $10 t-shirts on the sidewalk. This only served to double my joy.

Des Moines, you have such a good thing going on with the World Food And Music Festival!

Thoughts On RibFest 2013: Blooming Onion Redemption

RibFest is totally overpriced. It’s kind of gross, the music features throwback bands, and the food is a gamble. But we all end up going anyway. Sometimes, more than once.

The prior weekend, they started inflating the gazillions of jumping contraptions and on June 5th, RibFest opened in all of its glory. The first band to play was Sugar Ray. Need I say more? Welcome to 1998.

My husband received a couple of free RibFest tickets at work and refused to use them on a Sugar Ray concert. We compromised by sitting on lawn chairs and listening to them from our balcony over beers. For as much grief as I give Mark McGrath, we had a wonderful time. The evening was refreshingly cool and there was no wind, a eerie rarity on this windy prairie. We watched the band leap back and forth across the stage and I only remember laughing at them once. It was one of those tranquil moments you want to save for later and revisit when life feels overwhelming.

We went to RibFest on Friday evening when Blue Oyster Cult was performing. To save a few bucks, we enjoyed a beer at Buffalo Wild Wings before hawking over $6 per beer at the event.

My husband and I shared a boat of jalapeno cheese curds before searching for ribs. These would be the best thing we tasted that evening. I don’t remember the vendor’s name, but it was generic and served curds at a few stations. 

Stringy cheese. Crunchy, greaseless coating, and large slices of jalapenos. What’s not to like?

We settled into the long line at the Cowboys Barbeque and Rib Co. from Weatherford, TX. Several of us have actually eaten barbecue in Texas and our friends chose this stand assuming they’d be good. To give you an idea about pricing, they charged $7 for three ribs. These weren’t Flinstones-sized ribs but regular pork ribs.We ordered a half slab, plus a sides of macaroni and cheese and baked beans, each of which cost an additional $3.

Honestly, everything on this platter was rather unappealing.

The ribs were tough and fatty. Their smoked flavor reminded me of the smell of mothballs. The barbecue sauce was fine if bland.

The mac and cheese and baked beans were scooped in measly portions that couldn’t have amounted to more than a half cup each. The macaroni and cheese was lukewarm with a weird, plasticy aftertaste and I had to really fish through the watery, bland bean liquid to find any beans. Looking back over my 2012 RibFest posts, I notice we unintentionally returned to the same vendor we visited last year with similar results. It came as no surprise this vendor didn’t win any awards.

I didn’t leave until I got my blooming onion. Our second visit to 2012’s Ribfest was a disaster. We quickly abandoned my quest because the scary, drunk man who stood behind me at the ATM followed us to the event and tailed us as we wove through the crowd.

The onion petals were crisp and the staff actually took time to drain off most of the oil. The orange lava flow of sauce tasted sweet. I sprinkled the onion with various seasoning salts and passed it on when I began to feel sick.

I headed home as dark storm clouds formed and strong winds transformed the hot day into a bone-chilling evening. Blue Oyster Cult played on as I walked towards the exit, flinching as I stepped in a stinky, yellow puddle.

This is a Porta Potty-only event, ya’ll. It’s loud and crowded and dirty, but chances are you’ll probably return. We all do.  

Fargo Beer Festival 2012: Pacifico & Roasted Pork

This weekend, a few of us attended the Fargo Beer Festival held in the Civic Center.  The event’s website boasted samples of “over 120 premium craft beers from around the world,” as well as food options including a pig roast for $23/ticket.

I’m more of a wine girl that a beer girl, but thought the event would be a fun opportunity to try new beers and check out the food.

We arrived at the beginning and waited in a relatively short line for the doors to open.  Wrist banded and tickets in hand, we stopped to review the Fargo Beer Festival Program.  I was very surprised to see that a large percentage of the beers were not those I would have considered “premium craft beers.”  They were varieties I commonly see but wouldn’t go to an event just to taste.  Some examples included seven varieties of Leinenkugel’s, Summit, Crispin Cider, Boulevard, Becks, Blue Moon, Dos Equis, Heineken, Sam Adams, Killian’s, Red Stripe, Corona & Corona Light, Amstel Light, and Pacifico.

The first room we explored contained the craft beers we were unfamiliar with.  Vendors sat at tables that lined the rooms’ perimeters and poured samples from bottles into tasting cups.  The lines for beer samples were never very long, except for about two tables sampling the most unique craft beers.  Although there were a couple of police offers stationed in each room, the crowd seemed to remain laid back and well-behaved, even though attendees could return to tables for multiple samples.

After I consumed about five samples, I felt a little bit drunk and quite full.  I warily eyed the enormous, foodless room and refrained from eating a young woman’s homemade pretzel necklace.  Three more samples later, we called it quits and searched for food.  The roasted pig wasn’t available yet, so I settled for Civic Center nachos with goopy cheese sauce, $2.50.  Maybe it was the beer food goggles, but the nacho cheese sauce hit the spot.  Ideally, I wold have loved to see snacks provided in the beer halls as well as additional food vendors, but props to the convention center for not inflating their food prices.

We indulged in a few more samples until the roasted pig was served.

The roasted pig was provided by One on One Professional Catering, connected with the Garden Pavilion Restaurant and Banquet Facility.  
We thoroughly enjoyed these roasted pork sandwiches, $6, and beer cheese soup, $4.  
  

The pork was tender and succulent (who got the crispy skin?) and we heaped the sandwiches with barbecue sauce and grated horseradish.  The beer cheese soup was also tasty.  Slightly spicy and sweet with beer, although it had that viscous Cheez Whiz texture.  Bertrosa’s, located in Downtown Fargo, makes my favorite beer cheese soup ever.  It’s the spiciest version I’ve ever tasted and the only one that doesn’t have a shiny Cheez Whiz texture.  That being said, One to One’s was one of the better versions I’ve tasted.

Besides One To One and the Civic Center food stand, the only other food option was a local company at a table selling beef sticks.  You could buy 2 for $2 or a box for $25.  Jake bought a couple, though I passed since I thought they were too dry.

After dinner, I felt more than beered out.  The boys indulged in a few more samples while I sobered up and people-watched.  I was impressed with Night Owl Driving, who was stationed outside the Civic Center to offer attendees free rides home.

Closing thoughts. . . 
I’ve come to the conclusion that I just might not like beer.  Cheap beer or craft beer, I’m just not that into it.  Just give me a light Mexican beer with lime or Sapporo.

The event was generally fun and I didn’t see one person getting sick or rowdy.

The lines were short, except for those sampling legitimate craft beers like abbey ales and other brews not available in every liquor store (event organizers should take this hint).

We enjoyed trying some of the newer or more unusual craft beer varieties, however, I wasn’t that impressed with much of the beer selection.  Especially considering that the event advertised, “over 120 premium craft beers.”  I should have probably taken a look at event website’s beer list beforehand.  Jake adds that if you can easily buy certain beers in Midwestern grocery stores or gas stations, they probably shouldn’t be advertised as premium craft beers.  I actually like Corona Light, but the fact that it was sampled at this event made me giggle.  Scratch some of the series of beers ordered by the pitchers at Midwestern bars everywhere, and replace them with craft brews that we’re not all entirely familiar with.

My favorite part of the event was the roasted pork and beer cheese soup.  I know the focus of the event is beer, but beer really needs food.  A few more vendors or conveniently located snacks might have made it easier to sample beers, sober, and also attracted a greater number of people who may like beer and love food.

Would we go again?  Probably not.

Once was fun.  Once was enough.

This Is Why We Didn’t Return To Ribfest & Chinese Take-Out from Snapdragon

Last Saturday, the four raucous days known as Ribfest passed (Wednesday, June 6 – Saturday, June 9th).

Since we live within earshot of the Ribfest stage erected in the Fargodome parking lot, our sleep had been a little worse than normal.  80’s hair bands and country music rocked our walls from 8-11 p.m. 

On Wednesday evening, we patiently waited until the concert was over before we slept.  On Thursday, the music began at 9 p.m.  I frantically unearthed our place, searching for an earplug.  Any earplug. Even a dirty, crusty one.  When my search ended in failure, I contemplated scotch or valerian root.  Fortunately, I fell asleep with neither.  Just a pillow wrapped tightly around my head.  

On Friday evening, we visited to sample some ribs.  I felt exhausted and left early.  Navigating through the tightly packed crowd proved challenging.

On Saturday afternoon, we settled in for an afternoon nap.  As soon as we began to fall asleep, 80’s hair bands started their extensive sound checks, tearing us from any catch-up sleep.  We shrugged and thought, “If you can’t beat them, join them.”  Then, we meandered towards the Fargodome.  I was longing for a blooming onion and we wanted to try other rib vendors. 

We stop to grab cash.  As I wait in line for the ATM, a strange man steps behind me.  He smells like liquor and asks us if the ATM has a limit.  Of course we have no idea, and he continues to spin woe-filled tales of ATM’s and dollar limits.  He and Jake make small talk about the stranger’s biking.

As I finish my transaction, I am jolted to attention when the looming stranger reads my full name from the ATM screen and announces it back to me.  Then he laughs. 

My feistiness activates.  I don’t acknowledge his comment or turn around, determined to finish the transaction as quickly as possible.  I debate whether I should ignore him or confront.   

The whole situation brings to mind the only time I ever confronted a stranger’s brazen inappropriateness.  One afternoon, when I lived in North Minneapolis, I visited the CVS on West Broadway.  As I exited the store, a man made obscene catcalls.  I was furious by the injustice of not being able to run an emerency errand for special lady products, unscathed, and told him (in other words) to “Go fly a kite.”  The man launched towards me as I sprinted towards my car.  I managed to shut and lock the door as his hand reached the handle.  I don’t remember much except driving like hell. 

This time, I kept my mouth shut.  Jake and I left the ATM and briskly walked towards the festival.  Suddenly, Jake beaconed me to run across the street while oncoming traffic raced towards us.  We turned around to see the strange man running after us.  After we passed the festival gates, we zigzagged through the crowd.  Jake caught the man staring at us. The man quickly looks away. 

We decided it was best to quietly leave and meandered through the exit.  Maybe we overreacted, maybe we didn’t.  All I know is that something didn’t feel right.  Jake is almost never rattled by anything but his instinct said to “leave” and so we listened.

I was annoyed that I got scared and annoyed that I didn’t get my blooming onion.  However, I was not annoyed about missing the Warrant concert. 

Fargo sits along the path to Western North Dakota’s chaotic oil activity.  I’m going to postulate that our location, a huge festival featuring meat and overflowing beer, and a concert by a band whose music rocks strip clubs everywhere might draw some interesting folks.

We ventured to Moorhead, MN, where I chose Chinese take-out from Snapdragon, a joint recommended by a co-worker.  We chose the Korean stir-fry with beef and vegetables, General Tso’s chicken (both extra spicy) and an order of crab wontons.  Our bill totaled approximately $28, plus tip.  

The Korean stir-fry actually contained some heat.  I’m not sure why the beef looked so pale, but it tasted like beef and contained fresh carrots, cabbage, mushrooms, and zucchini.  Baby corn never thrills me but overall, it was a solid stir-fry.


The General Tso’s chicken was crispy.  Maybe a little too chewy, but at least it wasn’t soggy.  The sauce was tangy and tasted like it might have contained ketchup.  Jake preferred this dish. 


Like every other version of cheese wontons, we enjoyed the crab-cheese wontons.  We received eight packed into a nifty foil-lined bag and dunked them in sweet and sour sauce.  Of the four Chinese food restaurants we have visited in Fargo-Moorhead, Snapdragon seemed the freshest.  However, we will continue our search for our favorite version and welcome your suggestions. 

Week(ends) In Review: Heartland, Our First CSA Box & Ribfest

Weekends in the Twin Cities are wonderful, though they leave us scrambling for breath as we return, racing back to work.

Amidst the excitement of last weekend’s TECHmunch and family festivities, our parents collaborated on planning a surprise engagement dinner at Heartland.  If I had been quicker on my feet, I would have arranged my own surprise by ordering our marriage paperwork from the county and a pastor to meet us at dinner.  
Our parents have only met on one occasion and so I was a little anxious about the gathering of our families.  I ordered something green and something strong.  I don’t remember what it contained besides lime juice and gin, but what I do remember is that it was extremely strong.  I coughed my way through the first few sips and resolved to drink it slowly, lest I take down my own engagement dinner.  
One of our servers seemed concerned that it remained so full.  He checked in a few times to ask if I was enjoying the beverage.  I tried to reassure him that although it was delightful, it was incredibly strong for my likes.  
I steadily sipped the the drink and even passed it around for others to enjoy.  Somehow, we hardly made a dent.     
We had a grand time enjoying each others’ company and tasting all of the dishes.  On this evening, chicken reigned supreme.  Those of us who ordered the Fauna tasting menu began with a small piece of moist, crispy-skinned chicken.  
It rested on sweet, beautifully cooked vegetables and vibrant beet broth.  Even the most cautious of eaters declared it the best chicken he had ever eaten.  
Five others ordered the chicken entree.  Again, lots of crispy, seasoned skin and succulent meat.  Even the white meat was buttery tender and flavorful.  
This past Thursday, I picked up our first CSA box from Bluebird Gardens of Fergus Falls, MN.  After months of receiving anticipatory emails updates, I giddily unloaded our first bounty onto our kitchen counter.  I gently examined the delicate lettuce, radishes, spinach, spring onions, a petite kohlrabi, and my favorite; a bag of pea sprouts.  
Processing the vegetables and stuffing them into our fridge took time, but was well worth the effort.  Now, I can easily grab the vegetables and incorporate them into our meals.  We’ve been feasting on giant fattoush salads made with toasted pita bread and everything in our box.  Let me know if you are willing to share any of your favorite uses for CSA vegetables.  Especially kohlrabi.  I didn’t hate my first taste of kohlrabi but am wondering how I will ever fall in love with it. 
I plan to submit bimonthly updates about what I create with my CSA boxes to Simple, Good & Tasty.
Finally, there’s Ribfest at the Fargodome which began on Wednesday and ends this evening.  I’m surprised it’s open during so many weekdays, but I’ve been told that many request time off from work to attend.  Festivities include seven rib vendors, additional food and beverage vendors, a large music stage that features 80’s hair bands and country music, and an expansive array of blow-up jumpy things. 
I think the blow-up jumpy things almost outnumber the rib vendors 2:1. 
Last evening, we visited Ribfest and sampled ribs from two vendors.  Cowboys BBQ & Rib Co. of Forth Worth Texas boasted an extensive array of awards but their ribs were woefully tough and covered in flabby skin.  I hope this can be chalked-up to a bad evening.  Otherwise, I can’t imagine them winning anything. 
On a positive note, I enjoyed their barbecue sauce which seemed well-balanced.  
We also tried ribs from Aussom Aussie’s BBQ of Pittsburgh.  These were much better.  
The meat had a better texture and a smokier flavor, though they were slightly fatty.  The exterior had some bark and the sauce was lovely.  It had a little heat and that vinegary note that I love so much about Ted Cook’s. 
We’re hoping to return for a blooming onion and to sample some more rib vendors.
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