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Tom and I have had the good fortune to eat in some stellar restaurants over the years, but none better than Q’s Restaurant at the Hotel Boulderado in Boulder. I kid you not, Q’s is amazing. My struggle is going to be telling you about it without lapsing into hyperbole. It’s that good. Really. After enjoying the chef’s three-course tasting menu at lunch one afternoon, every tastebud in my mouth–every tastebud–was doing a happy dance and giving high-fives to the tastebuds around it. Our lunch was so flavorful, so well presented and served, and so much fun, Tom and I couldn’t make dinner reservations fast enough for the following evening.

Hotel Boulderado - Boulder, CO

The Historic Hotel Boulderado - Boulder, CO

Q's Restaurant at the Hotel Boulderado - Boulder, CO

Q's Restaurant at the Hotel Boulderado

John Platt, the executive chef and co-owner, bought Q’s back in 1993 with his wife, Sabrina, and–based on what I’ve learned from from reading up on them (don’t you just love Google?)–they’ve been doing amazing things there ever since. John’s self-described “chef crafted” cuisine relies heavily on seasonal, locally grown, organic ingredients, many of which come from his own garden. In that regard, what he’s doing isn’t all that unusual, I suppose–especially in Boulder–but what is unusual…or unique…or absolutely taste-bud-blowingly amazing is the way he creatively marries those ingredients together in just the right proportions to make them not only play nicely together in your mouth, but to create flavors you’re not expecting. Most well-prepared dishes make at least one part of your mouth happy; John’s dishes make every square millimeter of your mouth stand up and salute.

Moreover, his fabulous food is served by an extremely friendly, well-trained staff who seem to know what you need before you even know you need it, all in the charming elegance of the historic Hotel Boulderado. Perfect.

And now, our meals. Enjoy!

Lunch: The Appetizer
Colorado Peaches
Mixed Greens, Bleu Cheese, Crisp Pancetta
Citrus Vinaigrette

Colorado Peaches

Lunch: The Entree
Blackened Salmon
Summer Melon Relish, Black Bean Cake
Chipotle BBQ Broth

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Lunch: The Dessert
Raspberry Semifreddo
Raspberry Cake, Candied Lemon

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Lunch was served with a Robert Mondavi Sauvignon Blanc which complimented all three courses beautifully. If I had to pick a favorite course of the three–not an easy task–I’d have to go with the blackened salmon. I generally don’t like my food spicy hot, but the spiciness of the black bean cake and the Chipotle BBQ broth was balanced perfectly with the cool fruitiness of the summer melon relish. Yum!

For dinner the following evening, we self-selected a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand to accompany our meal. In hindsight, we should have asked the Cellarmaster for his recommendation. Oh well, even a poorly selected wine couldn’t ruin the meal we were about to enjoy, a meal that started with a summer melon and hot chili amuse bouche the chef sent out for us try.

Dinner: Tom’s Starter
Panseared Dungeness Crabcake
Red Pepper Romesco, Fennel Orange Slaw

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Dinner: My Starter
“Caprese”
House-made Mozzarella, Sun-dried Tomato Pesto, Prosciutto, Basil, Balsamic, Pumpkinseeds
(I also requested–and received–freshly sliced tomatoes from John’s garden in my Caprese)

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Dinner: Tom’s Salad
Organic Mixed Green Salad
Lemon Champagne Vinaigrette, Fennel, Cucumber, Cherry Tomatoes, Lemon Fried Potatoes

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Dinner: My Soup
Sweet Corn Soup
Lobster Hushpuppies

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Dinner: Tom’s Entree
The Chef’s Special – Monk Fish
(I was so busy slobbering over my entree, I forgot to take adequate notes about Tom’s. Whoops!)

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Dinner: My Entree
Smoked Berkshire Pork Tenderloin
Corn and Green Chili Relish, Red Chili Honey, Refried Beans, Grilled Zucchini, Pumpkinseeds

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Our Shared Dessert
Colorado Peach Crisp
Home Spun Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, Peach Sauce

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Like our lunch the previous day, every dish was full of fresh flavors and clever combinations that were not only satisfying, but culinarily engaging. Our mouths were happy, our brains were strained, and our bellies were pleasantly stuffed as we left the Boulderado to do a few laps around the Pearl Street Mall before turning in for the night.

We thank John; Deluxe Chef  de Cuisine, Ian Rubenoff; Sous Chef, Cruz Silva; the friendly and attentive wait staff; and Sabrina, who was a fabulous and welcoming hostess for an amazing experience. We will look forward to dining at Q’s again very soon. Until then, I’ll be following the happenings at Q’s on their Facebook page.

In closing, let me say this to you, my readers, if you go to Boulder and don’t go to Q’s, you should…well, you should…dang…this is where I’m really struggling with hyperbole. “Be shot” sounds a bit drastic.

The historic town of Lyons, Colorado, (incorporated in 1891) sits nestled on the backside of the Front Range roughly halfway between Boulder and Estes Park on Highway 36. The actual population of the town is just under 2,000 people, but the amenities available there make it feel much bigger: a museum, two art galleries, two bike shops, a motorcycle shop, three car repair places, a furniture store, an antique shop, a quilting shop, a veterinary clinic, a medical clinic, a library, two newspapers, a fitness center, a liquor store, a produce market, a store selling all things related to honey, a fabulous little grocery store, an ice cream shop with an old-fashioned soda fountain, eight restaurants, a winery, and…whew, take a breath…Oskar Blues, Lyons’ very own microbrewery. (I’m telling you, Lyons is a great little town!)

Oskar’s, which sits in a strip mall that is wedged between westbound Highway 36 (Main Street) and eastbound Highway 36 (Broadway), is hard to miss. At least from what we could tell, it’s always surrounded by cars. From Main Street, you see the packed parking lot. From Broadway, you see the overflowing outdoor seating space and hear the musical performers who entertain diners nearly every night–weekdays or weekends.

Oskar Blue's - Lyons, CO

Oskar Blues - Lyons, CO

Tom and I got there early one evening and managed to snag a table out on the balcony where we could hear the band playing bluegrass down below in the parking lot and see the sun setting over the mountains to the west. Unfortunately, neither my pictures of the musicians nor of the sunset came out very well, so you’ll have to conjure your own mental images of both. (I need to practice using my camera…sorry.)

Balcony Seating at Oskar Blue's

Balcony Seating at Oskar Blues

Oskar Blues’ claim to fame, of course, is its beers, and they’ve got plenty to choose from. On the night we stopped in, there were eight choices, including Mama’s Little Yella Pils, Deviant Dave’s, One-Nut Brown Ale, and Ten Fidy Imperial Stout. Clever. Tom chose Dale’s Pale Ale and gave it a thumbs-up. Unfortunately, I’ve had to give up beer because of the whole gluten thing…buuuummer…so you’ll have to settle for Tom’s hearty endorsement.

Dave's Pale Ale

Dave's Pale Ale

Oskar’s menu, which features the “Cajun, Creole and Southern-style comfort food that reflect [the] founder’s southern upbringing,” includes New Orleans-style gumbo and fried catfish along with the standard fare found on most bar/brewery menus: pizzas, burgers, sandwiches, and Mexican entrees. Whatever you choose, I’m betting you won’t walk away unsatisfied. Tom had the Smoked BBQ Sandwich–a pulled pork sandwich smothered in homemade Bourbon BBQ sauce–with a side of homemade black bean salad (yuuuummmmy), and I had the “bodacious” B.B. King Burger with a side order of sweet potato fries. Brownie points to our waitress, I didn’t get the squonk eye when I asked if they would hold the bacon and add grilled onions to my burger.  Ultimately, the burger was a burger, but the sweet potato fries were gooo…ooood. Sweet, crunchy, and salty all in one bite. Does it get much better?

BBQ Beef Sandwich with Black Bean Salad

Smoked BBQ Sandwich with Black Bean Salad

Modified B.B. King Burger with Sweet Potato Fries

Modified B.B. King Burger with Sweet Potato Fries

After eating at Oskar Blues, Tom and I understood why it’s so popular and why–we assume–it draws diners from beyond Lyons’ city limits…although, I suppose we could be wrong… maybe everyone who lives in Lyons eats at Oskar’s every night…it is lots of fun…but then, who’s eating at the eight other restaurants in Lyons?

I’m telling you, Lyons is a great little town!

Several years ago, when we were in Boulder visiting Tom’s sister, she took us to Tom’s Tavern on the corner of 11th and Pearl for beer and burgers. Quite tasty. So when we were debating our options for dinner on Tuesday night and spied Tom’s, we didn’t hesitate. We headed straight across the street, up the stairs, and presented ourselves at the hostess stand. That should have been our first clue. Tom’s didn’t have a hostess stand.

We were seated immediately near the front of the restaurant and were handed menus…menus that failed to have the words “Tom’s Tavern” printed anywhere on them. Instead, blazoned across the top at a jaunty angle: “SALT.” Hmmmm. We looked around. Sure enough, the room was different. Dramatically different. Tom’s beat-up bar furnishings had been replaced with sleek contemporary tables, chairs, lighting, and artwork. People were dressed up (by Boulder standards). There weren’t beer signs everywhere, and the silverware was real. Ahhhh…you don’t have to draw us a picture. Clearly, we weren’t in Tom’s. Okay, okay. We got it…finally. Actually, we weren’t in anything remotely like Tom’s. We were, in fact, in a brand new restaurant which we learned later had only been opened a few days before.

Our initial disappointment didn’t last long.

For starters, SALT serves brews from local microbreweries and drinks they call Pre-Prohibition Spirituals. Tom ordered a Steamworks Kolsch Ale (Steamworks Brewery is in Durango, CO), and I ordered a Pre-Prohibition Spiritual called Saturn Returns, a drink I can only describe as a peach Bellini with a dark soul. Yummy. I wish I’d taken notes about the whole Pre-Prohibition business at the time so I could tell you about it. Really. I did read about it, but I was having too much fun drinking the darn thing to take good notes then, and now I can’t remember what I read. Sorry.

Libations

Libations

As for the food, the meat and produce served at SALT come from local farms and ranches. In a blurb about SALT, the Downtown Boulder website uses descriptors like “savory slow food,” “fresh local,” and “loving preparation.” I can’t disagree.  Everything we ate was fresh and flavorful. The chef is clearly doing something right with his ingredients. Tom had the Tavern Burger featuring grass-fed beef, and I had the Summer Vegetable Penne. Delish…although I paid for eating pasta the next day. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say it was worth it. Big grin.

The Tavern Burger

The Tavern Burger

Summer Vegetable Penne
Summer Vegetable Penne
For dessert–of course there was dessert; we were on vacation!–we shared the Peach Cobbler with Homemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. The peaches are in season in Colorado, so we had no other option. Really big grin!
Colorado Peach Cobbler with Homemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Colorado Peach Cobbler with Homemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

I’ll close this post with a picture showing the restaurant from the view we had of it pre-dinner. You can decide if we’re crazy for thinking it was still Tom’s Tavern (the word “Tavern” is behind the tree). Of course, the picture also clearly shows the name “SALT” above the door. Groan.
SALT Craftily Disguised as Tom's Tavern

SALT Craftily Disguised as Tom's Tavern

The Boulder Book Store is one of six independent bookstores on Pearl Street in downtown Boulder, and with its exposed brick walls, creaky wooden floors, well-stocked oak bookshelves, tin ceilings, and tall windows, it’s a beaut! The only thing missing is a big, ol’ yellow tom cat roaming around.

The Boulder Book Store and the BookEnds Cafe

The Boulder Book Store and the BookEnds Cafe

Located at the west end of the mall, the Boulder Book Store boasts three floors filled with more than 150,000 glorious new and used books. Even better, everywhere you turn you find knowledgeable, helpful staff. Right next door, with easy access from the Book Store, a cafe called BookEnds offers tasty pastries, coffees, teas, and lots of outdoor seating on the mall.  A reader’s Shangri-la. I could have spent hours there. Well…actually, I did.

Doesn't it look inviting?

Doesn't it look inviting?

The Boulder Book Store

The Boulder Book Store

The "Grand Ballroom" on the Third Level

The "Grand Ballroom" on the Third Level

The Book Store also offers writing workshops and author events. While I wasn’t able to attend a writing workshop, Tom and I did get to attend a very informative presentation by local author, Elana Amsterdam. Amsterdam has written a marvelous, recently published cookbook titled The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook of which I now own a signed copy. Self-satisfied smile. She also has a terrific website called Elana’s Pantry with hundreds of gluten-free recipes. Be nice to me, and I might even let you sample some of the goodies I’ll be making from her cookbook and website—that is, once the almond flour arrives from the supplier. I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about my gluten-free baking and cooking adventures soon in my other blog, Mary’d With Children. Amsterdam has some truly inspired ideas. I can’t wait to get started!

Amsterdam's New Cookbook

Amsterdam's New Cookbook

I realize that not everyone in this country shops for groceries in a giant, stocked-to-the-rafters grocery chain, but many of us do. I do, so it was a real treat to walk through the front doors of the old-timey St. Vrain Market in Lyons, Colorado. Instead of being greeted by fancy floral arrangements, huge rolling bins of watermelons, and drippy Muzak music, we were greeted with a warm smile from Connie, one of the owners.
The St. Vrain Market - Lyons, CO

The St. Vrain Market - Lyons, CO

Connie Sullivan, co-owner of The St. Vrain Market

Connie Sullivan, co-owner of The St. Vrain Market

Shopping for the items on our list took us less than 15 minutes–the St. Vrain Market would fit into half the produce section of my local grocery store–but we found everything we needed and were amazed to find many things we never expected to see. Moreover, I was reminded that shopping, when I’m given only a few options to choose from, can be a rather pleasant, stress-free experience. Seriously, why do we need 253 different cereal choices?

The St. Vrain Market

The St. Vrain Market

Connie and her husband, Neil, recently purchased the St. Vrain Market and have big plans for it in the near future, including expanding the meat and deli counter, adding a bakery, and introducing new products that will help their customers “enjoy a delicious, healthy, and balanced diet” (yes, the two of them are incredibly physically fit and appear to be health nuts like everyone else in Colorado, but we’ll not hold that against them). Fortunately, they truly seem to appreciate the rarity of their wonderful little store and plan to maintain “the nostalgia of [their] hometown market.” I hope so. I wish them great success and can’t wait to go back. Visit their website to learn more.

Yummy Produce!

Yummy Produce!

At the moment, Tom and I are sitting at the sidewalk tables in front of the BookEnd Café in Boulder, Colorado, soaking up the atmosphere and a large glass of iced black tea. Okay, okay. I also nibbled on a cookie, but I’m on vacation, so it doesn’t count. Anyway, it’s a beautiful day here in Boulder, and it was a beautiful morning at our cottage up in St. Vrain Canyon just outside of Lyons, Colorado.

We arrived at the cottage early yesterday afternoon after spending Sunday night with some good friends in Denver. We had a wonderful time in Denver, and hope—with any luck—to spend another evening with our friends before heading back home, maybe a dinner here in Boulder with them. I’ll let you know.

Meantime, we’re doing as much NOTHING as possible. This morning, doing nothing meant hanging out in the cottage. Yes, the cottage of Shelly’s Cottages fame, the same cottage I wrote about earlier. If you read my post on P.S., it will not surprise you at all that being a guest at Shelly’s involves RULES. Even more rules than we were given when we first made the reservation, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

We headed up to the cottage from Denver mid-morning yesterday. According to the official-looking letter we received from Shelly’s prior to our departure from home, check-in time at the cottages is 3 p.m. Considering the no-nonsense tone of the phone conversation with Kim, the owner, when I initially made the reservation and the equally strident tone of the letter, we were a bit nervous about arriving any earlier than we were “allowed,” so we pit-stopped in Boulder to eat a late breakfast and to kill some time. There aren’t many places on the planet more entertaining to hang out and watch the world go by than the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder—which partially explains why we came back this afternoon—but after leisurely morning meal and a slow stroll up and down the mall yesterday, we were tired and ready to get unpacked and settled. We took a deep breath and called Kim to inquire about an early check-in.

Kim was perfectly pleasant. Our cottage wasn’t ready just yet, but if we could wait an hour, she’d finish cleaning it and have it waiting for us. Sweet! An hour was just enough time to grab a few groceries and drive the 20-or-so miles up there. We headed back to the car, found a Whole Foods a few blocks away (imagine finding a Whole Foods in Boulder), and grabbed a grocery cart. The cottage has a full kitchen, so we figured it would be a good idea to bring in breakfast- and lunch-type goodies, making it easier to sloth around until such time we feel compelled to tidy up and leave the cottage this week. As an aside–and in our defense–our lives have been pretty nutty lately, so—at this point—our idea of the perfect vacation is one that involves no dress clothes, no early mornings, and no schedule of any kind. Sweats and flannel pants are required.

Anyway, Whole Foods was packed, so shopping took longer than we expected. Since we were ready to crash for the day, we decided to grab salads at the salad bar at the grocery store to eliminate the need for another stop on our way to the cottage or the need to go scavenging for lunch after getting settled. Elbows out, we navigated our way down each side of the salad bar, filling our re-cycled, totally organic, flimsy-ass paper salad containers, and headed to the front of the store to check out. Thank goodness, I’d had the presence of mind to grab my re-usable grocery bags from the car before entering the store. I would not want to be the lone schmuck standing in line at the Whole Foods in Boulder, CO, the birthplace of all things green and the home of the largest contingent of Green Peace volunteers I’ve ever been accosted by, having to ask to have my groceries sacked in paper or plastic.

After a long wait at the checkout, the two of us and our re-usable grocery bags full of healthy, over-priced chow were headed for the car. Because we hadn’t been to the cottages yet, the trunk was still full of luggage, so we loaded the groceries in the backseat of my car and took off for Lyons (In the wrong direction, but that’s another post. Stupid googlemaps.). Within minutes of leaving the grocery store, I could smell the balsamic vinaigrette on Tom’s salad. “That’s strange,” I thought to myself, but because I was driving, I had to concentrate on going the wrong way out of Boulder. We’d have to deal with the smell later.

Once we were out of the circus that is Boulder traffic, I said aloud, “Man, I can really smell the dressing on your salad.” Apparently, Tom had been thinking the same thing. Without a word, he whirled around in his seat and lifted the offending bag. “Shit,” he mumbled.

Salad dressing was everywhere, including on the leather seat of the car, so we pulled over in a little town outside of Boulder (Niwot for those of you who know the area) to assess the damage and attempt a clean-up with the only thing I had in the glovebox: Windex wipes. Dried-out, nappy Windex wipes. Ugh. Needless to say, it was a feeble clean-up attempt.

So, still going the wrong way (actually, it wasn’t necessarily the wrong way, it was just the loooooong way—I repeat, stupid googlemaps), we got back out on the road, more desperate than ever to reach our destination. As we drove, Tom clung to the dripping salad container (around which the helpful checkout clerk had placed a large, worthless rubber band), grumbling and cursing, periodically threatening to throw the whole mess out the window. After 5 miles or so, we couldn’t take the smell any longer and rolled the windows down. It was about then I got the giggles, then the guffaws. Then we hit road construction.

Thirty long minutes later, we pulled into the driveway of Shelly’s Cottages and leapt from the car, gasping for fresh air. Before we could do anything meaningful about the salad dressing mess, we had to get checked in, so we headed to the office where we were met by a smiling, cheerful Kim who robotically ran through all of the additional rules for staying at Shelly’s that had not already been posted for our viewing pleasure on the website. She concluded her spiel by saying, “ Also, you need to know there are black bears in the area.  In fact, there are often black bears on the property, so NEVER leave any food outside and be sure to place all your trash in the receptacles behind the cottage. Oh! And don’t leave any food in your car.”

“Are you kidding,” I shrieked in my head. “My leather seats are currently marinating in balsamic vinaigrette. My car’s an Italian-panini-sandwich-lover’s dream! Total bear food!” Groan.

Luckily, I was exhausted when we went to bed last night, so I didn’t lie there worrying about a bear eating my car, but I sure as heck checked on it when I finally crawled out of bed about 9:30 this morning.

We drove to Boulder with the car windows down this afternoon, so, with any luck, my car won’t smell like an Italian deli when we get back in it.

Before I get too far, several of you have inquired about the state of Brian’s digestive tract after the ostrich episode. Suffice it to say even after swigging half a bottle of Pepto Bismol within hours of wrestling the thing down, he didn’t feel normal again until early the next afternoon. Ostrich-on-a-Stick? You might want to think twice. I’m just saying…

Now back to our regularly scheduled posting. Sadly, this will be my last post about the food-on-a-stick available at the Minnesota State Fair. Brian got called back to Kansas City to work on another project earlier than he’d originally expected, leaving more than three dozen skewered possibilities un-sampled. He got home last night in time for dinner, extremely tired and–amazingly enough–hungry. The smart-aleck part of me wanted to fix a meal of fried-everything, but my mom side won out. Stupid mom side. So, instead, he was served lots of fresh fruit and raw veggies. Tom, however, did try to skewer Brian’s serving of meatloaf before carrying it to the table.

Even though he didn’t get to sample everything before leaving, Brian did find several more things to share with us. You’ll never believe a couple of them.

First on the line-up: Cheese-Curd-on-a-Stick. He had already sampled this particularly nasty sounding option–and had sworn he would never eat it again–but, at my request, he did find someone else who was eating it and managed to get a picture. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but, sadly, Cheese-Curd-on-a-Stick looks just like every other stabbed, battered, and fried grub-on-a-stick offering we’ve already seen. Sigh.

Cheese-Curd-on-a-Stick

Cheese-Curd-on-a-Stick

The same is true for Mac-and-Cheese-on-a-Stick. Phooey. I really had high expectations for this one, as well as for Spaghetti-on-a-Stick (which Brian never managed to find, but which I found a picture of on the Minnesota State Fair website). Unfortunately, neither is the culinary marvel I imagined. In both instances, it appears the pasta is scooped into a tight ball, dipped in the ever-ubiquitous batter, and deep fried. Are you sensing a pattern here? Even worse, the mac and cheese wasn’t even of the homemade variety. Brian said it tasted just like it came out of a blue box. It’s an OUTRAGE! I have no choice but to assume the spaghetti comes out of a Chef Boyardee can? Honestly!

Mac-and-Cheese-on-a-Stick

Mac-and-Cheese-on-a-Stick

Next up: Nacho-Mama-Dog-on-a-Stick. Pause and say that out loud before continuing. This particular offering isn’t exactly what the name suggests, in as much as there is no traditional hot dog involved. Yes, the “dog” looks like a corndog, and it is, in fact, breaded in cornmeal and deep fried. But where you’d expect to find a frankfurter, you actually find taco meat pressed into the shape of a hot dog…SURPRISE! The faux dog is then piled high with traditional nacho fixin’s, including melted processed cheese food. I was ready to give this entry a few points for its catchy name until I saw the melted cheese food. Velveeta IS NOT CHEESE, people! Geeez!

Nacho-Mama-Dog-on-a-Stick

Nacho-Mama-Dog-on-a-Stick

And what’s a meal-on-a-stick without a dessert-on-a-stick to go with it? In my book, not much. Luckily for fair-goers, there are plenty of speared sweets to pick from. Brian’s choice: Key-Lime-Pie-on-a-Stick, which is strange because Brian doesn’t even like key lime pie. He didn’t like this version either which could mean it actually tastes like the real thing. It could also mean it was just plain awful. Strangely, it appears to be covered in chocolate. I love chocolate, but on key lime pie? What are they thinking?

Key-Lime-Pie-on-a-Stick

Key-Lime-Pie-on-a-Stick

Unfortunately for us, Brian did not sample the Pig Licker, aka Chocolate-Covered-Bacon-on-a-Stick, which several of you asked about, so no picture. Worse luck. The poor boy had actually tried chocolate covered bacon a couple of weeks ago at the Indiana State Fair and just couldn’t make himself go near the stuff again. Understandable. He did, however, man up and give the Foot-Long-Pepperoni-Pizza-on-a-Stick a go which he says tasted like “a Hot Pocket on a stick.” Overall,very disappointing. He was especially put out when he discovered that the stick in the Foot-Long-Pepperoni-Pizza-on-a-Stick wasn’t even a proper stick. The pizza folks were spearing their pepperoni-stuffed blob of dough with flimsy-ass disposable chopsticks. Very un-Italian.

Foot-Long-Pepperoni-Pizza-on-a-Stick

Foot-Long-Pepperoni-Pizza-on-a-Stick

He had no complaints about the Chocolate-Covered-Frozen-Banana-on-a-Stick. In fact, he tweeted, “Chocolate + Frozen Banana = One Happy Kid.”  He does look pretty happy, doesn’t he. I’m guessing he was relieved to be eating something that wasn’t breaded or dipped in batter.

Chocolate-Covered-Frozen-Banana-on-a-Stick

Chocolate-Covered-Frozen-Banana-on-a-Stick

And Brian had absolutely nothing but praise for his next on-a-stick experience. I believe the picture tells you all you need to know.

Beer-on-a-Stick

Beer-on-a-Stick

Clever, is it not? Those crafty folks up in Minnesota have this whole stick business down…really take it all quite seriously…then again…

Brian came home with one more item on a stick, and you’ll never believe what it was. I just hope the folks who were passing these little gems out didn’t put holes in them when they were putting them on the sticks. That could get rather…ummm…sticky.

Condom-on-a-Stick

Condom-on-a-Stick

Kudos to you, son! You survived. Thanks for taking us along on your adventure! I promise to feed you nothing but healthy food the entire weekend…but not on a stick.

According to fair organizers, if it weren’t for the fact that the Texas State Fair runs twice as long as the Minnesota State Fair, the latter would be considered the biggest state fair–attendance-wise–in the country. Based on our conversation last night, I don’t think Brian would argue that claim. He estimates he’s met at least half the people who live in Minnesota plus a number of others who have arrived from neighboring states for the festivities.

Brian, who has attended a number of state fairs in recent years, seems genuinely amazed at how many people are packing the fairgrounds in St. Paul from early in the morning until late in the evening. He is, without a doubt, having fun yakking it up with the fair-goers, but the large crowds do make it difficult for him to slip away from his work to pursue his quest to sample every food-on-a-stick offering at the fair.

Never fear. He’s a Woltkamp and not easily deterred from the task at hand (except, maybe, by pretty girls). He’s a man on a mission, a 23-year-old bottomless pit with an appetite for something more exotic than mere burgers and fries. He’s busy, but, this weekend, he kept his digestive system even busier. So, with a nod to his tenacity and his iron gut, I share with you his findings in the order they were eaten. I hope you yourself are not eating right now.

First up, Meatballs-on-a-stick, a hearty offering of meatballs rolled in garlic bread crumbs, skewered on a stick, and deep fried. Brian declared them “not bad,” but said little else. Obviously, not a terribly memorable option. He made no mention of dipping sauce, but I think, if you’re going to eat one, a bit of marinara on the side might make the thing more palatable. Maybe.

Meatballs-on-a-Stick

Meatballs-on-a-Stick

Next, Scotch-Egg-on-a-Stick. This one is definitely novel. According to Brian, a hard-boiled egg is impaled on a stick, encased in sausage, hand-dipped in a batter tasting strongly of nutmeg, and finally deep fried to a golden brown. His assessment: “intense.” He seemed particularly put off by the nutmeg. If you ask me, that’s the least of this dish’s problems.

Scotch-Egg-on-a-Stick

Scotch-Egg-on-a-Stick

On to the next offering: a Butterscotch-Twinkie-on-a-Stick. Amazingly enough, this one is not fried. It’s served cold and is exactly what the name and the picture suggest. A Twinkie, punctured by a Popsicle stick, covered in butterscotch. Brian wasn’t impressed. Specifically, he called it “gross.” Wouldn’t you think that at some point the folks as Hostess would get tired of having their snack cakes defiled?

Butterscotch-Twinkie-on-a-Stick

Butterscotch-Twinkie-on-a-Stick

After the sugar rush from the Butterscotch-Twinkie-on-a-Stick, Brian opted for a truly unique–and savory–offering found only at the Minnesota State Fair: Hot-Meal-on-a-Stick. And here, I must give the good folks of Minnesota their due. Just when you think there cannot possibly be any other way to combine meat, tater tots, and a can of cream-of-fill-in-the-blank soup into another casserole or repast of any kind, the clever cooks up there devise Hot-Meal-on-a Stick, the extremely popular offering in which meatballs and tater tots are lined up alternately on a stick, dipped in batter, and…wait for it…wait for it…deep fried. Lest the cream-of-whatever soup feel left out, they serve that on the side. Brian said he wasn’t sure what the soup was cream of, but it looked like “snot.” Brian has a way with words, doesn’t he?

Hot-Dish-on-a-Stick

Hot-Dish-on-a-Stick

Brian declared the next speared entree on his agenda, “Delicious!” and “a nice break from fried food.” The Wahoo-Steak-Dinner-on-a-Stick is essentially what the name implies–chunks of steak, potato, onion, and bell pepper skewered on a stick and grilled–a steak dinner on a stick. Nice. Except for the pasty white dinner roll smooshed onto the end of the stick. Couldn’t they just leave well enough alone? Still, Brian gave it two thumbs up.

Wahoo-Steak-Dinner-on-a-Stick

Wahoo-Steak-Dinner-on-a-Stick

Next stop? A Texas-Tater-Dog-on-a-Stick. I have to say, I’m fascinated by this one. Considering the folks in any food booth on the fairgrounds are feeding hundreds, if not thousands, of people in a short amount of time, how in the world do they manage to find the time to get the potato to spiral down the length of the hot dog so evenly? That must take forever. How many volunteers does it take to prep all those Texas Tater Dogs? And how many different ways–you may be thinking to yourself–can a Texas-Tater-Dog-on-a-Stick be seasoned? Well, I’ll tell you. Four: Parmesan garlic, lemon pepper, seasoned salt, and TNT. If you know my son, you know he ordered TNT. Apparently not many folks choose that option. Brian said the woman who took his order raised her eyebrows at him and asked if he was sure. Was he sure. YeeHaw! Stand clear, Robin.
Texas-Tater-Dog-on-a-Stick

Texas-Tater-Dog-on-a-Stick

Before he stopped for the night, Brian went international. The Chinese-Chicken-Dumpling-on-a-Stick and the General-Tso-Chicken-on-a-Stick both received a “tasted-like-it-came-0ff-a-crappy-Chinese-buffet” rating, but the vegetable Eggroll-on-a-Stick got rave reviews.
Chinese-Chicken-Dumplings-on-a-Stick

Chinese-Chicken-Dumplings-on-a-Stick

General-Tso-Chicken-on-a-Stick

General-Tso-Chicken-on-a-Stick

Egg-Roll-on-a-Stick

Egg-Roll-on-a-Stick

Brian ended the weekend with Ostrich-on-a-Stick, which he called a “karate kick to the innards.” When I talked to him late last night–a three full hours after the encounter–he claimed to be still feeling the effects and planned to stop by the tent where volunteers were passing out Pepto Bismol. In fairness to the ostrich, it could have been the Twinkie.
Ostrich-on-a-Stick

Ostrich-on-a-Stick

See, I told you you’d be better off not eating while reading this.
As for you, son, twelve down. Forty-seven to go.

Actually, if you count the egg-sandwich-on-a-stick Tom fixed for Brian before he left for Minnesota Wednesday morning, this posting would be about Day Two, but I’ll not confuse the issue.

Brian and Kyle arrived at the fairgrounds early yesterday morning, the first official day of the fair, to a “whirlwind of delicious fried smells.” I’m guessing Brian’s use of the word “delicious” in his Tweet was tinged with a bit of sarcasm, but I forgot to have him clarify that when I talked to him a bit earlier. What I did learn was professional obligations kept the two of them from exploring their surroundings yesterday as they had planned, but they did manage to try two novel food-on-a-stick offerings before heading back to the hotel late last night.

The first was gator-on-a-stick which, according to Brian, “wasn’t bad.” When pressed to elaborate, he said it “tasted like pork sausage.” Actually, had the sign not announced that the offering was, in fact, alligator, it sounds like–from Brian’s subsequent description–no one would have known the difference. Phooey. I was hoping for something a bit more exciting. A bit more exotic. Swampy, even. At least, I suppose, we can take solace in the fact that he didn’t say it tasted like chicken.

Gator-on-a-Stick

Gator-on-a-Stick

The second food-on-a-stick they tried was a Cheese-Curd-on-a-Stick. Yes, you read that right. Curd. Not curds. A single gigantic cottage-cheese-like curd impaled on a stick. Served hot. “Death,” he said when asked, “It tasted like death.” Yummm! Apparently, he was able to stomach only one bite before throwing the whole business–curd, stick, and all–in the trash. He didn’t even hang on to it long enough to take a picture. Rats. Maybe he can stalk a curd-lover or two between now and the end of the fair and get a picture. I want to see Cheese-Curd-on-a-Stick. Not eat it, mind you. Just see it.

When I talked to him, they haven’t had a chance to go a-tasting yet today, but he promised they would. Stay tuned!

I’m extremely fortunate and grateful to have enjoyed a number of beach vacations in recent years. Beach chairs set up on the warm sand by resort staff, cloudless blue skies, palm trees swaying in the tropical breeze, the soothing sound of the waves lapping the shore, and, on many occasions, cabana boys bringing me flavorful drinks with chunks of fruit hanging from the rim of the glass while I recline under the shade of a thatched umbrella reading a good book. Ahhhhh. Does it get any better? Well…actually, yes.

Last week, I had the privilege of going to the beach on South Padre Island with my sister, Amy, my niece, Elisha, and my two great-nephews, Jesse and Cameron, ages eight and three respectively. For an hour and a half prior to our departure, Elisha filled zip-loc bags with food; loaded and iced a cooler big enough to have its own zip code; gathered beach chairs, towels, and umbrellas; filled water jugs; chased two excited little boys into their swim trunks; and schlepped all the aforementioned stuff (excluding the boys) outside to tie down in the bed of her truck, insisting the entire time she didn’t need any help. I was worn out just watching her.

After driving just over an hour to get there, Elisha parked along a residential street that ran parallel to the beach. We clamored out, doors open wide as the truck was unloaded into the hot, muggy Texas afternoon sunshine. Squirmy little boys were slathered head-to-toe in sunscreen before chairs, umbrellas, beach bags, and inflatable beach toys were hoiked onto every available shoulder, arm, and hip for the quarter-mile-plus hike down the street, over the sand dunes, and across the beach to a spot which was selected solely for its proximity to the walkway back over the dunes and back to the truck. Hey, you try dragging the monster cooler through the sand!

Within minutes, we had umbrella stands screwed into the sand, umbrellas up battling the wind, chairs unfolded and situated–along with the cooler–in the shade of the umbrellas, and towels unfolded and ready for use, all to the tune of, “Can we get in the water now? Can we get in the water now?” My sister can be soooo impatient.

I was personally ready for a beach chair, a fruity drink, and a good book, but it was not to be. Jesse and Cameron had other ideas, and none of them had to do with sitting in the shade.

Here, it must be said, that I had never been that far south on the Texas coast, and it was much nicer than I had expected. Granted, I wouldn’t want to be in South Padre during Spring Break, but I will certainly look forward to going back with Elisha and her family at other times of the year. The sand was clean and beautiful, the water was clear, warm, and free of seaweed, and the beach was busy, but not crowded. On that particular day, the current had created what Elisha called–for lack of a better term–a wading pool. Between the shore and a sand bar approximately 50 feet out, the water was no deeper than 18 inches. Also, because of the sand bar, and another approximately 50-75 feet beyond the first, the waves were tamer than they would have been otherwise, perfect for cautious eight-year-olds and fearless three-year-olds.

South Padre Island

South Padre Island

For what seemed like minutes, but turned out to be hours, we bobbed in the waves, tried our luck floating in the inner tubes, watched for the tiny fish we occasionally saw swimming around our feet, tried to hold our breath the longest, practiced backward underwater somersaults, and looked for seashells along the edge of the water. Occasionally, when thirst or hunger could no longer be ignored, we would head to the shade for a bit of rest and to raid the cooler for goodies. During one such raid, Cameron grabbed the bag of trail mix and, with a conspiratorial look in my direction, began plucking the M&Ms from the mix, healthy peanuts and raisins be damned. I smiled and said nothing. The prerogative of a great-aunt, right?

Jesse

Jesse (They don't come any kinder or sweeter!)

Cameron
Cameron (Yes, he’s a pistol!)

When someone finally did think to ask about the time, we were shocked to learn that it was well past 7 p.m. Time to gather up our belongings, drag ourselves and our plunder back to the truck, and get as cleaned up as possible (thanks to the jugs of water that Elisha had thought to bring) before meeting Elisha’s husband, Jesse, at one of the local restaurants for dinner.

By the time we collapsed into the chairs at the restaurant, I was exhausted, slightly sun-burned, sticky from the salt water, and had sand hidden where sand should never be hidden. As I sipped iced tea and snuggled a sleeping Cameron on my lap, I marveled that at no time during the entire afternoon had I been near a lounge chair, a book, a fruity drink, or a cabana boy, but I had undoubtedly just experienced one of the best days I’d ever spent at a beach. All because two of the sweetest, most energetic little boys on the planet had reminded me how much fun a beach can really be.

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