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Altamont Fair Special Section Archives The Altamont Enterprise, August 13, 2009

A secret junk-food junkie reveals all while fondly foraging at the fair

By Anne Hayden

ALTAMONT — When I was a little kid, going to the fair was a highly anticipated yearly treat, not just because of the midway games and rides, but because it was one of the only times I got to eat my fill of junky fair food.

Back then, cotton candy, fried dough, and candy apples were the highlight of my day at the fair. My mom would inevitably tell me, and my sisters, to stop eating so much or we would be sick. We would, of course, protest and deny any possibility of a stomachache.

The cotton candy would melt in my mouth and make me sticky, ensuring that the powder on the fried dough would glue itself to my face and hands, and then the candy apple would hurt my teeth and stain my mouth red. I was a walking poster of the foods I had eaten.

It was food heaven — until the ride home when the minivan would have to pull over and my mom would say, “I told you so!” We’d all clutch our bellies and groan and she would just smile and shake her head. By the next morning, we’d be begging to go back, already scheming about the foods we’d eat the next year.

Now that I’m grown up, the fair and its food shouldn’t hold the same forbidden appeal, because I can eat whatever I want, whenever I want. And yet it does.

Maybe it’s because, for the most part, I hold myself to a diet of “healthy” foods, and the fair is a good excuse to indulge. Or the attraction might simply be a product of childhood nostalgia. Whatever it is, I have been hitting up the fair for the past few years, with every intention of gobbling down nothing but the most artery-clogging foods.


Grazing the midway

This year, fair director Marie McMillan informed me that, as part of the myriad of changes in place this August, there would be new food vendors. To my delight, she was not kidding.

After starving myself for a day or two in order to make room in my stomach, I hit up the fair with a pretty good idea of what I would subject my taste buds to, based on previous years’ experiences — a deep-fried blooming onion (with horseradish sauce, and maybe some ranch), fried dough with a fruit topping, cotton candy, and fresh-squeezed lemonade. Then, to top things off, I’d pick up some cider doughnuts, kettle corn, and a chocolate-dipped apple to go. It would be perfection.

But when I walked through the gates, I realized my strict eating plan might have to take a different course, because my eyes were distracted by the new, bright, food vendor booths everywhere. I was torn, and my list of must-have foods was flying out the window.

There was a Coffee Connection vendor, a woman who said it was her first time participating in a fair, and her sign promised me delectable, frozen, coffee concoctions, many of which included chocolate, my biggest weakness. My adult self is a sucker for coffee, and I could not resist, so I settled on an iced Heath bar mocha drink.

It was everything I had hoped for, and more. It tasted like ice cream, which pleased the little kid in me, but it had caffeine in it, which made it feel like a grown-up drink.

Unfortunately, I never grew out of my childhood clumsiness, and managed to drop the drink when I was only halfway finished with it — the result was a big mess in front of the scrambler ride, and all over my leg. A nice gentleman handed me some napkins, but my leg remained sticky, and I was quickly re-living my fair days as a tot.

Seeking goodness

After a few moments spent mourning the loss of my drink, I gathered myself and moved on. Circling a grouping of vendors, I decided to have a frozen, chocolate-dipped banana, another new addition this year. But the sign on the booth gave me some pause — chocolate-covered frozen cheesecake on a stick! I stopped to contemplate before deciding that the banana was the best option, because, you know, it was healthier.

Unfortunately the woman told me their bananas had arrived late, and weren’t frozen yet. I almost went with the cheesecake, but then told her I’d come back in 30 minutes for a banana.

With my thoughts focused on some sort of fruit and chocolate combination, I wandered over to the booth where I had seen specialty apples advertised. It was a tough choice, but it came down to a deliberation between a caramel apple rolled in chocolate candies, and an apple dipped in dark chocolate. Dark chocolate is good for you, and so are apples, and that made up my mind.

I parked myself in front of the Miss Altamont Fair competition while I munched my apple on a stick, and suddenly, as I took a bite, the stick broke and half and the apple fell into the dirt. I was horrified.

The five-second rule flashed in my mind, but flashed out again when I picked up the apple and saw it was covered in gravel. Some higher power out there clearly did not want me enjoying my food, or maybe it was a sign that I didn’t need the calories.

I decided to ignore the sign.

Back at the frozen banana booth, I was informed that the bananas still weren’t frozen. Not so surprising, considering it was sunny and 85 degrees, and the bananas were being frozen in a styrofoam container of ice. At that point, having had the idea put in my head, I was determined to get a darn banana. I said I’d be back in another 30 minutes.

Bringing reinforcements

I kept walking and the kettle corn vendor caught my eye. They had two new flavors this year, instead of just the original! Even better, they had these little gumball machines filled with the flavored corn — free samples! I tried the cotton-candy flavor first; the kernels were pink and blue, and I think the flavors were blue raspberry and cherry.

It was really disgusting. It was just too sweet, which is saying a lot coming from a person with a huge sweet tooth. I ate one kernel, smiled at the vendor, and then slunk away to where I thought she couldn’t see me, before throwing the rest away.

I circled back for a sample of the chocolate kettle corn, which tasted much better, and the vendor assured me that it was all natural, with no chemicals, and no gluten, just corn, oil, salt, and cocoa. I appreciated the sentiment, but my only concern was that it was delicious. I bought a snack-size bag to bring home.

After realizing that I hadn’t eaten anything that didn’t involve chocolate, I approached the shack that sold cider doughnuts. Cider doughnuts are usually a fall indulgence, but seeing that they were being made fresh right there, I couldn’t pass them up.

I’ve been known to “accidentally” eat a half-dozen in one sitting. I wanted to avoid that situation, so I only bought two, and they were still warm. I put them in my bag next to the kettle corn, telling myself I’d save them for breakfast the next day, and maybe give one to my boyfriend if I was feeling generous.

When I had been at the fair for over three hours, I went back to the frozen banana booth, with the idea that I would ask one more time, and leave if they still weren’t frozen. Luck was on my side. An ice-cold banana, dipped in warm chocolate, was placed into my eager hand, and I ate it on my way out of the gates.

The ticket-taker asked if I was coming back in, and I smiled widely and told her I’d be back later in the week. It wasn’t until I was in the car that I noticed the chocolate smeared all over my lips, teeth, and shirt. Very child-like. Slightly embarrassing, but overall, worth it.

So I didn’t get my blooming onion, or my fried dough, cotton candy, or lemonade. Luckily, I plan to go back over the weekend to get my fill.

I have a new list of things to try, too, including fried stuffed mushrooms, frosted beer nuts, and some crazy ice cream concoction at the a stand. I’ll bring my boyfriend this time, and hope he’ll get some different things that I can share — I think I’ll convince him to get the ribbon chips, and pick up a bag of penny candy at the country store.

And on the ride home, he’ll probably have to pull the car over and tell me, “I told you so,” just like last year. Just like my mom did 20 years ago. And, just like back then, the next day I’ll be eagerly telling him everything I plan on eating next year.

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