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I love the Nebraska State Fair and after missing the fair last year due to an overly busy schedule, I was very anxious to head west to Grand Island to experience the 150th Anniversary of the Fair.

I wasn’t the only one who wanted to experience the 2019 version. I was accompanied by friends, Karla, Kathy and Brenda. We piled into the car early last Friday, sang along to a recording of “Our State Fair” and started driving on a beautiful fall-like morning to our destination.

We drove through several rain showers on the way, but the sky to the west was light and we weren’t worried at all. When we arrived at the front gate, we were directed by a volunteer to park in a certain parking lot and spot. Unfortunately, the path we needed to use to drive to the spot where we were to park had a low and very muddy area.

This muddy spot ate my car! Okay, that’s an exaggeration but I did get stuck – super stuck. Yep, I couldn’t go forward and I couldn’t go backward. That’s my definition of stuck!

There were a number of good reasons for the wet spot that was slick and muddy. The Grand Island area has had a rough patch of nasty weather with lots of rain, high winds and hail in the last several weeks. They had a shower the night before the first day of the fair and there was more rain predicted. The directors of the fair were prepared for this very parking situation.

One of the friendly volunteers at the fair called Kramer’s Wrecker Service which was right on the grounds. We waited for no more than 20 minutes and there appeared a pink (yes, a pink) tow truck that maneuvered around the other muddy spots in the lot into a position that allowed the pleasant serviceman to attach the truck’s cable to my stuck car and winch it out of the mud to freedom.

I am very willing to admit that I was a bit embarrassed to find myself in need of a wrecker but I was assured that I wasn’t the first car to get stuck and I wouldn’t be the last. Since there were several light showers that took place during our time at the fair and the condition of the parking lots deteriorated while we enjoyed our day, I’m sure that was the case.

I have learned that when you head west to enjoy the remaining days of the fair, be aware that the parking lots on the fairgrounds have been closed for the remainder of the fair. My parking difficulties on the first day show the wisdom of that decision. There are many spots throughout Grand Island where you can park and catch a shuttle to the fairgrounds. You can check the State Fair website (www.statefair.org) for the latest information about this free service. Enough about parking!

There were no food demonstrations that took place on the opening day. There were several of us that showed up at the Raising Nebraska kitchen hoping for a cooking demonstration. I was a bit disappointed but I am sure there were good reasons for this year’s delay in the cooking shows.

There was still an information rack of past and current brochures from many different organizations. While browsing the offerings, I met a very nice woman who was also hoping for a cooking show. She pointed out a publication from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association entitled “Simply Delicious.”

She told me that she found a recipe in that booklet that she had made many times since the 2018 fair. Since I didn’t go to the 2018 version of the fair, I didn’t have a copy. I grabbed it up and, on her advice, I will try Asian Beef and Broccoli Noodle Bowl. I offer this recipe to you instead of my normal cooking demonstration recipe.

Karla, Kathy, Brenda and I all had a dish or two we wanted to sample from the fair’s offerings. Karla and Brenda had researched new food offerings and wanted to try the Maple Bacon Mini Donuts. We tried those as a late breakfast/coffee break. The order of 12 mini donuts was more than sufficient for each of us to sample. I’m not usually a donut fan but these were delicious.

We had a great time looking at all of the 4-H displays. Dodge, Washington, Cuming and Burt County were well represented by kids who grew produce, baked goodies, did survival projects, sewed and made beautiful art. We all enjoyed seeing their creativity and competitive spirit. It is remarkable the skills these kids are developing as they enjoy 4-H.

When it was time for lunch, we shared a huge plateful of potatoes, jalapenos, pickles and onion rings topped with cheese and sour cream. There was more than enough food for lunch for four. In fact, we couldn’t finish the whole thing. We had hoped to have room to share a Wicked Witch Sandwich which was smoked chicken smothered with Dorothy Lynch dressing topped with jalapenos and coleslaw on a bun. We were so full; we didn’t even try. If you sample one, let me know what you think.

Off to play Bingo. Over the years Karla and I have developed the tradition of wandering around all of the outdoor displays to the back of the park where we enjoy a game or two of Bingo at the Knights of Columbus tent. Since it rained while we were in the tent, it was a perfect time to shelter in the Bingo hall.

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After that, we had walked off enough of our lunch to enjoy a pineapple whip. This light and refreshing treat is the perfect mid-afternoon treat.

Then off to the sheep barn to pay tribute to Karla and Brenda’s stepdad and mom who raised sheep. We briefly visited the birthing pavilion and decided we were done for the day.

By that time a light rain was falling and while we thought about staying to experience the Opening Extravaganza, we regretfully started for home. But we decided that another tradition had to be honored and so we ordered a funnel cake to be split four ways. It could have been easily split eight ways and we didn’t do this purchase justice, but it is a tradition!

You have the rest of this week and next weekend to attend the State Fair. Enjoy all of the things this wonderful event offers and celebrate 150 years of the Nebraska State Fair.

Asian Beef and Broccoli Noodle Bowl

1 ½ pounds boneless beef shoulder steaks, cut three-fourths to 1-inch thick

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

3 cups water, divided

2 packages (3 ounces each) Oriental of beef-flavored instant ramen noodles, broken up

2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger

4 cups broccoli florets, cut into 1 to 1 ½inch pieces

Toppings (optional)

Toasted sesame seeds, sliced green onions, chopped fresh cilantro

Heat oil in a stockpot over medium heat until hot. Place beef steaks in pot; brown evenly. Pour off drippings, season with pepper, as desired. Add 1 cup water, seasoning packets from noodles and ginger; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover tightly and simmer 1 and one-fourth to 1 and three-fourths hours or until beef is fork-tender. Remove steaks; keep warm. Add remaining 2 cups water, broccoli and noodles to stockpot; bring to a boil. Cook, uncovered, 4 to 6 minutes or until broccoli is crisp-tender and noodles are tender, stirring occasionally. Carve steaks into thin slices; return to stockpot. Season with salt and pepper, as desired. Garnish with toppings, if desired.

Quote of the Week: Overall, our mission to serve agriculture remains as vital as Nebraska is strong. Our annual challenge is to offer an immense variety of entertainment for the best value – showcasing those fine Nebraska traditions while serving up the hottest entertainment menu for families from Scottsbluff to Omaha. Nebraska State Fair – there’s nothing more Nebraskan. Come join us! — Lori K. Cox, State Fair Executive Director

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Ellen Lund of Fremont is a freelance food columnist.

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