Twice in the last two months I've said to someone, "This is just like the fair!"
Sheep shearing, midway rides, and pig races: for a kid in central Ohio, the county fair was the hottest ticket of the fall social calendar; and the Ohio State Fair was the most thrilling event of the year.
Walking through the competition barns, I would beg to join 4-H and have my own sheep. Every year, my father would remind me that we lived within the town limits and our yard was not zoned for farm animals.
I also lived for the midway. My friends and I would gorge ourselves on fried and sweet delicacies and then hit the fastest, whippingest, most vomit-inducing rides.
My favorite fair fare came in a greasy paper cone: salty, skin-on french fries drenched with mouth-puckering malt vinegar. Rarely do I find fries as good as those, but I'm always on the lookout.
In August, I came close when I accompanied my college pal KC and her daughter to Prince Edward Island, which is not only home to Anne of Green Gables, but the best potatoes I've ever eaten. As it turns out, the soil and climate of PEI are perfect spud-growing conditions.
Particularly outstanding were the french fries at a little seaside sandwich shack in the beach town of Victoria. And there, on the ledge next to the ketchup and other condiments, was a bottle of malt vinegar. KC and I smiled. A fellow Buckeye, she eats her fries with malt vinegar too.
We doused our taters and found a picnic table across the lane, just below the signal house overlooking the harbor. It was a postcard-perfect scene. "KC," I said, "this is just like the Ohio State Fair." She laughed, "Only I'm not throwing up from the Scrambler."
Just a couple months later, my friend MS and I attended the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, New York. We wandered the stalls, fondling the softest fibers and cooing over the fuzzy animals. I thought of the 6- through 11-year-old me who wanted a sheep in the city as MS and I discussed smuggling an alpaca back to the Big Apple. We were pretty sure getting the 6.5 foot animal on Metro-North would be the most difficult part of the proposition.
It may be impossible to recreate the spirit of fair and festival and idyllic seasides, but the malt vinegar oven fries I whipped up this week are pretty dang close. Salty and tangy, crispy and chewy, they have less fat and fewer calories than traditional fries but all the flavor. CB, who isn't crazy about fries said, "I would eat these again." High praise.
It's been an excellent fall for making new fair memories. A sheep even licked my hand.
If this post tipped your canoe, swim over to:
Malt Vinegar Oven Fries
2 medium russet potatoes (about 7 ounces each)
2 tbsp malt vinegar
1/2 tbsp olive oil
3 generous pinches sea salt
1) Scrub and dry potatoes. Slice widthwise into 1/2" disks, then slice disks into 1/2" strips. Place cut potatoes into bowl or zipper-seal bag.
2) Pour malt vinegar in a small bowl. Drizzling in olive oil, emulsify oil and vinegar with a whisk or immersion blender.
3) Pour oil and vinegar over cut potatoes, sprinkle with salt, and toss well. Allow to marinate for at least 30 minutes.
4) Preheat oven to 350°. Arrange marinated potatoes on a baking sheet, evenly spaced without much, if any overlap. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring after 15 minutes, until crispy.
5) Sprinkle with more vinegar and salt, if desired. Serve with your favorite sandwich or in a paper cone for true state fair authenticity. Pucker up…a kiss is in your future.
Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, and Protein per Serving
201 calories, 3.5g fat, 3g fiber, 5g protein, $0.47
2 medium russet potatoes: 336 calories, 0g fat, 6g fiber, 10g protein, $0.86
2 tbsp malt vinegar: 6 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.02
1/2 tbsp olive oil: 60 calories, 7g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.04
3 generous pinches sea salt: negligible calories, fat, fiber, protein, $.02
TOTALS: 402 calories, 7g fat, 6g fiber, 10g protein, $.94
PER SERVING (totals/2): 201calories, 3.5g fat, 3g fiber, 5g protein, $.47