The Illinois State Fair: So Meaty!

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Every week our family tunes in to The Soup with Joel McHale. And every week, a millisecond after the Chat Stew graphic appears on TV, you’ll hear my two toddlers in their cute, little innocent voices say, “So meaty!”. Drawing it out, just like it's said. It is absolutely hysterical and we love it. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, click on the words "So meaty" to hear it.

Earlier this month, I had a chance to go down to Springfield, IL with Steve and the kids to visit my mom, sister and her family. Our visit was prompted by my nephew’s 3rd birthday, and quickly morphed into a great excuse to get away and spend some family time with the people we love most. Steve stayed for the weekend, and then headed back to Chicago for the work week; the kids and I stayed until the following Saturday.

At the tail end of the week, the Illinois State Fair kicked off and we were excited to take part in the opening events, including the parade featuring the IL Governor Pat Quinn and preview night. Admission was free and the rides were half prices! Now you're talkin'.

Tractors in the parade!

The Governor promised to sign the Childhood Cancer Research Fund bill and three weeks later, he kept his promised and signed it into law!

Springfield is part of the fabric of my life. In the middle of my 7th grade year, my family moved from Chicago down to Springfield. Those formative years are tough under normal circumstances and feeling like a complete outsider made for some difficult times, for me and for my sister. However, in the end, moving there turned out to be one of the best decisions my mom made for the welfare of our family. It afforded us many opportunities and experiences that we never would have had in Chicago. It also gifted me my best friend of 20+ years, who now lives less than 10 minutes away from me in Chicago, and my beautiful niece and nephew and my wonderful brother-in-law (Oh, the list of fantastic things goes on and on…).

So there’s no doubt that my Central Illinois heartstrings are strummed when the fair rolls around. It’s nostalgia at its best. We went to the fair every year; it was the highlight of summer.

The fair never changes. I like that. I like that a lot.

You always know the pulled pork sandwiches are in the pavilion across from the Grand Stand. You can get Cheese on a Stick right on Main Street. You will find the infamous Butter Cow in the Dairy Building (one of the only air conditioned building on the grounds) and the horse shows will always be in the Coliseum. You can bet on the races during the day, and you can rock out to some famous country or pop star at night (believe it or not, the Illinois State Fair actually draws in some decent talent – this year my niece was lucky enough to see Demi Lovato perform. Okay, so not my taste, but she was psyched!).

Butter Cow's backside!

Though the fair always stays the same, our experience at the fair has changed over the years. I began my fair days as an awkward teenager, spending my time scanning the crowd in an effort to see and be seen. Now, I’m a mother of two trying to keep up with excited toddlers who are obsessed with two things: rides and food. Period. The Butter Cow? Yeah, they’ll look at that for a second, but only if it’s en route to the rides. I have to say that it’s a refreshing take on the fair, as I know it.

This year was Atia’s 2nd time (though she doesn’t remember when she was there 3 years ago as a 1 year old), and Asher’s 1st time. Everything was new to them, and they loved it, even the corn dogs, which shocked me. I tried making them corn dogs at home once and they wanted nothing to do with them. Granted, they were the frozen kind and I heated them up in the microwave, but whatevs… the revelation that my kids would eat a hot dog on a stick covered in fried batter made me smile. They’re SO NORMAL. Oh, what I promised and vowed to give up, a few years ago, so that Atia could enjoy a normal childhood. These simple, everyday, fleeting, moments are never lost on me. Ever.

The other thing that Asher, my little carnivorous adventure eater, tried and liked was his Uncle Jimmy’s “Meat Man Parfait.” That's right, it's meat in a cup with potatoes and bar-b-cue sauce layered strategically, so as to resemble a ice cream parfait. It's food art, and oh "so meaty!”

It’s incredible! And in a weird way, it's symbolic of the Illinois State Fair – a delightfully glutinous combination of flavor and fun all neatly packaged in a remarkably unique offering. Believe me, you haven’t lived until you've been to the fair and eaten one of these.

Chances are, we'll  be there next year scarfing down a few Meat Man Parfaits, while quoting one of our favorite shows, "SO MEATY!" Yes, so meaty, indeed!

Atia's 1st fair ride: the Tilt-A-Whirl!


Boys and their cars - Asher and his cousin, Paxton!


A helicopter ride!


When elephants fly!


An unbreakable bond - Atia, Asher and their cousin, Cierstin!


Asher's 1st pony ride!

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