Dog Days on the Prairie

If ever there were “Dog Days of Summer”, I think they came last weekend.  It was almost as if August was taunting us: “You haven’t heard the last of me – I’m going to make you sweat just a little more before Labor Day kicks in. Ha!”  Temperatures bumped up to 100 degrees, with a heat index of Hades, and the humidity…oh, the humidity.  While word association with the word “summer” might bring responses like “picnic” or “grilling out”, the truth is this: unless you have some shade and a breeze, eating outside on a Mississippi summer day can be unpleasant.  But this weekend brought a couple of events where outside dining was practically unavoidable, and I managed to muddle through them without melting entirely.

Friday night was the first Starkville High home football game of the season.  I enjoy going to the old alma mater to see the games, especially now that my own kids are roaming the stands and keeping the beat just as I did a year or thirty ago.  For convenience more than anything else, we often have dinner there in the stands.  This week The Wife and I both had the hot dog combo.  It’s not too fancy – just a hot dog, chips and a drink – but the hot dogs there are nice and plump.  No little skinny dogs with an inverted bun to wiener ratio, these dogs have some girth.  The drink lost its cool pretty quickly in the heat, but it was still wet and we were thankful.

On Saturday morning, the weather hadn’t changed much.  For the last two years on this particular weekend I’ve risen early and run the Prairie Arts Festival 5k, which then justifies my consumption of whatever street food I desire at the festival.  This year I didn’t quite have my fat together and skipped the run.  But it’s still a festival, and West Point really isn’t that far, and you never know what fun food you might miss if you don’t show up.  I couldn’t convince any of my immediate family to endure the heat-and-eat session, so I hopped in the car with my own parental units and we made the short drive to the prairie.

Once we got there, it was clear that we wouldn’t be staying long.   Thankfully, most of the food vendors at the PAF are concentrated in one or two places and it didn’t take a lot of effort to survey the scene.  I had done some investigating before we left, to see if one of my favorites – The Swine’s Behind – was going to make a repeat visit.  This is the fellow I discovered last year at PAF with what he calls Smoke Bombs and I call Nature’s Perfect Food: battered and fried balls of pulled pork.  The Bombs look something like a giant hush puppy, but inside the crunchy exterior is a wad of smoky pig goodness.  They were there, and it was worth the trip over just for that.

Fried. Smoked. Perfect.

Fried. Smoked. Perfect.

If it had been cooler, I think I would have been a little more ambitious.  Funnel cakes, corn dogs and ribbon fries coming straight out of the hot oil just don’t have the same appeal when it feels like you just walked through hot oil to get there.  So our goal was to find something unique and something to cool us down.  All things considered, we accomplished our goal.

We weren’t really in the market for crafty things, which meant we didn’t walk around and work up much of an appetite for multiple dishes.  One meal would have to suffice, but I did have the Parental Units with me to help and they are usually pretty agreeable to munch on whatever I order.  A couple of years ago I’d had a good experience at one of the Greek Food booths, so I took a pretty close look there and saw something called Greek Fries.  I don’t normally order things like chili cheese fries and the like because of the tendency for the toppings to create a soggy, starchy mess, but this was one of the more unique offerings I could find, and it won my attention.  The fries were hand-cut (or at least appeared to be) and topped with fresh tomatoes, black olives, feta cheese and tzatziki sauce.  The potatoes were hot and the tzatziki sauce was room temperature (remembering that the “room” was downtown West Point in the middle of the day in late August), but the tomatoes, olives and feta came straight out of the cooler.  That little bit of coolness actually nudged this combo slightly towards refreshing.  If I were doing the same thing at home I would only add a good shaking of Cavender’s Greek Seasoning to give it just a bit more kick.  It was a tasty combination – something I would definitely order even if I had to eat it fast to protect my fries.

Who knew fries were Greek?

Who knew fries were Greek?

On the cool side, there was lots of lemonade to choose from, and the flavors seem to expand every year.  The PU’s got original flavor (which I’m told is “lemon”) and I got the mango.  I dare to be different.  For dessert there was a homemade ice cream booth, and we got a sample (a cupful is not really a full serving in our house) of both peach and strawberry – both good, both cold.

John Deere makes pretty good ice cream

John Deere makes pretty good ice cream

The true test of dog-day misery in the form of heat and humidity is going out at night.  Dark should equal cooler, right?  After the ballgame involving the local university that makes great cheese I went Krogering.  (For those of you who are old enough to remember, let’s pause a minute to allow the “Let’s Go Krogering” jingle to get firmly stuck on your brain radio dial for the day ahead.)  It was daylight when I went in, dark when I came out, and there was a shimmering haze of heat around the streetlights.  Come on, fall!

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