Frozen, fried or on a stick, State Fair offers an assortment of tasty treats

Though taste is certainly a factor, many people are drawn to the novelty of food at the Ohio State Fair.

Deep-fry anything. Put it on a stick. It sells.

One of the most unusual and dangerous food attractions that the fair offers: “Dragon’s Breath.” The stand made its debut this year, and it attracts fairgoers not just for its snacking experience, but it’s dangerous appeal.

Large cereal puffs are flash-frozen in a bowl of liquid nitrogen and placed in a cup. Before the snack is handed off to the customer, the vendor reads off a list of specific instructions, such as using a skewer instead of touching food directly, and being sure to blow on the puff before eating it so the throat doesn’t get burned by the extreme cold.

When customers chew with their mouths open or speak while they are eating “dragon puffs,” vapor from the liquid nitrogen escapes from the nose and mouth, giving the illusion of breathing like a dragon.

“A lot of people are curious and come looking for us around the fair,” said Sean Friedhoff, 15, of Waynesville in Warren County. “You get to breathe smoke like a dragon, and a lot of people are intrigued by that.”

The treat is light and refreshingly cold, and the taste resembles a fruity cereal. But the experience of breathing like a dragon really makes it a “party in a cup,” Friedhoff said.

“It reminds me of oversized Cap’n Crunch,” said another employee, Aaron Soper, 31, of Hilliard. “It’s a neat novelty.”

The stand, near the Ferris wheel on the midway, is run by Martin’s Fine Food in Harveysburg in Warren County.

Dragon’s Breath isn’t the only unusual option at the State Fair. Other quirky foods include a burger on a doughnut bun and deep-fried buckeyes wrapped in bacon. The fair leaves the options open to the vendors’ imaginations.

The fair boasts nearly 200 food vendors, 27 categories of fried foods and 32 foods served on a stick.

One of the items is a stuffed waffle on a stick by Waffle Chix, a family-owned food truck based in Iowa that travels to fairs across the country. Customers can select savory or sweet for inside the waffle, with a variety of options that include chicken, cookie dough and Snickers.

“Just by putting it on a stick, it becomes fair food,” said 27-year-old vendor Spencer Taylor. “It’s convenient, and people can meander around the fair with it.”

For some, food is a just a bonus to go along with the the rides, shows and livestock. For others, it’s the best part of the day.

“I lost 80 pounds this year, and I won’t gain it all back in one day, but I’ll certainly gain some of it back today,” Maurice Jackson, 53, of the East Side, said with a laugh as he snacked on Buffalo tater tots. “I’m going to enjoy myself while I’m here. You only live once.”

Originally published by The Columbus Dispatch on August 1, 2018.

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Canal Winchester uses minnows as well as pesticides in mosquito battle

As urban forester Dick Miller hoisted 50 pounds of minnows and waded into muddy wetlands, he swatted away mosquitoes buzzing in his ear. He slit the bag open and released thousands of tiny fish into the water, freeing them to do what they do best: eat and kill.

Instead of pesticides and chemicals, Canal Winchester is using a more-natural approach to get rid of pesky mosquitoes for the summer. Members of the city’s urban forestry department released 11,000 fathead minnows into five wetland areas and ponds around the city this week in hopes of decreasing the mosquito count during a particularly wet and hot season. The minnows — which Miller called “voracious eaters” — consume mosquito larvae in the water before they mature.

The city’s program is the only one of its kind in the area and complements what Franklin County already does to prevent mosquito-population growth, such as spraying pesticides. Miller said the city has been releasing minnows for three years, and he believes the approach is more efficient — and definitely more natural.

“When you fog, within minutes, it’s on the ground, and it’s not killing anything after that,” Miller said. “It all helps, but with the minnows, you’re releasing a native fish in their native habitat in their native state to do what they do best without any chemicals or pesticides.”

Miller said he can’t quantify the program’s results, but he said it’s so simple that it was worth a try. It’s relatively cheap, too, at $425 for about 11,000 fish. In comparison, Canal Winchester paid $6,200 to the Franklin County Health Department for mosquito control in 2017.

“For a few hundred dollars and a little bit of time, why not?” he said. “How could it not help?”

Summer hikes or barbecues might be disturbed by a larger mosquito population this year because of a particularly wet few months. According to the National Weather Service in Wilmington, June’s temperatures and precipitation have been above average. Rainfall and heat create ideal breeding conditions for some species of mosquitoes that lay their eggs in standing water.

Fortunately, Miller said, most mosquitoes are simply a nuisance.

The Ohio Department of Health has tested 27,000 mosquitoes in 33 counties this year. Of those, six tested positive for West Nile virus, a disease carried by infected mosquitoes that can be deadly. Three of those positive tests were in Franklin County. There has been no documented human case of West Nile in Ohio this year, said Richard Gary, the state public-health entomologist.

The Franklin County Health Department — whose jurisdiction is the entire county outside Columbus and Worthington — uses a variety of methods to deter growth of the mosquito population. The department targets larvae early by locating standing water and releasing bacteria that affects only mosquito eggs. But as the summer goes on and mosquitoes hatch, the county begins fogging with pesticides. The county also responds to calls about high mosquito activity and will spray specific areas.

People who do not want pesticides in their neighborhood can fill out a no-spray request on the county health department’s website. Columbus Public Health has a similar request process for city residents. Some people prefer this option if they have specific concerns about allergies, health or the environment.

“You can’t ever get rid of mosquitoes,” Miller said. “They’ll always be there, but we can manage them as best we can.”

Originally published by The Columbus Dispatch on June 14, 2018.