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Smorgasbord at the Flower Festival

Manila Machine lumpia
He probably has died by now--when I was young, he was old and I'm not so young anymore--but the memory of his gravity-defying tie will live forever in my memory. It's a well-known fact that the strangest people to be seen in Lompoc are only seen in Lompoc during the Flower Festival. This includes the guy whose tie could hold a wine glass. I don't know how he did it, but every year, there he was, with a tie bent in the middle to form a narrow shelf just wide enough to accommodate a wine glass. He walked carefully through the picnic tables and lines of people waiting to buy festival food, wine glass on his tie. And I never saw him spill a drop.

For the summer's most obvious show of patriotism, we come together to celebrate our country on the 4th of July. But throughout the summer, towns across the nation hold fairs and festivals to celebrate their signature crop and that's a pride of place to which I feel especially bound. W.C. Fields crowned Lompoc "The Flower Seed Capitol of the World" and while the moniker may not be accurate, it is understandable. Lompoc is surrounded by flower fields--possibly the one charm of that place to which I will never be immune--and every June, there is the Flower Festival.

A carnival comes to town, there is a parade down H street and the Alpha Club hosts their annual Flower Show. On parade day, my family and our friends gathered across the street from Taco Bell to watch the floats and marching bands and Shriners in their tiny cars (the first time I met another person named Kelsey, he was a portly Shriner well past retirement age... not exactly like looking in a mirror).

And after the parade, my mom, dad, brother, cousins, friends, neighbors, the list goes on... made a beeline for the Flower Show, because my brother and I--as kids will do--competitively flower arranged. Yes, this is absolutely a real thing. If you ever meet me, ask me why I'm still bitter that my stupid little brother got more Sweepstakes trophies than I ever did.

But Kelsey, you might be asking, isn't this a food blog? Where's the food? Friends, food the likes of which you've never seen is at Ryan Park in the line of booths between the rides and the art show. I think every church, social club, cultural association and school group set up a food booth and it may be ten years since I was last at the Flower Festival, but I can remember that line of booths, promising familiar faces and delicious fare like it was yesterday. My parents would give me and my brother some cash and we were allowed to run free, to buy whatever we wanted with the money in our hands.

Camp Fire Girls sold corn on the cob; the Elks Lodge had tri tip dinners (Santa Maria style, of course, and deserving of its own blog entry); the Mormons has strawberry pie; the Foursquares had jambalaya; Lompoc High School (my mother's alma mater) sold milkshakes and Cabrillo High School (my brother and my alma mater) sold "yak kabobs" which I'm nearly certain contained no yak... there were brownie sundaes, funnel cakes, chocolate dipped frozen bananas, tacos, BBQ chicken dinners, French bread pizzas, chicken gizzards with gravy. The Mexican Social Organization sold quesadillas, which I remember being fried and the Filipino Society had lumpia.

Oh lumpia. I asked my parents and my brother to name all the Flower Festival food booths they could and none of us forgot the lumpia. They are sort of a Filipino egg roll. However, to lump them in with a Westerner's generic idea of an egg roll is a stunning disservice to lumpia: their fried skins filled with ground pork, vegetables and spices. Done right, neither the meat nor the skin is greasy and an initial crunch melts into beautifully seasoned meat. There is usually a dipping sauce: sweet, with heat.

The Flower Festival was exciting, it was fleeting, it was summer. And my childhood memories of lumpia are bound inextricably to my memories of the Flower Festival. So it should be no surprise that I follow the Manila Machine food truck with a nearly maniacal devotion. Because the Manila Machine serves a variety of delicious sliders (spam) and other dishes (adobo chicken), but mostly because they serve lumpia.

There are precious few tastes that send me right into the ecstasy of childhood food discoveries, and Manila Machine's lumpia is one of them. Do yourself a favor follow them on Twitter. And when confronted with a small town fair or festival, always check it out. You might see a guy with a wine glass tie and you might follow the spirit of the town down a line of wooden booths fragrant with local specialties.