Eating (and cooking) Vegetarian

Our friends Alex and Sonja have decided to drastically limit their meat consumption for environmental/sustainability reasons. It's been pretty interesting learning about this from them and seeing their excitement for a vegetarian diet. It also made for a fun additional challenge to hosting them for a gourmet dinner. I don't think I've ever cooked a meal without a meat product, and finding recipes that were hearty yet diverse was a lot of fun. We even successfully served up many courses without ever featuring a "traditional" salad. The recipes were mostly from a great "Garden Feasts" cookbook I found at a booksale. The author just happens to be a Purdue grad, too!

Menu (with illustrations from the book)

Lime Spritzers

Red Pepper Pesto and Hummus with Pita Bread

Chilled Cream of Asparagus Soup with Mardi Gras Confetti

Grilled Artichoke with Tomato Compote

Risotto Pancakes with Shittake Mushrooms and Cream Sauce and Leek Clouds

Strawberry, Peach, and Mint Sorbet

A Spanish Feast!

This is from last month, but I just saw the pictures, so I had to post them. I hope they make you as hungry as they make me...but at least I got to savor this delicious food. Our friends Alex and Sonja cooked this amazing feast. I could eat that Paella alllll day.

Alex and Sonja

Garlic Marinated Olives

Pan Con Tomate

Goat Cheese and Blood Orange Salad


Apples Soaked in Red Wine


Kokoro revisited

I was up in West Lafayette this week for a couple work meetings, and it gave me the great opportunity to head back to Kokoro for some sushi. I fell in love with Kokoro during my years at Purdue and took Lynne there for an early date, where she loved it, too. When we lived downtown, we were only two blocks away, and if it weren't for the cost, probably would have eaten there weekly. I declare that Kokoro serves the best sushi in the states. I know, you'll probably laugh at that one, since how could a land-locked small town have such great sushi? But it all comes from a very unique man, who doesn't do traditional sushi, but "Tony food." Tony has been called the Sushi Nazi (ala Seinfeld's soup nazi) because he is a strong personality with some simple rules. No hats, no special orders, and "My Way or Highway!" He's been a chef for over 45 years, and he's still going strong. We always try to sit as close to his work station as possible so we can enjoy his banter, ordering around of his crew, and playful cussing out of his patrons.

At Kokoro, I was lucky enough to be the only person there late that evening, so I had Tony all to myself. We caught up, talked about how business was struggling due to the economy (weekdays were pretty slow, fewer international students were coming for dinner, etc.). I told Tony that I would cry if I ever saw the place closed for good, and he reassured me at the end of the meal not to worry. Tony and I also talked about Lynne, and the imminent baby arrival, and he was excited for us. When I told Tony that Lynne was sad because, being pregnant, she can't enjoy raw seafood, he said he felt bad for her. I then told him that I still ate it, even though she couldn't, and, in his heavy accent said, "That's really nice of you...Asshole!" He then laughed incredibly hard. That is quintessential Tony, and why we love him.

Also, whenever Lynne and I would go to Kokoro in the past, Tony would have reggae music playing. Much like Pavlov's dog, this conditioned me to salivate and want sushi whenever I hear reggae! This time, Tony wasn't playing reggae though! I asked him why not, and he said sometimes he needs other music. I explained about my reggae conditioning and this concept (and the trials run on Pavlov's dog) to Tony, and he howled with delight and then promptly changed the music back to reggae for the rest of the dinner. We both agreed that his restaurant is the only one in Indiana where you can listen to reggae, and that it's probably the only place in the world you can eat sushi and listen to reggae.

I also got to talk a bit with Ton'y wife, who is the sweetest petite Japenese woman. After dinner was over, I did bring home some tempura roll for Lynne, so I won some bonus points there, as she was so sad to miss the Kokoro experience. Here's wishing success to Tony and Kokoro and for them to weather this economic downturn! Lots of restuarants are going out of business, and Kokoro better not be a casualty.

Birmingham or Bust (or Baby?)

Looking for a chance to get out of town one last time before the baby arrives, I had the great idea to go watch the US Davis Cup tennis tournament in Birmingham, Alabama last weekend. For those that don't know, Davis Cup pits nation against nation in a year-long tennis tournment, which often features a country's best players. The US used to dominate the Davis Cup but went through a dry spell in the late 90's to 2007, when they finally recaptured the title under the team of Andy Roddick, James Blake, and Bob and Mike Bryan. This year's first-round match was scheduled against the Swiss, and I was so excited to go because Roger Federer had committed to play. I had never been to a pro tennis event before, so the chance to see Federer play two (or maybe three) matches against the US, was too good to pass up.

Unfortunately, Federer bailed (because he was scared? or because he had a back injury), but with my buddy Erik Mosley in tow, we watched some great tennis last weekend. In Davis Cup, each team fields two singles players and a doubles team. On Friday, James Blake played Switzerland's best player not named Federer (Stanislas Wawrinka, ranked 16th in the world), and unfortunately lost in 4 sets. Then it was Andy Roddick's turn to destroy the other Swiss player filling in for Federer (I don't even remember his name) in straight sets.

Saturday is a features day for doubles, with only one match scheduled. The US is lucky to have Bob and Mike Bryan, twin brothers, who are the best doubles team in the world, and possibly the best in history (they still have some time left to cement that claim). It took four sets, but the handled the Swiss team of Wawrinka and Allegro in a very exciting match. Having played so much doubles in my life, it was awe-inspiring to watch these two at the top of their game.

With the US leading the match 2-1, Sunday would decide it all. Roddick took on Wawrinka in the first match of the day, and if he won, it would clinch the match for the US. The team calls Roddick the closer, because he has NEVER lost when up 2-1 and playing on the last day. This time was no different, as Roddick played brilliantly to win in straight sets. Then the team took a victory lap around the court, waving the flag. Very cool.

The Davis Cup tournament is a fun experience because, as opposed to a normal tennis event with mild clapping and no real rooting interest, the crowd can get behind their countrymen, make lots of noise, and celebrate in a way uncommon to the sport. The nationalistic pride is really fun, and it was even great to see the large Swiss contingent at the arena who were great sports and had some well-coordinated cheers.

What made the weekend of tennis even more fun was hanging out in Birmingham with Erik, who I normally only get to see a couple times a year at Purdue sporting events. Being an awesome tennis player in his own right, he could also appreciate watching 6 hours of tennis in one day! We also thoroughly "did" Birmingham as we hit all sorts of local restaurants, dives, bars, and tourist spots. Some highlights included:

-Fantastic BBQ at Dreamland...we enjoyed the unique sauce, ribs, pork, smoked sausage, baked beans, and the essential banana puddin'.

-The Vulcan - a giant iron statue on a big hill on the south side of the city. Being up next to it on a windy night was fun, and I think I pulled the pose off well.

-Little local joints Seafood D-lite (guessing we were the first non-locals to ever eat there, but good gumbo and hush puppies), Rojo (good Mexican), Dave's Pub, 5 Points Grill, The Garage Cafe (a unique indoor/outdoor bar with more antiques than an annual flea market), and Twist and Shout (a dueling piano bar where I had to keep Erik from hitting on the bachelorette party ladies).

-sampling lots of local beers. It was our goal to drink Alabama or southern brewed beer whenever possible, and we had some interesting pints courtesy of Good People, a local Bham brewer, and Terrapin (brewed in Georgia)

Overall, it was a fantastic trip, and a much needed "last getaway." Did I mention Lynne was there too? She decided to use our "guys' trip" to hitch a ride to Birmingham and stay with her friend Katie that she hadn't seen in a long time. It definitely made for some good company on the 8-hour drive since Erik flew in to meet me in Alabama. Also, it made for some anxiety as we had to prepare for the big What If...Lynne went into labor on the car ride or in Birmingham! As Lynne put it, "I'd rather have the baby in Alabama and you be there, than to have the baby in Indy and you be in Alabama." Good point!