I Think I Won the Heisman!

The title is a lie.  I’m not often mistaken for Cam Newton, this year’s winner of the Heisman Trophy, awarded to the best college football player in the nation.  However, I sure felt like someone special since I had the amazing opportunity to attend the 2010 Heisman Memorial Trophy Dinner in New York this week.

First, some background is necessary.  No, I didn’t shell out $500 for a ticket or win one on a sports radio call-in show.  I just work for the coolest non-profit around.  Thanks to some sweet connections, for the last few years everyone who attends the event has received a $100 DonorsChoose.org gift card in their gift bag.  This year, along with my teammate Dan, I represented our organization.  It’s a rough job, I know!

The event was held at the Marriott Marquis and the Heisman staff did an impeccable job running it.  The evening started with a cocktail reception with some amazing food and an open bar.  There was a silent auction (a bit out of my price range) and the opportunity to get your picture taken with the trophy.

Kirk Heisman


During the reception I had the opportunity to meet some of the former Heisman winners that graced us with their appearance (not all attendees were at the reception).  I was able to meet football legends Tim Brown (‘87), Archie Griffin (‘74 and ‘75), Ty Detmer (‘90), Ron Dayne (‘99), Mike Rozier (‘83), Pete Dawkins (‘58), and Jim Plunkett (‘70).  I wish I had our DSLR camera to take better pictures, but its size would have been too cumbersome for this trip.

Tim Brown, despite being a Notre Dame alum, is still awesome.


I joked with Archie Griffin that I was a Purdue fan and enjoyed rooting against Ohio State during Big Ten play, and he laughed really hard at my honesty.  He was probably the most friendly and gracious former winner making the rounds.


I think Ty Detmer (BYU) would have blended into the crowd without his nametag.


I also chatted with Ron Dayne (Wisconsin) and told him how much he drove me crazy my freshman year when he ran for 222 yards against us, leading Wisconsin to a 7 point victory on his way to setting the collegiate record for most career rushing yards.  He laughed and said, “At least you got to cheer for Drew Brees!” to which I responded, “You bet, but I wish he had won the Heisman.”  Dayne’s retort: “Oh, he’s won a much better prize now!” referring to his Super Bowl MVP with the Saints last season (or maybe he meant the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year?)

After the cocktail reception, everyone headed into a large ballroom for the dinner.  Unfortunately, the former winners were seated up on stage and were roped off so that we couldn’t interact with them.  Once they were all introduced, I was surprised to see so many in attendance who hadn’t been at the reception earlier, including Doug Flutie, Steve Spurrier, Charlie Ward, Eric Crouch, Howard Cassady, Pat Sullivan, and Tony Dorsett.  Also in attendance (who we knew in advance would be there) were the Heisman winners celebrating a 10/25/50 year anniversary: Chris Weinke (‘00), Bo Jackson (‘85), and Joe Bellino (‘60).  Dan and I were most excited to meet Bo, but there was sadly never an opportunity, but we definitely can’t complain. 

ESPN’s Rece Davis emceed the dinner, and I had the opportunity to meet him later (read on).  Rece did a fantastic job and provided some good humor as well as giving DonorsChoose.org a tremendous shout out from the stage.  They showed a video honoring the charitable partners of the Heisman Trust, and Rece made sure to inform everyone about their gift card so they would be sure to redeem it after the event.


These  three pictures are courtesy of the event photographer

Flutie and Bo.  Bo’s speech was really humorous, and this was the first time he had been back to the event since he won the award 25 years ago.


Also in attendance was Warrick Dunn, who was being honored as the 2010 Heisman Humanitarian for all of his charitable work.  After the dinner I tried to get him to come down from the stage to say “hi” but all I got was a wave.  He gave a lot of credit to Tony Dungy, who coached him in Tampa, for inspiring him to give back to the community.


After everyone had spoken, including the Auburn athletic director and head coach (it was an Auburn love-fest with all of them there, as well as Newton and Bo), the head of the Heisman Trust, Bill Dockery, began to introduce the final speaker of the night, Cam Newton.  Before doing so he gave another great spiel about DonorsChoose.org and again reminded everyone to redeem their gift card.  I was blushing at all the love we were getting.  Cam spoke (we never had a chance to meet him either, since the only photo session with him was for VIP sponsors only (Nissan, Wendy’s, etc.)  earlier in the evening), and then the dinner was over.  We approached the stage to thank Bill for his kind words, and afterwards we tried to get the attention of the stars on the stage, but to little avail.  We did, however, see Bo point upwards as though he was going to some sort of after party.  We didn’t know what was really going on, and our tickets didn’t have additional information, but we thought it was worth a shot to wander around the hotel and see if there was a way to meet more of these guys.

Dan and I kept taking the escalator up until we came to the ninth floor where some over-caffeinated event staff were asking for tickets.  Apparently there was an after party, but it was only for guests of honor and VIP sponsors, and you had to have a separate ticket.  Dejected, we walked to the other side of the escalators to go back down, but then I saw an opening and told Dan to walk slowly and follow me.  While the bouncers were busy checking tickets, I realized we could walk around the hotel’s interior concourse and go the long way to reach the after party.  Employing my “bring out the smart phone, act like your conducting business, don’t look up and just keep walking like you know what you’re doing” method from my experience sneaking backstage at the Final Four, we made it into the party.

There was tons more food (but we were stuffed by this point), a great jazz band, open bar, about 30 people mingling, but no sign of Bo, Cam, or Warrick.  Eventually the room began to get more crowded and we realized we were sitting a few seats down from Tony Dorsett (‘76)!  We chatted a bit and I had him sign the Heisman mini-helmet from our gift bag.  We also were able to say hello to Rece Davis later on and thank him for the kind words he said earlier (while slipping him my card, of course!).  By the end of the night I found myself lingering in hopes that Bo would arrive, and I got pulled into a discussion with some tipsy gentlemen, including Mr. Dorsett,  Let’s just say my evening at the Marquis ended with a slap on the butt and a “good game” from a former Heisman Trophy winner. 


The rest of my trip to NYC was fantastic, since I love spending time with my colleagues at our headquarters.  I spent my free time checking out the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center (I’d never seen it in person), walking the windy snow-swept streets, shopping at the Union Square Holiday Market, and having a fantastic dinner at Ippudo (thanks to the recommendation of my wonderful new manager).

Ippudo has received some good reviews as one of the best Japanese ramen restaurants in the city.  And when you think “ramen,” don’t think 25 cent bags of stale thin noodles you ate in your college dorm room, but think flavorful fresh noodles with amazing broth and toppings.  The worst thing about the restaurant is the wait.  They don’t take reservations, and when I arrived, the small bar and waiting area were packed with people.  The couple before me were told their wait would be 90 minutes, and for a party of four, the wait was over two hours.  As a solo diner, however, I only had to wait ten minutes, so I highly recommend it as a place to check out when travelling alone.

I sat at the interior bar and was able to watch the cooks prepare the food as they hollered back and forth in the loud but playful environment.  I started with a Hirata bun, steamed and filled with pork belly and spicy sauce.  I’m not normally a huge fan of steamed buns, but this was delicious, and even more fun watching them cook it and assemble it right in front of me.  For my ramen dish, I had Kogashi miso ramen, which had a delicious charred miso broth, pork belly, salt boiled egg, bamboo shoots, cabbage, spinach, and naruto.  I loved it, and I took advantage of the Kae-dama option, which gives you a generous second-serving of noodles halfway through the meal for only two dollars.







Meeting Elmore Leonard

Tonight I had the extreme privilege to meet legendary author Elmore Leonard, and I’m still buzzing.  A couple months ago I saw a flyer advertising that he would be doing a reading at Butler University (a few short blocks from our house), and I had been eagerly anticipating the day.  Fewer than 1,000 people were in attendance (the event wasn’t that highly advertised in Indy since it was primarily for Butler students but free to the public), and Mr. Leonard read some excerpts from a couple books, talked about the projects he is currently working on, and took lots of questions from the audience.

It was thrilling to meet him at the book signing after the event and have a short chat.  I own almost every book or short story he’s ever written, so I’m definitely a big fan, and the fact he is still writing at his age is admirable.  As he spoke he admitted that as he gets older he forgets names and old characters, and it takes twice as long to right two pages of a book, but he still has tons of fun writing and seeing where his characters take him. 


Some fun facts that he shared (many of which fans already knew):

  • He still writes every word by hand (on yellow unlined paper), then types it on word processor, then gives it to his daughter to type on the computer and fix any grammatical errors.
  • He doesn’t use the computer at all, and even his official website is run by someone else
  • He doesn’t get edited much by his editor (who hated him titling his latest book Djibouti because foreign words don’t sell
  • When he starts writing, he has no ending our outline in mind, just characters, and around page 300 he’ll start to think of how the book will end, so it’s fun along the way for him to write
  • He never laughs at his own humor or dialogue when writing, but he’ll laugh when he reads it many years later (often forgetting he wrote it in the first place)
  • He thinks most best-selling authors write boring garbage
  • His favorite film adaptation of one of his novels was Jackie Brown (the book is Rum Punch) by Quentin Tarantino (and there have been lots of good ones and lots of horrible ones, such is Hollywood)
  • He talked a lot about Justified, the hit show on FX that starts its second season in February and is based off his short story “Fire in the Hole".”  When he first saw Timothy Olyphant as the protagonist Raylan Givens, he was so happy because it was a perfect match.  He’s written three separate books based on that character and sends them to the show’s writers to give them new material, but he’s not actively involved in the show.  He’s still working on the third book which centers around a gambling Butler student who gets arrested, skips out, starts robbing banks, and has Raylan hot on her trail.
  • When he’s writing a book he doesn’t read anything else so that it doesn’t influence him.  He once was reading William Goldman’s Marathon Man and found that he began writing with more complex sentences than his normal style.
  • He is frequently asked (and he got asked it again tonight) if he’s ever been in prison since he writes convict dialogue so well.  His response is the type you’d expect from a law-abiding 85 year old - “Are you crazy? No!”

I’d encourage you to go check out one of his many books from the library (it’s tough for me to recommend one, I love them all, although I haven’t read Djibouti yet, and he was honest that it got mixed reviews and he probably could have done some things better in it).  And if you’re looking for a good film adaptation, try Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Jackie Brown, or the first season of Justified (out on DVD in January).



The best Thai in New York?

With my new role at work I’ll be making more frequent trips to New York to collaborate with my colleagues out there.  Rough life – I know!  My most recent time in the city a couple weeks ago was filled with lots of productive meetings, fun with coworkers, and, of course, fantastic food.

harold2The culinary highlight of the trip was a visit to Kin Shop, a new Thai restaurant opened in October by Harold Dieterle, the winner of Top Chef – Season One.  I’m a huge Top Chef fan, so this was very exciting, and the fact that it was Thai, moderately priced, and had garnered some fantastic reviews by critics and the general public made this a no-brainer.  The dinner was a fun time with friends, we got to see Harold expediting from the kitchen, and famed food critic Jeffrey Steingarten was seated two tables away from us!  I still haven’t read a review, but I hope he enjoyed his meal as much as I did.

I cannot recommend this restaurant enough, and if you have the chance to go, take a lot of people so you can try as many of the dishes as possible.  We feasted on the following items:

  • spicy duck laab salad – the spiciest thing I’ve eaten outside of Thailand, authentic flavors, delicious
  • fried pork and crispy oyster salad – so good, pork belly, oysters, you can’t really go wrong
  • grilled “Phuket style” river prawns – cooked perfectly with a sweet peanut pepper sauce that I could have drank straight
  • hand cut beef tartar – tasty chili jam, this was nice, but not extraordinary
  • red curry roasted duck breast –served on roti, I could eat this all day, they do duck well!
  • green curry steamed red snapper – this was cooked perfectly and was light but with a very complimentary sauce
  • pan fried crab noodles – thin noodles with tons of flavor, were a nice complement to the curry-flavored dishes
  • massaman braised goat – you have to work at this one since it’s served on the bone, but that just makes for some great marrow (thanks Orchid for sharing!)
  • lychee sorbet – perfect, refreshing, could eat a quart
  • calamansi sorbet – ditto
  • kaffir lime ice cream – I had my eye on this as soon as the reservation was set, nothing is quite like makrut (kaffir) lime, and it’s one of my favorite flavors ever.  This ice cream was perfect, flavorful yet not too strong, and I can’t wait to try to make it at home

Check out the full menu, and for an even better review, check out my friend Orchid’s post on Yelp.

Other highlights of the trip included an amazing lamb burger and some hard-to-find (at least in Indy) top-notch beers at Amity Hall.  Delirium Tremens, Bluepoint Sour Cherry Imperial Stout, Brooklyn Brewmaster Cuvee Noire, and Bluepoint Toasted Lager all were outstanding (and on tap!).

The final highlight – meeting the co-founder of reddit at our office (they like us!).  Yep, I’m a Thai-loving, sometimes foodie, geeky beer snob who works for an awesome nonprofit! Cheers!


Potty Time, Excellent!

This week Eliza had her first successful experience on her little training toilet.  But as you can tell from the photograph, she doesn’t like to be disturbed when she’s doing her business.

I’m sure she’ll make us remove this photo when she gets older, so enjoy it while you can!


Eliza's First Camping Trip

Back in October we spent a weekend with Lynne’s family at Land Between the Lakes, a national recreation area in Kentucky.  It was a lot fun with great weather, hiking, kayaking, campfires, and playing with Eliza.  She loved spending so much time outdoors!


















Playing with Leaves

Eliza had so much fun playing in the piles of leaves Kirk raked earlier this month.  Despite only one small tree, we always seem to get the bulk of the leaves from our neighbors’ giant trees.  The pile was so much fun that even Preston had to come over and get in on the action.







Paris – Day 9

It makes us a little sad to write about our last full day in Paris.  We woke up surprised to hear the sound of piano coming through our open window.  Someone below us was playing amazingly well, and it was a wonderful way to start the day.

We had saved a visit to the Louvre for our last day since it was our backup plan if it had rained a lot any other day.  On our way to the Louvre we stopped by Le Duree for some breakfast pastries and macarons.  Earlier we wrote about the amazing macarons at Pierre Herme that we enjoyed on our first day, which many claim are the best in the city, so we figured on our last day we had to try the other highest-rated macarons in Paris. 

They didn’t disappoint and we’re actually a bit cheaper than those at Pierre Herme, but overall we felt they were a little milder in flavor and less creative in their flavor combination.  We’d rate Le Duree a close second to Pierre, but we really enjoyed their pastries, too!  I still miss such decadent breakfasts.

Laduree Macarons

Laduree Macarons

We arrived at the Louvre and were so pleased that it was such a beautiful day.  We we’re a little bummed to spend so much of it indoors, but it made for some great pictures outside.

Musee Du Louvre

Musee Du Louvre

Musee Du Louvre

Musee Du Louvre

Once inside, it was honestly a bit overwhelming.  Many of the main galleries were filled with so many people, and the paintings (at least in the Italian painter rooms leading to the Mona Lisa) were hung three or four high on the walls, so it was difficult to give each one the appropriate attention.  Lynne’s art history training wasn’t used to processing so much at one time.  We enjoyed the audio tour and would rotate with one of us listening and filling the other in while the other took photos.

Musee Du Louvre

Winged Victory, my favoriteMusee Du Louvre

Musee Du Louvre

Musee Du Louvre

Musee Du Louvre

Musee Du Louvre

We had a lot more peace viewing the Middle East and ancient items since it wasn't as crowded, and we found that the galleries on the upper levels had some breathtaking paintings and weren’t nearly as crowded.

Musee Du Louvre

Musee Du Louvre

Musee Du Louvre

Musee Du Louvre

Musee Du Louvre

Musee Du Louvre

Musee Du Louvre

We also enjoyed seeing the Napoleon III apartments, which ended our day (we literally got kicked out at 5:45pm), and the two areas that used to be courtyards of the palace which housed some amazing sculptures.  This visit made me realize how little I actually saw on my short three hour tour ten years ago.

Musee Du Louvre

Musee Du Louvre

Musee Du Louvre

Musee Du Louvre

Where’s Kirk?Musee Du Louvre

Musee Du Louvre

Musee Du Louvre

On the way home we stopped by St. Germain church, a grocery store for some last minute gifts and snacks for the plane, and then we tried to find a final dinner place that was just right.  We were being really picky, and unexpectedly ended up back at Vins et Terroirs, since we loved it so much the first time.  We indulged in some great wine, salmon tartar, lobster bisque, beef bourguignon, steak au poivre, and, of course, tons of delicious bread and butter.

When we got back to the apartment, the pianist was at it again.  It was so beautiful, and we’d yell “bravo!” out our window and hear her laugh below.  It was the perfect soundtrack for our last night in Paris as we enjoyed a dessert of French cheese and chocolates in our little apartment.