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Ever since going gluten free (GF) nearly a year ago, I have searched for and experimented with a multitude of GF alternatives for certain foods. Unfortunately, my efforts have largely been for naught. Don’t get me wrong, GF food isn’t all horrible; but, as a general rule, it is different than the “real” food it’s trying to replace. Different taste, different density, vastly different texture. Some GF foods are perfectly fine, but some just don’t work in translation.

For example, you can find GF bread fairly easily, but it’s really not “bread” as most of us know it. At least not the yummy, yeasty, warm, airy loaves of heavenly near-orgasm-inducing goodness available at your neighborhood bakery. Nope. Nothing like that at all. GF bread is an entirely different animal.

In all fairness, GF bread sort of looks like normal bread, and, yes, technically you can smear it with peanut butter and jelly or grill it into something that approximates a grilled cheese; the problem comes when you try to eat it. I have yet to be able to choke down more than four or five bites of any type of GF bread. That’s good and bad. The upside is you’re actually full–stuffed, really–after four or five bites. The downside is you feel like you’re eating a hunk of slightly damp drywall in the process. I suspect this paragraph is going to produce a flood of responses from my wonderfully supportive and compassionate readers with recipes attached for “gluten-free bread so good you’ll never know it’s not the real thing.” Fabulous! Send ’em on. I would love to be proved wrong. Oh, how I would love to be proved wrong. Until then, I’ll just wrap my ham and cheese or tuna salad in a lettuce leaf.

Even though I’ve pretty much given up hope of ever eating “real” bread again, I have discovered some very pleasant substitutes along the way for other foods I despaired of never being able to eat again, so I thought I’d take the time to share a couple of those recipes with those of you who have to eat GF,  who are thinking about experimenting with eating GF, or who would just love to bake some delectable goodies for me as a SURPRISE! Anyone? Anyone?

THE FIRST RECIPE

The first discovery I want to share with you is a cheesecake. For the last six months or so, I have experimented repeatedly with a crustless GF cheesecake recipe that a friend gave me years ago, but I have never managed to get it quite right. The finished cheesecake from this recipe usually tastes good–great, even–but the texture or some other aspect of the thing would be all wrong. Certainly not something I could serve to guests (other than my kids) or take to someone else’s home as my contribution to a meal. More importantly, it didn’t have a crust!

Enter Kinnikinnick Foods S’moreables Graham Style Crackers, graham crackers for the GF crowd. I had noticed these little gems in the health food section of my local store on several occasions, but I’d assumed–based on previous experiences with similar products–that they’d be a disappointment. Oh, ye of little faith. Last week, I finally picked up a package of the crackers, instead of just sneering at them as my gaze grazed the display, and noticed a recipe for Lemon Cheesecake on the back of the box using the crackers to make the cheesecake’s crust. Sold. Heck, what did I have to loose? The crustless version was going nowhere fast, so I gathered the ingredients and headed home to give it a whirl.

Oh, my gosh. Heaven! Crust! Creamy cheesy goodness and crust!

Gluten-Free Lemon Cheesecake

Crust:
1 package (8 oz.) of Kinnikinnick S’moreables Graham Style Crackers, crushed into crumbs
1/4 cup granulated sugar
6 tablespoons melted butter

Grease and line the base and sides of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper.

Combine the crushed crackers, sugar, and butter. Mix well. Press the crumb mixture onto the bottom and 2 inches up the sides of the prepared pan. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Filling:
2 (8 oz.) packages of cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons grated lemon peel
2/3 cup sour cream
1/2 ricotta cheese
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs, room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Using an electric mixer, beat the first three ingredients in a large bowl until smooth; do not over beat. Add the sour cream, ricotta, lemon juice, and vanilla. Beat until combined. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until combined before adding the next egg. Pour the filling into the crust. Place the pan on a baking sheet. Bake, uncovered, in the preheated oven for about 1 hour or until the cheesecake is set. Cool. Cover the springform pan and refrigerate the cheesecake for 8 hours or overnight.

Serve with whipped cream and berries or drizzled with chocolate. Use your imagination.

THE SECOND RECIPE

The second recipe I want to share–the one I’m really excited about–is one I got this weekend when I attended a gluten-free desserts class at the Culinary Center of Kansas City. Before I go any further, if you live in the KC metro area (and love food) and have never visited or taken a class at the Culinary Center, I must insist that you remedy the situation immediately. Seriously. They offer so much: hands-on cooking classes, dinners on demand, bistro dinners, team builders, Tuesday staff lunches, private parties…the list is long and grows longer every year. I’ve never participated in any activity there that I didn’t enjoy. Plus most everything they do involves a glass of wine…or two. I’ve given you the link to their site. Check it out!

Anyway, the gluten-free desserts class was taught by Danica Pollard, the pastry chef at Lidia’s. Okay, I must pause again–briefly–if you live in the KC metro area and have never been to Lidia’s, a fabulous Italian restaurant located in the Freight House in the Crossroads District, get out of your chair right now and call for a reservation. Better yet, stay right where you are and click on either link I’ve provided and make your reservation online. You won’t be sorry…even if you’re GF. If  you’re not GF, I recommend the Pasta Tasting Trio. Man, I miss the Pasta Tasting Trio. Okay, back to our regularly scheduled post…

Danica made four incredibly delicious gluten-free desserts, and not one of them tasted–or had the mouth-feel–of your typical GF offering. My favorite was her GF Super Fudgey Brownies, which I share with you now (because I love you):

Danica Pollard’s Gluten-Free Super Fudgey Brownies

1 cup GF flour mixture (see below)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa
8 oz. 60-72% chocolate, in small pieces
6 oz. butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoon double strength vanilla

GF Flour Mixture (makes 9 cups):
6 cups white rice flour
2 cups potato starch (not potato flour)
1 cup tapioca flour
3 tablespoons xantham gum

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Sift together the flour, salt, and cocoa. Set aside.

Place the chocolate and the butter in a metal or heatproof bowl over simmering water or in a double-boiler. Allow the chocolate and butter to melt slowly, stirring frequently until they are completely melted. Turn off the heat.

With the bowl still over the water, whisk the sugars in until well mixed. Remove the bowl from the heat and fold in the eggs and vanilla. Gently fold in the dry ingredients. Do not over mix. The more you fold or stir the batter, the cakier and less fudge-like the brownies will be.

Pour the batter into a greased 9×13 glass baking dish (Danica recommends a glass baking dish if you want the brownies to be really fudgey–believe me, you want the brownies to be really fudgey). Bake for 25 minutes. Rotate and then bake for an additional 15-20 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs.

Taaaast-eeee!

So, what are you waiting for? Get going!

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Okay, so the temperatures here in Tucson since my arrival last week have been cooler than normal, and the sunshine has been intermittent at best. Maybe not what I was counting on, but still, I’ve had hours-long stretches of sunshine to bask in on several occasions—which is way more than I was getting at home—and I’ve been able to go entire days without wearing my coat, hat, and scarf. I’ve even gotten to wear sandals a few times; although I’m sure the locals think I’m a bit loony. Fair enough. Maybe I am a bit hasty in throwing aside my winter togs, but bare toes and bare arms have been exactly the thing to jumpstart the attitude adjustment I so desperately needed.

Better yet, I’ve gotten to spend time with nearly all my family and friends in both Tucson and Phoenix. No small feat when you consider they’re busy people and I arrived without much notice. I’m grateful to each of them for adjusting already full schedules at the last minute to accommodate my visit, and I thank Dad’s friends for making room for me at their table at Burger King where they meet every weekday morning. Keep me posted on the glowing circles, guys!

I have to thank my Dad, especially, for being such a terrific host to both Teddy and me. Teddy has been welcomed everywhere we’ve gone, but nowhere more so than at Dad’s, where he was greeted with open arms and given the run of the house…and the run of the backseat of Dad’s beloved yellow Beetle. Dad’s not going to know what to do when we leave and he no longer has to hurdle over a sleeping dog sprawled from wall-to-wall in the hallway.

As for me, I’ve been taken to lunch at all my favorite restaurants here in Tucson, including the Firebird up in the northwest part of town, and to a wonderful local theater called The Gaslight Theatre for an afternoon of really well done (and incredibly goofy) melodrama. (Thanks for babysitting Teddy, Chris!) In every way, I’ve been treated like visiting royalty.

Moreover, the short stretches of time we’ve actually been here at Dad’s have been blissfully quiet and relaxing. I’ve gotten to do some reading, practice the piano (but not enough…I apologize in advance, Lori), write a little, and sleep like the dead every night. I’ve even gotten to do a good bit of cooking.

On Monday, a cold (“cold” being a relative term) and dreary day, Dad and I spent the entire afternoon in the kitchen, chopping, peeling, sautéing, simmering, mixing, and baking. By the time we were done, Dad’s freezer was stuffed with multiple containers of three different kinds of soup and enough BBQ’d meatballs to…to…well, I don’t know to what, but the shelves on his freezer door are groaning from the weight of them. He won’t go hungry for a couple of months. That’s all I’m saying.

We made three of my very favorite soups that I knew—or suspected—Dad would like: my mom’s potato soup (which I’ve modified slightly since she taught me to make it years ago); a yummy roasted carrot soup that makes the house smell incredible for several hours while you’re roasting the carrots, parsnips, onions, and ginger; and a knock-your-socks-off corn chowder that my dear friend Tiffany gave me the recipe for two winters ago. I’m including the recipe for each of them at the end of this post if you’d like to try them for yourselves. Just scroll down. I’m also including the recipe for the meatballs because, not only are they smack-your-grandma delicious, they’re perfect to serve at a Super Bowl party. Enjoy!

The Tedster and I have had a blast in Tucson and are feeling much better about the world in general, but it’s time to move on. Tomorrow morning, we’re back on the road. The weather in KC is still crappy…and keeps getting crappier by the minute…and promises to remain uber crappy until early next week…so we’ve decided to head to the very bottom of Texas to see my niece and her family who live in the McAllen area. On the way north from their place, we’ll be able to stop and see my sister and other niece in Austin. With any luck, the weather will clear in the Midwest while Teddy and I are wandering around in the bowels of Texas, and we’ll be able to drive into KC on Tuesday. (From my lips to the weather gods’ ears.)

Anyway, I hate to admit it, but I suppose I’ve been gone long enough. Tom’s clearly been left at home alone longer than he should have been. Yesterday when he made his lunch, he forgot to remove the waxed paper from the deli cheese he used on his sandwich and ended up eating several bites of it at lunchtime before he figured out why the darn thing tasted so lousy. It’s good to be needed. Sigh.

The recipes:

Mom’s Potato Soup (slightly modified)
6 servings

2 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, diced into ¼ inch pieces
4 stalks of celery, sliced crosswise
2 teaspoons of salt
1 teaspoon of pepper
3 large russet potatoes, diced into 1 inch pieces (peeling the potatoes is optional)
4 cups of rich chicken broth
4 tablespoons of butter
1 cup of cream

Optional (for serving):
Bacon crumbles
Grated cheese

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a stockpot. Add the onions, celery, salt, and pepper. Sauté the onions and celery until the onions are transparent. About 7 minutes.

Add the potatoes and broth. The broth should cover the potatoes. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender. About 20 minutes.

Use a potato masher (for a chunky soup) or an immersion blender (for a creamy soup) to mash/puree the vegetables. Add the butter and cream. Add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 5 more minutes.

Serve with crumbled bacon and/or your favorite grated cheese.

Roasted Carrot Soup
Serves 10

Preheat the oven to 350°

1½ lbs. carrots, peeled and halved lengthwise
1 lb. parsnips, peeled and quartered lengthwise
1 large onion, sliced
3-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and diced
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
8 cups rich chicken broth (more if necessary)
2 teaspoon salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper
¼ cup crème fraîche, for garnish
Snipped fresh chives, for garnish

Combine the carrots, parsnips, onion, and ginger in a shallow roasting pan. Dot the vegetables with butter and sprinkle with the brown sugar. Pour 2 cups of the broth over the vegetables.

Cover the roasting pan with foil and bake for 2 hours until the vegetables are very tender.

Transfer the vegetables and broth into a large stockpot and add the remaining 6 cups of broth. Add the salt and cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 10 minutes.

Puree the soup in batches in a blender and return to the stockpot or puree with mixture with an immersion blender. Adjust the seasonings and simmer for 20 minutes more.

Serve with a dollop of crème fraîche and a sprinkling of snipped chives.

Cozy Corn Chowder
6 servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, cut into ¼ inch dice
1 large red bell pepper, cut into ¼ inch dice
1 cup carrots, peeled and cut into ¼ inch dice
3 jalapenos, seeded and sliced (3 makes the soup pretty spicy; adjust accordingly)
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
3 cups chicken broth
3 cups fresh corn (about 5 ears)
2 medium russet potatoes, cut into ½ inch dice
1 bay leaf
Pinch cayenne
Juice of 1 lime
¼ cup milk
1 tablespoon real maple syrup

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a stockpot. Add the onion, bell pepper, carrots, jalapenos, salt, and pepper and sauté in the olive oil until the onions are transparent. About 7 minutes.

Add the rosemary and thyme. Sauté 1 minute more.

Add the broth, corn, potatoes, bay leaf, and cayenne. Cover and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.

Uncover and simmer about 10 more minutes to let the liquid reduce a bit.

Remove the bay leaf and puree half the chowder in a blender until smooth. Return the pureed chowder back to the stockpot. Add the lime juice, milk, and maple syrup. Simmer for 5 more minutes. Let the chowder sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Barbeque Meatballs
Makes 4 dozen meatballs

Preheat the oven to 350°

Sauce:
2 cups catsup
2 cups brown sugar
¼ of a large yellow onion, diced
1 tablespoon Liquid Smoke
½ teaspoon garlic salt

Mix the sauce ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the sauce while you mix and form the meatballs.

Meatballs:
1 large can of evaporated milk
2 cups oatmeal
¾ of a large onion, diced
2 eggs
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons salt
½ tablespoon black pepper
½ tablespoon garlic powder
3 lbs. lean ground beef

Mix the first 8 ingredients together in a large bowl. Work the ground beef into the mixture. Form the mixture into small meatballs (slightly smaller than ping pong balls). Place the meatballs in a single layer on two cookie sheets.

Cover the meatballs with the sauce and bake for 1 hour.

When I was a kid in the 1960s, going to downtown Kansas City was a big deal. We always knew a week or so in advance that we were going and, on the big day, had to dress in our Sunday school clothes and nice shoes. We rarely went unless it was for a special occasion like back-to-school shopping or to take out-of-town company to do a bit of sightseeing, but at no time was downtown more fun to visit than during the holidays. Back then, suburban malls were starting to catch on, but downtown was still where the real magic happened.

At Christmas time, giant crowns hung over all the major intersections and twinkly Christmas lights lined both sides of the streets. Retailers battled one another to see who could create the most enchanting window displays. Although they were all worth stopping to ogle, my favorites were always the moving mechanical displays of Santa’s elves making toys in the windows at Harzfeld’s. Or was it Adler’s? Shoot, I was a little kid. I can’t remember. All I remember was being jostled by all the other people–big and small–who wanted to press their noses to the glass just like I was doing.

The other mechanical must-see was the giant laughing Santa at Emery Bird Thayer. The enormous Santa still laughs today, only now he’s at Crown Center for a whole new generation to enjoy.

Of course, no visit to downtown at Christmas was complete without a visit to see the big guy himself at the Jones Store. Looking back, I’m awed by the amount of work the folks at Jones did to create pure Christmas delight for the children of Kansas City every year. What seemed like one whole floor of the store (although I’m sure now that was just a child’s perspective) was turned into Santa’s Village complete with a train that took us, mouths open and eyes bugged, through the North Pole and Santa’s Workshop before dropping us off to stand in line to share our wish lists with the jolly old elf.

If my sister and I were extra good (or lucky), we’d also get to visit the Christmas Fairy Princess at Kline’s. The beautiful Fairy Princess would ask us to make a wish, and then she’d wave her sparkly magic wand over our heads and give us a present. Really. It couldn’t get much better.

And then, by the time I’d graduated from high school, most if not all the big department stores in downtown Kansas City had fled to the suburban malls, and the area was well on its way to becoming the ghost town it was for nearly 30 years.

Not anymore. I am thrilled to tell you that while no large department stores have returned to the area yet, many smaller retailers have along with a host of restaurants, lofts and condos in every price range, a grand public library, a 18,000-seat multi-use arena, a state-of-the-art movie theater, and a food-lovers’ grocery store. Most of the existing performance venues have been refurbished in the last ten years, and the new Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts is scheduled to open in the fall of 2011.

Downtown Kansas City is well on it’s way to being fabulous. Maybe not the vibrant downtown of my childhood yet, but it’s getting there. A real downtown again! There are even Christmas lights!

Tom and I were down there on Monday afternoon and evening, and the place was bustling. On a Monday! In frigid temperatures! I’m telling you, people, if you live here in Kansas City and haven’t been downtown yet, escape from the ‘burbs and go. If  you don’t live here in Kansas City, please come visit us soon. Enjoy the amenities of our new downtown. Yes, you may have to pay a little bit for parking, but it’s worth it. I promise. Here are a few pictures to tempt you:

Looking south on Main Street

Ingredient - a yummy local restaurant with a terrific menu

Cosentino's Market - they have everything...we checked!

The streets are lined once again with Christmas lights and people

A great theater for date night

What are you waiting for? GO!

Tom and I have had the good fortune to eat in some stellar restaurants over the years, but none better than Q’s Restaurant at the Hotel Boulderado in Boulder. I kid you not, Q’s is amazing. My struggle is going to be telling you about it without lapsing into hyperbole. It’s that good. Really. After enjoying the chef’s three-course tasting menu at lunch one afternoon, every tastebud in my mouth–every tastebud–was doing a happy dance and giving high-fives to the tastebuds around it. Our lunch was so flavorful, so well presented and served, and so much fun, Tom and I couldn’t make dinner reservations fast enough for the following evening.

Hotel Boulderado - Boulder, CO

The Historic Hotel Boulderado - Boulder, CO

Q's Restaurant at the Hotel Boulderado - Boulder, CO

Q's Restaurant at the Hotel Boulderado

John Platt, the executive chef and co-owner, bought Q’s back in 1993 with his wife, Sabrina, and–based on what I’ve learned from from reading up on them (don’t you just love Google?)–they’ve been doing amazing things there ever since. John’s self-described “chef crafted” cuisine relies heavily on seasonal, locally grown, organic ingredients, many of which come from his own garden. In that regard, what he’s doing isn’t all that unusual, I suppose–especially in Boulder–but what is unusual…or unique…or absolutely taste-bud-blowingly amazing is the way he creatively marries those ingredients together in just the right proportions to make them not only play nicely together in your mouth, but to create flavors you’re not expecting. Most well-prepared dishes make at least one part of your mouth happy; John’s dishes make every square millimeter of your mouth stand up and salute.

Moreover, his fabulous food is served by an extremely friendly, well-trained staff who seem to know what you need before you even know you need it, all in the charming elegance of the historic Hotel Boulderado. Perfect.

And now, our meals. Enjoy!

Lunch: The Appetizer
Colorado Peaches
Mixed Greens, Bleu Cheese, Crisp Pancetta
Citrus Vinaigrette

Colorado Peaches

Lunch: The Entree
Blackened Salmon
Summer Melon Relish, Black Bean Cake
Chipotle BBQ Broth

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Lunch: The Dessert
Raspberry Semifreddo
Raspberry Cake, Candied Lemon

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Lunch was served with a Robert Mondavi Sauvignon Blanc which complimented all three courses beautifully. If I had to pick a favorite course of the three–not an easy task–I’d have to go with the blackened salmon. I generally don’t like my food spicy hot, but the spiciness of the black bean cake and the Chipotle BBQ broth was balanced perfectly with the cool fruitiness of the summer melon relish. Yum!

For dinner the following evening, we self-selected a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand to accompany our meal. In hindsight, we should have asked the Cellarmaster for his recommendation. Oh well, even a poorly selected wine couldn’t ruin the meal we were about to enjoy, a meal that started with a summer melon and hot chili amuse bouche the chef sent out for us try.

Dinner: Tom’s Starter
Panseared Dungeness Crabcake
Red Pepper Romesco, Fennel Orange Slaw

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Dinner: My Starter
“Caprese”
House-made Mozzarella, Sun-dried Tomato Pesto, Prosciutto, Basil, Balsamic, Pumpkinseeds
(I also requested–and received–freshly sliced tomatoes from John’s garden in my Caprese)

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Dinner: Tom’s Salad
Organic Mixed Green Salad
Lemon Champagne Vinaigrette, Fennel, Cucumber, Cherry Tomatoes, Lemon Fried Potatoes

IMG_0354

Dinner: My Soup
Sweet Corn Soup
Lobster Hushpuppies

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Dinner: Tom’s Entree
The Chef’s Special – Monk Fish
(I was so busy slobbering over my entree, I forgot to take adequate notes about Tom’s. Whoops!)

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Dinner: My Entree
Smoked Berkshire Pork Tenderloin
Corn and Green Chili Relish, Red Chili Honey, Refried Beans, Grilled Zucchini, Pumpkinseeds

IMG_0358

Our Shared Dessert
Colorado Peach Crisp
Home Spun Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, Peach Sauce

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Like our lunch the previous day, every dish was full of fresh flavors and clever combinations that were not only satisfying, but culinarily engaging. Our mouths were happy, our brains were strained, and our bellies were pleasantly stuffed as we left the Boulderado to do a few laps around the Pearl Street Mall before turning in for the night.

We thank John; Deluxe Chef  de Cuisine, Ian Rubenoff; Sous Chef, Cruz Silva; the friendly and attentive wait staff; and Sabrina, who was a fabulous and welcoming hostess for an amazing experience. We will look forward to dining at Q’s again very soon. Until then, I’ll be following the happenings at Q’s on their Facebook page.

In closing, let me say this to you, my readers, if you go to Boulder and don’t go to Q’s, you should…well, you should…dang…this is where I’m really struggling with hyperbole. “Be shot” sounds a bit drastic.

The historic town of Lyons, Colorado, (incorporated in 1891) sits nestled on the backside of the Front Range roughly halfway between Boulder and Estes Park on Highway 36. The actual population of the town is just under 2,000 people, but the amenities available there make it feel much bigger: a museum, two art galleries, two bike shops, a motorcycle shop, three car repair places, a furniture store, an antique shop, a quilting shop, a veterinary clinic, a medical clinic, a library, two newspapers, a fitness center, a liquor store, a produce market, a store selling all things related to honey, a fabulous little grocery store, an ice cream shop with an old-fashioned soda fountain, eight restaurants, a winery, and…whew, take a breath…Oskar Blues, Lyons’ very own microbrewery. (I’m telling you, Lyons is a great little town!)

Oskar’s, which sits in a strip mall that is wedged between westbound Highway 36 (Main Street) and eastbound Highway 36 (Broadway), is hard to miss. At least from what we could tell, it’s always surrounded by cars. From Main Street, you see the packed parking lot. From Broadway, you see the overflowing outdoor seating space and hear the musical performers who entertain diners nearly every night–weekdays or weekends.

Oskar Blue's - Lyons, CO

Oskar Blues - Lyons, CO

Tom and I got there early one evening and managed to snag a table out on the balcony where we could hear the band playing bluegrass down below in the parking lot and see the sun setting over the mountains to the west. Unfortunately, neither my pictures of the musicians nor of the sunset came out very well, so you’ll have to conjure your own mental images of both. (I need to practice using my camera…sorry.)

Balcony Seating at Oskar Blue's

Balcony Seating at Oskar Blues

Oskar Blues’ claim to fame, of course, is its beers, and they’ve got plenty to choose from. On the night we stopped in, there were eight choices, including Mama’s Little Yella Pils, Deviant Dave’s, One-Nut Brown Ale, and Ten Fidy Imperial Stout. Clever. Tom chose Dale’s Pale Ale and gave it a thumbs-up. Unfortunately, I’ve had to give up beer because of the whole gluten thing…buuuummer…so you’ll have to settle for Tom’s hearty endorsement.

Dave's Pale Ale

Dave's Pale Ale

Oskar’s menu, which features the “Cajun, Creole and Southern-style comfort food that reflect [the] founder’s southern upbringing,” includes New Orleans-style gumbo and fried catfish along with the standard fare found on most bar/brewery menus: pizzas, burgers, sandwiches, and Mexican entrees. Whatever you choose, I’m betting you won’t walk away unsatisfied. Tom had the Smoked BBQ Sandwich–a pulled pork sandwich smothered in homemade Bourbon BBQ sauce–with a side of homemade black bean salad (yuuuummmmy), and I had the “bodacious” B.B. King Burger with a side order of sweet potato fries. Brownie points to our waitress, I didn’t get the squonk eye when I asked if they would hold the bacon and add grilled onions to my burger.  Ultimately, the burger was a burger, but the sweet potato fries were gooo…ooood. Sweet, crunchy, and salty all in one bite. Does it get much better?

BBQ Beef Sandwich with Black Bean Salad

Smoked BBQ Sandwich with Black Bean Salad

Modified B.B. King Burger with Sweet Potato Fries

Modified B.B. King Burger with Sweet Potato Fries

After eating at Oskar Blues, Tom and I understood why it’s so popular and why–we assume–it draws diners from beyond Lyons’ city limits…although, I suppose we could be wrong… maybe everyone who lives in Lyons eats at Oskar’s every night…it is lots of fun…but then, who’s eating at the eight other restaurants in Lyons?

I’m telling you, Lyons is a great little town!

Several years ago, when we were in Boulder visiting Tom’s sister, she took us to Tom’s Tavern on the corner of 11th and Pearl for beer and burgers. Quite tasty. So when we were debating our options for dinner on Tuesday night and spied Tom’s, we didn’t hesitate. We headed straight across the street, up the stairs, and presented ourselves at the hostess stand. That should have been our first clue. Tom’s didn’t have a hostess stand.

We were seated immediately near the front of the restaurant and were handed menus…menus that failed to have the words “Tom’s Tavern” printed anywhere on them. Instead, blazoned across the top at a jaunty angle: “SALT.” Hmmmm. We looked around. Sure enough, the room was different. Dramatically different. Tom’s beat-up bar furnishings had been replaced with sleek contemporary tables, chairs, lighting, and artwork. People were dressed up (by Boulder standards). There weren’t beer signs everywhere, and the silverware was real. Ahhhh…you don’t have to draw us a picture. Clearly, we weren’t in Tom’s. Okay, okay. We got it…finally. Actually, we weren’t in anything remotely like Tom’s. We were, in fact, in a brand new restaurant which we learned later had only been opened a few days before.

Our initial disappointment didn’t last long.

For starters, SALT serves brews from local microbreweries and drinks they call Pre-Prohibition Spirituals. Tom ordered a Steamworks Kolsch Ale (Steamworks Brewery is in Durango, CO), and I ordered a Pre-Prohibition Spiritual called Saturn Returns, a drink I can only describe as a peach Bellini with a dark soul. Yummy. I wish I’d taken notes about the whole Pre-Prohibition business at the time so I could tell you about it. Really. I did read about it, but I was having too much fun drinking the darn thing to take good notes then, and now I can’t remember what I read. Sorry.

Libations

Libations

As for the food, the meat and produce served at SALT come from local farms and ranches. In a blurb about SALT, the Downtown Boulder website uses descriptors like “savory slow food,” “fresh local,” and “loving preparation.” I can’t disagree.  Everything we ate was fresh and flavorful. The chef is clearly doing something right with his ingredients. Tom had the Tavern Burger featuring grass-fed beef, and I had the Summer Vegetable Penne. Delish…although I paid for eating pasta the next day. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice it to say it was worth it. Big grin.

The Tavern Burger

The Tavern Burger

Summer Vegetable Penne
Summer Vegetable Penne
For dessert–of course there was dessert; we were on vacation!–we shared the Peach Cobbler with Homemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. The peaches are in season in Colorado, so we had no other option. Really big grin!
Colorado Peach Cobbler with Homemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Colorado Peach Cobbler with Homemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

I’ll close this post with a picture showing the restaurant from the view we had of it pre-dinner. You can decide if we’re crazy for thinking it was still Tom’s Tavern (the word “Tavern” is behind the tree). Of course, the picture also clearly shows the name “SALT” above the door. Groan.
SALT Craftily Disguised as Tom's Tavern

SALT Craftily Disguised as Tom's Tavern

I realize that not everyone in this country shops for groceries in a giant, stocked-to-the-rafters grocery chain, but many of us do. I do, so it was a real treat to walk through the front doors of the old-timey St. Vrain Market in Lyons, Colorado. Instead of being greeted by fancy floral arrangements, huge rolling bins of watermelons, and drippy Muzak music, we were greeted with a warm smile from Connie, one of the owners.
The St. Vrain Market - Lyons, CO

The St. Vrain Market - Lyons, CO

Connie Sullivan, co-owner of The St. Vrain Market

Connie Sullivan, co-owner of The St. Vrain Market

Shopping for the items on our list took us less than 15 minutes–the St. Vrain Market would fit into half the produce section of my local grocery store–but we found everything we needed and were amazed to find many things we never expected to see. Moreover, I was reminded that shopping, when I’m given only a few options to choose from, can be a rather pleasant, stress-free experience. Seriously, why do we need 253 different cereal choices?

The St. Vrain Market

The St. Vrain Market

Connie and her husband, Neil, recently purchased the St. Vrain Market and have big plans for it in the near future, including expanding the meat and deli counter, adding a bakery, and introducing new products that will help their customers “enjoy a delicious, healthy, and balanced diet” (yes, the two of them are incredibly physically fit and appear to be health nuts like everyone else in Colorado, but we’ll not hold that against them). Fortunately, they truly seem to appreciate the rarity of their wonderful little store and plan to maintain “the nostalgia of [their] hometown market.” I hope so. I wish them great success and can’t wait to go back. Visit their website to learn more.

Yummy Produce!

Yummy Produce!

Before I get too far, several of you have inquired about the state of Brian’s digestive tract after the ostrich episode. Suffice it to say even after swigging half a bottle of Pepto Bismol within hours of wrestling the thing down, he didn’t feel normal again until early the next afternoon. Ostrich-on-a-Stick? You might want to think twice. I’m just saying…

Now back to our regularly scheduled posting. Sadly, this will be my last post about the food-on-a-stick available at the Minnesota State Fair. Brian got called back to Kansas City to work on another project earlier than he’d originally expected, leaving more than three dozen skewered possibilities un-sampled. He got home last night in time for dinner, extremely tired and–amazingly enough–hungry. The smart-aleck part of me wanted to fix a meal of fried-everything, but my mom side won out. Stupid mom side. So, instead, he was served lots of fresh fruit and raw veggies. Tom, however, did try to skewer Brian’s serving of meatloaf before carrying it to the table.

Even though he didn’t get to sample everything before leaving, Brian did find several more things to share with us. You’ll never believe a couple of them.

First on the line-up: Cheese-Curd-on-a-Stick. He had already sampled this particularly nasty sounding option–and had sworn he would never eat it again–but, at my request, he did find someone else who was eating it and managed to get a picture. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but, sadly, Cheese-Curd-on-a-Stick looks just like every other stabbed, battered, and fried grub-on-a-stick offering we’ve already seen. Sigh.

Cheese-Curd-on-a-Stick

Cheese-Curd-on-a-Stick

The same is true for Mac-and-Cheese-on-a-Stick. Phooey. I really had high expectations for this one, as well as for Spaghetti-on-a-Stick (which Brian never managed to find, but which I found a picture of on the Minnesota State Fair website). Unfortunately, neither is the culinary marvel I imagined. In both instances, it appears the pasta is scooped into a tight ball, dipped in the ever-ubiquitous batter, and deep fried. Are you sensing a pattern here? Even worse, the mac and cheese wasn’t even of the homemade variety. Brian said it tasted just like it came out of a blue box. It’s an OUTRAGE! I have no choice but to assume the spaghetti comes out of a Chef Boyardee can? Honestly!

Mac-and-Cheese-on-a-Stick

Mac-and-Cheese-on-a-Stick

Next up: Nacho-Mama-Dog-on-a-Stick. Pause and say that out loud before continuing. This particular offering isn’t exactly what the name suggests, in as much as there is no traditional hot dog involved. Yes, the “dog” looks like a corndog, and it is, in fact, breaded in cornmeal and deep fried. But where you’d expect to find a frankfurter, you actually find taco meat pressed into the shape of a hot dog…SURPRISE! The faux dog is then piled high with traditional nacho fixin’s, including melted processed cheese food. I was ready to give this entry a few points for its catchy name until I saw the melted cheese food. Velveeta IS NOT CHEESE, people! Geeez!

Nacho-Mama-Dog-on-a-Stick

Nacho-Mama-Dog-on-a-Stick

And what’s a meal-on-a-stick without a dessert-on-a-stick to go with it? In my book, not much. Luckily for fair-goers, there are plenty of speared sweets to pick from. Brian’s choice: Key-Lime-Pie-on-a-Stick, which is strange because Brian doesn’t even like key lime pie. He didn’t like this version either which could mean it actually tastes like the real thing. It could also mean it was just plain awful. Strangely, it appears to be covered in chocolate. I love chocolate, but on key lime pie? What are they thinking?

Key-Lime-Pie-on-a-Stick

Key-Lime-Pie-on-a-Stick

Unfortunately for us, Brian did not sample the Pig Licker, aka Chocolate-Covered-Bacon-on-a-Stick, which several of you asked about, so no picture. Worse luck. The poor boy had actually tried chocolate covered bacon a couple of weeks ago at the Indiana State Fair and just couldn’t make himself go near the stuff again. Understandable. He did, however, man up and give the Foot-Long-Pepperoni-Pizza-on-a-Stick a go which he says tasted like “a Hot Pocket on a stick.” Overall,very disappointing. He was especially put out when he discovered that the stick in the Foot-Long-Pepperoni-Pizza-on-a-Stick wasn’t even a proper stick. The pizza folks were spearing their pepperoni-stuffed blob of dough with flimsy-ass disposable chopsticks. Very un-Italian.

Foot-Long-Pepperoni-Pizza-on-a-Stick

Foot-Long-Pepperoni-Pizza-on-a-Stick

He had no complaints about the Chocolate-Covered-Frozen-Banana-on-a-Stick. In fact, he tweeted, “Chocolate + Frozen Banana = One Happy Kid.”  He does look pretty happy, doesn’t he. I’m guessing he was relieved to be eating something that wasn’t breaded or dipped in batter.

Chocolate-Covered-Frozen-Banana-on-a-Stick

Chocolate-Covered-Frozen-Banana-on-a-Stick

And Brian had absolutely nothing but praise for his next on-a-stick experience. I believe the picture tells you all you need to know.

Beer-on-a-Stick

Beer-on-a-Stick

Clever, is it not? Those crafty folks up in Minnesota have this whole stick business down…really take it all quite seriously…then again…

Brian came home with one more item on a stick, and you’ll never believe what it was. I just hope the folks who were passing these little gems out didn’t put holes in them when they were putting them on the sticks. That could get rather…ummm…sticky.

Condom-on-a-Stick

Condom-on-a-Stick

Kudos to you, son! You survived. Thanks for taking us along on your adventure! I promise to feed you nothing but healthy food the entire weekend…but not on a stick.

According to fair organizers, if it weren’t for the fact that the Texas State Fair runs twice as long as the Minnesota State Fair, the latter would be considered the biggest state fair–attendance-wise–in the country. Based on our conversation last night, I don’t think Brian would argue that claim. He estimates he’s met at least half the people who live in Minnesota plus a number of others who have arrived from neighboring states for the festivities.

Brian, who has attended a number of state fairs in recent years, seems genuinely amazed at how many people are packing the fairgrounds in St. Paul from early in the morning until late in the evening. He is, without a doubt, having fun yakking it up with the fair-goers, but the large crowds do make it difficult for him to slip away from his work to pursue his quest to sample every food-on-a-stick offering at the fair.

Never fear. He’s a Woltkamp and not easily deterred from the task at hand (except, maybe, by pretty girls). He’s a man on a mission, a 23-year-old bottomless pit with an appetite for something more exotic than mere burgers and fries. He’s busy, but, this weekend, he kept his digestive system even busier. So, with a nod to his tenacity and his iron gut, I share with you his findings in the order they were eaten. I hope you yourself are not eating right now.

First up, Meatballs-on-a-stick, a hearty offering of meatballs rolled in garlic bread crumbs, skewered on a stick, and deep fried. Brian declared them “not bad,” but said little else. Obviously, not a terribly memorable option. He made no mention of dipping sauce, but I think, if you’re going to eat one, a bit of marinara on the side might make the thing more palatable. Maybe.

Meatballs-on-a-Stick

Meatballs-on-a-Stick

Next, Scotch-Egg-on-a-Stick. This one is definitely novel. According to Brian, a hard-boiled egg is impaled on a stick, encased in sausage, hand-dipped in a batter tasting strongly of nutmeg, and finally deep fried to a golden brown. His assessment: “intense.” He seemed particularly put off by the nutmeg. If you ask me, that’s the least of this dish’s problems.

Scotch-Egg-on-a-Stick

Scotch-Egg-on-a-Stick

On to the next offering: a Butterscotch-Twinkie-on-a-Stick. Amazingly enough, this one is not fried. It’s served cold and is exactly what the name and the picture suggest. A Twinkie, punctured by a Popsicle stick, covered in butterscotch. Brian wasn’t impressed. Specifically, he called it “gross.” Wouldn’t you think that at some point the folks as Hostess would get tired of having their snack cakes defiled?

Butterscotch-Twinkie-on-a-Stick

Butterscotch-Twinkie-on-a-Stick

After the sugar rush from the Butterscotch-Twinkie-on-a-Stick, Brian opted for a truly unique–and savory–offering found only at the Minnesota State Fair: Hot-Meal-on-a-Stick. And here, I must give the good folks of Minnesota their due. Just when you think there cannot possibly be any other way to combine meat, tater tots, and a can of cream-of-fill-in-the-blank soup into another casserole or repast of any kind, the clever cooks up there devise Hot-Meal-on-a Stick, the extremely popular offering in which meatballs and tater tots are lined up alternately on a stick, dipped in batter, and…wait for it…wait for it…deep fried. Lest the cream-of-whatever soup feel left out, they serve that on the side. Brian said he wasn’t sure what the soup was cream of, but it looked like “snot.” Brian has a way with words, doesn’t he?

Hot-Dish-on-a-Stick

Hot-Dish-on-a-Stick

Brian declared the next speared entree on his agenda, “Delicious!” and “a nice break from fried food.” The Wahoo-Steak-Dinner-on-a-Stick is essentially what the name implies–chunks of steak, potato, onion, and bell pepper skewered on a stick and grilled–a steak dinner on a stick. Nice. Except for the pasty white dinner roll smooshed onto the end of the stick. Couldn’t they just leave well enough alone? Still, Brian gave it two thumbs up.

Wahoo-Steak-Dinner-on-a-Stick

Wahoo-Steak-Dinner-on-a-Stick

Next stop? A Texas-Tater-Dog-on-a-Stick. I have to say, I’m fascinated by this one. Considering the folks in any food booth on the fairgrounds are feeding hundreds, if not thousands, of people in a short amount of time, how in the world do they manage to find the time to get the potato to spiral down the length of the hot dog so evenly? That must take forever. How many volunteers does it take to prep all those Texas Tater Dogs? And how many different ways–you may be thinking to yourself–can a Texas-Tater-Dog-on-a-Stick be seasoned? Well, I’ll tell you. Four: Parmesan garlic, lemon pepper, seasoned salt, and TNT. If you know my son, you know he ordered TNT. Apparently not many folks choose that option. Brian said the woman who took his order raised her eyebrows at him and asked if he was sure. Was he sure. YeeHaw! Stand clear, Robin.
Texas-Tater-Dog-on-a-Stick

Texas-Tater-Dog-on-a-Stick

Before he stopped for the night, Brian went international. The Chinese-Chicken-Dumpling-on-a-Stick and the General-Tso-Chicken-on-a-Stick both received a “tasted-like-it-came-0ff-a-crappy-Chinese-buffet” rating, but the vegetable Eggroll-on-a-Stick got rave reviews.
Chinese-Chicken-Dumplings-on-a-Stick

Chinese-Chicken-Dumplings-on-a-Stick

General-Tso-Chicken-on-a-Stick

General-Tso-Chicken-on-a-Stick

Egg-Roll-on-a-Stick

Egg-Roll-on-a-Stick

Brian ended the weekend with Ostrich-on-a-Stick, which he called a “karate kick to the innards.” When I talked to him late last night–a three full hours after the encounter–he claimed to be still feeling the effects and planned to stop by the tent where volunteers were passing out Pepto Bismol. In fairness to the ostrich, it could have been the Twinkie.
Ostrich-on-a-Stick

Ostrich-on-a-Stick

See, I told you you’d be better off not eating while reading this.
As for you, son, twelve down. Forty-seven to go.

Actually, if you count the egg-sandwich-on-a-stick Tom fixed for Brian before he left for Minnesota Wednesday morning, this posting would be about Day Two, but I’ll not confuse the issue.

Brian and Kyle arrived at the fairgrounds early yesterday morning, the first official day of the fair, to a “whirlwind of delicious fried smells.” I’m guessing Brian’s use of the word “delicious” in his Tweet was tinged with a bit of sarcasm, but I forgot to have him clarify that when I talked to him a bit earlier. What I did learn was professional obligations kept the two of them from exploring their surroundings yesterday as they had planned, but they did manage to try two novel food-on-a-stick offerings before heading back to the hotel late last night.

The first was gator-on-a-stick which, according to Brian, “wasn’t bad.” When pressed to elaborate, he said it “tasted like pork sausage.” Actually, had the sign not announced that the offering was, in fact, alligator, it sounds like–from Brian’s subsequent description–no one would have known the difference. Phooey. I was hoping for something a bit more exciting. A bit more exotic. Swampy, even. At least, I suppose, we can take solace in the fact that he didn’t say it tasted like chicken.

Gator-on-a-Stick

Gator-on-a-Stick

The second food-on-a-stick they tried was a Cheese-Curd-on-a-Stick. Yes, you read that right. Curd. Not curds. A single gigantic cottage-cheese-like curd impaled on a stick. Served hot. “Death,” he said when asked, “It tasted like death.” Yummm! Apparently, he was able to stomach only one bite before throwing the whole business–curd, stick, and all–in the trash. He didn’t even hang on to it long enough to take a picture. Rats. Maybe he can stalk a curd-lover or two between now and the end of the fair and get a picture. I want to see Cheese-Curd-on-a-Stick. Not eat it, mind you. Just see it.

When I talked to him, they haven’t had a chance to go a-tasting yet today, but he promised they would. Stay tuned!