April 27, 2011

C.W. Porubsky’s Deli - Topeka, KS

In the part of Topeka known as "Little Russia" there is a locally famous deli and specialty grocery store called C.W. Porubsky’s Deli and Tavern. Their chili, hot pickles, and cold cuts have been nationally and internationally recognized but in Topeka they are down-right legendary.

Despite several trips, I never seem to be able to make it there in during the few hours the Tavern is open for lunch. But this trip I did manage to make it in time to the Deli. The small space is filled mostly with the sort of items you would find in a gas station convenience store, such as prepackaged foods that can be prepared in the microwave. But just a few steps to the back of the store and you will find an amazing deli that also offers world famous hot pickles.

Personally, I don't tend to eat a lot of pickles (unlike some celebrities, although I don't know why they are famous). But I'm not going to pass up an opportunity to sample an internationally recognized Kansas delicacy.

C.W. Porubsky’s Deli and Tavern is so famous, it is having a documentary made about it. C.W. Porubsky's grandson, Matthew Porubsky, is made a documentary, entitled "Porubsky's: Transcendent Deli", about the deli's history and more than 60 years in service. Click here to learn more about the documentary, which is also available for purchase

This joins other food blog articles posted in Wanderfood Wednesdays on Wanderlust and Lipstick. Check them out!

Total Time Traveled: 1 hour
Total Distance Traveled: 54 miles
Soundtrack: "The Meanest of Times" Dropkick Murphys


April 26, 2011

Japanese Friendship Garden - Lawrence, KS

On a lovely day, there's nothing better to do in Lawrence than take a walk downtown on Massachusetts Street. Along the way, I happened to see a group of women dressed in kimonos at the Japanese Friendship Garden raising money for the survivors of the tragedies in Japan. There was a drummer performing and women were taking pictures of passers-by posing in kimonos. I passed (mostly because I'm not fond of having my picture taken) but did enjoy the opportunity to see a beautiful natural oasis in downtown Lawrence.

The Japanese Friendship Garden represents the cultural ties with Hiratsuka and Lawrence. It was built to honor the 10 year anniversary of Lawrence's relationship with its sister city, Hiratsuka, Japan. Hiratsuka sent representatives to Lawrence to help design, plan and work on the project. Hiratsuka shipped two major pieces from Japan, a lantern and a 15' stone tower to be displayed in the garden. Approximately 50 delegates from Hiratsuka, including Mayor Itsuo Yoshino and nine other city officials, traveled to Lawrence to attend the dedication ceremony, which was held on October 26, 2000.

The natural flora and fauna of the garden are inspired by our sister city: Japanese maples, yoshino cherry trees, yews, bamboo, juniper, and mugho pines as well as azaleas, spirea, viburnum, Siberian iris, and peonies. With the interesting artwork, beautiful landscaping, and quiet, shady gazebo this is a lovely downtown Lawrence oasis to wander for a moment or to relax and enjoy for an entire sunny afternoon.

Total Time Traveled: 15 minutes
Total Distance Traveled: 4.5 miles
Soundtrack: 102.1 FM


April 21, 2011

ARTichokes - Leawood, KS

In Kansas City and its suburbs like Leawood, a gallery is never very hard to find. But a gallery dedicated to the promotion of local artists that also engages the community in creating art is unique. That is what makes ARTichokes so special. ARTichokes defines itself by its three purposes: (1) to promote fine art in south Kansas City, (2) to engage the general public in the creative process through classes, demonstrations, and group paintings, and (3) to generate sales of artwork and exposure for local artists.

The gallery changes every three months, offering new pieces by local artists. There are jewelry, ceramics, paintings, sculpture - a wide variety mediums. Recently, I was able to see wire tree sculptures by Kathy Horniman. She used copper wire to create truly stunning representations of trees and I was particularly impressed by her ability to capture nature in motion; in one piece I could really sense the wind blowing through the branches even though the sculpture itself was static.

In the past, ARTichokes has also featured the work of one of my favorite local artists, Kari Heybrock. I first became aware of Heybrock as a freelance writer when I wrote about her lampworking and glass beadmaking for a local publication. I saw her work on display and was genuinely impressed, but I became even more so when I learned about her apprenticeship on an island after helping her teacher rebuild the studio after a hurricane. That is what ARTichokes really offers - great artwork by inspiring artists.

But ARTichokes is not just a gallery, it is also an opportunity for the community to really engage in the artistic process. In addition to offering classes for children and adults, ARTichokes also has group paintings. In the last two years, ARTichokes has directed over 150 group paintings for various occasions. They supply the studio, supplies and art coach for groups to create their own memorable work of art. Families, co-workers, and friends all come in groups to create an enduring piece to encapsulate their group dynamic. A few years ago, I created a group painting with some co-workers (though not at ARTichokes) and can tell you that it is really an amazing experience and every time I see the painting, I still get a warm feeling remembering what it was like to work alongside those amazing people. Whether you live in the Kansas City area or are just passing through, I really can't recommend a group painting activity enough. Besides, what better way to remember the experience of your roadtrip than a work of art you created with your traveling companions?

Total Time Traveled: 20 minutes
Total Distance Traveled: 6 miles
Soundtrack: "Teenage Dream" Katy Perry


April 19, 2011

11th Annual Earth Day Celebration - Lawrence, KS

One of the reasons I love living in Lawrence is the hippies. I don't mean that it in a derogatory way, I am hippie myself (peace, love, save the whales and all that). So when Earth Day comes around, Lawrence is the best place in Kansas to be for the annual celebration, now in its 11th year. I am also especially excited because I have a couchsurfer staying with me for the weekend, so I get the unique opportunity to share the incredible green culture of Lawrence with someone from out of town.

The Lawrence Earth Day Celebration works to educate residents, businesses and surrounding communities regarding the importance of responsible environmental policies, raise awareness of each individual’s impact on the natural environment, and highlight actions each person can take to make Lawrence and Douglas County a more sustainable and eco-friendly place to live.

It was a lovely day for a great event, the weather was perfectly sunny and warm but not too hot or cold - I think the planet was doing us a favor for celebrating it that day. We started with the delicious free vegan buffet. There were other options, of course - funnel cakes, tacos, etc. - but why would you want to eat that when you have the opportunity to learn about earth friendly food options? I have to say, the food was great. While I'm not a vegan by any means (I still believe bacon is divine) but anyone considering making the switch would be easily converted by the spread. The best was the "better than tuna salad." Instead of tuna, they replaced it with primarily walnuts as well as other nuts such as chickpeas. It definitely earned its name.

After enjoying our free-range vegan meal, we moved on to the stands. There were stands for children to educate them about being green while having fun, like a stand where you could decorate canvas bags for carrying groceries instead of using plastic bags. There were also educational stands for adults that taught about everything from solar power to green gardening to local recycling programs. My favorite stands were the green gardening stands. I got some free seeds, which makes me very excited because I am working on developing my green thumb.

This was a great event and I see why it has lasted 11 years. The Lawrence community really comes together to celebrate living green in all different ways - whether it is the food you eat, what you plant, how you power your home, or even the beauty products you use. It is definitely worth a trip next year.

Total Time Traveled: 15 minutes
Total Distance Traveled: 4 miles
Soundtrack: 102.1 FM


April 13, 2011

Room 39 Restaurant - Leawood, KS

Whenever I am near Leawood, I always try to have at least one meal at Room 39. Room 39 is seasonal American food, which means that the menu is constantly changing to accommodate what ingredients are currently in season.

Chefs and co-owners, Ted Habiger and Andy Sloan, say they "believe the best tasting food comes from local farmers who use sustainable harvesting and growing practices ensuring the land is better off than before." It is a noble mission with some tasty results. A constantly changing menu does have some disadvantages. It means that if you particularly loved a dish in the fall, you won't be able to go back and enjoy it again in the spring. But that is easily outweighed by the fun of a new daily menu. Every day at Room 39 is a new experience.

On a recent trip to visit family in Eastern Kansas, I went to Room 39 for lunch with my mother and friend Mona. All three of us were immediately captivated by one particular item on the menu - the gnocchi. It was house made potato gnocchi with bacon, onions, mushrooms, brussels sprouts, and grana padano. Every thing about it was perfect. The gnocchi were like soft little clouds that melted in your mouth and the flavors were all perfectly combined. The bacon and mushrooms gave the dish a smokey, earthy flavor that really resonated with the perfectly cooked brussels sprouts. And I love brussels sprouts - they were cooked all the way through so they were rich and soft, but not so overdone at to be mushy. And the chef had gotten a perfect sear on the outside of each sprout, something I struggle to do in my own kitchen. Finally, the sweetness of the onions and the cheese created a well-rounded dishes with flavors that complimented each other, but one ingredient never over-powered the other. It was a delicious dish and also well plated - there was just enough to be satisfying but not so much piled in the bowl to be overwhelming. I am always impressed when a restaurant manages to know just the right portion to serve.

But one trip to Room 39 is never enough for me, especially when the menu changes daily. So the next day I went back to Room 39 for lunch with my friend John. I was happy to see not all of the menu had changed in 24 hours. One or two dishes were gone and had been replaced by others and of course the soups had changed, but I was glad to know that overall a daily menu does not mean "blink and you'll miss it." This time, I opted for the quiche and salad. The quiche was everything it should be - fluffy and eggy with crunchy bits of bacon and a flaky crust that can be cut with a fork (I hate when you need a knife to saw through a dried out, overcooked quiche crust). The herb salad was fresh with a nice vinaigrette that gave the salad some acidity. They also added some fresh beet which gave it a slight sweetness, but still refreshing.

But the best part of lunch at Room 39 is the dessert. I always order the Affogato - vanilla ice cream with espresso. The vanilla ice cream is delicious by itself (I suspect it is Vanilla Bean by Haagen Dazs) but the espresso just melts it into that perfect combination of sweet and bitter, hot and cold, and gives the perfect ending to a great meal.

This joins other food blog articles posted in Wanderfood Wednesdays on Wanderlust and Lipstick. Check them out!

Total Time Traveled: 20 minutes
Total Distance Traveled: 6 miles
Soundtrack: "Teenage Dream" Katy Perry (What? My mom got me the album!)


April 12, 2011

Rainy Day Books - Fairway, KS

There are bookstores you visit and there are bookstores you experience. Rainy Day Books is an experience.

It is not just its location, it is also a multitude of literary events held throughout the year in locations all over the Kansas City area. Since 1975, Rainy Day Books has been located in the midtown Kansas City suburb of Fairway, Kansas. The independently owned store offers a wide selection of hardback and paperback books, as well as a special selection of books signed by the authors.

Since 1990, Rainy Day Books has branched out beyond its location and into the minds of all member of the community with their Author Events. These events have become a staple of literary culture in Kansas City. They offer a unique opportunity for people in Kansas City and the surrounding areas to meet their favorite authors and hear them speak, an opportunity not many readers get.

Some of their notable visiting authors have included: Joyce Carol Oates, Michael Connelly, and David Sedaris. It is not just the authors of novels and literature who are part of the Author Events. It also includes celebrity chefs promoting cookbooks, such as Ina Garten (also known as The Barefoot Contessa) and Giada De Laurentiis. Politicians and public figures have also appeared to promote their written works, such as Condaleeza Rice. Even cartoonists such as Bill Amend (Foxtrot) and Gary Trudeau (Doonesbury) have appeared.

No matter what you read, Rainy Day Books will bring your favorite author, poet, celebrity, politician, or public figure to Kansas City to promote their latest book. To learn more about upcoming events, click here.

Total Time Traveled: 1 hour
Total Distance Traveled: 25 miles
Soundtrack: 101.1 FM


April 7, 2011

I Love a Mystery Bookstore - Mission, KS

While visiting my family, I decided to go for a drive. I took an old road I used to take everywhere when I lived in that part of town, mostly just to see what had changed. A lot of new businesses had gone up, but there was one I was happy to see was still there - I Love a Mystery.

I Love a Mystery is an independent bookstore in Mission, Kansas. There are 20,000 used and 3,000 new mystery books, including a large selection of signed first editions. They have every mystery series you can imagine - from the classic Sherlock Holmes to new offerings such as "The Girl Who Played With Fire." Even more intriguing is their imports. There are shelves dedicated to mysteries from other countries, such as Japan. I was thrilled with the service. When I went in to browse, I asked the woman in the store if she knew what the first Sherlock Holmes book was (I swear I was not trying to trick her, I really just wanted to know). She told me she believed it was "A Study in Scarlet " and she was right.

One of the reasons I am so excited there is a store like this is my long-enduring love of mysteries and thrillers. When I was younger, I read Agatha Christie novels, Hercule Poirot being my favorite fictional detective. In high school I even performed in a theatrical adaptation of Christie's "Ten Little Indians." (While this obviously did not lead to a career on the stage, I did enjoy my one shining moment in the spotlight - I screamed off stage like a banshee and apparently really freaked people out.) As I got older, I fell in love espionage thrillers and began reading Ian Fleming's James Bond series (as well as watching the movies, because for me James Bond will always be Sean Connery).

I Love a Mystery offers people like me a haven, a place where we can find the books we love and also an atmosphere in which we can enjoy them. The store is made for lingering. There are comfy armchairs and coffee at the ready, in case you just can't wait until you leave the store to open your new book. The entire store offers a mood of mystery and noir - it is decorated with skeletons and gargoyles in what can only be described as creepy, Victorian chic.

Its appeal has garnered a loyal following. There are several reading groups, each with its own theme. There is: Murder in the Afternoon, Sherlock Holmes and Friends, Cooking up Murder, Around the World with Mysteries, A Stitch in Crime, and Alternate Realities. (To learn more about the reading groups and when they meet, click here.)

Total Time Traveled: 1 hour
Total Distance Traveled: 25 miles
Soundtrack: 101.1 FM


April 5, 2011

Kansas City International Pillow Fight Day - Kansas City, MO

Whenever I had pillow fights as a kid, my mother would always say, "It's always funny until someone gets hurt." And inevitably someone got hurt. Someone fell off the bed, someone hit her head on the nightstand, someone got hit in the eye. (Actually, I shouldn't limit this to pillow fights. A recent marshmallow fight with friends was fun until someone got hit in the eye. Why is it always the eye?) But we kept having pillow fights. There is something about the childish fun of a pillow fight that makes us forget hitting our heads or getting in trouble because you hit your sister way too hard.

It's just fun. Pure and simple.

The Urban Playground Movement brought back the flurry of feathers and fun with International Pillow Fight Day on April 2, 2011. The Urban Playground Movement is trying to make these fun events part of popular culture. They want to replace passive, consumption experiences (like watching television) with fun events that bring people together in their community. I have to admit, a community-wide pillow fight does seem like a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon than catching up on my DVR. (I can do that Sunday night, anyway).

All around the world, people took up their fluffy pillows and started beating the crap out of each other. I, of course, was determined to participate. KC Pillow Fight planned the Kansas City Pillow Fight to take place at the JC Nichols Fountain in Kansas City. This was not the first event. Last year, 80 to 100 people people participated.

There are rules, of course. This isn't the lawless pillow fighting of your youth. The rules are:
1. Soft pillows only!
2. Swing lightly
3. Do not swing at people without pillows or with cameras.
4. Remove glasses beforehand! (This is why someone always gets hit in the eye!)
5. Wait until the signal to begin. The signal is when someone yells, "Pillow fight!"
6. Creativity, fun pillows and costumes are encouraged

It was a beautiful day for a pillow fight - sunny and 75 degrees. A few people came in pajamas with decorated pillows, one guy even came in a panda costume, which prompted cries of "Get the panda!" when the fighting started. A little after 3pm, we heard the cry and started swinging. It was panda-monium (pun absolutely intended)! Everyone was laughing and having a great time, no one hit each other very hard, it was all in good fun. Some people even brought their children, so I let a six-year-old girl take me down. Her mother told me she had been talking the whole drive there about hitting someone until they fell down, so apparently it made her day when I collapsed on the ground and announced my defeat. It was so much fun, I don't understand why it is only once a year. This seriously needs to be a monthly event, at least in the summer.

And by the way, no one got hit in the eye.

Total Time Traveled: 2.5 hours
Total Distance Traveled: 80 miles
Soundtrack: Tegan and Sara "Sainthood"