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Kansas, She Says…

February 4, 2010

What do I haul?  You got it–ASS.  

Our road trip through the Midwest to Denver was easier than expected.

From Cincinnati, Andrew and I breezed through Indiana and Illinois on I-70.  He did more driving than we’d initially agreed upon–I was supposed to do ALL the driving–but I think my lead foot certainly made things more exciting.

“The speed limit is ___, you know…” Andy would mention occasionally, as I swerved around trucks or swirled around on- and off-ramps, going 5-10 mph above the posted speed limit as a general rule.  I just blocked him out.

We had a pretty nice little arrangement going.  He put in some billable hours on his laptop, playing navigator and passenger-seat-driver when necessary.  I drove, played with the radio and clenched my bum-cheeks together to keep them awake.

Just east of Kansas City, Missouri–Blue Springs, to be precise–we decided to rest for the evening.  We checked into the Quality Inn and ate dinner at Dos Amigos in the strip mall across the street.  Margaritas!! Decent, inexpensive food!  Hear those fajitas sizzzzzle.

The next day, I was supposed to meet with a foodie, a restaurant-owner in Kansas City.  But he was not interested in the cooking-together thing, he just wanted to talk.  Meh.

The most important goal in this blog, to me, is #1: Spend time cooking with a foodie in each city I visit.  Why is this important?  

I’m a hands-on learner.  If I’m ever going to be a better cook, I need to practice with people and get feedback.  Little things, like how to dice a potato, how to sharpen a knife, how to organize your workspace, how to multi-task, etc., are best learned in person, in my opinion.

Having a teacher reminds me of what I already do know, thus building my confidence.

I like to see how other cooks think, and pick their brains.

I’m also just curious and nosy.  I like to see what other peoples’ kitchens look like.

I’m also looking to…make…friends?  Have fun and bond with people from other cities through cooking and blogging?  Seeing as how I’m socially inept, that one might be the biggest challenge.

Anyway, I could understand where the restauranteur was coming from.  He’s a busy person, and here was this stranger from a strange city with this strange-sounding blog, wanting to blow into town, invade his kitchen and cook with him after only a few days’ notice, offering no remuneration of any kind.  And it has to be on a certain day because the stranger is leaving town as quickly as she arrived.  Uh, yeah.

After my very awkward phone conversation with this fellow, in which he flat-out said “No” to cooking together, Andrew helped me work on my approach.

My blog is now averaging maybe 15 hits a day, so it’s not as though being mentioned in it is big advertising for the restaurant.  And busy people don’t have time, energy or motivation to help me out of the goodness of their hearts.  Professionals I’ve talked to act as though I’m out to steal their recipes or something.  (Which is a ridiculous concept–don’t we cooks all “borrow” ideas from each other?  How many recipes could I steal in an afternoon?)

So why would they want to help me?

I just don’t know.

Perhaps I’m asking the wrong people.  I need regular people–schoolteachers, rocket scientists, potheads–who happen to like to cook vegan food and would be thrilled to be featured in any food blog, even if it only gets 10 hits a day.  I mean 15.

But how do I find these people?


Though it was a good opportunity to talk about food, I didn’t want to just interview the chef–I wanted action, and was unwilling to beg this guy for it.

I ended up canceling our meeting via voicemail with some silly excuse about having to “hit the road.” Which is true, but not for the reasons I said.  

And maybe he’s reading this right now.  I’m such an asshole!  Please forgive me, Mr. Kansas-City-Vegan-Restaurant-Owner!  So much for making friends.

Hit the road we did, indeed.

Thanks to, Andy was able to locate Nice Cafe in Lawrence, Kansas–just a few miles away.  What a cool little college town!

Lawrence made a good impression on us, even though we stayed barely more than an hour.  The downtown area’s main road, Massachusetts Street, was filled with all sorts of cute boutiques that were begging to be browsed.  It was a sunny, just slightly-chilly day, perfect for strolling hand-in-hand with my honey-man.

We arrived in Lawrence just before the cafe opened so to kill time… we ventured less than a block away to the adorable Penny Annie’s Sweet Shoppe.  Done up to look like a ’50s soda shop (kind of…?), this place has an extensive selection of candy, fudge, and popcorn.  They also serve food-food, if you need lunch.

If you see Andy and I sporting wax lips in the near future, now you know where we got them.  :)

Nice Cafe, located in the rear of The Casbah Market, has a healthy, almost-completely-vegan menu.

We ordered their specialty, “patties:” turnovers in a whole wheat crust.  Andy got the Jerk patty (insert mean joke here), which is what I wanted too but to avoid being a copycat, I got the Fajita patty, with black beans and seasoned tofu.

About halfway through eating the patties, which were barely bigger than my hand, my man sensed that we were still going to be hungry once our plates were clean.  Without a word, he ordered a bowl of beans and rice for us to share.

(The orange specks are sauce, which was in a squeeze bottle at the pick-up counter.  We took turns going up to the counter to squirt piles of it on everything.)

To be honest, I think I like the idea of Nice Cafe more than its food.  It’s a charming place, but the food wasn’t doing it for me.  It tasted so… healthy.  The prices were great and it was a lot better than “road food,” but the patties lacked flavor and moisture, and the beans and rice were pretty much just beans and rice.  But if I go through Lawrence again–which I probably will–I’ll be back.  After all, there is that big bottle of sauce.

On the road again… But no more speed-demon for me, because I’d heard that Kansas cops are just itching to pull people over.  No major stops until we reached Denver, except…

I am a huge Wizard of Oz fan.  I like the movie and the original book, not any of the sequels.  And I’ve seen Wicked more times than I care to admit, in Cincinnati and on Broadway.  When I have a house one day, I’d like to have an Oz room, complete with a yellow brick road.  I’ve never told Andrew about the Oz room because if I do he’ll never marry me.  

Kansas, she says, is the name of the star...

Oz Museum, 30 miles, 10 miles, 5 miles, 3 miles…roadside billboards said, whizzing past my field of vision.  What, they have a winery, too?  I’m so there!

When we finally reached the Wamego, KS exit to get to the museum, I was panting and practically foaming at the mouth.  The entire Munchkinland scene from the movie was pouring from my lips as if I were possessed–It really was no miracle, what happened was just this!  The wind began to switch the house to pitch, and suddenly the hinges started to unhitch.  Just then, the witch, to satisfy an itch, came flying on her broomstick thumbing for a hitch.  And oooh, what happened then was rich!

Andrew has very quick hands–I did not see him turn the radio up.

We expected the museum to be right around the corner from the exit, but instead we immediately encountered a billboard: 

Oz Museum, 9 miles ahead.  WTF??

Looks like we came a long way for nothin’…

There was no way I was going to go 18 miles round-trip to look at some Wizard of Oz stuff–or, rather, there was no way Andy would have let me do that, when we were already behind schedule from buying wax lips and whatnot.  So, I got a picture in front of the billboard:

And we were back on the road.

I’ve heard people say that driving through Kansas is boring.  I don’t think so–not any more boring than driving through Ohio, anyway.  It’s mostly flat, yes, but that just means you can see more of the sky.  In the springtime, I’m sure the green grass dazzles against that endless, blue, almost-cloudless sky.

And the windmills!  And the cows!  And the bundles of hay!  It was so Clark Kent.  So Norman Rockwell.  So overwhelming, yet familiar.

My butt finally gave out after a while, and I was getting drowsy.  Andrew completed the final leg of our journey, taking us from sun-setting Kansas to starry-skied Colorado, and into Denver at 8:30ish in the evening.

Our entry into our long-awaited destination was anti-climactic–it was dark so we couldn’t see the Rocky Mountains.  Just lights and concrete…Could’ve been any other city.

After crazy drivers in downtown Denver fried our nerves, we were mighty thirsty for margaritas.  (Do you see a pattern here?)  The ones at Gomez on Park Avenue, right next to our hotel, did the job.  Our server was insanely chipper and nice–we suspected she was new.  There were “Experienced Server Wanted” signs everywhere; we joked that maybe I should apply.

This place was not afraid of heat and spices!  I had a zesty bean-and-potato burrito smothered in green chili sauce, mmmm…  

And that was that.  

Hello, Denver.  Yeah yeah yeah, I’m going to bed at La Quinta now.  See you in the morning.

I have to remind myself that I’m a big-city girl–I need soy lattes and sirens and a little sleaze.

…But maybe Kansas wouldn’t mind if I visited? 

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Lars permalink
    February 5, 2010 11:35 am

    What a totally whimsical and perfectly – totally – engulfing narrative. Be advised you now have 16 daily visitors.
    Hugs to you, Bang-bang.

    • February 5, 2010 12:34 pm

      Aww, thanks Lars! You’re the best! :D The next margarita we drink, we’ll toast to you.

  2. February 9, 2010 10:03 am

    I love your blog and your straight shooter attitude. My brother lives close to downtown Denver and it is in a very diverse neighborhood and hes always bragging about the mexican and asian little resteraunts. You almost need to know people to get to the quirky places. I live in N.E. Nebraska and we have some terrific smaller family owned resteraunts that most folks wouldnt dare go to unless encouraged by friends. My friend and I go shopping every Friday and after we usually go to one of these places. We love them, they are not particularly beautiful or clean but they have the nicest people and terrific food. Its too bad the shop owner didnt let you cook with him, his loss. Keep asking people beacause when one says yes it will be worth all the rejections. I am jealous of you because you get way more hits than i do. I have been lax in my blogging so time to back in the swing. Whether you know it or not , you have motivated me. Thanks

    • February 10, 2010 1:44 am

      Hey Amy! I’m glad you like the blog–your comment made my day. I wish your brother or another local person were there to show us around! We were completely unprepared (as usual) and didn’t have a clue what to look for. I hate guidebooks but more research would have made a world of difference. Now get back to blogging! I need to know more about Nebraska now! :D (In Cincinnati, I knew quite a few former Nebraskans and they were always cool.)

  3. February 9, 2010 9:53 pm

    Hay where’d ya take the pic of the hay bales? I think my house is back there behind them! Next time you take a road trip through Kansas stop by. Glad I stumbled upon your blog. I enjoyed it!
    Girl in the Land of AHHHH’s

    • February 10, 2010 1:22 am

      Thanks, Simone! Driving around Kansas was fun and I hope to get a better look one day. I’ll look through the hay bales and see if I find you. :)

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