Thursday, August 27, 2009

Raw Love

I have just found the most lovely little gem, and it's in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Who knew? What I've found is Vita Rawstaurant...get it? RAW - staurant. Love that. And unlike some of the other raw dining experiences I've had lately, my meal was not only great on the tongue, but in the tummy as well.

This is a spot reminiscent of the little tea rooms and luncheon spots that pepper the deep south and beg for sundresses and professional manicures. Vita has grass green walls, and is accented with bright poppy-red. The space is cheerful, and bright and incredibly inviting to any passerby. But beyond the decor, the food is amazing.

After skimming the menu with such items as Stuffed Baby Bellas, "Chicken Salad" sandwich, and Fresh Fruit Salad, I opted for the avocado sandwich. You could get a single or a double, but the single was way more than enough. It was a delightful open-faced sandwich, stacked with avocado, tomatoes, cucumbers, marinated mushrooms and sprouts. Everything was fresh and crisp and piled high upon a slice of caraway rye bread. Like I said, lovely!

For dessert (oh yes, there is always dessert), I opted for the divine orange-pineapple cake. I have no idea how this was made with no baking, but I will tell you it was gorgeous to look at and tasted even better. The delicate, rich cake was sort of the consistency of cake and cheesecake, frosted with the most lovely icing. I polished off half at lunch, and picked up the balance for dinner.

I don't think it would offend anyone to say, Green Bay isn't over-run with vegetarian restaurants. So, because I knew I'd later want to eat dinner, I got a little something to go. Boy am I glad I did.

They let me taste both the "chicken" and "tuna" salad, and both were incredible. Though it could have gone either way, I had a taste for tuna, so the tuna parfait was dinner. In a glass was grape tomatoes topped with a big scoop of tuna, and topped with sprouts and a bit of lettuce. The tuna was really creamy, with the perfect bite of lemon and dill. In my to-go box they placed a few bits of the rye bread from lunch, but also these wonderful corn chips, with bits of tomato (I think). That was my favorite.

I'm not certain when I'll get back to Green Bay again, but I want the world to know about Vita Rawstaurant, and if you find yourself in Green Bay you should definitely make a pilgrimage to the historic Broadway District for some scrumptious food that is not only really delicious, but good for you!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Purple Food

Have you noticed the later we get into summer the deeper the color palette at the farmer’s markets? It’s still a rainbow, but deeper and more dramatic than the earlier offerings. As I peruse through the big melons, deep leafy greens and rich peaches I spy the “purple section.”

When I asked for ideas on which vegetables people don’t eat but wish they did, eggplant was at the top of the list. After going a little nuts last weekend at Green City Market, I thought I’d put my two favorite (and incidentally similarly shaped) purple produce in the limelight. I offer you ideas for utilizing eggplants and figs.

This isn’t such an odd pairing considering both are very popular in Middle East and North African dining. The recipes I’ve found and posted here are really simple and absolutely delicious. Unfortunately, my camera battery was dead, so even though I made all 4 recipes last weekend, I’m having to steal pictures as well as recipes this week as I couldn’t take any of my own. I will say, they really look like artwork with such little effort. Would love to hear your results if you give these a try.

Eggplant-Walnut Paté

8 Servings

I took this from my daily recipe from Dr. Weil . You should definitely sign up for great and simple recipes. I served it for a board gathering at my apartment rencently and it was quite the hit. I served it with crackers, endive and fig halves, with a side of spiced almonds. Paired with chilled chenin blanc and blood orange martinis to drink, I didn't have one person ask, "where's the beef?"

1 large eggplant
1 cup walnut pieces
2 teaspoons fresh gingerroot, peeled, grated, and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, mashed
1 tablespoon quality extra-virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
Salt and hot pepper sauce to taste

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Pierce the eggplant with a fork in several places and bake until very soft, about 45 minutes. While the eggplant is baking, grind the walnuts in a food processor until very fine, and set aside. Remove the eggplant from oven, slash to let steam escape, drain off any liquid, and scrape the pulp into a food processor with the gingerroot, garlic, and olive oil. Process until smooth. Add the ground walnuts and allspice, and process until smooth. Season to taste with the salt and hot pepper sauce. Spoon into a small loaf dish and chill several hours or until firm.

Eggplant Croquettes with Tomato Basil sauce


2-3 med. Eggplants
4 Tbsp. olive oil
1 c. diced onion
½ c. grated parmesan cheese (can use soy)
½ c. bread crumbs
1 lg. egg (or egg substitute)
1 Tbsp. chopped mint
1 Tbsp. chopped parsley
Salt and pepper

Roast eggplant directly over flames on stove, turning until charred evenly, all around. If you’re like me and don’t have a gas oven anymore then broil it in the oven. Just watch closely and continue to turn. You want the center of the eggplant to be soft. Let the eggplant cool until you can touch it, then peel it and chop finely. You need to have 3 ½ c. of eggplant meat.

Saute diced onion in 1 Tbsp. for 3-5 minutes. Mix onion with eggplant then dump in the rest of the ingredients, except the rest of the oil. Chill for about an hour. It should be firm enough to hold a ball shape. If you need to add a bit more bread crumbs you can do that.

Make into 2” patties then dip in flour then sauté in 3 Tbsp. of olive oil until. Should make 12 croquettes.

Tomato-Basil Sauce

12 lg. Roma tomatoes (or whatever looks good…I used left-over heirlooms)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. chopped basil
Salt and pepper

Blanch tomatoes by making little “x” on their bottoms then dropping in boiling water. Leave them about 30 seconds then pull out and put in ice water. Peel, seed and chop. Saute garlic in olive oil, then add chopped tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper. Simmer 5 minutes then serve over croquettes.

Gingerbread with Figs and Cherries

This is amazingly wonderful and serves about 8.


3 c. flour
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. Earth Balance (or 2 sticks butter)
1 c. (packed) light brown sugar
1 c. light molasses
2 lg. eggs or egg substitute
1 c. hot water
2/3 c. chopped crystallized ginger

Preheat to 350°F. Butter and flour 12-cup Bundt pan. Sift flour, baking soda, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves and salt into bowl. Combine melted Earth Balance and brown sugar in large bowl. Beat until well blended. Gradually beat in molasses. Beat in egg substitute. Add dry ingredients and beat until well blended. Gradually beat in hot water. Stir in chopped crystallized ginger.

Transfer batter to prepared pan. Bake until tester inserted near center of cake comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Cool cake in pan on rack 10 minutes. Turn cake out onto rack and cool completely. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap in plastic; let stand at room temperature.)

Serve slices of cake with following compote.


2 1/2 c. water
1 c. sugar
2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
1 c. figs, stemmed, halved lengthwise
1 1/2 c. dried tart cherries
3/4 cup brandy
3 tbsp. chopped crystallized ginger

Combine 2 1/2 c. water, sugar and cinnamon sticks in large saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer 5 minutes. Add figs and simmer uncovered 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Mix in cherries and then brandy. Return to heat and simmer uncovered until all fruits are tender but still retain shape, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in crystallized ginger. Cool. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Smoky Spanish Tomato Soup

This may sound a little crazy, but trust me, it’s divine!!! Ok, this picture has grapes on top, but it should have slices of lovely figs...the darker the purple the more lovely, against the red.

4 1/2 lbs tomatoes
1 med. onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. smoked paprika
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tsp. cumin seeds, whole and toasted in a pan until they pop
1/2 c. coarse bread crumbs
2 c. fresh figs

Cut a shallow X in bottom of each tomato and drop in boiling water. Leave about 30 seconds, then transfer to an ice bath. Peel and seed tomatoes, then coarsely chop.
Cook onion and bell peppers in oil with 1/2 tsp. salt in a wide 5-quart heavy pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 15 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, paprika, and 1/2 tsp. salt and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, til tomatoes are falling apart.

Crush garlic to a paste and mash with cumin using a mortar and pestle or back of a spoon in a bowl.

Stir garlic-cumin paste and bread crumbs into tomato mixture. Use hand mixer to blend until smooth or put in blender, in batches. Return to pot. Thin to desired consistency with water and season with salt and pepper.
Serve soup topped with figs. This really is me.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Many Mighty Meals in Minneapolis

It’s a very rare thing that I don’t find something wonderful about the places I visit, but Minneapolis is especially fun for a veggie-lovin’ girl. I believe my first blog entry was on eateries in this fare city, and I just keep finding more to write about.

Last night I returned to one of my favorite dining establishments. I really had every intention to visit all new places this trip, but after just driving back from Willmar, MN (aka The City that Never Sleeps) I was exhausted and wanted something familar. It was straight to Café Agri for me.

While they do not promote themselves as a vegan dining establishment, the majority of the fare at Cafe Agri is vegan. Chef Derek Deker is very committed to humane farming and cooking with local ingredients. They have an amazing wine selection, and offer many varieties by the glass (all $5) or bottle (all $20). Minneapolis has this great law saying if you have at least ½ glass in the restaurant you can take the bottle with you. This was good news, as I’m in town for a week and my hotel room needs a little buzz.

The portions at this cozy neighborhood spot are quite large, so although the special of curried tofu with various vegetables looked as tempting as the pasta putanesca, I opted for comfort food, which meant a BBQ tempeh sandwich on homemade multi-grain bread and a side salad of mixed summer vegetables with vegan ranch.
French fries would have completed this comfort-food plate, but you can’t get a whole lot more comfortable on less calories.

When my meal arrived even the bread was wonderful. It was nutty and slightly toasted with a golden-brown crust. There was a good deal of drippy BBQ sauce, but not obnoxiously so. You could taste and feel the earthy tempeh and appreciate the gooey cheddar cheese sliding out the sides. I’m not sure if the cheese was vegan, but my thinking is it was not. My mouth is watering as I type this out.

My side-salad was bursting with little tomatoes and bell peppers, along with a rainbow of other veggies. The ranch was good, but not super-thick or flavorful. Next time I’d likely get the vinaigrette, but the vegetables were so good they needed no embelishment.

This meal, along with a bottle of 2004 Monte Santa Maria malbec, made for a really great evening. Excluding the bottle of wine, which I did not expense, my bill was around $14.00.

Today I had lunch at Birchwood Café. I arrived there in a downpour that quickly evolved into several tornados. Still the restaurant was packed at 1pm. The Café is not vegan, but promotes “good real food,” in a neighborhood diner fashion. I believe all the ingredients are locally sourced, with many vegetarian and vegan options.

I had a salad sampler. I chose 3 salads from an array that are made daily. My pesto barley salad was really flavorful and creamy, with many bits of fresh basil. The spicy peanut pasta salad was good, but not my favorite. I loved the black bean salad, with the exception of quite strong raw green scallions, but that is my own personal issue and has nothing to do with the preparation.

Thankfully, I had the good sense to get a dessert. I opted for the coconut tapioca pudding. This may sound so 1940’s, but if something has “coconut” in the description you can bank on me trying it. This dessert did not disappoint. It was light and creamy, with a really distinct taste of coconut that, while not completely "natural" tasting, was exactly what I expected and loved. I had to stop myself from polishing off the whole parfait glass as I still had meetings to attend. My entire meal, including dessert, tip and drink, was $16.

I still have intentions of giving other local veggie spots a try like Ecopolitan and May Day Café a try, but am not entirely sure if it’s going to happen this trip. As it stands my tummy is really happy with Minneapolis, and my head is so impressed by their plethora of talented and conscientious chefs.

****This just in****

Just visited Ecopolitan for dinner. Their entire menu is organic, vegan and raw. The atmosphere is a little more "earthy" than my previous dining spots, but very warm and comfortable. Ecoplitan is not just a restaurant, but also a juice bar, a shop (featuring all the accessories for living in the raw)and offers health education and service. On my way out I picked up fliers on therapeutic massage and colon hydrotherapy (which I can't imagine anyone needs who eats there on a regular basis).

I have eaten a fair amount of raw food in the past at both yoga camp and at various other restaurants around the country and in Europe. But, I can't say I am a connoisseur. I probably did not order the most harmonious combination of dishes, and perhaps that is why I now feel about 4 months pregnant with twin lobsters. It’s just a guess.

I started …. Wait, I ordered the vegetable-soup, but was brought the gingered carrot soup. It was chilled and fresh, and the flavors were very bright with that expected bite of ginger. Unfortunately for me, I ordered the ginger-lemonade. This too was spicy, clean and fresh tasting. And I know that ginger is good to munch on for stomach issues, but right now it just burns. It was too much for one sitting, but not because there was anything off on the individual items. As an accompaniment to my soup I asked for a couple house-made sesame crackers. I really enjoyed the nuttiness of the dehydrated wafers, but the saltiness which likely comes from tahini or something similar was a little much.

My main course was a healthy half-order of the tostados. The presentation was really beautiful, with bright colors and very identifiable fresh veggies. Their “taco” meat is made from a spicy lentil concoction, and cashew “sour cream” was drizzled over the entire affair.

I took things apart in my mouth. The guacamole was really good. The lentil “taco meat” was delicious. I loved all the veggies and the salsa. But, everything had a good deal of spice (again, not a bad thing, but consider my precursor) and was really salty. That was my biggest issue; too much salt. Mind you, I almost cleaned my plate, so it wasn’t that I disliked the flavors at all, it was just a lot for my palette to take at once.

Of course, I like my sweets, so dessert was a must. However, since Ecopolitan doesn’t use processed sugar I was a little leery. They use a good deal of dates and dried fruits. They also use carob instead of chocolate (or at least I didn’t see any chocolate on the menu. I’m not a huge fan of carob or dried dates. I opted for the pecan pie bar (they serve many bars in Minnesota) and it wasn’t bad, but I’m from the South and I know my pecan pie. There was an amazing apple cinnamon sauce drizzled over the top that I could have easily eaten with apple slices to dip.

After the fact, I read two great reviews that I wish I'd made an effort to find before. The raviolli looks beautiful, and I was so tempted to try the cheese roll or hummus. Rats! Overall, I would likely go back with an adventurous friend, and I would love their taco meat recipe, but of all my great meals in Minneapolis, Ecopolitan wasn’t my favorite. And right now I can’t say it’s my tummy’s favorite either, but I may very well wake in the morning, feeling like a new and better person. Who knows? For now, sweet dreams and where are those damn Tums???

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Corn of Plenty

First, I absolutely will cut back on the silly puns...or at least come up with funnier ones. Second, everyone is going to get sick of pictures featuring these red dishes, but I love them and find they show food well. I don't own much red, so bear with me.

I am currently typing this blog altering big slurps of really amazing corn soup and my glass of Big House Red (inexpensive, and really big, but chocolaty/pruny yumminess). While you may find yourselves in a climate that doesn't scream "soup time," those of us in Chicago have seen a bit of a temperature drop in the last few hours. In addition to this, it's raining and I have a ton of corn I need to cook through by Tuesday, so I may be reaching a little.

Following are 3 recipes that are a little different, really fun and so tasty. They appealed to me not only for their utilization of corn, but other vegetables plentiful at this time of summer.

Corn Soup with Roasted Corn Guacamole

The first recipe tastes much like a traditional corn chowder, but a little lighter and with a dollup of roasted corn guacamole as garnish. Start off making the guacamole. This recipe serves 4, or in my case, 2! It was really good.

Roasted Corn Guacamole

Kernels from 3 ears fresh corn
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and black pepper
1 Tbsp. chopped red onion
2 Tbsp. fresh cilantro,chopped
1 lime, finely grated zest and juice
1 jalapeño, stemmed and seeded, chopped
1 avocado, pitted and diced

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line a baking sheet it with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

Cut corn kernals from the corn then put on the baking sheet and toss with the oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and black pepper to taste. Spread the corn out evenly on the baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes, until the corn turns a golden brown. I toss it around about 10 minutes in so that most gets a little crispy. Remove the corn from the oven and set aside to cool.

In a bowl, combine the red onion, cilantro, lime zest and juice, and jalapeño. Gently stir in the avocado. When corn cools, rake into bowl and toss with salt and pepper.


Kernels from 5 ears fresh corn
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 jalapeño, stemmed and chopped
Salt and black pepper
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth

Put the kernels in a blender. I know this sounds odd, but just trust me. You'll have to push the corn down with a wooden spoon, but keep blending until smooth.

Combine the oil and the garlic in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and jalapeño. Season with salt and pepper and sauté until the vegetables are soft and translucent. Transfer the vegetables to the blender and puree until smooth.

Pour the corn puree into the soup pot and place over medium heat. Stir constantly for a few minutes, until the soup begins to thicken. Slowly whisk or stir in the broth. Bring to a boil, decrease the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 15minutes.

Ladle the soup into soup bowls. Place a generous spoonful of the guacamole in the center of each bowl. This would be great with little corn chips or tortilla strips as well, but I didn't get that fancy.

Corn Spaghetti with Fresh Grilled Corn and Smoked Mozzarella

This is a yummy recipe I found last year in an issue of Vegetarian Times. It's not vegan, and I have to say, the smoked Mozerella is a fairly big element, so I'm not sure how to make it vegan without creating a new dish. I was not able to find corn pasta last summer, so I used traditional semolina pasta, with no complaints.

serves 4

3 ears fresh corn, husks and silks removed and scrubbed
4 pablano chilies
6 oz. spaghetti, use corn if available, or regular
1 Tbs. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 c. soy or cow milk
1/2 c. chopped fresh cilantro
2 oz. smoked mozzarella cheese, grated
dash of Tabasco, to taste

Heat grill to med-high heat. Coat corn and chilies w/ cooking spray. Grill corn and chilies 10-15 minutes, or until tender and slightly charred. Transfer chilies to med. bowl, and cover with plastic wrap until cool enough to handle. Cut corn kernels from cob and transfer to large bowl. Peel, seed, and coarsely chop chilies; add to corn.

Cook spaghetti in large pot of boiling salted water according to pkg. direction until al dente. Drain; transfer to bowl with corn and chilies.

Meanwhile, heat oil in small saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and cumin, and sauté 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add milk, and simmer 5 minutes, or until milk reduces by half.

Pour hot milk mixture over spaghetti mixture in large bowl. Add cilantro and cheese, and toss until cheese begins to melt. Season with salt, pepper and hot sauce.

per serving 344 Cal, 13 g. prot, 9.5g total fat (3g. saturated), 57 g. carbs, 11 mg. chol, 430 mg sod, 8 g. fiber, 5 g. sugars

Now, before I put down my last recipe for Zucchini and Corn Tacos, I want to say that I made a little extra of the roasted corn guacamole from the soup recipe and used it on these tacos. Yes, it bumps up the calorie content, but wow, is it ever delicious. Just a tip.

Zucchini and Corn Tacos
Serves 4

3 Tbsp. vegetable oil, divided
2 c. fresh white or yellow corn kernels
1 c. chopped white onion
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
3 medium zucchini, diced
1 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
1 tsp. fresh oregano, finely chopped
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
8 warm corn tortillas
1/4 cup tomatillo salsa
8 teaspoons grated Monterey Jack cheese (or queso fresco)

Heat half of oil in a large skillet over high heat. Toast corn 5 minutes, or until golden, stirring; season with salt. Remove corn; set aside. Heat remaining 1 tbsp plus 1 1/2 tsp oil in skillet. Cook onion, stirring, until it caramelizes, 5 minutes. Add garlic; cook 1 to 2 minutes. Add tomatoes; cook 10 minutes. Add zucchini; cook until tender, 10 to 12 minutes; season with salt. Add corn, beans, epazote and pepper. Cook 3 minutes. Split filling among tortillas; top each with 1 1/2 tsp salsa and 1 tsp cheese. Or, in my case I ditched the cheese and salsa and added the roasted corn guac. It was so perfect and fresh.

460 calories per 2 tacos, 15.6 g fat (2.2 g saturated), 72 g carbs, 12.2 g fiber, 13.8 g protein

After driving through miles and miles of corn fields in Iowa, I've had some time to think about recipes and creative uses of corn. I realize much of the corn grown in the Midwest is not for human consumption, but still...we have a lot of it and should definitely find fun ways to use it. Eat up!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Best Summer Cookie

Real quickly, I want to thank EVERYONE for the comments and e-mails. I'm so thrilled and honored to know someone out there is reading my ramblings. It's very exciting!! Thanks. Much love.

Today I went to the Green City Market, in Chicago, at 7am in order to avoid the Air Show crowd. No luck. They were already out in droves. But I've got to say, perusing the market first thing in the morning is like walking through an art museum. I typically wonder in around 11am or noon...just in time to grab a crepe and the last of the picked-over lilies. The upshot is, I'll often get bargains, but I can't say my loot is always Martha Stewart worthy.

Which is a transition to my experiment and the results I'm about to present. There was a recipe in Martha Stewart Living magazine for Strawberry Shortcake Cookies. This sounded like heaven to me...a perfect bite of summer. However, it wasn't vegan and I wasn't sure if using soy butter and creamer would taint the taste-bud-memory I have of homemade teacakes, smothered in sweet strawberries and freshly whipped cream.

The problem is, it didn't occur to me until last week to try this recipe out, which is a little late, in my city, for strawberries. However, we have raspberries coming out our ears. Hmmm...raspberry shortcake? Sounded good.

With few slight changes in the original recipe, and switching the strawberries out with raspberries, I have created a lovely dessert. Because I put so many berries in the cookie, they definitely have more of a tea cake consistency than a crisp, light cookie. Also, I can't say they are as lovely as the photo of Martha's in the magazine. But, they are super easy and not too sweet. They taste exactly like what I'd remembered.

Raspberry Vegan Shortcake Cookies

Makes about 3 dozen

1.5 c. fresh raspberries, rinsed and drained well
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 c. plus 1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
2 c. all-purpose flour
2 t. baking powder (make sure it is fresh)
1/2 tsp. course salt
6 Tbsp. chilled Earth Balance (or other vegan baking "butter")
1/2 c. soy creamer
sanding sugar for decorating

Preheat oven to 375 F. Combine berries, lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of sugar in glass bowl. In separate bowl mix flour, baking powder, salt and remaining sugar. Mix well then cut bits of butter into dry mix. Mix with your fingers until it has a "sandy" texture. Stir in soy creamer, making dough come together and then incorporate strawberries.

Use rounded tablespoon of dough to make cookies somewhat uniform. Try to get any whole berries on the top of the cookie, as they tend to burn a little easier. Sprinkle with sanding sugar and bake until golden. Every oven is a bit different, but I set the timer for 8 minutes, with my pan in the center of the oven.

When cookies are done move them to a wire rack and let stand 15 minutes so undersides can get dry.

I tested this recipe twice with great results. If you find your dough is too thick you can add up to another couple tablespoons full of soy creamer.

More shots from the Green City Market

The beets were remarkable. I'm so excited about roasting them for salads and general noshing.

The tomatoes are off the charts. I bought all colors, shapes and sizes. They're great fried for veggies poboys, salads, grilled, and sauces and salsas.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Corn and Red Avocados in Iowa

I could be a jackass and make some lame remarks about Iowa with regard to corn, children living amongst it, and the fact that my hotel is hosting an apple-doll making convention. The truth of it is, Iowa is great. Yes, the state corners the market on genetically modified corn, but what would we do without more significant contributions like Johnny Carson, Ann Landers, or Ashton Kutcher, for God’s sake!

As if that wasn't enough, I now have one more reason to make the 5 hour pilgrimage amongst the corn fields, and it’s name is Red Avocado (Is that angels singing or my hotel-neighbor taking a shower?). As you may have seen from my tweets (I’m Bunnybite), I was back-and-forth on going tonight; not sure it if was open, then wondering if I should just go for lunch tomorrow. Thank you to whatever divine force prompted me to quit watching back episodes of Weeds in my hotel room and drive 30 minutes backwards, to Iowa City.

I know nothing about Iowa City, aside from my last trip, 10 years ago, after an all- night argument with my former boyfriend. He graduated from Univ. of Iowa, and at about 5am in the morning, it seemed a road trip to his alma mater would dry my tears and shut me up for a while. I know where the Sigma Chi house is, the BA Building and a few other strategic points that seemed important to him at 20. We came, we saw, we turned around and went back to Chicago.

Today I came with a mission. Ok, my actual mission is a presentation tomorrow in Ames, but my second mission was to eat at this vegan Mecca, touted as one of the top 10 vegan restaurants in the USA. I'd read about the chefs' commitment to social causes, sustainable suppliers and creative vegan cuisine. Really? Iowa City? The answer, I can now say with full confidence and conviction, is YES.
Am I in heaven? Nope… still Iowa.

The décor is simple and warm and a bit funky, as you might imagine from a vegan establishment in a major college town. Honestly, I didn't get a good look at the inside, and as I understand it, their reason for closing next week is for a kitchen remodel. Perhaps after 10 years of business, this is in order.
Red Avocado is located just near campus, in what I’m guessing was a large residence, many years ago. It now houses both the restaurant and a place called Defunct Books. I sat in their lovely patio area, watching college students pass by in an array of flavors; the jock running past, the professor in a worn sports coat, the androgynous skate-board punk, and several who had likely just come from yoga class two doors down. Oh, and a parent who probably came for parent’s day, but stayed for the tempeh.

My waitress was kind, answered all my questions, and kept providing me with in-house distilled water (at least I think it was in inside job….they actually answered this question on their menu and it may well be on their website…must not take time to look as I want to get this all down while the garlic is still on my breath). I’d peeked at the menu on-line, but only found 6-7 items listed for dinner. What was on the actual menu was almost overwhelming and definitely did a number on my salivary glands.

I finally gave in, ordered the special and a glass of the 2007 Yellow + Blue Malbec from Mendoza Argentina. The evening's special was written out as “chipotle tofu with lime-cilantro aioli, served with grilled red peppers, sautéed zucchini and grains.” Aparently there is a special for every serving, which includes brunch, lunch and dinner.

After perusing the menu, I could have just as easily fallen in love with the vegetable sate, the BBQ tempeh, or the pizza. I also REALLY wanted a salad; specifically the Earth Salad, which included those wonderful baby bean shoots I’ve grown so fond of, but I knew there was simply not enough room in the inn (aka, my belly).

For the little bit of time I was left to savor my wine and enjoy the lovely evening air, I kept getting whiffs of basil. Could it be a few leaves sprinkled in the vegetable curry? Or something with an Italian bent??? Sweet God… did I make a mistake in ordering the special? Soon my dinner arrived and I forgot about the basil.

A small plate with a slice of unadorned bread came along side “the special,” and yes, it was indeed special. I’ve simply GOT to start working more with tofu. The smoky, spicy flavors infused in the firm, baked tofu would have seriously stood up just fine on their own. Place them on a bed of quinoa, and other grains, surround them with perfectly grilled zucchini and red peppers, and place a generous dollop of very garlicky lime aioli, and you have bliss. Sprinkle it all with freshly chopped cilantro…well, I don’t know an English word to describe my excitement. I’d make something up, but I’m so full and tired my creativity is waning.

Of course, I had to hold out a little for dessert. I’d already seen on the “specials” board a list of items like apple crisp and mint truffles. A little mint truffle couldn’t hurt, right? But then she had to go and mention cardamom cake with cashew whipped icing. What???? Make mine a double.

All I can say about this cake that I ate every last crumb of is this; if I were to eat this cake even once a week, I feel strongly I would be a better citizen, a finer designer, a better daughter and friend, and might even grow 3 inches and raise my IQ 20 points. That’s all I’m saying.

If you ever find yourself in a lonely corn field in the middle of Iowa, for goodness sakes, wash your hands, put on your shoes and get yourself to Red Avocado. My server said there is hope for a cookbook, and I'm really keeping my fingers crossed. There is definitely more to Iowa than corn and Hawkeyes!