Dear John Cougar, I Get It Now. Really. Love, Jeff

I didn’t see the constellation Orion. But I felt a sense of profound relief that I came of age just after the Friday Night/Heavy Metal/Laser/Astronomy at the Observatory thing.

Seriously, There was a point on the return leg of the road trip that found me absolutely mesmerized. I had to ease the Hoopty off the the side of Highway 46, sit out on the front fender, and look up at the stars. I’m willing to risk that sounding a little bit trite, but seriously, it had been a long time. It was a clear night, with great visibility and no glare save from a dimly lit A-frame farmhouse about a half a mile downhill.

And I try not be cavalier about the word “awe,” but there are times when it just fits. I sat there dumbstruck for what had to be a half an hour, staring blankly into a sky that just teemed with life. I didn’t see the space station, but I found the Big Dipper, the North Star, and this faint streak of powdery white that I knew wasn’t a cloud, but I think was the outer arm of the galaxy. I think this image was seared into my mind as the most compelling visual of 2009.

Yeah, I need to get out of the city more often.

So I went to Bloomington, Indiana a few weekends ago, my vision occurring on the return trip to Cincinnati. Strange trip, that. There isn’t really a straight shot via Interstate, so it meant cutting across South Central Indiana and weaving my way there through miles and miles of rolling, verdant farmland. I could think of worse ways to spend a late summer day.

College towns are like a vinaigrette. There are many possibilities for a “good” one, but in the end, it all comes down to the ratio. As much as I want verve, diverse independant businesses, good record stores… I like the “town” part, too. Walkable, lots of green space. Historic homes free of stuffed furniture on their porches. Good food, and a pulse that echoes, but isn’t dominated by, the academic calendar. Bloomington worked. I got a similar vibe from Burlington, Vermont, another university town I happen to really like. Both are obvious college towns, but both have a small yet vital critical mass that exists somewhat apart from the large public university that happens to be right in the middle.

It reserve the right to fantasize about returning to Bloomington in order to revitalize this place.

The purpose of my visit was to see my friends Sara and Sam. After a long walk through the downtown, we hit up a side street for dinner.

Socio-culinary sidenote:  Did you know that the Dali Lama’s brother owns a restaurant in Bloomington, Indiana?

I thought that was both hilarious and inspiring. Ireally wanted to go, too, but for some reason we ended up going to a different Tibetan place, one which I was quite happy with.

Anyetsang’s Little Tibet specializes in these things called “mo-mos,” They were sort of like a potsticker/dumpling hybrid (the crimping and faint sear marks on the bottom suggested they were prepared like potstickers) but the wrappers were a slightly more substantial and the fillings more… filling). I ordered the beef and onion filling, which was seasoned with a complex mix of cilantro and peppers. Very tasty.

Please note that this trip took place immediately prior to my swearing off soda. I’m working on it, really.

And given that it was Sara’s birthday, it was inconceivable that I wouldn’t bake something. The problem, however, was that Sara is…a vegan.

This was my first attempt at true vegan baking. I mean, I’ve done yeast breads without honey or olive oil crackers… items that just HAPPEN to contain no eggs or dairy products, but I had never tried to prepare something DELIBERATELY vegan.

After extensive research googling, I found a vegan chocolate cupcake recipe that looked like it might work.  This is a creation of Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, the creators of the Veganomicon. This recipe is contained in their new book, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.

Now, my problem here was not moral or culinary. My problem was taste. I had no frame of reference. How are vegan chocolate cupcakes SUPPOSED to taste? For all I know they could taste like a frikkin cheese pizza, I have no idea. Sara assured me they were amazing, but I thought they were just “okay.” They were rich and dense, and they didn’t have a hugely metallic mouth feel the way some baking-powder-heavy applications do, but I found the intense soy flavor sort of overpowering. Maybe if I were more used to it.

Okay, this was funny. I had decided to use a royal icing (a vegan one) to top the cupcakes and individually letter “Happy Bday Sara.” (Both s were on the same cupcake.)

Well, after a long car ride, they ran a little bit…

It ended up saying “Nappy Bday…” We both totally approved.

4 thoughts on “Dear John Cougar, I Get It Now. Really. Love, Jeff

  1. I LOVED those cupcakes til they were gone. Come out and see me again, Jeffie poo! (bring more cupcakes).

  2. i love bloomington. another favorite college town of mine is charlottesville. hmm. i just realized i was introduced to both these towns by friends attending law school.

    cupcakes look delicious, however baking without butter is not something i generally approve of.

  3. saraaaaaaaaa Sorry I missed the Lotus Festival, or whatever. And I did some additional research. Yes, Bloomington has lots of limestone and you were totally totally correct. And you are far too kind. I thought they tasted funny. How can you people DO it?

    Amy – Awww, thanks!, I have, admittedly, hopped on the cupcake bandwagon. Another post is on its way.

    K- I love my vegan fiends. I really do. But butter is essential. And, by the way, my favorite college town? Oberlin Ohio. That’s how it’s supposed to feel, I think.