Monday, February 20, 2012

Wookin' Pa Nub in All Da Wong Paces

“I don't understand why Cupid was chosen to represent Valentine's Day. When I think about romance, the last thing on my mind is a short, chubby toddler coming at me with a weapon.”  ~Unknown

Hethyr:  I’ve always been a bit of a tomboy and not much of a romantic (I think Jon appreciates this because he isn’t the most romantic of men – sorry, babe!), but I do have my moments - and so does he.  We, as a couple, aren’t big on Hallmark holidays and usually don’t go out of our way to celebrate them and Valentine’s Day this year was no exception.  However, I often do little things to show Jon that I love him and even though we didn’t have any plans for V-Day, I decided spur-of-the-moment to make a special dessert for him.

I had been to Whole Foods that day and picked up one of the coupon flyers and inside was a recipe for Sweet Strawberry Risotto.  I am probably going to be crucified by my Italian family for saying this, but I’m usually not a big fan of risotto.  I will eat it, but there is something about it that really just doesn’t do it for me… maybe it’s the texture.  But, I’ve never tried a sweet risotto and in my mind, this seemed like more of a rice pudding (which I love) so I decided to make my own version.

But before giving you the recipe, in the spirit of LOVE (pronounced in my best Barry White voice), we’re going to do a countdown of our top ten "romantic" dinner dates…

10)  Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - Langostino’s…  OMG, this is one of the funniest “romantic” dinner memories.  After a recommendation, Jon and I went to this place on the beach in Puerto Vallarta only to discover terrible food and even worse music.  My shrimp wasn’t deveined - which totally grossed us out - and the terrible musician played every shitty cliché bar song you can imagine.  At one point I said to Jon, “If the next song is ‘Sweet Home Alabama,’ I’m going to go up there and smash his guitar!”  Well, guess what?  Yep.  The next song was “Sweet Home Alabama.”  Jon was so caught up in the moment that he actually stood up and pointed at the guy while laughing hysterically.  I had to remind him that the guy could see him.  When we requested our check a few short minutes later, it was obvious that they were very glad we were leaving.  Oops.

9)  Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica – La Perla Negra  We’ve already relayed this story in a previous blog post, so I’ll spare you the details and just put a link back to the previous post.

8)  Colorado Springs, Colorado - Beau Jo’s  Our first night living in Colorado, we were faced with the decision of where to eat.  Being young and inexperienced in the kitchen, I was not about to cook our first meal in a new town in our apartment – too much to explore!  So we decided on a little pizza joint not far from our new place where we discovered Mountain Pies and Tommyknocker Maple Nut Brown Ale.  Unfortunately, Beau Jo’s no longer exists in Colorado Springs but we try to hit up the one in Idaho Springs anytime we’re in the area.  Also unfortunately, I think Tommyknocker has changed their Maple Nut Brown Ale recipe, too.  It doesn’t seem to be quite as tasty these days.  But the memories from our first night in Colorado will always be sweet.

7)  New Orleans, Louisiana - Brigtsen’s  On the first of only two nights we spent in NOLA, we took our friend’s recommendation and ate at this award winning restaurant nestled into an old house.  We were so glad we did!  Although nearly half-an-hour late for our reservation due to our ignorance in using the Street Cars, we were greeted cheerfully.  Our server had worked there for quite some time and was very knowledgeable about the menu and even gave us a tour of the tiny kitchen when she found out I was a chef.  I was impressed by what comes out of that kitchen purely based on the lack of space and number of people crammed in.  The food was spectacular!  And we’re sure we saw Justin Long (of Dodgeball fame) on the Street Car on the way back to the apartment but he turned away and slapped on a hat when Jon tried to take a picture inconspicuously with his phone.  =)

My dinner - Flounder Meunière with Shrimp Garnish
(Everything here was garnished with shrimp!)

Jon's dinner - Brigtsen's Seafood Platter, also garnished
with shrimp.  Wow.

I think I was looking at the dessert menu in this picture.

6)  Santa Fe, New Mexico - La Cantina at La Casa Sena...  We were completely unprepared for the show we received at this upscale restaurant in Santa Fe.  We were told that the La Cantina side of the restaurant was the more laid back, casual side and that the staff would get silly and sing and perform occasionally.  We interpreted this to mean that the staff would probably get goofy.  Ha!  Oh, no.  Instead we got Show Tunes.  Seriously.  Jon and I are way too juvenile to act like adults in this situation… maybe if we had been prepared for it, but instead we were like two little kids who can’t stop laughing in church.  At least we weren’t quite as rude as we were at Langostino’s and tried to hide our snickers behind our glasses of wine and napkins.  To be fair, the staff was actually quite talented – Jon and I just aren’t mature enough to have taken the situation seriously.

That's our waiter on the left singing his little heart out.


5)  Manitou Springs, Colorado – The Mona Lisa Fondue Restaurant  This is where we decided to celebrate our 10th anniversary but due to parent-teacher conferences, we planned for the following night.  Incredibly, game 7 of the World Series between the Texas Rangers and the St. Louis Cardinals was rescheduled for the same night after a rainout on our actual anniversary.  Not having foreseen this, our dinner reservations overlapped with part of the game – not okay since we’ve both been die-hard Cards fans since we were knee-high to a pig’s eye (can you tell we grew up in Illinois?)!  So, we once again felt like a couple of kids as we tried to hide the fact that we were tuned into the game on Jon’s phone during our “romantic” fondue dinner.  Immediately after we finished eating, we headed for home so we could finish watching the Cards win the Series!

Dinner at the Mona Lisa... yep, that's Jon's phone near his
left elbow.

Watching the Cards win the Series after dinner.

4)  Burlington, Vermont - Penny Cluse Café  For our second anniversary, Jon surprised me with a pilgrimage to our own personal Mecca, Burlington, Vermont – the birthplace of Phish.  Anyone who has known us for any amount of time, knows that many of our years together have been spent frequenting shows.  He decided to book a Bed & Breakfast and after figuring out that we felt as if we were trying to sneak in and out of our parents’ houses each time we came or left, we spent most of our time wandering around town trying to find things to do.  At one point we came across the Penny Cluse Café and fell in love.  Best biscuits and gravy.  Ever.  They make a green herb-cream gravy out of this world.  And I remember loving the art on the walls – I think it was all from local artists.  We really love Burlington and have been back once and made sure to stop at Penny Cluse, but I’ve had the itch to get back there again lately.  Maybe I should start dropping some hints…

3)  St. Lucia –Sandals  A long, long time ago when Jon and I were on our honeymoon, there were only two Sandals resorts on St. Lucia and the larger of the two had a Japanese restaurant where we went with another couple we met at the Sandals Halcyon.  One of my favorite pictures of the two of us is from that excursion.  This was a really fun dinner.  The chef had some of the people at our table flipping shrimp into the air in the direction of other people.  It was quite hilarious.  I think after our long shuttle ride back to our resort and a few too many drinks, we grabbed some grub at the all-night grill outside of our room for dessert.

2)  Taos, New Mexico – Taos Inn  On our fifth anniversary, we decided to have dinner and catch a bluegrass show at the Taos Inn.  Little did we know that the Santa Fe All Stars included some very big names in the bluegrass world – we felt so lucky to have fallen upon this show.  Well, that wasn’t all that was great about this place and this night.  After seeing some of the show, we popped into the next room to watch the Cardinals finish winning game 5 of the World Series against the Detroit Tigers.  See a pattern emerging here?  The Cardinals like to win the World Series every 5 years on our anniversary (or at least on the night we celebrate our anniversary).  Awesome.

The Santa Fe All Stars at the Taos Inn, Oct. 27, 2006

And our all-time number one “romantic” dinner date…  *drum roll, please!*

1)  Puerto Vallarta, Mexico – La Palapa
  Located next door to our condo, we stopped here the first time we ventured out to see if we could make reservations for the following evening.  When told that there was a private event, we planned for two nights later.  The next morning as we left our digs, there were military police with machine guns stationed all around – it was rather unnerving!  That night when we got home, Jon crashed and I went to sit on the patio.  In no time, I realized that there was quite the spectacle taking place next door.  Just off the beach, there was a platform installed in the shallow water where performers were entertaining an unseen audience (at least from my perspective).  I can’t remember with 100% accuracy, but I think the first act I caught may have been a fire dancer or something like that.  Next came a contortionist and then fireworks.  And I got to see it all for free because we just happened to have a beachfront condo right next door – lucky me!  The next evening as we were waiting for our table, one of the staff told us that there had been some sort of political convention the prior day, hence all of the MPs stationed around the block.  Anyway, once our table was ready, we were led out a woven seagrass path lined with candles to a beautiful table on the water decorated with white linens, candles and flowers.  Apparently, you get the ROYAL treatment for your anniversary!  Dinner was amazing, the sunset was incredible, Jon thoroughly enjoyed the show that came along with his Mexican coffee and, although a bit misspelled, it was so thoughtful of the staff to create a special dessert for us after our other dessert.  =)

And now for the recipe I promised you at the beginning of this long-winded post...

Coconut-Blood Orange Risotto with Strawberries

Serves 2 (with leftovers)
  • 2 cups coconut milk, divided use
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup Arborio rice
  • Zest and juice of 1 medium blood orange
  • ½ cup frozen strawberries, thawed
  • Toasted coconut, for garnish
  • Shaved dark chocolate, for garnish
1.  Heat 1 ½ cups coconut milk (reserve the remaining 1 cup for later use), water, sugar and vanilla in a small saucepan over medium heat to simmer.  Reduce heat to low and keep warm.

2.  Heat coconut oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add rice and cook, stirring often, until fragrant and toasted, about 2-3 minutes.  Add orange juice and zest and cook, stirring constantly until absorbed, about 2 more minutes.

3.  Add about 1/2 cup of the coconut milk mixture and simmer, stirring often, until almost all of the liquid is absorbed, about 3-5 minutes.  Add another 1/2 cup of the coconut milk mixture and repeat.  Continue in this manner until all of the warm coconut milk has been incorporated and the rice is thick and creamy, about 30 minutes.

4.  Remove the saucepan from heat, stir in the reserved cup of coconut milk and set aside for 5 minutes. 

5.  Spoon half of the strawberries with juice into two dishes, top with risotto, remaining strawberries, toasted coconut and shaved dark chocolate (see picture at the top of the post for finished product). 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Jon:  Ahhh, what a nice trip down memory lane.  For a non-romantic, I've done a pretty good job of hooking up kick-ass dinners at amazing places all over this continent, if I do say so myself.  For me, however, the most memorable dinner dates in the course of our nearly 15 years together (15... wow, time flies when you're havin' fun!) are ones that are a bit more "pedestrian."  Hence the inclusion of number 8 in the list above; I insisted on the addition of our "romantic" first-night-in-Colorado-pizza-and-beer-dinner.  Sometimes the ones that I remember forever are the most seemingly inconsequential at the time...

·      Frisco melts, curly fries and vanilla cokes at Steak 'n Shake in Champaign, Illinois
·      Bangers and mashers at Nine Fine Irishmen in Las Vegas
·      Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Sammy Smith's Oatmeal Stouts on the summit of Long's Peak

·      Frittatas at the Good Egg in Scottsdale
·      Scallops in the basement of Durgin's in Boston
·      Beef stew in the sandy forest at Great Sand Dunes National Park

·      Fresh gallo pinto and natilla in the Rancho at Casa Mariposa in Nuevo Arenal
·      Fat burgers at the Harley Davidson Cafe in New York

The picture doesn't even do this thing justice.

·      Cheese quesadillas at a Phish festival in Maine
·      Filet mignon and chocolate fondue in our living room

And the best of the best...

·      Greasy breakfast at the Sunrise Cafe in Springfield, Illinois


And by the way, in case you are a gambler and you might need to pay back your bookie before he breaks your kneecaps, I can officially guarantee that the Cardinals will win the World Series in 2016.  They did it on our fifth anniversary, they did it on our tenth, so naturally they will do it on our fifteenth.  My goal is for Hethyr and I to actually be in the stands when it happens instead of watching it over an expensive, fancy meal.  It will be hot dogs, Budweiser, and baseball... I'll even break out the champagne and pour it on Hethyr's head when the game ends.  Who says I'm not a romantic?


  1. Wow! Loved this post! You two had to put a LOT of time, effort, and thought into this . . . and it's obvious you both have some very special memories. :-)

    1. Mom, you're right. Agreeing on our top ten and then putting them in order was NOT easy! Many, many years of amazing memories - and hopefully MANY more to come! =)

  2. Your blog is the highlight of my week! I actually have a reminder on my calendar every Wednesday, with the link, so that I don't forget to read it! Cindy Oehmke

    1. Thank you, Cindy! I only wish we had the time to do a weekly update like we did when we started this blog. I guess every couple to few weeks is better than nothing, though. ;)

  3. This sounds delicious!! Definitely going to try it!!!!