A Farewell to Lawrence

Since moving to Lawrence three years ago, I haven’t given much thought to leaving. Who would? Lawrence is, for the most part, an island utopia in a sea of choppy waters. It’s small enough to avoid large-scale problems like our neighbors to the east and west, and healthy enough to maintain a focus on all things local (politics, food, business, etc.). While my role for the past three years has been one of proud resident, it’s with a tender heart I share with you that as of August 1st, I am no longer a Lawrence resident. The mister and I (oh, and Herbie, too) have since moved to Indiana, so that I can begin my PhD at Purdue this fall. It’s been an adventure! Lafayette is no Lawrence, but it certainly has some excellent charm.

I will miss so many things about Lawrence: the friendly strangers, the random (and frequent) parades and events downtown, the fantastic Mass Street window displays, the noteworthy music scene. Lawrence is a great place, and I hope to return some day. Until then, this blog will still be here; a snapshot in time, and a resourceful reference for newbies to the area. I am grateful for your readership these past few years, and hope you’ve enjoyed peeking into the local shops and restaurants that make Massachusetts Street the magical place that it is. So until next time: shop local! And take care, friends.

Off-Mass: Basil Leaf Cafe

There aren’t many restaurants that can claim humble beginnings out of a small gas station mini-mart. Truth be told, you probably know exactly which restaurant I’m referring to, don’t you? No longer confined by the gas station décor of its past, Basil Leaf Café is hugely successful at its new location on West 9th Street (to no one’s surprise). While I regret that I never paid a visit to the gas station version of this excellent Italian cuisine, one thing is for certain: I will make up for it – twofold – in visits to its downtown location.

Yep - located in the old Joe's Bakery spot.

Come in! Come in! And peek at the menu.

Voted as best Italian restaurant in the Best of Lawrence 2014, Basil Leaf Café has a serious fan base and I can understand why. My partner and I headed there on a Saturday for lunch, and while I was immediately impressed by the affordable menu, the positive impressions were just beginning. The interior is cozy, decorated with reclaimed wood, wine bottle light fixtures, and flooded with southern light. The overall vibe is welcoming and comfortable, like that of a small town diner. There are no formal menus at Basil Leaf Café (it was a pleasant surprise to avoid the fussiness of table menus), so we placed our orders at the entryway counter before taking our seats.

See what I mean? So cozy, so pleasant.

Nothin' beats fresh flower + a sunny view.

Acting fast, I went for the Cajun Penne (if it’s got a kick, I’m usually sold), and he played it creamy with the Tortellini Cordon Bleu. It seemed like no time at all before we were face to plate with steaming deliciousness from heaven above. Our dishes not only smelled superb, but were also picture perfect. I was temporarily in awe of the presentation before my stomach cried out for attention, reminding me of the purpose of this visit. With that, conversation died entirely as we savored every bite of our fine Italian meals.

Cajun Penne. Don't let the plate fool you - this meal is HUGE.

Chicken Cordon Bleu. It's like out of Cooks Illustrated. Seriously.

The Basil Leaf Café has so many great things going for it. The prices, the cozy feel, the quality and presentation of the meals – it’s all spot-on. What’s more, the service is excellent and the fresh table flowers were the garnish on top. While we dined in for a late lunch on a Saturday I know the evening crowds can get pretty intense, so be prepared to wait if you’re set on dinner. Just know this: the food is worth the wait!

Find Basil Leaf Café at: 616 W. 9th Street, Lawrence Kansas 66044. [785.856.0459]

You can also find me in the Lawrence Journal World’s CheckOut publication which prints weekly on Thursdays.

Ten Thousand Villages

By now we all know the touted benefits of shopping local. It’s a no-brainer for supporting and retaining our community, not to mention the unique products available and added distinction to our city. This exercise in socially responsible shopping can be made even greater when the local purchase not only enhances our home community, but also contributes to communities globally. Ten Thousand Villages, one of the world’s oldest and largest fair trade organizations, makes that possible for us all.

Large display windows are so inviting coupled with the coral trim.

Product from around the world in unique colors and designs.

Ten Thousand Villages opened on Mass Street in October of 2012, and the store currently carries products from 38 developing countries. All products are handmade, environmentally sustainable, and fair trade (which means your purchase helps supports under- and unemployed artisans in other countries). With only two paid employees and 60 local volunteers, this nonprofit depends on generosity from our Lawrence community to fulfill its mission of developing long-term fair trading relationships. In this way, sales revenue generated by Ten Thousand Villages is used to increase purchases for new product.

Blue Hand Sarongs from Indonesia.

Vicuña (related to the llama), made in Peru.

I stopped by the store last week to chat with Scott – the Lawrence store manager – and learned about some of the more popular items in the store. Scott showed me some vibrant bracelets made from Tagua nut (the dried seedpod of the Tagua Palm tree out of South America). The smooth texture of these beads is so similar to that of elephant or animal ivory, it makes for a sustainable and ethical alternative. Shoppers also take fairly quick notice of the musical instruments in the store, particularly the drums. The Djembe Gathering Drum, for one, is a leather-covered hand drum made in West Africa. It’s so handsome and impossible to resist! I had to tap my fingers on it, just to get a feel for its musical possibilities.

The musical instruments here are so enticing.

Wild Bark Cloth Bookmarks from Uganda, $5.

Overall, this shop is not short on exquisite products. You will find everything from jewelry to home accents, and kitchen and dining to patio and outdoor items. Ten Thousand Villages here in Lawrence also hosts an event about once a month. These events often include festive music and food, so make sure to connect with them on Facebook to stay up-to-date. Interested in supporting our local store? If you have at least eight hours a month to volunteer, and an interest in supporting fair trade, Scott would love to hear from you.

Find Ten Thousand Villages at: 835 Massachusetts Street, Lawrence KS 66044. [785.856.7370]

You can also find me in the Lawrence Journal World’s CheckOut publication which prints weekly on Thursdays.

Hot Box Cookies

You know those days when nothing goes quite right, and all you need is a fresh baked chocolate chip cookie to turn it all around? – But because you don’t feel like baking cookies from scratch, you resort to eating the uncooked dough? (Or is that just me? … don’t answer that) Enter Hot Box Cookies, and all is magically right in the world!

Red awning on Mass Street - hard to miss.

Simple interior: seating, and the cookie bar.

Hot Box Cookies is focused on fresh baked cookies, made-to-order and prepared to deliver. While it’s an undoubtedly clever business model, I wasn’t so sure we would really visit Hot Box Cookies that often. Am I going to go out of my way to get a fresh baked cookie, really? Turns out, the answer to that question is a resounding YES. At a buck per cookie, it’s a pretty sweet deal (pun intended). But in case you’re not in the mood to jump off your keister for some warm treats, Hot Box delivers! All across Lawrence, too. So sit tight and that sweet tooth will be appeased in no time.

$1 a piece, but good luck getting just one.

Hot Box Cookies Loves KU!

It’s worth noting that the menu does not disappoint. The all-start line-up includes: chocolate chip, M&M, red velvet, oatmeal raisin, peanut butter, snickerdoodle, and monster, to name just a few. My favorites are the peanut butter reese’s pieces (genius, right?), and cookies ‘n’ crème (described as a cookie within a cookie, filled with semisweet chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, and Oreo cookie pieces). Need a minute to clean up that drool creeping down your chin?

If you love a good cookie, but want a twist on the classic try the icing sandwich (yes, icing!). This unique treat is made with two cookies smashed together with icing filling. Hot Box also offers ice cream sandwiches, brownies, brownie sundaes, shakes, cookie cakes, and frozen cookie dough for making later. As you can tell, there’s no shortage of the sweet stuff here.

Hot Box is fantastically convenient, open until midnight most days (1am on Fridays and Saturdays), and probably one of the cheaper dessert options in town. For all of these reasons, our visits here have grown more and more frequent. It’s a great option for an after dinner treat, birthday in the park, or sweet surprise for you crush (who wouldn’t love a surprise cookie?). So no need to wait for a bad day to treat yourself; stop in and make any day just a little bit sweeter.

Red velvet, chocolate white chocolate chip, and two peanut butter Reese's Pieces

Find Hot Box Cookies at: 632 Massachusetts Street, Lawrence KS 66044. [785.856.8778]

You can also find me in the Lawrence Journal World’s CheckOut publication which prints weekly on Thursdays.

South Park

The best way to experience Mass Street, in its totality, is to start at 6th and Massachusetts and walk south. The walk will take you past the shops, restaurants, and outdoor patios, until you end up in a dreamy green space known as South Park. There are so many reasons to appreciate this generous piece of land specifically reserved for recreation and relaxation. With the summer in full swing, the amenities this park offers are ever abundant.

Our evening enjoying the Lawrence City Band's summer concert.

... and we certainly weren't the only ones. GREAT turn out!

For starters, the Lawrence City Band’s summer concert series started up in late May and will run through July 16th (providing a total of eight summer concerts). Every Wednesday, head down to South Park (the east side of Mass – near the William Kelly Bandstand) a little before 8pm and find a cozy spot to sit and enjoy the live music. We were able to make it to the second concert, which had the theme of “summer in South Park”. The lively marches and melodic overtures set the tone of the summer night; the children ran barefoot in the grass and the surrounding adults escaped with the band. This lovely evening really made summer feel authentic and present.

A little earlier in the mornings – and evenings – South Park turns into a sweaty mess of people dedicated to serious workouts. The summer schedule for Red Dogs Dog Days began in early June, meeting in South Park at both 6am and 6pm Monday-Thursday. There is no cost to join in on this hearty workout, but interested parties do need to complete a signed waiver (which can be found on the website).

Yep, just a few more of the summer concert.

(I prefer this South Park experience to the Dog Days)

Later this month, on Saturday, June 28th, Lawrence Parks and Recreation is hosting a 2014 Summer Fest. From 10am-5pm, South Park will be full of live bands, arts & crafts, food and drink vendors, and kid’s activities, too. It sounds like an event that is not to be missed!

South Park is not short on worthwhile events for anyone and everyone, especially in the summertime. Beyond the concerts, workouts, and festivals, the park offers playground equipment for children, a wading pool, a butterfly garden, picnic tables, and green space for various sports activities. With a location in the heart of downtown Lawrence, South Park is also a convenient place to stop after afternoon shopping or a lunch date. All of this to say, Lawrence has many local businesses we can all appreciate, but the outdoor green space is just as valuable!

You don't have to go too far to find beauty here.

Find South Park at: 1141 Massachusetts Street, Lawrence KS 66044.

You can also find me in the Lawrence Journal World’s CheckOut publication which prints weekly on Thursdays.