Wednesday, April 28, 2010

From Cheese to Wine and Back Again



On the way back from Jeff City, we discovered a hidden little gem called the Cheese Shop in Sweet Springs, MO. There were so many great little finds here, we had a difficult time choosing which items to pick up. We got some wonderful smoked cheddar that had been aged 11 years as well as Amish onion cheese,rye and swiss cheese and roasted and salted green peas. Their terrific selection of unique munchies will have us stopping there again, for certain.

Last night, I shared a sublime evening at the Cellar Rat in the Crossroads Art District with my friend Linda. Cellar Rat Wine Merchants is a wine lover's dream. They stock over 800 wines as well as premium spirits and handcrafted brews. The decor is utterly charming, featuring tables made of wine barrels and rustic doors. I can't wait to attend a more intimate event later as they have a righteous tasting room. The selection could feel overwhelming but the staff is so friendly and knowledgable that they take all of the intimidation out of the process. Natalie is a wonderful sommelier who was incredibly informative. You have to love that their website states "Nothing is sold that we don't like ourselves."

Last night, they hosted a free French wine tasting. We tasted five wines:

-Saint-Hilaire Brut which was originally created in 1531 by Benedictine Monks and has the distinction of being France's very first Sparkling Wine. Today, the wine is still made in those same foothills of France. The wine is very light and refreshing.

-Gilles Noblet Macon-Fuisse is a white burgundy that was one of my favorites. Very fruity and very good.

-Burgundy Hills Pinot Noir is also very fruity and had a nice finish.

-Chateau Haut-Garin is a Bordeaux that includes in it's description "rose-petal aromatics" and I could taste that! It had a strong, tannic finish.

-Chateau Desclau was my top pick and the one we chose to have a full glass of following the tasting. It was rich and smooth and well, awesome.

Following the tasting, we did a bit of shopping and ordered a cheese plate from Natalie who created the plate for us. She brought us some warm, toasty bread with two mostardas....which are wonderful spreads created with fruit preserved in syrup that gets a kick from mustard. Cellar Rat makes their own mostarda and ours were so tasty. One was made with a citrus zest and Champagne. The other featured ingredients that included grape, Golden raisin and red wine. Linda referred to a Cellar Rat mostarda she loved that was made with figs. The cheeses Natalie chose for us included a goat cheese and my personal favorite, a velvety sheep's milk cheese. Cellar Rat also sells a wide array of artisanal cheeses and meats. We enjoyed our wine and some Strong Arms Shiraz from South Australia at a table by the window with a view of the under-construction Performing Arts Center. We finished up with a Vosges Barcelona Bar of milk chocolate, hickory-smoked almonds and sea salt. Mmmmmmm....zzzzzzzz....

Yeah, I tend to be a bit of an insomniac but this lovely experience followed by another satisfying ep of Glee when I got home and I ended up sleepin' like a baby. Check out Cellar Rat here...

http://www.cellarratwine.com/what.html

The pic at the bottom of this post is of the goods from the Cheese Shop in Sweet Springs. All the others feature Cellar Rat.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Happy Birthday/First Communion!!




The weekend was a celebration of Tanner's birthday as well as Sierra's first Communion so as usual, the Winges and Lorentzs did it up right. We headed to Jeff City through biblical downpours on Saturday. Per Denene and Dave's suggestions, we stopped in Columbia and had lunch at gourmet deli Pickleman's. They have delicious sandwiches as evidenced by the Buffalo Chicken I had and the Asiago Chicken Keith had. Met up with the family that night in downtown Jeff City at Greek pizzeria Arris. They have several excellent combinations for their pizzas; all named after various Greek deities. We had the Achilles and the Hercules along with the best Greek salad I've had yet as well as some luscious baklava.

The official celebration occurred on Sunday. Miss Sierra's first Communion was at the kid's Catholic School and our girl was a radiant angel. This event was also poignant for me as the first time I came to Jeff City for an extended family event was for Sierra's christening....so here we are celebrating another milestone for our girl. She's pictured with the other children experiencing their first Communion as well as her brother Tanner and her cousin Kaitlyn. I admit, despite my ten-year affiliation with this family, I'm still relatively naive concerning Catholic tradition. I wasn't sure what to wear or what an appropriate gift was for a first Communion. I asked if it was ok if I just sat there and did nothing to which Keith thought I should try to participate. I stood at the right times, didn't have to kneel as we were in the back of the church and didn't embarrass myself.....unlike the Catholic funeral I attended last year. At a quiet, reflective moment in that particular service, the priest burst forth in song:"BeeeHOLLLLLD THE MEEESTERIEEES OF LIFFFEEE!!!!" and it was so loud and startling that I got the giggles and I couldn't get them under control. Yeah...at a funeral. This time, I was just relieved that when the priest slung the holy water my way, it didn't sizzle on contact.

We retired afterwards to Kim and Dave's house for the party for Tanner's birthday and the first Communion "afterparty" where we were joined by Keith's cousin Jill(Sierra's godparent),her husband Chris and their kids as well as cousin Rhonda(Tanner's godparent), her husband Brett and daughter Morgan. Dave grilled some burgers and dogs and served those with pasta salad and some awesome spicy baked beans. The kids opened their gifts and we had cake and ice cream. The cake was the first Happy Birthday/First Communion cake I'd seen. Shortly after noon, I'd sipped on one homemade wine and was soon sampling two of Dave's homemade beers, one German and one chocolate, both of which I liked. Sipping(although not with wine) was the activity of the moment as demonstrated by Jill's youngest daughter Lindsay in the video below.

It was a great weekend all told. Some of the Catholic traditions may confound me but the family celebrations are always a good time....

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Author Groupies, Toyota Recalls, Food Revolutions and Other Strange Tales

For the most part, it was a good week but one that had a slightly off-kilter sheen to it. Ever have one of those weeks where it's difficult to get closure on any one issue? This has been one of those.....almost as if the full moon was out on a nightly basis.

First off, we have a kitty missing. Goofball Tyson has taken off and we are losing hope that he will be found. He never wanted to be inside at all recently, so if he's gone, hopefully it was on an adventure. We've also had battle royales with Time Warner and Bank of America, neither of which is resolved. Romance novelists Sherrilyn Kenyon and her co-author Dianna Love(pictured with my co-worker Karla, at right) did a book-signing at our store this week and the crowd of fans that showed up were the most enthusiastic bunch of groupies I've encountered since the last Twilight book release. Seriously, from the sounds of the war-whoops going up and the sight of the T-shirts flying, I was expecting to see flasks being handed around. We also finally received the Toyota recall on our Camry....now that Keith and I have driven the damn thing cross-country! Factor in weather that included torrential rains, floodwaters and tornado watches and what a long, strange week it's been.

Friday night, we decided to whip up some comfort food in some Shrimp Cocktail along with Ina Garten's cocktail sauce as well as a "clearance sale" of deep-fried crap from our freezer: jalapeno poppers, tater tots and onion rings. So what do we decide to watch while munching on this belly-busting buffet?

Why, Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, of course.

Yeah, that's right....we were jackin' up our cholesterol while watching the cheeky British chef fight the good fight against...processed food in the school lunch programs. He also happened to choose the town of Huntington in my home state of West Virginia as the school system where he would introduce healthy food into the program. He's fought, week after week, against school officials, local government and cafeteria workers named Alice. But he persevered, and instituted positive change. Keeping it intact will be the trick...we'll see how it plays out. They had a nice celebration with Rascal Flatts, but it wasn't a happy ending....there remain many obstacles to overcome. Kudos, though, to Jamie Oliver for trying to integrate positive change. Seeing this hopeful conclusion as well as making our first Farmer's Market stop of the season was a good way to start regrouping. Now, we're headin' out for the weekend to hang with family...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

To Edith, Miss Polly and all the Gals in Lunch Lady Land



Ah, the lunch ladies....those hostesses of hot-lunch hospitality. They are the underestimated, overworked ladies who saw to our school lunches every day. We laid on the praise when we wanted that extra slice of school pizza or subjected them to our grumbles on the days they served something we didn't approve of. While the ladies simply served what the school system provided them with, they had to take the grief the kids handed out when they found the meals unsatisfactory. The school lunch program was an integral part of the education system and the lunch ladies are some of the unsung heroes of that system.

Edith Williams was my preferred lunch lady, mostly because she's always been one of my favorite ladies, period. She's always been a dynamic person and her family has been neighbors, friends and church compatriots of my family since my childhood. After retirement, Edith took her own serious bite out of life and became more active than ever. She's traveled the world and is always on the go. Edith's my go-to image for aging gracefully.

So, the lunch ladies deserve appropriate praise for their years of service and hard work. Adam Sandler paid his own hilarious tribute in his song and SNL skit "Lunch Lady Land"(sloppy joe....sloppy,sloppy joe,yeah) starring a nimble and lipsticked Chris Farley. Happily, the musical salute I get to use is an Ed James original song. Ed and his adorable wife Michelle are longtime wonderful friends of mine and we've been big fans of Ed's music from way back when he and his brother had their own band(Terra!). Michelle and Ed live in North Carolina now with their precious daughter Anna. Michelle clued me into a song Ed wrote about a lunch lady named Miss Polly. Thanks to Ed and Michelle for the use of the song and thanks to the lunch ladies everywhere.... Click on the title of this post to hear Ed James' song "Miss Polly"!

Monday, April 19, 2010

She's All Up In Our Grill




That inescapable Queen of Southern Cooking has again infiltrated more than one meal this past week. First, I made her Broccoli Casserole and it was yummy indeed...I would only suggest that the two cups of crackers for the topping seemed to overwhelm it a bit and would probably go with less if when I made it again. Keith and I also agreed we'd probably spice it up a bit on the next try. As it was, though, it was comforting and delicious. The recipe will be at the end of this post.

Also, we marinated some salmon in Ms. Deen's BBQ sauce that we then grilled. Her sauce is bold and flavorful...just the way I like it. We served these with salad, grilled asparagus and some pomegranate martinis. That's the first time we did the asparagus on the grill and they were terrific. This is the second time I've made salmon this week. The first salmons I marinated in a blend of worcestershire, Creole mustard and lemon pepper. I just mixed the marinade to taste....and it's an awesome marinade.

We planted some more veggies...broccoli, tomatoes,and some peppers: kung pao, jalapenos and some cool-looking white ones. Some of the seeds are so miniscule they are planted in compost paper strips. Also have the sprouts coming up on the peas and spinach....ay yi yi, I can't wait!

Ok, this post was a tad too sedate. I nearly fell asleep writing it, but ya know drama and stress-free days have been rare lately, so I enjoyed the hell out of them. Also, just to keep it from being too much of a sleepy post, I tossed in a pic of me cutting up some branches yesterday....CHAINSAW, BABY!!

Ahem...on to the recipe:

Paula Deen's Broccoli Casserole

Ingredients:

Two 10-ounce packages frozen broccoli, cooked and drained
1 cup mayonnaise
1 cup grated sharp Cheddar Cheese
One 10 1/2 ounce can condensed cream of mushroom soup
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups crushed Ritz or cheese crackers(I used Cheezits)
2 tablespoons butter, melted

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spray a 13-by-9 inch baking dish with vegetable oil cooking spray.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the broccoli, mayonnaise, cheese, soup and eggs. Mix well with a metal spoon(the mix is stiff, so a wooden spoon could break). Place the mixture in the prepared bsking dish. Top with the crushed crackers and pour the melted butter evenly over the crackers. Bake for 35 minutes, or until set and browned.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Foodie Five # 9 - Tara Madison Avery and Dirtheads

My great friend Tara has gone brilliantly above and beyond in tackling my Foodie Five questions. Tara wears many hats and one of them is worn by a seriously talented comic artist in the L.A. area who's wickedly awesome strip is named Dirtheads. Tara has been bringing Dirtheads to Comic-Con for several years now and this year has been officially invited as a "creative professional"!! It's a very exciting time for her and that much more exciting for me to be the recipient of some of her terrific work. For my Foodie Five, she had the characters of Dirtheads answer the five questions for her. That's right....Tara created an exclusive strip just for my blog!

Due to formatting, the strips would be difficult to read as they are on the blog, so just click on each to enlarge. Read on and enjoy!!




Friday, April 16, 2010

Downtown Bound



It was just ducky to be back 'round the downtown of Excelsior Springs for the first time since my long days away. That and the new sushi bar that opened at my local market made for a couple of delish days.

Hissho sushi has set up shop at the Hen House and so far, I've had the veggie and crunchy rolls and they were yummy. I think the wasabi has actually helped my allergies. I even got Keith to try a veggie roll...and he liked it, he really liked it!


I spent a couple of hours in downtown ES gathering some info to write some press releases for Keith on the Hall of Waters. I stopped to see Ginger at the English Garden and soon she had me sampling pickled quail eggs and candied jalapenos from a vendor of theirs. Enjoyed them both....the eggs were nicely spicy and the jalapenos had a strange but pleasant blend of sweet and heat.

Keith and I had lunch at Ryan's Pizzaria. As it had been forever since I had their grub, I ordered my favorite: cheeseburger calzone. Ground beef, dill pickles, loads of cheese in a soft baked dough...so.so good. We ran into wild Wanda Dusek who is soon on her way to LA and will be attending tapings of the Ellen show and Price of Right. She's pictured with her homemade T-shirt for the POR. I have a feeling she'll be asked to come on down!

Finished up with a stop to see the girls and their goodies at Ooey Gooey chocolates and bought a chocolate covered s'more to take home. God bless 'em, their business has gone through the roof and they are crazy busy!

Have to also mention Ventana Grill who got some great publicity from local KC show Check, Please! The sisters have worked hard to make it the success it's become, so it's great to see them get the kudos...

Great day for ES eats!!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Let Me Sleep On It (Baby, Baby, Let Me Sleep On It)

Yes, the title refers to that classic Meatloaf song Paradise by the Dashboard Lights and is an overly refential way to blog about....making meatloaf. Now, meatloaf is pretty simple to create even for a novice like me. The main reason I wanted to blog about it was to push a product called Blue Smoke Chef Sauce.

Blue Smoke Sauces and Salsas originate from my home state of West Virginia. The Greenhouse carries their line so I picked up the Chef Sauce as I was told that this tomato-based goodness makes several dishes, meatloaf for one, that much more flavorful.

I made the dish, which called for the entire bottle of Chef Sauce. It truly made for some killer loaf which I served with basmati rice and a salad of greens. Check out blue smoke at www.bluesmokesalsa.com.


Since I kicked this off on a musical note, I should mention two TV programs that generated some beautiful tuneage this week....

I am indeed a tried-and-true Gleek and the return of Glee does what so few shows do: it lived up to the hype. The marriage of show choir songs and Ryan Murphy's twisted sensibilities are a match made in television heaven. The return episode was witty(Jane Lynch was as subversively magnificent as ever), fun and featured some great songs...and we found out the mighty Mr. Schu can cook!

The other show that must be mentioned is Treme, HBO's new drama by David Simon set in New Orleans three months after Katrina. The premise of the show sounded as if it would be profoundly depressing and while it did not shy from the harsh realities of post-Katrina, the central theme is the hope and perseverence several residents hold on to in order to move forward. The show also does a masterful job of showcasing the culture that still permeates New Orleans. One young chef is desperately trying to keep her restaurant open despite hellish setbacks. Then there's the music....from the instantly unforgettable theme music to the second line performance of Feel Like Funkin' It Up to the haunting jazz funeral at the end, it's all wonderful and the soundtrack clearly will be a must-buy. All in all, it's an atmospheric and expertly performed look at a city that won't stay down.

As they say in NOLA, won't bow, don't know how.

Blue Smoke Meatloaf(the recipe is also on the Chef Sauce jar)

1 1/2 lbs. of ground beef
1 cup of dry bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
3/4 16 oz jar of Blue Smoke Chef Sauce

Combine all ingredients in large bowl; mix well. Place in 4 1/2 x 8 inch loaf pan. Top with remaining Chef Sauce. Bake at 350 F, 375 if loaf pan is metal. Makes six servings.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Foodie Five #8 - Gerald Dickens




I am quite honored to introduce Gerald Dickens as the subject for the latest Foodie Five. Gerald is the great, great grandson of the legendary author Charles Dickens. Gerald is quite the consummate artist himself as he travels the world performing dramatic renderings of the Dickens library. Keith originally saw Gerald perform A Christmas Carol in Memphis. I later saw Gerald perform this at the Jekyll Island Club. Since, we have also seen him perform in Washington, DC and we actually got to have dinner and a bottle of wine with him in Kansas City. He lives in England but is constantly touring worldwide. Despite his busy schedule, he was generous enough to make a blog appearance for me. Read on....

1.)We've been lucky enough to catch your performance of A Christmas Carol several times here in the States. The first one I experienced was at the Jekyll Island Club and it was marvelous. The performance was also woven in with a seven-course dinner. Have there been any interesting food mishaps that have occurred during a performance?

That's very kind of you to mention how much you enjoyed the show and Jekyll Island was a very exciting place to perform. When I'm doing a show where the setting is a restaurant, there is a moment in the show when I grandly announce the Parade of the Christmas Turkey! Usually, when the turkey appears, the crowd stands and cheers, and the Chef, followed by all of his or her staff, parade around the room with the turkey on a silver platter. At one venue, I don't recall where, I'd checked with the kitchen to make sure they had the turkey ready and they assured they did. At the appropriate moment, I made the announcement and out came one cook without any platter or dish, holding a completely raw turkey! Plucked, pink and pimply...not very grand at all!

2) You have performed all over the world. Are there foods form back home in England that you miss when you are on the road? Also, any particular foods you enjoyed on the road?

Wherever I perform, I always enjoy whatever is served. I tend not to go for hot and spicy food. Quite often, when I perform in hotels, the food is superb so actually what I want more than anything is scrambled eggs on toast or a simple sandwich when I get back home.

3) Is there a certain dish or recipe that has been passed down through your family history? Anything that might have involved Charles?

At the end of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge promises to Bob Cratchit that they will 'discuss your affairs this very afternoon over a Christmas bowl of Smoking Bishop!'. Smoking Bishop is a delicious recipe....a sort of mulled punch, made of red wine, port, cloves, grapefruit, oranges and served hot..absolutely delicious!

4)If(or should I say when) we come to visit England, where would you want us to go to sample the local cuisine?

I am based near Oxford, and nearby there is a restaurant called The Manoir Aux Quat'Saison. I have yet to dine there, it is expensive but not exclusive. It is owned by the chef Raymond Blanc and from what I understand it is exquisite...

www.manoir.com


5)What is your ultimate comfort food?

Mmmmm....comfort food. Fried egg and bacon! Perfect after a late night of performing, get back to the house, fill a glass a wine and fry....


Thank you, Gerald! Marvelous!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Morning After





Mondays have a way of giving you a certain morning-after, hangover feel. I didn't actually have a hangover, despite those 1 1/2 powerful drinks I spoke of yesterday. The fact that it's Monday alone contributes to the feeling but also the eventual return of reality in all of it's glory.

I received a call from my sister about Dad's inevitable return to mental challenges...his sad paranoia is back full blast and it's as always, sad to behold and tough to endure. I'd naively hoped that he might get past those particular behaviors after his last stroke. The reality is that his age and condition will continue to plague him and we just have to help get him through it.

Another tough reality is the ongoing heartbreak for the families of those lost West Virginia miners. The last of the bodies were found and the miracle the families had hoped for was not to be. Coal mining has been the way of life for many West Virginians and while this was the worst in 40 years, these tragic outcomes are way too familiar. Both sides of my family tree have many members who were and are West Virginia coal miners. My grandfather was a coal miner and he succumbed to black lung from the mines at too young an age. My heart goes out to the families of the miners.

Living here in Kansas City, I'm all too aware of the Westboro Baptist Church in nearby Topeka and it's followers. Sure enough, they wasted no time in picketing the WV Capitol with their hate speech and signs and I fear they will do their best to soil the funerals as well. The above photo warmed my heart as it showed the true spirit of West Virginians and reminded me that no matter what, they will persevere and take care of their own.

I've not been shy in the past few months about describing my own strained relationship with the Almighty. I've railed about the unfairness of my parent's illnesses. I'm disgusted with what the Westboro Church does in the name of God. In the end, though, while my faith is shaken, it does remain. My beliefs have evolved over the years but I still believe. The person holding the sign above reminds me there is still goodness in the world.

Yesterday, I poked some fun involving various images of Jesus. I don't regret that as I've often pointed out if I didn't find the humor in life, I'd be curled up in a ball of despair. My spiritual self has been having an identity crisis but when witnessing the goodness that does exist, it finds strength anew.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Pink Plastic Jesus, Take the Wheel

The weekend ended on a delightful and slightly hallucinogenic note when we finally got together with Ronnie and Jeff for dinner and drinks. We drove to their home for a pre-dinner cocktail. Once there, Ronnie mixed us a drink and we were deep in conversation and laughter. Now, about these cocktails....

Ronnie made these delicious drinks called Pineapple Upside Down Cakes. They involved vanilla vodka, pineapple juice, grenadine and brown sugar on the rim. They tasted redonkulously good and seemed frou-frou enough so imagine my surprise when after 1 1/2 drinks...well, I couldn't feel my feet. I swear I don't know what the unknown ingredient was in these elixirs but if I hadn't seen Ronnie mix these myself, I would've assumed he concocted them in some opium den hidden somewhere in the house. I was feeling inexplicably hammered and Keith later admitted it was the most inebriated he'd ever been....after one drink. At some point during this hazy time, Keith admired the pink, plastic Jesus on Ronnie's mantle. He brought us the Jesus which we soon found out had a hidden magic eight-ball inside and Ronnie encouraged us to ask it questions. Keith asked it what he was having for dinner and I asked it if I would ever stop overthinking things. Pink, plastic Jesus told us both to "beware of lightning." Whaaa...? Soon, I was wondering out loud about the whereabouts of the Big, Honking Jesus that loomed over Claycomo. It was a Godzilla-sized Son of God erected on someone's lawn that nearly made me wreck my car the first time I saw it and I noticed just today that it was gone. Apparently, it was moved due to outside pressure. The conversation eventually moved on to Keith's Catholic upbringing and I was beginning to sense that if we didn't stop the talking to and about false Jesuses on this day of the Sabbath that we would soon experience the forewarned lightning strikes. Finally, I just allowed myself to be mesmerized by the Hardy Boys lunchbox perched on the fridge.

So..after regaining some feeling in our extremities, we shanghaied Jeff into driving my car to the restaurant. We went to Smokebox BBQ in Liberty. The food was terrific and a perfect choice to soak up some of that pineapple mad juju punch. I had a combination of burnt ends and sausage with sides of barbecued beans, cole slaw and this totally addictive cheesy corn. Keith and Ronnie had enormous ribs or as Ronnie called them,"Flintstone ribs." I'm quite certain that in my zeal to absorb some alcohol that I probably had that wonderfully spicy BBQ sauce slung from my eyebrow to my chin to Keith's left ear.

It was so great to see and spend time with the boys again. However, next time Ronnie mixes the drinks, I'll know to pack an emergency stayover kit....just in case.