Saturday, December 31, 2011

Christmas Day 2011: Souffles, Snuggies and A Surprise

Christmas Day arrived at the bleary-eyed strike of O-No You Didn't-Thirty courtesy of two overexcited kids named Sierra and Tanner. Once I'd realized it wasn't a dream and they were indeed standing there informing us it was time to open the first gift, I crawled out of bed and down to Kim and Dave's living room to see the first flurry of activity. Later in the day, we recounted the time of Sierra and Tanner's early-morning arrival to their grandparents as 5:55 am at which point Sierra would quickly correct: "It was NOT 5:55 was 5:57 am." I stood corrected.

The rest of the morning was lost in a flurry of flying wrapping paper, sips of steaming coffee and the blur of two super-elated kids running wild. We began the day with some early appetizers of a cold-cut display and an old favorite: bacon-wrapped breadsticks. We lifted this from Paula Deen's sons on a TV holiday special they filmed: breadsticks wrapped in bacon and baked in the oven for a few minutes and then topped with a generous amount of Parmesan cheese. We couldn't find the breadsticks in our holiday haste and instead used pretzel sticks which worked perfectly and in some folk's opinions, improved the dish.

Soon, it would be time for dinner and we found ourselves raving over deep-fried turkey once again; truly the most flavorful and moist method going, as far as we are concerned. The bird was accompanied by broccoli salad and Madison's salad and we were gratified over every bite. The coup de grace arrived as Dave's first-ever souffles. He'd made a couple of previous attempts that he found unsatisfactory, but these were amazing...vanilla-blueberry souffles that were light and flavorful and really delicious. Kim wondered what was left for Dave to try cooking after the souffles...he has mastered quite a bit at this point. I can't wait to try making them ourselves...I'm thinking chocolate (shocker!). The rest of the afternoon was lost in the cacophony of chaos that was the kids and their Christmas bounty. Fijits and snuggies and beyblades, oh my!

We were off to the Winge family Christmas shindig but first stopped off to bear witness to the 2012 Official Christmas Miracle for this family, which was young Morgan's return from being stationed in Turkey with the military. Her parents Rhonda and Brett and sister Shelby knew she was coming home for Christmas and intended her return as a surprise for everyone else but as it with family, the cat had clawed its way out of the bag before we arrived to see her. No was thrilling to see Morgan in person on Christmas Day. The family was clearly glowing and it made all of our holidays to have Morgan home.

The day finished off in expected fashion at the taxi garage called The Shop which has been serving as the setting for the Winge family Christmas party the last few years. We noshed on savory country ham and hearty vegetable soup sitting under the chassis of that sparkling, restored '58 Corvette that Ken worked so hard on. We finally headed home to kick back and watch a movie. During the course of the day, Sierra could barely part with the Mizzou snuggie we got her.

We left the following morning after an excellent breakfast of strawberry French toast prepared by our favorite budding chef Sierra. Looks like Santa was good to us once again. Hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 30, 2011

What Are You Doing New Years Eve?

I will continue to post Christmas fun but allow me to promote our New Years plans for tomorrow night...The K-Man and I will be ringing in the New Year at the resurgent Paradise Playhouse in Excelsior Springs. Its gonna be a gas, y'all...the entertainment includes Rudy Amato, a Vegas-style entertainer and Spike Blake, who showcases a dueling piano act. The famous buffet style dinner will be in full swing, cocktails will be mixed and a fine time sure to be had by all. Tickets are still available...$45.00 includes dinner, entertainment and a Champagne toast at midnight. Doors open at six, dinner at seven and the show kicks off at 8:30 pm. Come on out and join us!

In the meantime, the title of the post was inspired by an adorkable video making the viral rounds...500 Days of Summer (a little gem of a film that I love) costars Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt singing the title song. Forget Auld Lang Syne...this is my new New Year's song.

Bottle Up That Christmas Cheer

For once, we were able to head for the homestead hills on Christmas Eve at an early hour as opposed to late in the evening, following a stint in retail hell. We arrived by 11 a.m. last Saturday just in time to help Keith's Dad Ken bottle up some of his homemade wine.

The process of doing this was fascinating to me and old hat to Keith as he grew up in this very house helping out with the bottling process. Our team effort consisted of this: I would sterilize the bottles, then give them to Ken to fill with his homemade wine....his latest being boysenberry wine. I would pick up the filled wines and give them to Keith who would cork them with this cocky-looking contraption. I would then place the foil tops on them and dunk the bottle tops in boiling water to seal them. Handmade labels would then be applied and so on. Our team effort resulted in several cases for holiday gifts.

Kim, Dave and the kids arrived later in the afternoon and after a sip of something called Adult Chocolate Milk, we settled in for the Christmas Eve tradition...the oyster soup enjoyed by generations of Winges; shared with Keith's grandparents. His grandfather, who hasn't been in the best of health, was clearly, almost shockingly more frail this year. It was a bit of a flashback of Dad's downhill slide for me watching him...only getting around on a walker, being doted on by Keith's grandmother. It was said that Grandpa hadn't been eating much lately, but like Dad with those garden tomatoes, Grandpa's appetite rallied for that oyster soup. We enjoyed corn casserole and potatoes and broccoli salad and then gathered in the living room for family photos. The kids were finally able to open one present.

The wine indeed was poured with dinner. Despite the concerns over Grandpa, laughter was still evident, as always. Tradition, like life, rolls on.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Crowns of Christmas

No, this isn't a reflection centered on the historic and crown-centric holiday decor at Zona Rosa, but the latest Christmas meal shared with our dinner party group. While it hadn't been an established theme, crowns became a bit of a central thread throughout the evening.

We, of course, gathered at Jane's warm and cozy home for this annual holiday get-together, and quickly poured wine and exchanged gifts. The gifts were suitably foodie: Jeff's scrumptious strawberry butter, Trader Joe's muffin mix, Jo's peanut butter kiss cookies, Linda's handmade coasters. Jane gifted us each with an amaryllis. Ronnie gave us gorgeous pop-up greeting cards. K and I made Jim's feta dip for the appetizer, which turned out to be a bit on the spicy side...we used serrano peppers and while I'm a heatseeker, I feared that the dip may be a bit incendiary for this crowd. Fear not... they climbed all over it and gave it their seal of approval. K and I still plan to perfect the recipe and will post the results when we do.

We, of course, have had Jane's welfare foremost in our minds due to her recent health issues. We were concerned about the dinner being a bit too much on her this year but she proved us wrong, to no one's surprise. She indeed had prepared a wonderful meal but as we gathered to sit, we realized that Ronnie had set the table with something unique: English crackers. Yes, we would soon learn that these interesting little place setting centerpieces were English party crackers; considered a traditional
part of British Christmas festivities since Victorian times. They consist of a beautifully wrapped and decorated paper cylinder containing a paper crown made of tissue paper, a British riddle, a "snapping device" and a novelty item. We each pulled on the wrapping of our individual cracker, which then snapped and revealed the contents...mine flew across the room. We each donned our tissue crowns; read our jokes and admired our hidden gifts; mine being a small metal puzzle. Keith, of course, looked almost jaunty in his tissue crown, and Jane let us all know that we looked ridiculous and that I, in fact, looked particularly disturbed. matter....we wore them throughout dinner anyway.

Newly adorned in our paper chapeaux, we dug into our amazing meal which would introduce our next crown...Jane's roast crown of pork. Jane prepared a to-die-for shallot-mustard sauce to top off our tender pork slices and provided parsley potatoes, her signature citrus salad and a wonderful applesauce as accompaniments. Linda brought a homemade apple pie from Corner Cafe for dessert. We thoroughly enjoyed the food and witty conversation as always. Much of that witty talk centered around where Jane displayed her pop-up art card...directly in front of her dancing woman sculpture; making it seem as if the woman's nether regions had exploded in pure pop-art fashion. As usual, our laughs may be lowbrow, but oh, do we laugh.

As we said our goodbyes that night, we admired Jane's ability to provide an enchanting evening once again. This annual tradition has become a holiday treasure, for sure. This year's dinner might even be called a crowning achievement.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

This Gift Of You

This annual month-long holiday stretch from Thanksgiving through Christmas has been utterly extraordinary AND exhausting this year; hence the reason I'm so delinquent in posting lately. I honestly haven't had an extra minute to write. So, bear with the next round of posts, reflecting on moments about a week late, not least being our celebration of the K-Man's birthday back on the 20th.

We were able to enjoy a rare advantage on Keith's birthday this year...both of us had the day off. Gifts were opened that morning and we made a point of making the day as leisurely as possible. We had a light breakfast of one pancake each at First Watch...mine a hearty banana-granola crunch pancake. Midtown soon beckoned with its always-cozy holiday atmosphere and soon, we were embarking on a day that was as much fun for me as it was for Keith. We have been determined to find a flatbread maker similar to Jim's as we love that screaming (the sound the maker makes) pita bread he serves with his feta dip. Sure, we could have just searched the internet sites for it, but this was somehow more gratifying.

Our search took us through many of our favorite culinary retail spots. First, we hit locally beloved Pryde's Of Westport; that unique den of all things kitchen-related. We moved on to wishful strolls through Williams Sonoma and Sur La Table at the Country Club Plaza. Eventually, we concluded our shopping day at World Market; taking in all of the global retail food offerings. In the end, we found various utensils, unique munchies and bottles of wine for Christmas gifts but no flatbread maker. No matter...the search indeed was the thing and we had a great time not reaching our goal.

We celebrated K's birthday with lunch at one of our favorite spots: Blanc Burgers and Bottles at the Plaza. We dug our succulent burgers...I went with an old-school style Classic Burger topped with housemade pickles, red onion and made from scratch ketchup and mustard on a sesame brioche bun. The birthday boy reveled in his Inside Out Burger...a bleu-cheese stuffed burger topped with applewood smoked bacon and an onion ring. We split an order of hand-cut fries that we dipped in chipotle aioli and I sipped on a frosty bottle of IBC root beer.

We concluded our awesome birthday tour at Christopher Elbow Chocolates, where K created a box of handmade delights to take home. We also sampled the decadent European-style drinking chocolate...we both swooned over our Cocoa Noirs; rich, dark chocolate with Tahitian vanilla bean topped with homemade marshmallow. They were crazy good. We are still digging the chocolates themselves. As each one is an eye-rolling treat, we take our time savoring each. I've had a Fleur De Sel salted caramel and an amazing Caramel Apple chocolate in a shimmering emerald shell. Its a kick to visit the store and watch the chocolates be made through the window. You can also order direct from Christopher Elbow and I highly recommend doing so...I honestly haven't had one that I didn't rave about. There's a chocolate in the box we haven't tried but one that I'm greatly intrigued by: dark chocolate ganache infused with 12-year-old scotch.

Finally, we returned home and reflected on the day. K had a great day and that was the important thing. As for me, my birthday card for him said it all:

How wonderful it is...this gift of you.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Random Bites In Jeff City: Baklava, Bunco and Bones

There was much to celebrate on this latest trip to J.C., most especially Keith's sister Kim's graduation. This past weekend provided many opportunities to savor some flavor this capitol city that is also Keith's hometown.

Yanis Coffee Zone-I'm first of all sorry to say that my entire experience at Yanis Coffee Zone was limited to takeout baklava. The regret stems from the fact that the baklava is some of the best we've ever had (as most of their Yelp reviews attest) as well as the clear fact that a pervasive sense of humor clearly abounds around this joint. The menu features a "death before decaf" motto; lists their house coffee as 'rocket fuel' and describes some delicious-sounding Mediterranean grub. The website, powered by Spaces, is frequently hilarious and includes the hilarious Funny Or Die Coffee Snobs video. Oh, and that baklava...we had both pistachio and walnut and also tried their chocolate rugelach and wow, they are amazing. Can't wait to go back.

Cafe Via Roma- This little taste of Europe in the capitol city features a nice view of the Capitol itself and several different savories. I had the Vesuvio salad; a zesty mix of hot Italian-spiced chicken breast, pico de gallo, salad greens and guacamole. Keith enjoyed his vegetarian panini with fresh Italian mozzarella, Roma tomato, fresh basil and salt and pepper on herbed foccacia bread. I also had a tasty drink called a Frozen Hot Chocolate. Cafe Via Roma is a fine little stop in downtown JC.

Bunco-I admittedly have not been much of a board game player since I was in college but K's family digs the occasional roll of the Yahtzee dice and my first visit to the larger family holiday party hosted by Helen's side of the family at the Knights of Columbus hall revealed a new game(for me)-a Bunco tournament. Kim talked us into coming early and participating and indeed, it was big, fast-paced fun. Sixteen of us played and the game moves quickly. I ended up with one Bunco and an even-steven amount of wins and losses. I would find out later that they used to pay out for even stevens....damn the luck. In the end, Keith's dad Ken a.k.a. Lucky Kenny won the game, to no one's surprise. We moved on to the meal and this family is not one to skimp on the food, so there was much to relish here. Pork steak, corn casserole, scalloped potatoes, broccoli salad and of course Rhonda's righteous rice pilaf were among the highlights and the truffles and pudding cake helped round out this gutbuster of a meal. Big thumbs up also to Rhonda's excellent gin rickeys which made for some brilliant bunco fuel.

- Finally, Kim's grad party took place at a funky little joint called Bones in downtown Jeff. Many a friend and family member took part in celebration of our girl and it made for a great time. I got to know Aunts Annie and Joanie a bit better and we had a great time catching up with folks. We enjoyed munching on toasted ravioli and buffalo wings while watching the kids looking fairly hilarious while playing their Hedbanz game. Little Lindsay entertained us with her creative use of black olives. The highlight of the day was of course, watching Kim relax and have fun....she's certainly earned it.

We'll be back in JC for Christmas and I'm sure there will even more munchiness to follow...

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The I.V. Leaguer

I wish I could take credit for the cutesy title but that I lifted from an anonymous online source. The inspirational subject of this post is indeed an original; however. Keith's sister Kim finally realized the fruition of all of her labors this past weekend: she graduated with her Master's degree as a nurse practitioner. We were all too pleased and proud to witness Kim finally realize her goal.

The day began in ornate fashion at the breathtakingly beautiful St. Francis Xavier Church on the St. Louis University campus. All of the nurses were feted in a serene ceremony that highlighted their achievements. Later, after a St. Louis-style pizza lunch at Vito's, we moved on to Chaifetz Arena for the larger ceremony for all of the graduates. The ceremony was heavy on pomp with the color guard and bagpipers and the raising of hands over the graduates as part of a prayer for successful futures for them all. These rituals are all part of recognizing the achievement, though, and adds a spiritual structure to the proceedings. The kids managed to hang on through all of the pomp and circumstance thanks to their handy Nintendo DS games. There was no distraction for any of us, though, when Kim took the stage to receive her congratulations as evidenced by our popping flashbulbs and cheers. Keith and I, their parents and Dave and the kids sat in rapt attention as Kim stood in her well-deserved spotlight.

The celebration continued into the evening once we returned to Fulton where we gathered at Bek's for dinner. Over dinners of prime rib, salmon prepared with a jalapeno-bleu cheese sauce, mahi-mahi served with mango salsa and a few glasses of Westmalle Trappist Dubbel ale, we reflected on the day and Kim's success. Well, her success and the funny moment when we pulled her hood over her head and took a photo...after all, we can't be serious all day, right?

I can certainly wax rhapsodic about Kim's achievements but the achievements speak for themselves. I could also write on about the sacrifices and setbacks Kim endured on this journey, but her husband Dave has already written on this quite eloquently: check out his own blog post here. I will simply say this....I have always been nothing short of blown away by Kim and Dave as parents and have long admired Kim's dedication to nursing and her education while continuing to be such an amazing parent. Keith and I are beyond thrilled to see her not only reach her goal but be soundly celebrated for all of her hard work.

Heartfelt Congratulations, Kim...we are so very proud of you and love you always.