Friday, September 30, 2011

Turn, Turn, Turn

The seasons; they are a changin', in ways both old and new. Summer's humidity is fading away and that familiar crispness of fall is settling in. Turn, Turn, Turn was a hit song by the Byrds; originally written by Pete Seeger from words taken almost verbatim from the Book of Ecclesiastes. One of the lines was "to everything there is a season" was time for us to welcome Fall.

The first cool weekend a couple of weeks ago also brought the first craving for a filling, steamy bowl of chili and so we whipped up a healthier vegetarian version as well as a hearty whole wheat cornbread from the Nelson-Atkins cookbook Culinary Masterpieces. It was a warm, comforting early taste of Autumn. The recipe for the cornbread is at the end of the post.

We experienced cool temps of another sort when K and I, along with his parents, inaugurated a new tradition to welcome the fall season. We spent a couple of days at their lake house at the Lake of The Ozarks, but one sublime day in particular, involved a day-long trip on their boat. We bundled up against the sixty-some degree temps and indeed, the wind could be chilling, but, oh, was it exhilarating. We stopped at Big Momma's hotspot for a spicy Bloody Mary, admired the stunning homes near the toll bridge and stopped over in a couple of coves for Ken to do some fishing or for Helen to put out turkey and ham sandwiches. Also included in the weekend was some drunken Yahtzee and a sunset dinner at JB Hooks featuring some of the best French Onion soup we've ever had. A new tradition is born and this family don't play when it comes to tradition.

Finally, our recognition of Fall will move to my hometown of St. Marys, WV to take in the breathtaking blaze of fall colors. As we prepared to leave KC today, K and I went to see Carolyn to get a visual of her before we left. She was a bit agitated today, but is lifting one arm on command and smiling more. Progress may be slow but it continues. From there I went to see Jane at NKC Hospital; who is recovering from breast cancer surgery. Our girl has certainly had the wind taken out of her sails but remains delightfully loopy. I brought her some of her favorite Dove chocolates and we chatted animatedly for some time. Jane's on some heavy drugs but was surprisingly lucid. She stunned me by telling me that she was being comforted by the cat that was on her lap....which she then told me was Ulysses. Ulysses was mine and Keith's cat who passed away a couple of years ago...from cancer. Whatever Jane was experiencing could have been due to the drugs but I also love the idea of Jane gaining comfort from Ulysses, however it happens.

Finally, our wheels did the turning as we kicked off our vacation with a road trip back to my hometown. From one cherished set of women here in KC to St. Marys, WV where I will spend some time with some more of my beloved gals: my Mom and sister; Kristy, Kak, Connie, Lyd, SJ and more. I remain all the richer being surrounded by these wonderful women, as we all watch the seasons change.

Whole Wheat Cornbread

3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
3/4 cup white cornmeal
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup shredded carrot
1/4 cup sliced green onion

Combine yellow and white cornmeal, whole wheat flour, baking powder and salt. Add milk, eggs, honey and oil and stir until blended. Stir in carrots and onions. Pour into a greased 9 inch square pan and bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 25 minutes. Serve with honey and butter.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Downtown Divas

Last Thursday, the streets of downtown Excelsior Springs were alive with all things Diva. The downtown businesses welcomed a multitude of tiara and boa-adorned goddesses to experience some of the best they had to offer.

The ladies picked up their gift bags at the Hall Of Waters and found their maps of participating businesses to visit. They perused craft displays at The Event Parlor; sipped Mango Margaritas at Redmond's and took in the artwork at Molly's Studio. They filled out raffle tickets for gift baskets and the fabulous Diva Cake at Oooey Gooey Chocolates, pictured top left. The Divas took in the offerings from New Age Skincare and Spa and reveled in a Corkscrews and Canvases class with Kathleen at the Gallery Off Broadway.

Some of the ladies were decked out with great flair, particularly Posse members Kiko, Deb and Charlotte. The ladies seemed to have a brilliant night out!

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Gentle Pastor

The voice was unmistakable...that singular soft, Southern lilt like warm honey. That voice was like a security blanket; it provided a comfort of sorts. The words that poured forth from that voice, however, were often measured carefully and of powerful substance. That voice belonged to one Dr. George Harris, a great father, husband, grandfather, friend and minister. George passed away this week at his home in Marietta, Ohio.

They arrived a while back and a few moons ago; when my best friend Kristy and I were still kids. Dr. George Harris would be taking over as the minister at The First Baptist Church in St. Marys; the church my family attended for many years, since the days of its existence as an old, white clapboard building with a classic steeple. George and his beloved wife Barbara arrived quietly; he exuding that soft-spoken Southern charm and she with her quiet grace. Their daughter Lydia, who I wrote about in The Preacher's Kid, debuted a tad more vivaciously; tumbling down the center aisle of the sanctuary, boundless with energy and personality. We became fast friends with Lydia as George settled into his role as the church pastor. He would be front and center for many of the greatest memories of our childhood in church, such as our baptisms. He is pictured, at left, baptizing Kristy.

If you were more of a mind to expect a weekly cavalcade of fire and brimstone from a Virginia-bred Baptist minister, you would probably have been a bit taken aback by hearing one of George's sermons. Rev. Harris was a man of great intellect and had several degrees including his Doctorate of Ministry. His were not always the easiest or simplest of sermons and he didn't intend them to be. This was not a man who invented his message based on some loose interpretation of the Bible; he KNEW the Good Book and could speak to every word and challenged his congregations to do the same. This had a powerful effect on many in his flock and my mother was one of those profoundly affected. I was too young or ignorant to appreciate his true brilliance but my mother treasured his sermons. The soft-spoken manner of his sermons belied a quiet strength that made him a force to be reckoned with...this was a man who served his country in the Korean War, after all, and earned him a Bronze Star to boot.

That strength and brilliance is what made George a masterful teacher as well. My mother has suffered an almost crippling shyness much of her life and at times, that shyness has led her to being almost reclusive. George began teaching The Bethel Series, an in-depth study of the Scriptures and Mom was one of his students. My mother reveled in the class and with George's encouragement, became an instructor in the Bethel Series herself. Mom studied hard and did very well and soon went from being a Sunday School teacher for first graders to a teacher of the Bible to many of the young professionals in town. George shared his gift for teaching with Mom and therefore, had a deep and lasting effect on her. When George left our church, our hearts were broken and Mom had to tearfully leave the sanctuary during his farewell sermon, too upset to bear the goodbye in its entirety. George would go on to continue in his role as teacher and minister; serving as a Professor of Christian Studies at Alderson Broaddus College.

For me, his gift to us was two-fold. He and Barbara brought Lydia into my life and she remains one of my most treasured friends today. George also stands, along with my folks, as one of the greatest examples of Christianity that I will ever know. He was not only a Biblical scholar but a minister in the truest sense of the word: he visited the sick, he comforted those in pain and loved and helped his fellow man. No matter how Christianity is represented or defined for me now or in the future; George Harris will always define for me what it truly means to be a Christian.

When George graciously agreed to officiate my father's funeral, it never occurred to me that we would be losing George himself less than a year later. Sure, George appeared a bit more frail and gray than I'd remembered him, but when he spoke, that voice was as comforting to me as ever. I wrote about the gratitude I carried for him in my post on Dad's funeral Requiem for Rex. As I wrote then, I will never forget George's voice reading my words to honor my father. Having lost George so soon after Dad, that memory has become even more profound. I am heartbroken for not being at Lydia's side during the days of his funeral but will see her soon.

Lydia took the time to tell me of his last days. He wanted to be at home and thankfully got his wish when he passed. He had asked for fresh lemonade and sure enough, fresh lemons were soon juiced. Lydia brought him a chocolate milkshake and when the folks making it learned the shake would be his last, they made it extra thick. He loved it.

Since I couldn't be there in person, I decided to do my best to honor George with words as he had honored my father. I also learned from Lydia that Grandma Honey (who was quite the character herself) used to make him a cake he loved called a Coca-Cola Cake. I found that this is indeed a Southern favorite and made the cake in his honor. It is quite the amazing chocolate cake and now I understand why George has such fond memories of it. I found the deservedly high-rated recipe here.

It seems that if a body leaves the Earth that the planet ought to be lighter, but without George Harris, the world seems much heavier. That is our cross to bear, however, as George has finally been brought home to be with the Lord. As Kristy said, I gain solace knowing not only that he's at rest, but that he's watching out for the rest of us.

Rest in peace, George. You will be greatly missed.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tables By Design

Last night, the annual Tables by Design fundraiser was held once again at the Elms Resort and Spa but this year's event had a bit of a different feel to it courtesy of the boundless creativity of Gallery Off Broadway brainchild Kathleen Fenton. Kathleen had two tables in the room; the first designed with Keith in honor of Carolyn and the second containing an unforgettable last-minute twist.

The centerpiece for Carolyn's table had been a long time coming, having been discussed and brainstormed and mulled over by Kathleen and Keith. Kathleen wanted something suitably spectacular and shanghaied Shawna's husband into creating a malleable metal structure that resembled a starkly surreal tree from Dr. Seuss' s Whoville. Kiko was recruited to join the design team and over the course of several days and many hours; lights were strewn, and decorative pieces created and placed. Black and white photos of Carolyn and her family and friends were gathered. We gathered at Jim's for dinner last Saturday, where Bunchie and Charlotte joined in decorating the photos while Jim prepared his signature feta dip, soul-nourishing focaccia bread from scratch and his famous eight-layer lasagna with bechamel sauce. Keith brought the photos home and worked on cutting glass to enclose the photos while Kiko and Kathleen worked tirelessly on the tree. Carolyn's table was slowly coming together...what would Kathleen do for the second table?

I spent Monday evening with the three creative Ks as the final touches were created. Upon entering the gallery, it appeared as if Hobby Lobby had been out on a drinking spree and had stopped by to throw up all over the place. Amidst the wreckage, Keith was soldering the photo frames and Kiko and Kathleen were working on the decor. Kiko kept luring me into helping her with some of the bling by reassuring me that what she was doing wasn't crafting. I tend to get the hives where crafting is gut response to seeing that room and table streaked with paint, glue and worst of all, GLITTER was to back slowly out the door and run for the hills. I love the painting aspect of the gallery but crafting gives me the heebs and glitter is Craft Herpes. Get within six feet of any glitter and sure as !@#t you will find it on body parts you never imagined hours later. Glitter is the devil.

After a tasty slice of potato pizza by Slice of Paradise, we moved to transport the tree by truck to the Elms. Kathleen and I rode in the back of Keith's truck to secure the tree and we felt like a pathetic parade float as we rode to the Elms. Once there, we worked it onto our table and began adding the decor and soon, there it was...through it all; after all of the hours they had put into it; Kathleen's vision was becoming reality and we found ourselves in quiet admiration of the tree. The multiple photos of Carolyn smiling back, set against the warm glow of the lights. The decor reflecting and sparkling off the lights. It seemed a perfect mix of class and whimsy. Once again, though, Kathleen had another table to decorate, what would she do?

All of the tables looked terrific. One featured a retro tabletop jukebox; another some classic model cars and the Elms table featured "poison" bottles and some eerie Halloween decor courtesy of Russ of Changing Seasons. I loved the "wine tree" on another of the tables. As Tuesday night finally arrived, Kathleen managed to outdo herself with the second featured an atmospheric Halloween scene with an impressive full-size scarecrow as the centerpiece.

Wait, did that scarecrow just move?

Yes, in a jaw-dropping feat of performance art, Kathleen recruited her son Chase to sit as her centerpiece in scarecrow costume. That was a show-stopper to be sure, and Chase is to be commended for staying as still as he did for so long.

In the end, the two tables were quite the hit. Seeing Carolyn's table was a moving experience for many, especially when Jim and his son Chase were seeing it for the first time. All of the attendees had a great time and it was all for a good cause. The tables were all so cool that I can't imagine how everyone will top themselves next year.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Kids Are Hitched!

Two of my favorite "kids", Kara and Drew enjoyed what was, by all accounts, a spectacular wedding day on Saturday the 10th. Set in an idyllic locale in Iowa at Kara's folk's place, it looked like a beautiful ceremony and reception. I hated missing the big day but am thrilled that they had a stellar day that will kick off what most assuredly will be a wonderful life.

Of course, I asked my co-worker Matt about the menu, because I'm nerdy that way. He said it was fabulous; especially the choice of some apparently amazing pies instead of the traditional wedding cake.

Kara looks unsurprisingly gorgeous in her dress and they look utterly content. Kara and Drew, we miss you greatly but celebrate your happiness with you in spirit. I wish you a lifetime of joy...Congratulations!

Photography by cast of thousands photography

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Breathtaking Jewel In The Crown

Steely gray low-hung clouds paired with a steady, cold, annoying rain didn't create the most ideal conditions for the first Open House on the Grand Opening weekend of the spankin' new Kauffman Performing Arts Center. The weather didn't dampen the enthusiasm of Kansas City residents, though, as scores of folks lined up, rain-gear in hand to take their first steps into the stunning structure that we've watched take its impressive place in our skyline. Every fiber in my being wanted to stay home and curl up with the Sunday paper today, but rally we did and Holy Helzberg, was it worth it!

We fortified ourselves against the depressing conditions with a hot, hearty breakfast at Kate's Kitchen on North Oak. I took prelim action on the impending chill with a Scrambler called the Red Hot Mamacado; a senses-opening combo of scrambled huevos, locally-made Scimeca's Chorizo sausage, green chilies, avocado, and a fabulous house-made salsa on the side. Keith dug his Kitchen Sink Omelet. This little joint is most assuredly breakfast done right.

Onward to the traffic crawl headed into the PAC area. After finding a parking spot, we joined up with the long line leading into the center. Our wait was about an hour and indeed, I found myself growing irritable as pockets of rain kept popping up and when we'd reached a spot where I thought we'd grown closer only to realize our line was banking off in another crazy direction. Well, cry me a river...every minute in that line was well worth it as we grew ever closer to that magnificent building. Several musicians were entertaining the crowd as our line neared the entrance. Finally, we entered..

While the openness of the building allows you to see the impressive architecture outside; when you step inside, its nearly overwhelming to see, as every angle of the interior is a masterpiece of design. Grand jutting edges and great rounded corridors spill in every direction. All I could do was grin and wildly photograph every sight and sift through the pics later. When "later" came, we would see in every photograph that there wasn't a bad photo in the bunch: every angle made for a flawless photo. We even knew the folks strolling below us when we took some pics and waved at the Montagues.

We visited both the Muriel Kauffman Theater and Helzberg Hall. The Muriel Kauffman Theater, which will be the performance home of The Kansas City Ballet and The Lyric Opera is an awe-inspiring sight. We sat in the top balcony and when not marveling over the design inspired by Europe's great opera houses, we soaked in the sensuous moves of the Owens/Cox Dance Group. We moved on to Helzberg Hall, a warm and inviting space soon to house The Kansas City Symphony featuring an imposing pipe organ as a striking visual centerpiece. I saw my evil friend Dennis in the audience there.

As we prepared to head back out into the overcast day, we made a point of stopping to thank Julia Irene Kauffman; Chairman Of The Board, for this brilliant gift to Kansas City. Architect Moshe Safdie intended the Kauffman PAC to be an "extroverted" building so that it may be shared with everyone. The building's a showstopper, to be sure, and Kansas City is blessed to have it. They certainly celebrated with two nights of grand opening celebrations on Friday and Saturday with performances by Ithztak Perlman and Patti LuPone among others. Both nights, we were drawn outside of our home by the sounds of the fireworks displays bursting in the air and on Friday night, even noticed the Farmer's zeppelin hovering above the festivities. What a deservedly fabulous celebration!

Crowns are a familiar sight here in KC, primarily as part of the Hallmark logo and therefore in Crown Center as well as the classic Christmas Crowns that now adorn Zona Rosa through the holidays. Kansas City wears a deserved crown of its own as a champion of the arts. Artwork is woven throughout this great city and now the wonderful Kauffman Center for The Performing Arts is the glittering jewel in that crown. Good show, KC!!!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Random Bites: Boulder Canyon, Sriracha Love and One Surreal Circus

Ahh, the bites are more random than ever, so ride all over the map with me as I run down my latest loves:

Sriracha and Oatmeal- Ha, made ya look! No, I'm not drizzling the Thai hot sauce over my oatmeal...but that's about all that I'm not using my new favorite condiment with. I love it on eggs, in soups and mixed with a light ranch as a dip or salad dressing. I'm told the sauce makes for some marvelous hot wings as well. This "bite" is a twofer as I'm also singing the praises of yukfest website The Oatmeal. They have a best-of collection humor book called 5 Very Good Reasons To Punch A Dolphin In The Mouth. This book by comic artist/genius Matthew Inman features some hilarious cartoons on every subject and in fact, I'm using their ode to Sriracha as I couldn't possibly have said it better. Check out The Oatmeal here and look for the entire ode to Sriracha there. Then buy the book at your local bookstore and some Sriracha sauce at your local supermarket!

Fall Entertainment- The Pop Culture Geekdom that has been my life meant that there were always two critical times in the span of a single year: the beginning of the summer movie season and the beginning of the fall TV and movie season. Now, as I age ever so disgracefully, I'm a tad more leery about the summer movie season and way more psyched about the fall season. For many years, about the only thing that took the sting out of returning to the school year was the arrival of that fat Fall Preview issue of TV Guide in its original digest format. These days, I get a tad more excited for the New York Times Fall Movie Preview, but nonetheless, its something to luxuriate in. I actually sell and in fact, am a fan of e-readers, but those fall preview issues are one thing I revel in holding and poring through on a crisp, cool fall day.

Boulder Canyon-Hello, my name is Greg and I am a snacker. I love to munch and Heaven knows that can be hell on the hips, so its a grand thing to find a healthy snack that..well, doesn't taste like it's healthy. The K-Man found Boulder Canyon Hearty Cheddar Vegetable Crisps at Sam's, and brought them home. We've tried many a veggie chip and found some to be lacking; others not, but nothing that necessarily excited me. These babies taste like a wonderful potato chip to me, but are gluten, cholesterol and trans fat-free and are a good source of fiber. Even the sodium levels weren't high. I loved these and instantly craved more...and they were vegetable crisps! That's a first. Having explored the website here, I found that Rachael Ray had apparently named them best-tasting potato chip, and there were other flavors that also sound amazing. Rice and Bean Chipotle. Red Wine Vinegar. Balsamic Vinegar and Rosemary. Oh, my. I can't wait to try them all!!

Saul Bass Movie Posters-this is where I'm really feeling random, but the fall film season gets the imagination running wild, so what the hell? If I were building my dream home theater and had unlimited funds for decor, I would adorn the walls with classic, retro Saul Bass film posters. Bass's signature look has graced many a Hitchcock film and also inspired the Mad Men title sequence and I think they are first class. My friend Linda and I worked together yesterday and when not learning healing energies from a Swami from Mystic Tiger Ashram whom we encountered there; we were discussing our love for all things retro. She got the design juices flowing and sure enough, Saul Bass is a leading image in all of the imaginings.

The Night Circus- This debut novel by Erin Morgenstern is one of the best books I've read in a long, long time. I lucked into an advance copy of The Night Circus at the store that Jo had read (and raved about) and was soon under its spell. Centered on a surreal circus that comes to town only at night, its a magical, mesmerizing fable that I was reluctant to finish as I didn't want to leave the stunning world that Morgenstern created. I'm a longtime fan of Cirque du Soleil (four shows and counting) and this book wraps you in a dreamlike state, not unlike the feeling of experiencing one of those astounding shows. My love of food had me particularly tickled over the Midnight Dinner sequences in The Night Circus as they were as imaginative as anything else associated with the book's circus Le Cirque des Reves. I highly recommend this book and here is an excerpt speaking of a dessert course served at one of the Midnight Dinners:

The dessert course halts the conversation entirely. Globes of thinly blown sugar sit on each plate and must be broken open in order to access the clouds of cream within. After the cacophony of shattering sugar, it does not take long for the diners to realize that, though the globes appeared identical, each of them has been presented with an entirely unique flavor. There is much sharing of spoons. And as some flavors are easily guessed such as ginger with peach or curried coconut, others remain delicious mysteries.

Finally, I've come across a singer that I find quite cool: UK singer Ed Sheeran. This ginger fellow's youthful look seems an unlikely match for his lush vocals. Check out this soulful take on American folk spiritual Wayfaring Stranger.