Sunday, July 31, 2011

Weekend Watch (Part 2)

Last night at Carolyn's bedside, we walked in to a welcoming gift....a big, wide smile on her face as she looked at Keith and I intently. Yesterday afternoon, we couldn't tell the difference between a grin and a grimace but this time it was unmistakable. It wasn't necessarily the warm smile we all know; this one seemed a bit shy and sweet but it was an honest-to-God smile and the first one K and I had seen since she was hospitalized. She was searching our eyes and there seemed to be genuine recognition but of course, we just don't know for certain. I will say with certainty that we felt utterly uplifted following this part of the visit...I felt a bit of that Carolyn charm coming through. As I slept last night, I dreamt that Carolyn was nearly kicking me in the face with her right foot.....probably as a result of me trying to will it to happen so hard during her therapy. Keith told me he dreamt of her also.

This morning has been a jolting return to reality. After a seriously satisfying breakfast at Village Inn (I'll elaborate on this next post), we returned to her room to find her righteously restless. We would massage her index finger to relax her but she was almost immediately "storming" after. She was very stiff and fought us and her therapeutic exercises but good. I admit to growing a bit emotional at one point and having to leave the room for a few minutes. I could hear Kiko's voice in my head telling me to cut that out. I'm usually good about keeping it together around Carolyn but she seemed to be fighting so hard and I was imagining her internal struggle; battling against unseen bonds that are keeping her from us. Carolyn is beyond grimacing; she is twisting and gritting her teeth and tossing about so ferociously that she is clearly in the fight of her life and we just want to crawl inside and pull her out. Brain injury is new to me, but this struggle is frighteningly similar to another one I'm all too familiar with. I have watched three members of my own family battle with mental illness of some sort and while this is radically different, the helplessness of trying to live with a brain in distress is all too familiar to me. My thoughts kept slipping back to Dad, who couldn't find the words to tell me that his mind was failing, so he would simply point to his head and look at me sadly. I just can't imagine that feeling of still having enough of your faculties to know that your mind was slipping away but remaining unable to stop it or fix it. My father was old and fighting dementia, though, and this is far different. Carolyn will win this. I recovered from my minuscule breakdown quickly...we are in this fight with Carolyn for the duration.

This is most certainly still Carolyn, though. Her look is distressed but determined and she is fighting. This is not someone simply laying and moaning from pain; this is a woman who is fighting back like nobody's business and THAT most certainly is Carolyn. We take solace in that thought when it feels like we just can't watch her discomfort for another moment. The sounds coming from her seem guttural but to us she looks fiercely determined and that is the Carolyn we know and love. We may not know exactly what is happening inside her mind but we will continue to choose viewing each movement and reaction as a sign of hope.

We say our goodbyes reluctantly....we want to stay and help her fight. Responsibilities demand our return to KC, however, and we bid her our heartfelt farewells until our next Weekend Watch shift.

I will do another post on local Lincoln food. The above photo at right is a card sent and designed by artist Cathy Johnson...the artwork depicts Lenny, Carolyn's dog. The pic at left is of the journal Carolyn's friends keep when we visit. I will say it again, friends...keep those thoughts and prayers coming. Together, we will get Carolyn and her family through this.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Weekend Watch

We sit; Keith and I, at Carolyn's bedside watching her. Watching her. Waiting for....what? We are here in Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska at our gal's bedside. We are silent as if on sacred ground; allowing her to rest and sleep which is something we hadn't seen her do much previously. She is worlds improved from the last time I'd seen her and that's been a while. "A while" is only a couple of weeks, but in many ways it has felt like a lifetime. Her husband Jim has kept us duly abreast of her condition thanks to his CaringBridge journal but Keith and I realized that we had gained solace from the daily visits in Kansas City and every move or sign of improvement, no matter how seemingly trivial, gave us reason for hope.

I missed her last few days at KU Med thanks to my own throat infection and by the time I had healed, Carolyn had been transferred here as it is a well-known facility for treating brain injuries. It is about a three-hour jaunt here to Lincoln and that journey is made more arduous by the massive river flooding that has taken over some of Interstate 29. We took Troy and Sarah's suggestion and started off on the scenic route of Highway 92. We sailed over the rolling hills of Highway 92 past the stately horse farms and through a storm so heavy and dark, it felt as if we had driven through a particularly sinister portion of an enchanted forest. We cruised Highway 36 past sunlit amber waves of corn. Soon, we had passed more waves of corn and eventually, I thought if I saw one more amber wave, I might start nervously looking for the Children of the Corn themselves; all blond and corn-fed and armed with pitchforks and looking for a couple of fancy city boys to invite over for barbecue....as the main course. Oh, geez, sorry, there goes my over-media-saturated imagination off the chain again....that scary scenario would never happen, right? RIGHT?

We arrived here to the hospital in Lincoln and as I said, were relieved to see Carolyn looking more rested and aware. This journey clearly remains a long one and my thoughts again are with Jim and the family as they take this heart-wrenching journey with Carolyn. I'm also so very thankful Carolyn has Jim who, despite his exhaustion, seems tireless and so courageous in his determination to bring her back to all of us. Jim spends the week here and the Posse takes turns on weekend shifts and this weekend is mine and Keith's. We watch her sleep; her breathing so much less labored than before outside of the occasional clearing of the throat. That clearing of the throat is typically an unpleasant sound from anyone but from her its wonderful; a sign that she's doing it on her own and needing less help. We thrill to seeing her eyes blink and follow us around the room. When her eyes move our way, we quietly smile at her and each other. She seems to smile back and in actuality, that may be a grimace but since we don't know; we are calling it a smile. The silence around us is only broken by the comforting whir of a fan. She seems peaceful.

We stepped out for a fine lunch at Lazlo's Brewery and Grill where I nursed a seasonal smoked chipotle ale over a creamy, cheesy crisp Armenian flatbread called a lahvosh. This was the Voodoo Chicken Lahvosh with blackened chicken, a three-cheese cream sauce and sauteed onions. It may seem a bit disconcerting to continue my usual loving descriptions of food in the course of this post, but Carolyn loved my blog and shared my enthusiasm for food and would love hearing about this. After lunch, we did our therapy exercises with Carolyn, including massage and stretching as encouraged by Jim and watched over her as her lungs would be cleared and blood was drawn. After each treatment, we would return to her side and rub her index finger which relaxed her and attached the earbuds of her iPhone to her so that she could soothe to her beloved Mary Chapin Carpenter. We read her cards to her and reassured her that she was coming back to us; oh yes, indeed, she was coming back to us. I reveled in that stiff upper lip look she would get, because that just looked like the stubborn determination Carolyn is known for.

I can't get my photos to download so I'm going to post without them for right now. I'll add the photos when I can, including one of her spankin' new pedicure, which I'm assuming is Kiko's handiwork. I will write more when I can. Keep those thoughts and prayers coming, folks.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Day In The Life Of The Elms Resort and Spa

We took a brief break from our conquering of the Cookbook Challenge on Sunday for a jaunt to the Elms Resort and Spa to film and photograph their Wedding Open House. This event is held twice a year as a combination open-to-the-public reception and invitation-only menu tasting for potential wedding clients. The Elms looked particularly gorgeous on this day; this one day of the multitude of days this historic hotel has seen over its many years. The Wedding Open House was an excellent event that showcased the many amenities and offerings of the Elms and like the Missouri Wine Festival; the day seemed to be tinged with a bit of new energy and excitement as the hotel looks forward to its next chapter.

The ballrooms and lobby were beautifully appointed by Russ from Changing Seasons in Independence who continually impresses with his stunning designs. Future newlyweds mingled about the public spaces; meeting vendors and sales people while sampling mouth-watering fare such as Smoked Gouda Cheese and Genoa Salami Canapes and Shrimp Purses with Sweet and Sour Sauce showcased during the menu tasting. I spoke with old friends who were in attendance planning events, including Sheryl and her family and Sarah and Anthony. It was a big wedding weekend for Lacee, Amanda and the Elms...this event came a day after the KC Wedding Show in Overland Park.

It is always a kick to see the Elms decked to the hilt for whatever event it may be hosting. Dating back to my days at the Lafayette Hotel in Marietta, Ohio, I have always been fascinated in the daily doings of a hotel; particularly a historic hotel that has weathered many a storm to continue to stand strong. The Elms may seem to be merely a structure but it also remains a survivor when many do not survive. She has closed several times; weathered economic struggles and burnt down twice but the Elms lives on despite its many setbacks. This historic haven has a storied past (thank you, Harry Truman) and now this stately survivor is about to embark on a renewed lease on life courtesy of new owners. Negotiations for this new ownership have been going on for three long years now and it is a satisfying victory to see this hard-working staff who have held the Elms together for so long and through its share of hardships finally realize their goal. It is also a bittersweet victory as our friend Carolyn in her role as mayor was so integral in seeing this deal through. Keith and I will be telling her all about it in Lincoln this weekend.

Congrats, Elms Resort and Spa crew, you've certainly earned your great news. Here's to this next exciting chapter!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Congratulations, Uncle Bunk's!

I love seeing my beloved home state of West Virginia get some good press, especially when it involves food!! Uncle Bunk's, a go-to gourmet food palace in Sistersville, WV just scored a Silver Finalist sofi award from the National Association for The Specialty Food Trade (NASFT) for their hot mustard relish! This award is one of the highest you can get in the specialty food trade.

How did I find this out? I watched Bobby Flay and Kathie Lee get introduced to Uncle Bunk's as one of the award winners on the Today Show! Uncle Bunk's headquarters in Sistersville is very near my hometown of St. Marys and it does my heart proud to see such success coming from a Mountain State original!

Of course, my best recommendation of where to pick up some of Uncle Bunk's Condiments With a Kick is my favorite hometown hotspot The Greenhouse in St. Marys! Go visit the Greenhouse Gang and see what goodies from their many gourmet food items they may be sampling. With luck, JB might be grilling something amazing on one of their Weber Grills when you're visiting! If you would like to order some Uncle Bunk's shipped to you or check out the other delectable products Uncle Bunk's offers, go here.

Hearty Congratulations, Uncle Bunk! Click on the link below to check out the video of Uncle Bunk's on the Today Show..


http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/41162089/vp/43895409#43895409

Pow! Zap! Taking That Cookbook Challenge Down

Having boarded the sushi train the previous day, our foodcentric weekend continued on Sunday with an epic takedown of The Cookbook Challenge. We cooked up four, count 'em, four recipes in order to whittle the Challenge down to two remaining recipes. Visualizing the classic fight graphics of the late, great 60's Batman show, we took each one out with a flourish. At least, I call it a flourish....were one to spontaneously step in during that visualization process, they might prefer to call it a "nervous, twitchy breakdown". Whatever.

Ah, Batman....the staccato speeches of Adam West as Batman. The always stalwart assistance of Burt Ward's Robin. The sounds of Eartha Kitt purring as Catwoman or the very sight of Julie Newmar poured in to that catsuit. Batgirl attempting a few fight scenes but seemingly thwarted by her skintight suit and high heels. Frank Gorshin mugging as the Riddler and Cesar Romero maniacally laughing as the Joker. Romero's Joker seems downright quaint compared to the late Heath Ledger's unsettling post-punk take on the classic villain, but the TV show was undeniably fun in a goofy kind of way. Everything involving the bad guys was viewed at a slant as if everyone should be rolling down the incline. When the final battle with the villains and their endless supply of henchmen inevitably erupted, the scene would be highlighted with fight graphics: Kapow! Biff! Wham! I discovered the show at my grandmother's home....wedged between a Looney Tunes cartoon and a bizarre Japanese hero show called Ultraman that resembled the old Godzilla flicks. I was hooked, and Batman would ignite a lifelong love for all of the caped crusaders....but that's a story for another day.

Imagining a blast of Kaboom!, we tackled four of our remaining cookbooks. We began by taking delicious advantage of the fresh garden eggplants that our friend Kiko gifted us with. We first utilized a smallish cookbook called Masterchef Appetizers and Apertifs that apparently came with a recipe CD-rom that K had purchased long before I came along. We chose the Caponata, as it utilized one entire eggplant. Caponata is a flavorful, aromatic and spicy eggplant and tomato spread. We also made a Creole salsa from Mark Millar's Salsa cookbook. Our dear friend Annette, who just celebrated a milestone birthday (Happy, happy, Honey!) bought me this cookbook when we lived together on St. Simon's Island, GA. She made a hella good homemade salsa and inspired me to do the same and we have been making salsa since. One of my faves from this book is the black bean salsa that features a hit of orange zest. We loved it. We made both of these on Saturday to chill and "fester" as K puts it and busted them out on Sunday to nibble on with pita bread while making the other two dishes. The caponata was a hit...the fresh eggplant rang true through the dish and the flavors all combined beautifully. The creole salsa....well, we used the Roma tomatoes we grew in our garden. Typically full of flavor, these tomatoes tasted a bit flat and we thought the other herbs and spices would kick it up a bit, but it still lacked a certain zing. We added a well-known Bam with a few generous hits of Essence of Emeril and that brought it around.
Our breakfast treat came from A Baker's Odyssey cookbook. This is a gorgeous and comprehensive cookbook featuring favorite baked goods from around the globe. We went with the Puff Puffs; one of Nigeria's leading sweet treats. These are super-yummy round little doughnut holes punched up with nutmeg. We rolled most in sugar as the recipe dictates but also added cinnamon to a few and they were excellent as well. Our final entrant to the Challenge came from a Tyson Holly Farms Chicken cookbook from 1994. This Hearty Healthy Chicken Salad is an interesting one....not for sandwiches, apparently, as it includes cooked macaroni and tomatoes as ingredients. The final result was like darling Mary Lou herself...bright and cheery. Once again, though, we needed to add some spice and we did...locally made Chef Mark Alan's Garden Goodness; a mix of herbs, spices and citrus that woke the chicken salad up a bit. YUM. These were CC # 67,68,69 and 70.
Finally; unrelated to the Challenge, The K-Man set forth to use his farmer's market and garden bounty of tomatoes to make some salsa for canning. He used the Ball salsa mix to set up the first six jars for winter canning. We listened intently as the vacuum seal popped on each jar....it will be so fantabulous to have garden-fresh salsa come the ill winds of winter. Just look at that technocrat chef...watching his iPad while making his salsa.
So, the Cookbook Challenge is gasping its last breaths, but the Fat Bastard ain't sung yet....we still have a seafood recipe and for the final attempt; Julia Child's Coq Au Vin. Stay tuned for the recipe for the caponata..

Caponata
1 whole globe eggplant-diced without peeling
1 med. onion-coarsely chopped
1 med green bell pepper-chopped
2 cloves garlic-minced
1 cup tomato sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup chopped olives
2 1/2 tablespoons granulated white sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/8 teaspoon dried oregano
Black pepper to taste
1 dash hot sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons capers (these are optional, but we used them)
4 anchovy filets (these are also optional and we used anchovy paste instead)

Saute first 5 ingredients in oil in a large skillet. Add tomato sauce and next 5 ingredients; cover, reduce heat, simmer 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in hot sauce, oregano, and salt and pepper; chill 24 hours. Serve with crackers or thin slices of French bread.

The cookbook authors also point out that this is a very flexible recipe. In Italy, no two caponatas are alike. So play with your food and make it work for you!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sushi Trains and Mother Truckers

Keith took Friday off and we enjoyed a three-day weekend together that was relaxing and nicely food-centric. We kicked off Saturday with breakfast at Ginger Sue's (yes, again, don't judge me, it's the bee's knees) with Cress and TJ and a stroll around Liberty Square to take in the Liberty Farmer's Market bounty. One of Keith's farmers market regulars, the good folks at Hilltop Greenhouse, also sets up at this one and we bought some flats of fresh tomatoes to take home for making and canning salsa. We were also planning to work our way through much of the last of the Cookbook Challenge, so we were shopping for bell peppers and and what not for our recipes. I discovered Debra's Kitchen at the market a tad too late to get the whole delicious picture but did buy what turned out to be a heavenly loaf of rosemary-focaccia bread and a sausage-pepperjack scone as well. As heard from one of DK's fans, their bacon-onion-cheddar scones are amazing as well, but they were out. Good to see commerce faring well in the shadow of the Jesse James Bank Museum on the corner of this historic square...the site of the outlaw's daylight(first in the U.S.)bank robbery.

That evening, we joined Ronnie and Jeff for a terrific night out. We journeyed to Shawnee to check out Sakura Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar. This is a smallish, unassuming place that features a unique sushi bar experience: the Sushi Train Happy Hour. That's right....plate after plate of delectable, creative sushi arrives by toy Amtrak train and chugs by while you try to decide which one to try. This was admittedly a bit disconcerting at first...K and I remain sushi novices and I like somewhat of a description of what I'm about to devour. Luckily, Jeff and Ronnie are pros and recognize most of what rolls by, however, by the time I decide to go for it, I miss a couple of passes. After a few runs, we have the process down and are having a ball. Shrimp, salmon, tuna and eel are all sampled; some are spicy and some are savory and there are also delicious dumplings and stuffed mushroom caps. Forgive my weak descriptions, I'm just not experienced enough to identify every ingredient and don't want to be erroneous but suffice to say, we loved the sushi and the K-Man even declared it the best sushi he had eaten yet. He's always been a toy train fan so anything that keeps him digging the sushi experience is a-ok with moi. Check out the video I took of the sushi train in action at the bottom of this post.

We stopped off at one of our fave warm weather spots Glace where we indulged in their latest fabulous flavors of ice cream. We all tried the sweet corn and I settled on a small mix of Bananas Foster and Fresh Mint with Chocolate Flake. Onward we moseyed to La Esquina; the Urban Culture Project performance space where the latest beloved antics of Ron Megee and his merry band of madcap actors were on display. This theater is still BYOB for adult beverages, so we returned to the ever-atmospheric Royal Liquors down the street to find something among the Colt 45 bottles and Gangster air fresheners. We departed through the bullet-hole decorated, bar-covered door with drinks in hand and made our way back to La Esquina. This performance was a sequel to a play Ron and the late Night gang did years ago by the name of Mother Trucker. This follow-up; called Mother Trucker 2 chronicles the further adventures of Ruby Lee, her main squeeze Deke Crenshaw and her son Teddy Bear. The play nods its Stetson to those CB radio-lovin' 70s flicks like Smokey and the Bandit and does so in endearingly wicked ways. Love the set with the awesome pick semi as the centerpiece! Kudos to everyone involved with this hilarious production especially writer-director-producer-actor David Wayne Reed, who in addition to holding down the quadruple-threat title, sang an amusing but beautiful Willie Nelson tune and Ron Megee, who I could watch recite the phone book at this point. Honorary and very special mention to Ashley Otis and Shannon Michalski, whose multiple roles were all hysterical, especially the born-again biker chick and the gut-busting truck-stop hookers. Thank you, Ron and company, as always, for another hilarious night out.

On the next post, we tackle the Cookbook Challenge but good....

Friday, July 22, 2011

Random Bites: Beloved Bacon, Birthday Cupcakes and Popcorn For Potter

The Sunday after our marathon Missouri Wine Fest day was far more relaxing but still a busy one. We met the fine females of K's family at Ginger Sue's in Liberty which you might recognize as one of our favorite breakfast spots. Seriously, folks, I will continue to belabor the point regarding this fine joint in Liberty Square: Ginger Sue's continues to serve some of the best morning meals in town. Whenever we have someone visit from out of town for the weekend, we take them there for Sunday breakfast to send them off with a satisfied smile. I had their scrumptious, avocado-stuffed breakfast burrito with a side of seasoned potatoes and without a doubt, my favorite bacon topped with fresh rosemary and Italian seasonings. It was a great send-off for the ladies and even the comedic pair of Michelle and Sarah were serenely silent at the end of their meals; damn near rendered speechless by those delicious breakfasts. Go try out Ginger Sue's and thank me later.

Later in the afternoon, we went back to the Elms to share in a birthday party for one of our local artists by the name of Ann. This lovely lady of German descent was utterly surprised by this shindig arranged by her daughter. We enjoyed stuffed mushroom caps, toasted raviolis and some chocolatey cupcakes for dessert. K was able to catch up with Gene, his stained-glass mentor who was also a guest. We met Ann's daughter and had a lively discussion with her New Yorker lawyer husband about the Casey Anthony case. Happy milestone birthday, Ann and we wish you many more!

Finally, we returned to our local AMC theater to catch the final chapter in the Harry Potter film series. I'm a fan of JK Rowlings clever and absorbing books as well as the astounding movies that have adhered so faithfully to these books. That this series could end on such an epic and heartwarming high note with that incredible cast and level of quality intact in today's cinematic atmosphere is miraculous. I even photographed my popcorn to commemorate the occasion. Thank you to everyone involved in the Harry Potter film series for some honest-to-goodness movie magic.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Missouri Wine Festival: A Sweet And Sultry Corker Of A Fest

Hi all-my humblest apologies for being a slothful blogger this month. I'm unclear as to the reason, but if its possible for bloggers to get writer's block, I may be experiencing it. I seem to be feeling a bit less ambitious than usual. Not that I haven't had inspiration; life provides that on a daily basis. I took full advantage of that in June and posted like a mad fool (and the blog read like it had been written by one at times), resulting in my biggest single month of blog traffic yet. The intelligent response to that would have been to take full advantage of the traffic and keep pumping out the posts, but then no one accused me of being the brightest bulb in the box, did they? I think I'll just blame it on the relentless heat wave causing my already addled brain to bake to a somewhat burnt state.

Allow me to update you quickly on our friend Carolyn as many of you have asked about her and then I'll move on to the Fest. Carolyn was moved to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, NE as it is one of the leading rehab hospitals specializing in traumatic brain injury in the country. She's been there about a week and continues to make progress. We friends of Carolyn and Jim are, of course, supportive of whatever is best for our great lady but somewhat stymied by the fact that we cannot descend en masse to whatever local facility she would be residing in and provide emotional support. Jim continues to write his CaringBridge journal recounting the latest news in the journey with Carolyn's recovery and it remains a riveting read. Jim is definitely feeling the miles away from KC as most of us have to work through the week and can't be at the hospital regularly. We are going to do what we can to give Jim a break on the weekends and Keith and I are heading to Lincoln for our shift next weekend. Keep those thoughts and prayers coming.

As to this year's Missouri Wine Fest, set at the venerable Elms Resort and Spa in Excelsior Springs and hosted by the Downtown Excelsior Partnership (the director of which is the K-Man himself), it was a corker in every way. Keith literally sweated out the details in the course of last week; fretting over which way the weather was weaving. The post I wrote on last year's Wine Fest was titled Steamy Sipping and while a success, indeed, it was an uncomfortably hot day. This year's forecast finally settled on the Heat Wave of 2011 continuing its wickedly wilting ways and this year, Eric, the GM of the Elms graciously allowed us to move much of the Fest inside. Last year, the Elms had two weddings happening simultaneously with the Fest and moving anything inside would have been impossible...in fact, much of the day was a serious logistical challenge as it was. This year, thankfully, only one of the ballrooms was occupied so we were able to move the Fest into a combination of the Regent Ballroom, the pool patio and the lobby. Some valiant vendors remained outside along with the musicians who were moved to a stage off of the pool patio. The vendors, artists, craftsmen, chefs and musicians were mostly grateful to get out of the worst of the heat and adapted to new locales and space constrictions. It was most excellent to have our friends Cress and TJ working with us the entire day. Cress manned the door and acted as Master Concierge, guiding everyone to their destinations and TJ essentially ran the Registration booth like a well-oiled machine throughout.

I'm most excited to report that despite the oppressive heat, the Fest enjoyed massive success this year. More than 700 people passed through the Fest and we enjoyed loads of compliments about it; including many inquiries about going ahead to book next year's event. We had 12 wineries this year and they were a marvelous mix of Fest favorites (Stone Hill, St. James, Baltimore Bend and the always lovely Lee and Laura from Wenwood), local wine heroes Fence Stile and Van Till Farms and new, exciting blood such as Serenity Valley. In fact, Serenity Valley became quite the revelation....their homemade bellinis were a hit and their Spring Blossoms Green Apple Riesling enjoyed bountiful buzz all day. Many folks, from members of our own family to Fest attendees were raving about this local vino and after a taste, I quite enjoyed it myself. Admittedly, I cringe a bit in regards to a wine that sounds flavored as I fear that it may be overpoweringly sweet but this was a welcome surprise: light, crisp with a clean, refreshing finish. Very nice.

Speaking of the family folk, it was a distinct pleasure to share in the Fest with Keith's family. K's mom Helen, Aunt Ruthie, sis Kim, cousin Jill and cousin-in-law Anne all spent the weekend at the hotel and brought some of my favorite wild women: Michelle and Sarah and Sarah's Mom Carol. I'd written about Michelle and Sarah before and they, thankfully, continue to be as outrageous as ever. They took advantage of much of the Festival fun including the rocking pool scene outdoors as well as joining me for the cooking demos happening downstairs in the Amphitheatre. The demos were a kick and a featured a standing-room only crowd for each. Mark Prece, executive chef of the spankin' new Liberty HyVee led the demos with a fabulous-looking dish of ginormous shrimp made with artichoke pasta and a lemon-cream sauce. During the creation of this dish; audience participation bordered on vintage Emeril....rapturous oohs and ahs accompanied every move Chef Pence made. The dish certainly looked marvelous but if the good chef had said "Bam!" I think some of his wine-fueled audience may have spontaneously combusted as if they had just found out that they were attending an Oprah's Favorite Things telecast. Enthusiasm's a good thing, though, right? I rejoined the lively ladies for dinner at Ventana later that evening and managed to enjoy the Thai salad and evening special of spinach fettuccine mixed with red pepper flakes, broccoli and a wine-garlic sauce despite Sarah's many attempts to have me spitting my food across the restaurant in reaction to her jaw-dropping humor; especially when she spoke of her own "cookies" (as in the ones in her shirt) baking in the high heat. Gadzooks, girls, you are the funniest broads I've had dinner with in many a moon.

I cannot let this post conclude without mention of the many artists and craftsmen displaying their impressive wares throughout the day. Kathleen and Molly of Gallery Off Broadway rocked the house with their most excellent display space and generated a lot of excitement for their always-a-good-time Corkscrews and Canvases classes. Chef Amber DiGiovanni displayed her scrumptious hand-rolled Italian dinner rolls and baked goods. Chef Amber is a personal chef and a cookbook author and she conducted some tres popular cooking demos herself. I squired the charming Jul Tate; Promotions Director for 102.1 FM Alice around the festivities and we arrived at one of Chef Amber's demos just in time for her to plug my blog....thanks, Chef. Thumbs up also to the very tasty Jailhouse Jalapeno Brew, a sweet jalapeno mustard that also makes for a yummy dip or marinade. I also cannot go without giving some big ups to Daphne of Willow Spring Mercantile who not only held down two booths for both The Merc and Blumenhof Winery but was also the beautiful mind behind the Fest's musical lineup. This year's performances were as sizzling as the temps outside and included Keota, Billy Beale, The James Ward Band and Miss Major and Her Minor Mood Swings.

The Missouri Wine Festival made for a thoroughly entertaining day; packed with delicious food, wonderful wines, fabulous art, terrific tunes and an interestingly dyed doggie. Thank you, DEP and the Elms, for a fantastic Fest.