Monday, October 31, 2011

The Mugshot Progressive Beer Tasting

Moving backward in time from the Halloween Ball last Saturday, we next visit the first of what is hoped to be many more annual Mugshot Progressive Beer Tastings. My friends Linda and Shannon accompanied me on what would surely be an arduous task: visiting five locations in downtown Excelsior Springs, tasting a sampling of four craft brews in each. The event was a fundraiser for the Downtown Excelsior Partnership and judging by the crowds at each location (and on the street), this beer tasting was a bonafide hit.

We kicked off at the historic Atlas Saloon, which proved to be a bit of a revelation for me. I used to go to the Atlas when they served up some kickass Cajun food a few years back, but never actually explored the bar itself. The main bar is a classic saloon; still reflective of its long history, dating back to 1894. The dark wood interior and central shuffleboard table are seriously cool but the highlight for me were the vintage Schlitz lamps next to the front door and the bar itself. These lamps and several others pay tribute to the Atlas's origins as a Schlitz saloon and truly add to the atmosphere. A bit more about that Cajun was truly excellent and I miss it but word is that they are working up some new grub and its getting some good word-of-mouth. They were hosting a chili cook-off when we were there and the aromas were making my stomach rumble.

The rest of our beer tasting wound through Ventana Gourmet Grill, Ryan's Pizzeria, Broadway and Penn and finally, Willow Spring Mercantile. Along the way, I introduced my friends to Molly Robert's awesome studio and gallery where Linda bought a very cool purse. Each place we visited was rocking, especially the Atlas and Willow Spring, which featured live music. As for the beers? There were favorites, to be sure, and here were mine:

The Atlas- Tallgrass Halcyon Wheat
B & P- Rogue Dead Guy Ale
Ryan's- Tallgrass Ale, Boulevard Double-Wide IPA and Boulevard Tank 7
Ventana-Moose Drool Brown Ale and Tallgrass Buffalo Sweat
Willow Spring-Weston Brewing Irish Cream Ale

Ooh, I do hope this is indeed an annual event. The beer was great, the atmosphere welcoming and we totally dug our mugs that turned orange when the cold beverages were added. The Mugshot was big, hoppy fun!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Farewell, For Now: The Elms Halloween Ball

It was a dark and stormy night when we trudged the path to the shadowy hotel on the hill....oh, who am I kidding? It was a thoroughly pristine sunny and 70 when we pulled into the parking lot of the Elms Resort and Spa to prepare for the Halloween Ball. This costume party was not only the culmination of one long, strange trip of a day (the rest of which will be recounted in future posts so that this one can land on Halloween) but the last Hurrah before the hotel closes for a mighty five-month-long renovation.

Several of the powers-that-be among the Elms management would have preferred that the hotel slip away for its closing in a somewhat more sedate fashion but true to Elms form, the evening proved to be a signature blend of the sublime and the ridiculous. While Keith joined the management team in supervising the scariness, I moved about the hotel to photograph this last, lost weekend. Surveying the madness, I soon realized this last blast was the perfect send-off until the Elms begins its new life in a few months.

When we arrived, the lobby was already in motion as a wedding ceremony prepared to commence at the gazebo on the back lawn. The lovely bride entered from the elevator and joined her attendants to head for the winding pathway leading to the gazebo. The Regent ballroom was beautifully appointed for an autumn wedding reception...the ornate head table with roaring fireplace as backdrop; jars of homemade apple butter set up as favors for the guests; the stunning cake table as centerpiece for the room. The ceremony looked gorgeous as the bride took her place by the groom in the soft light of hanging lanterns and the setting sun. Soon, as the night's chill began to settle in, the wedding guests returned to the lobby for cocktails, appetizers and steaming cups of hot apple cider to the stirring sounds of the string trio in the corner.

As this serene scenario was unfolding, the guests for the Halloween Ball were also beginning to enter the lobby, some in costume. Author Janet Reed was set up in the lobby to do a signing of her recently written book about the local ghosts and ghostly history called Excelsior Springs: Haunted Haven. The dining room staff, decked festively in pirate gear, welcomed the guests for dinner before the big event. Slowly, but surely, the guests in their costumes began to descend the marble staircase in their outfits...a vampire couple, a nutty professor, the Mario Brothers. The first of several ghost tours was gathering in the lobby near the bar, preparing to visit what was considered the "most haunted" areas. Keith and Jenai (channeling Waldo) were set up at the entrance to the Grand Ballroom, ready to invite guests for fun with tarot cards and a Ouija board. Inside the Grand, the band Miss Major and her Minor Mood Swings were doing sound checks on stage as the bartenders, including Marlene in her Danica Patrick Nascar best, were setting up amongst the coffin-and-skull decor.

As the twain continued to meet in the lobby, the energy circulating from the intermingling of these two disparate groups was almost seemed there was much potential for disaster as the various guests continued to move about. All was well, though, as the wedding party were lined up outside the Regent preparing to be announced. The glowing bride and her groom were finally announced into their reception as the Ball guests continued to arrive from elevator and staircase. As the doors to the wedding closed behind the party, the string trio left the lobby and Miss Minor, in full Elvis regalia, arrived to lead her band to kick off the Halloween Ball festivities. The lobby, dining room and patio, and ballroom were starting to fill with elaborate costumes. Outside, a lighted horse-drawn carriage picked up passengers for a leisurely ride about town.

In my time as Elms associate and friend, I have witnessed a few Halloween parties there. The Halloween Ball was once a storied event but the past few years, this particular boo bash has struggled to find its identity. I don't know what inspiration lit up the guests this year, but the costumes were outstanding. Could it be that this final bash for five months sparked a creative fire amongst the guests? Whatever the reason, it was clear that imaginations ran wild as the costumes became more elaborate and diverse. Homer and Marge Simpson arrived as a dazzling Mae West strolled past. Homer then sat for a beer with a gorilla. Many a flapper and dapper gent were present; seeming to recreate the Elm's bygone era of bathtub gin and cigarette holders. Trippy tribes from Alice in Wonderland danced by and a clanky suit of armor emerged from the men's restroom. Zombies shuffled past and a man with an eerie shrunken head stumbled down the stairs. Troy and Sarah arrived; he a regal vampire and she a vamping and sexy spy. A couple of real cops, acting as security, mixed in and the lobby took on a seriously surreal sheen.

Both ballrooms at this point featured dance floors packed with revelers and the party was in full swing, end to end. I thought the Elms was getting a fitting farewell weekend; it was truly alive with unique energy. Even for us, the night ended with perfect cap for the evening....our old Director of Operations and beloved host of monthly Sunday night wine tastings John Glenn paid a surprise visit. It was great to see him, even in disguise as Two-Face and accompanied by his new squeeze, dressed as the Joker. We met his friends, including one who made for a hilarious Lt. Dangle from Reno 911. I even got cuffed by Lt. Dangle...and now the night was complete. We took our friends Stacy and Chris to the Truman Boardroom to see the renovation renderings and soon we finally made our way home; still humming from all the excitement.

Way to go out with a bang, Elms crew! We anxiously look forward to the month of April, when your next chapter will unfold.

See Jane Go Bang-Bang

For those of you who remember my post regarding the importance of Jane; I'm elated to report that our gal is recovering quite nicely. She's a bit weaker but still gregarious and entertaining, as she proved to us when we descended on her home with takeout for dinner.

Her always-gorgeous home was in particularly colorful company as the towering trees surrounding her property were ablaze with color. We brought takeout from various sources in order to keep Jane from much clean-up work. Jolynn brought the evening's highlight, the beloved (among this group anyway) Bang-Bang Shrimp from Bonefish. We all reveled in spicy bang-bang goodness, especially Jane who attacked it with gusto; delighting all of us who have been concerned about Jane eating enough post-cancer surgery. We also feasted on Italian Gardens lasagna and salad and Jeff's garlic bread; accompanied by various wines, both red and white. We finished off with Linda's two cakes: apple caramel and pumpkin with cream cheese icing. Jane was thrilled to see her request made good: a framed copy of The Importance Of Being Jane post that Keith put together. Most satisfying of all was Jane's ever-intact wit as she enlightened us to her fear that Liza Minnelli would simply explode into a thousand pieces while performing one day soon. We shared a celebratory toast while the sounds of Leonard Cohen floated in the background.

It was a fine start to the weekend to spend quality time with one of our favorite women. The next post will be the first of several that cover a long, strange trip of a Saturday.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Halloween's Dynamic Duo: Kiko and Karaoke

Why, they go together like peas and carrots...or chocolate and peanut butter...or the Kardashians and attention. Yes, I have learned that our fabulous friend Kiko has many a love (horror movies, driving fast, dogs) but there is one apparent true love for our darling and now we've witnessed it...her beloved karaoke.

We witnessed this union after a day spent with K's parents. We assisted K's Dad as he put a new metal roof on our shed. I served up the Red Devil Roast (see last post) for lunch and eventually we made our way to Excelsior Springs. We introduced the folks to the delicious wonder of the calzones at Ryan's Pizza and then watched a bit of the Cardinals in the World Series. K and I then soon left for the evening's main event: the Schutte's Halloween Party; typically hosted by Carolyn and Jim at their home. As Carolyn continues to recover at the ES care facility, this year's boo bash was moved to the Gallery Off Broadway and hosted by Kiko and Kathleen.

The gallery was decked out with all the apropo cobwebs and gremlins as well as a Scream mask that made for an eerie photo (top left). (What caused the eeriness...Trick of the light? Vengeful spirit? LSD flashback? You decide.) K's not much on costumes and we were pressed for time, so Kiko provided us with holiday shirts. Everything in the bathroom was completely glow-in-the-dark, including, as we would soon learn, our own pee....eeeeeeek! The Posse girls were decked out as the Pink Ladies from Grease, Jim resembled a Roman emperor, Jen's husband channeled Jason from Friday the 13th (complete with hockey mask and blood-dripped blade) and we found Waldo aka Tabitha. Food was unsurprisingly impressive; including feta dip, Mike's Mighty Meatballs (seriously delicious, homemade gut-bombs of flavor) and Jim's tasty tamales. Then, I heard it....the siren song of the karaoke machine began...

Now, I am no stranger to the spell that is woven from the karaoke machine. I have sang karaoke hither and yon; largely motivated by lubrication and lubricated friends. Hometown haunt the Hill was the setting for many a wobbly warble, including a particularly bombastic Islands In The Stream. I have found karaoke to be greatly entertaining to watch as well. My old buddy Rock hosted one of those traveling karaoke shows and I'll never forget one regular singer who showed up every week to sing I Touch Myself....let your imagination run wild regarding that performance and you still won't quite get there, trust me.

That said, I still suffer from a bit of stage fright and couldn't quite loosen up enough to join in Saturday night. Kiko, who clearly doesn't need cajoling herself, encouraged me to join in but Girlfriend needed no vocal help. She clearly digs her some singing and wailed away on many a song. She was having a blast and sang with everyone from her fellow Pink Ladies to Daphne's young son Colt.

The Halloween party was bittersweet as many of these events have become in the absence of Carolyn herself. Her presence is always sorely missed, but her spirit was present in the Tables by Design tree adorned with snapshots of her life; still displayed in the gallery. We continue to hold these shindigs in honor of Carolyn as she wouldn't want us to stop having fun. Kiko is the absolute best when it comes to keeping Carolyn's spirit going in these functions....lots of great food, drink and laughter continues to be present, and Kiko can always be counted on to keep the fun going....including leading the karaoke. You go, girl.

Kiko and pork chops and applesauce.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pop Culture Cooking: The Red Devil Roast

My coworker Matt L. is the store's resident music guru. He's a master guitarist who's greatly in tune with the music world, and considers classic rock gods like Led Zeppelin and the Stones as musical deities. I've been reading some rock bios over the past few months and am starting to find that musical genius seems to extend toward some kitchen creativity as well. Matt is no exception as he is also our resident grill-master as well. His self-imposed nickname is The Red Devil in honor of his long, crimson mane and deeply demonic ways. Recently, Matt was the guiding force behind my first pot roast and wouldn't you just know, it was a such a success that it now has its own nickname: The Red Devil Roast.

First, a bit about those rock star bios I've read recently. As a bookseller, let me reiterate what many a media outlet has said...rock musician bios are huge. Anthony Kiedis, Scott Weiland, Nikki Sixx's The Heroin name them; all big releases that continue to sell well. Reading these are a kick for me as well as a tip of the bandanna to my brief but memorable stint as a heavy metal fan in college. I'm currently finishing up Steven Tyler's somewhat whackadoo memoir aptly named Does The Noise In My Head Bother You? A few months back, I also read Keith Richard's Life. There have been many remarkable takeaways from reading these tomes and here's a couple...

1) The amount of detail shared is astounding when you consider the monumental amount of drugs these guys admittedly hoovered.

2) Tyler's and Richard's bios are most assuredly written in their own unmistakable voices. Keith's book is a no-holds barred, unapologetic look back that's filled with his instantly quotable sayings. Steven Tyler's book is also filled with his bonkers-but-brilliant look at his life. Anyone who has seen Tyler's current gig as American Idol judge can attest to his unique speak and this book is ripe with it.

I heartily recommend them both....say what you will; but these two have lived jaw-dropping lives while always pursuing their passions.

Keith's book includes a look at another of his passions, which is cooking. While Tyler speaks of some exotic food he's experienced on the road, Keith is a creative cook as he describes the perfect shepherd's pie and how he makes his own bangers and mash. I won't reveal his whole bangers recipe except for one line. Unsurprisingly as a musician, he cooks not from exact measurements, but from a soulful, sensory place. Here's the classic Keef line from the recipe:

Now, you have a choice of grilling or broiling your bangers or frying. Throw them on the low heat with the simmering bacon and onions (or in the cold pan, as the TV lady says, and add the bacon and onions in a bit) and let the f!*kers rock gently, turning every few minutes.

And this is how I know Matt the Red Devil belongs in the rock pantheon....his description of how to make the pot roast..

Take a good piece of beef, throw it in the slow cooker and turn it on low. Pour in one Coca-Cola. Add one beer and make it a good wheat beer; none of that generic piss they call beer. Add some garlic; the real stuff, a hit of Worcestershire, and some salt and pepper and an au jus packet. Fill up with water until it covers the meat. Throw in some potatoes. Oh, and some carrots. Low and slow all night long.

Me: Won't the Coke make it sweet? It cooks all night won't overcook?
Matt: Tell you what, Haught....if that roast is so !*@#ing awful, bring the rest in here for me and I'll eat the damn thing.

Needless to say, I didn't bring the "damn thing" to work as that roast
was freakin' awesome. I actually forgot the au jus and it was not missed. The roast beef fell off the bone and was oh, so tender and no, it wasn't sweet. So easy, so good and Holy Crikey, the house smelled amazing after that beef had cooked over 12 hours.

Next time I make it, I'm gonna crank up some Gimme Shelter and rock out with my crock out.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Full-Contact Wine Tasting

My friend Linda had long been asking me to join her at a certain monthly wine tasting; one that has a unique rep, to be sure. I wasn't a stranger to local wine events, having attended various vino shindigs at The Cellar Rat, Wines by Jennifer, and, of course, the much-missed John Glenn wine tastings at the Elms Hotel and Spa. I finally relented to join Linda at this other wine tasting, at a place that is a truly unique joint called Red X.

Red X is a deliriously strange independent discount store in Riverside, MO. The latest (and most awesome) KC foodie bible, Food Lover's Guide To Kansas City, by Sylvie Hogg Murphy, has a terrific write-up on the Red X phenomenon. Ms. Hogg points out that on a wine tasting night, the parking lot looks like a major concert is going on inside. Indeed, these monthly Thursday night wine events pack them in from all over and soon I would see why.

Its quite easy to be a bit taken aback when you enter Red X. If you go through the liquor department door, you might first see the giant wooden Indian or the display case of antique alarm bells. The very vastness of the place leaves you awestruck and unsure of where to begin, so I was most grateful for being with Linda, who knows Red X like that the back of her hand. We quickly grabbed our wine glasses and waited for the lights to blink which signaled the beginning.

Soon, the wine was flowing and we were sampling. People walked by balancing plates of bread and cheese. There were quite a few vendors represented, all with Rotary volunteers pouring freely. We moved quickly from vendor to vendor and admittedly, at times, I felt a bit overwhelmed. As Linda rolled through like a pro, I just needed to drop back and drink it all to speak. The vendors explained their wines as the volunteers poured in the shadow of antique carousel horses in various poses behind them. Considering the size of the crowd at this point, its a wonder that everyone minds their manners as they continue through the line. Said line moves so quickly that you have to be alert to catch all the wines. Speaking of the wines themselves, there were plenty of gems to sample, including the Primitivo Primaterra; a wow of a bold, fruity red that I purchased a bottle of. I stood back, savoring my taste of this wine and... ooh, look, a six-pack of boxer briefs for only $13.oo! Indeed, this ain't your typical wine tasting...

Various liqueurs and craft beers were also being sampled and I swooned over a Humboldt Brown Hemp Ale. I bought a couple of bottles as part of a mix-and-match six pack. My meager buys for the day paled in comparison to most, who walked out with grocery carts filled with wine. And maybe some tools from the hardware department. Or some Champs Fried Chicken while making plans to return the following night for Frog Legs Fridays. Red X, in all seriousness, carries one of the most astounding selection of beer and wine that I've ever seen. On our way out, Linda introduced me to Zeke Young, the son of founder E.H. Young, who carries on the proud Red X tradition. Alas, I was so spun 'round from this experience, I forgot to look for the glass eyeball collection before we left.

We met Keith for dinner at nearby Corner Cafe after the tasting. Per Linda's suggestion, I ordered their homemade chicken and noodles with fried okra and cole slaw. The dish, was a warm, comforting bowl of goodness than served to ground me after the dizzying experience of my first Red X wine tasting. Reflecting, I realized that the Red X tasting, like wine itself, is an acquired taste. I also realize that I really dig the eccentricity of the experience....nothing else even comes close. For that reason alone, I can completely appreciate the one-of-a-kind Red X wine tasting.