Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Music Lover's Sunday Brunch

K and I were invited to our friends Kevin and Christine's charming home near Watkins Mill State Park in Kearney this past Sunday. We recently asked Kevin to be in charge of the music for a party we are hosting later this week. Kevin is a Renaissance Man of the first order: not only is he our widely respected spa director at the hotel, but he is known for many other hats he wears as well. He's an ordained minister. He and Christine own a big food truck that he travels around with to compete in various barbecue contests (their barbecued beans are to DIE for). Kevin and friends (including Shawna, who would join us for brunch) also have a fire-performance troupe called Pyrosapiens and they put on an amazing fiery show. Clearly, Kevin is a way-busy guy, so when Keith suggested we ask him to DJ our party, I thought surely he would have too much going on. Instead, he replied that he would be happy to. Astoundingly, DJ-ing is one skill Kevin doesn't ply by trade, but by damn, he surely ought to.

I first became aware of Kevin's music taste when he provided the background tune-age for our first employee orientation. I thought the music was a stirring mix and made sure to compliment him on it. After Kevin agreed to handle our party music, he promptly brought me his iPod and told me to listen to the mix he created. It was indeed an perfectly eclectic mix and I knew Kevin would truly throw something marvelous together. Kevin then invited us to Sunday brunch to shore up those musical details.

Originally, I had planned to go on to work following the brunch to get a jump start on my week. Upon arriving at Kevin and Christine's idyllic home, I would soon realize the folly of my thought process. I was spun 'round almost immediately by the kickin' Bloody Mary bar that featured not only an assortment of fine hot sauces, but Kevin's signature barbecue rub lining the rim of the glass. Did I mention the pickled okra and stringbean garnishes? We also came expecting a fine breakfast while finalizing the music, but little did we know that we were about to embark on a six-course culinary odyssey prepared by...that's right, the Renaissance guy his-ownself.

First came the bright and flavorful tomato caprese salad with fresh tomato and basil, creamy goat cheese and a generous toss of pomegranate balsamic vinegar. Soon thereafter was a savory beef carpaccio with fresh ground pepper and capers. Next, yogurt with fresh fruit and granola. The fourth course threw my taste buds into a tizzy...a seriously wonderful tuna ceviche. From lightly delightful to richly decadent: the next course was a swoon-inducing stuffed French toast topped off with a root beer reduction. Finally, the last, masterful stroke...tender, rare beef tenderloin with made-to-order omelette and savory tabbouleh. Well, whaddya know...Kevin's a gourmet chef, too. Yeah, I was done for the attempt at work and I might have done a face-plant in my pile of paperwork.

I did accomplish something, however. In between courses, Kevin sat me down at his Mac and unleashed on the nearly month of music that he has stored on hos iTunes. Its an amazing mix and I found endless gems on there. I not only chose a host of old-school tunes but found a lot of new-fangled croons to bang up against the tried and true. One of them is a new favorite; a song called Hot Cookin' by G Love that's featured in the YouTube video at the end of the post.

Hearty thanks to Kevin and Christine for the brilliant brunch and I seriously can't wait for the song mix.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Mongolian Meal For The Posse

Finally, I am caught up on Ye Olde Blog with a quick look at our April Posse dinner which took place at Genghis Khan, a Mongolian Grill eatery. I had sampled the spicy delights of Mongolian BBQ before, but this was Keith's first run. He totally dug it; it's a world of good food for a low price. After ordering drinks (Keith's a refreshing concoction called a Snapdragon, mine a mind-opening Bloody Samari with sake and wasabi), we joined our Posse cohorts, including Kiko's dad Larry, at the buffet to choose the ingredients for our dinner. There's a plethora of tasty possibilities to choose from, everything from seafood to tofu. I went with thinly sliced pork, jalapeno slices, sesame seeds, broccoli, red pepper, edamame and egg noodles in a spicy sauce of soy, Sriracha, sesame and onion oils and tangy vinegar. I handed my ingredients to the grillmasters who cooked it all up on a gigantic, steaming grill with long wooden boards in a version of the ancient way of Mongolian cooking.

The meal AND the Samari were a senses-clearing meal of spicy deliciousness.

A Taste Of What's To Come

After our delicious brunch last Sunday, we headed to the Elms to help out with the Bridal Tasting; our first of these hosted since the renovations began. This wedding extravaganza would also feature an array of foods prepared by our new chef Steven Duane Cameron, so I was quite excited.

The hotel ballrooms were looking more gorgeous than ever, especially adorned with decor from our friend Russ, the proprietor of Changing Seasons Florist. I worked the registration table with Jenai and watched as the soon-to-be newlyweds and their families milled around our ever-changing hotel, checking out all of the changes. Kevin, our spa director, and his associates were set up near the front desk, offering an array of Aveda products and inviting folks to try out some paraffin dips.

The food arrived and it was fittingly sumptuous. There was many a rave about the hotel, especially the food, as the brides departed. After the event, we were all too happy to try out the food ourselves. Prosciutto-wrapped figs. Creamy crab salad. Asparagus to die for. Savory crab cakes. My favorite were the quite awesome Thai-chicken lollipops.

The hotel continues to face challenges during renovation, but as we continue to host more and more events, we get more and more of a taste of what's to come. Later in the week, we would host (and attend) the Chamber of Commerce annual awards dinner and auction and we would sample some more of the chef's creations, including the delicious chicken (with potato puree and mongo asparagus) dinner and the divine Key lime tart with bruleed marshmallow topping.

I really can't wait to see what's next.

Brunch at Grand Street Cafe

We got together with two of my favorite ex-coworkers and fabulous friends for a wildly delicious Sunday Brunch at Grand Street Cafe. Jo and Linda were two of the first people to befriend me when I first began working at our retail store and they will be friends for life. Therefore, it was a joyous occasion to reunite and catch up. It was icing on the proverbial cake that our brunch fare would be a joy as well.

Grand Street Cafe is a stylish little hangout behind Winstead's off Grand street. I'd heard fine things from friends and coworkers about this place and now I see (and taste) why. The decor is creatively sleek and the people-watching is first-rate. The food, as it is, was the thing, though, and the price was even better. For $15.95 a person, one gets a savory entree that is accompanied by a generous appetizer buffet. Jo and Keith went with the Down Home which included scrambled eggs and homemade cheddar biscuits. Linda and I chose the quiche of the day which was filled with spinach, white cheddar, ham and green onion and topped with a cheddar-cheese fondue. Best Quiche Of My was a wowzer. The appetizer buffet was bursting with goodness, from peel-and-eat shrimp to cinnamon doughnuts to creamy hummus. There was even an added bowl of housemade cinnamon rolls placed in the center of the table. We sipped steaming stainless steel cups of coffee and Linda enjoyed a Bellini Martini with peach vodka and Prosecco. Grand Street Cafe is a terrific deal that features food to write home about.

It was terrific getting together with Linda and Jo at such a fine food emporium. We will most assuredly return to Grand Street Cafe.

Random Bites: Snapshots

At the end of the day, nearly every day these days, even gorgeous Spring days(like the one pictured from our deck at left), my sole goal upon leaving work is to go home, change clothes, kick back, eat a little dinner and go straight to bed. These actions may not be my heart's desire but that is indeed how mentally exhausted I feel at the end of my day. This feeling is not a reflection solely on my new job...I love, and I do mean adore my new job. However, every day is challenging; sometimes relentlessly so. Learning a new job that I want to be my career in the wildly multifaceted world of a historic hotel under renovations makes for monstrously detailed days that are filled with multitudes of moments. Some of these moments are exciting; sometimes thrillingly so and sometimes terrifyingly so. Every day is filled with myriad moments like these and while I'm digging the thrill, many of my other loves are getting the short shrift.

Like this blog, for instance.

This blog is so important to me. The writing is cathartic for me and I love capturing my life. Sometimes, though, life is so rapid-fire that its impossible to even sit for a moment and reflect; let alone doing so in a semi-interesting way. I will not give up on this blog, though, no matter what. Its original intention was to follow me on my journey to be a better cook and it has, but its become so much more, and thank goodness, as there's been precious little time for cooking lately. The Confounded Cook will remain a view of my life through food but I admittedly am having a hard time keeping up with it. So, here's some quick posts reflecting on a lot of life rolling on.

This post takes a look at a dinner we had at Jim Schutte's home, on the gorgeous patio, under the threat of dangerous storms that didn't materialize. We enjoyed the always wonderful feta dip(that Bunchie clearly loves). We whipped up some tasty all-American macaroni salad that we found the recipe for here. Jim wanted us over for some camaraderie and to catch us up on how Carolyn's rehab is going in New Jersey. Every day is bringing him new moments and snapshots of his own. She is starting to finally eat real food and most amazingly, on his return from this weekend, Carolyn pulled him to her for a kiss. His heart must have melted right then. The latest photo of her here reveals her looking more like herself than she has in a long time.

And so, life goes on, in every way and sometimes at a mile a minute, so stay tuned for a series of posts with some random bites of life....

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Bright, New Easter Sunday At The Elms

The work continues as these Spring days go by; every day bringing a renewed aspect to various corners of my workplace-under-renovation, the Elms Hotel and Spa. As I've mentioned before, my latest temporary office is a corner of a table in the Truman Boardroom that tends to shrink in size daily. Various bottles of liquor, including some choice single-malt scotches, sit under linen on shelves behind me and no, they weren't written into my contract as company perks, but instead, the liquid remnants from the Library Lounge. Fitting once again, that a room once thought to house illegal activities in the Mob heydays would have these shelves of undercover liquor. All of that untouched liquor is a testament to the integrity of this management staff as the daily upheaval of renovation would be enough to drive anyone to cozy up to the Glenmorangie. From loud, echoing thumps on the roof above us to endless tests of various alarms, every day hosts a new surprise.

We weather the temptations and turmoil, though, as we do any of the myriad challenges that arise every day. We continue doing our work even as various corporate trainings go on in one room and as the inevitable construction snafus pop up. More importantly, various victories occurred and every little entry in the W column keeps us going. We hosted a trade show and luncheon for one company; our first event with guests and it went very well. We have beautiful new lobby restrooms that most importantly, WORK. The classy restroom doors with the smoked glass that enter into the lovely remodeled interior are just way-cool. The dark wood and retro wallpaper inside remind me of the TV show Mad Men. That's right, I said it....the lobby restrooms remind me of Mad Men. If that restroom featured a chanteuse warbling French songs while handing out warm hand towels and mixing martinis, I'd never leave. But I digress....

Every day brings new excitement. The spa gurus, Kevin and Seth, conducted a makeup class in the Carriage House. New dark trim was painted around the windows on one side of the exterior. We are taking several guests on tours of some of the completed guestrooms. The Elms sign on top of the building is newly a-lit with fresh neon and has been restored beautifully. Finally, we were able to pull off our first true Elms event; the Easter Brunch.

We were unsure as to whether we would be able to host the annual Easter Brunch this year and indeed, it was a close call to do so. Various associates were still toiling away on assembling the stunning and intricate new chandeliers in the Grand Ballroom, where the brunch would be held. This would be our new chef Steven Cameron and his staff's first big showing and they worked day and night to prepare. We even managed an Easter Egg Hunt before, despite the brief rain and ongoing construction. Keith and I even worked on mulching and creating some flower beds on the back lawn to pretty it up for the hunt.

We were also lucky to attend the Brunch ourselves. Originally, we were to attend it with family, but as the guestrooms weren't ready, the family decided not to come in from Jeff City. Our friends Cress, TJ and Betty joined us instead but we were prepared to help out should the staff need. The ballroom looked fabulous from the renovations alone and the added class of the decor from Russ at Changing Seasons really put the setting gloriously over the top. The staff looked sharp in their new uniforms. To absolutely no one's surprise, though, the food was the thing for me, and I was chomping at the bit to dig in to Chef Steven's fine fare. And fine it was...

Let's start at the beginning. Steaming cups of locally made Roasterie coffee were served. Were I up for a brunch cocktail, I might have chosen a refreshing Mimosa or the house Bloody Mary which included Guinness Stout as one of the ingredients. I was determined to try at least a bite of everything offered, so we began with the Cold Table. The eye-catching centerpiece of the table was the whole roasted chilled salmon adorned in razor-thin cucumber slices and truly, I could've made a meal out of this alone. However, I would have been denied the tasty artichoke, spinach and feta frittata or the flavorful baby red potatoes and green beans with tarragon creme fraiche. I loved the tangy and zesty spring mix with housemade mustard vinaigrette and fried shallots.

Approaching the hot table, I have to mention those sparkling new chafers on the buffet table...shiny new buffet-ware to match the new ballroom. But, oh, the food...warm, fresh buttermilk biscuits with redeye gravy, thick bacon and breakfast sausage and crazy-good and crispy caraway home fries with caramelized onions. Creative vegetable dishes included spring peas with roasted oyster and mint and grilled asparagus with prosciutto-hazelnut butter. Forget typical rubbery buffet chicken...this brunch featured a light and lovely lemon-thyme roasted chicken. Then there was the creamy Gruyere potato gratin and the amazing Calabrese-style Sagne Chine, or traditional Italian Easter Breakfast Lasagna.

It was with great difficulty to stop eating this magnificent meal in order to sample dessert but sacrifice we did. Boy, was it worth it...sugar-dusted brownies, chocolate mousse tartlets and housemade granola with honey yogurt and grapes were each delightful in their way but there were most assuredly two stars of that sweet show: the revelatory strawberry and black pepper Pain Perdu and the knock-your-socks-off white chocolate bread pudding. I am by nature, not a bread pudding fanatic but this rich, sweet and decadent version was a wow. The Pain Perdu, a sumptious French toast, with its hints of black pepper, was to die for.

Yes, it is a fact that I am biased...I do work for the Elms. But as anyone who knows me or has read this blog can attest, I'm also a big fan of the Elms as well. Sitting in that gorgeously renovated ballroom and dining on that spectacular food with friends who were equally swooning nearly made me teary with pride. Better yet, hearing the raves from longtime friends of the Elms like the Schwarzes and Troy Snelling make me so happy. Troy and his lovely ladyfriend Gretchen were kind enough to let me photograph them in front of his classic Packard in front of the hotel.

The renovation ride has been bumpy, sometimes alarmingly so, but man, when you start seeing the hard work paying off so handsomely, I am constantly reminded that the end result will most assuredly be worth it.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Moments Among The Madness

I have referred to the "madness" of my new job a few times now, and indeed, it continues as only the craziness of going through a hotel renovation can. I have worked during a hotel renovation at another property previously and without a doubt, the situation provides non-stop unique challenges. That particular property was a beachfront franchise hotel, but the Elms is most certainly a horse of a historically different color. This is also not the first renovation the Elms has been through...there have been many in its long and storied century-plus existence. The madness for me is trying to learn my first human resources job in the daily who-the-bloody-hell-moved-my-cheese existence of working during said renovation. Don't take this as the filing of a complaint, however...its a good kind of stress, believe it or not.

The above photo represents the new mix of former compatriots and new cohorts that comprise the new team that is helping steer the somewhat unwieldy bus that is the Elms Renaissance. We all have been existing in the smallish space of the Carriage House on the Elms property while the hotel is renovated. Every day, there are a myriad of moments when it seems the Carriage House might burst at the seams with the insane amount of activity that surrounds and occurs within those walls. In this one snapshot, our Catering Sales Director Lacee is meeting with a vendor, our restaurant manager Erin is discussing possible server uniforms with Exec Chef Steven and IT guru Ethan. Asst. Catering Sales Director Amanda and Asst. Controller Jenai are working diligently at their desks while Director of Operations John, Spa Director Kevin and Front Desk Supervisor Barry are conducting a training for employees in the corner. Not pictured are various other salespeople, reservationists and other managers that are either giving hard-hat tours of the hotel or supervising the renovations or whatnot. This photo is from my former point-of-view at my desk. Still missing from this scenario is the abundant noise which could be anything from overlapping conversations to rumbles, horns and beeps from all of the trucks and machinery on property. We did finally burst at the seams as a tent was built on the Carriage House deck to house P.O.S. terminal and night audit trainings. Finally, on Friday, some of us were moved to our next temporary office in the Truman Boardroom, which looks out over the front desk and positions us in the middle of the renovation. This was also reputedly the room where Al Capone did some gambling and wheeling and dealing as he could see from all points who might be approaching. Should be some interesting vibes in there.

It all indeed feels overwhelming at times, but this group of folks that I'm now a part of are largely old hands at overcoming adversity. The Elms has survived this long thanks in big part to the community of Excelsior Springs and the fact that it will continue to be led by this forward-thinking management team is a fine sign of things to come. It hasn't been all work and no play either....there have been some fun work lunches for Britney's farewell and Brenda's birthday. In fact, Brenda's celebration seemed like what I always imagined the typical work lunch to was at El Maguey and they put a sombrero on her for the classic photo. I loved it. Moments abound every day from my coworker Jenai sampling her creative snacks like cucumber rolls and fruit skewers or Spa Director Kevin stopping by and giving a quick neck massage that uncoils you in thirty seconds flat.

So, the work continues and changes and upheaval come daily and that's how we choose to take it...a day at a time. It's a blast, though; there's a lot of excitement in the air. Hold on to your hats...

And lest I forget..
The opinions expressed in this blog are not representative of The Elms Hotel and Spa or Widewaters Hotels.

The Posse Gets Gaslighted

In the midst of all of the madness 'round rejoining the Elms team, K and I also rejoined our Dinner Posse crew for a First Friday get-together that as per usual at this juncture, did not occur on a first Friday night. Nonetheless, it was, as it always is, a deep comfort to regroup with this beloved group. Nothing better in all of the craziness than to settle in for a relaxing night of good food and fine friendship.

Gaslight Grill was a bit of a haul-and-a-half over to Leawood, but gathering with the Posse folks was worth the rush-hour drive time. Lynn Zimmer and his live band were laying out some jaunty jazz tunes while we settled into our seats into the Back Room. Gaslight Grill seems to be patterned after an old-school style steakhouse with its impressive wine list, dark-wood decor and calorie-laden menu. Seemed best to go old-school with my selection as well, so my dinner choice went a little splurgey with my longtime favorite steak dish; a medium-rare Filet Au Poivre. First up though, was our appetizers: a creamy spinach and artichoke dip and the Bruschetta Quartet, which included a favorite with smoked salmon and one that was a bit of a revelation topped with fig and goat cheese. After a Caesar salad with in-house created dressing and a warm dinner roll with balsamic butter, the main event arrived. The filet was a tad overdone but still tasty in its brandy-peppercorn sauce. The sides for the dish was steamed asparagus and a first for me: Lyonnaise potatoes. These potatoes are sliced and pan-fried with onions and sauteed with butter and parsley and were darn fine-tastin'. Finally, we indulged in dessert and among the table's selections were a chocolate gateau and a vanilla creme brulee.

We went into our latest Posse Dinner bone-tired but getting back together with this fine group of folks was a nice way to top off the first week at the new work gig. These nights will never feel quite complete without Carolyn, but until that happens, it was good to be with friends.