Sunday, July 29, 2012

Triple-Digit Tasting

Oh, the perils of a July wine festival...steamy sipping always seems to be a foregone conclusion, but this year's brutal heat wave made it particularly challenging. Forecasts for the day ranged anywhere from 101 to 107 and as it was Downtown Excelsior Partnership's biggest fundraiser, the K-Man was truly sweating the continuing onslaught of the 2012 Endless Heat Wave. What would the day bring?

There was more potential for mass chaos that day than just blistering heat. This fest is held at my workplace, the Elms, and their renovation remains incomplete by a floor and a half of guestrooms and the spa. We were sold out with not just wine festival packages but we had two weddings; one in each ballroom as well. Despite the incomplete spa, we still had VIP spa guests arriving that we ending up taking care of in suites that we had converted to treatment rooms. Once the spa guests left, the housekeepers had to turn it back around to guestrooms immediately. There was even a bridal show offsite that was utilizing some of our sales folks, so it was an absolute all-hands-on-deck kind of day.

Despite our currying all manner of disaster, the day went on without a hitch. The wine flowed all day while several wine and cooking demos were presented at the Carriage House...including a unique one featuring Rob of Bobcorn, our local gourmet popcorn haven. I will do a post on this joint in the future because the creativity of their popcorn knows no bounds. This demo was no different and featured wine-infused popcorn with chocolate and bacon. Sounds bizarre indeed, but it was wonderful: popped in the actual bacon drippings, it was as decadent as popcorn gets.

By the end of the day, the festive atmosphere had gone viral and spread across the hotel grounds...both ballrooms were thumping with dance music and Miss Major and Her Minor Mood Swings had the vino sippers boogieing on the back lawn. In fact, one of the weddings had a carnival theme that included a photo booth, a magician and an old bumper car set up on their buffet table so indeed, the party atmosphere was truly in effect. Yes, it was crazy-hot but actually so hot the humidity wasn't as pervasive, so with the breeze, it was fairly bearable.

The hotel rocked its first big test and everyone had much to be proud of, to be sure.

Note: The opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the opinions of Widewaters Hotels.

Wherever The Spirit Moves You

In an effort to not be overwhelmed by the everyday stress of late, I find myself looking for ways to get out of my own head when I can, in an effort to preserve my spirit. That might involve something as simple as getting lost in an e-book on my iPad or cooking with Keith in the kitchen or better yet, finding gratitude for the good things happening around me and then discovering the spirit of healing everywhere....

A few weeks ago, K and I volunteered to work the Rotary raffle table at a benefit for Misty Smith, a local teacher in Excelsior Springs and the daughter of my coworker Brenda. Misty had, at one point, a fairly dire diagnosis and she was also clearly beloved in the community as the town of ES truly demonstrated a bottomless wellspring of support. From pink cupcakes to bracelets to car washes, the love and donations poured in and the raffle tickets are still available until this Thursday, August 2, when the benefit barbecue is held at the Elms. In the end, Misty's diagnosis has improved and she and her family, who have endured so much, raised lots of money and were blown away by the support. The spirit of compassion was in Excelsior Springs.

Also, one of my closest and dearest hometown friends was married recently and I couldn't have been happier. My friend Kaki wed her best friend and companion JB and they were married under the great tree beside the tranquil lake on their property. These two have worked so hard to grow their business that it seemed this moment might never arrive, but it finally did and I'm thrilled that it was simple and perfect in the end. May they always be in perpetual celebration of their blessed union.  Kaki and JB were married on the same day as her parent's wedding anniversary...Kak lost her father to cancer several years back and her wedding took place on the same day as Misty's benefit.  The positive karma and spirit of healing love stretched from Excelsior Springs to Abicht's Landing in St. Marys, West Virginia that day.

Finally, we were happy to welcome our cherished friend Carolyn home from New Jersey where she has been in rehab recovering from the brain injury she received nearly a year ago. She has made progress but has a long road of therapy ahead of her. We met her air ambulance at the local airport and helped get her in the car and I brought the flight crew back to check them in at the Elms. Later that night, we regrouped at their home, the first time Carolyn had been back in her home for over a year. The smile was completely fixed on her face, as her beloved Posse showered her with hugs and good cheer. Her stepsons Chase and DJ cooked up some delicious steaks, grilled eggplant and veggies and we sipped Jim's infamous Margaritas. It was so very gratifying to see Carolyn home, her pups Jack and Lenny constantly at her side; her family and Posse members surrounding her. Much of the Posse bought raffle tickets for Misty Smith that night, as Kiko noted that the benefit barbecue would take place the same night as her own Mother's birthday....Kiko lost her mother to breast cancer many years ago. The spirit of friendship was in Jim and Carolyn's house that night and the spirit of healing love and compassion had come full circle.

When my spirits need lifted, I just need to remember that healing spirit is everywhere, I just need to get out of my own head sometimes in order to find it. And then go wherever the spirit moves me.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Poolside Sushi on the Fourth of July

The Fourth of July was poolside this year as Kiko had us to her homestead to join friends and family for cold drinks and good food. The highlight of said food was some homemade sushi rolls, courtesy of Kevin, Kathleen and Kiko.

Many fine folk came to partake of the excellent grub at Kiko's and most of all for the camaraderie of hanging with cherished friends. Kids and grandkids splashed in the pool while the adults prepared all manner of excellent grub including traditional burgers and brats and Mike's famous beef and noodles. For me, though, the sushi was the thing, and multiple rolls were created, both vegetarian and not and all were quite delicious. I loved some of the seemingly unorthodox ingredients including sweet potato. I really loved the extra spicy tuna sauce made with mirin, mayo and sambal peppers that Kevin and Kathleen made...I could've drank it straight.

We left the party to head up to Siloam Mountain where our Spa Director and good friend Kevin was preparing for his final fireworks show over the Elms for the Fourth. It was way cool to see how fireworks are prepared behind the scenes. Finally, we moved on to the hotel itself where much of the town was arriving to see the big show. Kevin's wife Christine was soothing her nerves of his dangerous side job with a cool martini.

Kevin certainly went out with a big bang, as it were: the fireworks were spectacular. It was a grand way to go out, to be sure.

Morgan's Homecoming: Paint Cans and Bloomer Droppers

Keith's family traditions have been documented by me for some time now and they continue on even if they involve a shindig that marks something a bit more occasional and less annual: a homecoming for our girl Morgan. Morgan is Keith's cousin Rhonda's oldest daughter and Keith's goddaughter. She has been serving our country in the military in Turkey and was able to come home and reunite with family for a bit before heading to her next destination; Italy. As always, this family doesn't do get-togethers without a little flair, so they broke out the paint cans. Yes, paint cans.

Much of the family arrived at Chez Roberts to celebrate Morgans' homecoming, and indeed it was wonderful to see her. Girl was rockin' a shorter do and seemed to be growing into quite the respectable woman...a grown-ass woman, as she herself might tell you....or say, her father. Yes, Daddy's little girl had grown up indeed and was inviting everyone to join her at the movies to see Magic Mike after church. Sigh.....and yikes.

Food of course, was aplenty at the party including Jill's spicy saltines and patriotic rice crispie squares and Anne's homemade strawberry shortcake ice cream but at this bash, the drinks were the thing. One libation had the dubious moniker of Paint Can Julio. A healthy amount of vodka and mixers (the mixers seem to morph; I remember Five Alive and Squirt in one of them) and some fresh mint are added in a paint can filled with ice and then once the lid is firmly in place, the can is mixed up for several minutes until frost forms on the outside of the can. The result is a fresh, bright and somewhat stiff drink that is a perfect drink for the endless heat wave of Summer 2012. That bizarre name, however, seems to have fuzzy roots: no one can quite remember where "Paint Can Julio" originated from. Later, there was a new drink involving fresh fruit and powdered sugar and rum that was called a Bloomer Dropper. I didn't even ask about the origin of that name. It was made, however, in a super-awesome Margaritaville blender that I greatly admired to the point of serious blender envy.

The drinks certainly made for a festive evening, but the best part was having Morgan home. Next time, hopefully, we'll be seeing her in her new home in Italy.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Black Margaritas, Awesomely Accidental Fish Tacos and Speakeasy Absinthe

It was not exactly a happy evening when some of the Posse members gathered at a North Kansas City funeral home to support Posse member Mike as he and his family mourned their mother. After attending the packed viewing, we decided to seek out solace from an impromptu night of good food and drink. As it turned out, that best laid plan went a bit awry and led us to a real jewel of a joint right nearby.

My friend Linda had told me that we needed to hit up Tamale Wizard in the City Market area for some purportedly marvelous grub. I passed on the tip when we sought out nourishment on this subdued evening and off we went. When we arrived, the newly popular Tamale Wizard had been rocked hard with business all day and were out of a fair amount of their menu items. While we pondered a venue change, the K-Man remembered that Daphne had recommended a new joint and called her to find out where it might be. Imagine our surprise when we learned it was directly across the street in an unassuming joint called Hickok's Bar & Grill.

Hickok's was located in a corner bar long known to be somewhat of a dive and indeed, when you walk in the front door, that unmistakable and tough-to-remove stench of stale beer is certainly present. No matter; the smell fades away as you walk on by and find your table amongst the eccentric and colorful decor. Once settled, we ordered a round of house specialty black margaritas made with a premium black tequila. I had actually asked for a pitcher of them for the table, when instead the server brought me a...picture of the black margarita. I respectfully perused the photo and finally learned that they don't actually have pitchers. The margarita was strong and refreshing though, and the chips and housemade salsa were a perfect match for the cocktail. So good in fact, that we ate a bit too much of the chips, salsa and the delicious tableside-made guacamole, not to mention the spicy and creamy goat cheese and chorizo fondito appetizer. We would also soon learn that the black margarita was a strong one. Needless to say, we were most excited when the entrees arrived and considering that we were led to this restaurant by accident, we were also fortunate to learn that the food was first-rate as well. I raved about my fish tacos: breaded cod with shredded lettuce and pepper-jack cheese with pico de gallo and lemon mayo in a whole-wheat flour tortilla. Hickok's is a fine place to hang in the City Market.

Newly satisfied and mellow, we went for a final drink at that center for creative cocktails Manifesto in the darkened underbelly of the Rieger hotel. I've written about previous adventures at the Rieger and had been eager to return since watching the recent Anthony Bourdain episode featuring the caustic travel master's recent visit with chef Howard Hanna at the fabulous restaurant upstairs. This was a drink-only visit though and we sauntered down the darkened stairwell to the downstairs speakeasy. The last time I had been to Manifesto, we had to be led to our tables due to the near pitch-darkness. This time, it was at least light enough to see the candlelit table we were led to. Service here is always a treat and our barkeep gave us some excellent suggestions for drinks. One of our party; a Des Moines club owner, likes his absinthe and ordered the intimidating liqueur. The current version is the legal one, apparently not the hallucinogenic sipper it once was. The server prepared it tableside: a shot of absinthe was set on the table and a sugar cube was placed on a slotted spoon over the glass. Chilled water is then dripped slowly onto the cube which dissolves into the absinthe, causing it to almost shimmer. Our friend then sipped on this magical-looking elixir, very satisfied. I went with a cocktail with a dessert-like twist called the Shatto Blanc made with Tito's Vodka, locally made Shatto Root Beer Milk, Yellow Chartreuse and bitters. It was not unlike a root beer float with a bit of a kick.

The Posse has had its share of sad days the past year. We gain strength from hanging together in rough moments. Sure group solace for us is a night of good food and friendship, just like this one.