Saturday, November 17, 2012

Deliciously Dickens

The pudding was "like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of a half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top".  So lovingly described Charles Dickens the Christmas pudding that concluded the Cratchit's dramatic holiday meal in his holiday classic A Christmas Carol.  I was most fortunate to once again watch this scene, among many others, unfold from a masterful one-man performance by one man who ought to know it: his great, great grandson Gerald.  Indeed, our friend Gerald had returned to my workplace, the Elms Hotel and Spa, for another glorious performance and its a time we look forward to every year.

I should say ALMOST every year, but this year came sooner than usual as we fell out of Gerald's rotating performing schedule due to being closed this time last year for renovations.  No matter, it's always a distinct pleasure to have Gerald back with us, and this year we got a bit of extra time with him, which is rare.  First, a dinner at Excelsior Springs local favorite Ventana Cafe, where over spicy pasta and a shared slice of homemade caramel-pecan cheesecake, Gerald entertained us with tales of his ever-fascinating life 'round London and on tour, including such riveting subjects as Olympic fever, Prince Harry and the breathtaking highlight of his past year: meeting the Queen during the Dickens 200th birthday celebration.  The next day would be the performances themselves; one, a matinee over afternoon tea and the second in the evening; interwoven with a five-course dinner created by our Executive Chef Steven Cameron.

Aside from the usual anticipation of seeing Gerald perform, we were looking forward to watching the event in the newly renovated elegance of the Grand Ballroom at the Elms.  I personally, of course, was salivating over the traditional Victorian-era menu for the evening.  We sat with the Bisbee clan and Gerald himself, when he wasn't on stage.  Speaking of the stage, it was a kick for us to see the stained-glass lamp Keith made as part of the backdrop for Gerald.  As for Gerald, he began weaving his spell on said stage, masterfully bringing voice to each of his great, great grandfather's characters and we once again found ourselves utterly enthralled despite having seen this performance time and again.  As he finished the first chapter, or "stave" as Dickens himself called them, the courses began....

First were passed hors d'oeurves consisting of chicken liver pate on toast, mushroom and stilton tartletts and my favorite, a traditional British appetizer of Devils on Horseback, or bacon-wrapped dates.  These were served with sips of either traditional wassail or mulled spiced cider.  We opted for the clove-laden wassail and found it a spicy treat.   The next course was a warming cup of Beef Consomme Jardiniere filled with savory broth and fresh , crunchy egetables and a heaping basket of flaky and fabulous currant biscuits with a tangy housemade lemon curd.  Once we had met the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present, the third course arrived; light and flavorful Herb-Roasted Oysters on the Half-Shell with a Champagne Mignonette (sauce with minced shallots, cracked pepper and vinegar).  I so enjoyed those tender oysters and that amazing mignonette sauce that I kept scraping the shell, apparently hoping more might materialize, but alas.  After the next grave chapter featuring the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, the main course of Sausage and Cranberry Stuffed Turkey Ballotine (meaning boned, stuffed, rolled and tied in a bundle) with Glazed Carrots, Fingerling Potatoes, crispy roasted Brussel Sprouts and Missouri Pecans would arrive to comfort us.  We were fairly and deliriously stuffed ourselves after this delectable treat but were bound and determined to hang until Scrooge reached his epiphany so that we could experience dessert.  What a dessert it was, too...Figgy Toffee Pudding with Roasted Apples and Brandy Anglaise.  The "pudding" was a moist and spongy cake made with figs and served with beautifully crispy apples and topped with that sweet anglaise; a light, creamy pouring custard made with brandy.  It was a perfect ending to a magnificent meal and paired with that happy ending we all crave from every performance of A Christmas Carol.

Gerald Dickens was as brilliant as ever, but my pride came from that truly lovely meal created by Chef Steven and his hard-working crew.  It was the kind of meal Charles might have written quite lovingly about.

"turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, suckling-pigs, long wreathes of sausages, mince pies, plum puddings, barrels of oysters, red hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes and seething bowls of punch that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam". -the scene with the Ghost of Christmas Present

The opinions here are my own and do not represent the Elms Hotel and Spa.


Lisa Mandina said...

Next year I have got to go to this!!

Musli Power extra online said...

What a great posting...

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