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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Five Fabulous Females and One Marvelous Meal

The first few days of my new gig at The Elms were a head-turning whirlwind. My first day was also the first day for much of the opening staff, so it was a kick to be experiencing orientation while also helping to coordinate it. In the midst of all the madness, we were munching on fare that was sticking to my ribs in order to manifest itself in my arteries. Subway here, Wabash barbecue there and a flurry of Daylight Donuts later and after three days, I was sandwiched out and would've given my eyeteeth for a vegetable. An oasis for the taste-buds arrived on Wednesday night on my first outing with some of my new coworkers...we took our Corporate HR Manager Britney out to the Rieger Hotel for a night out to celebrate her birthday and a deliciously fine time was had by all.

The Rieger Hotel Grill and Exchange is a gorgeous restaurant and bar in a historic building that dates back to 1915. Fitting then, that our group would choose a historic former hotel for our Big Night Out. I've written about a previous experience at the Rieger when my dinner posse group had a drink at Manifesto, the sexy speakeasy downstairs. Manifesto made for such a memorable evening that I vowed then that I would return for dinner upstairs. Lucky for me then that I was invited out with five fabulous female coworkers; April, Jenai, Amanda and Erin, who invited me to join them to fete our corporate HR guru Britney.

Praise must be showered on our cohort Erin who acted as our culinary guide for the evening. Erin was formerly employed with The Rieger and we are beyond thrilled to have her on board as our new restaurant manager at the Elms. Erin graciously served as our elegant tour guide through the myriad of choices on the Rieger's menu. In the end, we embarked on an edible journey that left me swooning.

The Rieger is a leading light in cocktail culture and that's largely due to owner/libation wunderkind Ryan Maybee. He's been written about in everything from the New Yorker to Vanity Fair and when we entered, he was indeed front and center behind the bar. I'm fine with a fine glass of wine during most nights out, but here and Justus Drugstore are two exceptions to the rule: I must try one of their cocktails. I went with the Blood and Smoke, a sultry smoked concoction that features applewood-smoked bourbon, Dolin Rouge, Cherry Heering and Orange. April said it best when she tasted my drink...that cocktail should be experienced with a cigar sitting at the darkened bar downstairs in Manifesto....if smoking were allowed.

The food began with a spine-tingling teaser of an amuse bouche: a delicate lamb ravioli topped with Pecorino cheese and soaked in a lamb au jus that made me want to indelicately lick the plate. Erin then chose our starters. The Frisee was a flavorful salad course with pork cheek ham, a farm fresh egg and a pickled habanero vinegarette that blew my scalp off....in a good way. The Spinach Ravioli was a colorful and tasty starter stuffed with goat cheese and sweet potato and Crum's Heirloom Cayenne. The Salumi Board was laden with a wicked-good mortadella and sliced duck as well as a small pot of addictive bourbon-fig jam. The creamy foie gras terrine and crunchy sweetbreads were also a treat as well.

We deliberately chose several different entrees in order to try them all and indeed, the plates had barely landed before a flurry of forks flew about the table. Amanda chose the short ribs with fried oysters in a bearnaise sauce. Britney went with the Braised Catfish with heirloom beans and local polenta and Jenai went with the vegetarian choice, a creative take on eggplant parmigiana. Erin's entree was the grilled octopus with butter hummus and a killer harissa mayo. April, typically not a meat-eater, went all out with her choice: the Braised Rare Hare Barns Rabbit with bacon, tomato, pine nuts and potato dumplings. I chose the special: succulent duck breasts served with a white gazpacho. In the end, we all dug each others entrees but our preferences were our own, in every case.

The finale was a platter of pastel-colored macaroons from Natasha's Mulberry and Mott, the very French patisserie in Mission Farms and Country Club Plaza. We each popped one in our mouth and surely enough, each melted into the perfect bite. Mine was a St. Germain and it was elderflower-flavored. Outside, the evening had been slate-gray and rainy all evening...these sweet little bites seemed to usher in a taste of Spring to brighten our nights.

After meeting the Rieger's quite awesome chef/co-owner Howard Hanna, we left so giddy from this excellent adventure that we stopped off at Austrian eatery Grunauer for a nightcap. The place was packed and our new Executive Chef at the Elms, Steven, met up with us. Amiable Grunauer barkeep Chris suggested a dark and delicious Austrian beer called a Hirter Morchl for me and we all got to sample an Austrian apple brandy.

It was a brilliant evening that we are all still talking about. We feted Britney in fine fashion and enjoyed a fabulous meal. The girls giggle at my geekiness over food but seriously, a meal like that is pure joy for me and I like to express my gratitude...in spades.

Our night at the Rieger is definitely my idea of team-building.

The opinions in this blog are expressly my own and do not reflect the opinions of the Elms Hotel and Spa or Widewater Hotels.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Times, They Are A-Changin'

Seems a bit of sacrilege to cop from Dylan for a blog title, but as this seemingly magical, mystical year of change continues to unfold, the times for me, at least, also continue to change. Some of the change has been sad with the passing of family and friend alike. Other changes both hopeful and wholly unexpected continue to morph 2012 into this year of possibilities. The past couple of weeks have seen a whirlwind trip to West Virginia for a memorial quickly followed by the last shift at my longtime retail job, before I began my new job at The Elms Hotel and Spa.

My last day at the former job was a bit odd and in some ways anticlimactic after having worked there quite a few years. In retrospect, I think the no-frills last shift was probably for the best. I had left for another job once before in the past decade and I learned the hard way, especially in this economy, that you just never know when you might need to swallow your pride and go back when times are tough. The managers at my retail gig were always greatly accommodating. As for my fellow associates, I've written in a prior post about my strong feelings about them: from my D.C. days to my most recent fellow retail warriors: they will always constitute some of the finest folks I could ever work with and they are friends for life.

The weekend leading up to my new job included a weekend visit from Keith's parents so Ken could tune up the Model A. We took them on a hard hat tour of the hotel and hosted our first grill-out on the deck, complete with barbecued pork and homemade pasta salad. We reveled in the summer-like weekend that also included the first ice-cream run to Dari-B and a Bloody Mary Brunch at Granite City. We also enjoyed a Mexican dinner with the Posse to touch base with Jim as he's in from New Jersey and taking care of Carolyn. It was a whip-stitch of family and friends that served well to soothe my growing nerves over the rapidly-approaching first weekend of my new job.

As for that new gig, I am now the HR Coordinator for The Elms Hotel and Spa. I had been itching to return to this beloved hotel of mine ever since I left. I have also written about the Elms many times on this blog and my deep, abiding love for this 124-year-old retreat for the soul has long been palpable. I had indeed hoped to return and was even more thrilled when I was hired to be their human resources coordinator. In just a few short years of previously working for and being associated with The Elms, these are some of the experiences I've had...

...wrote the History Brochure, had my first-ever spa day (including pedicure-WOW), coordinated weddings and events, assisted on the set of an independent film (and scored my first film credit!), put on a ridiculously over-the-top performance as a poison victim during Murder Mystery Weekend, co-hosted monthly wine tastings, was the guinea pig for The Moroccan Detoxification Treatment in the Spa, cut the ribbon to release the kids at the annual Easter Egg Hunt, watched a jazz circus perform on the Fourth Of July, bartended poolside, and was the guide for several paranormal investigations...

..to name a few. Me, this one guy at The Elms could have already walked away with a lifetime of memories after a few short years, but no, I get to play in that sandbox once again, and now its a soon-to-be newly renovated glittering sandbox. Better yet, I get the distinct honor of taking care of the good folks who are taking care of our guests. After four days of the new gig, I am terrified, thrilled, excited, overwhelmed and blown away. Of course, as already mentioned, I am in HR now, so writing this very blog has become an ever-more delicate endeavor. For instance, when writing about the Elms, the posts will include the following disclaimer (imagine it spoken by a deeply serious baritone voice):

The opinions expressed in this blog do not represent the opinions or viewpoints of The Elms Hotel and Spa or Widewater Hotels.

That may sound awfully serious, but so far, I could not be more crazy excited about this job. The week also included a divine night out with some fabulous females and that will be detailed in the next post..

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Hometown Chow

Returning to my hometown to attend another funeral can certainly be a depressing time to visit. While I was there primarily to pay my respects to Aunt Bonnie, another death close to our family had actually occurred on the same day. Dwight Poole had also passed away on that same Friday and he was my Dad's best friend. He was a lifelong neighbor and a frequent visitor to my Dad's garage, where so many gatherings and conversations would take place. The last time I had seen him was when his family brought him to my Dad's funeral. During Bonnie's service, Pastor Kelly remarked that she and her lifelong neighbor and friend Judy were probably already spending the day cooking up homemade chili. I take solace in imagining that scenario and picturing Dad and Dwight being in line with their empty bowls, waiting to taste some of the hearty goodness those ladies were cooking up.

Lord knows that comfort food and brilliant flavor can take the sting out of painful reality sometimes. Lucky me, then, that I get to weather those realities with my friends Kaki and J.B. at Abicht's Landing in St. Marys. J.B. is always grilling up something new and as I've mentioned in previous posts, it doesn't hurt to have a bit of marketing tossed in with the hospitality. Their beloved hometown business, The Greenhouse, sells not only a plethora of marvelous gourmet food products, but also they are also sell Weber Grills and Weber accessories. Nearly everything they whip up includes something from one of their food lines as ingredients and is often created on a Weber Grill. Their meals are always mouth-watering and they work like a charm-I usually end up leaving for KC with an armload of products.

Marketing may play a part but its only a part...in times like these, Kak's friendship is always a tonic for the soul. As my dear friend, she is always comforting in difficult times. Grief is also something The Greenhouse knows all too well- they were first and foremost and have continued to be a florist these thirty-plus years. As flowers often serve (as does food) as a sort of universal language spoken during times of grieving, The Greenhouse has been in the comforting business for as long as they have been in the floral business. Sure enough, there I was all these years later, trying to stumble my way through ordering florals for both funerals and man, during those times I am ever so glad to have Kak and The Greenhouse Gang....they ease you through that process like no other.

Now that The Greenhouse is in the food buisness as well, the store and Abicht's Landing itself has become not only a refuge from harsh reality but a retreat for the senses as well . The night of Bonnie's viewing I returned to find Barbecue Madness in full bloom at the house. The aromas from the kitchen and the grills on the deck were near maddening, they smelled so amazing. J.B. and Pat smoked a pork shoulder in a lip-smackin' new Roasted Peach Whiskey sauce from Stonewall Kitchen. Kak made a tasty and wicked-looking potato roast as well as some flavorful cole slaw and oh, those Smokelahoma beans...smoked, barbecued beans that blew your scalp off with their flavor. Pat brought his kids to this hoedown and they are truly some awesome kids...clearly that's their Mom's influence. All kidding aside, Pat does sport some serious musical taste. He had us listening to some smooth bluesy tunes all evening that I totally dug. It was another one of those nights with 25 or so people running around and food flying from every corner...the barely controlled chaos that has become a staple of my life from here to KC.

This night was bookended with another night when J.B. drew a stream of raves from us with his rolling hor deouvres from the grill. Grilled teriyaki tuna, marinated cheese that features Stonewall Kitchen Greek Dressing, grilled cauliflower with fresh lemon and Dr. Pete's Chili Pepper Dressing and the kicker...delicious grilled salmon marinated in Robert Rothchild's Lemon Dill and Caper Sauce and topped with capers. Kak, JB and I were joined by my sister Shirley and her longtime friend Marilyn, Kak's mother Barb and Connie and Fritz. I was also grateful that Kristy, who was mourning an aunt of her own, was able to spend time with us despite the stress of another funeral and a new job.

Kak and the Gang are always sampling their wares at The Greenhouse. Most days you can also catch J.B. firing up one of the Webers and offering delectable little morsels that he's cooked up. They just recently got in their macdaddy Weber Ranch Kettles and truly, the mind reels to think of what they would create on one of those bad boys.

I'm indeed lucky to count these fine folks as friends. Lucky for all of us that they run a welcoming business called The Greenhouse that welcomes everyone that walks in the door as friends. Go visit the Greenhouse...you'll be glad you did!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

We Gather To Say Goodbye

There wasn't much time to absorb the news that my Aunt Bonnie had passed. I had been somewhat fearful that it could happen due to her most recent health scares, yet it isn't easy to finagle traveling nearly 1000 miles upon receiving dire news. In some situations, though, you just find yourself overcome with a gnawing sensation at the core of your being that you just have to be there and then try to figure it out. So drive I did, as many of us did, to pay tribute to one uniquely amazing lady.

My concern for Mom was certainly one of the primary reasons I needed to be there. Mom has Alzheimer's disease and while she thankfully hasn't experienced the truly wretched ravages of this disease, her memory is fairly spotty. I knew that the news of her youngest sister's passing would be devastating; in some ways more so than my father's death. As my mother's mental faculties have deteriorated, she repeats stories quite often; sometimes several times in the course of one short visit. In the past couple of years, one story has been prevalent: that when Mom was ten years old and Bonnie was born, my grandmother gave Bonnie to her to raise because she was so worn out at that point. Mom's stories have grown more far-fetched due to the Alzheimer's but they always evolve from a kernel of truth. Mom did have a hand in raising Bonnie and Bonnie followed Mom to my hometown of St. Marys when she and Dad moved there. Through Mom and Dad, Bonnie would meet her future husband Larry and soon Bonnie was settled in near her older sister where she would raise her family. Since, Mom and Bonnie remained tight through the years. As I've written before, I always knew when Mom was talking to Bonnie on the phone when I heard her breathless laughter.
Bonnie's daughters Debbie and Dayle Ann would be the ones to come to Mom in the nursing home and break it to her that their mother, her sister, had passed away. I sat with Mom every day during this trip and she frequently and heartbreakingly kept forgetting Bonnie had died and I would gently remind her. Fresh tears would come each time and each time, she would retell the story of Grandma giving her Bonnie to raise. I knew she found comfort in the story and so, I simply held her hand and listened again and again.

The setting of the funeral home has become unsettling in its familiarity. The aroma of the gorgeous florals, the sad music floating ethereally by and the family members standing stiffly; waiting to receive the respects that the rest of us struggle to pay with the right words or correct gestures. It continues to feel too familiar, both as the one paying respects and the one receiving them. Larry Joe and the girls stood strong for their Mom, as expected, but Uncle Larry seemed lost without her. Larry has always been right at her side as she always had been for him. "In sickness and in health" has often been said but Bonnie and Larry truly lived those words. He sat in a chair beside her casket and seemed so frail when he looked into our eyes and said, "I lost my buddy".

There were bright moments, as there should be in any time where Aunt Bonnie would be spoken of. We shared stories that had us cackling as hard as they would have Bonnie. The revelation for myself at the funeral home would be these flickering home movies on the wall near the casket. Suddenly, there was an image of my cousin Joe who was killed in Vietnam and watching it felt like a long-lost dream had been triggered in the back of my brain. Then, there was my grandmother Agatha lifting her skit and doing a little booty shake and acting utterly goofy. I had told people for years how hilarious she could be and there she was on film acting wild. Then on the film came along a curly-haired infant in a stroller...turns out that was me. For years, I've told people that I regretted that there was no video of our childhood and now, all these years later, it turns out there was. I could have watched those home movies all day.

The service itself was Bonnie to a tee, complete with gospel music and humor. Pastor Kelly, who was Bonnie's pastor and had spent considerable time with the family during Bonnie's last days officiated the service brilliantly. He read scripture from her own Bible and pointed out the many keepsakes strewn through it, including a calendar page that she had that represented the day she was first released from the hospital twenty-five years ago. Pastor Kelly became choked up himself when describing the moment that all three of Bonnie's granddaughters surrounded her hospital bed. Following the service, we entered our cars, the funeral flags were attached and we took our place in the somber crawl of cars to the grave-site. The day had been depressingly steel-gray and rain-soaked but just like the day of Dad's funeral, the downpours stopped in time for the brief graveside service. We all caught our breaths when Larry placed his hand on the casket as we were leaving.

We gathered at Bonnie's church for the meal that would follow the memorial. As Pastor Kelly pointed out, Bonnie cooked for so many of these post-funeral meals. Indeed, here I was again, walking the length of the buffet tables looking for something that wasn't there: those magic noodles. After photographing Bonnie's Bible in the pews upstairs, I joined my cousins for another one of those soul-comforting church basement meals of scalloped potatoes and broccoli casserole and country ham. I loved seeing my cousins again but continued to chafe over the fact that the reason I'm seeing them is for yet another funeral.

Upstairs, I had gathered the Rinehart cousins together for a photo. There was Jerry and his wife Marylou up from Florida and Jerry's sister Julie down from New York, representing their parents Albert and Carrie, who also live in Florida. There was myself, in from Kansas City, and my sister Shirley who is a recent transplant from Florida and who now lives in St. Marys, overseeing my mother's care. We surrounded Bonnie's children and clung to them, surrounding them as best we could with familial love, as they did for me when my sister Mona and father had passed. When the final photo was taken, something cracked us up and we all laughed. Not only was it exactly as Bonnie would have wanted, but it was comforting to hear her kids laugh....just like their Mom.

The next day, I brought my iPad to Mom and showed her the photos taken of the cousins. She tearfully chuckled over the photo of us laughing. Looking at it again, I remembered a conversation that I had just had with my friend Connie. Connie has a terrific ability to bring life into perspective and while what she told me was not exactly a new idea, sometimes you just need to hear things at a certain time for them to sink in. She said that she had been attending so many funerals that it was bringing her down but then her thinking changed: she realized that it was our turn; our time to help those who brought us into this world. The ones who raised us and nurtured us and taught us now needed us to help them. For some of my friends, that time started too early, but it had indeed started and continued to be our time. So, I looked at the photo of the cousins again and realized, once and for all, it was indeed our time to help them, even if its to simply be with them as they pass from our lives and to then pay tribute to them once they are gone.

And by helping each other through it, help them we will.

The following video is of Vince Gill's song "Go Rest High On That Mountain". Its a song I added to my blog playlist when Dad died and the song that began Aunt Bonnie's memorial service.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Echo Of Silent Laughter

When my sister Mona passed away, my other sister and I were asked to speak at the funeral service. I had decided that I would speak of Mona's laugh, a big, breathless guffaw that lit up her face and the room. I had chosen the subject of her laughter to serve as a reminder to those attending that, despite her life-long battle with debilitating depression, Mona indeed had a beautiful laugh. I recounted the history of that laugh, one that had been passed down from generations of Rinehart women. I spoke of my grandmother Agatha Rinehart; my mother's mother, who was a complete cut-up. I then referred to my Aunt Bonnie, who at the time was sitting in front of me, ever-vigilant at Mom's side, as the family member who possessed the most pristine example of that beautiful Rinehart laugh. Sadly, this past week, our beloved Bonnie passed away as well.

Aunt Bonnie was Mom's youngest sister; ten years her junior. Bonnie was quite often thought of as the heart of the family; one whom gathered the rest of us around her. She was personality plus; possessing that blessed laugh and cheerful personality that was like a tonic to whatever burdens we may have been carrying. Bonnie was a caretaker of souls; for family and friend alike. She took care of all of us and whether blood or not, if she knew you, you were family. Bonnie was the tie that binds...she held us all together.

Bonnie was no shrinking violet..she was a force to be reckoned with. She was fiercely protective of her family and so unflinchingly strong in her faith that she was often the rock that held firm while the rest of us threatened to blow away in the breeze. The first time I remember Bonnie being hospitalized was a weekend that I was home from college. I remember seeing Mom get the dreaded call. We gathered at the hospital, hopeful of a short bout with a health problem and instead were gathered by doctors and pastors and were told to prepare for the worst. Despite the horrific bout with lung and breathing issues that she endured, Bonnie wasn't having it. There was clearly too much for her to do. She survived, of course, and soon was on her way home. This was twenty-five years ago; nearly to the day of Bonnie's passing.

Those same lung and breathing issues would go on to plague Bonnie and certainly slow her down but they failed to stop her time and again. She had her beloved husband to help recover from a battle with cancer and grandchildren and great-grandchildren yet to meet and dote on. There has been many a time over this last quarter-century that her family fretted over her health and well-being but she soldiered on; instead worrying about everyone else. Bonnie was ever-present with concerns over her sister Alberta, my mother. As I wrote recently, one of the last times I saw Aunt Bonnie was in her wheelchair, parked next to Mom's wheelchair in front of Dad's casket at the funeral home; with hands clasped and tear-stained cheeks.

I've also written of Aunt Bonnie's wizardly ways in the kitchen over all these years. Her homemade noodles alone hold such great, comforting memories for me. Every family reunion or gathering, when it came time to eat, I would walk the length of the buffet table, looking for those noodles. Undoubtedly, there would be a plethora of delicious food, but everything came after those noodles. Sometimes, that was to my own mother's chagrin...Mom was a fine cook in her own right and could make a mean pot of noodles, but there was something about Bonnie's noodles. I've told you of one of my recent visits with her when I asked her for just ONE of her treasured recipes that I could copy to share on this blog. I, of course, arrived to find a legal pad filled with her recipes that she had hand-written herself, just for me. At the time, I was mortified that she had gone to such trouble, but now consider them even more a precious gift: those wonderful recipes in her own handwriting. My ever-expanding cookbook shelves include such notables as Julia Child's Art of French Cooking tomes but one simple handwritten legal pad holds a place of honor above them all. Among the recipes in that legal pad is one for those homemade noodles, which I tried to duplicate for this blog. They weren't quite right and that's what most folks say when they try to make them. Once again, that's why I call them the magic noodles...Bonnie threw a little some magic in those noodles. Whoever believes that its impossible to put love in their cooking, clearly never tasted Aunt Bonnie's food.

So, all these years later, that dreaded call came again. These days, the call often happens by social media, but the resulting fear was the same. Sadly, the outcome would also be different... Bonnie didn't survive this battle. The next thing I knew, I was in a car and driving east. In fact, there were folks heading to St. Marys from all points to pay their respects to this beloved woman.

In the interest of space, I will write more about Bonnie's memorial service in the next post; including the significance of the Bible and pew at the right of the page. I wanted this post to serve as a meager but heartfelt dedication to the woman herself. As for that laugh, I will say this: at the funeral home, I found myself constantly looking back at her. While it was comforting to know she was at peace, her silence was deafening in its way. I kept hearing her laughter, even though it felt like an echo coming from a faraway place. I felt that laugh and knew it was echoing from the Heavens. So rest in peace but laugh on, Aunt Bonnie... you will make for one masterful guardian angel.

We love you.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Anna Asteroid And Her Marvelous Macaroons


The title of the post sounds like the making of a way-ccol children's book, but instead refers to our girl Anna and her first cooking video. She makes some six-minute macaroons in the video and looks darn adorable while doing it. Anna is indeed a cutie patootie but she's also a woman possessing a plethora of mighty talents. We who work with her are fortunate enough to get to be the taste testers when she's weaving her culinary spells. From an African soup to lemon-blueberry bars, everything she's made has been top-notch...I can't wait to see what she whips up next.

I just came to learn that Anna is also a painter. The grand opening of the new LGBT community center; the LIKE ME Lighthouse will be taking place this coming weekend, March 9th-11th and two of Anna's paintings will be auctioned off for this great cause. Good on ya, Anna! Go here to learn more about the LIKE ME Lighthouse, this weekend's events and how you can support this excellent endeavor.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Jersey Bound

Our gal Carolyn and her family have endured a long journey since her traumatic brain injury last June. On Monday, she and her husband Jim boarded an air ambulance bound for the Meadowlands Rehabilitation Hospital in Secaucus, New Jersey. This facility is considered one of the best in the nation. It has been an arduous process getting Carolyn there for all involved, but she is on her way and our hopes are high.

Sunday night, we feted Carolyn with a makeshift celebration in the cafeteria at the Excelsior Springs Rehab where she's been residing the past few months. It was an admirably packed house of well-wishers who came to bid Carolyn farewell. Makeshift it was indeed, but many of the elements of a classic Schutte shindig were present. Jim whipped up some of his specialties, from his mozzarella and artichoke foccacia bread to his creamy feta dip and caramel flan. K and I brought an apple cobbler that turned out quite well from an Aaron McCargo recipe that you can find here. I carried in the Mac Daddy cocktail dispenser from the Schutte's English pub-like basement that already had the base for Jim's wicked Margaritas. Finally, it was a signature Schutte event as our beloved Carolyn was the center of all of our devoted attention.

It is indeed bitterwseet to see Carolyn off on this latest leg of her journey. The facility is the best for her and that's key, but its tough to see her go so far away, when we are used to visiting her regularly. Jim's CaringBridge posts will be more vital than ever as we look for updates on her recovery.

When Carolyn first suffered her injury, I made it clear, even in the title, that we need your help. I ask it again. We are praying hard for this leg of her journey to be the breakthrough one. Please keep the positive prayers, thoughts and energy going in Carolyn's direction.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sweet Saturday: Ponak's, Trader Joe's and KC Cakefest

It was a sweet, sweet Saturday indeed and an unplanned one to boot: K and I had planned a kick-back day at home, but leave it to the Posse gals to roust us from our reverie. A flurry of texts later and soon we were off to points downtown for an afternoon of revelry instead.

First stop was that venerable house of all things Mexican on Southwest Boulevard called Ponak's Mexican Kitchen. Ponak's has been a longtime fave of mine, however, one that I inexplicably hadn't visited in quite some time. Back when we first moved to KC and lived in Westport, it was one of the first food havens I visited. I worked at the Plaza and used to hit Ponak's with some of my co-workers. Revisiting it with K and the Posse gals nearly eight years later, I was struck with the same feeling I had every time that I previously visited: that I wished Ponak's was closer, because it clearly makes for an awesome hangout. The interior design is classic tavern with some eccentric decor twists, the service is laid back and friendly and the place seems to be always...and I mean always...packed. And still, nearly eight years later, they continue to serve My Favorite Taco; their always flavor-packed Sonoran Tacos. That tender shredded beef nestled in a deep-fried flour tortilla topped with lettuce, shredded cheddar and zesty pico de gallo is hard to beat. And indeed, those killer Margaritas, often voted the best in KC, remain My Favorite Margarita. I was way excited to find out that Ponak's is now bottling that wicked Liquid Attitude to go. Our gal Deb's such a fan that we were not permitted to leave until she had finished her Margarita.

Off to our next stop, the vast Downtown Convention Center to check out KC Cakefest; a quirky celebration of all things cake that includes some friendly competition as well. This is a unique fest that improbably marries cake with a biker sensibility. That's probably due to its founder, Mike Elder, who's a former hotrod builder as well as three-time undefeated champion of TLC's Ultimate Cake-Off. Mike is also the owner of KC's own Black Sheep Custom Cakes. KC Cakefest in indeed his brainchild and its a kick to be there and see all of those wildly-designed confections and cake vendors paired up with displays of tricked-out choppers. The crazy and eye-popping cake designs would be reason enough to visit this event, but what makes it truly one-of-a-kind is the oddball touches, from Napoleon Bakery's Madame Cupcake (the lovely girl in the ten-foot-tall, cup-cake laden contraption that she could actually DRIVE) to the house rockabilly band The Rumblejetts. The cake designs were all over the map from Alice In Wonderland to what appeared to be a platter of barbecue. Our favorites included the ones dedicated to KC and I admittedly was partial to the Zombie Hand Holding A Brain cake. We were really biased to the one from our girls at Excelsior's own Oooey Gooey Chocolates...the Dragon cake with glowing eyes with smoke literally curling from its mouth. Our gals won First Place in extreme engineering and design! Woo-hoo! I also got to see old friends Alan and Marlys of Adventures With Tea, who were there serving backstage. We missed Sunday's Cakefest events, which included a Guinness World Record Attempt at land-speed record in an edible hot-rod. The best part of KC Cakefest? 100% of the proceeds go to The Whole Person, an organization helping persons with disabilities live independent lives.

After a quick stop to pick up some more seeds from Planters in the River Market, we finished off our day with a stroll through the ever-crowded aisles of one of our recently opened new Trader Joe's stores. Clearly continuing to be uberpopular, we braved the throngs at the Ward Parkway location to find some great deals on some awesome lemon cookies, edamame hummus and that delectable lemongrass rice that Sweet Judy Greeneyes clued me in to.

A damn fine day, I daresay.