Saturday, July 27, 2013

Watch Parties and Scooby Gangs: Our Ghost Hunters Debut

It had started to feel as if an eternity had passed since the SyFy show Ghost Hunters had filmed an episode at my workplace The Elms Hotel and Spa.  We waited with bated breath for word of when the episode would arrive and in fact, the last bite we had gotten was that it would air in October.  We actually relished that idea as it gave us time to create a great event and would be rolled in with the Halloween festivities.  The startling reality we would recently learn from this reality show would be that the episode was due to air in two weeks and well, yikes.

So scramble the hard-working folks at the hotel did and threw together a boffo watch party to accompany the airing.  The episode would be appropriately called "Something in the Water"' a nod to the Elms' and surrounding town Excelsior Springs' long, storied history of healing waters.  It would also be the summer finale of the show which hopefully meant it would be a fun episode.  After all, only Keith, as the primary contact for the Elms who was presented the reveal during the filming, knew what the outcome would be.  

I contacted Kansas City Paranormal, my favorite paranormal investigator team, to lead some of the party attendees on a ghost hunt around the hotel following the viewing.  Of course, they are my favorite as one of the members is one of my best friends Ronnie and as I shared my most significant paranormal experience with them (see my post
Ghost Hunting at the Elms), I like to think of them as my own personal Scooby gang.  Soon, the night arrived, our Ghost Hunter packages had sold out, the Grand Ballroom was set for a grand premiere and all of our friends and guests had arrived for the big night.

The ballroom was packed and three giant screens were flickering with
the last episode, the one filmed at Belvoir Winery in Liberty.  Local popcorn guru Bobkorn provided both smoked cheddar and watermelon popcorn and our Elms lead bartender Andrew created some apropo elixirs for the occasion; one bourbon-laden libation aptly monikered Truman's Ghost and another emerald concoction called the Green Phantom.   These cocktails came in handy for soothing nerves as Keith was a bit nervous for his debut, though I knew he'd be fabulous.  And sure enough, when the show debuted, Keith was indeed flawless, the hotel looked marvelous, the show was a hoot and I even managed a cameo in the show myself and didn't make a fool of myself to boot. 

The successful viewing was complimented by the lively ghost hunt we did afterward.  The Scooby Gang led us to and through all of the noted areas including the show-highlighted rooms 500 and 501 as well as the Tavern and the lap pool.  The guests joined in, using both their own and the team's instruments.  Ghost box sessions were utilized, voices were heard; chills crept up spines.  The flashlight test yielded even more evidence, as it flashed on and off on its own in answer to the team's questions.  One of the guests in the tavern got some of the most interesting results as one of her photos yielded what looked very much like a skull face.  It was a suitably eerie way to cap off the evening.

The airing of the Ghost Hunters episode was a great and entertaining coup for the hotel and helped
ensure that a haunted reputation would remain with us for years to come.  I remain an open-minded skeptic during investigations but when it comes to the idea of ghosts residing within the Elms, I admit I relish the idea of the hotel being haunted.  The spirits keep it lively and are hopefully watching over us to help keep the Elms alive for another 100 years.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A League Of Their Own: A Trio of Treasured Women

My recent trip to my hometown was also another cherished opportunity to see three women who are treasured in my life.  I've spent a lot of time with all three and my appreciation for them, already at stratospheric levels, only continues to grow with every visit.  Without further adieu, the Three:

Dotte:  Dotte White is known all over St. Marys as a beloved mother, friend, magistrate court judge and flat-out great lady.  I was fortunate that my recent visit happened to also land during the celebration of Dotte's milestone 80th birthday at the Greenhouse.  An enormous showing of Dotte's family and friends attended and a beautiful cake was created (by Village Cakery of Lowell, OH) that truly honored Dotte as it was reminiscent of some of her stylish chapeaus.  The Greenhouse also provided some of the unique noshes that they are known for such as grilled green tomatoes, savory steak bites and chocolate-mousse-filled strawberries.  Of course, Dotte and I had to get our "prom" photo taken...we've been having datemate pics taken of us for a good 20 years now and in fact, I found our original (at right) in a scrapbook set up at the party.  It was very satisfying to see Dotte feted as she should be...she certainly deserves it.

Barb (Maw): I've written several times about Barbara Reckard and what she means to me on this blog.  I still treasure every moment I get to visit with her and some things (blessedly) never change when I do.  For instance, in the course of a week, she will enlighten, instruct, inform and entertain me and certainly crack me up at any given time.  She has consistently done all of these things (all at once, as a matter of fact, when she was leading the Gravel Girls in a dance at Music by the Lake) and more for me since being my high school history and psychology teacher lo, those many years ago.  On this
visit, she not only let me borrow her car to see my own mother but also took Kristy and I to lunch at local St. Marys pizzeria The Station. I happily devoured my Station veggie pizza while soaking up Barbara's company and stories.  The Station's sporting Washington St locale has come a long way since its humble Second and George corner joint with the cozy booths and killer jukebox.  It was a gratifying hometown treat to share Station pizza with our beloved Barb.

My Mom:  I spent some time every day with my sweet Mom, who resides in a hometown care facility.  I was particularly tickled by this visit as she was in good spirits and even seemed to recapture some of that classic Rinehart (her maiden name) sense of humor.  She even got a little wacky as I took multiple photos of her and typically she does not like her photo taken.  When she and I reviewed the pics, we both giggled like kids over her funny faces.  The faces reminded both of us of her mother, my Grandma Rinehart, who was a complete cut-up.  Jan, who cuts Mom's hair, saw us giggling and came over to say hello, while also letting me know that Mom "was the light of this place; always looking for other residents she can offer a helpful, encouraging word to.  She lifts us all up."  It was a lovely statement and reminded me of when people would make
similar statements about Mom when she and Dad ran the Clothing Center and Food Pantry at their church, always shepherding folks in need.  Mom has dealt with a great amount of loss these past couple of years, first with Dad the year before and then three sisters, including her beloved sister Bonnie, all in one year.  I worried she might be understandably morose, but that family sense of humor was thankfully intact.  I love and miss you always, Mom.

Three fabulous ladies all in a league of their own.  How blessed I am to have them all in my life.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Big Boy Sips At The Reiger Hotel Grill & Exchange

Not content to let rest our evening following the divine meal at Affare, we strolled down the street for some after-dinner cocktails at the Reiger Hotel and Exchange.  I have blogged some brilliant experiences from this fabulous place, from a marvelous dinner in the dining room to a couple of nights at sexy speakeasy Manifesto downstairs.  Tonight, we hung out at the main "lobby" bar and caught up with our friends over some of the Reiger's classic cocktails.

The Reiger has a long history dating back to
1915 when it played host hotel to many a traveling saleman and worker and was founded by the owner of J Reiger and Co Whiskey which operated out of a West Bottoms neighborhood once known as the "Wettest Block In The World" before Prohibition.  Fitting, then, that the Reiger's Cocktail Impresario Ryan Maybee kicked off KC's Cocktail Renaissance from this very spot.  Fitting, also, that Keith wanted this to be the spot to actually and finally move beyond the frou-frou and start sipping like a big boy, with a scotch from the Reiger's impressive list.  I briefly thought I might join him, but I am a big fan of the Reiger's craft cocktails and finally found I had to enjoy a Pimm's Cup, made with that righteous house-made ginger soda alongside Citadelle gin, Pimm's liqueur and fresh lemon. Our genial barkeep whipped up that stellar elixir for me and indulged Keith in his desire to step up the mature imbibing.  He suggested 12-year old Macallan for Keith's sip of the evening.  I thought about sampling the bourbon list, particularly the Four Roses, but instead simply enjoyed that excellent Pimm's Cup. 

The cocktail experience at the historic Reiger Hotel and Exchange never gets old or stale.  The cocktail wizards here always keep it fresh and new.  Can't wait to go back.

An Affare To Remember

The K-man and I have been so busy that even time with our beloved Posse crew hadn't occurred in quite a while, so we were eagerly anticipating some long overdue time with them.  We gathered for our latest Posse dinner which also doubled as Charlotte's birthday celebration at Affare, a modern German restaurant in the Crossroads district. 

Affare is located in the former home of Bar Natasha, which is familiar territory for me.  My addled brain was twitchy with memories of bygone days at Bar Natasha as I strolled through: Grey Goose martinis before a night at the theater; a magazine launch brunch with live cabaret music.
Make no mistake, though, Affare has made a striking home of its own here with its sleek, stylish decor and gorgeous artwork.  We sipped and sampled the array of German brews on tap before being ushered into our spacious private dining room.  Josh, our server, is also a sommelier and was quick to make wine list suggestions as did Katrin, the wife of James Beard award-nominated chef Martin Heuser and a sommelier herself.  Soon, the swirl of lovely German small plates were upon us and amongst the table, many dishes were tried and sighed over.  K and I split the "Maifest" salad (pictured at right) featuring pine nuts, arugula pesto, fava beans, artisan greens and "edible dirt", which actually had the consistency of dirt and was made from dried portabello mushrooms, cocoa and almond oil.  Maifest is a reference to a German Spring Festival and the festive mix of bright greens and beans with the truly lovely complement of the "dirt" was a promising beginning as were the side plates of zesty pickles and butternut squash.   Kiko had the Butter Lettuce Mimosa with yogurt dressing for her starter and Carl indulged in the morel mushroom starter (pictured at left).  Let me just say I have a somewhat troublesome relationship with mushrooms...I enjoy some depending on their preparation but their texture, by and large, tend to be off-putting to me.  Morels, in particular, are not something I typically enjoy but after Carl graciously let me sample some of his, I was somewhat blown away by these: sauteed Oregon morels in sumtuous brandy-cream with seared foie gras and apple-fennel compote and they were amazing. 

The majority of the menu offerings from Affare are an array of small plates, which may put off some, but is something I'm becoming more and more of a fan of.  I think small plates are a terrific way to sample multiple menu offerings without grossly overindulging and Affare does small plates right.  Kiko, for instance, enjoyed another starter for her entree, the otherworldly-looking and delicious Ricotta-Erbsen ravioli (pictured at right) with carrot puree and balsamico foam.  Keith enjoyed his killer Iowa wagyu beef sirloin with chanterelle mushroom sauce as did Carl his Rocky Mountain elk loin with huckleberry sauce and spelt-poppyseed spatzle.  I adored, yes adored, my Edelfisch Allerlei (pictured at left), which was seasonal seafood, including some of the most melt-in-your-mouth scallops I've ever eaten, over divine lemon risotto.  Soon, the small plates were passed around the table for all to try and I was beyond satisfied when all was said and done.  Equally shared would be our desserts including the Apfelstrudel with bourbon vanilla sauce and chantilly cream and the chocolate mousse tower with a trio of mousses with marzipan and a bed of sea-salt caramel.

 It was a lovely meal and experience all in all; an absolute Affare to remember.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Mystery Nibbles and Sips While In Absentia

Life continues to be wretchedly busy and finding time to write has become more and more a chore, so I find myself vexed regarding the many events and moments I haven't written about.  The best way I can think of to recapture the ever-more distant past is to write about them as captions for various photos of dishes, drinks and moments I've experienced over the past few weeks...or in spirit of Vanity Fair's annual Hollywood Issue, allow me to introduce them...

The Tart - Top left is the goat cheese, apricot and honey tart that was the marvelous meal-capper at one of Willow Springs Mercantile's recent wine dinners.  We sat in the new wine cellar area and shared the lovely repast including wedge salad and pasta with locally made Caldarellos' sausage with Keith's parents.

The Ale - Parkville Brewfest is one of the best known local celebrations of all things craft beer.  Nearly 50 local and regional breweries were represented and I got to catch up with old friends Linda, Shannon and Joel while sampling the various suds.  Hundreds of brew hounds attended and the uber-talented School of Rock kids were the entertainment highlight.  My personal favorite was the Contact High from Four Hands Brewery with its hints of orange zest pictured at right.

The Nirvana Pie - 2013 was a bang-up year for The Missouri Wine Fest
Record crowds descended and sampled several different Missouri wines.  The Fest, one of Keith's DEP organization's biggest fund-raisers changed it up to accommodate the larger crowds this year and the result was a move to the Elms Park grounds and extending the fest to two days.  Some marvelous food additions accompanied the changes and two of the most popular were from Bobkorn and   Table of 5 Catering.  Rob, the genial proprietor of Bobkorn, created a delectable gourmet blend of popcorn featuring cheddar, rosemary, garlic and truffle oil.  Table of 5 was the hotspot for gourmet pies and they created some tasty wonders with their awesome portable wood-fired pizza oven.  My fave was the pie pictured at left, called Lisa's Nirvana with arugula and goat cheese. Serious yum.  The lovely Daphne of DEP and the proprietor of Willow Spring Mercantile is pictured at right.

The Caviar, the Molecule and the Grain - We've had precious little time for cooking of late, but we
have enjoyed a few successes.  I made a righteous cowboy caviar based from this recipe but changed it up using Greek vinaigrette instead of Italian dressing, zesty diced pickled green tomatoes in place of half the regular diced tomatoes and using canned chipotle corn instead of frozen corn.  Superb!  The "molecule and the grain" in question came from this awesome Quinoa (the grain) with Roasted Garlic (the molecule-looking roasted garlic at right) recipe from Cooking Light.  The roasted garlic makes it and it is so healthy and tasty.

The Sauced Face - our first weekend at the lake with the family this summer was also a birthday
celebration for young Tanner.  The birthday boy designed his own menu for the gathering and indeed it was one after my own heart.  His dad's killer buffalo wings were the spicy star and astoundingly, he remembered a coffee cake K and I had brought one year and after a brief panic of trying to find the recipe, we whipped it back up.  That cake was the Barefoot Contessa's Sour Cream Coffee Cake (Keith is drizzling at left) and the recipe is here.  As for those kick-ass wings, well, Tanner's sauced-up face says it all.

The Reward - Finally, we ran another Color Run 5k, this one at Arrowhead Stadium.  Our post-race reward is one of our favorite pizzas, the St. Louis style pictured at right from Imo's pizza.

There's a brief and small look at our busy summer.  Just had a great weekend I'm hoping to write about soon and I have some more to write about the hometown visit soon as well...

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Music by the Lake 2013: The Siren's Song of St. Marys

My hometown of St. Marys cast a certain spell on me from a very young age.  The town was small, but my youth was alive with adventures shared with my childhood friends, many of these adventures of our own making, utilizing our raw, boundless imaginations.  We were blessed to have endless settings to stage our stories as St. Marys and the surrounding state of West Virginia provided a plethora of striking landscapes for our backgrounds, like the rolling hills of our county park. In every scenario, music provided a vital soundtrack to our experience; whether it be it from the gentle spin of a K-Tel album, the small, dusty Magnavox radio in my Dad's garage or the jukebox at our county pool.  I returned for a visit to St, Marys recently for an event that evoked all of these things and I felt myself woven into the hometown spell once again.

The setting is one of my current favorites: Abicht's Landing, where my friend Kaki's ever-charming store The Greenhouse resides in her husband JB's stately childhood home.  The event was Music by the Lake, a celebration of local and live music, set on a stage stunningly set against the property's shimmering, sunlit lake.  The characters were many of my favorites, of course:  best friends like my bestie Kristy and family like my sister Shirley.  Music by the Lake is a happy by-product of a larger music event that occurs down the road the next day called Waverly Woodstock.  Both of these events emerged from the musical mind of our ever-inventive friend Connie.  Connie has for years gathered with like-minded musical talents that would jam for hours and were called the Fuzzy Mothers.  The group is a mix of homegrown talent like the irrepressible Willie and out-of-state musical wunderkinds like Tommy Teachout.  I've been fortunate to bear witness to mere snippets of the heavenly harmonies that these Fuzzy Mother jams create and indeed there is something almost otherworldly in the raw, melodious beauty of the music they create.

The weather on the evening of Music by the Lake was blessedly beautiful; a sharp contrast to the shredding my hometown region took in the wake of the superstorm that blew through that derailed these events a year ago.  While the musicians were setting up on this Friday night, the Greenhouse was prepping a fabulous repast that both fed and supported the musicians.  Most of the mouth-watering fare the Greenhouse creates for events like this fittingly features the wide array of gourmet food lines that they also sell.  These creations are quite often grilled as well as the GH also sells primo Weber grills.  I'm always gobsmacked by what the latest grilled wonder is but they really threw me with the Grilled Lemonade.  Christine demoed the grilling of the lemons which fires up the fresh lemon that when mixed with simple sugar, makes the finest glass of sunny lemonade one could imagine.  The rest of the Greenhouse menu served as not only some perfect picnic grub but also as a nod to the our hometown history.  Connie's parents Doug and Peg Dale were childhood food pioneers to many of us as the proprietors of both the corner grocery store The Economy Market and the local ice cream shop The Dipper D.  Peg and her sons Richie and Greg were coming to the event to support Connie, and the GH recreated the Dipper D pizza burgers as a nod to Peg's visit and a tribute to her and Doug's legacy.  The meaty burgers topped with tangy sauce and melty mozzarella were a perfect tribute to the Dipper D and the cherished place it held in many of our childhood hearts(and stomachs).  Of course, the rest of the meal was no slouch: bright and crisp grilled corn on the cob, hearty and spicy Steven Raichlen-style Smokelahoma beans, and my personal favorite, savory grilled green tomatoes.  Soon, old friends and music fans were pouring in by the carload, lawn chairs and beverages were being unloaded and mini-reunions were happening everywhere.  It was an utter delight to see so many old friends like Diana, Mendy, Jeffy and Joe (who also writes one of my favorite blogs; a faith-based wonder called  The Awesomeness Conspiracy) who came bearing a Growler of Marietta Brewing Company's Buck IPA.  My sister Shirley also joined us and for a brief few minutes, so did John (one of other sister Mona's best friends) who has been going by the moniker Trapper John on his new reality show Mountain Monsters. Soon, we were swept up in the sweet tunes coming from the stage, cheering on especially when young Lane joined in on the drums.  Before long, the night became a party, complete with a line of "backup dancers" being led by dance captain Barbara Reckard (aka Kaki's Mom and my favorite teacher).  Soon, the dancers lined the road reveling in the beautiful music.

The night ended in an almost serendipitous fashion. The power had gone out on the stage and the performers found themselves singing in an unexpected but not unwelcome acoustic manner.  The last song of the evening was fittingly Country Roads and the band took advantage of their "unplugged" situation and stepped into the middle of the crowd and led a rousing rendition of those familiar "Almost Heaven" lyrics with everyone surrounding the band and joining in.  At this time, Kristy and I were walking back to the stage but everyone was obscured from our sight at that point, so we could only hear the singing as it grew voice by voice and soared above the treetops.  I heard Kristy whisper "listen to that," and I felt a chill go up my spine as those harmonies floated over us, settling like mist over the lake.  It felt as if it were a siren song from the valley itself; calling its children home.

Almost heaven, indeed.