Friday, January 31, 2014

Wherefore Art Thou, BobKorn?

Our favorite gourmet popcorn place has moved down the street to a bigger space in order to meet the growing demand of their boffo goods!  They've been closed during the transition (which has just made this gray winter that much more of a downer), but sunnier days are ahead, because they are opening back up soon!  Rob and family are looking for one more specialty flavor to feature in addition to longtime favorites Lemon Crunch (my personal fave), Mint, Butter Toffee and Chciago-style.  Hit up their Facebook page here and tell them your pick!  Jalapeno-Cheddar for me, guys!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Mind-Blowing Minecraft Cake

Pure awesomeness it may be, but there's another cake that blew me away this week.  Keith's cousin Jill created a mind-blowing Minecraft cake for her daughter Caitlyn's 10th birthday.  Minecraft, for those that don't know (and I'm one of them) is, according to their Wiki page, a game with "creative and building aspects of Minecraft allow players to build constructions out of textured cubes in a 3D procedurally generated world". 

Jill tells me that Caitlyn picked out the cake below and had to study a YouTube instructional video to learn how to build it. In Jill's own words:

I watched the YouTube video and took notes to figure out the precise cuts that had to be done in order to accomplish the three tiers of dirt, sand and water blocks.  Luckily, Anne and Rhonda (and 2 bottles of wine) helped me crank out this cake in 4 hours from start to finish.  The trick was the double batches of cake and Rice Krispies and a quadruple batch of blueberry Jello to attain the perfect 2 X 2 blocks (including dental floss to cut the Jello perfectly).  Caitlyn was so attached to the cake that we were not allowed to eat from it, instead we had to take pieces of the leftover remnants.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Edible Turning Point

Life and all of its turning points quite often involve food in some manner.  In many ways, it is merely in celebration of a milestone and in others as a way to say what words cannot.  We see food as a means to mark these mileposts, but more and more, I see the food itself representing the people themselves and helping to tell their story.  Some recent examples I've experienced...

My coworker Bari and his longtime love Carlene recently tied the knot and oh, did their wedding cake speak to them: literally half of it featured a more traditional bridal theme, and the other.....well...Holy Hero Cake, Batman!  As far as I'm concerned, this cake is just pure awesomeness.

Another coworker Ethan and his wife Megan recently sent out invites to us for a "gender reveal" party.  I don't why, but I just couldn't wrap my brain around this.  I had never heard of one, but it was at their church, so it obviously wasn't a Crying Game plot twist, right?  Finally, my poor, addled, weary brain caught up with the fact that they were having a baby and a gender reveal party is the new way all the cool kids share the discovery of the sex of their child with their loved ones. Leave it to me to distort a beautiful thing because of my own twisted mindset.  Ethan and Megan didn't go with the usual cake for this, and instead turned to their beloved Jones Sodas.

 They had served Jones sodas at their wedding reception and thought this an apropo way to do the reveal.  Their friend Carlene (she of the half-Batman cake) would have a bottle of pink soda (Fufu Berry Soda) and a bottle of blue soda (Berry Lemonade Soda) but the labels were covered.  Carlene handed them one of the bottles and they lifted the label to discover...

                         It's a boy!  Maximus is on his way...

Finally, food has become is a prominent part in the mourning process as well.  I've written many times about funeral food; about the tradition of bringing food to the grieving person's home and how its often merely a means to offer comfort and condolence when words fail to do the job.  Sometimes though, food helps tell the story of the one who passed.  We attended a service for our friend Wendy's son Jerad recently.  Jerad passed away from a remorseless disease at a far too young age and that fact alone made the experience gut-wrenchingly sad.  But the way this grieving family structured that service told Jerad's story in a way I've never experienced.  Jerad's artwork and self-designed T-shirts hung in the church.  Videos of images of Jerad flickered in the background. Many of his favorite songs played throughout the service.  A table featuring his favorite snack food was front and center.  By the time many of Jerad's family had spoken about so many elements of his clearly multi-faceted life (including his passion for breakfast cereal), it truly felt as if Jerad's life had been beautifully captured.  We were even encouraged to pick up a box of Jerad's beloved Rice Krispies on our way out.  I had just met Jerad once before but thanks to that amazing service, we all felt like we knew him very well when we left.

Every day, I learn more and more about the power of food as a storyteller.  In the next post, I will feature an edible milestone that blew me away...

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Just Can't Find A Good Cheesesteak In A Convent

We joined some Posse Gals at the Music Hall to catch the latest show and that was Sister Act, the hit musical based on the Whoopi flick about a nightclub singer named Dolores being hid by the police in a convent. The musical was a kick with ample humor and lively music.  Admittedly, K and I were a little droopy-eyed through the second act as this show followed our 5k that morning.  We perked up a bit when we headed out for the post-show grub...and even that had a Sisterly connection.

We headed to Grinders in the Crossroads Art District for eats and this is a joint I'd been itching to visit for some time.  The original Grinders and its next-door neighbor Grinders West was founded by artist Jeff "Stretch" Rumaner and is one eclectic vision of cool on the inside.  We ate at Grinders West and we found ourselves wandering all about the eatery, taking in all of the creatively eccentric flourishes. Stretch himself is known for his amazing sculpture and art and some of it exists on the walls and around the restaurant.  Much of his artwork abounds throughout the city and his designs have also been seen on episodes of Extreme Makeover; Home Edition.  He even designed these way-cool rotating wine shelves.

 Actually, Stretch has a crazy-cool bio that you should read here.

In that bio, you read that Stretch envisioned Grinders as a food-art-music fusion house in the vein of classic dive bars with great food like CBGB.  Well that famous NYC punk club makes for quite the inspiration and thankfully Grinders doesn't also try to mimic CBGB's infamously wretched bathroom but the "fusion-house" goal has certainly been attained.

The art is outright fascinating: lighted plastic protrusions stand out from the wall, metalwork hangs from the walls and the glass-topped tables each feature a different artwork; each achieving varying levels of surrealism....soft dolls of ears of corn with creepy baby faces, spiraling metal pigtails and an entire artscape consisting of artificial sugar packets.

Yes, even the bathroom is bizarrely awesome.  The music enters in not only as the terrific mix that plays overhead but the sizable back lot behind the patio known as Crossroads KC at Grinders which is one of the best-known local outdoor music venues featuring acts such as David Byrne, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, MGMT and Matisyahu.

All of this would be great fun enough, but damn, it would suck if the food didn't jive with the rest of the great groove that Grinders provides.  Happily, that is so not the case.  Grinders has a well-deserved reputation for stellar pizza and shades of Sister Act, its most popular item is its cheesesteak. In today's musical, Dolores is craving cheesesteak when at the convent, all you can get is a boundless supply of mutton. Dolores would've killed for this version.  Stretch apparently missed some of the food of his East Coast roots and imported brilliant versions of both cheesesteak and pizza on the menu.  We got to sample the Fun Gi (Fun Guy) pie with white sauce and shittake and button mushrooms and some killer "molten"wings.

 The pie was great and the wings have a terrific blend of spice and slightly sweet.  I was too chicken to try the chicken wings in "death sauce" but whatever your preference, they also sell their bottled sauces which have been scooping up some awards of late.

 Finally, I got to dive into that cheesesteak and it was heavenly: thinly sliced flavorful steak with mushrooms, green peppers, banana peppers, grilled onions smothered in cheese on a fresh-baked amoroso roll straight from Philly.  I've had the real McCoy myself in Philly and this one ranks right up there.  Kiko had the veggie version and it won equal raves.  Next time, I want to come back when we're up for some imbibing; the beer list looks very inviting!

Sister Act was fun but the star of this experience for me was Grinders.  That place could become a regular hang!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Lucy and Ethel Go Cajun

Our favorite new cooking duo, Kiko and Tiffany aka Lucy and Ethel, have struck again!   Tiff came back for a visit from her native New Orleans and they decided to step up the cooking challenge and create an entire Cajun feast for the Posse gang.  How would it turn out?  Did they kill each other?  Would the rest of us survive the meal?  Only the Shadow knows...

This Crescent City-inspired repast could be intimidating to seasoned cooks: jambalaya, gumbo, spicy Cajun vegetables, red beans and rice and cornbread for starters.  However, Tiff IS a New Orleans resident after all and she arrived with strict instructions from the man in her life.  When we arrived, the jambalaya was ready, the gumbo was simmering, the crab boil was rolling and a spinach salad was being tossed. 

We toured Kiko's new bamboo-walled theater room downstairs while sipping margaritas and Cape Root Cab.  Carl arrived with frozen pizza in case these Southern dishes went South.

Soon we were munching on some light and sweet cornbread and totally digging the spinach salad with feta and candied pecans.  Hmmmmm...could this work?  By the time 20 of us had filled the kitchen, we lined up and filled our plates....

Well, Lucy and Ethel KILLED the best way.  The gumbo was nicely laden with andouille sausage and flavor.  The jambalaya was hearty and delicious.  The corn and mushrooms from the crab boil were alive with spice.  They even had a King Cake shipped to finish off the dinner.

 Deb found the baby in the cake, though rumor has it, she went through nine pieces to get it.  Does that count?

I appreciate any chance at some Cajun grub, so how grateful was I to dig into that terrific meal?  It didn't even come back to bite me and derail the 5k the next day.  While I'm speaking of gratitude, I'm also thankful for the take-home package of NOLA love including Tony Chachere's creole seasoning, gumbo file, spices with real sassafras, and boudin and andouille sausage from Tiffany.  Can't wait to use it all!

In the meantime, thank you Kiko and Tiff aka Lucy and Ethel.  Your Cajun was killer!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Run and Done

The Groundhog Run has come and gone and it felt good!  As I've mentioned before, this was our first timed race and I was unsure of how an underground run would feel, but I have to say we really got into it.  The run felt good start to finish, and that feeling doesn't always come easy.  I don't know our time yet, but either way, a very fulfilling experience to be sure.

We drove to the Ameristar Casino parking lot to park and then boarded a school bus to head to SubTropolis.  I was saying to Keith that this is the first time we'd ridden in a Big Yellow School Bus together before, and he reminded me that we had shared a school bus before when we went whitewater rafting in Tennessee.  Why, yes we did, I'd forgotten that.  Once arrived into the limestone caves, I had forgotten how vast they were.  When we ran, it honestly never felt claustrophobic; if anything, it got surprisingly warm as we ran through.  Keith and I noticed an interesting dynamic between us on these runs.  When we are training, my mindset tends to resist the whole thing....I come up with myriad excuses leading into it and when we run, I tend to trail him.  My brain is unraveling from work and I'm typically not pushing myself hard enough and there is a lot of internal "get your rear in gear" dialogue going on.  I always DO it: I just have to fight a battle with my cynical brain sometimes and I find myself running to catch up with Keith quite a bit.  But the races themselves?  I absolutely love them.  The attack of nerves at the beginning, the lively people-watching, the organic camaraderie that develops to cheer these perfect strangers, your fellow runners, on to the finish line...I love very bit of it.  In the races themselves, I tend to lead because I'm just so caught up in all of the excitement.

We really enjoyed every bit of this morning's experience and even had to sacrifice the Taco Republic truck because the line was so long and we had another event to get home and get ready for.  I did get the post-race treat of chocolate milk, though!

We have booked the next 5k and are working towards a 10k and the eventual half-marathon.  Right now, the very idea of that is a bit unimaginable to me, but keep working toward it we will...

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Warming Up

We just had the last warmup before tomorrow's Groundhog Run.  I am a little concerned that I've got some soreness going on the day before, but just plan to run through it!  All of the proceeds for the Groundhog Run go to the Children's Therapeutic Learning Center and this run is believed to be the only underground run out there.  That's because it's held in the Hunt Midwest SubTropolis underground area.  SubTropolis is a subsurface business development that was created out of a 270-million-year old limestone deposit.  Several businesses reside down here and in fact, I attended a wine tasting with my old coworker John at a wine distributor that's located there...the one and only underground wine tasting I've done, I believe.  SubTropolis is brightly lit, has wide, paved streets and maintains a temperature of around 65-68 degrees.  Among the sponsors are Panera Bread and Door to Door Organics.

Should be an interesting will be our first timed race and I'm not sure if I will find the underground part more intriguing or claustrophobic.  However, its for a great cause and it helps knowing the Taco Republic truck will be at the finish line.  These guys are known for their awesome street tacos and let's face it, if anything's going to get me to a finish line, the promise of tacos might just do it...

taco republic truck

Friday, January 24, 2014

Go Suck A Lemon

Among the moments that certain people remember vividly about my dewy-eyed youth is a moment in a Bonanza restaurant of all places.  In between bites of their Texas toast and deep-fried fish, I chose to pop a lemon wedge in my mouth and have at it.  Apparently, the resulting face I made is considered priceless.  I'm certain an attempt to recreate it at my advancing age would only be seen as sad, so I came across this video that might better express it.

So check it out...and talk about priceless.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Maw and the Kubota

It seems like merely a day ending in "y" when beloved hometown biz The Greenhouse of St. Marys is hosting yet another of their masterful events.  Several years ago though, when they were just establishing themselves at the stunningly atmospheric Abicht's Landing location where they now reside, this new identity of event location extraordinaire was just gettin' started.  Keith and I helped out on one of these early weekends and Keith got a quick lesson in "one for all" when we joined in to prep some of the always awesome appetizers they create.  He and I sat in Kak's kitchen with Kak's mom Barb and Marion Olds and worked away at slicing, rolling, topping, or whatever it took.

The Greenhouse Gang always work extremely hard to pull these functions off, but the best part is that they never forget to put the "fun" in function.  Laughter is always abundant and you can certainly count on that whenever Barbara Reckard is around....and she always is to help out at these soirees.  It also added to the mirth having their Kubota tractor iced up and loaded with beverages for partygoers to use like they did at some of the reunions they've hosted.  Having Maw Reckard standing ready to serve from the Kubota just sealed the deal for assured good times.

Kaki, JB and the Greenhouse Gang rock all kinds of events these days and are enjoying well-deserved success.  Whatever flash and glitter may involved with the functions these days, for me, nothing beats having Maw and an iced-up Kubota for making any event complete.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Locally-Produced Oasis On My Desk

There are days I look at my desk and my brain just aches from the intimidating stacks of I-need-it-yesterday stuff on my desk.  In the middle of all of the chaos, like a serene oasis, is a bag of my new go-to snack; dark chocolate almonds, and a small (or sometimes large) cup with a locally familiar logo....
...yes, a cup of Roasterie coffee.  It may be a skim latte with Roasterie espresso and possibly a hit of  hazelnut or mint.  Or it could be a straight up cup o' joe from the special blend of beans they made specifically for the Elms Hotel and Spa aka my workplace.  Either way, I've grown way accustomed to the Roasterie and am highly addicted. Not to mention, the coffee is that much more extraordinary combined with those almonds.

Roasterie Founder Denny O'Neill started this amazing company in his Brookside basement fifteen years after he picked his first beans in Costa Rica.  The good folks at the Roasterie travel the ends of the earth to find those beans to bring them back and air-roast them to perfection. The Roasterie is committed to direct trade and also sports one of the coolest event spaces around called the Bean Hangar. Mr. O'Neill, also known as the Bean Baron, has been out to the hotel for a few events and I personally, am a big fan of his and his company.

Thank goodness for the Roasterie for providing my daily work and brain fuel.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Perk/Curse of the Job

Food nerd that I am, it is an admitted kick to be around the culinary talent I am and be able to sample all of the mouth-watering wares.  The truffles pictured at left were two of the latest lovelies I was fortunate to sample.  Of late, I've gotten to sample incredible vegan dishes with grilled sweet potatoes, pan-fried chicken and creamy risotto and a light and tasty tortellini salad.  The culinary talent isn't all just in the hotel kitchen either.  I've gotten to try a wonderful curried goat stew my Spa Director made and join my coworkers in a mini-chili tasting to help prep said Spa Director for an upcoming chili cook-off.  I've also gotten a peek at some upcoming new menu items and am even more excited.

Fun and fortunate it may all be, but all of this can be a curse to the waistline if not careful.  But at the same time discoveries like that vegan dish help open up the possibilities for healthy food as well. It's not all food to sample either; a couple of weeks ago we were asked to test out some lotions for a possible line the Spa might carry.  Of course, its far more fun to simply be a guinea pig for new spa treatments.  Got offered a facial this week but couldn't commit, alas.

 Looking forward to all of the culinary and other possibilities on the job ahead...

Monday, January 20, 2014

First Flatbread

That flatbread dough we mixed up last weekend re-emerged today as we brought it back out for Keith to form it, smack it and roll it out.  Indeed, as that cookbook we have been following, Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes A Day, states, the dough is much more malleable after some time in the fridge.  After a week, the dough was good to go.

 We were using the recipe for Scandinavian Salmon Flatbread as a guideline, but still worked with what we had instead of buying all new ingredients.  Also, our pizza stone recently broke, so we had to ride the Plan B and go with olive oil and a sheet pan as opposed to cornmeal and the stone.  The dough makes a lot, so we rolled out two and put the rest in the freezer.  The olive oil accidentally dripped over and the result was cacophonous reassurance that the smoke alarm still works.  Aside from that, the aromas wafting from the kitchen were enticing and the flatbread came out looking beautiful.

I had the salmon flatbread dish from the Blennerhassett Hotel that Kristy introduced me to in mind and did what I could to create a rough draft of that beloved dish.  I spread cream cheese on the flatbread and then sprinkled smoked salmon, minced red onions and capers on it.

Balsamic vinegar makes this dish but somehow I was out of the traditional and only had the flavored ones from the Tasteful Olive.  Came to discover the black currant version touched off the flatbread nicely.  Keith made a simple pizza with the second flatbread with tomatoes and mozzarella and fresh herbs.  The flatbread itself seemed damn near perfect to us, soft but slightly crusty and well-matched with the toppings on both.

  Kudos to that wonderful Artisan Pizza and Flatbread cookbook from Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois.  They also have a healthy bread cookbook we want to check out as well.  It was also gratifying to be able to make something we didn't need a lot of groceries for; we had everything on hand except for the rye flour.

We got the flatbread fever now.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Melancholy Morning

I'll begin this post with a gratitude: I am blessed and forever grateful for my life with Keith here in Kansas City.  It is a life filled with laughter and friendship and learning and promise.  That said, the greatest challenge for me of this life is the distance away from my family. Every time I go to my West Virginia hometown, I leave with a heart so heavy; my hand is literally on my chest as the eyes well up. When I visit Mom in her nursing home, I photograph my Mom fully, when she's in good spirits and laughing.  In moments when she's weak, I will just photograph her hand in mine. 

 I admire photographers who capture the final struggles of their loved ones and some even record the most breathtakingly painful moments. I did that a bit with Dad during his last hospitalization. These are just not the physical images I want to be left though, as the mental images will be seared in my mind forever.  So I photograph her on every visit just in case, God forbid, it's the last.

I spoke with Mom this morning and it was a somber call.  She sounds weak and small.  I wanted to know that her laughter was still intact and to ensure that familial sense of humor has been our lifeline was still present.  I got her old recipe cards out and read some to her.

I reminded her that some were classics from my childhood like her peanut butter fudge and others were from the later, more healthier days like a sugar-free peanut butter pie.  She began chuckling at the memories and then I told her about one she called the Apple What You Call It Pie and she completely cracked up then.

 I rolled with it at that point and started recounting the old tales of the restaurant antics we would get into on our Sunday outings: my face after sucking on a lemon; Dad tossing a glass of water in the air trying to wave at someone; me dousing myself with Italian dressing trying to open the bottle.  All mortifying moments for Mom at the time but they sure brought the laughs all these years later.

One of my vows for this year is to make more of the family from Mom, Aunt Bonnie and Grandma Rinehart for starters.  Part of feeling that connection more, I suppose.  Mom has been telling my sister Shirley and I that she's ready to go.  She greatly misses Dad and her sisters, particularly Bonnie.  Hope of all hopes, she just keeps laughing until then.

                                       I love you, Mom.