Friday, February 28, 2014

Conference Days 2013: Flappers and Fireworks

The opening night of our conference was a smashing success complete with a throwback theme celebrating our hotel's heyday in the Roaring 20's. Our cocktail servers Tabitha and Courtney were way-fun flappers and our bartender Patrick completely brought to mind a Prohibition-era barkeep.  Our Director of Operations John didn't just work his Sicilian heritage and resemblance to former Elms guest Al Capone but outright channeled the guy.

The cocktails were creative for certain, including the Pendergast (bourbon, Benedictine and sweet vermouth)  and the Prohibition cocktail (gin, Lillet and apricot brandy).  The hors d'ouerves for the evening, displayed with finesse by having Shawna Mulls' vintage cigar-box guitars as a backdrop (see last post for a closer look at these), were quite tasty. I am a big fan of Chef Jordan's hummus, particularly the tomato pesto one with housemade pita chips, but my new obsession might just be her sliders.  I'm torn between the crab cake slider with remoulade sauce and the black bean slider for killer flavor....guess I'll just have to keep trying them both out to settle this internal dispute.  The caramel blondie brownies for dessert had many swooning (see last post for a closer look at these as well).  

(photo courtesy of Kevin Morgan)

The party rolled on in grand fashion, the music filled the room and the flappers danced with abandon.  The Tavern, our party's location, features a wall of glass that overlooks the outdoor pool, hot tub and back lawn.  Outside this window there was a sudden flicker of flame outside this window started capturing the attention of the attendees. Soon, everyone was peering through the glass to see our Spa Director Kevin and his Pyrosapiens troupe (which also includes Shawna, the cigar box guitar creator...the creative minds in this group are awe-inspiring) spinning fire poolside for all to see; and the room was filled with oohs and ahs.  

(photo courtesy of Kevin Morgan)
The party rocked on but I retired to the solitude of my room and settled in with the evening's sophisticated amenities courtesy of the Woodcliff's brilliant pastry chef: Earl Grey truffles and spiced walnut biscotti.  There was so much more to come after all...

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Strumming The Cigar Box

Once I've gotten a bit more rest and my mind can regroup, I will wax rhapsodic about the food during the conference we just hosted.  In the meantime, take a moment to admire the unique backdrop decor that accompanied the opening reception's hors d'ouerves tables. The ever-creative Shawna Mull, proprietor of Ambassador Signs (who was also the one responsible for the brilliant rehab of our hotel's rooftop sign), created these spectacular cigar box guitars and they made for a perfect compliment to the tasty fare.

One wonders just what Shawna may have in store next....

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Spent and Inspired

Pretty much spent mentally and even emotionally after this conference and all in a good way. It was gratifying and motivational and such a proud moment for all of us at the Elms. I will write much more on my upcoming day off, but I would do it no justice today.  I am finally home and barely keeping my eyes open.  Here's a peek at a little amenity created by the Woodcliff's amazingly talented Chef Rodney who was kind enough to grace us with some of his creations this week.  These chocolate-dipped strawberries along with the split of Champagne and flute with added Chambord lemon drop (courtesy of our F&B Director Extraordinaire Terri) were just a small and typically classy taste of what we sampled these past few days...stay tuned until after The Big Sleep.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Perfect Finale

The final day/night of the conference was a beautiful thing of knowledge-sharing, motivational speaking. mouth-watering food and emotional tributes.  The awards dinner was a terrific experience on multiple levels.  I have far more details to come, but for tonight... Cheers to the entire staff of the Elms Hotel and Spa for demonstrating once again what going above and beyond truly means.....

Monday, February 24, 2014

The View From Here

It's been a long, intense, rewarding, inspirational, brilliant. exhausting and completely fun experience during my first full conference day.  Too full on every level to adequately describe at this point, but here's a pic from our night at the amazing Boulevard Brewery.  This is a snifter of Rare Vos deliciousness with the KC skyline behind it while hanging out in the crisp air on the Boulevard patio.  Much more to come...

Sunday, February 23, 2014

First Night Jitters

It has begun. The conference, that is; that annual gathering of my corporate cohorts that celebrates our company and all of us that are involved with it.  Last year, I blogged about my excellent experience in New York, so this year, the pressure's on as we are the host hotel.  All is kicking off well as evidenced by our first night amenities of fresh fruit, Voss water, and fabulous pastries.  The beverages were very well chosen indeed and my choices were healthy Zico coconut water and Republic of Tea pomegranate green tea and Boulevard's own KC Pilsner. Then of course, there's this bottle of Old Speckled Hen that came courtesy of a won football bet friends of mine made. Hmmm, what should it be?

 I'll have more details later, but we're in the thick of it now...

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Greek Night For The Posse

Preparing for my upcoming conference has me at a brain-fried loss for the usual adoring food descriptiveness, but it was another delicious Posse dinner tonight.  Jim Schutte hosted us over to see Carolyn and graciously made one of his mouth-watering meals.  Greek was the theme of the evening and we enjoyed scrumptious spanikopita (spinach pie), tiropita (cheese pie), Greek salad, gyros with tzatziki sauce (that would be Bunchie and my Bald Spot helping prepare the pita), spicy feta dip and sweet baklava for dessert.  Bunchie also made a bright and tasty blueberry cobbler.

As always, the company is the key to these always cherished evenings.  Posse dinners are just the best...

Friday, February 21, 2014


My evening was so very trivial and glad I was for that.  My brain was properly toasty by day's end and in certainly no fit shape to take on the night's trivia challenge to benefit the Rotary Club and Parks and Recreation Foundation for Excelsior Springs.  Thank goodness for smart teammates; especially the always brilliant Jim Schutte who was big-time aces on the match.  Keith was one of the hosts as the Rotary prez and anyone who might have thought I had an edge would have clearly realized I had no leg up at all when our team scored a whopping 3 out of 10 points on the FOOD category.  Seriously, thanks to Jim, we ended up in second place, because I was no help at all.

Oh well, I enjoyed the spicy homemade chili, the cold, malty Crown Valley Big Bison Ales from the good folks at the Merc and the always delightful Posse company.  I was also a big fan of the fabulous last place team from Lewis Elementary.  They were great sports and looked like they had a great time.  Cheers also to the grand prize winners who donated their winnings back to the Parks and Rec Foundation and the Rotary Club.

Kudos to all you good-hearted trivial folk!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Spicy Highlights: Buffalo Flatbread and Sriracha Peas

It was a long day of meetings and more meetings but there were a few spicy highlights during the day.  The first one is a new menu item at our beloved Excelsior Springs eatery Willow Springs Mercantile.   Proprietors Daphne and Jim recently added flatbread pizza appetizers to their menu and what my coworkers and I have sampled thus far are all stellar.  We have thoroughly enjoyed the Margherita with fresh pesto, parmesan, mozzarella, red onion and spinach and the bacon, pear and gorgonzola with chipotle apricot base and red onion.  I likes me some spicy though and so my faves thus far are the Thai flatbread with chicken, peanut sauce, Thai dressing, feta, almonds, carrots, spinach and red onion and the Buffalo flatbread with spicy buffalo sauce, homemade pimento cheese, red onion and bacon.  These flatbreads are an awesome addition to an already cherished menu.  So go on and check out the great new flatbread pizzas at the Merc!

I stumbled on another spicy treasure that my coworkers turned me on to: Sriracha Peas by Hapi.  These are a seriously addictive spicy snack and are one my newest additions.  I didn't think anything could beat Hapi's wasabi peas but these bad boys are a serious contender.

Nothing can cut through a gloomy gray day and color my world like some spicy goodness.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Going For The Bacon

My mind's a bit disoriented after a long day of orientation today.  It's difficult to find something appetizing in the midst of a day discussing policies, procedures and bloodborne pathogens, but find them I did.  Our lunch  featured a delicious tortellini pasta salad and dijon potato salad.  Still, the old brain was ready for a pick-me-up and a chuckle and surprisingly, i found it in Sochi.

After USA slopestyle skier Sage Kotsenburg won the gold, he tweeted his gratitude but hilariously added that he wished the medals were made of bacon.  In steps Godshall's Quality Meats from Telford, Penn. with just that: a perfect replica of Kotsenburg's medal made from turkey bacon.  In fact, Godshall's relishes making meats for athletes stating that the turkey bacon is a high-protein, low-fat alternative to pork bacon and is allergen, gluten and MSG-free.

Everything really IS better with bacon.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Happy National Drink Wine Day!

So Keith has been after me to start investigating food holidays as a way to deal with the occasional writer's block, lack of inspiration or even as a spark to help get me batch writing. First off, I had heard of various national "bacon" days or whatever, but I didn't realize they were called holidays.  Secondly, I had no idea there were so many of these holidays.  Finally, I researched all of this on a marvelous website called Foodimentary.  I have followed Foodimentary for some time on Twitter but hadn't delved into their site before.  Foodimentary is a wealth of information on everything edible and in addition to a full calendar of food holidays, they have a plethora of food-related quotes as well.

Today, as a matter of fact, just happened to be National Drink Wine Day. What fortuitous timing!  So with a glass poured of one of my recent favorites; a South African Cape Root Cabernet Sauvignon, I raise my glass to Foodimentary....and National Drink Wine Day!


"Wine is bottled poetry." - Robert Louis Stevenson

Monday, February 17, 2014

Serving Up Some Spicy Little Britain

The next ten days to two weeks are going to be a maddening marathon, so many of my posts will be food-related shrapnel I dig and want to share.  This little English nugget comes courtesy of the ribald hilarity that is Little Britain.  One of the biggest fears I have about aging is that the day will come when I can't handle my beloved spicy fare anymore.  In this Little Britain scene, the always-brilliant Matt Lucas shows why spicy food can do strange things to the system indeed.  If this is what will start happening to me while eating spicy food, well......the possibilities are endless.  Enjoy.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Passing A Good Time With Art's Jambalaya

To be sure, I've always loved Cajun/Creole cuisine, and it's been prominent in my mind since our last New Orleans trip.  Our recent visits to killer local Cajun joints (see last post) and our last NOLA-themed Posse dinner certainly whetted my appetite for more Cajun goodness.  I had long been wanting to try my hand at jambalaya and while there were countless sources from where I had could find a good recipe; I had heard about one in particular for a long time now: Art's Jambalaya.

Art was a co-worker of my bestie Kristy back in West Virginia. I had met him on a couple of occasions, but didn't know him as Kristy does and she has always adored him. Art hails from Louisiana and though he loves to travel, his heart belongs to New Orleans.  He has a powerful love for Jazz Fest in NOLA and considers it an annual "religious pilgrimage".  Art is a connoisseur of fine food, great music and new experiences.  When Art worked at the West Virginia location, he would get bored and cook enough for a small army. Apparently, his jambalaya was so beloved it gained a huge following and was requested for multiple events and gatherings.  Well, it seems, if I'm going to choose a jambalaya recipe, why not choose one from someone with NOLA in his heart and a recipe that's proven to satisfy?

At the same time, I was more than a little intimidated making a recipe so beloved.  I did have a leg up, though, thanks to our NOLA friend Tiffany who had gifted us with some andouille sausage straight from the Crescent City as well as Tony Chachere's creole seasoning.   So, off K and I went yesterday, browning the meats and chopping and chopping some more.  We followed Art's recipe nearly to the letter with the exception of two things: in order to cut expenses, we left out the shrimp and we added a hit of creole seasoning to the onions and peppers while they were sauteing.  And for the love of God, we did NOT touch the lid while it all was simmering.  One of the most gratifying aspects of cooking this dish was the outright lusty aromas it produces.  I love that the incredible aromas from cooking this dish last from the early stages to well after the dish is finished.

The result was seriously, deliciously phenomenal.  It is a rare moment when I say that something we made is the best I've ever had, but this was certainly the case.  The spice levels, the layers of flavor, the textures, well, its no wonder this dish inspires so much passion.  I had also been told that the jambalaya was even better the next day which was hard to believe after the first taste, but indeed, the flavor was that much more amazing today and Keith whipped up a buttermilk cornbread to accompany it.  Truly, it was an honor to make the jambalaya and for it to turn out so well.  So thank you, Art, for sharing.

We'll close this post with a quote from Kristy speaking of her friend Art: "Art likes to use the NOLA phrase ' pass a good time' (as he's seen here, pouring the wine and about to do just that).  And when one hangs out with Art, one always passes a good time!"

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Blue Crab Beignets, Drag Queen Jambalaya and The Green Fairy

 It's no secret that I relished my last trip to New Orleans.  It's a city that truly got under my skin when we visited.  I reveled in the rich history, culture and music and indeed it doesn't hurt that I'm stone cold crazy about the native Creole/Cajun cuisine.  Back in KC, there was purportedly a bastion of fine Cajun food and the same good folks had two very different but equally excellent locations to try.  So, with Mardi Gras approaching, it seems a good time to recount those visits.

The first locale is in City Market and is called Beignet.  I had heard from several friends about this little storefront cafe and accompanied several coworkers the morning after a work retreat.  Beignet specializes in the New Orleans French-style donuts made famous at Cafe Du Monde in NOLA and Beignet does them sweet or savory.  We went for the sweet this time around and sampled both the chocolate truffle and the brie and apple.

 The brie and apple was a tasty blend of tart Granny Smith apples and melty brie and the truffle one was appropriately decadent.  I paired mine with some excellent chicory coffee while Keith went with Louisiana-style sweet tea.  Next time, I want to sample the savory ones like the Bourgeois Pig with caramelized onions, cheddar and applewood and hickory bacon.  Beignet also features crepes, both sweet such as the lemon-berry and savory cornbread such as their signature crepe; the Muffaletta with Mortadella ham, Genoa salami, provolone, mozzarella and olive salad.  Actually, I would just like to come back and try every item on the menu.  Preferably, in the Spring and Summer, when the River Market is rockin'.

The second locale is called Nica's Lagniappe and its located on Southwest Boulevard.  I visited on a dinner out with our friends Ronnie and Jeff.  The interior is dark and funky and feels like it could be found on some less-touristy corner of Bourbon Street.  Surreal artwork peers from every available corner but doesn't feel like overkill, instead it makes me want to just examine every nook and cranny in the building.  We had a reservation but arrived early and sat at the bar and ordered a drink and appetizer. The amiable barkeep led us with great suggestions on what to try.

 Ronnie enjoyed his traditional Hurricane, made with myriad rums.  Keith went for the Whisky Flight (Athol Brose, cinnamon-infused Sinfire, Sweet Lucy Cream with Wisconsin dairy cream - we dug the Sinfire).

  I was swept up in the way-cool absinthe fountain and the fact that they did the whole presentation of the drip over the sugar cube, that I decided it was time....time to dance with the green fairy.

 Absinthe is an anise-flavored spirit that has had quite the storied past. It was popular in the late 19th and early 20th-century France among Parisian writers and artists and became a staple of bohemian culture.  Absinthe gained a sordid reputation for being hallucinogenic but it has never been proven to have any stronger psychotropic effects than "normal" spirits.  So dance with the green fairy I did, and outside of an odd tingle, there was no hallucinations, nor did I suddenly channel Oscar Wilde and become instantly witty and urbane..alas.

 Nica's also features a creative cocktail list including a version of Hemingway's Death in the Afternoon drink consisting of absinthe and Champagne. Our appetizer at the bar was our opportunity to sample one of the savory beignets their sister restaurant specializes in...a creamy, flaky and fabulous blue crab beignet with blue crab, herbed goat cheese and hickory bacon.

We moved to the dining room for dinner and all of us completely enjoyed our meals.  Keith indulged in their dangerous macaroni and cheese...a signature dish with six cheeses and cornmeal-parmesan bread crumbs.   Ronnie got their Dr. John jambalaya with chicken, andouille, shrimp and candied jalapeno.

  There is also an amusingly-named Drag Queen Jambalaya that would please the vegetarians among us, consisting of spicy tofu, seitan and holy trinity candied jalapeno.  Jeff had the Ormand Polenta: seared polenta with crawfish tails, lump crab. lemon and butter.  I had a small plate for dinner and this was more for the meat-lover..the Houmas House plate with grilled andouille, tasso ham, alligator sausage, with candied jalapeno cornbread, habanero pickles and creole mustard.  Our photos of the meals do not do these delectable creations justice (we were struggling with the lighting), so take it from me, they were all marvelous.  Nica's also features a beautiful "Red Room" for special and private events (photo from their website) and a "shotgun-style" patio for warmer weather days.

Beignet and Nica's Lagnaippe are both owned by proprietor/Executive Chef Bryan Merker and his wife Monica and they have brought a truly New Orleans-flavored experience to Kansas City.  I can't wait to go back to both places!

Friday, February 14, 2014

THIS Is The Marriage I'm Protesting

It's abominable.  It's against everything I believe in.  It's offensive, for heaven's sake.  I will not let this happen and will do everything in my power to stop it.  It is outright sacrilege.  I mean, honestly....


The very idea.  See, I came across this article by a food nerd site I follow called Food Republic.  I saw only the headline and the photo and well, that was enough, right?  I was repulsed at the audacity that someone would join these two.  So, I skipped past the link and pretended I hadn't seen it.

Well now, it's nagging me.  What was I so offended by?  I do love sushi.  Lord knows I love me some bacon.  But it's wrong.....right?  Maybe if I decided to learn a bit about bacon sushi before I outright dismiss it....well, there's a thought.  A sushi chef creates a stunning sushi roll and its quite often a thing of beauty...

 ...and bacon, well, that's just for getting fried up at the local diner with a side of hash browns, right?

Sushi is an artful Japanese cuisine steeped in history; dating back to the 8th century.  Bacon, while simply thought of as a (supremely tasty) breakfast staple, certainly has a deep history of its own though, and a more global history than one might think: it dates back to 1500 BC and the Ancient Romans ate a form of bacon they called petaso, which was boiled with figs, then browned and seasoned with pepper sauce (ancient Sriracha?).  Then, I thought, I'll actually read the article in Food Republic. Not only did the resulting bacon sushi sound delicious, but the article by Jess Kapadia was hilarious, especially when he referred to the bacon sushi as a "loud bastard".   I decided maybe I should shelve my preconceived prejudice and give bacon sushi a go.

So, I'm going to try making bacon sushi.  After I try it, I may find I still don't like it.  I may still not even approve of bacon sushi.  And that's ok, because it's a free country and I can say I don't like bacon sushi to my little heart's content.  That doesn't mean, however, that I need to stop anyone else from making or loving bacon sushi.  Even if ancient tradition and text tells me bacon sushi is wrong, it's not my place to stop other consenting adults to choose to love bacon sushi, because their love of bacon sushi is not going to hurt me or anyone else in the least.  Certainly, as so many folks are talking about the government being too intrusive in our lives, the government should also have no say in whether I, or anyone else loves bacon sushi.  That includes the states of Kansas and Idaho.

So I'll give bacon sushi a whirl.  We'll see how I feel about it.  Regardless of the outcome, though, I won't be telling anyone else they aren't allowed to like it.  Certainly, I wouldn't support it being against the law either.

* Author's note: What's that?  You're thinking this article might be a metaphorical reference to gay marriage rights?  Oh no...I'm ALL for that.  Hell, I've been married to my partner for over two years now, after all....that's two years out of a nearly 15-year relationship, that is, and in all that time nobody got hurt.  Yeah, it's a new world, cats and dogs living together and all's a time for embracing change.  I mean, who would have ever thought that a Dallas sportscaster would become one of my heroes...

Peace, my peeps.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Think Local For Your Valentine

It's inevitable. I've seen it every year. They get that creeping feeling in their spine. They feel the panic starting to choke them.  It's Valentine's Day... and they almost forgot.  Well, it's only Valentine's Eve tonight and there is plenty of time to choose a boffo gift for your best mate.  So, while your trying to figure that last-minute gift, do yourself a solid and think local.

Why think local?  Well, there's my standard response of  "because its a bang-up way of supporting your community and promoting local jobs."  Local service will likely be more personal, more attentive, more tailored to your needs and will remember your name when you return.  Local goods are also quite likely to be made with greater, personalized care.  Take these chocolates, for instance.  Keith brought me home a box of these beautiful chocolates from the Candy Factory where their confectioners have been-hand-crafting chocolates for over 40 years.  I've just sampled a lemon one and it was fairly sublime, I must say.

So tonight and tomorrow, hit up your local businesses.  Hometown St. Marys, West Virginia peeps, go see my beloved Greenhouse Gang for always creative florals, unique gift ideas and stellar service.  Excelsior Springs folks, visit local chocolatiers Sugar Rush and Oooey Gooey Chocolates by Lane for some sweet chocolatey love to take home.  Kansas City has a vast plethora of local goodness to dish out for VD.  And speaking of dish, if there are reservations to be found, then take tour sweetie to an independent eatery for some grub made with true heart.

So go on then, spread the local love on Valentine's Day.