CommentaryWTEIKC | 15 Feb 2014 12:50 pm

For years I was happy buying coffee from The Roasterie and feeling all happy’n'shit about supporting a local business. But about a year ago a friend of mine in Bend, OR sent me a pound of espresso beans from Strictly Organic Coffee Co., and I haven’t looked back since. Strictly Organic has two varieties of espresso beans, the darker of which I use today, but both of which produce espresso with far more character than anything I have ever had in KC. There are hints of chocolate and just a tiny bit of fruit in the Strictly Organic espresso, leaving all the Roasterie varieties I’ve tried tasting flat and lifeless. And the crema…. God help us, the crema, it won’t quit. It’s like the head on a pint of Guinness.

And now I’ve gotten another pal in Montreal sold on the stuff, and some of the espresso I’ve had there is nonpareil.

So I’d say, game on, Roasterie. If you want to win me back, you’ll have to try harder.

Commentary&HumorWTEIKC | 30 Nov 2013 04:07 pm

Having decided to take the year off from cooking the full Thanksgiving spread for a bunch of people – or doing much of anything, really – I humbly accepted a friend’s invite to be part of her own Fête de l’Action de Grâces. How cool was that, I could just relax and let someone else do the work for once.

Except I couldn’t.

One, as a good Midwesterner, I am conditioned to help out when there is work to be done. No two ways about it. Two, cooking is fun, and it kills me not to be a part of making any home-cooked meal I’m going to eat. So my antsiness peaked by the Tuesday before and I begged my friend to let me help with the prep work on Wednesday. It seemed a fair arrangement – potato peeling services for a glass of really good Scotch. The bonus, I got to sample the Boursin mashed potatoes and savory garlic sweet potatoes a day in advance.

I assumed that would satisfy what little cooking desire I thought I had this year, but nope. After the Big Meal, during which my turkey consumption was actually quite low to make room for all the other sides and to account for the pre-dinner snacking, I still felt a bit unfulfilled.

So the next day I broke my Black Friday vow to stay home and scored a small organic turkey I may well just roast in secret this weekend. First World problem, I know, but I am almost embarrassed by last week’s bragging about Taking The Year Off from cooking this Thanksgiving.

No, this is not about cooking an entire bird for myself and binge-eating it with all the grace of a zombie. It’s about truly enjoying the cooking process. There is something about that state of being on High Alert to monitor the temperature of the dead bird in the oven that makes me happy. It’s an adrenaline rush, to be sure. And then, the prospect of leftovers! Turkey sandwich with cheese and tomato on whole grain bread! [insert drooly noises here] And, finally, the satisfaction that comes from Getting My Money’s Worth by making stock from the carcass. (Aren’t I clever.)

Brine-O-MaticYes, I discovered this year – and will have to come to grips with – the fact that, for me, cooking Thanksgiving dinner is largely an act of pure self indulgence, no matter what veil of familial charity I try to throw on it. Sure, others may get to enjoy eating the food, but I get the all-day high of playing around in the kitchen, using all my cool kitchen toys and strategizing every dish’s completion by 7:00pm like a war general. God, what a rush. And clearly I’d do it were anyone else here or not. Maybe I should join a support group and write a book or something. (A cookbook – hey-oh!)

On the other hand, for this clandestine affair it will be easier to substitute some less traditional sides for the usual supporting cast. I’m thinking:

  • Torchon de foie gras with crostini
  • Spinach and arugula salad with pomegranate seeds, shaved Parmesan, and a light vinaigrette
  • Purple potatoes fried in duck fat
  • Chocolate espresso pot de crème for dessert

This year I am thankful for unorthodoxy.

(And Bacon, but that goes without saying.)

CommentaryWTEIKC | 28 Apr 2012 06:26 pm

Kansas City just had its last chance to hear Walt Bodine, its most recognized broadcast personality live on the air. Walt has been a presence in the local broadcast market for over seventy years, and in that time he made his way around the radio and TV circuit as advertiser, reporter, talk show host, and restaurant reviewer.

Walt BodineHe was like us, even to the point of being the very embodiment of a stereotypical Kansas Citian. At the height of his career, he was the scratchy-throated curmudgeon we loved to see reviewing a restaurant on TV; his reactions to anything non-Midwestern ran something like, “You know, this [non-American cuisine] is interesting, but I’m going to go down the street now and get a steak.” When he interviewed national celebrities, his questions seemed to be less geared toward the weighty matters of their careers – things that were probably well known anyway – than they did about things only someone who (literally) could not see past his own city would ask. Who else could have gotten Jim Lehrer to speak at length about his early years as a Kansas boy, his vintage bus restoration project, and to reenact the announcement of arrivals and departures at a ’60s era Greyhound station?

Would that Walt’s career, such as it was as a quirky, folksy reporter, could have ended more gracefully. Given Walt’s advanced age and poor health, he was barely able to participate in his last show, and this fact alone made for a cringe-worthy affair. The guest co-hosts did their best to engage Walt in conversation, but Walt sounded like he was only marginally aware of his environs, and he could barely form yes or no answers to their questions between loud, gurgly coughs. Adding insult to injury, the show took place during KCUR’s spring pledge drive. So between the impromptu remembrances, a couple of random sound clips, and Walt’s few attempts to say something coherent, they were asking for money. Real classy. And obviously, none of this would have been Walt’s idea were he still capable of deciding for himself how to make a clean exit into retirement.

But that is the problem; last Friday’s goodbye played out as it did because it came many years too late. Walt has not truly hosted a radio show in over a decade, and even as a guest he would have had little to contribute to one for almost as long. (Again, not his fault.) Yet they kept wheeling him into the studio and mic’ing him up every weekday at 10am (although not as often toward the end). While the real moderating was handled by someone else, Walt was left pretty much to his own to say whatever he wanted, whether it had anything to do with the show topic or otherwise. That could not have been an enjoyable experience for any prospective listener, and certainly not for those in the studio.

Of course, it is not as though no one at KCUR recognized many years ago it was time for Walt to call it quits while he was still able to sign off for good on his own and with some dignity. But instead of granting him that chance, the show was abruptly canceled ca. 1996 with no explanation at all. Walt still had an active fan base at the time, and they appeared at least as insulted at the brushoff as he. After several days of protests outside the station and TV news reports that covered the whole thing and gave Walt a chance to voice his own reaction, his show was reinstated indefinitely. No doubt there was concern that any subsequent attempts to cancel the show would be even trickier in light of the fiasco. And while there may well have been more to the story of that first cancellation than was made public, from the outside it sure looked like Walt was really the one getting the raw deal, even after they brought him back. Given how he fared as a talk show host over the next 16 years, I think that is not far from the truth.

In any case, it’s done. I am certain Mr. Bodine will ultimately be remembered for his earlier work, especially by many of the current crop of local journalists who considered him a mentor. Walt was never a celebrity who would have caught the attention of the whole nation, and that was largely his appeal to those of us who ‘knew’ him as a member of our own community. Probably every mid-size city in the nation like ours has had someone like Walt at some point since the birth of mass media, i.e., a public figure whose life seemed to revolve solely around celebrating local culture and due to whose ubiquity everyone comes to feel they know well. Hopefully at 92 that is how he remembers things.

That’s what I have to say to that.

***Edit: This is definitely my favorite WB report, admittedly because it’s about my favorite spot on the planet

Greek/Mediterranean/Middle EastWTEIKC | 07 Apr 2011 12:21 pm

Marrakech Cafe – 4116 Broadway Street, Kansas City, MO 64111, (816) 753-7520

Morocco now enjoys representation among the array of ethnic fare available in Westport. Since opening not quite a year ago, this small storefront just south of the Broadway Cafe quickly became a regular lunch destination for many of my colleagues, and when I joined them one day it was easy to see why. The tiny staff of 2 or 3 are very friendly and seem excited to be sharing their own comfort food with midtown. And naturally, the food itself is delicious.

Couscous made on site figures prominently in main dishes, and due to its freshness it has far more character than just the tasteless filler I’ve come to think of it. The grains almost have a spring to them.

It’s easy to make a complete meal just out of the appetizers and sides. Chicken skewers, a salad and soup seem to be a popular combination. The cucumber and tomato salad might remind you of gazpacho with its cool favors and a light, tangy vinaigrette flecked with fresh herbs. You can go for the more familiar lentil soup, or try the harira, a traditional Moroccan favorite of lentil broth and chickpeas.

From the grill come kabobs of chicken, beef, or merguez, a lamb/beef sausage popular in North Africa. Those of you counting carbs might especially like the kabob plates minus the rice; the meat strips are served on a lettuce leaf alongside what appeared to be a melange of grilled cabbage, onion, and squash. (And if you don’t want your seasoned rice, I’ll have yours.) The sandwiches with many of the same ingredients and flavors in the dinner entrees are fairly large.

Dessert selection seems to vary, but items that were available on my visits included baklava and tiramisu, both very well executed.

Enjoy any of these selections with the house’s signature drink, an addictive green tea sweetened with honey.

From what I have heard, the owners, brothers Amine and Nouri Kamal worked in catering and other areas of food service before opening Marrakesh Cafe, and you can tell from the service and their passion for the food that opening this restaurant must of been a longtime dream of theirs. It’s the kind of place one really loves to see succeed, and here’s hoping it does.

CommentaryWTEIKC | 31 Mar 2011 05:55 pm

Upon learning of Google’s intent to make gigabit-speed internet connectivity widely available in Kansas City, KS, a friend of mine took the words right out of my mouth: “Think about how much faster gun stores will be able to talk to liquor stores, even if they are next door.” It is hard to imagine the Kansas City that time forgot being somehow transformed into The Towwwn Of Toooomorrowwww! because of this.

But both Google and city leaders are talking about the gift of gigabit speed like it’s the deus ex machina to end all of KCK’s social and economic woes:

What color is the sky in their world? Faster internet speeds are a welcome improvement anywhere, but what gets me are these fantastical claims about the extent to which it will improve quality of life.

KU Medical Center is an obvious winner here, because they have the technology to make use of a gigabit link right now. KCK itself, as it exists today, not so much. The resultant attraction of new business will undeniably be good for the city over time, but even a high speed data network is no cure for a depressed city’s problems with crime and sub-par schools. No, students will not perform better in school because the building has a fast internet link. Things that make test scores go up are improved conditions at home, better nutritional and exercise habits, etc.

Any improvement in quality of life most KCK residents might see, even as an indirect result of Google’s intervention, would not be realized for a decade at the very least, and that is an eternity in IT years. So it is hard to believe a company like Google is really in this experiment for the long term. In ten years’ time, Google – if it even exists under that name – could conceivably have a mission wholly different from where it claims to be headed today.

I do think Google will be around for a long time, but I also get the impression they are hoping for results that cannot be achieved within their attention span.

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