John’s Space Age Donuts

2013-08-16 01While visiting family in suburban Johnson County, Kansas, I decided to put my jet lag caused early awakening to good use and go buy some donuts. A few minutes of internet research later, I settled on John’s Space Age Donuts. Located in downtown Overland Park, John’s looks exactly as you would expect for a shop that’s been in business since 1967.

2013-08-16 02The dining room has a U-shaped counter with seating on the two legs and display cases across the front. With a large door between the kitchen and dining areas, the place reeks (in a good way) of oil and deep-fried dough. Service is brisk but friendly and the selection is broad, although they didn’t have the blueberry donuts that niece number two requested, so we settled for raspberry.

2013-08-16 03The donuts were still a warm and very surprisingly tasty. They are dense donuts, but neither soggy with oil nor undercooked and doughy. The apple fritter, pictured above, is a masterpiece with a crispy exterior, moist interior, and plenty of apples.

2013-08-16 04The cake donuts are nice, too, and the dough itself was flavorful. Even unglazed, these donuts would be a pleasure to eat. Unlike some donuts (think Krispy Kreme) that seem to expire within a few hours of baking, these were still fresh when we finished the remaining ones the next day. Must be some of that space age technology!

While I am not the biggest donut fan in the world, it is a sure bet that I will be back to John’s Space Age Donuts next time I am in Kansas City.

Lemonade Stand

Made it into Kansas City Saturday afternoon, greeted at the airport car rental return by two excited nieces.  By late afternoon the girls decided they needed to set up a lemonade stand.  Tray tables were set up by the curb, a pitcher of lemonade and a stack of cups placed on them.  Two handwritten signs advertised the goods and a portable stereo provided the tunes.

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Just opened for business with two enthusiastic entrepreneurs.

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Eventually, boredom sets in.  Few cars passing by and those that do, smile and wave but don’t stop to buy lemonade.  A neighbor walks by with her dogs, stops to chat for a while and donates fifty cents to the cause.

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Eventually, dad is pressed into service.  Another two neighbors come over and buy two cups of lemonade, paying a dollar and leaving their change as a tip.

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Eventually, Jasper is left to work the stand, looking forlornly for customers.  The day’s take: $1.50

 

Christmas Day

Recapping my continued adventures here in Kansas City over the Christmas holiday:

At 6:50 Christmas morning the lights snapped on and two little girls bounced onto our bed.  “It’s Christmas! It’s Christmas!  Santa came!”

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So we threw on some clothes and headed upstairs.  Sure enough, Santa had paid us a visit overnight!  The snacks and eggnog that had been left by the fireplace had disappeared.  All that was left were a few crumbs.  Santa must have been hungry.

First things first, we checked our stockings, which had been hung by the fireplace with care.

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There were all sorts of little goodies inside.  Thankfully, no one received any lumps of coal, so we must have all been good this year.

Then I prepared breakfast: homemade biscuits with sausage and gravy.  Very nice start to a holiday, if you ask me.

After breakfast we went to the family room to unwrap the gifts that Santa had brought.  Amazingly enough, Santa had heard that Tawn was celebrating the holiday in Kansas City and had brought his present here: a picnic basket and set, complete with plates, glasses, corkscrew, cutting board, knife, etc.

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Above: Emily and Ava don’t even look as Tawn shows off his new picnic basket.

In the afternoon we headed to my grandparents’ house for dinner.  It was a tasty dinner but what I really want to share is this picture from the candied yams.  My grandmother ran out of small marshmallows halfway through completing the dish, so she had to switch to large marshmallows.  I thought it was kind of funny.

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Later, she served us a special dessert that she hasn’t made for years: homemade cannoli.  This Sicilian dessert is a pastry shell filled with a mixture of sweetened ricotta cheese and chocolate shavings and candied citrus peel.  Very rich.  She’s quite a cook and this was a really nice treat.  Below, my grandmother and a close-up of the cannoli.

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My grandmother is very talented.  Below is a picture of my niece Emily’s Christmas gift from her: a dress that my grandmother made.  On the piano in the background are two dolls that my grandmother made, too.  Not only did she make the dolls, she made the costumes for them.  She’s made dozens of these dolls over the years.

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Very talented lineage I come from, eh?

In the evening after we returned home (I have a hard time getting used to this midwestern schedule, eating dinner at 5:30!) we were nowhere near ready to go to bed, so Tawn and I went to watch the new John Patrick Shanley film, “Doubt”.

A brilliant screenplay and no doubt an amazing stage production.  However, I don’t think that it translated so well to the big screen.  The film felt very claustrophobic and I was so relieved in the one scene where Meryl Streep’s character and another character go for a walk outdoors.

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The acting was superb, especially Philip Seymour Hoffman as Father Flynn and Viola Davis as the mother of the first black student at the school.  Meryl Streep did a good job as Sister Aloysious, who suspects Father Flynn of abusing the boy.  But she is such a strong actor that I couldn’t really ever get past seeing her and thinking, “That’s Meryl Streep acting like a really uptight nun.”

Still worth watching but maybe only a three out of four stars.

All in all, a relaxing Christmas.

 

Cobblers

Within my first few days back in the United States, it occurred to me that I should be making a list.  What are the differences I particularly notice between life in the US and Thailand?  Of course, I wouldn’t include the obvious things like there being no elephants plodding down streets in the US.

The occurrence didn’t translate into action, so I’ll just have to share observations as I think of them.  A few differences that do spring to mind:

Car alarms – I just don’t hear these in Thailand at all, although I know cars have alarms.  In the US, both in San Francisco then again in Kansas City, blaring car alarms were a frequent auditory intrusion.

Fresh cooking – Far from an exhaustive and scientifically valid analysis, my perception is that the percentage of restaurants that cook food from scratch, using fresh food, is much higher in Thailand than in the US.  Chains, chains, chains is what I see a lot of here, followed by many restaurants that still rely on a lot of canned and frozen goods.  Sure, the fine dining restaurants are a likely exception, but that’s not what most people eat most of the time.

Those are just two observations.  If I remember more, I’ll share them.

P1080161 My sister and her family have a new puppy.  They lost their companion of seven years of so, Zoe, to cancer about two weeks ago.  It was a tough loss for them and I don’t think they were planning on finding another dog anytime soon.  But a trio of puppies literally appeared on their doorstep and after the owner was located, they decided to adopt one of them, another blonde labrador.

He arrived two days before me and I was honored to participate in the name selection process.  It looks like “Jasper” in the one that will stick.

Jasper was still adjusting to life with a new family and seems to have an inverted biological rhythm: he is up at night and sleeps a lot during the day.  Maybe this is just an adjustment phase and he isn’t used to sleeping alone at night?

Anyhow, he is cute and a lot calmer than Zoe was.  Definitely not an Alpha Male.  Jenn and Kevin are reading a small book about training their dog as Zoe didn’t have the same opinion of her position in the family as they did.

Ava was best friends with Zoe whereas Emily was a little cool towards him.  Jasper, however, receives the full affections – some would say abuse – of both girls.  His kennel is an interesting addition to the sun room, too.  Several times we found Ava and Jasper playing together where Ava was inside the cage and Jasper was outside, looking confused by the arrangement.

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Saturday morning was buttermilk biscuits.  You’ve seen these on the blog before, homemade, flaky, just begging to be slathered in butter and preserves of – better yet – sausage gravy.  So that’s just what we did: whipped up a batch of country sausage gravy.

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With that satisfying start to the day sticking to our ribs, we set off for the Overland Park Farmer’s Market.  When you think about the number of farms in Kansas and Missouri, it is amazing that farmer’s markets aren’t more prevalent.  For those of you outside the United States, these are just like your regular fresh markets almost anywhere else except that the actual farmers (or their families and friends) do the selling direct to the public.  The other difference is that this way of conducting business is seen as a novelty rather than the standard way of buying your produce.

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My objectives were clear.  The things I missed from the Midwestern US that you can only buy in Thailand at a dear price were stone fruits (peaches, nectarines, plums, cherries) and ripe beefsteak tomatoes.  Sweet corn is on that list, too, although we get pretty good corn in Thailand throughout the year.

Knowing that the extended family would be over Sunday for lunch and I was responsible for dessert, I loaded up on peaches and blackberries.  Blackberries the size of my thumb!  Yum!

Pictures in a moment.

Saturday night I met up with Trish for an interesting night at KC Pride – the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered Democratic Party organization for Kansas City, Missouri.  I know what you are thinking: Is there such a thing?

Indeed there is and while a pretty small group, it is tight knit and active on the political scene, ensuring that Democratic candidates understand the issues relevant to the community and act on them.

The evening’s event was a series of auctions, both silent and live.  Wine, cheese and snacky food was served.  Trish tells me that turnout was much better last year – there were only about fifty people there this year and ten of those were elected officials or those running.  In fact, the number of “straight allies” seemed to outnumber the members of the GLBT community.

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One highlight of the evening was the game of “heads or tails”.  The prize was a fabulous package included a hotel stay and a nice dinner.  You bought a strand of beads for $10 and then when the time came, all participants stand up and place their hands either on their head or their “tail”. 

A coin is tossed.  Those with their hands in the same place as the coin, continue to the next round.  Eventually, it came down to a pair of people.  Unfortunately, Trish was knocked out in two rounds.  But you have a fifty-fifty chance each step of the way, right?

P1080296 Afterwards, we stopped by the Coffee Cup on the Plaza for a shared dessert.  Blackberry cobbler, pictured right.  Just a preview of what I would bake the next morning.  The restaurant was shutting down but we lingered, catching up on what was going on in each other’s lives.  As I finished my glass of port, the bartender came over and gave me my second glass of free wine on this trip: a double, in fact, of an even nicer port wine.

He said something, but I didn’t quite understand why I was the recipient of this generosity.  No matter, though.  As my mother always said: never look a gift glass of port in the mouth.  Or something like that.

 

Sunday

While everyone was off at Church Sunday morning, I started my baking.  First the blackberry cobbler, then the peach.  Interestingly, the topping for the peach cobbler (right) was more moist than the one for the blackberry cobbler, making for a different result when I baked it.  Both tasty, I might add.

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Later in the morning, Tawn called and gave me an update on his trip to Italy.  It sounds like things are going well and he is having fun with his parents, although with the occasional frustration that comes when you spend a lot of time with the same people all day and night long.  This happens on most trips, I think.

Below, Ava talks to Tawn on the phone.  How much of it he understood, I don’t know, but they chatted on for several minutes.

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You might have noticed that there are more pictures of Ava than of Emily.  By the fourth day of my visit, after she would only make silly faces when I took snaps, Emily announced that I take too many pictures.

I found myself channeling my parents when out of my mouth came my reply, “When you are my age, you’ll appreciate having all these pictures.”  Yikes!  “When you are my age… !?”  Where did that come from?

Sunday afternoon my grandparents, aunt and uncle, another uncle, and two cousins came over for an indoors “picnic” as temperatures were very hot outside.  Jenn bought sandwich makings and my grandmother made deviled eggs.  Not the fanciest food, but quintessentially American cuisine.

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Below, my grandfather reads to Ava.

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One of my cousins, Kari, actually flew in to KC for the weekend from her home in Nashville.  It was nice that she did that, as I don’t have enough opportunities to see my cousins.

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We posed for some pictures in the back yard.  Above: me, Kelly, Kari and Jenn.

Finally, it was time to serve dessert.  Topped with a little freshly whipped cream, we had the peach cobbler (the more popular of the two):

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And my personal favorite, the blackberry cobbler:

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Blackberry cobbler with a biscuit dough topping is just one of those great foods.  Very satisfying, it captures the essence of summer.  The berries were so ripe and sweet that I had to add only a little bit of sugar, maybe 1/4 cup for the entire cobbler.  It was fantastic.