Sunday, July 29, 2012

Oklahoma Joe's BBQ Restaurant Opens New Location In Leawood, KS

BBQ Ribs and Pulled Pork
The New Oklahoma Joe's Restaurant Will Leave A Tasty Flavor In Your Mouth

When I heard that Oklahoma Joe's was opening a third BBQ restaurant in Leawood, KS, I was ecstatic.

I love Oklahoma Joe's, but the other two locations in Mission and Olathe aren't that close to me, so I don't go there very often.

This new one, however, is much closer to home, so unfortunately for my waistline, I will probably be visiting there a little more frequently.

Last Friday night, armed with hungry stomachs and large appetites, my family and I piled into the car and made our first trip to the Leawood Oklahoma Joe's to put the restaurant and our taste buds to the test. 

Since it was a busy weekend night, it was no surprise when we got there that the line was out the door, but that leads me to my first dislike about Oklahoma Joe's - their cafeteria-style setup  (the other is their baked beans - I don't think anyone can beat Jack Stack's baked beans.)

Ordering At Oklahoma Joe's
I am not a fan of restaurants where I have to stand in a line to order, carry my own tray of food and then finally find my own table.

Maybe I'm lazy, but I like places where I can make a reservation, go in and be seated right away, and have a waiter or waitress bring everything to me.

That being said, Oklahoma Joe's is worth the extra effort, and they handled the large crowd that evening quiet well.  The restaurant was adequately staffed, they moved the line along quickly and everyone seemed to work quite cohesively together - especially considering that they just opened.

I was also pleased that once we received our food, there was someone there to help us carry our trays and assist us in finding a table.  In fact, for as large as the dinner crowd was, I never saw anyone waiting for a table, and as soon as a table was vacated, it was promptly cleaned off and readied for the next group of hungry eaters.

The staff was also good about quickly clearing our dishes away when we were done eating (without us having to flag them down), and they happily supplied us with all the to-go boxes that we needed.   

The Z-Man Sandwich with Onion Rings
Now let's talk about the food.   It was hot.  It was fresh, and it was as delicious as always, tasting just like the mouth-watering BBQ at the other two locations.

As far as the side items, their fries and onion rings were wonderful, but I do wish they would expand the side item menu to include some more veggie and potato choices.

The restaurant itself was clean, the staff was courteous, and the entire Oklahoma Joe's experience left a good flavor in my mouth - meaning that I'll be going back for more!

If you would like to visit the new Oklahoma Joe's restaurant, which opened on July 5, it is located in the former T.G.I. Fridays at 11723 Roe in Leawood, KS.  Their phone number is 913.338.5151, and their hours are :

Monday-Thursday: 11:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m.
Friday & Saturday: 11:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m.

Oklahoma Joe's New Location In Leawood, KS

Oklahoma Joe's Barbecue on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Different Kind of Adult Entertainment In Kansas CIty

Paul Mesner with two of his puppets
Paul Mesner Puppets Offers Kansas City Adults A Funny and Different Kind of Entertainment

Since I work at a local library, I often get to meet the talented and interesting folks who do programs for our patrons.  

Last week, I met Paul Mesner of Paul Mesner Puppets when he did a hilarious and nontraditional rendition of Little Red Riding Hood at our branch.  Both kids and grown-ups laughed hysterically at the silly and clever play.  

In speaking with Paul Mesner before and after the program, I learned that he has been working with puppets professionally for 35 years, has traveled throughout Europe with his puppet programs, and the best thing of all -  I discovered that this man is not only talented, he is really, really funny.

I asked him, only half-jokingly, if he had ever considered stand-up comedy.  He chuckled and said no, but that besides doing puppets shows for kids, he does puppet shows for adults.

"What?" I asked, somewhat confused because I had never heard of him doing any programs for adults.

"In fact," he grinned, "We have an adult puppet slam coming up next month." 

"Tell me more."  I badgered him curiously for further details.

He followed up by saying that approximately every three to four months he has one of these events in his theater at 1006 E Linwood Blvd.   The next one was going to be on August 17 and 18 at 8:00 p.m., have 8-12 bits and feature 4-5 different performers.

"However," he warned, "It is definitely an adult show with adult themes.  It is naughty, hilarious, and everyone has a great time."

He hooked me.  I was intrigued and am always up for a new adventure - so in other words, I'm going to go to the puppet slam, and I plan on having an evening of complete fun and entertainment.

If you are looking for something different to do, wanting to have a fun experience, and could use a little adult humor in your life, this is your chance too.  Tickets are only $10 each and are available by calling the central ticket office at 816-235-6222.

For more information, you can also contact Paul Mesner Puppets at 816-756-3500, or visit his website at

You might also be interested in knowing that Paul Mesner Puppets has an entire season of puppet shows scheduled for all ages - which even includes The Nativity, a holiday show in December featuring seven-foot puppets who move through the aisles of Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral (13th & Broadway) to music and chorale accompaniment.

After meeting Paul Mesner last week, I am convinced that he is a vibrant and integral part of the creative core of Kansas City.  If you get a chance to experience one of his shows, my advice is - you should go.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

"They're Not Going To Get Me!" Gangster Crime in the 1930s

A Fascinating Exhibit in the National Archives at Kansas City Examines Gangster Crime in the 1930s

The "Crime In the 1930s" Exhibit Poster
 "They're not going to get me!" is a quote from the famous gangster John Dillinger.  It is also the name of an intriguing exhibit currently showing in one of the galleries at the Kansas City National Archives facility about the epidemic of Midwestern crime during 1933-1934.

The 1930s were a tough time for citizens in the Heartland.  The depression was in full force, the area was in one of the worst droughts it had ever seen, citizens didn't trust large institutions like banks, railroads and the government, plus a new type of criminal was making its violent presence known - the gangster.

Gangsters were different than mobsters.  Mobsters were more urban and concentrated on gambling, bootlegging, and prostitution to make their money.  Gangsters mainly traveled rural areas of the country and focused on robbery and kidnapping.

Some of the more well-known gangsters of that era were John Dillinger, George "Machine Gun" Kelly, "Pretty Boy" Floyd, Bonnie and Clyde, and the Barker-Karpis Gang.  

All of these notorious criminals, their major offenses and eventual undoings are explored in this fascinating National Archives exhibit along with the development of the FBI to combat the growing crime frenzy - beginning with the 1933 "Kansas City Massacre" at Union Station.  

On the morning of June 17, a green Plymouth crammed with men carrying submachine guns pulled up to Union Station and began shooting at the lawmen accompanying gangster Frank Nash by train back to Kansas City from Hot Springs, Arkansas.  From Kansas City, Nash was headed directly to Leavenworth Penitentiary.  

The gangsters were attempting to help Nash escape authorities, but by the time the bullets stopped flying, Nash and four lawmen lay dead.

The exhibit displays photos of the crime scene taken that day along with wanted posters, warrants, and prison ID cards for several of the men involved - including "Pretty Boy" Floyd.  It also discusses the manhunt and punishments for the lawless thugs involved in the bloody slaughter.

The massacre was so bold and brazen that it changed the FBI forever.  After the crime, agents began carrying weapons, using two-way radios and wearing bulletproof vests.

From the bloody Kansas City Massacre, the exhibit delves into the frightening kidnapping of rich oilman Charles Urschel on July 22, 1933 by gangsters "Machine Gun" Kelly and Albert Bates.  

Urschel was at home playing bridge with his wife and friends when the armed men burst into his house and drug him away.  He was driven to Texas where a $200,000 ransom was demanded.  

The Federal Kidnapping Act, also known as The Lindbergh Law, had been passed in 1932 and made kidnapping a federal offense punishable by death.  Urschel's wife contacted the FBI to help recover her husband.  The agency quickly formed a large manhunt and captured the savage criminals, along with Kelly's wife and others who were involved in the plot.  

The manhunt and the conviction of 21 gangsters involved in this outrageous abduction was so large and effective that federal agents were coined with a new name - G-Men (Government Men).

The exhibit has many of the Urschel kidnapping crime documents on display.  You can also watch a short film with actual footage of Kelly and examine the original handwritten Leavenworth Penitentiary "Daily Count Log" book showing that on Sunday, September 4, 1934, "Machine Gun" Kelly was transferred from Leavenworth, where he had been serving time for the kidnapping, to Alcatraz.

Next in the archive's captivating gangster exhibit, you are confronted with a large photo of Bonnie and Clyde and the details of their short and bloody history as bank robbers and murderers.  

One of their more famous and violent incidents was the "Platte City shootout."  In July of 1933, Bonnie and Clyde were staying at the Red Crown Tourist Court in Platte City, MO.  A photo of the motel from at time is on display.  

They were hiding out at the motel because Bonnie had been burned in a car accident approximately a month before and was recovering.  Clyde went to the local drug store to purchase medication for her injuries.  

The alert druggist became suspicious of Clyde's behavior and called the Missouri Highway Patrol.  Soon, their cabin at the Red Crown was surrounded by authorities.  The standoff ended when the fearless duo escaped in a massive gunfire battle with police.  

A pair of binoculars, which Clyde had stolen in Enid, OK, was among Bonnie and Clyde's personal belongings recovered from the Red Crown Tourist Court.  They are on display in the exhibit for intrigued visitors to examine.  

From the violent actions of Bonnie and Clyde, the archive exhibit moves on to spotlight the gangster activity of John Dillinger.  A notorious criminal who escaped jail three times and killed numerous innocent people with his brutal gang, Dillinger was once the FBI's "Public Enemy #1" and a nationwide celebrity at the same time.  

Original footage of Dillinger being returned to Lima, OH for the murder of a police officer plays on a monitor while you examine documents related to his lurid life of crime and violent death.

Dillinger's demise began on July 21, 1934, when Romanian immigrant Anna Cumpanas (aka Anna Sage), who was the madam of a Gary, Indiana brothel, called the FBI and informed them that she, Dillinger, and another woman would be going to the movies the next day.

As promised, the trio went to the Biograph Theater the next evening to see Clark Gable in Manhattan Melodrama.  When they left the building, Dillinger was killed in a shootout with authorities. 

One misconception that the archive's exhibit corrects is the legend that Anna was the "woman in red" that evening and that was how law officers recognized her and Dillinger.  Actually, she was not wearing red at all but a white blouse and orange skirt.

After the death of Dillinger, there was just one main group of gangsters left from the 1933-1934 gangster crime era that the FBI needed to capture, the Barker-Karpis gang.

The Barker-Karpis gang usually robbed banks, but after they successfully kidnapped and received a large ransom for Minnesota brewery chairman, William Hamm, they planned another kidnapping that would be their undoing.

On January 17, 1934, Arthur "Doc" Barker and fellow gang member Volney Davis forced themselves into the automobile of Edward Bremer, a rich St. Paul banker.  They hit him over the head and sped off with him to a safe house in Bensenville, near Chicago.  

Bremer was forced to write letters to his family to prove he was alive, and the gang held him for a week until they received a $200,000 ransom.  The Barker-Karpis gang was linked to the crime when the FBI traced serial numbers from ransom money bills directly to them.

Doc Barker was caught in Florida while other members of the violent gangster ring were involved with the FBI in a shootout on January 16, 1935.  Fred Barker and Kate "Ma" Barker were killed in the gun battle.  Alvin Karpis was captured later in 1936.

One of the original letters, which Bremer's captors forced him to write during the kidnapping, is displayed in the archive exhibit along with photos of the Bensenville house and living room in which Bremer was held, and many other interesting documents and photos related to the crime.

The "You're Not Going To Get Me" Crime In The 1930s exhibit in the National Archives at Kansas City wraps up with the focus on FBI men Melvin Purvis and J. Edgar Hoover.

Purvis, a famous FBI agent in the 1930s,  joined the agency in 1927 and was in charge of the Chicago office.  He oversaw the manhunts that ended the lives of  John Dillinger and "Baby Face" Nelson. 

It was rumored that Hoover did not like the public attention Purvis received for "taking down" these famous gangsters because it diverted attention away from him.  Purvis left the FBI in 1935.  He became a lawyer but committed suicide in 1960.

The last thing in the gangster exhibit is a video message from J. Edger Hoover which outlines what he thought were the three needs of law enforcement:

1.  Cooperation between agencies

2.  Elimination of politics in law enforcement

3.  A focus on efficiency

In the video, Hoover looks in the camera with his famous “FBI conviction" and says, "That means gangsters, you can't get away with it."  

National Archives at Kansas City
If you decide to visit the "You're Not Going To Get Me" Crime In The 1930s exhibit in the National Archives at Kansas City,  you will need to do so soon. The exhibit only runs through August 18.

There are no photos allowed in the exhibit gallery. It takes about an hour to tour, is free of charge, and completely worth your time.  I would not, however, recommend it for anyone under 14 years of age.

On a final note, The National Archives at Kansas City is one of 14 facilities in the nation where the public can access federal documents. It is located by Union Station, is a true “hidden Kansas City gem,” and always has interesting exhibits open to the public. 

For more information, click on the Visit KC webpage for the National Archives at Kansas City.

National Archives at Kansas City press release for the "They're Not Going To Get Me" Crime In The 1930s exhibit

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Recipe For A Simple And Delicious Side Dish Made With Your Fresh Summer Vegetables

Summer Vegetable Medley
Summer Vegetable Medley

If you are a person who loves veggies and has been either going to the local Kansas City farmers' markets or maybe you have a garden of your own, here is a quick side dish recipe that will put many of your delicious vegetables to use:

1 yellow summer squash, sliced
1 zucchini, sliced
1 onion, sliced
1 red pepper, cut into strips
1 green pepper, cut into strips
2Tbsp butter or a Tbsp oil
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

In a large hot skillet place butter (or oil), squash, zucchini, onion, red pepper, and green pepper.

Saute for 8-10 minutes, or until tender.

Stir in garlic salt and pepper.

Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

This recipe is so easy and tasty.  Plus, it is very versatile.  You could add eggplant, mushrooms, yellow pepper, corn, or even some fresh spinach at the very end. You are only limited by your imagination and your taste buds.

This simple summer side dish serves approximately six people and takes less than half an hour to prepare and cook.  You will also find it goes with just about anything.  Enjoy!

Monday, July 16, 2012

A List of "Fifteen Lesser Known Movies" Worth Watching This Summer

Fifteen Movies to Stay Inside and Watch Instead of Melting Outside In The Kansas City Summer Heat

While the heat and humidity of mid-summer bears down on Kansas City, many of us are choosing to hibernate indoors with our trusty air conditioners.

If you are feeling bored while you spend time inside, below is a list of fifteen lesser-known movies that are worth checking out to help you pass the time. 

Note that they are not all necessarily new movies, but all are definitely worth viewing.

Taking Chance

Based on the true story of Marine Lt. Colonel Michael Strobl, this drama requires at least one box of Kleenex while watching. 

A 2009 HBO original film starring Kevin Bacon, Taking Chance follows Strobl’s journey as he accompanies the body of Lance Corporal Chance Phelps, a fellow Marine killed in Iraq, back home for burial.  

Truly touching, this film is not rated and runs 90 minutes.

October Sky

This 1999 gem, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Laura Dern, and Chris Cooper, is based on the memoir Rocket Boys by Homer H. Hickam, Jr.

Set in a dead-end West Virginia coal-mining town, the story begins in 1957 with the launching of Sputnik.  High-schooler Homer is so inspired by this event and determined not to become a coal miner like his father, that against all odds and his father’s wishes, he succeeds at his dream of becoming a rocket scientist.   

This uplifting movie lasts 108 minutes and is rated PG.

State of Play

This tense political mystery/thriller stars Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams and Helen Mirren. 

Crowe plays an aging Washington, D.C. reporter assigned to investigate the murder of an up-and-coming politician’s assistant.  What Crowe uncovers is far more devious and dangerous than he ever dreamed. 

Released in 2009, State of Play is rated PG-13 and runs 127 minutes.


By second grade, Juli is convinced that her neighbor and classmate, Bryce, is the man of her dreams – but he is not so easily convinced. 

Directed by Rob Reiner, this sweet coming-of age romantic comedy set in the 1960s, follows Juli and Bryce as they grow into teenagers and Juli begins to question if Bryce truly is the “man for her.” 

Funny, poignant, and tender, Flipped was released in 2010, is rated PG and lasts 90 minutes.

Raggedy Man

This little known film from 1981 is an “oldie but a goodie.” 

Taking place in the 1940s, Sissy Spacek plays a divorced mother of two young boys who meets a charming sailor on leave, played by Eric Roberts. 

The movie grows dark as rumors about their romance circulate around the small Texas town she resides in, but gets even darker when Spacek has a scary encounter with “the raggedy man.”

It is rated R and runs 94 minutes.


If you are a sucker for animals, you’ll like Hachi

Loosely based on a story from Japan, Richard Gere plays a college professor who finds a lost Akita puppy on his way home from work. The loyalty and unbreakable bond that grows between the dog and the professor is what makes this movie so heartwarming and heartbreaking. 

Hachi was released in 2010, is rated G and runs 93 minutes.

Music Within

Quirky would be a good description of this 2007 movie starring Ron Livingston, Rebecca De Mornay and Melissa George. 

Also based on a true story, Livingston plays Richard Pimentel, a Vietnam War vet who returns from his combat duty practically deaf.  This experience leads him to his life’s work, helping other people with disabilities. 

With a wicked sense of humor and a large dose of inspiration, Music Within is highly entertaining, runs 94 minutes and is rated R.

Return To Me

In this little treasure, David Duchovny plays a widower mourning the loss of his wife when he meets Minnie Driver, a shy waitress in need of a heart transplant.  What happens to them when they meet is truly unexpected for them both. 

Return To Me also stars Carroll O’Conner, Bonnie Hunt and Robert Loggia. As an added bonus, this romantic selection is sprinkled with Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin music. 

From 2000, it is rated PG and runs 115 minutes.

The Edge

Fasten your seat belts for this suspenseful action thriller.   

Anthony Hopkins plays a reserved billionaire who is stranded in the Alaskan wilderness when a plane crash leaves him and fellow passenger, a smug fashion photographer played by Alec Baldwin, fighting the elements and a man-eating grizzly bear. 

The “edgy” part of this movie, however, is the realization that for Hopkins and Baldwin, the greatest danger comes from each other. 

The Edge is from 1997, runs 117 minutes and is rated R.

The Music Never Stopped

Based in fact, The Music Never Stopped begins in the late 1960s with teen Gabriel Sawyer rebelling against his parents and eventually running off to Greenwich Village to become a hippie musician. 

Then fast forward approximately 15 years to 1986 when Gabriel’s parents receive a call that their son, whom they haven’t heard from since he left home, is in a local hospital with a brain tumor.  The tumor is removed, but leaves Gabe with no ability to retain memories.  Through music therapy, Gabe reestablishes his life and his relationship with his parents. 

A great soundtrack accompanies this film, including The Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan and more.   

A Sundance Film Festival favorite from 2011, The Music Never Stopped is rated PG and runs 105 minutes.

Pay It Forward

The premise of this movie is simple – for every kind act someone does for you, in turn, you should do something good for three other people – in other words, “pay it forward.”   

Haley Joel Osment plays the seventh-grader who comes up with the idea, which is inspired by his teacher, Kevin Spacey.  Helen Hunt also appears in the movie as Osment’s alcoholic, cocktail waitress mother. 

Inspiring and sad at the same time, this 2000 flick has a running time of 123 minutes and is rated PG-13.

The Express

This 2008 film tells the story of Ernie Davis, the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy. 

Davis, who was a star athlete at Syracuse University, has a bright future ahead of him, until the unimaginable happens. 

Starring Dennis Quaid, if you watch this movie without shedding a tear or two, you must not be human. 

The Express is rated PG and runs 130 minutes.

The Way

This newest addition to my “favorite lesser known movies” list stars Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez.  Estevez also directs the film. 

Sheen plays a doctor who must travel to France to claim the remains of his son, killed while traveling the Camino De Santiago on a historical pilgrimage.  Once Sheen arrives, he decides to finish the journey in place of his son. 

Along the way, he encounters adversity and meets new friends.  Ultimately Sheen learns that life is not what comes to you, but what you decide to make of it. 

Released in 2011, The Way runs 121 minutes and is rated PG-13.

Gifted Hands

Oscar winner Cuba Gooding, Jr. takes the lead role in the true story of Ben Carson, an incredible brain surgeon who overcame a fractured family life, prejudice, and poverty to become one of the world’s best neurosurgeons. 

With the help of his determined mother, Ben tackles whatever obstacles are put before him to become more than he ever thought he could be. 

Gifted Hands is based on the book by the same name, is not rated and runs 86 minutes.

The Ultimate Gift

I saved my favorite “lesser-known movie” for last, The Ultimate Gift, starring Drew Fuller, James Garner, and Abigail Breslin. 

In this 2006 winner, Fuller plays a shallow, selfish young man who feels he is entitled to his dead grandfather’s fortune.   The grandfather has other ideas and puts Fuller through a series of tests in his will, which in the end teach his grandson that the ultimate gift in life is not money, but something much more enriching. 

Lasting 114 wonderful minutes, this “cinematic lesson in humanity” is rated PG.

Hopefully, some of these films will help you pass the time inside while you are waiting out the hot, humid Kansas City summer, but keep in mind, if you don’t get through the entire list now, a cold, bitter Kansas City winter will be here before you know it, and that would be the perfect time to finish up this list of fifteen lesser known movies worth watching.

Additionally, all of the movies are available from Blockbuster online, Amazon, and best of all the Kansas City Public Library.  DVD feature films  from the library cost $1 each and have a seven-day rental.

So, turn off the cell phone, get the popcorn ready and let your super summer film fest begin – and if you know of any movies you think belong on this list, leave me a comment and let me know!


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Is Kansas City's Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition Really Worth A Trip To Union Station?

Heading Down to the Titanic Exhibition
A Look At Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition as it Docks in Kansas City For Its 100-Year Anniversary
“Is the Titanic exhibition worth going to see?” is the first question I am usually asked when people learn I have visited the popular attraction at Union Station.  My answer is yes.

The next question is then, “What do you actually see and how is it set up?”  That is a much longer answer, but I hope the following response is helpful. 

The exhibition, which includes more than 250 artifacts, begins on the bottom level of Union Station, where each person receives a boarding pass containing information about an actual passenger on Titanic.

(Note that you will be asked if, for an extra $5 per person, you would like to purchase the “accompanying audio tour,” which includes a hand-held device and a pair of headphones.  This is supposed to give you additional information while walking through the exhibition.  I did this, found it completely unnecessary, and thought it was a waste of money.)

After “boarding,” you are then filtered into an eerily darkened area with a light shining on a single artifact – the crow’s nest bell which once sat perched high up on Titanic, to be rung by a crew member if any danger was spotted up ahead.

It was rung three times on the fateful night of April 14, 1912, as the doomed words were simultaneously shouted, “Iceberg right ahead!”

While moving into the next gallery, cheerful orchestra music is heard, and the chronological story of Titanic’s short life begins with the building of the famous ship. 

A film about creating the massive vessel is played while you view an intricate model of Titanic.  This is also where you see the beginning of various artifacts, including a leather Gladstone bag with key, which remains unopened because of its delicate state.

More haunting artifacts come into sight as you wind into the next space.  Pieces of floor tile, coat hooks, ashtrays, a soap dish and faucets from the ship are displayed along with silverware, dishes and other items used by the crew and travellers on their fateful trip.

Large photos of the The Verandah Café (on A deck), the Titanic gymnasium, and several passengers adorn the walls as you inspect some of the evocative personal effects of those aboard the ship.

Jewelry, a hand mirror, a tobacco pipe, and even a cherry toothpaste jar complete with a lid decorated with a picture of young Queen Victoria are displayed, while you pass by a replica of an opulent first-class cabin on Titanic.

Spilling into the next gallery is a much different scene.  This is where you see a reproduction of a third-class room aboard Titanic, set up dorm-style with two sets of bunk beds.

Instead of music, visitors now begin to hear the steady throb of the ship’s engines around them and read about the many iceberg warnings issued and ignored by Titanic that evening. 

A large iron wrench and part of a catwalk stair tread are laid out as you pass through a mock watertight door (there were 15 of them on the six lowest decks) and into a replica of the hot, dirty boiler room where men, known as the “Black Gang” pumped tons of coal into the ship’s belly to try to keep up with Titanic’s veracious appetite.

Next, is the recreated mailroom, which was also located deep within the ship and employed five workers.  The actual Titanic mailroom carried over 3,000 mail sacks and seven million pieces of mail. 

The massive ship also carried other miscellaneous and valuable cargo including a 1912 Renault automobile. 

At this point, you learn that Titanic was travelling 21 knots, close to top speed, as Captain Smith presided over a gala and dinner on its last night above the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. 

Bottles of beer, wine, and even champagne (with champagne still in it) can be seen to signify the carefree attitude of passengers and crew.

A Photo of Captain Smith and the Titanic Officers
The mood becomes more somber and tense as you enter the reproduced Captain’s Bridge where Smith and his officers commanded the speed and direction of the ship. 

The steering wheel stand from the wheelhouse dominates the room along with a photo and information about the overly confident Captain Smith. 

You also experience how dark it was that night when you look through the windows of the bridge. Stars are visible, but little else, including the iceberg that gashed Titanic’s side.

First-class passenger, George A. Harder described the collision as “Just a dull thump,” but you realize it was much more serious as a buckled porthole, cracked window from the officer’s quarters, sheet music for a clarinet, and a leather boot stamped with EWP on its heel stare back at you while an unsettling whale-like sound is heard all around you in the next area.

An imitation iceberg also occupies the space, which you are allowed to touch, as Titanic’s last moments afloat are recreated. 

An animation of the “unsinkable” ship filling with water and slipping under the cold Northern Atlantic waves plays on the wall showing that at 2:20 a.m. on April 15, 1912, the mighty Titanic met its watery fate.

The exhibition then begins to focus on the discovery of the Titanic wreckage, which was found on September 1, 1985, a long 73 years after it succumbed to its tragic destiny.

A full-scale model of the shipwreck, stoically perched in two parts on the ocean floor, is presented and fascinating to examine.

Better yet, there is a thick fragment of Titanic’s actual hull set out that visitors are allowed to touch.

Several au gratin dishes, which were lined up like dominos on the ocean floor, are displayed in the same position that they were found, along with other poignant artifacts recovered from the wreck.

Sadly, this gallery also focuses on the inevitable fact that the fragile Titanic is disintegrating and will probably implode on itself within the next 40-90 years.

The last portion of the exhibition presents personal items from specific passengers, some who survived, and some who did not.  

These personal effects include perfume samples with perfume still in them, a linen handkerchief, a silk necktie, a pocketknife and many more moving items.

A memorial wall also comes into sight.  Here, you can check the name on the boarding pass you received at the beginning of the exhibition to determine if “your person” survived.

One hundred twenty five first-class passengers, one hundred sixty eight second class passengers, five hundred twenty nine third-class passengers, and seven hundred one crew members tragically perished that night when the “unsinkable” Titanic slipped beneath the frigid Atlantic waters.

A small tribute dedicated to Millvina Dean, the last known Titanic survivor who passed away in 2009, also adorns an appropriate space near the memorial wall. 

After the unbelievable loss of the massive ship, hearings were held to determine the cause of Titanic’s sinking and how to improve maritime safety in the future. 

Photos of those hearings and information about new safety requirements put into place as a result of Titanic’s sinking, such as a special radio frequency for ships and enough lifeboats to accommodate all passengers, occupy the end of the artifact exhibition.

Additionally, as you leave, there is a visitor book, which you may sign.

If you do plan on going through the exhibition, know that no photography is allowed, it takes roughly a little less than two hours to explore, and it will be at Union Station through September 3, 2012.

If you would like to know more about ticket prices and hours, check out Visit KC  for further information.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Review of Toni Morrison's Latest Book - Home

Home by Toni Morrison
A Blogger's Thoughts About Toni Morrison's New Book - Home

In Toni Morrison’s latest novel, Home, 24-year old Frank Money is an African American army veteran struggling to maintain his sanity, his manhood, and find his place in the world a year after returning from the Korean War.

Less than 200 pages long, this short but powerful offering begins with Frank escaping from a Seattle mental hospital for reasons he can’t or chooses not to remember.  Once free, he begins a dangerous and eye-opening journey back to his younger sister, Cee, who is gravely ill under mysterious circumstances in Georgia.

As the plot unfolds, Frank desperately struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder, encounters senseless racism, learns what the real meaning of “home” is for him, and eventually confronts the truth about a horrible and deadly decision he made in Korea that has continued to “tilt” his mental stability.

The novel is structured so that it is mainly told in third person, but with Frank periodically narrating chapters.  This arrangement works well because we get a first-hand glimpse into Frank’s private thoughts, while from the third person aspect, we learn more about Cee and her own story of sorrow and hardship.

Although brief in length, Home is still classic Toni Morrison.  The book flows with her familiar lyrical writing style, is filled with the obvious symbolism and allegory she packs into all her stories, introduces us to rich, complex characters, and layers itself with multiple meanings and interpretations.

That being said, Home, does have a slightly more restrained feel, is more tightly written and straight forward, and provides an “easier read” than other Morrison selections like Beloved or The Bluest Eye.  For those who have never read a Toni Morrison novel but want to familiarize themselves with her writing, this book is actually a good selection to start with.

One small complaint is that the concluding chapters could have had a little more depth and examined some difficult subjects more intensely; however, by the last pages of the novel, Morrison does make the story feel like it comes full-circle without a lot of loose ends.

More importantly, Home’s ending effectively conveys to readers the feeling of hope, pride, peace and optimism that Frank and Cee discover together and separately while successfully making the point that Home, both literally and figuratively, has a different meaning and interpretation for everyone.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Jack Stack Barbecue Cheesy Potato Bake Recipe

A helping of Jack Stack Cheesy Potatoes on my plate  
A Helping of Jack Stack Barbecue's Cheesy Potato Bake Makes Any Meal Better

One of my all-time favorite barbecue restaurants in Kansas City is Jack Stack Barbecue, and one of my favorite dishes when I go there is their classic Cheesy Potato Bake.  

I ran across the recipe for this yummy dish a few years ago, and every time I make it for friends and family, it is devoured!

Jack Stack Cheesy Potato Bake Recipe

2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup aged cheddar cheese sauce
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan Cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated cheddar cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Jack cheese
2 tablespoons minced garlic 
2 teaspoons onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 1/2 pounds red potatoes 
Minced fresh parsley for garnish

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  

In a large bowl combine the heavy cream, cheese sauce, cheeses, garlic, onion powder, garlic salt, black pepper, and kosher salt.  Mix well.

Wash and slice the potatoes into 1/8 inch-thick slices and place immediately into the sauce mixture.  Mix by hand to coat all the surfaces of the sliced potatoes.  

Place the mixture in a 9 by 13 inch baking dish and cover tightly with aluminum foil.  Bake for about one hour.

Uncover and bake for 20 to 30 minutes longer, until the top is golden brown.  

Let cool, garnish with fresh parsley, and serve.

NOTE:  I personally do take some shortcuts with this recipe, and it always turns out fine.  I use a jar of Old English cheese for the aged cheddar cheese sauce.  I often use the Kraft powdered Parmesan Cheese, plus I toss in prepackaged, shredded cheddar and Jack cheese. For the garlic, I normally use the minced garlic in a jar.   I have also used other types of potatoes besides red potatoes, so if regular baking potatoes is what you have on hand, they work fine.  

All that being said, it probably does taste better with the fresher ingredients, but when you have a hungry family waiting to eat, sometimes it is just easier to take the quicker route and to use what you have on hand.

Hope you enjoy this recipe!


Sunday, July 1, 2012

Kansas City's Best Cooks Know Penzeys Spices Is The Place To Go For Selection And Quality

Entering Penzeys Spices in Overland Park, KS

Penzeys Spices Is One of Kansas City’s Genuine Culinary Delights  

Take one step through the door of Penzeys Spices in historic downtown Overland Park, KS and you know you are in a special place.  The inviting scent of quality spices and herbs pulls you in like a cooking magnet to an iron skillet. 

Well organized with a friendly, knowledgeable staff, they offer just about anything you could ever want in culinary spices and more.  Below are just some of the great products offered by Penzeys:

Penzeys Offers Spices From A To Z
  • Spices from A to Z
  • Specialty and hard to find spices
  • An extensive selection of certain spices, including cinnamon, pepper, and vanilla
  • Jars full of spice samples that you can smell before purchasing a product with ideas on how to use the spices
  • Salad dressing spices
  • Various rubs and blends for meats
  • Salt-free spices
  • Soup bases
  • Gift box sets
  • Recipes

Plus, for the quality of spices that you get, the prices at Penzeys are reasonable, with many items available in various sizes.  They also grind, blend and pack all of their own products with customer satisfaction in mind.

Penzeys Spices sprouted its roots in Wisconsin as a mail order business and now has retail stores in more than 18 states.  Don’t worry, however, about the Kansas City location feeling like a “chain store.” It has a local vibe to it that will make you want to go back time and time again. 

My one caution is that you can never walk out of Penzeys with only the items on your shopping list.  They have so many fun and neat spices to try, that you will find yourself adding multiple “Oooh, I’ve got to try this” items to your shopping basket.

One of Penzeys  Mini Gift Box Sets

And if you like to shop from home, Penzeys has a wonderful website where you can browse and purchase spices to your heart’s content.  Additionally, the website offers recipes from everyday people, a cookbook, an online catalog, gift cardsgift boxes and more.

The bottom line is that, Mrs. Dash, it’s over.  You need to pack your bags and head out of town.  Penzeys Spices in Overland Park, KS has you beat hands down. 

If you would like to visit the Kansas City store, below is their address, phone number and hours:

Penzeys Spices
Penzeys Spices

7937 Santa Fe Dr
Overland Park, KS

(913) 341-1775

Mon.-Fri.: 9:30AM - 5:30PM
Sat.: 9:30AM - 5:00PM
Sun.: 11:00AM - 5:00PM