Jackson Hole’s Secret Jazz Club

When you first think music and Jackson Hole, country at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar is undoubtedly at the top of the list.  Tourists gingerly balance on the saddles at the bar, sipping Wyoming Whiskey, while seasoned local dance pros two-step, country swing and waltz visitors across the dance floor.  Around the corner at The Wort Hotel, country is also found, but mixed with bluegrass, reggie, folk and rockabilly depending on the night.

But for those looking for that non-traditional piano bar, where you can enjoy a nice glass of wine and carry on a conversation without yelling over the music – where to go?

For many years, one of my favorite fine dining restaurants in Jackson has been The GranaryGranary at Spring Creek Ranch, just outside of, and peering down at the Jackson valley. Whether enjoying a glass of wine on the deck during the summer, cozying up to the fireplace bar or restaurant during the winter, The Granary provides spectacular views of the Teton Range and the Spring Gulch ranches.

The Granary is home to what I call Jackson’s Secret Jazz Club.  Jackson is blessed with two incredibly talented Jazz musicians – husband and wife, Keith and Pam Phillips.   Almost every young, local pianist has taken lessons from this duo, creating a bevy of kids who “get” jazz and classical music.

Typically, Thursday-Saturday evenings you will find Pam twinkling the ivories at The Granary’s bar.  Cole Porter, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole or Diana Krall, you name it, she plays it, with flourishes that will keep your toes tapping.  On Friday evenings, Pam is joined by a variety of musicians, further bringing the jazz club to life.  One of Pam’s regulars is Bill Plummer who lovingly embraces his bass like a very special woman, making it sing.  Plummer has played with The Grateful Dead, Quincy Jones and Tony Bennett, just to name a few.

Before moving to Jackson, Pam conducted for Evita and Crazy For You on Broadway, in addition to playing with the Glenn Miller Orchestra and the Manhattan Rhythm Kings.  You can find her music on iTunes and in many of the local stores.  One of my all-time favorites is “Woolly Bugger Rag” (it’s a fly fishing thing….)  Make a request and you won’t be disappointed.

So next time you are in Jackson, and if you love piano and jazz, make a point to spend an evening at The Granary, experiencing Jackson’s Secret Jazz Club.  Order a bottle of Hahn Pinot Noir, perfect to enjoy with the Smoked Trout Dip, flaky smoked trout mousseline with Parmesean Reggiano cheese, served with crostini.  You also must try the Game Sausage Plate, exploding with flavors that will excite your taste buds.  If you are having dinner, the elk tenderloin is not to be missed.

If you miss Pam at The Granary, she also is the music director at St. John’s Episcopal Church.  Trust me, the lady can wrap up a church service with a version of Amazing Grace that would bring anyone to their feet with a serious AMEN!

Check the local newspaper, or contact The Granary at 307-733-8833 to confirm the music schedule as it varies by season.

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Goulash, Kitchens and Grandma

Growing up, our farm kitchen was the classic center of the universe where everything happened. I’m still not sure why at one point, Mom agreed to have it painted sea foam green accented with black curtains adorned with white daisies and green ribbons. I was sure I was scarred for life, but I eventually recovered and realized it was just the 70’s. That being said, it was the place where mouthwatering, culinary aromas wafted from, whether it was homemade bread, fresh apple pies, or Aunt Stella’s “must-go” stew. As in, it must go from Grandma Hanna's Kettlethe refrigerator.  All the leftovers were put in this beat up soup kettle that was eventually handed down to me and is still a key cooking dish in my kitchen. To heck with my expensive Calphalon, give me that big soup kettle any day and I can create miracles in it!

Aside from the eating and preparing meals, the kitchen table was where Dad would conduct a lot of farm business, and my parents’ friends would come over in the evening and convert it into the card table where euchre, sheephead and hearts were the norm. Now those of you who are farm kids will get this, and others will cringe, but the kitchen was also the place where orphaned or sick baby calves and pigs were brought to warm up by the Franklin wood stove that warmed our whole house during the winters. You name it, the kitchen was front and center.

I didn’t realize how spoiled I was growing up on a farm until I headed off to college and had to buy groceries. We raised 250 head of cattle, 3,000 hogs and had a massive garden that my Grandfather tended daily. I swear he fed half the church and town with its yield. Our freezer was always filled with corn and grass-fed beef and pork, there were fresh veggies canned at the end of the summer and we’d slip over to the neighbors to pull fresh eggs out from under the chickens. I thank my lucky stars that this was normal for me and today, understand the importance of farm-to-table restaurants and farmer’s markets that allow us to have fresh produce and organic where possible.

We were a hard-core meat and potatoes family. Casserole was a dirty word and recipes shunned! As kids we were thrilled when Mom and Dad went out for the evening so the babysitter could make us a decadent and oh so divine pot of homemade macaroni and cheese. Pure and simply sinful…..

With Mom, Grandma, Aunt Stella and of course, 4-H teaching me the basics in the kitchen, I mastered the simple hamburger, minute steak and then moved on to goulash. Cookies, you name it, I could whip them up – chocolate chip, ranger, snicker doodles, oatmeal raisin, and did I mention goulash? Bread, forget about it, I still can’t get a loaf to raise to save my soul. I seriously think Fleischman’s Yeast deliberately puts dead packages of yeast at the front of the box when I shop. I’m doomed, but I can make goulash!

Ok, so here’s the joke. The summer of my sophomore year Mom heads back to Loras College to get her Master’s Degree, which left me in the kitchen cooking for everyone. At the end of week two, our hired man looked at me and said, “Sweetie, I love your goulash, but we’ve had it three times a week now, can you cook anything else?” I was mortified, rejected, thrown to wolves, like Chef Ramsey destroying the soul of one of his students. It had to be that moment that instilled deep down in me the drive to really learn to cook.

It took awhile, but eventually I learned to keep a stocked kitchen. All those dusty cookbooks I had collected were finally cracked open, the bindings screaming with pain as they were stretched out for the first time. Viola, there in front of me were endless opportunities to whip, stir, baste, marinate and yes, burn, some new experiment.

Years later, I am blessed and maybe cursed that my better half loves to cook as much as I do. When we first started dating we would jockey for position to see who could whip up the better meal. We’d look over each other’s shoulder as the other prepped, diced and seasoned, sipping a glass of wine and saying, “hmm, so you’re going to do it that way huh?” Nothing like two type-A personalities, a little stubborn and set in our ways, having to let go and trust someone else in the kitchen. After several years we figured it out, and yes it did involve banning the other one from the kitchen at times. But Erma got it right way back when, it is the Joy of Cooking.

Appreciation of a good cook, a good steak, fresh vegetables and memories of homemade bread, or fresh chocolate chips cookies – it all comes back to everyone hanging out in the kitchen, laughing, sharing, being a family and enjoying good, simple food.

So I raise my glass to the cooks in my life and especially my Grandmother who never measured anything, but who took the time my senior year to measure out all of my favorite recipes and wrote them down for me. I cherish that little recipe box. Even though Gram was more a beer drinker, I think she would enjoy a nice crisp glass of Forrest sauvignon blanc, from New Zealand. The perfect wine for one of those hot evenings on the front porch shelling peas and snapping beans. While I have no idea if the Forrest wine clan is related, they embody the “what’s next” philosophy after giving up careers in molecular biology and medicine to start a winery. I like their style!

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Living the dream in Jackson Hole

My first memories of Wyoming are etched in my mind forever – rough, gray, gnarled corral wood, the smell of horses and tack in the Marincic barn, mosquito bites that never seemed toF-F end, floating down the Green River on inner tubes on hot summer afternoons and that fabulous aroma of sage in the morning when the dew is still fresh.

One of the greatest gifts my parents ever gave me was Wyoming, and I hope someday my niece and nephews will bring their children here and carry on the tradition that has meant so much to my family. While it truly is one of the most beautiful and spectacular places in the United States, it is also a place that soothes the soul and helps you recognize how blessed you are in all areas of your life.

Whether you are horseback riding through the high-desert at the base of the Wind River Range, hiking through Grand Teton National Park or snowmobiling on Towgotee Pass, you know God had a lot of fun creating this area for us to enjoy.

It was the day after Christmas when I was 14 that I informed my Dad I planned to live in Wyoming when I grew up. It was o’dark thirty and the morning light of pinks and purples was just peaking over the Winds. It was freezing cold and the snow squeaked under our boots with each step as we packed the old Kingswood station wagon to head back to Iowa. Dad gave one of his chuckles and was amused, I’m sure thinking I would never pull it off.

Fast forward 36 years and I did make that dream come true. For those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to visit the northwest corner of Wyoming, cast all caution to the wind and come visit. You don’t have to be an expert skier or hiker to experience this spectacular area. Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks offer endless opportunities to explore, hike, photograph, fly fish and raft during the summer. There is so much to do in the winter besides just skiing. Snowmobile tours, snow shoe or cross country trails abound and it is a fabulous time to see wildlife. Jackson Hole has developed an incredible art and culinary scene. With 50+ galleries and almost every cuisine available, you’ll never have a dull moment.

I’m always asked if there is one place in town that you have to visit and the answer is simple – Dornan’s at the south entrance to Grand Teton National Park. Settle in on wine dornansthe outside or rooftop decks and take in the Tetons and the Snake River as it flows by below you. The views will simply take your breath away as you sip a glass of wine selected from their world-renowned wine store which has been recognized for 25 consecutive years with an Award of Excellence by Wine Spectator.  If a an icy cold beer is more your style, try a  Snake River OB-1 or Pale Ale, along with homemade pizza, pasta, sandwiches and salad. During the summer, their outdoor chuckwagon with slow cooked barbecue will have you coming back for seconds. It’s my favorite place in town and the required first stop for many friends and family when I pick them up at the airport.

I am truly blessed to live in a place where the mountains speak to your soul and the river wraps itself around your little finger, never to let go.

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So this is what’s next!

We’ve all had one or more moments in life when you’re standing at the end of something, a job, relationship, bucket list check-off item or a goal you set. As you stand there, the look inSolitdue Hike your eyes might be – deer in the headlights, vapidly staring into an abyss, or maybe, just maybe there is a twinkle in your eye, laced with a little mischief. Then, someone without fail says to you, “So, what’s next?”

I have to laugh, roll my eyes and even cringe when I think of the times that question has been posed to me. It’s probably too many times, but if you know me, you know that my life has been anything but normal and boring. My first experience was undoubtedly graduating from high school. Instead of heading to college, I flew off to Australia for one of the most fabulous years of my life as a Rotary Exchange Student. Then there’s the long story about quitting college much to my Father’s displeasure (a great story for a future blog dealing with Hell freezing over), followed by a blind leap of faith, or more like insanity when I moved to Washington, DC. Roll right ahead to quitting a six figure job to start my own consulting business, and then tossing all sanity to the wind, I returned to Jackson Hole, the place that captured my heart from a very early age.

The next major “what’s next?” came from myself when that date started looming, the big 5-0. I’ve never been one to worry about my age, but I found myself awake in bed at 2:00 a.m., staring at the ceiling and thinking, crap, my life is half over! I still have a lot I want to do and plan on having a darn good time doing it!

To me the answers were obvious. Travel, fly fish and enjoy the outdoors more, expand my knowledge and love of food and wine, and then there’s the “new” one – write about it. Yah, that one is just a little scary for two simple reasons: 1) my Mom is an English teacher and I know she is going to “red pen” everything I write. And 2) What if they don’t like it? Oh screw that one, time to throw caution to the wind. Wait, I’ve done that a few times before…  Dos Equis Mexico

My Dad used to tell me that I roller skated on marshmallows, meaning that I usually was moving at Mach speed when I slammed into a wall or crashed and burned, only to bounce right back up (somewhat unscathed, and maybe covered in that sticky goo), and just kept going. No roller skates this time, just my favorite hiking boots and they are about to step off the edge, so here we go.

Sit back and enjoy my insights into the spectacular beauty and life in the mountains, specifically Jackson Hole, Wyoming, my completely biased opinions on food and wine, and of course this means I’m going to have to travel so I have something to write about – oh darn.

Yep, both feet have jumped off the ledge and it feels pretty good. I have a glass of Amancaya Malbec to soothe the nerves and the spectacular Teton Mountain Range as my steadying backdrop.

Come enjoy what’s next with me!

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