Thursday, October 28, 2010

Your last-minute scare

Halloween is Sunday, so it's crunch time. I'm sure most of you are adding the final touches to your costume. Lady Gaga, anyone?

No matter what guise you are donning this year, Halloween is about stepping outside our comfort zones and having a little fun. It's (unfortunately) the only holiday that allows us to dress like crazy people and beg for candy. It's the only holiday where broomsticks, skeletons and demon-shaped door markers are as commonplace as the fall foliage. Most importantly, it's the only holiday when we won't judge you if you scream like a little girl.

Here's a list of places to get your last-minute scare -- if you dare.

This Broadview Heights attraction boasts a legion of monsters (see photo) who linger in the darkness, preying on your fear. $15.

This 124-year-old Mansfield landmark once housed actual lost souls. Beware the shifting floors, disguised actors, and ghosts of inmates whose punishments have lasted into the afterlife. $15-17.

North Olmsted's smorgasbord of fright features a haunted mansion, morgue, carnival, and meat market. But that's not the worst of it. Be on the lookout for clowns -- and not the face-painting, animal-balloon-making kind. $13.

Sometimes, the scariest stories are real. Learn of Cleveland's most gruesome murders on this guided charter bus tour. $50.

For more ghastly and ghostly Halloween outings, see the list at the bottom of this page from October's Cleveland Magazine.

Photo from

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

No Better Time to Eat Out

We all fall into ruts. It’s only human. Habits take over, familiarity is typically the default setting, and so we tend to do what we’ve already done before. This predisposition often expresses itself when choosing where to eat. Restaurants we know and like are the fallback option. The appeal is that we know what kind of experience we’re in for and are confident we’ll be happy with our meal. And there are definite advantages to being a regular.

But there is no better time to bust out and try something new and different in the dining realm than Cleveland Restaurant Week. Make that weeks. This year the promotional event sponsored by locally owned independent restaurants runs from November 1-14. Approximately 90 places are participating by offering three-course, prix fixe menus for $30 per person, with a few throwing in an extra course or charging a bit more, or even less, depending on the type of venue. The locations range from downtown to the ‘burbs, Cleveland Heights to Rocky River, Tremont to Willoughby. You can see a complete list online, and make reservations via Opentable.

It’s an affordable way to do some culinary exploring and add variety your dining routine. You may even find a new favorite, the kind of place you’ll go back to again and again.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Literature, comedy vie for top billing at Wise Up!

Is Cavs owner Dan Gilbert an unacknowledged literary master? Or just an unintentional comedian? I wondered that after Sunday's Wise Up! literary festival at Nighttown, where comedy and song vied with literary ambition as the top draw.

Actor Nick Koesters, billed as Gilbert, took the mike and performed an anxious, wiry, bug-eyed reading of the Cavs owner's anti-LeBron screed. As Koesters barked out Gilbert's "NEVER will betray you" line, you could almost hear the Comic Sans. He also joined Eric Schmiedl, his co-star in last year's Cleveland Public Theater play Browns Rules, for a Kingston-Trio-esque comic song about superhero-quarterback Otto Graham.

Directors Regina Brett and Derdriu Ring (pictured, left), like good variety-show emcees, kept the benefit for Cleveland Heights' libraries moving with quirky introductions built on the performers' best memories of libraries and wildest ambitions for them. Newscaster Leon Bibb (pictured, right) recited his poem comparing his mother's clothesline to a chorus line. Charles Michener read the quiet but finely observed conclusion to his New Yorker piece on the Cleveland Orchestra. Steve Presser contributed quotes from the buttons and bumper stickers he sells at Big Fun. Between readers, pianist Joe Hunter and vocalist Doris Long sang old standards, including Cole Porter's "Brush Up Your Shakespeare," which advises men to memorize the Bard of Avon to woo women.

Former Cleveland Heights poet laureate Loren Weiss contributed the best combination of a literary eye and a sense of place. In his poem "Looking Through Glass," he sees a couple embracing, then fighting, inside the Coventry parking structure's glass elevator. Then a truck obscures his view. In the last stanza, his coffee turns bitter and he heads back into Tommy's for another, hoping "for a better ending." Ironically, his was just right.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Let the Yuletide cheer begin!

It’s only October, but in Cleveland, the Christmas season starts today. At 4 p.m., Great Lakes Brewing Company puts its Christmas Ale on tap at its Market Avenue brewpub. Six-packs hit stores next week.

The holiday brew’s cult following grows every year. Bars, notoriously, run out long before the holiday arrives. The combination of cinnamon, ginger and honey is sweet, but not too sweet, a little spicy and very smooth. As popular as the beer is, you have to be careful with it. At 7.5 percent alcohol by volume, it packs quite a punch and often leads to headaches and regret (“I said what last night?”).

I’ve been a fan of Christmas Ale since college, but last year, its return upset me. I was in living in Paris, and Christmas Ale was not on the list of imported beers at my favorite pub. Then, miracle of miracles, Christmas came early. Generous friends sent me a trans-Atlantic six-pack through Rozi’s Wine House in Lakewood.

I was so ecstatic, I posted a picture of myself on my personal blog holding a bottle for the world to see. I enjoyed it with a baguette and cheese.

The worst part about this beer is (surprisingly) not the hangover. Once it’s gone, it’s gone for good. Great Lakes only produces a certain amount each year, and after it’s sold out, we’re all doomed to wait another ten months until we can taste this sweet, sweet nectar.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Goldberg leaving Plain Dealer

Susan Goldberg is heading home to San Francisco. After 3 1/2 years in Cleveland, the Plain Dealer's editor announced yesterday that she's resigning Nov. 5 to join Bloomberg News as an executive editor. Managing editor Debra Adams Simmons will take over the paper's top job.

Goldberg gave the Plain Dealer a new personality, a new face. She transformed its front page with splashy centerpieces, sporty blurbs, and a relentless Cleveland focus, shoving national and world news to back pages. A glamorous figure in the newsroom, cutting across the carpet in high heels and St. John's knit suits, she also insisted on style and energy in the paper's coverage, her strategy for holding onto readers in the digital age.

But few will accuse Goldberg of softening the Plain Dealer. She steeled its spine, green-lighting aggressive coverage of patronage in Cuyahoga County government. The FBI raids vindicated the paper's stance and sparked exhaustive, banner-headline corruption coverage. Reporter Mark Puente's exposés brought down sheriff Gerald McFaul, whose corruption had been hidden or winked at for 30 years. Even our columnist Michael D. Roberts, a ferocious PD critic for years, gave Goldberg credit this September for the paper's watchdogging and its role in spurring voters to reform county government.

She'll surely be happy to leave the Don Rosenberg trial behind her. Her decision to replace Rosenberg as Cleveland Orchestra critic became a national media controversy and an ugly legal battle, raising knotty questions about how papers respond to fierce pressure from those they cover and when a writer's critical judgment becomes bias.

Home and marriage, not controversy, led to Goldberg's departure. When I profiled her two years ago, she told me her husband, real estate lawyer Geoffrey Etnire, would move to Cleveland. But he stayed in California, creating a cross-continental commuter marriage. In fact, I randomly ran into the two of them in San Francisco's Ferry Building Marketplace on a Saturday this February. She told me they owned a home nearby. Now Goldberg will reunite with her husband and walk to work at Bloomberg News' office in downtown San Francisco.

To read my profile of Goldberg, "Front Page News," click here. For Roberts' column, "Pain Dealer," click here.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Christmas on Carnegie

Christmas came early for me this year and a few select others. We were invited to holiday party preview at Verve and though the calendar said autumn, the interior of the downtown Cleveland restaurant was decked out in ornaments, sleigh bells, baskets of poinsettias that looked remarkably real, and stacks of beautifully wrapped gifts. And I was told on good authority that Santa had left the building just moments before I arrived.

The prompt for all this December style cheer was Chef/owner Brian Okin’s new partnership with experienced event and food professional Nancy Yetman and their recent launch of Verve’s Art of Catering operation. They’ll gladly prep the buffet and bring it to you but with the restaurant now open only for breakfast and lunch, it can accommodate private shindigs at night. It’s a great place for a special gathering and the pair decided to demo the concept, showing the kind of spread- and creative presentation- they can produce for festive occasions.

Irresistible house made sweet and savory “cracker jacks” were heaped in the center of paper-topped tables. A line-up of really delicious hors d’oeuvres that were cleverly named and conceived was prettily arrayed on the bar. Okin’s version of Pigs in a Blanket consisted of trotter croquettes with apple mostarda. Quackers was a tart made with duck confit and cherry onion relish. For his Cape Cod Shooters, he served a bite of pasta in clam sauce in a shell. Tastebuds was a combination of sweet potatoes, figs, goat cheese and pistachios. The Turkey Napoleans featured layers of bread pudding, bird, and cranberry raspberry compote. There were velvety squash soup shooters garnished with candied nuts, endive leaves filled with crab salad, and ratatouille inside crisply fried wonton skins. Servers passed miniature ice cream cones filled salmon mousseline or beef tartar.

It was an impressive performance and the team gets my endorsement. And it’s straight up cool to have a whole restaurant just for you and your guests. Those with holiday entertaining responsibilities would be wise to contact Nancy immediately (216-577-3663, and get your date on her calendar. Tell her Laura sent you.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Get Out and Get Giving

If anyone’s looking for me on Saturday night, Oct. 16, I’ll be at the Cleveland Botanical Garden. And you’re welcome to join me at Sweetest Day Delights for hors d’oeuvres, drinks, and an over-the-top array of desserts to sample. But I won’t have time for chit chat because I’m on the job, one of 16 judges who will decide the winner of this year’s Creative Confection Competition.
The evening, a benefit for the Art Therapy Studio, brings established pastry chefs and up-comers from various culinary programs around town together for a friendly food fight.

Contenders prepare fabulous cakes, tortes, tarts, trifles, and all sorts of other inspired treats. We officials must sample the entries, rate them for taste and visual appeal and pick the winners for Best of Show, Most Decadently Delicious and Most Artistic. Please don’t take it personality if I respond to friendly greetings with a eyes glazed over and a blank stare- odds are, based on my past experience as a judge for this bi-annual event, by the time I come out of seclusion to mix and mingle I will be in one serious sugar coma. Reservations required. Make yours here.

photos of 2008 winners
Also on my calendar of upcoming activities is a Bourbon Tasting at the fabulous Taxel Image Group photography studio on Oct 21. The hosts for the evening are my husband, Barney Taxel, and Diana Greenberg, event planner and one of the founders of Sprout Connections, a power networking group devoted to fun and fundraising. Joe De Luca, spirit savant and proprietor of the recently opened Apothecary, a cocktail parlor in Lakewood, will be leading the guided tour of seven unique aged whiskies- including a liquid surprise at the finish.
Pours come from Four Roses, Woodford Reserve, Bulleit, Old Forrester, Basil Hayden's, Knob Creek. and Jim Beam. Come join us as we learn about small batch distilling, mash mixtures and single barrel production. Tickets are $25 per person and can be purchased online. A portion of the proceeds benefits City Music Cleveland’s educational programs. And you won’t leave hungry, I promise. Terry Tarantino and his cooks at La Strada and La Dolce Vita Bistro will be providing food. No doubt, we’ll eat and drink well.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Talking in my sleep

I first heard the voice this spring. Even my apartment's air conditioner couldn't drown it out. Now that the windows are open again, I hear it more than ever, robotic and relentless, like the talking billboard hovercraft in Blade Runner coaxing city-dwellers to live off-world.

"CAUTION," intones the stern female voice. "LOOK BOTH WAYS. PEDESTRIANS! Bus is TURNing. BUS is TURNING."

Large, motorized public transportation has plied our streets for 122 years, but not until 2010 did someone decide it must speak. Now, every RTA bus blares the same drone mantra whenever it makes a 45-degree turn.

Outside my apartment, where a bus stop stands next to a line of parked cars, that means 60 times a day and once or twice an hour at night until 12:29 a.m. The voice also follows me downtown into the office: The clamor of six bus lines resonates up East 14th Street just outside my window.

RTA has me trapped. If I protest this noise pollution, I am guilty of indifference to human life. RTA installed its monotone warnings after two bus drivers killed people with careless turns.

So until I move, I'm stuck with the android tones haunting my half-sleep. I wish our transit overlords would hear the common-sense solution: the bell that sings from their HealthLine buses.

And yes, if I ever get hit by a bus, this will make a lame epitaph.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Livin' La Local Vida

There are days, weeks, and months dedicated to raising awareness of all kinds of ailments, issues, organizations and causes. In Cleveland we’re right smack in the middle of Local Foods Week. It’s meant to educate and energize us about the sustainably grown, raised, and produced edibles from the region and why it is so important to spend some of our food dollars on these products. When we shop at a farmers market or dine at a restaurant with a farm to plate commitment, it’s a guarantee of fresh, wholesome and delicious fruit, vegetables, meat and poultry, and dairy products. But there’s more to it. The money we spend supports jobs for people that live here, fuels economic growth in northeast Ohio, helps preserve our farmland, and is an ecologically responsible choice. If you aren’t already aware of all this, now’s the moment to say Wow!

Participating in this group hug for local food is not hard. You can do it on your own, at home, or with others and in public places. There lots of events to attend between now and Sunday. Tonight participating restaurants will be offering special dishes featuring fresh from the farm ingredients. Friday there will be a Lunch Mob for like minded brown baggers – location a secret until that morning. Click here for a list of more options and ideas.

I have another suggestion that’s not on the official list. Attend the Western Reserve Herb Society Herb Fair at Cleveland Botanical Garden, Saturday Oct 9. Find vinegars, mustards, jellies, teas, and culinary blends made with herbs grown by Society members, and get tips for starting your own garden next year.

Consider joining Local Food Cleveland, a free online community and self described “action network” for those who are passionate about growing a thriving local food economy and culture in Cleveland. Then take the Local Food Challnge- it’s a promise you make to yourself to eat at least one meal made up of stuff that’s been rasied in or on northeast Ohio soil- and post about it on Local Food Cleveland.

If you’re lucky there are still some seats left for the Harvest Dinner at The Flying Fig on Sunday Oct 10. The meal is sponsored by Slow Food. Karen Small's locally rooted menu looks amazing and tickets are only $35 per person. Call (216) 241-4243 for reservations. But don’t fret should it be sold out. Small is deeply committed to featuring Ohio farm products in her restaurant. This season she got much stuff, and still is, from the amazing Ohio City Farm just down the street – a partnership that gives local a whole new dimension. The Farm is welcoming visitors on Sunday too.

Another way to get a taste of what Small does with the local bounty is get some grab and go food from her new Market at the Fig, next door to the restaurant. I stopped in recently and picked up a pound of wonderful stuffed Ohio pork loin and a crusty baguette baked in her own kitchen. Dubbed a small Euro-style urban pantry, the daily selection of salads, sandwiches and prepared entrees makes eating locally easier than ever.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The well-dressed, well-heeled man

Recently I have received comments from my male readers expressing their feeling of neglect. I have heard you loud and clear, therefore this post is just for the male fashion followers. I as watched the runway shows of NY fashion week and scoured over the pages of several popular men's magazines and clothing websites, three menswear trends have completely taking over. First, the gray wool suit- it is super versatile and can be worn in both casual and formal settings. Depending on the weight of the fabric, a gray suit can be worn year round and is a timeless classic- a wardrobe must have. It is most appealing when worn with a vividly patterned shirt and bold necktie. The second standout trend are slim fitting shirts in charcoal gray, black, or army green with military inspired details such as buttoned front pockets and epaulets worn with complementing skinny neckties. Finally, every guy must get a pair of brown dress shoes for fall! Brown shoes offer the most bang for you buck. They can be worn with just about everything (yes, even black and gray) and look far less formal than the basic black shoe. I hope this helps my trend challeged guys and motivates my fashion savvy male readers, never again again shall I neglect either.

Fashionably yours,