Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Thinking About Food

Something interesting came in over the transom. I love that expression- it refers to material for publication arriving unsolicited and unexpectedly, harkening back to journalism's early days when offices had doors with small hinged windows above them providing an "opening" to get a manuscript to an editor. In this case, the piece I'm about to share here came to me via email from a new organization which officially launches January 10 called Food Tank: The Food Think Tank. The group aims to be a powerful voice for changing local, national, and global food systems, making both production and consumption more economically, environmentally, and socially just. These ideas are important so I wanted to share their first official communiqué. Many of the initiatives, what they call resolutions, are already in place and going strong in Cleveland- from city farmers growing produce that's sold to neighborhood residents and local restaurants; market gardener training programs; an ever-- expanding number of CSA's and farmer's markets including some that make fresh, local food accessible and affordable to to people living in the inner city and inner ring suburbs; and numerous groups advocating actively and successfully for building a thriving local food economy--  but we're still a long way from a fix, in northeast Ohio and everywhere else. As the old year becomes the new one, it's a good time to think about what's  already been accomplished and find in that the inspiration and motivation to make new efforts in our own lives and in our communities.

Cultivating a Better Food System in 2013
by Danielle Nierenberg and Ellen Gustafson,  Food Tank founders

As we start 2013, many people will be thinking about plans and promises to improve their diet and health. But we think a broader collection of farmers, policy-makers, and eaters need new, bigger resolutions for fixing the food system - real changes with long-term impacts in fields, boardrooms, and on plates all over the world. These are resolutions that the world can’t afford to break with nearly one billion still hungry and more than one billion suffering from the effects of being overweight and obese. We have the tools—let’s use them in 2013!

Growing in Cities:  Food production doesn’t only happen in fields or factories. Nearly one billion people worldwide produce food in cities. In Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, farmers are growing seeds of indigenous vegetables and selling them to rural farmers. At Bell Book & Candle restaurant in New York, customers are served rosemary, cherry tomatoes, romaine, and other produce grown from the restaurant’s aeroponic rooftop garden.  
Creating Better Access:  People’s Grocery in Oakland and Fresh Moves in Chicago bring mobile grocery stores to food deserts giving low-income consumers opportunities to make healthy food choices. Instead of chips and soda, they provide customers with affordable organic produce, not typically available in their

Eaters Demanding Healthier Food: Food writer Michael Pollan advises not to eat anything that your grandparents wouldn’t recognize. Try eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole foods without preservatives and other additives.

Cooking More: Home economics classes have declined in schools in the United Kingdom and the U.S. and young people lack basic cooking skills.  Top Chefs Jamie Oliver, Alice Waters, and Bill Telepan are working with schools to teach kids how to cook healthy, nutritious foods.

Creating Conviviality: According to the Hartman Group, nearly half of all adults in the U.S. eat meals alone. Sharing a meal with family and friends can foster community and conversation. Recent studies suggest that children who eat meals with their families are typically happier and more stable than those who do not.

Focus on Vegetables: Nearly two billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies worldwide, leading to poor development. The World Vegetable Center, however, is helping farmers grow high-value, nutrient rich vegetables in Africa and Asia, improving health and increasing incomes.

Preventing Waste:  Roughly one-third of all food is wasted—in fields, during transport, in storage, and in homes. But there are easy, inexpensive ways to prevent waste. Initiatives like Love Food, Hate Waste offer consumers tips about portion control and recipes for leftovers, while farmers in Bolivia are using solar-powered driers to preserve foods.

Engaging Youth: Making farming both intellectually and economically stimulating will help make the food system an attractive career option for youth. Across sub-Saharan Africa, cell phones and the internet are connecting farmers to information about weather and markets; in the U.S., Food Corps is teaching students how to grow and cook food, preparing them for a lifetime of healthy eating.

Protecting Workers: Farm and food workers across the world are fighting for better pay and working conditions. In Zimbabwe, the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ), protects laborers from abuse. In the U.S., the Coalition of Immokalee Workers successfully persuaded Trader Joe’s and Chipotle to pay the premium of a penny-per-pound to Florida tomato pickers.

Acknowledging the Importance of Farmers: Farmers aren’t just farmers, they’re business-women and men, stewards of the land, and educators, sharing knowledge in their communities. Slow Food International works with farmers all over the world, helping recognize their importance to preserve biodiversity and culture.

Recognizing the Role of Governments:  Nations must implement policies that give everyone access to safe, affordable, healthy food. In Ghana and Brazil, government action, including national school feeding programs and increased support for sustainable agricultural production, greatly reduced the number of hungry people.

Changing the Metrics: Governments, NGOs, and funders have focused on increasing production and improving yields, rather than improving nutrition and protecting the environment. Changing the metrics, and focusing more on quality, will improve public and environmental health, and livelihoods.

Fixing the Broken Food System: Agriculture can be the solution to some of the world’s most pressing challenges—including unemployment, obesity, and climate change. These innovations simply need more research, more investment, and ultimately more funding.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Cleveland Musician to Spend Dooomsday Giving Back

While Mayan calendar predictions have some fearing the apocalypse is upon us, Cleveland-based singer-songwriter Diana Chittester chooses to send a message of hope.

Chittester is spending the apocalypse singing — and you’re invited. The critically acclaimed songwriter and one-woman band with an aggressive folk style is playing a 12-hour concert from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday on the front porch of Lakewood Public Library.  It’s a benefit for the Cleveland Foodbank, Animal Protective League, The Salvation Army and the National AIDS TaskForce of Greater Cleveland.

She’s bracing herself for the marathon performance, planning to sing Christmas songs and inviting other local musicians to attend the event. She says welcomes the possibility of learning their songs and performing with them.

“I’m going give it all I got,” she says. “I hope there’s a lot of coffee there to keep me going.”

Her music, which echoes feminist icon Ani DiFranco’s blunt staccato finger-picking style, touches on taboo topics such as sexual encounters and the politics of religion. The daughter of a minister, she says she became interested in feminist issues when she recognized patriarchal influences in the church and her home.

“It’s important if you’re given a microphone that you say something meaningful,” Chittester says.

Every $1 donated at the concert can help the Cleveland Foodbank provide four nutritious meals to those in need. Food, clothing and pet supplies donations are also encouraged. Chittester hopes her performance will incite curiosity and help make the event the biggest donation drive Lakewood has ever seen.

She says she’s performing tomorrow because experiences on tour taught her important lessons about the importance of community and connection and inspired a passion for charity.

“My mission became to help others realize they can make a significant change just by doing a little,” she says. “Money isn't always an option to give. So I put this 12-hour donation drive together to show people that by just unloading belongings they no longer need or use, they could make a difference in so many people's and animals’ lives.”

Chittester released her second album, In This Skin, in May, on her own Fighting Chance Records label. Her most popular and recognizable song is titled “Secret” and her rendition of Leonard Cohen’s classic, “Hallelujah,” has also gained a lot of recognition.

Chittester learned to play guitar at 14 years old, performing at local coffee shops and high school talent shows. She graduated from Clarion University of Pennsylvania, where her professors introduced her to strong female singers. She moved from Pittsburgh to Cleveland five years ago, began to play at bars, and decided to quit her day job and become a full-time musician.

“‘Just getting by’ wasn’t the approach I wanted to take in life,” she says. “I gave up the safety net and pursued the life I wanted to live. It’s risky and filled with ups and downs. But knowing it’s my choice to deal with those challenges makes it all manageable and more rewarding in the end.”

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Pay Attention

Susan Albers is a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic who specializes in eating issues, weight loss, body image concerns and mindfulness. The author of 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food, and Eating Mindfully, Dr. Albers is something of a media star, appearing The Dr. Oz Show, CNN, and NPR, and her work has been featured in O, the Oprah Magazine, Family Circle, Shape, Prevention, Self, Health, Fitness, Vanity Fair, Natural Health, and the Wall Street Journal.

She’s kicking off the Mindful Eating Marathon, a dieting alternative and a fresh approach to all those weight loss resolutions that come with the new year, on January 1. It’s 26.2 days of daily challenges and tips for weight management. Going hungry is not part of the program but eating foods you love is. The secret is to learn about what drives your behavior, focus on your habits, and teach the brain and stomach to know when you have eaten just the right amount. Sign up directly through the website and the tips will be sent to you via email.

 I asked Dr. Alber to tell me more about what it means to eat mindfully, why it can be an effective way to address diet and weight issues, what the Marathon can do for participants and how it works. These are her responses.

 If you’ve ever signed up for a marathon, you know that it requires extensive training, mental tricks to keep you motivated and the ability to listen to your body. Sound familiar? It’s the same skills you need to eat well--for the long term. Mindful eating is more like a marathon than a sprint. My clients tell me how exhausted they are by the stop-start processing of dieting. Keeping a slow, but steady pace adopting mindful eating habits prevents frustration and giving up. Research indicates that restriction puts you at high risk for bingeing.

Mindful eating is not a diet. There are no menus or recipes. It’s about changing how you eat rather than what you eat. A recent study of middle aged women who frequently ate at restaurants cut their calorie intake by approximately 300 calories a day just by learning mindful eating skills—and they still ate out at restaurants. Therefore, it’s a skill that can let you still lead a normal life of eating out with friends and having fast food now and then. It's sometimes impossible to meet all the demands of a fad diet in your everyday world.

What’s interesting about mindful eating skills is that it can help a wide range of eating problems including weight loss, body image problems, chronic eating problems (ex. binge eating) and reduce the symptoms of diabetes. How does it help such diverse problems? Being mindful helps you to stop your emotional knee-jerk reactions around food. You can’t control your brain telling you “I want that fudge brownie!”. What you can alter is if you respond to it. We often think of our thoughts as an “order” instead of just a suggestion. No matter what your brain tells you to do with food, being mindful can help you manage it.

 The Mindful Eating Marathon:

1) Is free

2) Is a gift someone can give themselves for the holiday--the gift of health and a new way of eating

3) It provides an alternative to dieting, which has proven time and again to be ineffective. We know dieting doesn't work but we go back to it time and again. You can't expect different results by doing the same thing.

4) It's a long term strategy that has been clinically tested to help people manage weight.

I'm intrigued by her ideas and as a professional eater the notion of being attentive to my own relationship to food is intriguing. So I've registered for the Marathon, my first ever, and am looking forward to what shows up in my inbox next month.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Forum on Plain Dealer's future turns to thoughts of competition

The most intriguing question at this week’s Ohio City Writers forum on the Plain Dealer’s future wasn’t the Plain Dealer’s future. Most panelists seemed resigned to the fact that the paper will shrink this spring by cutting a third of its news staff. Instead, the talk became a brainstorming session on how nonprofit and for-profit startups might rise up to fill the growing holes in Cleveland news coverage.

“[Will] the Plain Dealer be vulnerable to competition?” asked moderator Dan Moulthrop of the Civic Commons. Perhaps, he suggested, the 58 journalists the paper's owner plans to cut from the newsroom after May 1 “could start a new news organization for the city.”

The Tuesday talk at the Happy Dog was the second time in a week that a West Side bar became a forum for heated talk about layoffs and seven-day publication at Cleveland’s daily paper. But the vibe Tuesday night was far different than at the newsroom union’s 7-Day Lager party last week.

Rachel Dissell, PD reporter and a leader of the Newspaper Guild's Save the Plain Dealer campaign, shared the stage with a skeptical panel that reflected Cleveland’s changing media landscape, including a moderator from a civic-journalism website, a politician-blogger and two former newspaper reporters gone digital. Some panelists, such as Pepper Pike city councilwoman Jill Miller Zimon, said they’ve become platform-agnostic, reading news both in print and online.

At first, the talk became a debate of sorts between Dissell and Angie Schmitt, a co-founder of the website Rust Wire who’s written critically about the Save the PD effort.

“It’s really a shame to see anyone laid off,” said Schmitt, who was laid off from the Toledo Blade four years ago. “But the reliance on print makes layoffs inevitable as print declines.”

“Does it take fewer people to ask questions and report stories for a 24-hour website than it does for a seven-day newspaper?” Dissell shot back.

Layoffs are business decisions, Schmitt replied. The web is “where you’re going to see growth in the media in the future.”

Online news is a “really tough business,” added Schmitt, a writer for the nonprofit Streetsblog, but “in some ways, it can be good for consumers, because there’s a really direct way to tell how your stories are being received and what people value.”

That defense of click-driven journalism alarmed Dissell. “On, the stories that get the most hits are the ones with the words, ‘Free,’ ‘Naked,’ and ‘Browns’ in them,” she replied.

Dissell recalled her work researching and writing mini-bios of 136 figures connected to the Cuyahoga County corruption investigation. Who else besides the Plain Dealer has the resources to do such a thing? she asked.

Halfway through, the talk turned on Moulthrop’s question: would a smaller PD face new competition? Schmitt said it would open up opportunities for journalism entrepreneurs.

“In Seattle, somebody told me, every single neighborhood has a hyperlocal blog that’s supporting a full- or part-time journalist,” Schmitt said. “In Cleveland, I think our new media landscape hasn’t been evolving the way you’d expect it to. It’s lagging behind places like Columbus and Toledo.”

Dissell said, a leader in neighborhood coverage, hasn’t figured out how to be profitable. Maybe a nonprofit news organization will have to fill the gap, she said.

Two other panelists, freelancer Afi-Odelia Scruggs and Thor Wasbotten, director of Kent State’s journalism school, debated whether crowd-funding can pay for investigative reporting. Scruggs said it seems to work best when crowd-funded journalists partner with established news organizations. Dissell said the Save the Plain Dealer campaign was looking into partnerships with nonprofits to cover areas the staff most wants to cover.

Wasbotten recommended journalist entrepreneurs approach the Knight Foundation, which has roots in Northeast Ohio. “They’re looking for great ideas,” he said.

All the talk of webby innovation brought Dissell back to the union’s frustrations with Advance, the Plain Dealer’s parent company. “We have no control over almost any of the website,” she says. “We can’t create our own apps. We can’t put out our own iPad version every day.” She once suggested creating digital news-alert notifications and was told the company wouldn’t allow it.

“If you go to the company with an idea and say, ‘I really think we need to do this online,’ you get radio silence,” she said.

Panelists kept returning to the main irony of Advance’s moves in Cleveland and elsewhere: It’s pursuing a digital-first strategy, but doesn’t create first-rate websites. That makes its risky bet even riskier.

“Go find the Advance Publications site,” Scruggs told the smartphone users in the audience. “When you look at that site, I want you to answer this question: Why do we expect them to do for us what they aren’t doing for themselves?”

Update, 12/17: You can listen to the forum here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Leap of Faith with Food

  I've written about a number of newly minted culinary entrepreneurs this year, and now there's another one to report on. His name is Mike Griffin and he opened Crust on Kenilworth in Tremont nine weeks ago (and lost one of them to the power outage courtesy of Hurricane Sandy). It's strictly take-out and the menu offers only pizza, subs, salads, gnocchi. But this is not ordinary meal-in-a-box fare. Dough, bread, and pasta are made on site from scratch and by hand. Ingredients are high end and local when possible. Sauces, toppings, and combinations are inventive and thoughtful. Chef Jeff Fisher, formerly at Touch Supper Club, has been serving as a consultant and hands on adviser and his professional influence is evident. (No surprise that Griffen wants to convince him to make the arrangement permanent). This is upscale restaurant style food, at bargain prices, for dining at home feasts.

   I "discovered" Crust recently when doing a book signing for Cleveland's West Side Market: 100 Years & Still Cooking at Visible Voice across the street. A woman bought a copy then went to over to pick up some dinner for herself. She came back about 15 minutes later with a container of roasted tomato ricotta gnocchi in a Parmesan broth for me, courtesy of Fisher, who I've known for years. Apparently while waiting for her order, she talked about the book and mentioned that I was in the store. He wanted me to get a taste of what they're doing and she very kindly I offered to handle delivery. It was superb, full of the flavor of garlic and fresh basil, white wine, and a hint of lemon. The gnocchi struck just the right balance between airiness and density, somehow being both light and yet substantial.    

   Went over later to say thank you and have a look. The space is really just a big kitchen with a counter, and a couple of tables and stools where customers can wait fro their orders. I met Griffin, who left the computer field to start this business. It's not entirely unprecedented- he has some history working at Deanatella's in Valley View, an old school, family run Italian deli.When his cousin,who owns Visible Voice, told him about  the vacant storefront, he decided it was time to take the leap. He loves having the West Side Market just minutes away and is a regular at the Tremont Farmer's Market.

  Though I've only tried one dish, I know just by reading what goes on the pies, in the sandwiches and over the pasta- lemon rosemary chicken, Tuscan fennel salami, chorizo, roasted garlic mayo, baby arugula, smoked mozzarella, sage and butternut squash, pancetta, balsamic reduction, caramelized onions, Parmesan cream, white truffle oil...that this is stuff I want to eat. I'll have to drive from east to west and back again to make that happen, but I'm highly motivated by Griffin's commitment to serve up the best. "I come in at 6:30 every morning to bake the bread. Making our pizza dough is a two day process.This is a neighborhood with so much great food," he says. "I have to bring my A-game."

Friday, December 7, 2012

Plain Dealer union members drink 7-Day Lager, mull bitter agreement

Market Garden Brewery’s 7-Day Lager, brewed in honor of the Save the Plain Dealer campaign, is crisp and blond, light for a craft beer.

“Only four percent alcohol, so you can drink seven in one day,” joked PD theater critic Andrea Simakis.

The beer menu just says “best when enjoyed daily.” But it’s understandable if some of the paper’s journalists wanted to drink more.

Three hours before their party last night at Market Garden’s basement bar, they’d learned the details of their union’s new agreement with Plain Dealer management. It sets the terms of the newsroom’s downsizing next year from 168 journalists to 110. And it made the party an uneasy brew of sad resignation, festive camaraderie, and sarcastic anger.

“We’ve got a special guest,” Plain Dealer science reporter John Mangels announced at the mike. “I’m sure he’s here somewhere. Steve Newhouse, are you here?”

Scattered boos greeted the name of the digital division chairman of Advance, which owns the PD and has converted several daily papers to three-day-a-week publications. Last month, Newhouse dismissed the union’s Save the Plain Dealer campaign by saying the chain’s decisions would be based on industry trends, not sentiment.

Mangels, who’s heading the campaign, pulled a Clint Eastwood, talking to a green chair as if it were Newhouse. He mocked Advance’s digital-first strategy and the quality of, the PD’s online platform.

“Steve’s blazing trails in the digital world,” Mangels said, but "takes a little while to load.” Advance has rebranded online reporters and editors as “content providers” and “curators,” Mangels said. "We are going to rebrand Steve,” he announced. “The first person who can do that without using the F-word gets a seven-day supply of 7-Day Lager.”

The proposed labor agreement signals that Advance does not plan to merge the Plain Dealer and into a single “media group,” as it has done in other cities. Instead, the company will run parallel news operations in Cleveland: a shrinking unionized newsroom and a new, nonunion digital news staff.

Under the new agreement, nonunion journalists will be able to write for the Plain Dealer, while Plain Dealer reporters’ work will still go online. It’s a major concession by the Newspaper Guild, and it’ll weaken the union over time, since new hires will likely be on the online side.

In exchange, the company will extend the Guild’s contract from 2014 to 2019, restore the 8 percent wage cut the journalists took to avoid layoffs in 2009, and add money to the Guild’s underfunded pension and health care funds. The paper also put a floor on its layoff plans. After the cut from 168 to 110 staffers sometime after May 1, it’ll only carry out one more downsizing, to 105 in 2014, in the next six years.

“After the massacre of 2013, we wanted a guarantee for people,” explained Harlan Spector, president of the Guild local.

The union votes on the agreement Tuesday. If it says no, Spector says management has vowed to cut 80 to 85 newsroom jobs in 2013 instead of 58 and reopen the existing contract’s economic provisions to take the health care and pension fund money out of the journalists’ wages.

“It’s not much of a choice: a bad option and a worse option,” said John Horton, who writes the PD’s Road Rant column for commuters. Horton said he’d grudgingly vote for the agreement. “You see what we have – it’s being dismantled. You’re losing something. You won’t realize it until it’s gone.”

Spector said the agreement hasn’t weakened the Guild’s resolve to press on with the campaign, which has attracted 6,700 supporters on an online petition. “We’re going to stand up for the community and what they want, a seven-day newspaper and a news staff that has some teeth,” he said.

The party, in the brightly wood-paneled basement of one of Cleveland’s most buzzed-about bars, was packed with current and former PD journalists and supporters of the Save the Plain Dealer campaign. The crowd included a few civic leaders, but not nearly enough to stage the citywide revolt the Guild has been hoping for.

Dave Abbott, executive director of the George Gund Foundation, drank a 7-Day Lager at the bar. “It’s a lighter beer than I normally like, but I’m drinking it out of a sense of loyalty,” said Abbott, who came to Cleveland to work at the Plain Dealer from 1975 to 1979.

Abbott said he thinks is a poor substitute for the print edition. “Their online platform is unappetizing, confusing, and inaccessible.” He feared a cut in the PD’s print schedule would hurt the community. “A daily newspaper is a primary source of civic journalism, analysis of issues,” he said.

Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald weaved through the crowd as reporters thanked him for his support. He said losing a daily would hurt the community’s growth and its political culture.

“Cleveland is on an upswing in a lot of ways,” FitzGerald said. “This is exactly the wrong time to become the largest metro area that’s not going to have a daily newspaper. We’ve got a good story to tell, a lot of vibrancy right now. I think we need a seven-day paper and all the reporting ability that goes along with it to build on that.”

Full-time reporting on politics is a “necessary ingredient of democracy,” FitzGerald argued. Without it, politics “really gets dumbed down.”

How are other civic leaders responding to the campaign? “I don’t think they’re as motivated as they should be,” FitzGerald said. The PD’s reporting has made enemies in town. “A lot of it, in my conversations with them, is based on the fact that they might have a personal grievance against the coverage of the Plain Dealer. It’s understandable, but I think it’s short-sighted.”

At the mike, singer-songwriter Alex Bevan performed “Ink on Paper,” a lively blues he wrote for the campaign:

The times are changing
You know that’s a fact
When a good thing is done
You just can’t get it back
I want my paper to stay

Sam McNulty, Market Garden’s owner, expressed solidarity with the journalists while anticipating next year’s layoffs.

“I’ve got two thoughts,” McNulty said. “One is, we’re going to win this. The second thought is, in case we don’t, Plan B is, when you walk out, bring everything you have, your Rolodex, all your contacts. There’ll be a small office somewhere where we can start all over again.”

Update, 7 pm: Videos from the event are online here.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Tough choices ahead for Plain Dealer staffers as 35% cuts loom

Even as The Plain Dealer’s journalists mount a campaign to keep the newspaper a daily, they’ll soon face wrenching choices.

The paper’s owner wants to reach an agreement with the newsroom union over how management will go about cutting the news staff by 35 percent and shifting its Cleveland operations to focus more on digital news.

Will the union accept an agreement, even though the journalists feel those cuts will devastate the newsroom and may be a prelude to publishing only three days a week? Or, if they say no, will they risk cuts to their pay and even deeper layoffs?

That’s the question I’m reading between the lines of the news trickling out of the newsroom union’s negotiations with Plain Dealer management.

Newspaper Guild officials revealed this week that the paper’s owner, Advance Publications, intends to cut the unionized newsroom staff — reporters, photographers, designers and mid-level editors — from 168 people to 110 on or after May 1.

Company negotiators haven’t talked about the paper’s future print schedule, except to say it isn’t part of the negotiations, says Harlan Spector, chairman of the union local.

“It’s certainly not a good sign as far as maintaining a seven-day publication schedule,” Spector says. “It doesn’t look good, but we’re still hopeful that the management of Advance is going to maintain a daily newspaper.”

Advance has already slashed its dailies in New Orleans and Alabama down to three-day-a-week newspapers and laid off 48 to 60 percent of the staff. Its papers in Syracuse, N.Y. and Harrisburg, Pa. are making the change in the new year. Staffers here fear the same fate is in store for The Plain Dealer.

Company officials have said only that its Cleveland operations will shift to stress online news more. That goal is the same as it’s expressed in other cities. But the shift will look different here. The Plain Dealer is Advance’s only paper with a newsroom union, and labor law and the Guild contract may be limiting its options.

In other cities, Advance merged its newspaper and online operations into a single “media group.” Here, the company seems to be planning to keep the operations separate, but cut print staff and increase digital staff. The company has offered to shrink the newsroom by a combination of layoffs and re-hires of some newsroom employees at the nonunion

“One of things being discussed is the May 1 layoff date,” Spector says. “We anticipate job offers for, job interviews, the whole process, being earlier than that.”

That seems designed to give the company maximum leverage over current staffers, forcing them into tough choices. The company could entice its newsroom stars to move to with offers of higher pay. Or it could tell some staffers they’ll be on the layoff list if they don’t accept an online job offer. Or it could leave them in the dark, so that if they turn down a offer, they’ll risk being laid off.

The new online jobs may well be like those in these ads for Advance’s Syracuse and Harrisburg media groups: a blend of traditional beat reporting with intense social media engagement.

It’ll be painful for the union to agree to a downsizing plan like this one, especially one so at odds with the goals of its Save the Plain Dealer campaign. John Mangels, chairman of the campaign, says reports from cities where Advance has implemented its strategy show the quality of news has declined.

“It’s not as comprehensive, not as deep, not as edited, has mistakes,” Mangels says. “That’s the kind of preview you’re getting, unfortunately, of what you’ll be seeing in Cleveland if this goes forward as we think it will.” Veteran reporters have been laid off or declined to join the new media groups, he says. “The inexperience of the reporters left there shows through.”

So the Save the Plain Dealer campaign is pressing on. “There has not been a publicly announced of number of days we are going to publish yet,” Mangels says. “We take this as a good sign. We can still have an impact on that decision. Because the layoffs have not happened yet, we believe we can still have an impact on that.”

But even as it resists the layoffs, the Guild may soon have to decide whether to agree on how they’ll be implemented. Its members have a lot at stake.

They accepted pay cuts in 2009 in exchange for a no-layoffs pledge that expires Jan. 31. So the remaining staffers should a bump back up in pay once layoffs happen. But if the union rejects a new agreement, another deadline looms. Starting Jan. 31, the company can also exercise an option in the Guild contract to request an “economic reopener” and try to renegotiate wages and benefits downward.

“If these talks don’t result in some sort of agreement, that’s possible,” Spector says.

The company and union are discussing whether to extend the Guild’s current contract, which expires in February 2014, into 2019.  So if the union turns down an agreement, its members could end up with even less job security. Advance’s offer to hire current staff for online jobs could disappear. Possibly even its plan to keep 110 Guild members could change.

So the journalists are facing two bad choices. Even as they work to create a region-wide debate over the paper’s fate, the company is reminding them of how little control they have.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Paris via Ohio City

   Picked the husband up at the airport on a recent Saturday night. It was around 8:30, we were hungry and decided to stop in Ohio City for a bite on the way home. It was a risk, without reservations, to venture into what has become one of the city's buzziest busiest dining districts. But we ended up with a table at Le Petit Triangle Cafe, a French style cafe that I have not visited in a long time. In the rush to eat at all the hot new places, I lost touch with this charming little gem and rediscovering it was a treat.
   Very reasonable prices for wine.  They had a Malbec from France- something I'd never tried for just $21. When I asked about it, the server described it and then dashed off to pour me a taste. Exemplary response that many more upscale establishments should emulate. It was a simple red, uncomplicated and light, just right for the small plate spread we put together. Our leisurely feast included an excellent chicken pate, a big bowl of mussels mariniere, a crunchy French flat bread "pizza" that's topped with caramelized onions, olives, and Parmesan. The only disappointment was the onion soup- the broth lacked both the necessary beefy richness and the requisite amount of salt. The finish was a fabulous dessert crepe made with spiced plums and presented with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  
   With conversation as a priority- we hadn't seen each other for three days- the quiet atmosphere was just right,with patrons all tete-a-tete and (because there is no bar) no bar scene hubbub. Soft lights, soft music, an intimate space with a European persona (and no tv's)- it was the perfect spot to be together.
  Owners Tom and Joy Harlor provide many reasons to find your way here: the selection of savory and sweet crepes and classic French dishes including salads, sandwiches, omelets and entrees; a relaxed and welcoming vibe, good value. And something more intangible- the total combination of food, decor, pace, energy, attitude- that I find so appealing. Let the crowds chase after the next new It place. Join them when you're in the mood. But when the occasion calls for an alternative, keep this place in your sights. I know I will.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Ameritrust Rotunda Opens For Wednesday Holiday Concerts

When downtown lunch-goers scramble up Euclid to grab a quick bite, many of them pass an architectural treasure on the corner of Euclid and East Ninth Street. Closed since 1996, the Ameritrust bank rotunda caught the attention of passers-by last Wednesday. As the music of pianist Robert Cassidy from the Music Settlement drifted out of the rotunda, intrigued Clevelanders stepped in for a rare glimpse of the granite building’s breathtaking architecture.

The golden Cleveland Trust Company seal on the banking floor shined among the filled seats. The massive Tiffany-inspired stained-glass dome, above two mezzanine levels, twinkled in the sunlight. Guests, grabbing hold of the iron and bronze railings, ascended the dome’s staircases to view Francis Millet’s vivid murals depicting the rise of Midwestern civilization. For Millet, who later died on the Titanic, these paintings were his lasting legacy.

The Cuyahoga County government, University Circle Inc. and the Downtown Cleveland Alliance opened the rotunda’s doors for their Circle in the City series of midday holiday concerts, which continue Wednesdays through Dec. 19.

Despite its rich historic value and architectural beauty, the Ameritrust complex has been shuttered for 16 years. Cuyahoga County purchased it in 2005, but plans to connect the rotunda to a new government administration building fell through.

County Executive Ed FitzGerald, who is looking for a buyer for the complex, was inspired to open the rotunda’s doors after taking a tour.

“When I left the building, I said that we must do something to open this up to the public,” FitzGerald said Wednesday. “It just isn’t right that a jewel of interior architecture has been locked away from the public and is covered in dust and wasting away.”

FitzGerald called Chris Ronayne, president of University Circle Inc., and invited him to showcase the circle’s cultural institutions during the Wednesday concert series. Ronayne seized the chance. It’s the first University Circle event in downtown Cleveland, he says.

”At University Circle Inc., we’ve had an intentional strategy to reach out beyond our borders to neighborhoods within the community of Cleveland and beyond,” said Ronayne. “Cleveland is a world-class city with world-class institutions and architecture like this at the Ameritrust building. We just have to open our doors to it.”

The Circle in the City series at the Ameritrust rotunda continues tomorrow with holiday music by the Tony Koussa Holiday Trio, sponsored by the Cleveland Botanical Garden. The rotunda will be open 11:30 am to 1 pm for concerts on the next four Wednesdays. Food trucks outside the rotunda will sell lunch.

“We focused on music in part because of the holiday season, but also because it’s really thematic to who were are as a city and what we do in University Circle,” said Ronayne. “Be it classic music or rock ‘n’ roll, we’re a music city.”

(Photos by Jennifer Schlosser, Cuyahoga Arts & Culture)

Girl Talk

Women are rising to prominence in Congress and in Cleveland restaurant kitchens. Gains in both groups are long overdue. I leave the political commentary to others. But I am grabbing this opportunity to talk about one emerging culinary star in our midst — Melissa Khoury, the executive chef at Washington Place Bistro and Inn.

A graduate of Johnson & Wales, she last worked as the sous chef at Amp 150 from 2009 to 2011 before moving on to her latest gig and being promoted to the top toque position. Khoury joins a small select group of females running restaurant kitchens that includes Karen Small (Flying Fig), Jill Vedaa (Rockefeller's), Heather Haviland (Lucky's) and Rachel Spieth (Press Wine Bar).

After spending a couple of wonderful hours as Khoury's guest, sampling dishes from her new fall/winter menu, created with help from her sous chef Chris Kafcsak, I can say with confidence that this young chef has earned a place among these other extremely talented women. In fact, she can hold her own with the city's up and comers of both genders.

A salad assembled from arugula, watercress, pears poached in red wine, a fine domestic Gorgonzola and toasted hazelnuts all dressed in a vanilla vinaigrette achieved a great balance, playing opposites off each other — sweet and bitter, funky earthiness and green freshness, soft and crunchy. Loved this.

The presentation of pork belly was clever. Seared and crisped, the rich fattty chunk of meat came with a cabbage roll, delicate and transparent, stuffed with chopped apple, radicchio and basmati rice, and tangy preserved lemon vinaigrette.

The taste of the season was captured in a fall-off-the-bone tender confit duck leg with apricot gnocchi, braised greens, rings of delicata squash and slices of rutabaga. Vegetables are an important part of Khoury's plates, never an afterthought or a filler, and she uses them in interesting ways, as these two preparations illustrate.

Ditto for fruits. A steak goes from fine to fabulous courtesy of a fig balsamic reduction. Seared scallops take on dimension thanks to a quince gastrique that amplifies their natural sweetness. I also really liked the lentil salad accompanying the shellfish: it's topped with crunchy fried carrot and parsnip threads, a take on a classic Arabic mujaddara and a nod to Khoury's Lebanese heritage. 

The most delicious dish of all to me, the one I raved about to the husband and can't wait to go back and eat again, was the Australian sea bass (aka barramundi), a mild white fleshed fish. She serves it in a bright orange carrot broth, with a farro risotto in which celery root puree takes the place of cream. A shallot gremolata made with pickled celery root adds just the right touch of acid. This is such an outstanding creation on every front -- appearance, taste, and originality. It even gets points for being healthy.

Needless to say, after trying all these things, I did not really have room or appetite for dessert. And Melissa confessed that treats are not really her specialty. But then added that she had come up with something she thought was pretty good and really wanted me to weigh in on it.

I still wasn't convinced, but then she offered this description: "It's a vanilla panna cotta (I am helplessly, hopelessly attracted to custards and puddings like this), topped with brown sugar caramel, salt and peppered sauteed apples and chunks of pumpkin seed brittle." I couldn't say no, and I'm so glad I didn't. The play of creaminess against all that snap, crackle and pop was brilliant.

A few of the old crowd-pleasing favorites from the original menu, like oxtail pierogies and pot roast, are still offered, but as far as I'm concerned, Washington Place has become a new and different place. Khoury's boss Scott Kuhn was smart to hire her, put her in charge, and let her essentially reinvent the restaurant.  If you're equally clever, you'll go discover what she can do for yourself.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Bonjour French Friends

Cleveland has a sister city in France (news to me) - Rouen, the capital of Normandy which is Jaques Pepin's home turf. We're hosting some special guests from our sibling metropolis next week for a culinary exchange organized by the French American Chamber of Commerce. Two are open to the public and anyone interested in attending should hurry to make reservations. Both promise an authentic experience and an entertaining few hours. No guidebooks, passports, or pocket dictionaries required.

On Tuesday, November 27 there's an intimate dinner for just 25 people at L'Albatros in University Circle. Two chefs from Rouen, Alexis Caquelars and Anthony Coufourier will partner with the restaurant's Chef de Cuisine Jack Ahern to prepare six courses. Brandon Chrostowski, staff sommelier, is in charge of the French wine pairings. The evening beings at 6 PM.  Price is $100 per person (plus tax and gratuity). Call 216-791-7880 to book your seat.

The new 2012 bottling of Beaujolais is in the spotlight along with other French reds and whites on Wednesday, November 28 downtown at Pura Vida, from 5:30-9 PM. The wines will be accompanied by a three course meal made by the same two visiting chefs, who will also do a cooking demo. They'll be working side by side with students from Tri-C's culinary program, under the supervision of their instructor Chef Ky-wai Wong and restaurant owner Chef Brandt Evans.  Price is $80 per person and you must register in advance.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Plain Dealer's future dominates public forum

Will The Plain Dealer remain a daily newspaper? That question dominated the conversation at today's forum at Trinity Cathedral about the future of the news in Cleveland.

“There’s a lot at stake; it’s not just our jobs,” said Harlan Spector, chairman of the Newspaper Guild's Plain Dealer chapter and one of the leaders of the union's Save The Plain Dealer campaign, launched Sunday.

The Plain Dealer's owner, Advance Publications, has been converting its daily newspapers in several states to three-day-a-week publications and cutting their staffs by about 50 percent. The realignment toward online publication has already happened at Advance's papers in Michigan, Alabama and New Orleans, and it is slated to take place in Syracuse, N.Y., and Harrisburg, Pa. in January.

Plain Dealer staffers fear Cleveland will be next. A no-layoffs pledge in the journalists’ union contract expires in January, and the company has told leaders of the newsroom union that layoffs and unspecified changes are coming.

“This really undermines the ability of the press to function as it should in a free society,” Spector argued to the audience of about 30 at today's forum, sponsored by the Cleveland chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Spector pointed to paper's coverage of the 2009 Cuyahoga County reform effort. “The Plain Dealer was all over county reform. We covered it at every turn of the screw,” he said. “That would not have happened if it weren’t for a daily newspaper coming to look at that day in and day out. That’s the kind of thing you’re going to lose.”

Without a daily paper, many people will be cut off from the news, Spector argued. “The physical paper serves a role that I don’t think can be replaced digitally,” he said. “There are a lot of elderly in the city, and they’re not just going to go on the website to get their news.”

Print newspapers nationwide face declining circulation and revenue as readers move online. People at the forum agreed that social media is accelerating the change and becoming many readers’ main source of news.

“News was a one-way thing, where we printed it and you read it. We played the gatekeeper role,” said Jean Dubail, a senior regional editor at and a former Plain Dealer staffer.

“We would sort through all the myriad of things that were happening in Cleveland and boil them down into a manageable package that you could read every day,” Dubail said. “Now that function is being performed by your friends.”

Plain Dealer reporter Diane Suchetka, in the audience, argued that her colleagues are providing reliable reporting online and in print. “We’re tweeting, we’re on Facebook, but we’re giving people a quality product just like in any other industry,” Suchetka said. “You want the suit coat that you buy, or the glasses that you buy, or the shoes that you buy to be good, and you’re willing to pay for good quality. That’s what we’re asking.”

The Save The Plain Dealer campaign's online petition has attracted nearly 1,000 signatures in the past 24 hours, totaling at 3,629 supporters as of this afternoon. The campaign hopes to receive 5,000 signatures and encourages the community and long-time followers of The Plain Dealer to show their support over the next several weeks by signing the petition, subscribing to the paper and writing letters to Advance executive Steven Newhouse.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Book Club

photo by Bob Perkoski,

I’ve been spending time with Michael Symon’s Carnivore: 120 Recipes for Meat Lovers, just recently released by Clarkson Potter (and covered in Cleveland Magazine last month). First impression after the initial flip-through was that it’s nice to look at, (though it does not unfortunately lay open and flat), well organized and full of dishes I want to eat. And, as the co-author of my own new book (with Marilou Suszko), Cleveland’s West Side Market: 100 Years & Still Cooking, (mentioned in both the October and November issues of Cleveland Magazine) with a forward written by Symon, I was delighted to see that a goodly number of the photos were shot at the local spot we both love so much.

Further closer reading revealed that it offers a great deal useful information, even for an experienced cook like me, but is clear and simple enough for anyone at any skill level to use.The writing — from chapter intro’s and headnotes to instructions and sidebars are lucid, engaging, and warmly personal. Some credit for that must go to Symon’s literary collaborator Doug Trattner, freelance journalist, editor, author, and chronicler of Cleveland’s food scene for many years. Symon has many talents but he’s the first to admit that he’s not a pro when it comes to putting words on paper. So it was Trattner’s job to turn the chef’s thoughts and ideas into solid, readable prose while letting Symon’s style and personality shine through on every page. He succeeded admirably. So I thought it would be interesting to get —and share — Trattner’s perspective on the partnership.
photo by Bob Perkoski,

-How did you get involved in this project? Michael approached me at the start of the process saying that he was looking for a ghostwriter for his second cookbook and would I consider taking it on. Having now made it through to the other side, I see how important a good fit between team members really is. There is absolutely no room for ego in this role, and I think Michael saw that quality in me.

-What exactly was your role? Initially, I was tapped to be a straight-up ghostwriter, meaning that all of my work would be behind the scenes, with perhaps a mention in the acknowledgments. Soon after the project began, though, Symon was hired onto the cast of The Chew, which he juggled along with Iron Chef, Symon Suppers, and Cook Like an Iron Chef. The busier he got, the larger my role became. In the end, Symon upgraded my status to that of co-author, complete with cover credit. I never asked, he didn't have to offer, but that's Symon in a nutshell.

-How long did the project take from start to finish? We first discussed the project more than a year and a half back. First there are outlines, tables of content, basic structural issues like how the chapters will be categorized. Recipes are tested (by Symon's chef Katie Pickens), photographed (by Jennifer May), chapters are written, manuscripts are submitted, returned, re-submitted… until everything is as perfect as humanly possible.

-Were there any especially memorable moments- good or bad- as the book went from concept to completion? You mean besides the late-night pillow fights? Due to a mix-up, I never received the publisher (Clarkson Potter) style guide until late in the game. That meant that pretty close to 120 recipes were improperly formatted. I had to go back and re-do a lot of my work. But it was all worth it when I received my first hardcover copy. It is such a beautiful cookbook, and to see it all come together in one glorious package really is staggering. It was the highlight of my professional career – that is, until my name landed on the New York Times Best Seller list.

-Is this your first time collaborating? How was it being part of a team? In terms of process, how did you and Symon work together? Was it a smooth or bumpy ride? For Fresh Water, our team produces a product every week, so I'm used to speedy efficiency. Things move slower in book publishing, and I often found myself stuck waiting for the answer that would allow me to move on with my work. I had to accept the fact that I was working with one of the busiest human beings on the planet and to not take silence or delays personally. But when Symon gets a window in which to work, he is a machine.

-What are some of the challenges in writing a cookbook and how was this different than other writing you've done? After writing professionally for a dozen years, you develop a style (hopefully) that not only is unique to yourself, but also sort of hardcoded into your DNA. When you write with and for another person, you need to resist those involuntary and instinctive impulses to do things your way. Mike has a style all his own – one that clearly is beloved by fans – and more than anything, I need to preserve, sharpen and enhance his voice. I imagine it's a bit like ventriloquism -- without those creepy dolls.

-Did you learn anything new about meat and how to cook it? I did. One of the best takeaways from the book, I think, is the notion of the dry brine (or quick cure). Symon is not a big fan of wet-brining meats; instead, he suggests liberally seasoning meat the night before and letting it rest in the fridge overnight. Do this to a good-quality chicken the night before you roast it and you will be amazed at the difference. I also learned that when the recipe calls for veal heart, do not substitute the heart from a worn-out dairy cow or you will be very sorry (but your dogs will be very happy).

-The public loves Michael and no matter how significant your contribution, as far as they're concerned this is his book. Is it hard to be in the shadow of a big celebrity like Symon? As far as I'm concerned, this is his book. While I'm extremely proud of the work I did, the book would be nothing without the bald man on the cover. It is his food, his words, and his talent that created the thing. More importantly, it is his reputation and hard work that is selling the thing. I can't imagine enduring his grueling schedule of TV tapings, book signings, public appearances… All I had to do was sit in front of my computer in my jammies. The book is not a New York Times Best Seller because of me; it's because of Symon.

-I heard a rumor that you're already working on second cookbook with him. Is it true? It's true. We recently started work on Symon's third cookbook, which plays off of the type of cooking he does on The Chew. The recipes are really geared to the home cook, who may not have a lot of time, but still wants to feed his or her family a delicious (and affordable) meal. If all goes as planned, the book should drop around this time next year.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

After Party, After Sandy

 I was hanging out at Noodlecat late Saturday night,  mingling with some of the hard working chefs who so generously donated time and talent to the utterly fabulous and financially successful West Side Market Gala. As if he hadn't already done enough,  'Cat owner and chef extraordinaire Jonathon Sawyer, who worked with Michael Symon on the big fundraiser, rolled out the welcome mat for an afterparty. He wanted to be sure that those who worked the main event also had a chance to kick back, relax, and enjoy some nice food and drink. Ben Bebenroth, who's own Spice Kitchen and Bar had been closed last week due to the power outages that crippled so many Cleveland neighborhoods, was outside grilling.

Eric Williams and I chatted about how Storm Sandy had hurt us here. Momocho, his Ohio City restaurant, was dark for three days. He lost about $5,000 worth of food and the building suffered some serious wind and water damage. He estimates his total losses at $15, 000, a lot for a small business but not much, we agreed, compared to the hit taken by those on the east coast, including some of the chefs scheduled to be here for the Gala. I mentioned reading an article in The New York Times about how tough things were for that city's hourly wage workers: their desperate attempts to get to work despite the dangers and transportation shut down because they couldn't afford to miss a day of work, and the despair of those who  lost desperately needed income when their employers didn't or couldn't open for business. Williams told me that, worried about his own people, he had gone to the bank, made a cash withdrawal and paid his staff for the days Momocho was shuttered. "I did it," he said, "because it was the right thing to do."

He didn't tell me this to boast or make himself look good. I wasn't on the job and he had no reason to think I'd write about it. We were just two people chatting about what had been going on. But thinking about it afterwards, I realized that I wanted to share the conversation because it encapsulates both some of the grief the hurricane left in its wake and the way people step up to help one another in times of crisis. The entire evening- the super efforts Symon and Sawyer made to find replacements for the chefs from out of town who were not able to make it here; how everyone pulled together to insure that the fundraiser went ahead as planned including Williams who cooked for the event; Bebenroth showing up with his usual smile despite a hellish week and troubles of his own; and my exchange with Eric- was a little story within a big a disaster and a testament to resiliency and goodness.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

All That Glitters

Penny Preville has been designing jewelry for decades. But when she talks about her art, she has all the enthusiasm of the little girl who loved nothing more than playing in her grandmother’s jewelry box.

“My father’s mother had really beautiful jewelry — Tiffany, Cartier, beautiful gemstones, pieces that just evoked so much emotion,” she says. “They were really magnificent. It was special. It really sparked my interest. I just started taking costume jewelry apart and making things.”

Her jewelry captures the opulence and grandeur of another era, one seen partly through the rosy glasses of memory, but also through dedicated research into foreign cultures and lost worlds.

“I’m very inspired by the history of art and past cultures,” she explains. “It’s kind of like imagination, falling in love with what I think is beautiful in those eras or cultures, and then making it into a piece of jewelry that a woman can wear and feel it become a part of her, adorn her.”

Preville’s collections will be on display during a one-day champagne-and-sushi trunk show at Alson Jewelers this Saturday, Nov. 10, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. We asked her for a few of her favorite pieces from the upcoming show.

Diamond Bangle Bracelet: “It’s very simple: It’s pave, with a twist and engraving on the side. But it’s so classic — you could wear it with shorts and a bathing suit, or you could wear it black tie. It’s just something [where] you put it on every morning, and you’re dressed.”

Garland Band: “One of my favorite pieces, one of my signature pieces. When I started I did a garland collection that’s all leaves and flowers. I love it. That’s one thing that I wear all the time.”

Feather Earrings: “I love feathers. That goes back to when I first started and I was in love with American Indian jewelry, when I was still in college, and I would make feathered earrings and wrap them in leather. Now it’s with diamonds,” she says with a laugh.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Zombie Apocalypse Descends Upon SPACES

Slavs and slaughter, accordions and apocalypse collided on the Superior Viaduct Saturday night at SPACES Gallery's benefit party, the Polkapocalypse. A live (and undead) polka band played while zombie party guests with perfected decaying-flesh makeup and splattered fake blood shambled through the gallery, almost stealing the show from the hundreds of artworks auctioned off.  

Other costumed guests embraced the themes of polka and the apocalypse, such as this player of a nuclear bomb accordion and this couple with polka-dotted faces and T-shirts bearing the date of the purported Mayan apocalypse.  Photographer Justyna Walker won the title of Zombie Queen for her entry in the zombie art contest, a photo of a female zombie in traditional Polish dance clothing.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Polka, Zombies Descend on SPACES Gallery for Saturday Polkapocalypse

You can always count on the artists and art lovers of SPACES gallery to put on a creative party. This year, they've dubbed their annual benefit the Polkapocalypse, crossing Cleveland-style old-world music with the latest undead craze.

That's right. Polka + zombies.

Flesh-eating hordes will stalk the Superior Viaduct this Saturday night.  It's a costume-optional party, but just imagine the possibilities. You could go as zombie Frankie Yankovic, your accordion wailing a peppy death march... or dress in a checkered red shirt and gray face paint...  or shamble slowly but relentlessly through the crowd, singing "Who Stole the Brains?" in Polish...

Whatever I can imagine, the SPACES crowd will surely outdo it.

The apocalypse begins at 7 pm for VIPs, 8 pm for regular ticket-holders, 10 pm if you get the "graveyard shift" $10 tickets. Live music starts around 8; DJ Kishka spins polka records starting at 10. Everyone gets a chance to bid on auctioned art, and higher-priced tickets include a buy-it-now option. There's also a 12x12 art sale, where everything's $75 and 12-by-12-inches or smaller.  (For more info, click here. You can buy tickets online until noon today. After that, they'll only be available at the door.)

At 9:45, the evening peaks with several guest-blogger judges (including yours truly) judging the results of a polka zombie art contest. We will name the winner the Zombie King or Zombie Queen.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Eat, Drink, Learn

In his long and successful career chef Paul Minnillo has always been ahead of the culinary curve. He  was interested in the wines from Napa long before it was stylish and his relationships with some of the region's premier producers have deep roots. He celebrates one of those connections with a Burgess Cellars wine dinner on November  5 at Flour, his Italian inspired restaurant in Moreland Hills. Winery founder Tom Burgess and Minnillo go way back- both attended Miami of Ohio and before he relocated to the west coast, Tom worked for an Akron based company. His son Steve has taken over the label now that his father is retired and will host the five course pairing. 

The 2008 vintages will be featured including  Merlot, Cabernet and Syrah. Grapes come from the slopes of Howell Mountain, where the soil and exposure bring out the best in these red varietals. No doubt the menu Minnillo and Chef Matt Mytro create to accompany these wines, along with sparkling rose. an chardonnay to get things started, will be superb. The Monday night meal runs from 6:30-8:30 PM. The cost is $85 plus tax and gratuity and reservations are required.

Another event at Flour you might want to book is the brining class the two chefs are leading on Sunday, November 11, from 11 AM-1 PM. Using this technique is a near guarantee that your holiday turkey (pork roast and chicken too) will emerge from the oven moist and flavorful (unless you overcook it). Sip wine, snack and pick up some pointers from the experts. $75 per person. Call to reserve your seat.

And while you're in a reservation making mode, don't forget it's Cleveland Restaurant Week Nov 5- 19. Participating establishments offer prix fixe 3 course menus for $33, and you can see them online. It's always a great opportunity to support local independent restaurants. Think of it as your civic duty. So get out there and eat- you're sure to find bargains and you just might discover a new place that becomes a favorite.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Cavs Preview: Young Team Looking to Improve

On opening day for the Cleveland Cavaliers, there is one thing we know for sure about the hometown squad: They are a young team. You can see that just by looking at them, or by glancing at a roster and noticing they have four players born in the 1990s and only four born before 1987. It’s something that will certainly dictate this year’s level of success, but also provides ample opportunity for both development and improvement over the course of a full 82-game schedule.

“We have a young team and it's going to take some time for these guys to continue to grow and gel together,” head coach Byron Scott said at the team’s Flashes of Hope event last week. “They're gonna make mistakes, because they are young, but I'm excited about the direction we're headed. This team is better than the team we had last year, so we're growing.”

One of the club’s elder statesman is Daniel Gibson, born way back in 1986. He understands that having such a fresh and untested group of players makes it impossible to predict how things will play out, but that it can also be a positive thing in terms of exceeding expectations.

“When you have young guys, you really don’t know what to expect,” said Gibson. “But I think with the time that we’ve been putting in and the work that we’ve been putting in, I definitely think that we have an opportunity in front of us and enough talent to get out there and make some big things happen.”

Dion Waiters and Daniel Gibson

Anderson Varejao agrees, stating that he believes the team “can surprise a lot of people.” But for Coach Scott, entering his second season, he feels the most important thing is that the team remains focused and united, regardless of how that matches up with any outside projections.

“We're going to go through our ups and downs. That's what young teams do,” said Scott. “But I think as long as we stay together and understand that this is a process and we have to continue to stay on course, we'll be OK.”

The main guy setting that tone on the floor will no doubt be Kyrie Irving — the best and youngest player on the roster — slated by many around the league to join the upper echelon of NBA athletes in only his second season. He missed the team event due to having his wisdom teeth removed earlier in the week, but it certainly didn’t quell the expectations of his teammates that were in attendance.

“I can’t wait for people to see Kyrie. I’m just mad that people only get to see him 82 games when I get to see him every day in practice,” said Gibson, unable to contain the smile plastered across his face. “He’s improved, he works his tail off every day. I’m just looking forward to it. I mean I don’t want to give it away, but I just know he’s going to take the league by storm once again. I personally believe he’s a top five point guard already.”

The other young bucks sure to receive plenty of attention are the team’s two rookie first-round picks, Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller.

“I went through the whole training camp, and it was tough, it was really tough,” said Waiters, who was drafted fourth overall after two years at Syracuse. “But I learned a lot, it's coming to me. You just have to take your time out there and let the game come to you. I'll be more than ready.”

Zeller has impressed early on as well, earning rave reviews from players and coaches,

“The guy that’s surprised me so far is Tyler. I knew he had talent, but in order to be successful in this league you gotta have toughness,” said Gibson. “We’ve been in practice a few times and he’s been ready to go to blows with a few guys. That kind of surprised me, but to see it is refreshing. You want young guys coming in to be hungry and to have that fire in them, and he’s definitely got it.”

“Tyler is a lot more aggressive and physical than people think he is,” added Scott. “He's one of those guys that just doesn't back down from anybody. The players are getting excited about him and the fiery passion that he has about the game.”

Cavaliers players and coaches

Scott was also thrilled by the evening’s event, hosted by the Cavs and Lake Erie Monsters, which is expected to have raised more than $500,000 for Flashes of Hope and the Children’s Tumor Foundation. The Willy Wonka-themed soiree featured a fashion show of the players and coaches paired alongside children affected by pediatric cancer, as well as plenty of food, cocktails and candy.

“I love it because of the fact that it involves kids,” said Coach Scott of the event. “Most of these kids have gone through so much at an early age, and for us to have the chance to put a smile on their face makes us happy.”

As for the kids on his own roster, the head coach is interested more in progression than fulfilling any outside expectations this season.

“Our goal is to get to the playoffs,” said Scott. “But we also understand that it is a steady progression of just getting better as a young team. I’m not going to put any expectations on our guys. I just want them to continue to work every single day and get better every single day, and the rest will take care of itself.”

Monday, October 29, 2012

Chuck Berry performs, honored as American Music Master

Chuck Berry on the State Theatre stage. (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum/Janet Macoska)

“Very happy to be here,” Chuck Berry said to the crowd, the tribute concert to himself winding to a close. “I’m 86 years old. I’m happy to be anywhere.”

The sentiment was certainly appreciated by the sold-out crowd that packed the State Theatre on Saturday night, all of whom were there to see the living legend and pioneer of rock ’n’ roll live onstage. Concluding the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s weeklong American Music Masters celebration, Roll Over Beethoven: The Life and Music of Chuck Berry, the tribute concert featured a lineup of musicians playing Berry’s original songs in recognition of the hall’s flagship honor. Fellow Hall of Fame inductees Ernie Isley and Darryl McDaniels took the stage, as did Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead, Ronnie Hawkins of the Band, country music legend Merle Haggard and many others over the course of three-plus hours. Each musician played one or two of their personal favorite Chuck Berry selections, covering the wide gamut of his massive song catalog.

“The Rock Hall’s first inductee” as stated by president and CEO Terry Stewart, Berry was a member of the initial 1986 induction class and performed at the museum’s opening ceremony. Stewart also told the crowd of Berry informing him earlier that day that he still had the shovel from the site’s original ground breaking, his longtime connection to the museum making the festivities all the more meaningful.

Each musician brought their own creativity and distinct voice to Berry’s many masterpieces, including a particularly enjoyable Ronnie Hawkins’ performance of “Roll Over Beethoven.” But Berry was the man that everyone came to see, earning a standing ovation when he was introduced as the night’s final musical guest. The toll of 86 years and rock deification were obvious during his two songs on the stage, fumbling through “Johnny B. Goode” and “Reelin’ & Rockin’ ” with a great deal of help from his backing band, which included his daughter on harmonica and vocals and his son on guitar.

Not that the crowd seemed to mind. There’s something undeniably special about seeing a legend like Chuck Berry perform live, regardless of how much Mother Nature has slowed him down. Time certainly hasn’t diminished Berry’s showmanship or sense of humor though, evidenced by him nailing the quippy one-liners during “Reelin’ & Rockin’ ” that had plenty of parents shaking their heads in shock once upon a time, or doing a toned-down version of his signature “duckwalk” across the stage to ruckus applause. All things considered, the fact that he can still get out there and tear through those seminal rock songs is award-worthy in its own right.

Stewart presented the American Music Masters trophy to close out the evening, with Berry walking off stage accompanied by his wife of 62 years, Themetta. He paused to wave back at the crowd one last time, cracking a wide, appreciative smile, before turning to make his final exit ­— arguably the greatest pioneer of rock music disappearing behind the curtain as the crowd stood and cheered.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Liking Luxe All Over Again

Brian Okin has been running the kitchen at Luxe since June. The husband and I were on hand for tasting last week of his new fall menu organized for staff and few friends of the house. After making my way through samples of fourteen sides, salads, small plates, pizzas and entrees it's quite clear to me that this skilled chef has settled in and hit his stride. He's putting his mark on this restaurant, which has been around since 2008, and diners have reason to rejoice.

 Okin likes to promote himself as a serious carnivore cook, with a special interest in a certain unconventional protein, and the braised pork shank osso bucco (with cheesy polenta) leaves no doubt that he knows how to handle a piece of meat to bring out its finest qualities. Pork belly and garlic sausage are used to good effect in place of duck in a riff on cassoulet. Earthy porcini spaetzle, made with a powdered from of the mushroom, are dotted with what Okin calls "his best friend," bacon. And the prosciutto and fresh mozzarella stuffed chicken breast is pure poultry comfort food. But what really grabbed my attention was his ability to add real va-va-voom to veggies.

I went crazy over the salads. Really, no exaggeration. The wedge features small baby head lettuces and a fantastic smoked blue cheese dressing made with creme fraiche and a malt vinegar aioli they prep in house. Another is a combination of roasted cauliflower, butter lettuce, chickpeas, and pickled red onion, all set off by a raisin-sherry vinaigrette. But my personal favorite, as well as the entire table's pick for best, was the winter squash. Slices are coated in panko and toasted in clarified butter, paired with arugula, and drizzled with truffle oil and a wonderful Gorgonzola fondue.

A cauliflower gratin in gruyere crema was rich and satisfying. Squash with risotto and raclette cheese finished with brown butter and sage was an autumn on the plate feast. And then there were the fried brussels sprouts tossed in a lemon rosemary vinaigrette with capers and toasted almonds. Simply and yet perfect. Possibly the best version of these little cabbage cousins I've ever had.

One feature of the menu I really like is the family meal option (minimum of two people): $28 per person gets the table a  customized, three-course selection of dishes for sharing. Another noteworthy aspect is the array of options for vegetarians and vegans. 

Luxe has been around long enough to be a Gordon Square neighborhood fixture. But there are all kinds of new reasons to check it out now thanks to chef Brian Okin.