Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Make a Date to Pair Up

There's a lot of fine cheese being produced all around Ohio. Using cow, sheep and goat milk, small mom-and-pop operations are crafting American original versions of Euro-style classics and turning out fresh and aged, hard and soft varieties from funky blues to creamy boucheron and brie. Some have taken home prizes in national competitions. These artisans recently banded together as the Ohio Cheese Guild to promote their products. To that end, and in celebration of other local makers, the guild is hosting The Great Cheese Challenge Nov. 15.

A panel consisting of Sam McNulty, proprietor of Market Garden Brewery and more; Ed Thompkins, wine expert with Heinen’s; and Shannon Welsh, ACS-certified cheese professional from Heinen’s, are running the show. Their task is to guide the audience in a tasting to tease out the best combinations of six Ohio wines, beers and cheeses. Once everyone has found their favorites, there will be hot-out-the-oven-pizza for all along with plenty to drink.

It's happening in Cleveland at Miceli's Dairy on East 90th. This is a fundraiser for the organization and tickets for non-members are $75 per person.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Actor and Ohio native Keith Myers talks 'Dear White People'

The trailer for Dear White People, a satirical drama about “being a black face in a white place,” blew up on YouTube. The movie won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award at Sundance Film Festival. Now the film, which follows a group of Ivy League students navigating race relations and searching for their own identities, is in theaters.

Keith Myers, an actor who moved from Wakeman to Los Angeles in 1999, plays "Black Mitch." He will be hosting a Q&A at Cedar Lee Theatre following the 7:20 p.m. showing tonight and tomorrow. But we called him before the session at his parents’ house in Wakeman to get the early scoop.

CM: What does this movie mean to you? 

KM: “It’s getting a lot of press for its title, and obviously there’s a lot to do with race in the movie. But I think fundamentally, the ultimate quest of the movie is about identity — and especially for young people in college just searching for who they are, regardless of their sexuality or race or any of that stuff. ... By the end of it, you hopefully will question your own sort of place and your own identity, and how you relate to the world and the people you associate with and your friends and family.” 

CM: What’s been the response to the movie so far? 

KM: “The movie’s over and everybody is talking. It’s amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced screenings where it’s just so provocative in a sense where people want to talk about what they just saw. They want to have a conversation about what they just saw. They want to maybe bring up something that they’ve never been able to bring up to a group of friends or they can relate to certain things. ... It’s going to make you think, and it’s not going to tell you what to think. It poses a question and lets you come to your own conclusion.” 

Keith Myers as "Black Mitch" on the
set of Dear White People.
CM: What are doing on your trip back to Ohio? 

KM: “I’m back for six days, mostly for the film, and we’re doing some radio spots, but I get to see my family and hopefully go to a Browns game. So that’ll be good, [if they] beat the [Oakland] Raiders so I can bring that back to LA. ... I have a lot of pressure on the Browns this weekend, so they better win. I can’t handle going back to LA and dealing with that.”

All Around Old-Fashioned

I used to work at Fire, Food & Drink, Doug Katz's signature spot in Shaker Square. Along with some pretty great chefs and line cooks, I also liked to pick up a little trade craft from the bartenders, who could throw together complex cocktails with the same ease as I'd steam a pound of mussels. My personal favorite was Brendan O'Malley.

He's cool for three reasons: One, he makes a mean old fashioned (see his recipe below). Two, he's got a hipsteriffic mustache, complete with waxed-up curls. And three, he's the vocalist and mandolin player for Honeybucket, a great "newgrass" band that's playing on Saturday, Oct. 25 at 8 p.m. at the new Flats hot spot Music Box Supper Club.

What is newgrass, you ask? Good question.

"The reason we say newgrass is because we write our own stuff, but we use instruments that are typically found in bluegrass, particularly the mandolin," O'Malley says. All three members of Honeybucket — Abie Klein-Stefanchik (acoustic bass, left), O'Malley (mandolin, center) and Adam Reifsnyder (guitar, right) — sing and compose.

If you haven't gotten out to Music Box yet, O'Malley wholeheartedly recommends it. Not only is the music scene sweet, he says, it's also a great new food and bar venue.

"It's dinner theater, so if you buy a ticket you can also make a reservation" he says. "It's a big stage, big dining room, and you get service. It's pretty awesome."

O'Malley now works at Jonathon Sawyer's Greenhouse Tavern. "I write songs in my head while I'm taking orders," he says.

In addition to fall-season cocktails, such as the fall Manhattan with anise bitters, O'Malley is a fan of the mulled cider there. "Mulled cider spiked with bourbon," he clarifies. It's offered on draft along with red and white wines (and beer, of course).

"People are always like, 'What? I've never heard of that!' I'm like, what do you think they did back in the day?"

But for his part, O'Malley credits Sergio Abramof, chef and owner of Sergio’s in University Circle and Sergio’s Sarava in Shaker Square, for teaching him the ropes.

"He was an amazing man and an awesome chef," he says of Abramof, who died in August 2012. "I basically learned the trade from him at Sarava, making mojitos and caipirinha, the Brazilian stuff and the muddled [drinks]," he says. "That was basically my introduction to the bar world."

Brendan, nicknamed Brendonian by his bandmates (subsequently shortened to Donian then Dones) gives us his own take on a classic old fashioned:

Dones' Old Fashioned

1/2 ounce raw syrup (1-1/2 parts raw sugar to 1 part water, brought to a boil and allowed to steep)
2 ounces Dickel Rye whiskey
1 good shake Bar Keep Apple Bitters
1 good shake Fee Brothers Barrel Aged Bitters
Shake and pour over fresh ice, then garnish with orange peel and a maraschino cherry

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Radio Show Host Ken Schneck Says Cleveland is So Gay

It's been seven years since Ken Schneck's radio show, This Show Is So Gay aired its first episode in Brattleboro, Vermont. Two hundred and eighty episodes later, the associate professor and director of the Leadership in Higher Education Program at Baldwin Wallace University is hosting the show in Cleveland. "The central theme of the show is, 'How can you use your voice in your own unique way to make a difference?' " says Schneck, whose show is broadcasted online and on iTunes. "I wanted to reclaim the idea of something being 'so gay' and actually have it be so gay."

His next guest coming up, 19-year-old Caleb Laieski, is a former commentator on the show. At 15 years old, he was trying to build transitional housing for homeless LGBT youth, but now he's returning for the 281st episode after he filed the first ever federal lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration to fight the ban on gay men donating blood. "I can't think of a guest on the show who hasn't had the most incredible experience," Schneck says, having hosted everyone from emerging indie-pop stars A Great Big World to openly gay comedian Suzanne Westenhoefer.

We asked Schneck to give us three things that make Cleveland so gay, and he delivered.

1. The LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland is stealing the spotlight after receiving a $1.8 million donation and a $500,000 matching grant from the Milton and Tamar Maltz Family Foundation to relocate and expand its facility. "Everyone should be keeping their eye on what's going on there, because they're going to continue to take an even greater role in building community here in Cleveland," says Schneck. "They already do incredible work, but I think they're on the cusp of just upping the ante even more."

2. Cleveland welcomed LGBT visitors and allies from all over the world in August to participate in the Gay Games 9 by flying rainbow flags all over the city — and some of them are still flying. "[These] visual artifacts make such a difference for visitors and for people who live here, and it sends a really strong message in a state that is in the minority right now," he says, noting that Ohio does not have marriage equality and employment protection.

3. Sometimes it's all about the good vibrations — and Cleveland is still roaring with pride months after the Gay Games left. Just next month, on Nov. 2, the LGBT center is hosting an event to keep that momentum going. "There seems to always be some sort of rally or book reading or drag show where you can go and meet new people," he says. "It's one of those things that you can easily take for granted, but given the larger umbrella of the lack of equality in Ohio, Cleveland is definitely so gay."

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Literary Muse: Author Les Roberts pens new thriller

Following 2011’s The Strange Death of Father Candy, readers called, emailed and even stopped author Les Roberts in Giant Eagle to ask when Youngstown assassin Dominick Candiotti would return.

Wet Work author Les Roberts
In Wet Work ($14.95, Gray & Co.), Candiotti makes a violent, sudden shift from hunter to hunted when he questions the purpose of his jobs and attempts to retire, causing his mysterious boss to send paid killers after him. Candiotti travels the country to outrun the assassins, leaving a list of dead in his wake.

“I haven’t hit anybody out of anger since I was 11 years old,” Roberts says, “but I love to write the violent stuff.”

Roberts has published 29 books to date, including 17 novels led by Cleveland private eye Milan Jacovich. “I’m an addict when it comes to writing,” he adds. We check in with the Stow resident to see what other local writers inspire him.

Scott Lax

“It’s style. [He puts] words together beautifully,” Roberts explains. A Chagrin Falls resident, Lax is the author of Vengeance Follows and The Year that Trembled as well as a playwright, biographer and teacher. “I love the fact that really good writers try to use the best possible words.”

Thrity Umrigar

“I couldn’t possibly write the kind of books that she writes. I’m not sure if she could write one of mine,” Roberts says. “... I just think differently than she does, and I admire it tremendously, and I love reading her.” In addition to being a novelist who recently released The Story Hour, Umrigar is an English professor at Case Western Reserve University and a journalist.

Lisa Black

Black, a forensic scientist, writes suspense novels featuring Cleveland forensic scientist Theresa MacLean. “When somebody writes about Cleveland, I like to look at it from their point of view,” Roberts says. “If you read Lisa Black ... her Cleveland is very different than my Cleveland. I like reading somebody else’s feelings and take on something that I feel very strongly about.”

Give A Warm Welcome to a Cool Couple

Photo by Barney Taxel, Taxel Image Group
I can't get enough ice cream when the weather's hot. Those days are behind us for the next eight or nine months, but some ice cream is just too good to be merely a seasonal pleasure. The luscious stuff Jesse Mason makes falls into that category. And Mason's Creamery now has a brand new home, open year round, in the former Ohio City Ice Cream on Bridge Avenue. Neither snow nor sleet nor cold temperatures will keep me from enjoying it.

Photo by Barney Taxel, Taxel Image Group
I wrote about this quickly successful and wildly popular upstart business in July 2013. After breaking into Cleveland market as nomads, peddling their frozen wares at farmer markets and special events like the Cleveland Flea, Mason, a local man returned from the West Coast, and Helen Qin, his partner in ice cream and all things, took over the shuttered stand earlier this year. They put in a lot of time and sweat into remodeling the place and have done a bang-up job. It looks great, but like many such undertakings, it was harder than they expected and took longer than they thought it would. Instead of opening in the spring as planned, they couldn't officially welcome customers until last week. I was there earlier with my husband for a private, friends and family soft opening. I can say it was worth the wait.

There's a nice roofed-over patio out front (heaters going in soon) and plans for a garden space in back. There's still a walk up ordering window, good for people with dogs, but now you can also walk inside and check out what's in the cooler. They've even managed to fit a few small tables inside.

Photo by Barney Taxel, Taxel Image Group
We sampled an intense and fruity Apple Cider sorbet, two ice creams, a chunky peanut butter smores and coffee and cream — which I just love — made with custom-roasted Rising Star beans. Old City Soda, another local start-up, will supply the necessary fizz for floats

There's still some good weather days left when eating ice cream is a natural. And when the thermometer does read below zero, and the very idea of dipping into a chilly treat makes you shiver, consider this: Mason has created the perfect winter flavor: Hot Chocolate with Marshmallow Fluff.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Kids These Days

2014 Youth Voices Conference: Food Justice
Cleveland Botanical Garden | Oct. 17 & 18, 2014

We’re used to critiquing trendy restaurants, exploring culinary trends and hobnobbing with the city’s most creative food minds, but we thought it was important to take a moment to highlight an issue that's even more relevant to the Cleveland food scene: Food justice, or the idea that everyone is entitled to access to good, healthy food. The Cleveland Botanical Garden’s Green Corp program seeks to address the gap by employing youth aged 14-18 (approximately 75 per year) in its urban gardens, teaching them sustainable agriculture, leadership and community engagement skills while growing produce for its farm market stand.

I sat down with Green Corps members Daniel Lewis, 17, and Renee Boyd, 16, to talk about this weekend’s Youth Voices conference, which will bring in other youth agriculture groups from throughout Ohio as well as Oakland, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Chanhassen, Minnesota, to discuss issues surrounding food justice and urban farming. Both are second-year veterans of the program with strong opinions about the local food scene as they know it.

CM: What made you want to participate in a group like Green Corps?
DL: I joined Green Corps to, like, build on my [skills] in making a garden. I want to be a chef when I’m older, so I thought if I could grow my own vegetables and fruits and stuff, I won’t have to rely on people to buy or supply them.

RB: Cut out the middle man.

CM: A chef? Where did that idea come from?
DL: When I was younger, my family always got together and cooked, and I always get happy when they’re cooking. That made me feel nice about it, so I thought if I could make people have that same joy that I have, then I could give back.

CM: So what's going on with the conference?
RB: We’re putting together a presentation about our group, our urban farm. And basically the reason for the conference is because there are other programs like ourselves, all over the country, and you know, like, working together is better than working alone. It’s a way to share and learn different things, learn from others.

CM: What do your friends and neighbors think about what you're doing?
DL: I really don’t think a lot of people know about it, because they don’t want to know, or nobody’s had time to tell them.

RB: When we do markets, we try to get as much word out as possible. ... I’ve been in that area, the Fairfax area, for a long time. ... I know there’s a lot of convenience stores more than you see farms. And it’s like, people talk to you, not necessarily from the neighborhood, but this group talked about food deserts, because there are all these convenience stores, there’s processed foods all over the place rather than real food from the ground that’s probably — it ACTUALLY IS better for you than processed foods.

CM: But you're teenagers. How do you really feel about junk food?
RB: I see a lot of people eating processed foods because it’s cheaper, and it’s closer to them. I could probably say there are about four convenience stores within walking distance of my home. Grocery stores? It’s a little bit of a longer trip.

DL: It’s the aspect of what they’ve grown up to. When they are growing up, they went to the corner stores and got some chips. It’s like a routine for them. They, usually when they had money, they’d go to the corner store and buy chips and a drink.

RB: It’s a matter of not knowing.

DL: They’re used to it.

RB: What we need to do is inform people. Show people that the youth DO care about this.

CM: Have your own diets changed as a result of your work with Green Corps?
RB: When I started, I was eating junk food, and my mom was trying to find a way to get us all eating healthier. Then I brought home some food from my garden that I grew in my own little plot, and my mom — this wasn’t her first health kick — so she just took it on, and we started going to the West Side Market, and we did this diet thing where we ate only food from the ground for a couple of months.

CM: How did that go?
RB: It was tough! I'm not going to say it was easy. The second week I broke down and had chicken wings. The ones in hot sauce [she laughs].

DL: Oh, the buffalo ranch ones?

RB: [Sighs] I did have the salad, though. But it was worth it. I felt a significant change in my body. I had more energy.

CM: So food is pretty important to your whole family?
DL: My parents, they made us stop eating cereal when I was young.

RB: Oh, don't worry! We don't drink pop at our house.

DL: When I was younger, we watched this video about food being bleached and stuff, like potatoes being bleached. And that changed everything, so we had to start eating organic. That made me mad because I had no cereal. ... After that I got used to it. So when I joined my farm, I had to walk to work, but when I got a bike, that’s when I started noticing change. I lost a lot of weight.

CM: What are you looking forward to the most from this conference? You have a lot of fun outings planned.
DL: That too, but I’m looking forward to learning what other gardens in other states have to say.

RB: I’m looking forward to the discussion. We came up with some questions that we thought might —

DL: “Are you hungry or are you starving?”

RB: That one can go anywhere.

DL: That was my question. Everybody thought it was a good question.

RB: Are you starving for real, healthy food? That's what I get from the question. We’re eating food, but it’s not really food.

DL: Even though, my dad says, “You've never been starving in your life.”

To support Daniel, Renee and other youth working to even the field, visit Cleveland Botanical Garden to purchase tickets to the Saturday event. Tickets are $15 for youth, $45 for adults.