Category Archives: Culinary

Cooking Together

    Flipping through an old issue of Gourmet Magazine in search of inspiration, I came upon an article entitled The God of Small Feasts.  Describing her childhood, Shoba Narayan wrote that in India cooking, like eating, is a communal activity. In addition to her parents and siblings, the household in which she grew up included a grandmother, four aunts, and an ever-changing mix of female relatives.  All these women participated in the daily ritual of food preparation.                                               

I was so struck by these statements that I stopped reading and sat for a long time, contemplating their implications. The life I have lived is the exact opposite. Cooking is almost always a solitary activity and this is true for everyone I know.

That’s because, like most other middle class Americans, we enjoy an unprecedented level of privacy and independence.  Generations rarely assist one another in the ordinary day-to day work of living.  Extended families don’t share homes or responsibility. We visit with relatives but we don=t labor with them.  Each household does its own shopping, cooking, cleaning, washing, gardening, and child-rearing.  We pay other people to do what we cannot do ourselves.

 We traded-up from communal living for self-sufficiency, space, and solitude. I like these things but must admit that it can be lonely sometimes and I’m not so sure the benefits outweigh the burdens we have imposed upon ourselves. Isolation is the price we’re paying for our autonomy and upward mobility.  We don’t have to live with parents or grandparents, aunts and uncles, and I for one am happy about that but it means that there’s usually nobody around to lend a hand or tell us a joke while we fold laundry or mash potatoes.   

But it’s different at Thanksgiving.  My husband has developed a passion for pie making and so he’s there, with me in the kitchen rolling dough, peeling apples, seasoning pumpkin puree.  All three of our sons are enthusiastic cooks and the women in their lives are willing helpers.  Everyone works, everyone talks, shouting to be heard while the food processor roars. Heated discussions happen over the cutting board and at the sink. And our laughter mingles with the sizzle of sauté pans. It’s crowded, hectic, noisy, messy, and wonderful.

 I want more days like this, hunger for them really. Suddenly I realize that all I have to do is ask.  Come early I’ll say to family and friends when I invite them for dinner. Let’s cook together.  And like the household Narayan remembered, we’ll chop and chat, slice and share.

I read this short essay last night at Nighttown. The event was a fundraiser for the Cleveland Heights Library and a celebration of the written- and spoken word. My piece generated  a warm and enthusiastic response so Idecided to post it here for another audience.  Let me know what you think. Does my writing speak to you and your experience? Do you have the same feeling, or see things from a different perspective?


Filed under Culinary

Mexico’s Gift

Great story about what makes Mexican mole so delicous.

Where do you go to get your fix of this traditional labor intensive  sauce? If you make it yourself,  what’s the best source of ingredients? Antone out there have a recipe to share?


Filed under Culinary, In The Media, Trends

Saveur Spotlights Cleveland, Akron and Canton

The October issue of Saveur Magazine has a great article written by Jane and Michael Stern about the pleasures of eating around northeast Ohio.  Here’s a teaser:

   “…a road trip from the shores of Lake Erie around Cleveland south to Rubber City (a k a   Akron) and Canton is, in our opinion, one of the finest a food lover can take in all of America.”

What prompts this high praise from these writers are the traditional ethnic dishes served at mom and pops throughout the region. In fact, based on the places named, I’d be willing to wager that they used my book as their guide (although they don’t mention it). The pair give big shout outs to  the West Side Market (the subject of my next book), Balaton, Perla Homemade Delights, State Meats, Little Polish Diner, Babushka’s Kitchen, and Al’s Corner Diner.   

 None of this will come as a surprise for those of you who read this blog. But it’s nice to see this part of our culinary community in the national spotlight and getting some well deserved compliments. Take a look at the article. Find more details in Cleveland Ethnic Eats. Then get out there  and enjoy what the region has to offer.


Filed under Culinary, In The Media, Markets, Restaurants, The Book

Eat Healthy and Ethnic

Interesting report from CNN 

The 10 healthiest ethnic cuisines

Which ethnic cuisine do you think of as a healthy alternative to burgers and fries? Where do you fo to get it and what dishes do you order when you want to do your body a good turn?


Filed under Advice, Culinary, In The Media

Which Q are U?

According to a story in today’s Nation’s Restaurant News the flavors of ethnic bbq are a top summer trend . When it comes to pork and chicken the survey showed that chefs and consumers like the kick and spice of Latin, Caribbean, and Asian cuisines.

So what I want to know is which country makes your favorite version of bbq, what is your “can’t live without it” dish, and where do you go to get it?


Filed under Culinary, Trends

Asian Catering

At the Asian Festival held in downtown Cleveland this spring I met a woman named Marina Villanueva-Velmin. She has a catering company based in Westlake called Tamarind Tree that specializes in the cusine of her homeland, the Phillipines. I tasted her cooking at the Festival and thought it was wonderful.

We’ve been in communication since then and I’ve had a chance to look over her  complete menu.  It includes some really unusual dishes: a chicken stew called Calderetta; Mechado, the Filipino version of beef bourguignon ;  Pancit Malabon made with rice noodles, garlic spiked pork, eggs and vegetables; pork and chicken adobo, the country’s national culinary mascot, and cocido, a meat-based stew featuring cabbage, chick peas, sweet potatoes and green beans.  She also offers a small selection of foods from other Asian cuisines such as Vietnamese spring rolls and Thai chicken curry. Putting this sort of thing on your table would definitely make for a unique and memorable party. On second thought, why wait for a party? You can order two dozen empanadas ($30) just for yourself, and freeze the leftover mini meat filled pastries to be enjoyed another day. Sounds like a plan to me.

If  you are curious about Filipino food and culture, plan to attend the Phillippine Festival  Sunday, August 15.  It happnes from 10-6, 9440 Ridgewood Drive in Parma.

Tamarind Tree has no website and Marina doesn’t do email but you can call to talk with her about your next event, 440-871-8708


Filed under Advice, Culinary

Cross Cultural Sandwich

The geo-political world is all about borders and boundaries. It’s always a question of what belongs to whom,  where territory begins and ends,  and which group holds the power over it.

The food world is different. It is a natural, living and generally friendly forum for exchange, integration, blending, melding and mingling.  That’s what I love about it. And the result of all this culinary camaraderie is usually something good to eat.

I had a hands-on encounter with that just the other day at the West Side Market. Arriving hungry, I headed to Maha’s for a falafel. This Middle Eastern staple, made from ground and seasoned chickpeas that are formed into patties and fried, are served in a pita bread pouch stuffed with fresh and pickled vegetables. And sauce. Sauce is key. There’s a sesame based tahini version, or the red stuff that adds heat to the mix. The young woman behind the counter always asks if you want mild or hot when you place your order.  Those that go for some burn get a liberal squeeze of Rooster sauce, so-called because the bird is the brand’s logo. The Thai equivalent of ketchup, its proper name is sricacha and the intense red juice is made from chile paste and vinegar. The marriage of Middle Eastern and Thai seems like a truly American mix and makes for a really tasty sandwich. 

What other tasty cross-cultural dishes are worth a shout-out?


Filed under Culinary, Restaurants