Trendsetters

“But watch out [Midwest] because the food world is going to be on your back.”

That’s what Kathy Gunst said in a recent interview with Jeremy Hobson on Here & Now.  Gunst, a food writer, chef and cookbook author, spoke with “a handful” of food writers, editors and agents to get their thoughts on where food will go in 2014.

As she said, this follows a year where Southern cooking was the hot cuisine.

“My theory is we’ve saturated everything on both costs and we’re now looking to the inside, to the interior of the country,” Gunst said.

So now that everything has run its course, they turn to us.  They’ve finally come around to the trend we’ve been on about for years and years and years.

Let’s enjoy this, our hipster moment.  We did Midwestern cuisine before it was cool.

But I see Midwestern cuisine, like the Midwest itself, difficult to define.  Gunst talks of the corn and beef that make up America’s breadbasket.  Searching around other sites and blogs there is mention of root vegetables and “farm-fresh and local taken to the next level.”

Gunst then said, “The Middle West always has things that make great cuisine.  Fertile land, abundant resources, an unbroken tide of immigration and a fascination with novelty.”

Adding the immigrant idea to the formula we’ve got pierogies, paprikash, shepherd’s pie, cavatelli, schnitzel and brats.  Basically all the best comfort foods.

As I understand it, the basis behind the idea of this “Midwestern food” trend is filling foods and foods fresh from the land.  So, in other words, practicality.  A realness.

Coincidentally, when looking at the ever popular French and Italian cuisines the bedrock principles are necessity, what is available and how to turn it into something good.  Then it became popular and trendy.

In a way this supposed trend is an anti-trend.  It’s not done to be cool.  Cool things can be done with the ingredients, but the food is, at its most basic, designed to fill the farmers or the steel workers or the longshoremen before or after a hard day’s work.

“So much of our food is grown in the Midwest,” Gunst said.

And now the newest trend may, too.  So enjoy it, my fellow Midwesterners.  The rest of the country could possibly give us some long due recognition, at least until the next big thing comes along.

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Run the City

This week in May is one of my favorites.  The warm weather has turned for good (usually), all the trees are in their full greenery, and my allergies aren’t full blown yet.

Beyond that, it is the week of runners.

Saturday and Sunday, thousands of runners will take to the streets in four distances for Cleveland Marathon weekend.  Starting at Cleveland Browns Stadium FirstEnergy Stadium, from Edgewater to MLK and points in between, they will get a roadside view of the city.  And big-city marathons are a good way, a different way, to experience a place.

While Cleveland is not one of the top-tier marathons (see Chicago, New York, Boston), it has become a good draw and can continue to grow to become a well-regarded event.  Between Cleveland and Akron’s Roadrunner Marathon, plus the Towpath Marathon and countless smaller races, Northeast Ohio is a great place for runners.  Even if November through February are a little dicey.

And we have a great running community.  For me, that’s an important aspect in a city.  Some cities have the reputation for being “runner cities”.  Chicago is a runner city.  New York is a runner city.  Boulder, Colorado is a runner city.  Cleveland has the makings of a runner city.

Foremost, we have great places for running in the Metroparks and Cuyahoga Valley.  Miles upon miles of paths and trails away from most cars.  Some of the paths are marked for easy mile tracking.  And, key for anyone taking on a longer distance race, there are long, long, long stretches on which to do a 10, 12, 15, 20+ mile training run.

100_1886The parks offer a number of trails to allow for variety in routes.  Bike paths, walking loops, bridal paths, all ready for runners.

Forming the community part of our running community is the number of running groups in the area.  Some official and nationally affiliated, others as basic as friends getting together for runs.  Or if you’re into something a little different, there is Cleveland’s Hash House Harriers.  The groups cater to most abilities and ranges.  Through these groups, new friendships can be formed in the common love of running.  Runners tend to be very accepting and friendly.

As a result of the number of runners we have, we have a number of quality running stores providing the goods runners need.  The stores also act as a center for the running community, organizing group runs and races.  Near the Cuyahoga Valley there are the Vertical Runner stores.  Active Runner, the relative newcomer, has been active in and around Strongsville.  And just to add some confusion, there is Second Sole in Rocky River unassociated with the Second Sole chain, which has several stores around NEO and Ohio in general.

So yeah, runners have it pretty made here in our little chunk of the state.  Random fact…in the past five years, teams from NEO have won the Ohio High School cross country championships 18 times out of a possible 30.

Good luck to all runners this weekend!

Searching for Home

100_3461Just finished re-re-re-reading House: A Memoir by Michael Ruhlman, my favorite Cleveland writer/blogger/food expert/television celebrity.

While I identify with Ruhlman’s yearning and houselust, the book’s themes relate to anyone with happy memories of a place they grew up.

Basic overview…the Ruhlman family buys a century-old home in Cleveland Heights and deal with the excitement, and annoyances, that renovation brings.  In the work, they hope to fit the house to their needs while paying homage to the structure and the lives that occupied the space before them.  Anybody who has been through a major home repair will find familiarity, and shared frustration, in the stories.

But the reason I keep coming back to the book is the depth of topics Ruhlman explores.  Apart from toilet installation, the book delves into urban planning, community, the history of suburbs, and Cleveland.

In discovering the history of this house, Ruhlman (and the reader) sees the history and expansion of Cleveland as new generations of wealth made their way east, away from the dirty factories.  Technology opens up the outer reaches and leads to the creation of this house, before expanding well beyond, into what we now think of as suburbs.

The structure, a focal point to the societal shift before and after, becomes a microcosm of America.  From walking communities to the wide-spread sprawl of major interstates and big-box stores.

Ruhlman also offers his own philosophies on the idea of home and how that connects us to something bigger than ourselves, perhaps helping us to understand our own nostalgia.

Your Ad Here

Look at the side of brick buildings in the city and you might see one of these old ads.  Years later, time wears them down and transforms them, and in that way they become something of an urban art form.

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Through the Eyes of Another

I came across this while wandering through Tremont’s Visible Voice the other day. I’m a fan of Harvey Pekar and what he did for the city.  Not that he’d think he did all that much.  But in his own way he shared the life of blue-collar Cleveland, its grit and unglamorous under-appreciation, with the country.

He looked at the life in a realist tone, sharing how he saw it all without fluffing the raw edges.  This book shares his view of Cleveland in the same manner.

Harvey looks at the histories of the city and his own life and where they have taken each.  He recalls the joy experienced as he listened, in school, to the Indians win the 1948 World Series.  He discusses the neighborhoods in which he lived and how they’ve changed, for better or worse.  Throughout, the good and bad are balanced.

Not only is the book entertaining in letting us see Harvey’s take on these histories, it also poses questions of what happened to the glorious past and how we fix the problems.  Like many of us, he didn’t have THE answer.  But simple discussion can at least keep us searching for solutions.          

Life’s a Beach

Here we are in late July and, as much as I hate it, I just got to the lake for the first time.

The sun beat down on another sticky day, but the lake breeze made the afternoon comfortable.  We spent a few hours in the sun, laying around, reading, and thinking about life in general.  Then we packed up and I asked myself, as I always do, why I don’t get to the shore more often.

In March and April, when I know summer is coming soon, I think first of the beach.  Beach, summer…they go hand in hand.  I feel bad for people in the middle of the country, those that don’t have a lake or ocean shore so close to them.  Summer is not complete without a day at the beach.

About this time of year, the realization of summer’s impermanence grows.  Summer will be over all too soon.  But right now, lazy days under the summer sun are there to be had and enjoyed along the shore of Lake Erie.

Now Where To?

For the past month I’ve had the privilege to work with the Saint Ignatius Arrupe Summer Program held at Urban Community School.  It was an opportunity to work with a diverse group of Cleveland youths from different schools and different walks of life.

High schoolers from some of the area’s prestigious schools-Ignatius, Magnificat, Laurel, and St. Joe’s-were matched with younger kids from a number of Cleveland schools.  For five weeks, the olders and youngers accompanied each other to classes and lunch and sports.  In doing so, bonds were formed all around.  Bonds that very likely wouldn’t have been created without the program.

The last days of class were bittersweet.  Campers and counselors alike teared up when saying their goodbyes.  After five weeks together, you grow together, and nothing can take that away.  Every person involved with the camp came out better because of it.  I know I did.

It’s weird, wondering if I’ll see some of the kids again.  If not, years down the line I’ll wonder what happened to each one; where they are, what they’re doing, and how they remember the summer of 2012.

The Streets

It is my honest belief that the best way to discover a new city is to run it, and yesterday I had my first Cleveland run. I said “Good Evening” to as many people as I could, got a few nods from people on bicycles, and scared a couple of pedestrians as I ran up behind them.

The run was only about two miles, but it was a joy to run around the warehouse district, and then over the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge. I cannot remember the last time I was on the bridge, and I was a little nervous about how easy it would be to make it across on foot. To my surprise, there was an inviting walkway that made it super easy to make it back and forth without worrying about the cars and trucks. I think I will be visiting Ohio City a lot more than I anticipated!

Hopefully, I keep this going. It really helps put things in perspective, and at least makes me feel more comfortable in my surroundings.

My New Home

I am one  of downtown Cleveland newest residents. Originally from one of the suburbs that lie just outside of the city, I decided to make Cleveland my new home. I chose to live in the warehouse district for a number reasons: proximity to a number of cool bars (exception being W. 6th Street), incredibly easy access to Ohio City, Tremont, and the highway, and the district’s historical significance.

Years ago, the district was much more than it is today. Parking lots have flattened the areas where once beautiful buildings stood tall and proud. For example, the warehouse district in the 1960s vs today:

Fortunately, Cleveland has a lot of potential, and it is already showing in many areas of the city. I figured what better way to contribute to this revolution than by living in the middle of it!

Image Credit: High-Speed Brain Train