Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Volunteering at Ronald McDonald House

Last week, I cooked. Well...it was fruit salad and cupcakes, but still. I decided to wield a knife and mix batter all for a good cause. Cleveland Kiddos had reached out to area bloggers to see if we would be interested in getting together to prepare and serve a meal at the Ronald McDonald House. I jumped at the chance, because I try to give back to the community when I can and I know how much non-profits rely on volunteers (working for one myself).

From their website:
The Ronald McDonald House of Cleveland offers a place to call home at little or no cost so families can access the best health care, regardless of their location.  We allow families to stay together, which can help their children heal faster and cope better.

Our House enables families to focus on the health of their child rather than anything else – like paying bills, cooking meals, cleaning the House. We preserve a sense of normalcy with home-cooked meals, comfortable beds and recreational activities for the family to enjoy.  Most importantly, we help families create connections with other families, staff and volunteers.  In doing this, families have a support system to turn to during the most stressful moments of their lives.

So, on Monday, a group of us gathered, and our fearless leader tasked us with making a home-cooked meal of fried chicken (all hand-pounded, battered, and fried), macaroni and cheese, fruit salad, green beans, crudite, and cupcakes for dessert.
All of the supplies were donated by the group.
And we quickly jumped in and got to work in the very large and well-equipped kitchen.
Zone Defense and I tackled pineapple for the first time. I think we showed that pineapple who was boss.
If you see me in the kitchen with a knife this big, you should be afraid, be very afraid. However, I managed to not lose a finger or wound Mason.

Most of us didn't know each other when we started that day, but I think we worked efficiently and had great teamwork.
You always get to know people better when you are working on completing a task together. It's one of the things I love most about volunteer actives.
Our fruit salad started to look beautiful, if I do say so myself. I think fruit salad is one of the prettiest summer dishes that you can make. I love bringing it to parties.
After we finished preparing the cupcakes to bake, a couple of us broke away for a tour of the house. I was instantly impressed with the facility. It's so cozy, inviting, and they really do try to make it feel like a home for the patients and their families staying there.
They had all kinds of different shared living space, including an awesome playroom, cozy and large family room, and a modern computer space.
The Ronald McDonald House has been providing these services for 35 years in Cleveland. They were the ninth location to open internationally. Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northeast Ohio and McDonald's are partners in care and provide, through local donations, about 3.5% of their annual operating budget. The other 96.5% comes from gifts from individuals, corporations, organizations and foundations that support their mission. They truly are a local organization that is supported by this community. They also rely heavily on volunteers. One way that you can get involved is to donate your time, and food, to provide a meal for the families. They try to secure at least one meal per day.

I had to leave, unfortunately, before we got to serve the meal and host our cupcake decorating activity, but I heard that the families really enjoyed the home-cooked meal and had fun topping their cupcakes. I loved the experience of preparing the meal, even if I was a little frightened of the kitchen and had to steer clear of the raw chicken. Baby steps, people, baby steps.

A huge "thank you" to Jacquie for coordinating, and to the Ronald McDonald House for having us. It was an experience that I won't forget.

Monday, July 28, 2014

I'm Engaged!

Wow, what a weekend. It was a whirlwind, and the happiest one that I've ever had. It included our bicycles, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, dinner at our favorite restaurant (Cork & Cleaver Social Kitchen), champagne, Tremont Scoops for a good cause, a limo ride, a fantastic first experience at Ken Stewart's Grille, brunch at Flour, good friends, and...an engagement!

What started out as an innocent (to me) evening bike ride at the zoo for their new Wild Ride at the Zoo events...
...seeing the animals from the view on our bikes (I'm clueless)...
...watching the nocturnal animals be more playful (still no idea what's about to happen)...
...having some silly fun with selfies (he had almost popped the question on a bench by the flamingos, but we had moved on before the moment felt right)...
...turned into a proposal from "R" on a picnic bench by the creek (finally!).
The zoo is the site of what I like to call our "first Cleveland date." When we met, I was still living in Upstate NY. He visited me first, but during my first weekend trip to Cleveland, "R" took me to the zoo. It's always been a special place for us, and we visit often thanks to a membership that my mom renews each year.

We were actually sitting at the picnic table, me in front of him between his knees, discussing our first date. I like to do that. Pretty much every time we're there (according to "R"). But, this time we were talking about it in more detail, since we are about to celebrate our seven year anniversary this week!

We were reminiscing about that first visit together, and how quickly time has gone by. I like the part of our first date story where we stood by the porcupine exhibit in the Rainforest, and "R" said to me, "Did you know porcupines mate for life?" and gave my hand a little squeeze. At this point in the story on Friday night, he slipped the ring in front of me and said, "That sounds nice. Will you spend the rest of your life with me?" Pretty sure that I said yes at some point, but there was a whole lot of surprise happening and it took me a minute to focus on what was actually going on. "R" claims it felt like an eternity before I said anything. Ha, made him sweat!

We called and texted family and friends right away, and then immediately headed to Cork & Cleaver for a celebratory dinner. I couldn't image going anywhere else, and they truly helped to make our evening very special.
The rest of the weekend was a whirlwind, but I'll share more of that later. Thank you to everyone that wished us well and helped us celebrate this weekend through texts, phone calls, tweets, Facebook comments, and Instagram likes. The social media world that we live in certainly helped me feel loved this weekend. You guys are the best! Now, I'm just going to go figure out what being a fiance feels like...

Friday, July 25, 2014

Locavore Winner and #FightLikeAGirl

Happy Friday! We made it. Another week down. Let's celebrate by announcing the winner of the Locavore ticket giveaway. Rafflecopter randomly selected... Stephanie French. Congratulations! Please check your email to claim by Monday. Thank you to everyone that entered the giveaway. Tickets are still available for the August 21st event. You can purchase them online here.

I want to share other event news with you today too. Tomorrow (Saturday, July 26th), Tremont Scoops is hosting Ice Cream for Gigi! #FightLikeAGirl #TeamGianna.
50% of all sales between noon and 3PM will be donated to help Gianna and her family in their fight against leukemia. This little girl needs our help, as she faces a long battle. The proceeds will defray the cost of her treatment, as well as the lifestyle changes that this young family is facing during this difficult time.

Ice cream for a good cause? It's a no-brainer! 

Gianna's aunt is a friend of mine, so I'm eager to help. Please help spread the word about this event tomorrow. Bring your family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, postman, dog groomer, grocery bagger...you get the picture. Gianna encourages everyone to wear orange (leukemia awareness color) or pink (her favorite).

If you can't attend, you can still support the Andolina family by making a donation online here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

2014 Taste of Tremont

Sunday was one of my favorite annual summer events, the Taste of Tremont. Tremont is known for having one of the best culinary destinations in our city, and the restaurants all set up along Professor Avenue for one big tasting event. Other vendors and local organizations are mixed in, and 30,000+ people descend upon the neighborhood.

I saw a lot of "hate" on social media this year for this festival, complaining of the crowds, parking, traffic, food quality...you name it. Many of these folks were tweeting or Facebook posting this from their homes. Good, if you don't like it, just don't go. For those of us that enjoy the festival, we came out. You just have to be prepared for the traffic and parking issues, long lines at the good food tents, and hoards of people jammed onto one street.

After trying to get into the neighborhood the "back way" through the Steelyard, we had no luck and swung back around to try West 14th. Ha, even worse.
We are fortunate to live not too far away, so we u-turned it home and grabbed our bicycles. Thanks to a Twitter tip, we easily found parking at the Gateway Animal Clinic and then hopped on our bikes to cross over from Ohio City into Tremont. Many others were walking or biking over that way too. Keep that in mind next year!

Be prepared for the crushing crowds and long lines.
Our beloved Fresh Fork was there, selling a pig roast platter and grilled sweet corn. The smells were intoxicating, and the line was probably the longest that I saw that day.
Now, I normally hate crowds. For this annual event, I tough it out. I wised up this year and took the edge off at home with a tasty Bloody Mary, using Clark Pope's Bloody Mary mix that we picked up from Fresh Fork.

The reason I love this festival is that it provides me with the opportunity to try smaller bites from some of my favorite Tremont restaurants, and to try food from places that we may not have been to yet.
"R" and I prefer to split things, so that we can try more. We stopped at Ligali's tent (a new addition to Tremont) and had their Fried Green Tomato Caprese (pictured above top right) and Mushroom Flatbread. The flatbread was good, but the Caprese was our favorite there. I believe that it is on their regular menu. Looks like we need to stop in! We also shared a Chicken Taco from the Fahrenheit food truck, and Lucky's Cafe macaroni and cheese (an all-time favorite, pictured bottom left). That mac 'n cheese is seriously one of the best that I've ever had.

We ended our day at the "secret garden" behind Tremont Scoops with friends. It was a welcomed oasis from the noise of the festival. Overall, I call it another successful Taste of Tremont. The event has really grown, and I think it's time to consider expanding beyond just Professor Avenue.

What do you think of Taste of Tremont? Did you attend this year, or steer clear of the mayhem?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Event Recap: Veggie U's 2014 Food and Wine

Saturday night was Veggie U's 2014 Food and Wine Celebration. The event had returned, relocated and reformatted. While I did miss the charm of attending the event on Chef's Garden farm, I did not miss the long drive from Cleveland to Milan and the sweltering humidity inside of the event's tent that we had experienced in the past. The event moved to Downtown Cleveland this year, and was held in the Pura Vida/Tri-C Hospitality Management Center on Euclid Avenue. Although, they did try to bring in touches of the farm to the very industrial and modern space...
The event's new theme was "Tastes of the World" and the participating chefs were tasked with creating a dish based on a specific type of cuisine.

Some of my favorites were from the usual suspects. I liked the Moroccan Pork Belly with Vegetable Salad and Chermoula from Chef Jeff Jarrett at AMP 150.
The Greek Watermelon Mint Juice and Sprouted Chick Pea Hummus from Chef Anna Harouvis at Anna in the Raw/Good to Go Cafe was a refreshing bite and sip. She always makes raw look good! Her energy and glow are infectious, and her passion for raw foods just shines through.

I loved the Indian Crab Pakora with Mango Chutney from Chefs John and Allysun Selick at University Hospitals Ahuja Center.
I could have eaten a plate of these. John's food is always among the best at any tasting event that I've been to.

But, the winner of the evening (for me) goes to Chef Matthew Mathlage from Peachtree Southern Kitchen. He did a Southern Chicken Cracklins with white pimento cheese and peanuts.
I had three. Don't judge me. While the news on Friday of his other restaurant, Light Bistro in Ohio City, closing saddened me, I was thrilled to sample food from Peachtree. I haven't made it out to the new restaurant in Hudson yet, but this dish tempted me enough to purchase a silent auction package for Peachtree that evening!

The event not only included some fantastic food, but it had kicked off with a VIP hour, including a wine class.
Live music entertained guests in several areas of the event, and the wine and craft beer were flowing. Guests also had a chance to enter a drawing for a Vitamix, and to win a bottle of wine in the Wine Pull. The only negatives of the evening were the weather (I hate rain), high starting bids in the silent auction, and a few more chef stations would have been nice.

The event was a lot smaller than in years past, but they are rebuilding and I think that it will continue to grow. The chefs did an outstanding job, with only the Panzanella Salad from Flying Fig being a disappointment for me. All proceeds benefit Veggie U, a non-profit children's education program that teaches the importance of nutrition and sustainable agriculture by providing interactive lesson plans and a classroom garden to elementary and special needs students. Learn more about them here.

Disclosure: I was provided with two VIP media passes to this event in exchange for my posts. All opinions stated are 100% my own.