Tag Archives: christmas

Our Cleveland-inspired Christmas Dinner

After a nerd-tastic Christmas morning filled with LEGOs, Muppets, Doctor Who, video games and Monty Python, Scott and I cooked our Cleveland-inspired Christmas dinner.

The best gift that Scott and I gave each other this Christmas was a day off.

We had visited Scott’s parents a few weekends ago for an early Christmas. And on Christmas Eve, my parents, sister, Scott and I met halfway between Virginia and Cleveland for our fourth annual Christmas Eve lunch. So that meant we had a full day off on Sunday to stay at home, relax, and not worry about work.

Honestly, this was the first day in over four months where we had an entire day completely to ourselves.

Part of our Christmas Dinner spread, including sausage stuffing, cured salmon, bacon brussel sprouts and a roast from Geauga Farms

So after the most nerd-tastic Christmas morning we’ve ever had, it was time to cook!

I’ve said countless times here that I don’t like cooking. But one of the things I’ve realized this year from exploring more of Cleveland’s restaurants is the importance of eating local at home, in addition to when we’re out.

Over the last few months, I’ve been trying to cook more and working in more local ingredients. I haven’t been 100% successful at this, but our little steps here and there have started to make a difference.

Because of this, Scott and I wanted to make a Christmas dinner that was inspired by some of the delicious food we’ve had this year.

One of my contributions to Christmas Dinner: Baby Blue Salad with crumbled blue cheese, blackberries, pecans and pears

We started with one of my favorite things I learned at this Fall’s Fabulous Food Show: cured salmon. We added lemon zest to the lime and grapefruit zest we tried last time. And I’m happy to say the Ruhlman’s Twenty recipe still held up the second time around!

For one of our sides, I then took inspiration from a dish I love at Deagan’s in Lakewood. Scott’s always claimed to not be a fan of brussel sprouts. But after I had Deagan’s amazing pork belly brussel sprouts at an Ohio Blogging meetup, I knew that if Scott mixed bacon with the vegetable, he’d be won over.

My other contribution to Christmas dinner: bacon and brown sugar brussel sprouts

Deagan’s does it much, much better than I could ever dream of doing, but I used a bacon and brown sugar brussel sprouts recipe I found online for our Christmas dinner.   Scott admitted when I came home from work yesterday that he enjoyed it so much at Christmas dinner, he had brussel sprout leftovers for lunch.

Scott having vegetables for lunch? That’s unheard of!

Scott slicing our roast from Geauga Family Farms

Our main course was courtesy of Geauga Family Farms.  I wanted to try out a CSA for meat (we don’t eat enough vegetables for a vegetable-share) so through our friend’s subscription we ordered a small box of their grass-fed beef. For $63, we got:

  • 5 pounds ground beef (at least 90% lean)
  • 4 steaks (2 sirloin and 2 T-bone, Porter or Strip)
  • 1 roast (approx. 2.5 pounds)

The roast was the perfect size for our 2-person Christmas dinner. Scott cooked it up with some mushrooms, bacon and the fresh spices leftover from the other dishes. It was so juicy and delicious that I can’t wait to try the rest of beef that came in our “Box o’ Beef.”

The salmon, brussel sprouts and roast – along with the salad, homemade vinaigrette and sausage stuffing – were perfectly complemented by the Spann Chardonnay Viognier blend I picked up at Miss WineOH’s Market Ave tasting and bottle of Amador Foothill’s Late Harvest Semillon Scott and I picked up at Light Bistro. I’m a huge fan of the blend’s rich flavor, and the strong honey notes in the Semillon were a welcome addition.

The sweets from Hungry Bee that we picked up at the Fabulous Food Show really pushed our mini-pecan pie and ice cream dessert over the top - so good (and pretty)!

Handmade sweets from Chef Kimberly McCune’s Hungry Bee topped our dessert, ensuring our dinner was just as deliciously sweet, as it was savory.

I will fully admit there was some highly stressful moments as Scott and I cooked dinner together and maybe a couple instances of me yelling my head off about something. Cooking still causes completely irrational stress in me. However, the more I do it, the more comfortable I’m becoming with certain things.  And I’m seeing how you can make something work, even if you’ve messed something up in a recipe.

I needed a lot of this to unwind after cooking!

The valuable lessons I learned, coupled with the accomplishment I felt at cooking Christmas dinner made our relaxing day at home so much better.

Next up? New Year’s Day dinner with pork, lentils and more brussel sprouts. In fact, I need to go draft up our West Side Market shopping list right now!

***

If you’re really curious what we cooked, here are the recipes Scott and I used with some modifications where noted:

This Wonderful Life at The Cleveland Play House – a Wonderful Way to Spend the Holidays

 

This Wonderful Life - a reimagining of the holiday classic - is at The Cleveland Play House until Dec. 19. (photo from clevelandplayhouse.com)

When It’s A Wonderful Life premiered in 1946, it was a box office flop.  Completely financed by Director Frank Capra and his Liberty Films studio for $3.8 million, its total run grossed only $3.3 million and resulted in the studio going bankrupt.  However, much like George Bailey in the story, the movie got a second chance when it accidentally entered the public domain due to a clerical error and tv stations all-over aired the film throughout the holidays.  Thus, it’s become a classic — a symbol of the holiday season, forever part of the American consciousness.

With its beloved status, there have been numerous adaptations of the story – from stage to radio, as well as a handful of spoofs.  In This Wonderful Life, currently playing at the Cleveland Play House, we’re given one of the freshest re-imaginings that I’ve seen of the inimitable original.  Conceived by Mark Setlock (a Cleveland native, now living in NY) and written by Steve Murray (a longtime film, theatre and book critic turned playwright), This Wonderful Life is a one-man retelling of It’s A Wonderful Life – part re-enactment, part commentary.

This Wonderful Life is told through the eyes of one actor – James Leaming. Leaming plays both the narrator, as well as all of the characters in the film. The play opens up on a fairly empty stage with a few props and set pieces and a small control panel. After talking to a few audience members before the show, Leaming casually enters the stage and delivers probably the best pre-show, turn-off-your-cell-phones speech I’ve ever heard. The show starts off with Leaming talking to the audience – very deftly putting the audience at ease.

 

James Leaming portrays the narrator and all of the residents of Bedford Falls in the one-man show This Wonderful Life (photo from clevelandplayhouse.com)

As a one-man show, This Wonderful Life was completely dependent upon its leading man – even moreso than The Kite Runner which was similarly dependent upon the success of its narrator (Jos Viramontes in the role of Amir). The one-man show is the marathon of acting — with one actor having to learn how to not just be a narrator guiding the story, but also how to distinguish a variety of characters from one another through his actions and voice. Leaming delivers on a 30+ character marathon for an hour and half without intermission.

Leaming struck an excellent balance between the script’s irreverence towards and insight into the original film.  Much like a group of loved ones celebrating the holidays together, there were a number of comedic moments  that poked gentle fun at It’s A Wonderful Life and the times it was filmed in – one of the funniest bits was Leaming talking about George and Mary’s first lipless, face-smashing kiss. However, it managed to be funny without being callous — the same sort of jesting we would do if we were watching it in our living rooms.

He also provided a heartfelt insight into the film.  About how it’s become a part of the American psyche, why George Bailey’s challenges resonates so strongly with us. At a particularly life-changing moment in George’s story, Leaming realizes that this holiday classic is not in fact a movie about Christmas and the holidays, but instead about every other day of the year and the hard decisions we have to make that get us from day to day.

In addition to poking gentle fun at It's A Wonderful Life, Leaming captures the moving realizations made by George Bailey and the other characters. (photo from clevelandplayhouse.com)

Leaming portrayed the town of Bedford Falls not just with his voice (though he did spot-on depictions of Jimmy Stewart’s Bailey, Mr. Potter and Clarence), but he also brought a great physicality to it. Often with one-man shows, you don’t have widesweeping action because you’re limited to how far one actor can move in a scene. However, Leaming was all over the place during scenes — magically exiting one side of the stage and while the action still seemed to be going on (thanks to a few well-timed sound cues), then entering from the other side of the stage.  And a soaring dive from the top of a staircase surprised everyone.

Although it was a one-man show, the technical aspects of the show played such an important part in the production that they were almost like another actor. The set itself was fairly straightforward with a small handful of set pieces and props including a desk, easel to prop up a few signs, and rolling staircase. However, the lighting and sound cues created a fully vibrant Bedford Falls, Clarence and the angels, and a complement to Leaming – allowing him to play off of something much like another actor would. Together, Leaming and the Play House artistic staff brought the wonder of the film to the stage.

The Cleveland Play House was filled with audience members after the show marveling at the lobby and halls decked for the holidays.

When we went to see This Wonderful Life, our evening was bookended by two free events offered throughout the show’s run: a preshow discussion of the play and the Cleveland Play House’s ongoing Festival of Trees celebration.

Prior to every performance, the Play House offers a free pre-show discussion for audience members.  It generally starts 45 minutes before curtain and when we attended Tuesday night, Associate Artistic Director Laura Kepley hosted the conversation.  We talked a lot about the film’s history and random pieces of trivia, as well as why it’s made such a lasting impression on the American psyche. Although we also talked very briefly about the play, the purpose of the pre-show discussion was not to cover what we were about to see but to put the performance into a context that would make for a fuller viewing experience. The Play House generally offers this pre-show discussion for each production, as well as post-show discussions after every third Wednesday evening performance and every third Sunday matinee.

Arrive 45-minutes before the show for a free pre-show discussion. The Cleveland Play House offers this for each production to help audiences understand the context behind the shows.

The Festival of Trees runs from now until December 30.  It’s free and open to the public, featuring more than 70 locally sponsored and professionally decorated holiday trees displayed throughout the Cleveland Play House.  We looked at a few on our way to the pre-show discussion as well as after the show while they were turning off the lights in parts of the building.  It was a beautiful site to see the variety of decorations – from the traditionally decked out Christmas trees, to trees that uniquely featured the Cleveland organizations they were sponsored by.  I loved the dog angel on top of the Cleveland APL’s tree, but the tree for the women pilots association was my absolute favorite.

If you’re planning on visiting the Play House and want to take a long lunch break next Thursday, they will be hosting a Holiday Luncheon starting at 11 am on Dec. 9.  Guests can enjoy a self-guided tour of the Festival’s trees, followed by a holiday program featuring a reading by Associate Artistic Director Kepley. Boxed lunches will be then served among the tree display prior to the Matinee performance of This Wonderful Life.  Tickets are $20 for the Holiday Program and Luncheon or $49 for Holiday Program, Luncheon and Matinee and can be purchased by calling 216.795.7000 ext. 4.

 

My personal favorite tree at the Play House's free Festival of Trees sponsored by a women's pilots association.

After the Play House announced last year that its five-year run of A Christmas Story was coming to an end, some may have wondered if anything could replace the Cleveland staple. With This Wonderful Life, they’ve re-introduced us to another holiday treasure.  Whether you see it at the Holiday Luncheon or go to one of the other performances prior to Dec. 19, a visit to the Play House is a wonderful way to celebrate the holidays in Cleveland.

This Wonderful Life / The Cleveland Play House 411: