33

I’ve been 33 for a few days now and – as expected – it doesn’t feel a lot different than 32. The thing that does feel different though? My mom & sister came to DSM to spend my birthday with me this year. It’s been a long time since the three of us were actually together on my actual birthday and this year felt pretty special.

They got in on Friday early afternoon and we immediately commenced shopping and eating our way through the city. Some highlights include shopping in the East Village, eating at Tacopocalypse, shopping at Raygun, mom’s homemade scallops and alfredo, the gallon jar of pickled eggs mom & Rach made just for me, birthday dinner at Lurra Cocina, lunch at Exile, WEST.END.SALVAGE and coffee, coffee and more coffee.

Come Monday morning, I wasn’t ready for them to head back. I’m so grateful I’m so close with my family and I’m so grateful that they didn’t think twice about hopping in the car and coming out to be with me on a day that usually includes a bit of tears.

My beautiful mother

My beautiful mother

 

listen: manchego cheesecake

listen: manchego cheesecake

 

charcuterie plate with mom's homemade hummus

charcuterie plate with mom’s homemade hummus

 

Sunday.roast.

Sunday.roast.

 

anyone want to get me this Herman Miller Eames lounger?

anyone want to get me this Herman Miller Eames lounger? at west end salvage.

 

... and we walked around with wine

… and we walked around with wine

 

west end salvage is amazing. I want all the things.

west end salvage is amazing. I want all the things.

 

 

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birthday shenanigans!

birthday shenanigans!

 

birthday dinner!

birthday dinner!

 

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gorgeous carrots that became an accompaniment to Sunday roast

gorgeous carrots that became an accompaniment to Sunday roast

 

directive : look perplexed

directive : look perplexed

 

mom & me exploring the farmer's market

mom & me exploring the farmer’s market

 

 

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cleveland, my hometown

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I’ve found myself inspired to write about my “hometown”: Cleveland.

The truth is that I’m from a town closer to Akron but after going away to college in another well-known Ohio town, “Cleveland” became the learned response to the question “where are you from?”  (Until LeBron, no one really knew of Akron so the chances of anyone knowing a suburb of a suburb of a suburb of Akron was highly unlikely.)  So I’ve been saying “Cleveland” to answer “where are you from?” for ages even though my real hometown is about 45 minutes away.

I’m in Ohio this week visiting my family for my usual summer trip and it seems like every time I’m here, I appreciate it just a bit more.  When I lived here prior to making Iowa my home, I kept my radius a bit tight.  I didn’t venture far from the fanciness of Beachwood where all the shopping is, University Heights where the Whole Foods is, and the east side where my sister lived.  As it turns out, Cleveland is really cool when you know where to go and I wasn’t going to the right places.  It took moving away and stalking the city from afar to really figure out what made Cleveland tick.

I’m continually amazed at how much this city has changed.  Even in the three short years since I’ve been gone.  There’s such a sense of community and the local movement has really taken root here.  It’s exhibited by the restaurants all along W 25th St that pride themselves on dishes made from locally sourced ingredients.  And with the West Side Market around the corner, how could they not feel inspired?  The food scene here could rival almost any big city.

(A few highlights: The Greenhouse Tavern, Townhall, Bier Market, Bar Cento, L’Albatros, The Black Pig and I’m dying to try The Butcher and the Brewer.)

Beyond the food, though, this city is a crafter’s dream.  It’s like an Etsy beyond the internets with vendors lining some of the coolest streets for things like Hingetown, and Cleveland Flea.  This city has really become an artist’s community and really celebrates their creatives.

The city stretches far and wide – you have your outskirts communities like Rocky River and Avon and Westlake – and there are so many more people, places and things beyond just my scope.  I’ve written about CLE in the past; sometimes in good and not-so-good context and I’m happy to embrace this place I call home.

There are still things that make CLE less-than-ideal (the crime rate, lack of an organized public transit system, spaced out neighborhoods, lack of walkability between aforementioned spaced-out-neighborhoods) but I do believe I could kill it (socially speaking) in this city after having been forced to spread my wings and learn a different city.  I’d be more active in the community, more likely to get involved and celebrate all that’s going on here (versus lamenting what’s not).  I’m someone who is somewhat of a city snob but I’m real and I’m from CLE.  Having very little “hometown” loyalty, I am happy to say that this city is something to celebrate and there’s a lot of good coming from CLE right now.

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winter thaw

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So, here’s the truth.  I love being domestic.  I know it’s not very cool or anything that could be rated a “hot topic” of discussion, but it is a true thing about me.  I love cleaning (so.much.more.than.a.normal.person, you guys), baking, cooking, planting, painting, decorating… the list goes on.  Spring always inspires renewal in pretty much everyone, so I’m no exception.  After winter is over and everyone begins to emerge from their weather-imposed shut-ins, I get the desire to start running again, to get my hands in the dirt, to declutter and go garage saleing (maybe that’s not a real word but whatevs).

Speaking of dirt, this year we’re going to have an epic garden.  It’s pretty much the only thing I can think about right now.  The weather here is getting great (in between intermittent surprises of 40 degree weather), spring has sprung (and all that) so my sole focus has shifted to all things outside.  The fella in my life inherited a pretty awesome green thumb and he’s a master starting things from seed.  And in true underpreparedness, EVERYTHING we planted has decided to grow.  Everything.  The basement is overrun with little seedlings that can’t wait to meet the sun.  They already had to be transplanted to red solo cups which are scattered a bit of here, there and everywhere in an effort to keep the cats from eating them.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from my modest gardening experience, it’s that planting things in the Earth is unpredictable and it truly is a combination of blood, sweat and tears.  If all these seedlings die after we transplant them, I’m going to be super upset.  In the meantime, we’ll wait for the ground to be ready, we’ll plan for sunny days ahead, we’ll dig into the Earth the way people have been doing for generations and we’ll begin the labor of love that is growing our own food.

giving thanks

I’m sitting here in the room I created as my “office”; my little sanctuary space filled with all the things I love: photos, music, books and lots of natural light.  This space is designed just for me so that I feel inspired to write.  Today, I don’t have to reach too far for inspiration.  It’s looking out on the snow-covered yard and the naked trees.  It’s knowing I’m safe and warm inside my home with the smells of a home-made dinner mingling with the Autumn scented candles.  It’s feeling close at heart to my family who are all ten hours away celebrating this same day.

I have an obscene amount to be thankful for.  I try every day to embrace that attitude.  I do my best to stay mindful of that and give thanks for each blessing.  In the spirit of Thanksgiving, dear ones, I hope you all have a day full of love and laughter surrounded by family and friends; a belly full of food and a thankful heart.

Sending love to you.

traveling.

Before moving to Iowa two years ago, I couldn’t remember the last time I was on a plane.  In that very short time, I’ve done more air travel (and land travel, for that matter) than I have in the last decade combined.  It occurred to me when I mentioned to my sister the other day that all I needed to do to get on a plane was move away from home.  It seems like the last two summers have been jam packed with travel and it’s usually around July or August.  I make my 2ndAnnual Summer Pilgrimage home in about two weeks and I’ve already begun making requests for my mom’s home cooking.

I can’t wait to see this little face:

Avery-bear

Avery-bear

 

I just got back from a whirlwind trip to San Francisco for work.  I got to spend some time with my amazingly awesome friend Jen (who I haven’t seen in something like 10 years!!) and she gave me a great tour of her city.  San Francisco is one of the places that I’ve dreamed of visiting since I started taking this foodie thing seriously.  They have it all: breweries, ethnic food, wineries, TARTINE and pretty much everything else a gastronomique could want.  I may have made up that word just now.

Here are a few shots from my short (but sweet) trip.

 

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First stop: Tartine

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Shotwell’s for some local Drake’s Chili Smoked Porter. This beer is amazing. A-mazing.

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Bi-Rite Grocery – it’s where they keep all the ice cream in San Francisco.

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The Ferry Building. This is where they keep all the fancy food in San Francisco. Also, I want to live in it.

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Cellarmaker. The new brewery my cool friend Jen took me to.

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No words.

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Oh, hai Alcatraz.

Ohio.  I’ll be seeing you soon.

a modern question

Guys.  I’m going to ask you a question that isn’t original at all.

“Why is it so expensive to eat healthy?”

Let me start backward and work forward.  When I was thinking about what to write this week, I actually considered writing about my struggle to determine if I should become a vegetarian again.  But then I thought more big picture.  You see, I was driving down the highway this week, like I do, and (I promise I’m not going to get all soap-boxy on you and I’m most certainly not going to get graphic) I passed a pickup truck pulling a trailer of pigs.  These pigs looked pretty jammed in there and normally I like to play ignorant and look away from livestock trailers but I saw their little pig noses poking out, so I looked.  This is something that I’m entirely too soft to handle—this “seeing” where my food comes from.  In my own personal protest about the pigs (who I liked to imagine were going to a farm…) I pulled the sausage off my breakfast sandwich and threw it away.  But that doesn’t mean there’s one less pig to sacrifice for my sausage.  For this reason, I was a vegetarian for five years; I believe in animal rights.  Not crazy PETA style but I don’t believe the way we get our meat isn’t the way we’re meant to get our meat.  I bought from Whole Foods, my friends and family bought only farm-raised holiday meats and I bought local where I could when I was transitioning out of my vegetarianism.  That became costly for everyone and eventually I just turned a blind eye and began consuming restaurant burgers and steaks.  Flash forward to present day—I live in the midwest; the breadbasket of America; the Pork capital of the world; Omaha Steaks are my neighbor.  If there’s anywhere I could be a locavore, it’s here.

That brings me to my bigger picture.  While there’s an outstanding farmer’s market on Saturday, I can only buy so much produce to avoid it rotting on my counters.  As much as I try to shame it, the convenience factor still gets me from time to time.  I just don’t have the energy to make food for the week or even every night.  And, as it turns out, eating pre-made stuff or take-out… not all that healthy.  Unfortunately, the reality of this amazing world we live in is that it’s more cost effective to get a Quarter Pounder w/Cheese, french fries and a large Coke than it is to go out, buy fresh ingredients, and make a meal at home.  I think Mark Bittman (disclosure: love him) said it best: just eat real food.  I guess that means, for the everyman, more trips to the grocery, more planning ahead of time, more skipping of the convenience factor.

That’s probably the *only* thing keeping me off the vegetarian bandwagon.  While I’m passionate about what happens to those sweet pigs, it’s crazy expensive right now to buy the meat I want to buy to ease my conscience.  Simply removing it from my plate means more pasta and that’s no good for my waistline.  Should I resign myself to the fact that even a simple diet of fruits and veggies are going to cost me?

I’m still working out this vegetarian thing and I’m still trying to do the best I can to eat healthy on a budget.  That’ll probably be the case until I can afford to grow my own food or buy half a humanely-raised cow or pig.  It’s all a work in progress, as am I, but it’s hard when society as a whole makes it easier to eat food with poor nutrition quality (I’m looking at you Hostess Fruit Pies for breakfast) vs. the healthy stuff (oatmeal, eggs) that keeps me going throughout the day.  Finally, as Mark Bittman implores, I’ll do my best to “eat real food”.

family tradition

In my family, if it’s a holiday, there’s cranberry salad.  In fact, we don’t even call it “cranberry salad” anymore.  It’s now known simply as “cranberry”.  As in: my mom will ask “do you want to make the cranberry?”

If we’re being honest, when I was a kid I wasn’t all that crazy about it.  Mostly cause there’s celery in it and I hate celery.  As I’ve gotten older it’s become something I appreciate more and, now that I’ve started eating it instead of passing over it, I’ve found it’s pretty delicious.

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I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that in lieu of tangible things, my family tradition is more about cooking together and breaking bread together.  Part of the tradition of the cranberry is making it.  When I asked my mom about the origins of the cranberry salad, she told me she remembers it back to my great aunt Catherine.  She used to actually grind the cranberries by hand (akin to walking to school uphill both ways in the rain?) cause back then it wasn’t canned.  My mom fondly remembers her mom making it for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners only—grinding all the ingredients by hand.  Then when my mom started entertaining in the 80’s, her mom showed her how to make it just as my mom has shown my sister and me.  It’s legit passed down, guys.

In our little family, though, the cranberry isn’t just for Thanksgiving and Christmas—it makes an appearance at every holiday.  This Easter, three girls crowded around my sister’s kitchen island—Rach, mom and me.  We slivered celery, segmented oranges, drained canned pineapple, Rachel cut her hand and we assembled the most delicious (cause every year it gets more delicious) cranberry together.  We talked and laughed—mostly about Rachel’s cranberry disaster of 2013 but that’s another story.

My sister and I have a photocopy of the recipe written in my Grammy’s hand, all cranberry stained from overuse.  Quite simply, it’s us.

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stuff i love: food i make edition

Hey guys!  We’re in a deep freeze that just won’t quit here in DSM.  That means when the sun goes down I’m at home, in my pajamas, looking for something to eat for dinner.  I recently realized that I’ve been eating out a lot.  When I’m not eating out, I’m eating something “made” for me by the frozen food gods.  The result is lethargy, weight gain and poor sleep that lead to me doing silly things like cleanses in an attempt to feel more balanced.

I come from a long line of cooks.  I used to cook all.the.time (I think I may have mentioned that before).  My mom cooks dinner every night, my sister cooks dinner most nights, my dad is always cooking… I know it’s in me to do it, I just can’t muster up the energy after a long day.  On days like today, after I’ve overdone it on the weekend and I want to feel better, I take to my tiny kitchen (and my even tinier stove) to make my favorite go-to meal.  I’m not sure what else to call it but the meat bowl.  I could fancy it up and call it a taco-less salad but let’s just call it what it is—we’re all grown ups here: it’s a meat bowl.

The easiest part of this meal for me is that I get veggies and protein and I get to exercise a bit of my creativity.  I’ve done this before with ground bison and ground pork and you just change the seasoning and the vegetables.

Step 1: Brown minced garlic and onion, add mushrooms and sauté till soft.

Step 1: Sauté minced garlic and onion, add mushrooms and sauté till soft.

Step 2: Move mushroom mixture to a bowl (unless you have a large skillet—I do not). Brown ground meat of choice. Prep lettuce base and fresh herb seasoning.

Step 2: Move mushroom mixture to a bowl (unless you have a large skillet—I do not). Brown ground meat of choice. Prep lettuce base and fresh herb seasoning.

Step 3: Everything back in the skillet to mix with the fresh herb (basil, in this case).

Step 3: Everything back in the skillet to mix with the fresh herb (basil, in this case).

Step 4: I like to top it with fresh tomatoes and half an avocado. There's also this delicious artichoke pesto from Trader Joe's which tastes good on pretty much everything.

Step 4: I like to top it with fresh tomatoes and half an avocado. There’s also this delicious artichoke pesto from Trader Joe’s which tastes good on pretty much everything.

Voila. Lettuce base, meat mix on top, veggies = dinner.

Voila. Lettuce base, meat mix on top, veggies = dinner.

I’m hoping this year I can cook a little more and continue my effort in being a healthier me.  I recently heard an interview with Michael Pollan where he advocates not-so-much a particular diet (I realize he’s not encouraging the Paleo lifestyle here) but that we cook for ourselves.  He says: “the food industry has done a great job of convincing eaters that corporations can cook better than we can. The problem is, it’s not true. And the food that others cook is nearly always less healthful than that which we cook ourselves.”  Be a healthier me by cooking?  Now that is an idea I can get behind.

 

 

 

2014

Hey guys!  Hard to believe I haven’t said a peep since before Christmas.  Let’s do a recap post, shall we?

Christmas

I rented a car this year and went home for Christmas!  Unlike last year, it wasn’t Christmas Eve, I wasn’t sick as a dog, and I didn’t have to stop in Chicago to sleep off my inability to stay awake—this year was crazy pleasant.  Other than the torrential downpour from Illinois to Ohio and Indiana’s lack of highway lighting, it was relatively uneventful.

First stop: Christmas Ale

First stop: Christmas Ale

Rachel's tree is so festive

Rachel’s tree is so festive

Christmas morning and everyone's awake

Christmas morning and everyone’s awake—even the cat.

Best.wrapjob.ever. Yes, that's a Zeppe's menu.

Best.wrapjob.ever. Yes, that’s a Zeppe’s menu.

Reba Christmas in the background - the aftermath of present time.

Reba Christmas in the background – the aftermath of present time.

The dessert table… which I hit pretty hard this year.

The dessert table at mom’s… which I hit pretty hard this year. Why yes, that *is* queso.  And my pregnant sister.

 

Other stuff whilst at home

I tried really hard this trip home to make sure I saw everyone.  I love my home time and I wanted it to feel like the vacation that it is.  I was able to see my family, some great friends (though I missed you Jess and Rusty!), and in true Ryan fashion it revolved mostly around food.  If you guys have the time (you know, next time you’re in Cleveland) do yourself a favor and go to B Spot.  It’s a place I really miss being away and usually a lunch or dinner spot when I’m home.

Apple Pie Bacon Shake.  That's a chunk of apple pie crust. In the background is my sister's banana chocolate marshmallow shake.  Oh yeah.

Apple Pie Bacon Shake. That’s a chunk of apple pie crust. Legit. In the background is my sister’s banana chocolate marshmallow shake. Oh yes.

 

Christmas tradition

Turns out I didn’t outrun the Christmas cold this year, guys.  It hit me right when I turned off the car after arriving safely home in Des Moines.  It was pretty quick to take me down from there.  That leads me to NYE.

New Year’s stuff

This is how I spent my NYE:

Flu central.

Flu central.

And that’s pretty much how New Year’s Day looked as well.

Speaking of New Year’s, a lot of people make resolutions.  I’ve made resolutions in the past but always end up really hard on myself for making lofty goals that I can’t keep to.  I prefer the idea of “themes” for the New Year.  Last year was ‘the year of me’ and I think it was pretty darn successful.  I’m going to continue that into 2014 and also christen it ‘the year of travel.’  I’ve enjoyed traveling to Chicago, Branson, Omaha, and Minneapolis  in the past year and I want to continue, and even expound on, that pattern.  I’ve traveled more in the last two years than I have in my entire 20’s combined, which is awesome.

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year filled with family, fun, food, drink, football and happy memories.

 

 

 

 

i work out.

Hey, guys!  Remember that time I did a Whole30?  Yeah, me too.  It was so great, I’m doing another one for the month of October.  This time I have some company, though.

You guys know I’ve boo-hooed about my lack of motivation with exercise.  For so long I thought, ‘if I’m not a runner then I don’t know what I could do’.  I finally found what I can do if I’m not a runner.  I’ve been going to MaxLife for about three months (has it been that long?) and it’s perfect for me!  I’m learning how to be strong from the inside out.  If I had to describe it, I’d say it’s P90X meets Cross-Fit with less TRX and more kettle bells.  They’re short, effective, muscle confusion workouts and I feel a strong sense of community and accountability with the men and women I go to class with.  This Whole30 is a gym-wide thing so I have support with my friends, gym-mates and co-workers.