Why? Love Actually Dinner!

There are certain holiday movies that I will watch year over year. “White Christmas” for one. I had a friend once say that Bing Crosby’s voice is as comforting as hot chocolate. It’s true. The other movie for me is “Love Actually.” In a sea of movies with multiple story lines and as many celebrities as you can pack into the cast, this movie actually holds up. It’s sweet and funny and features one of the greatest scenes on film:

So when fire food and drink announced a Love Actually dinner, I bought my tickets in September. The evening included a 12-course (yes, 12) small plate dinner of English holiday favorites, movie trivia, and a showing of “Love Actually” at Shaker Square Cinemas.

Having both been to England (albeit ages ago), Matthew and I had not so fond memories of traditional English food. But perhaps our memories are foggy or maybe we just needed Chef Douglas Katz’s magic touch, because the food was delicious!

Here is what we enjoyed:

Crumpet – foie gras cream cheese, cucumber, watercress


Flies Graveyard (nb: the English need better names…perhaps that’s the hangup) – black pepper-cheese scone, currant jam, rhubarb syrup


Bubble and Squeak – house made bacon, Brussel sprouts, garlic aioli, fresh herbs


Blushing Bunny – tomato-Great Lakes ale fondue, Stone Oven multigrain toast, feta


Fish and Chips – cod, house chips, lemon tartar sauce (nb: dip your chips in this)


Scotch Egg – Amish egg, maple-sage sausage, Dijon aioli, chives


Tiddly Oggie – mushy pea and local beef pastry, white carrot béchamel, mint


Toad in a Hole – chicken sausage, local apple, cheesy Yorkshire pudding, duck gravy


Spotted Dick – suet, cherry syrup, powdered sugar (nb: I googled suet and was sure I would not like this and I ate every bite)


Trifle – Rittman Orchards blueberries, lemon pastry cream, gelatin, pound cake


Banoffee Pie – English biscuits, bananas, toffee, whipped cream


Cranberry Christmas Pudding – flamed brandy, vanilla custard (nb: People left before this course to see the very beginning of the movie. I have the DVD. I do not have this pudding at my house. It was worth staying.)


Overall, the staff at fire busted it out, turning out 12 courses to a packed restaurant in just over an hour and a half! And the food, as I mentioned, was incredible! We sat at communal tables and the atmosphere was warm, chatty, and felt like we were in an English pub. And I loved sipping my mulled wine, too…a perfect pairing with our meal.

I was also delighted to win a bottle of bubbly in the trivia contest (see the Christmas pudding picture). fire did an excellent job and I can’t wait to see what else they do with their “fire film series” starting in the new year! And of course, seeing “Love Actually” on the big screen was a treat too! It was a lovely holiday date night and made me feel like Christmas really is all around.


Why? Weekends!

It was a Christmas crazy weekend! The fates conspired to give us festive fetes every day this weekend, so we are officially stuffed with hot chocolate, candy canes, and good cheer!

On Friday, we headed to the Lake Metroparks Farmpark for Country Lights. One of Jeffrey’s favorite phrases is, “There’s so much to see and do!” And that is certainly true at Country Lights!

We started at Santa’s Workshop, where a cadre of volunteer elves help children construct the wooden toy of their choosing.


Jeffrey made a tractor, which his elf Brian helped him put together, then Jeffrey got to paint and liberally glitter to his heart’s content.


From there, we headed to the Toy Testing Room with tons of wooden toy fun from car ramps to Christmas trees.


Then it was on to a horse-drawn wagon ride through the Farmpark to see the beautiful Christmas lights.

We ended our evening with decorating Christmas cookies and a visit to Elfland.

All of these activities, plus Christmas horse shows and a Santa train room, are included with your admission (Christmas cookies to decorate are an additional $3). As members, we paid $11 per ticket and I can honestly say this is one of not only the best Christmas event deals around, but also truly one of the most magical.

Kudos to Andy and his staff at the Farmpark for putting on another wonderful event! Country Lights is sold out for this year, but put it on your must-do list for next year!

Friday night after Country Lights, I dashed up to John Carroll University for a party celebrating the 15th anniversary of my sorority chapter‘s installation.


As one of the original members of the chapter (along with the ladies in the picture with me), it was great to be able to see how far the chapter has come in that time and to reminisce about our fun college days! Kappa Delta was a huge part of my college and immediately post-graduate life, so it’s always nice to have a chance to reconnect with that.

On Saturday morning, we headed to the Connor Palace Theatre for Tinsel Town, put on by Playhouse Square Partners. This event takes place in the beautiful Connor Palace Theatre lobby, with holiday crafts, toy raffles, and a chance to visit with Santa!


The craft tables are staffed by Partners members (they put me on cookie decorating this year after an unfortunate incident with a glue gun one year) and the raffle baskets are made with donations from Partners members, too. This is one of my favorite Partners events, not only because I can see Jeffrey enjoy it, but because it provides such a fun and festive morning for families. Kids dress up in their Christmas finery and really seem to have a blast!

Jeffrey was also very proud that he won the candy-filled snowman from the guess-the-number raffle. It’s a major award!


I’m pretty excited too…those are Dove chocolates in there!

From there, it was off to our niece Leila’s sixth birthday party: a swimming party at the Wadsworth YMCA. I was really impressed with their kids swimming area, which has water slides, a current pool, waterfalls, and more. Jeffrey had a great time and kept showing off his new swimming skills from his more advanced lessons at Goldfish Swim School.

Sunday morning, we went to the John Carroll Alumni Breakfast with Santa. This event combines so many aspects of the John Carroll experience: faith (the event begins with Mass), service (attendees donate toys to Bellefaire JCB), and fun (brunch and a chance for photos with Santa and Christmas crafts).

My favorite part about this year’s event is that we went with friends that I met on day one of my freshman year, as we all lived on the same floor of Dolan Hall. I’ve stayed friends with these ladies for all these years and through a lot of life changes.


It was so special to be at John Carroll not only with them, but with our kids too! This really felt like what the holidays are about!

What a festive and exhausting weekend! How was yours?

***Disclosure: I am the vice co-chair of Playhouse Square Partners and the president of the John Carroll University Cleveland Alumni Chapter. As always, all opinions are 100% my own.***


Why? On the Rise!

I have a new weekly haunt. The staff is friendly, the pastries are decadent, the coffee is delicious, and it flat-out smells heavenly. I’m talking about On the Rise Artisan Breads & Pastries.

I was searching for a coffee shop to spend time a couple mornings a week while I got some work done. When I first found On the Rise (which I had of course heard of, but had yet to visit), I was drawn in by the fabulous smells of fresh-baked bread.



There are a host of offerings, as well as daily specials (check them all out here). Carbs, glorious carbs.

And the pastries. Oh, the pastries. A lot of time I just ogle the case (or snag the really generously cut samples on the counter). But from tarts to croissants to cookies (I’m partial to the Jennifer cookie for obvious reasons), the pastries are worth the indulgence.

The coffee menu is considerably smaller than the large coffee shops, but the quality and craftsmanship stand out.


And while I’m an earlier bird at On the Rise, they do have a lunch menu that is on my must-try list, with options like a banh mi, a burrata sandwich (yeah, I need this in my world), a PB&J with housemade peanut butter, and more (menu here).

And the staff are so friendly. You really feel like part of a community there. The difference between a place like On the Rise and a coffee shop that’s on every corner is palpable. And that doesn’t mean you won’t ever see me with a red cup in my hand. But at least once a week you’ll find me in a place that is cozy, comfortable, and smells like heaven.


Why? The Gift of Membership!

Last year, we used Christmas gift money to purchase memberships to several of our favorite Cleveland attractions. Memberships are a great way to not only save money, but gain special access to events and more.


So, in case you’re in the market for a holiday gift that lasts all year, here are some of our favorites:

Cleveland Botanical Garden

What you get (at any level):

  • Free general admission to the Cleveland Botanical Garden
  • Reciprocal admission to the Holden Arboretum
  • Discounts on admission to Western Reserve Historical Society and Cleveland Museum of Natural History
  • Invitations to special events
  • 10% discount at the Garden Store and Tree House Store
  • Borrowing privileges in the Eleanor Squire Library
  • Members magazine and e-newsletter

How to purchase a gift membership: Click here

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

What you get (at any level):

  • Free admission to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, including The Rain Forest
  • 10% discount at Zoo shops
  • Discounted admission at more than 130 zoos nationwide
  • Higher levels of membership include invitations to special events and free guest admission
  • Members magazine

How to purchase a gift membership: Click here

Cleveland Museum of Natural History

What you get (at any level):

  • Free general admission and planetarium tickets
  • Free admission to Association of Science and Technology Center Museums
  • Invitations to members-only events
  • Members magazine
  • Guest passes (number varies)
  • Parking passes (number varies) and discounted parking once parking passes are used
  • Discounts at Museum store, Museum rental, and gift memberships

How to purchase a gift membership: Click here

Lake Metroparks Farmpark

What you get (at any level):

  • Free general admission
  • Discounts on Parks Plus programs led by Farmpark staff
  • 10% discount at the gift shop
  • Priority access to Vintage Ohio, Halloween Hayrides, and Country Lights tickets
  • 10% discount on birthday parties
  • 50% discount on children’s wagon rentals
  • Member magazine

How to purchase a gift membership: Click here

Greater Cleveland Aquarium

What you get (at any level):

  • Free general admission
  • Free parking
  • $5 discount on guest admission
  • Express entry
  • Invitations to and discounts on special events
  • 10% discount at the gift shop
  • 10% discount at the Nautica Queen
  • 20% discount at the Nautica Cafe

How to purchase a gift membership: Click here

These are the current memberships we have and love! I think they make great gift ideas, but I’m always open to new suggestions, too. What memberships do you have and love?


Why? Weekends!

It was a long, family-and-turkey filled weekend, so let’s get right into it! We had two Thanksgiving dinners: one on Wednesday night and one on Thursday. On Wednesday, we went to Matthew’s sister’s house. Our contributions to the dinner were a butternut squash side dish (recipe here) and this adorable turkey cake from Michael Angelo’s Bakery.


The cake was as tasty as it was cute and all the kids (big and small) loved it!

On Thursday, we had my family over for Thanksgiving. Since I graduated from law school, I’ve been preparing our Thanksgiving dinner and I really love doing it! From my great grandmother’s pumpkin pie recipe to Eastern European favorites like dumplings and sauerkraut, the table is filled with traditional foods.


This year, I took advice that I received at Pier W’s Tour of Italy wine dinner and served Prosecco with both dinner and dessert. It was a crowd-pleaser and paired well with all the foods!

Friday was spent picking out our Christmas tree…


…and starting to decorate the house, too. Jeffrey has his own small tree in his room, which he really loves!


Saturday evening, we headed downtown for Winterfest, which returned to Public Square this year. Before heading to the tree lighting, we stopped in at the Keep it Local Cleveland Winter Market, with lots of great local artisans like Pope’s Kitchen, Fear’s Confections, and Distinct CLE Crates, and a visit with this guy, too!


Then it was off to Public Square for the lighting of the giant Christmas tree, as well as all the other trees and displays around the Square.


The new Public Square has quickly become a favorite gathering place and it’s so nice to see the lights and ice rink back there this year, too. I always went to the tree lighting with my mom as a kid and I love continuing that tradition with Jeffrey.


Winterfest has grown to encompass so many different areas of downtown, with shopping, music, ice skating, and all kinds of family-friendly activities. After the tree lighting, we popped over to Bloom Bakery for complimentary cookies and hot cocoa, which was the perfect sweet way to end the evening!


On Sunday, we went to dinner at The Capital Grille for my Dad’s birthday. Even after all the Thanksgiving eating, we somehow found room for more food! I ordered the bone-in ribeye with porcini dust and aged balsamic. So rich, so perfectly cooked, so good!


Our table shared side dishes of mushroom risotto, wild mushrooms, and sweet creamed corn with bacon. Matthew and I also shared the lobster and crab cakes for our appetizer and my Dad’s complimentary birthday dessert of a mini cheesecake and mini espresso flourless cake was delicious, too!

And you might not believe it, but The Capital Grille really is family-friendly! Jeffrey loved his cheeseburger and ice cream trio. Our server was attentive and friendly to his needs and we all had a wonderful experience! This is a steakhouse that really delivers!

So, that was our weekend! A seamless transition from one holiday to the next and lots of fun, too! How was your Thanksgiving weekend?


Why? Favorite Holiday Events!

I’m so ready to kick off the holiday season in Cleveland! We had such a great time last year going to lots of festive events, so I thought I’d share some of our family favorites with you to help your holiday planning.



Date: Saturday, November 26

Location: Cleveland Public Square and throughout Downtown Cleveland

What: Food trucks, a children’s stage, a Cleveland Bazaar pop-up shop, the tree lighting, free ice skating courtesy of the Cleveland Foundation, and more

Pro tip: This is one of Cleveland’s classic holiday events. Don’t miss it!

Admission: Free

Candy Land has gone Wild!


Dates: November 19 – January 1 (closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Eve)

Location: Penitentiary Glen Reservation in the Lake Metroparks

What: An indoor, life-sized Candy Land game perfect for kids of all ages

Pro tip: Make sure to snag a deck of cards and actually play your way through the game.

Admission: Free

Tinsel Town


Date: Saturday, December 3

Location: The Connor Palace Theatre lobby at Playhouse Square

What: Holiday crafts, hot chocolate, Santa, toy basket raffles, and the opportunity to get some great pictures in the beautiful theatre lobby

Pro tip: Your raffle tickets purchases benefit the Playhouse Square Bus Fund, so be generous!

Admission: $18 for children, $12 for adults, $50 for a family four-pack (all prices are 50% off for Pals members)



Dates: November 25 – December 31 (closed Mondays, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day)

Location: Cleveland Botanical Garden

What: Beautifully decorated Christmas trees and gingerbread houses created by local groups and individuals, train rides, live music, and more

Pro tip: Save time to visit the nearby University Circle Rink at Wade Oval too!

Admission: $16 for adults, $12 for children ages 3-12, free for members

Kringle’s Inventionasium


Dates: November 18 – December 24

Location: Tower City Center

What: A truly imaginative and unique experience that takes you on a journey through Mr. Kringle’s workshop and includes a private audience with Mr. Kringle himself

Pro tip: Check out my recap of our visit last year

Admission: Prices vary based on date and experience. Click here for more information.

Deck the Hall


Dates: November 25-27 and December 1-4, 8-23, 26-30

Location: Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens

What: Beautiful lights, a decorated Manor House, seasonal treats, animated Christmas windows, and more

Pro tip: Bundle up! It’s a lot of outdoor walking to see the lights. And skip the Manor House if you have little ones.

Admission: Sunday-Thursday: $18 for adults, $7 for youth ages 6-17, free for children 5 and under (lower prices for members). Friday-Saturday: $22 for adults, $9 for youth ages 6-17, free for children 5 and under (lower prices for members).

And two experiences we loved but that are both SOLD OUT for this year are listed below, so they can be on your radar for next year:

The Polar Express (SOLD OUT for 2016)


Dates: November 12-22, 25-30 and December 1-20

Location: Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad

What: The classic story (movie) brought to life with a train ride to the North Pole and a visit from Santa

Pro tip: These tickets sell out in a hot minute so mark the on-sale date in your calendar and have multiple computers at the ready!

Admission: Varies based on Standard Coach, Deluxe, or Executive seating.

Country Lights (SOLD OUT for 2016)


Dates: November 25 – December 23

Location: Lake Metroparks Farmpark

What: A wagon ride through outdoor lights, cookie decorating, a train room, and a chance to make your own toy in Santa’s workshop with the help of the elves

Pro tip: These tickets sell out in a hot minute so mark the on-sale date in your calendar and have multiple computers at the ready!

However you celebrate, I hope you find lots of ways to incorporate the incredible culture and unique magic of Cleveland into your holidays!

***Disclosure: I am the vice co-chair of Playhouse Square Partners, which puts on Tinsel Town. As always, all opinions are 100% my own.***


Why? Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers! It has been quite the year in Cleveland and we all have so much for which to be thankful, both as a city and as individuals.

But it’s also been kind of a stressful last few weeks, right? Which is why I’m so excited for some quiet family time; some traditional, comforting food; and a chance to take stock and be grateful.

And what better way to kick off the holiday weekend than with “The West Wing?” Their Thanksgiving episodes are continually (even now) ranked among the best on TV. So before you celebrate with your family, let’s celebrate a bit with President Bartlett:

And one serious one…

Have a wonderful, blessed, peaceful Thanksgiving!


Why? Weekends!

It was a busy weekend in the CLE! On Friday, Jeffrey and I took full advantage of the ridiculously lovely, warm weather by meeting up with friends for a play date at Preston’s HOPE.

This might be the last time for the season, so I was happy to pack in as much outdoor play as we could.


From outdoor play to (somewhat) outdoor shopping, I went over to Legacy Village on Friday afternoon to find a birthday present for my friend Sara. I was looking for specifically Cleveland-themed things and I found a multitude of choices at both Banyan Tree


and Merchant’s Mrkt. What I love about Merchant’s Mrkt is that it brings together a dozen local makers to sell their wares in a shared storefront. You can find everything from clothing to cocktail mixes to chocolate to cutting boards.

To see these local makers supporting each other in such a savvy way, plus making their awesome goods easier to access, is really exciting!

Friday evening, Matthew and I met up with the aforementioned birthday girl Sara and her husband Ron for dinner and the Cavs game. We chose the new 811 Kitchen Bar Lounge. 811 is part of the same restaurant group as Red the Steakhouse and Moxie, so I was not only excited to try it, but had high expectations for a great meal.

And I was not disappointed! The fusion menu features items from sushi to guacamole and stuffed pita to Korean short ribs. We shared a spicy salmon roll and smashed avocado to start (plus two baskets of the complimentary shrimp chips).


For my entrée, I had the Ohio pork belly ramen with bok choy, Fresno chilies, and a sixty-three degree egg. The bowl was way too big to allow me to pick it up and enjoy every drip of this rich and spicy dish, but that didn’t stop me from trying!


Matthew had the stuffed pita with added grilled chicken, which was stuffed (haha) with delicious hummus, falafel, and tabbouleh. We all enjoyed our meal and found this to be a perfect spot for a pre-game meal (especially since they take reservations!).

From there, it was off to cheer on the reigning NBA champions as they defeated the Detroit Pistons.

I had yet to see the championship banner and it’s so cool to see that in the rafters of the Q!

Saturday was our lazy, it’s-cold-so-let’s-hibernate day. My Mom taught Jeffrey how to make sugar cookies. He was a great helper and I have a feeling he’ll be helping me prepare Thanksgiving dinner this year!

And I made this delicious Brussel sprout and bacon mac n cheese (recipe here) for a warm-you-up dinner.


On Sunday, we were back at Quicken Loans Arena, as we took Jeffrey to see Disney Live. After our trip to Disney World this past May, Jeffrey was excited to see some of his favorite characters take to the stage.


From Mickey and Minnie to Aladdin to Woody and Buzz, there were lots of fun songs and dances to keep Disney fans of all ages entertained.


It was a fun afternoon and a great way for Jeffrey to experience his first #LiveattheQ show!

We grabbed dinner at Harry Buffalo after the show. I have no pictures of our dinner because my phone was in use keeping a certain overly-tired member of our family happy (yup, it was Matthew). Jeffrey had a cheeseburger, Matthew had a bison burger and I enjoyed the Henny Hot fried chicken (served with amazing spicy honey sauce). Add in some nice seasonal beer options and you have a post-show locale that kept the whole family happy.

It was a great weekend and now it’s time to gear up for Thanksgiving! How was your weekend?



Why? Stone Mad Pub!

I love me an Irish pub. It’s one of my favorite things. And one of the best ones in Cleveland is Stone Mad Pub. Tucked on West 65th Street in Gordon Square, Stone Mad has a great beer selection, delicious pub food, and an indoor bocce court.


When we were there last night, we got to take advantage of happy hour, which included discounted Guinness pints, domestic bottles, wine, and vodka drinks. We also snagged some of the $6 appetizers: pub spuds (a bowl of potatoes with cheese, bacon, and sour cream) and mussels.


I’m not a big fan of mussels, but I will say that the white wine garlic broth was delicious and I snagged every bite of garlic bread soaked in it that I could!

I also had my first taste of Great Lakes Brewing Company Christmas Ale for this season. I have to say that this Cleveland favorite is tasting better than ever for this holiday season!


It had been way too long since I hit up this cozy, friendly Irish pub. Whether you’re enjoying a burger by the fireplace, sipping a pint at the bar, or playing a game of bocce, this is a spot not to be missed!


Why? Cleveland Sports Books Giveaway!

The holiday season is almost upon us, which means it’s time to do some gift shopping! And what better gift to mark this amazing year in Cleveland than books celebrating two of our fantastic sports teams?

“The Comeback: LeBron, the Cavs, and Cleveland” is authored by Terry Pluto and chronicles how LeBron James came home and brought a championship to Cleveland.


What better way to commemorate the end of Cleveland’s championship drought?

And the Cleveland Indians World Series run revived many great memories of not only real-life championship teams, but also our favorite fictional baseball team from the movie “Major League.”


“The Making of Major League” by Jonathan Knight offers a behind-the-scenes look at this hilarious and beloved baseball film.

Both books are available from Gray & Company Publishers, who publish a host of wonderful Cleveland books to add to your shelf. To jump start your holiday giving, I have 2 sets of these books to give away! Here’s how to enter (you can do one, two, three, or all four entries, just leave a separate comment here for each):

1.Leave a comment here telling me your favorite Cleveland sports story/moment from the 2016.

2. Visit Gray & Company Publishers and Why CLE? on Facebook and leave a comment here letting me know you visited both pages.

3. Follow @clevelandbooks and @WhyCLE on Twitter and leave a comment here letting me know you’re following both.

4. Tweet the following phrase and leave a comment here letting me know you tweeted:

I want to score sports books from @clevelandbooks and @WhyCLE: https://whycle.com/2016/11/17/why-cleveland-sports-books-giveaway #giveaway

You can tweet once per day for additional entries, just leave a separate comment each time you tweet.

The giveaway will close on Tuesday, November 22 at 11:59pm and the two winners will be notified the following day. Good luck!

***Disclosure: I was asked to help promote Gray & Company Publishers books. I selected which books to promote. In exchange, I will receive a copy of each book for myself, as well as two copies of each book to give away. As always, all opinions are 100% my own.***