On Monday, Writer’s Center Stage and Cuyahoga Public Library brought Michael Pollan to Cleveland to speak. He happened to be free for lunch and seemed delighted to be taken to The Greenhouse Tavern (above, photos by Donna Turner Ruhlman), for a taste of fall. Pollan, who lives, teaches and writes in Berkeley, CA, is tall and lanky, bobs his head a lot, smiles easily, and is engaging in conversation. He was for years a magazine editor in New York, and left full-time employment with no small amount of anxiety to complete his first book. His second book had mediocre sales, he noted (I read it long ago, excellent book). The Botony of Desire faired better, but it was The Omnivore’s Dilemma that transformed him from non-fiction author and journalism teacher into a national spokesman for the urgent food issues we Read On »

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It’s one of my enduring childhood memories, a gift from my mom.  I was seven or eight, my mom in her early thirties, late morning, august sun, we stared at the six full tomato plants we grew behind our garage.  I don’t know if she actually spoke but her urgent and determined movements said, “Let’s do this.” She wrenched two ripe tomatoes from the vine. I followed her to the kitchen. She rinsed both tomatoes briefly under cool water but they stayed hot the sun.  She gave one to me.  She shook salt on the one she held, and it stuck to what water remained.  Something was going on, but I didn’t know what.  Then she bit into the tomato as if it were an apple, closed her eyes once.  She salted the exposed flesh, Read On »

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Three years ago on this date, a Saturday, Donna, my mom, I, the kids, our dear friend Stu, and the dog spent the morning standing vigil as my father succumbed to the lung cancer. Mom had gone to the farmer’s market and gotten corn and she and I stood at the kitchen island plowing through a dozen and a half ears, butter dripping off our chins. My dad, Rip, hadn’t been conscious since very early in the morning, 3 am, Donna and I on the bedside, holding his hand. Realizing the end was truly near, he wanted our assurance that I had indeed returned his library books. I had.  “We love you, Dad, we’re going to be fine, don’t worry, everything’s going to be OK.” By eleven a.m., he breathed sporadically. I hoped he could Read On »

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For years I’ve wanted to devise a new way to present how-to cooking information on a show. There’s a reason why they’ve been dubbed dump-and-stir; because they’re inherently rote. Given that there are only about twenty things you need to know to cook just about anything, it’s inevitable that presenting a few of those techniques is going repetitive after oh, 40 or 50,000 shows.  Yes, people are pushing the format.  Michael Symon does a good job with Cook Like an Iron Chef. Others are trying to put cooking info in the framework of a story, adding layers of media. My old friend from Cooking Under Fire, Ming Tsai, invited me out to be part of his ninth season of “Simply Ming,” a how-to, yes, but always interesting, always informative, with travel, and knowledgeable guest chefs Read On »

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Reynolds Price was a protean man of letters: novels, plays, memoirs, essays, criticism, poetry. Just as important, he was a teacher for more than forty years.  And he was the one who gave me, when I was 20, the tools I would need to make my way as a writer.  He died on Thursday after a long and rich life. (NYTimes obit.) Last weekend I attended the Key West Literary Seminar, this year devoted to food. Before leaving I phoned Reynolds because I hadn’t spoken to him in two years and a recent letter and emails had gone unanswered (which was not like him—he was an ebullient correspondent). Reynolds answered on the first ring—”Maddog, old pal,” he said; he was indeed ill yet remained his jovial self, eager to hear about the seminar.  I asked Read On »

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