Category Archives: family

My grandfather lived his passion.

Ang and Poppa, late 1980’s

My grandfather passed away a week ago. We loved him and learned so much from him. He left behind a loving family and a lifetime of memories. To say he did well would be an understatement. 

Here are the words I put together for our close friends and family.

I also wanted to share them with you. 

My name’s Nicole Cifani and I’m Ray and Linda’s daughter. I’m the eldest of the grandchildren.
And I’d like to say a few things about our Poppa.

He was optimistic.
He was punctual (there’s a story about how we’d place bets on when he’d arrive).
He loved baseball.
He had a great sense of humor.
He was a good listener.
He was patient. In his quiet way he guided us. He always encouraged us.
He was a musician, performer, composer, arranger, teacher, businessman.
In other words, he was a hard worker.

He demonstrated the importance of finding one’s passion. For him, it was music.
And to us, his grandchildren, he was a facilitator.

Nonnie and Poppa wanted to give their grandchildren the gift of music.
And they did. From when we were all very young.
Who can forget the Cousin’s Band?
I was the first one.

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Visiting The Greenhouse Tavern

Over the weekend I had a chance to visit my hometown of Westlake, Ohio. I usually make it back once or twice a year. In an attempt to keep with  a New Year’s Resolution to spend more time with family, I flew back to visit my parents for Easter weekend.

On Friday night we dined at the Greenhouse Tavern. It’s a relatively new restaurant located in Cleveland’s East 4th Street Entertainment District.

I was impressed with their farm-to-table approach presented in a totally forward-thinking and upscale way. Maybe I’ve been living on the west coast for too long, but I really do believe that farm-to-table sets an example of how we should all be eating in the first place.

Opening almost exactly a year ago, The Greenhouse is the first restaurant in the city to be LEED Certified (LEED certification is recognition that a building’s management has implemented best practices for creating an energy efficient and environmentally sustainable structure).  It’s also the first green-certified restaurant in the state of Ohio.

In addition to being green the narrow space is also elegant. It employs beautiful oak flooring from former Ohio farmhouses and barns,  reclaimed vintage doors, and salvaged materials from the local business Old School Architectural Salvage. Other local businesses were hired to create furnishings. I learned from Yelp users that the best place to sit is actually in the basement, where you can pony up alongside the chefs and watch the action take place.

The restaurant advocates the Farm to Plate Movement, which means that all ingredients are locally produced. Our guy explained what the wild Ohio ramps were on the menu  (think leek meets onion) which he had happened to pick that morning himself.  The menu changes constantly to reflect new dishes and ingredients (say, if one of the staff happened to have gone fishing that morning – it would be incorporated on the menu that evening).

In a town known for roast beef and hot dogs, The Greenhouse is inspiring and a total breath of fresh air.

Although I’m a fairly fussy eater and was quite impressed with my experience, one of my favorite aspects of the restaurant was (surprise!) the jukebox. In the basement along the wall is an amazingly retro-outfitted jukebox with those little old-school hand-written cards. The music with funk, soul, r&b and rock singles – it made me happy just looking at it.

Overall, I’m excited for what the Greenhouse Tavern could mean for Cleveland and midwestern cities at large.

Named one of Bon Appetit Magazine’s Top Ten Best New Restaurants in America certainly gives it – and the city – international cred. More importantly is what it implies locally. Restaurants like The Greenhouse Tavern are promoting a practice and mentality that will better dining and best building practices for generations to come.

Let’s hope it catches on.


Bon Appetit feature (PDF)

New York Times mention (PDF) The Greenhouse Tavern and Death-Row Dining

BX Magazine (PDF)

a holiday exchange

For the second year in a row my cousins and I are participating in our annual holiday gift exchange.

We prefer to take the “white elephant” approach, playing a game whereby each participant brings a wrapped gift within a set budget. The gift can be anything – new, used, nostalgic, silly, practical.

We draw numbers to determine the order of who gets to choose from the pile first, and as we go through the procession one has the option to steal someone elses gift or pick a new one from the pile.

The game is fun and relieves some pressure from everyone both socially and financially. Really, what do you get your cousin from LA who assumedly gets acupuncture in Malibu with P. Diddy while sipping a pomegranate infused something-or-other? And by the way what’s a pomegranate?

I understand the dilemma. Plus most of the cousins are in college so asking them to spend money could be kinda gauche.

As the oldest of the bunch I felt a rare sense of responsibility to start the tradition. So around this time last year, I sent a message to everyone on Facebook explaining the exchange and providing a set of rules.

Yes, every single one of my 6 cousins is on Facebook.

And Yes, it’s the most effective way to reach them.

I take it as a sign of the times. I occasionally send the cousins messages to inform about an upcoming family get-together, or a quick reminder to vote.

I try not to keep tabs on activities that their collegiate freedom entails – photos of random debauchery involving beer pong and keg stands of which apparently have yet to become technologically defunct.

We’re all becoming more connected than we think. Family members are not only a phone call away, but also an im, tweet, meebo, myspace or fb message, blackberry message or text away from receiving instantaneous communication on the go via text, audio, photo or video.

Pretty cool.

This year, rather than everyone getting drunk enough to easily enjoy one another’s company and pretend that we didn’t know what you did this year, I figured we could give it a go the (ideologically) grown-up way.

Snarky remarks, bad jokes, and off-handed political commentary – bring it on! Maybe that’s the real game we play.