Tag Archives: Ann Arbor

snippets

For those of you who are married, this wins the Obvious Statement of the Year award, and for those of you who are unmarried, take heed: planning a wedding is a LOT of work. Like, feels-like-a-second-job amounts of work. And for someone like me who basically does have a second job (or two or three, depending on how you count freelance work, being a landlady and running a micro-food-business), I barely have time to breathe let alone blog. For those who opt for a “regular” wedding at a place where it’s X amount per head all-inclusive, there’s still plenty to keep you busy (my sister went this route last year and still, a few months out, found herself wishing she had planned a small destination wedding instead). But when you capriciously decide that you want to have your reception at an old Model T museum, with no kitchen or staff, that doesn’t regularly host large events, you’re dealing with a whole new level of coordination.  My chest gets tight just thinking about it.

Somehow in the midst of all this, I’m managing to squeeze in little snippets of normal life here and there- a Sunday supper of grilled salmon with scape pesto; a weekend visit with my mom and sister; a restaurant meal with my old high school friend Kathy and her husband Garrett (longtime readers may remember my posts about my stay with her in Portland, and making her family’s Chinese dumplings).

When Kathy announced a couple months ago that they’d be in Ann Arbor for a couple days and wanted to meet for dinner, I didn’t have to think too hard about where to go. Grange is a restaurant which friends have raved about for its commitment to only serving local, seasonal food and its excellent cocktail menu. We were particularly wowed by the house-made charcuterie platter (trend trifecta- there were even pickled scapes! but who cares because it was REALLY GOOD), which included whipped lardo among its decadent treats. For dinner, I had pork loin on a bed of greens with pickled strawberries. The dish had minor flaws, but the pork itself was juicy and had a nice fatty layer indicating its non-industrial “other white meat” origins. After dinner we went next door and had a couple un-fancy drinks with Fred, another old friend from college. It was an evening that made me happy and wistful at the same time- I’ve met so many great people at different times in my life but despite the brave new world of online social networking, it’s nearly impossible to keep up with them all in any meaningful way. I’m just thankful for times when I do see old friends and we’re able to pick up without awkwardness,  as if no time had passed.

Speaking of things to be grateful for, my family has been so supportive and helpful during this busy time! My mom and sister were in town visiting a couple weeks ago and I was glad I was able to find time to cook them a meal. I deep-fried some stuffed squash blossoms from the farmers’ market, grilled a grass-fed flank steak, roasted some beets and dressed them with a scape & pistachio pesto, and heated up some pasta with fresh tomato sauce I’d made a few days prior. We had a nice leisurely summer supper, nibbling on cheese and salami and white bean dip, then moving outside for a glass of L. Mawby (a sparkling wine from the Leelanau) and the squash blossoms (I took Melissa Clark’s excellent advice about moving the deep fryer outdoors). As dusk settled in, we  migrated back to the dinner table afterward for the rest of our feast.  The roasted beets were so sweet they tasted like strawberry candy, and despite her aversion to the garish magenta roots, my mom consented to trying a bite. Their green tops were chopped and sautéed with some kale for a slightly bitter counterpoint to the beets’ intense sugar. We lingered over these and a few bottles of wine, and after dinner (partially thanks to said wine), Amanda coerced me into getting out an old photo album and reminiscing about a trip we took to New York almost exactly a decade ago, just two weeks before 9/11.

Even on weeknights, every once in a blue moon we have an evening where we’re both home at dinnertime (no small feat with two freelancers in the house) and we take time to make a “nice dinner”. Now, don’t get me wrong- by “nice” I don’t mean complicated- we’re still far off from having that kind of time. I just mean a meal that we wouldn’t hesitate to serve to company, once we can actually have people over again. For example- a beautiful piece of wild salmon, smeared with the aforementioned scape pesto and grilled. If memory serves (yes, it was that long ago! sigh…), we had kale and grilled cabbage on the side, two of our current favorite vegetable sides. The cabbage was simply shredded, tossed with salt, olive oil and smoked paprika, and the kale was bolstered with a paste of anchovies and preserved lemons, with some red pepper flakes for good measure. Incidentally, my dangerously crowded pantry may look like overkill to some, but it’s a saving grace when it comes to cooking anything worth mentioning on a tight time budget.

Tonight I will be working, testing and developing waffle and popover recipes for a client in my 90+-degree kitchen and wishing I was grilling or eating a nice cool salad or chilled soup. But such is life right now. We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming after September 17th, and meanwhile, eat lots of wonderful summer meals for me!

bento, beer, & bands in a barn (just another saturday in ann arbor)

There’s a bumper sticker that reads “Ann Arbor: 25 square miles surrounded by reality”.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with that fair city, allow me to explain the joke.  Ann Arbor (or A2 as it’s known in shorthand), home to the University of Michigan, is a liberal enclave where people are SO like-minded that after spending some time there, you’re apt to be lulled into forgetting that other places aren’t as progressive.  For someone coming from another city (especially Detroit), going to Ann Arbor is akin to going to Disneyland’s Epcot Center; like visiting a staged example of what a mid-sized Midwestern city could be if everyone shopped at a food co-op, recycled, volunteered, or was otherwise groovy.  Everywhere you go, there is evidence of A2’s crunchy leanings: a yoga studio every other block; houses painted various shades of the rainbow; people biking and walking more than they drive.  The city hosts an annual Hash Bash (they’re known for their lax marijuana laws), has a high school where kids aren’t given grades, and allows people to keep chickens in their backyards.

Saturday Scarlet Oaks had a show in A2: a fundraiser, held in an urban barn (see photos above & below), in which people were asked to donate art supplies as part of their admission.  It was a gorgeous day out, so my friend Melissa and I decided to head out there early so we could wander around, get some food, and basically be tourists.  Lest you get the impression by my comments above that I’m somehow hating on Ann Arbor, let me assure you that’s not the case- there are few better places a drive’s distance from my house to spend a sunny afternoon. The downtown area is eminently walkable, and features scads of cute shops, restaurants, cafes etc.

The city is as close as one can get to a food-lover’s paradise in the Midwest.  In addition to many great restaurants (several in the budget category- this is a college town after all), A2 boasts a lovely farmers’ market and several gourmet shops.  Most notably, it’s home to the nationally-known Zingerman’s mini-empire (deli, restaurant, dairy, and bakery), whose philosophy leads them to source and serve only the best quality slow and sustainable foods. Folks here are very active in the local and organic food movements- a blogging friend runs a business called Locavorious, selling local foods frozen at harvest to be eaten through the winter months; another blogger runs Preserving Traditions, a group that hosts workshops on canning and such. Not surprisingly, the largest concentration of Michigan Lady Food Bloggers is in Ann Arbor and its environs.

Our singer Steve grew up around Ann Arbor and knows all the good spots, so at his suggestion we had lunch at a Japanese restaurant called Sadako.  He and his wife had  raved about how good it was, and how cheap (for sushi)- a rarity.  (I realize “cheap” is not necessarily a word you want to associate with sushi, but trust me, the quality was not proportional to the low prices!)  We ordered off the lunch specials menu, opting for bento rather than sushi rolls.  For a mere $7.45, I got an incredible amount of food: miso soup, a small side salad, 2 gyoza, an assortment of tempura (including 2 shrimp), teriyaki-glazed salmon with vegetables, and 4 pieces of California roll.  I was pretty much in awe of what a great deal this was, and felt a little guilty that I couldn’t finish everything. I made a valiant effort though, and finished most of my bento.  Note to self: in the future, only eat half the miso; it’s good but fills valuable stomach space that could be better spent on tempura!

Happily sated, we continued across town to Kerrytown, the neighborhood which houses the farmers’ market, Zingerman’s deli, and some other shops.  Melissa wanted to visit Hollander’s, a huge shop specializing in paper goods.  (As I left, I happened to see that the entire upper level is devoted to kitchen/ housewares… a good thing I didn’t notice sooner, as I probably would have spent an entire paycheck and/ or browsed so long that I would’ve been late for our set!) I bought a set of postcards with illustrations of vegetables from old seed packets, which I’ll frame and use as kitchen decor.

After Hollander’s, we headed up the block to Zingerman’s where I was hoping to find verjus.  The place was ridiculously packed; the line winding through the shop and several feet out onto the sidewalk.  The helpful employee I asked told me that they didn’t currently carry verjus, because they hadn’t yet found a brand up to their standards!  We geeked out on vinegars, and he gave me a few outstanding samples, but in the end I couldn’t bring myself to part with $20 for a bottle.  Next visit I’ll save my pennies in anticipation of dropping some serious cash there. (Ahem, if you ever need a gift idea for me, they have gift cards!)

Our show was a lot of fun; it’s always a nice change of pace to play during the daytime and not in some smoky bar (19 more days!!!).  Unfortunately for the fundraising effort there weren’t a ton of people there, but the sound was good and we got an enthusiastic reception.  After our set, we grabbed some carry-out and beer and headed to a friend’s house to sit on the porch and enjoy the last few rays of sun before heading back to the reality of Detroit.

As you might expect, living in such an idyllic town does not come cheap.  Although property values have taken a hit as they have everywhere, they are much higher in A2 than most MI cities, and ironically, economic and ethnic diversity is the casualty of this gentrification (lower-income folks who work in Ann Arbor mostly live in neighboring Ypsilanti).