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Restaurant reviews and food news from Ann Arbor Observer reviewers and blogger Mae Sander.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Fair Food Network

The Fair Food Network (FFN), an Ann Arbor nonprofit, is enabling many people of limited means to accept this frequently offered advice:

  • You should eat more fruit and vegetables.
  • You should choose local produce.
  • You should support smaller farms by shopping at farmers’ markets.

Good advice – but families on a limited budget are often discouraged by the extra time and expense to buy, prepare, and eat fruit and vegetables, especially from farmers’ markets. Families receiving government assistance via SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamps, now provided through an EBT debit card) have often found the difficulties overwhelming. Most farmers’ markets in the past didn’t even accept SNAP’s EBT cards.

FFN has developed a program called Double Up Food Bucks to offer SNAP users access to numerous Farmers’ Markets and to match their purchases dollar for dollar – doubling what they can buy. The program began in 2009 at five Detroit markets. In 2014, SNAP users supplemented by FFN funding spent over $1.8 million dollars at Michigan farmers’ markets, and will spend even more this year.

To learn about the program I interviewed Emilie Engelhard, FFN Communications Director, at the FFN offices in downtown Ann Arbor. Its success, she says, shows that large number of SNAP users really want to put more fruit and vegetables on their family menus. And many would like to support local farmers. A win-win-win situation!

How does it work? Let’s say you have a SNAP EBT card. If you want to shop at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, Emilie explained,you CAN use your card to purchase fruit and vegetables, thanks to the leadership of the MI farmers Market Association.Your SNAP-paid produce purchases up to $20 can be matched in tokens – the Double-up Food Bucks – available at the Farmers Market office. Each token is worth $2. You can use them for more fruit or vegetables immediately, or keep them for another day. And they are also good for buying more produce at many other farmers’ markets in Michigan and the Toledo, Ohio, area.

The FFN program is also expanding to some supermarkets in Michigan that have agreed to be part of the healthy foods effort. Even the Whole Foods in downtown Detroit is developing such a partnership. One important feature of the FFN programs is that they exist on a large scale, with many markets and many participants throughout Michigan and in several other states. Much of the infrastructure for the programs is thus shared widely for greater economy of the efforts of the Ann Arbor staff.

I asked Emilie whose money is providing the extra fresh produce dollar for each SNAP dollar spent? She replied that Double Up Food Bucks and other incentive programs have historically been supported by private donations, including incentive funds, program administration, evaluations, etc. Recently, government support for SNAP produce buying also has increased. The 2014 Farm Bill, allocated with bi-partisan support, included a new federal program to encourage purchase of fruit and vegetables by SNAP users. This new $100 million program, titled the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Grant Program (FINI), has provided grants to a number of organizations.

A FINI grant for $5.1 million, awarded to FFN in March of 2015, will allow substantial expansion of Double Up Food Bucks -- already the largest in the country for encouraging SNAP use for fruits and vegetables. Because FINI requires matching funds, philanthropic and other dollars will also be needed to continue providing support for FFN programs.

Under the FINI grant, FFN has several new projects in development. One plan is to explore how to expand SNAP access beyond the Michigan growing season. By December, as anyone knows, not much local produce except potatoes, squash, and apples is available in stores, and most farmers’ markets are closed or nearly closed.FFN is looking into ways to to expand the program in Michigan to more farmers markets, help markets adopt mobile technology, and increase program use in up to 50 grocery and small food stores.

Everyone used to know why advice that SNAP users should eat more fruit and vegetables wasn’t practical advice. Fruit and vegetables, though healthy, cost more per calorie than processed food or meat. They spoil easily and often require preparation. Quality varies, especially at small stores. Shopping at a farmers’ market requires transportation, time, and extra money. But FFN has made great progress and continues to work to overcome these obstacles for many SNAP participants.

To learn more about FFN, check their website, and don’t miss their links to stories from NPR, the New York Times, and other important sources,

posted by Mae Sander at 10:58 a.m. | 0 comments

Saturday, August 22, 2015

"Dining Out" -- Exhibit at Hatcher Library

"Dining Out: Menus, Chefs, Restaurants, Hotels & Guidebooks” opened last Thursday at the Hatcher Graduate Library, University of Michigan.

Besides display cases with menus from every state, the exhibit's hanging panels feature distinguished chefs and their restaurants, collections of menus and memorabilia from Ann Arbor restaurants, and documents from the California food revolution, especially Alice Waters' Chez Panisse restaurant where Jeremiah Tower was a chef. Also there are menus from famous New York restaurants, menus from railroad dining cars and ocean liners, books about menu design, and many other fascinating themes.

Alabama (The Jefferson Davis Hotel) to Wyoming (Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone Park) -- there's a menu from every state.

The panel titled “Around America,” suggests the types of eating places represented in the collection: “Restaurants, diners, drive-ins, carts, lunch rooms, coffee houses, tea rooms, delicatessens, cafes, soda fountains, bistros, cafeterias, trattorias, fast-food, fast-casual, chains, clambakes, barbecues, department stores, dormitories, hospitals, prisons, spas, bars, taverns, saloons, and more.”

A Michelin Man from the guidebook panel: "Dining Out and Sleeping In"
Material from "Conserving Catalan Cuisine."

Exhibit organizer is Jan Longone, adjunct curator of culinary history at the library. Documents on display include many that she had donated from her extensive collections, now in the Janice Bluestein Longone Culinary Archive (JBLCA). Two display panels based on her donations are titled "Conserving Catalan Cuisine." These describe Jan and her husband Dan's experiences at El Motel Hotel and Restaurant in Figueres, Spain, and particularly photos and other items from the restaurant's 50th anniversary gala in 2011. Jan and Dan enjoyed "local, traditional, and seasonal foods" prepared from game, fresh fish, wild mushrooms and more by three generations of a family of restaurateurs. Salvator Dali, a patron of the restaurant, designed several of the menus on display.

“Dining Out: Menus, Chefs, Restaurants, Hotels & Guidebooks,” runs from August 20 through December 17, 2015, at the Clark Library on the second floor of Hatcher Graduate library. A related lecture by Jan Longone takes place on November 12.

Panoramic view of the display case at the beginning of the exhibit.

posted by Mae Sander at 4:17 p.m. | 0 comments

Saturday, August 15, 2015

This morning at the Farmers' Market

I managed to get to the Farmers' Market before 8 AM when shadows were still long and crowds not yet dense.I've written about it many times before. Two weeks ago in Kona, Hawaii, I was seeing rambutans,pineapples, super sweet ripe mangos, and local coffee -- it's different here, but it's always wonderful.

The farmers had been up for ages: the person who sold me eggplants and
onions mentioned that sunrise at 6 AM had changed her sad mood to a happy one.

Maple sugar candy is one of the most marvelous things to buy at the Farmers' Market.
Back home by 9, I peeled and chopped most of my peck of peaches and made them into peach sauce.
The cantaloupe on the shelf is another market purchase. We had delicious tomato and lettuce
salad for lunch as well, and will be grilling corn and peppers this evening.

posted by Mae Sander at 1:54 p.m. | 0 comments

Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Visit to the SOS Community Services Food Pantry

The SOS Community Services Food Pantry -- staples, personal care products, produce, recipes.
At left: Marti Lachapell.

Maybe you live in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and your family needs help. SOS Community Services is a social-service organization that offers housing services, help with utilities, food assistance, and various social services. Recently I visited one of the two SOS centers in Ypsi, which is around 20 minutes drive from my home in adjacent Ann Arbor. My goal was to learn more about SOS, which has been developing social services to meet the changing needs of the community for 45 years.

I was particularly interested to find out more about their food pantry, which offers families in the community choices of bread, produce, meat, and a variety of canned and packaged goods, all at no charge. Six times per year, a family member makes an appointment to visit the pantry and select from a variety of foods to supplement groceries that they buy, perhaps using government assistance like SNAP. Every week, produce is available to all clients on a walk-in basis. Most of the food comes fromFood Gatherers in Ann Arbor, says Marti Lachapell, coordinator of the food bank.

Some SOS families have homes with kitchens. Foods from the pantry that are helpful to them are bags of rice or dried beans, boxed mac & cheese, waffle mix, frozen beef or pork, fresh vegetables like potatoes and carrots, fresh fruit, bread and sometimes desserts, large bottles of juice, and many pantry staples. The quantity of food each family receives depends on family size. Certain items, like baby food and large containers of juice, may be limited, due to high demand, but every family goes home with a useful selection of needed groceries.

Produce, bread, canned goods, peanut butter... to be chosen by the users.
The bakery goods shelves are nearly empty in the photo because my
visit was the afternoon after the pantry's morning open hours.

Homeless families or those living in an unstable situation are also among the SOS clients. For them, helpful items are foods like peanut butter, saltine crackers, or single-servings of apple sauce: portable foods that don't need refrigeration. Some families are "surfing" -- that is, they live temporarily with a series of friends or relatives. The food they receive here from often helps them to be more welcome as guests.

"SOS never charges for food," explained Chelsea Brown, SOS development director. "All of our food is free to consumers so that they can stretch their limited budgets."

Last week the pantry received a lot of radishes among the produce available, so Marti researched some recipes to help people figure out how to cook them, not just to eat them raw. Labels "GO" or "SLOW" appear on some shelves to suggest what's good to eat in any quantities, like produce, and what might be less healthy choices, like sweets or waffles from the available waffle mix. In the pantry there's also a bulletin board offering recipes for healthy snacks.

Rhonda Weathers, SOS executive director, and Chelsea Brown, joined Marti in showing me around the center and answering my questions. They described how SOS responds to changing needs and situations. For example, opening up the pantry shelves to allow families to meet their own needs is a new process. It replaced the old way that SOS distributed food until last year, which was to provide each family with a bag of pre-selected foods.

Also recently, Marti explained, they've expanded the choices of fresh fruit and vegetables in the pantry. Some produce is local; some comes from national distribution centers. Most of the items in the pantry are able to be restocked when needed; the category where demand usually exceeds supply is personal care items, which for the most part are not part of the Food Gatherers offerings.

Rice, mac & cheese boxes, more canned goods.

Food insecurity exists in every county in America. Around 14% of American families experience hunger. Here in Washtenaw County, Michigan, a number of organizations including SOS attempt to help people in need to overcome many of their problems, including housing, jobs, and stability for children. SOS works in partnership with other organizations, both local and national.

SOS, using HUD funding, provides temporary housing for homeless families, and attempts to place them in permanent homes and better jobs. They run a summer enrichment program for 40 kids called Sunny Days, which also includes a lunch program. Other sponsored activities for kids are a Girl Scout troop, tutoring programs, and after-school activities during the school year.

Maybe your family needs help, I said when I started this post. But maybe you are much more fortunate, and could help SOS Community Services with a donation or could volunteer in one of their volunteer programs. I hope more fortunate people will think about this.

Note: For more informationsee the SOS website. For nation-wide hunger statistics see thisFeeding America Fact Sheet. This information is cross-posted from my food blog -- see:


posted by Mae Sander at 12:45 p.m. | 0 comments

Monday, July 20, 2015

Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor Summer Dinner

CHAA Dinner Summer 2015

Sunday, July 19, my husband and I attended the summer dinner of the Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor (CHAA), held at the Ladies' Literary Club of Ypsilanti clubhouse that was built in the 1840s. While this was our first time attending this event, most of the other people present have been participating in CHAA dinners for years or even decades. The theme was "Under the Southern Cross: Foods from Countries on the Equator or Below."

Contributions ranged widely around the lower half of the globe: African peanut soup, South American chicken and beef dishes such as arepas from Venezuela and Columbia; a dish from Borneo, Indonesian salad with peanut sauce, Indonesian spice cake, and several selections from Australia and New Zealand. I didn't keep careful notes about all the foods, but I enjoyed every one that I tasted, especially those flavored with the spices from the spice islands and other southern places. A really delicious selection!

The Culinary Historians were founded in 1983 by Jan and Dan Longone and a group of Ann Arbor food lovers. Repast, the CHAA newsletter, has been published since 1987, and enjoys a strong reputation among culinary historians nationwide. CHAA monthly meetings -- open to all who are interested -- are (of course) announced in the Observer calendar.

posted by Mae Sander at 3:52 p.m. | 0 comments

Monday, July 13, 2015

Champagne for Motte and Bailey's Culinary History Reading group

Books read in Culinary History Reading Group

The region of Champagne, France, has the misfortune to lie just between Paris and the French-German border. In 1870, 1914, and 1939 the hillside vineyards, historic wineries, and underground aging and storage cellars were ravaged by wars between the two countries. The total destruction of whole towns and villages and the suffering that occurred, especially in the near-by trenches of World War I, are nearly unimaginable.Don and Petie Kladstrup did an excellent job with this painful history in their bookChampagne: How the World's Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed Over War and Hard Times,published 2005.

Champagnecontains a detailed history of both myths and facts about Champagne and its origins -- especially the mythologizing that's occurred about the early cellar-master Dom Pérignon. The authors begin with the invention and production of its famous bubbly wine, continue with details about the people who produced, promoted, and drank the wine (and made up things about the origins); and wrap up by detailing how the region suffered through the battles and occupations of the 19th and 20th centuries. Of course there's a bit about the Belle Epoch and how champagne became a drink of high-living Paris. I found the book fascinating, a wonderful successor to the Kladstrup's earlier book,Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France's Greatest Treasure,published 2001.

Rather than describe more of the book, I would like to share a bit of background about the Culinary History Book Club for which I'm reading it. This group is one of four that meet monthly at Motte & Bailey Used and Rare Books in downtown Ann Arbor: Culinary History is the third Wednesday. I've belonged since the beginning in the summer of 2009. Motte & Bailey owner Gene Alloway and his wife Jacki, the hosts/discussion leaders for each month's selection, are always well-prepared, and the discussions are really energetic and informative.

The participants at each month's meeting vary somewhat, depending on who's busy and sometimes including new people who are interested in discussing a particular selection. My travel schedule often interferes with going to meetings, but I otherwise am a pretty regular attendee!

On a totally informal basis, we discuss future books to read and select a few for the coming months when the current list runs out. We've read scholarly works, memoirs, biographies of some interesting characters like Smirnoff the vodka guy and Fred Harvey the tourism guy; books about nutrition politics, books about a single food like chocolate, salt, sugar, or tea; and many other types of books. Some of the most-enjoyed selections we've read includedCreamy & Crunchy: An Informal History of Peanut Butter, the All-American Foodby Jon Krampner,Hungry Town: A Culinary History of New Orleansby Tom Fitzmorris,Fizz: How Soda Shook Up the Worldby Tristan Donovan,White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loafby Aaron Bobrow-Strain,Down and Out in Paris and Londonby George Orwell,The Belly of Parisby Zola,Sweetness and Powerby Sidney Mintz,The Fortune Cookie Chroniclesby Jennifer 8 Lee, both books by the Kladstrups, and dozens of others. In six years we must have read 72 books, but no one has kept a definitive list. My shelves are full, though!

For more information:

  • My food blog posts about books we've read, including this one:here.
  • Web page for Motte & Bailey reading groups (the lists are not kept up-to-date):here.
  • Ann Arbor ObserverCalendar with listing for current month's book selection on third Wednesday:here.

posted by Mae Sander at 10:43 a.m. | 0 comments

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Coming Soon: New Posts about Food in Ann Arbor

Starting later this month, I'll be posting Ann Arbor food posts here. Some of my topics will be my thoughts on the Culinary History Reading Group at Motte and Bailey Book Shop, on hunger and food providers in the local area, on my use of Farmer's Market food, and whatever else I post. The material will be cross-posted from my long-term blog:

Looking forward to doing this!

Posted by: Mae Sander

posted by Mae Sander at 2:13 p.m. | 0 comments

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