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Restaurant reviews and food news from Ann Arbor Observer reviewers M.B. Lewis and Lee Lawrence, and assorted opinionated Ann Arborites.

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:

maefood.blogspot.com

Looking forward to doing this!

Posted by: Mae Sander


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


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Love some farmers this fall!

Nellie's Lavender at Brighton Farm to Table

At the absolutely amazing second-annual Brighton Farm to Table Experience on Sept. 20, 2014, good things were in abundance. From a Growers' Gathering of local farmers to a six-course dinner planned and executed (with a lot of help) by Cateraid owner, chef, and foodie extraordinaire Randy Robinson, this was an event on the harvest calendar that made 240 attendees very happy, despite a bout of pounding rain. Consider a few menu highlights, like black bean and pumpkin empandadas with Little Diablo salsa, fresh egg linguini with garlic scapes and pistachio pesto, roasted lamb with fattoush salad brimming with fresh mint.... mmmm, it's nice to just even think about it again.

The crowning touch was a dessert of spiced apple cake and brandied Michigan cherries topped with sweet whipped cream flavored by culinary lavender grown at the new Nellie's Lavender Farm in Napoleon (near Grass Lake). Blossoms of the deep purple lavender were on display at the Growers' Gathering before dinner, and tasting the dessert proved claims that culinary lavender has a more aromatic and less soapy taste than the garden variety we grow in Michigan. I plan to visit this farm next summer when the flowers are in bloom. In the meantime we can enjoy the pictures athttps://www.facebook.com/NelliesLavenderFarm .

Before the crowd sat down to dinner, a few words were spoken by organizers, including Claudia Roblee, owner of ArtVentures framing gallery in Brighton. The sommelier for the event, Paul Hannah of Just Grape Juice, proclaimed in a booming voice, "This is a chance to talk to the people who grow your food--I hope you'll walk up to one of them tonight and say thank you."

That suggestion was in my mind this morning as I strolled through the Ann Arbor Farmers Market, and learned that this was a good harvest year for apples, and corn in the husk is slowing down, etc. It's such a privilege and thrill to get to talk to folks who grow our food. I find they're very generous with tips for home gardeners, samples, and info about what they do.

I do appreciate access to local food, and the occasional reminders not to take it for granted.


posted by Mary Beth Lewis at 12:00 noon | 4 comments


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A world of restaurants

Old friends were visiting Ann Arbor from a small town in Europe, and we were trying to decide where to go out to eat. I would have suggested some of the newish cosmopolitan places downtown for tapas, pizza, or steaks, but I realized we had the chance to offer a world of cuisine.

We are truly fortunate to be able to take for granted Asian restaurants with fresh ingredients and fresh approaches to traditional foods, Latin American cuisine that's as interesting to look at as it is to eat, and seafood places that take pains to offer both fresh fish flown in and local Great Lakes whitefish, walleye, and trout.

What's more, the local sourcing movement has caught on big time here. In fact, that's what we settled on: a favorite local place serving tomatoes grown on the edge of town, cheese crafted a stone's throw away, several types of beer from Michigan breweries, and real pride in the fresh tastes of our region.

Not many mid-size cities in America boast such bounty. AnnArborObserver.com has both restaurant listings and reviews to browse if you're in search of ideas. So enjoy taking your guests--and yourself--out for some quality eats.


posted by Mary Beth Lewis at 12:28 p.m. | 0 comments


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

So, it's the week after Valentine's Day in Ann Arbor and you're watching big Charlie Brown snowflakes fall outside and thinking of heading out to see who has chocolate heart boxes on clearance. At least that's what I'M thinking....

I'm thinking it while warming my hands on a mugful of one our great local indulgences: Sweet Gem's Spiced Hot Chocolate (from the confectionary tucked away in the corner of Morgan & York on Packard). I bought a cute tin ($10) of it in fall and am now down to the last of the 8 ounces. Pretty good self-control, I'd say, since it's a perfectly addictive blend of 70% dark chocolate powder, cocoa powder, brown sugar, ground cinnamon, cardamom, and cumin. MMMmmm. It's not the only Mexican-inspired hot chocolate in town, but it's one of the few I know that you can buy powdered as opposed to by the cupful.

If I do venture out this aft to shop, maybe I'll include a stop at Arbor Farms or Busch's or 10,000 Villages, all of which offer decent coffee w/ real cream free to sip while you shop. I'll need that warmup after cleaning 2 inches of snow off the car.

Enough groaning and moaning! I actually like snow, and I like believing it may possibly mean global warming isn't as bad as we feared.... But it is mid-February in Michigan, and we have to summon some strength to get thru several more cold dark weeks before the first forsythia bust into bloom.

I offered some other winter indulgence ideas in the January Observer's "Baker's Dozen" article: http://arborweb.com/articles/the_baker_s_dozen_full_article.html

What do you have to add??


posted by Mary Beth Lewis at 3:48 p.m. | 0 comments


Previous Posts

Spark Ann Arbor
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Ann Arbor Observer 2015 media guide
A Visitors Guide to Ann Arbor