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Tuesday October 13, 2015
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A2 Menu

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

Monday, October 5, 2015

Lunch at Burns Park School

I've lived in the Burns Park School district in Ann Arbor for a number of years. Recently, a lot of news articles have discussed federal regulations concerning school lunches and how they have been implemented and received in schools throughout the country. These have made me curious about the lunch program at Burns Park and throughout the Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS). So I received permission to visit and observe the lunch hour at Burns Park.

The fruit and vegetable bar, offering apples, cucumbers, applesauce, carrots,
and chick-pea salad. Burns Park Elementary School, October 1, 2015.
US Dept. of Agriculture requires that school lunches include fruit and vegetables.

Lunch lasts 25 minutes for pupils at Burns Park School, with three seatings to accommodate 470 pupils in Kindergarten through 5th grade. The lunch line goes very fast: I doubt if it was more than 5 minutes from the moment when the first impatient kid got in line until everyone was seated with their trays or with lunch boxes and beginning to eat. For the first 15 minutes or so, the kids seemed pretty absorbed in eating, though they were socializing all the time as well. Some got up to take more applesauce or cucumbers. By the last 5 minutes, the noise level was noticeably rising, and I think they were really ready for their half-hour of outside play time!

Today's lunch: hot dogs, corn, and choices from the fruit and vegetable bar.
Chuck Hatt, Burns Park School Principal, greets each child by name as he dispenses catsup or mustard for their hot dogs.
When the bell for lunch rings, he says "I'm on!"

The weekly lunch menu from the school district's webpage -- my visit was on Thursday.

Food and service for the Ann Arbor Public School program are supplied by a unit of Chartwells, an international corporation, under a contract for the school year. (ChartwellsWebpage here.) At the lunch I observed, a serving of corn was included with every hot dog, meeting the USDA requirement. Children were allowed to make their own choice among the other fruits and vegetables. Chartwells has been the AAPS lunchroom supplier since 2007.

Chartwells also participates in the "Farm to School" program using Michigan growers to supply produce; the program also sponsors school vegetable gardens. Today's apples came from one of several Michigan orchards and cucumbers from Ruhlig Farms in Carleton, MI. "Using local food in our school food service also supports local and regional farms in their efforts to be sustaining contributors to our local economy. Chartwells provides Michigan-grown produce in all AAPS cafeterias," says Heather Holland, Director of Dining Services, AAPS.

Meals at Burns Park School are mainly prepared in a small kitchen adjacent to the cafeteria. For example, the hot dogs were heated in the oven and placed in buns by a Chartwell's employee, who also dishes out the hot dogs and corn to the lunch line, and replenishes the fruit and vegetable bar. If the menu included stovetop preparations, such as boiling pasta, the cooking would be done at the larger, more fully equipped kitchen at Pioneer High School around a mile away, and brought to Burns Park for final prep. Both breakfast and lunch are served in the cafeteria, but I only visited at lunchtime.

School meals, as I mentioned, get a lot of attention nationwide -- especially the requirement that fruit and vegetables be a major part of school nutrition programs, which became Department of Agriculture policy in 2012. A recent article in the New York Timessaid:

"Food and nutrition directors at school districts nationwide say that their trash cans are overflowing while their cash register receipts are diminishing as children either toss out the healthier meals or opt to brown-bag it. While no one argues that the solution is to scrap the law and go back to feeding children junk, there’s been a movement to relax a few of the guidelines as Congress considers whether to reauthorize the legislation, particularly mandates for 100 percent whole grains and extremely low sodium levels, so school meals will be a bit more palatable and reflective of culinary traditions." ("Why Students Hate School Lunches," Kate Murphy, September 26, 2015)

Reporters and authors of studies of school meals seem to me to be somewhat obsessed by the topic of children throwing away the fruit and vegetables from their lunches. At Burns Park School, I did see kids eating only part of their lunch -- some left the hot dog, some left the bun. I saw a lot of the corn being left on their trays and discarded. But I also saw them eating and seeming to enjoy applesauce, apples, and also cucumbers, which they were dipping in ranch dressing. I saw only one child take a portion of chickpea salad from the vegetable and fruit bar. Quite a few kids were going back for seconds: unlike many school districts the Ann Arbor program allows return visits to the lunch line for more fruit and vegetables -- but not more hot dogs.

While a lot of fruit and vegetables from the lunch trays did go in the trash, I also saw a lot of kids throwing away whole wrapped items or half-eaten items from the lunch boxes they brought from home. And I wonder: is this just the way kids act when no one is coercing them to clean their plates?

Another recent article illustrates the focus on food thrown away rather than on food that's eaten: they observed that more fruit and vegetables were tossed away now -- more than before the program started. As far as the article reported, the study didn't actually observe what the kids ate, only what they wasted. ("Children Tossing School Lunch Fruits and Vegetables,"Nicholas Bakalar, New York Times, September 7, 2015)

As the kids finish lunch and dump their trash, they are supposed to sort the recyclables from the other garbage. In a few weeks, when everyone is more adjusted to the new school year, Principal Chuck Hatt says there will be fifth graders wearing gloves who serve as the "Green Team" helping to keep the cafeteria clean and make sure the trash is properly sorted.

Vegetarian option: hummus, pita, and grapes. I only saw one of these chosen.
Kids like hot dogs!

Could the food be better? Healthier? Tastier? I'm sure it could, but I'm not sure how much better, considering the constraints of pleasing varied tastes and backgrounds, meeting government mandates, using USDA donated food (which is covered in the AAPS-Chartwells contract, though I don't know any details), and meeting very stringent cost requirements. I think the trend away from junk food in schools is overall a good one.

Lunch boxes from home contained a variety of foods.
Of 470 pupils in the school, around 120 buy the school lunch,
and the rest bring lunch from home. Over 50% of purchased meals are subsidized.

After they finish eating, kids have another half hour to play outside.
Lining up to return to class after lunch.

I am grateful to Heather Holland, Director of Dining Services, AAPS;Andrew Cluley, Communications Specialist, AAPS; and PrincipalChuck Hatt,Burns Park School/AAPS, for arranging my visit, hosting me, and answering my questions about school lunches.

For all my posts on school lunches,including this one, CLICK HERE.

posted by Mae Sander at 10:22 a.m. | 0 comments

Sunday, September 27, 2015

"South of Hell"

The detective novel South of Hell takes place in Hell (that is, Hell, Michigan, the actual place on the map) and in Ann Arbor. I was looking for Ann Arbor restaurants in literature, and I really found them here! In fact, there were so many well-known Ann Arbor dining places that the net result seemed a bit of a cliche.

Private Investigator Louis Kincaid and detective Shockey, a member of the Ann Arbor police, who are main characters in the story, first meet at locally famous Ann Arbor greasy-spoon Krazy Jim's, complete with its sign "Cheaper than food." Poor Louis Kincaid is unfamiliar with Krazy's famous eccentricities and he fails to successfully order a cheeseburger and fries: he receives only a hamburger from a spatula-wielding counter-woman, because at Krazy's you had to ask for cheese last. Kincaid asks Shockey "Why do you come here?" When he bites into the burger, though, Louis finds that "It was delicious. Even without the cheese." (p. 17-19)

I've never understood, myself, why people went there, having never been much of a fan of the greasy food or the bullying counter helpers. I don't even know what you were required to do to get fries there. And of course the funny little building that housed this campus-area diner for generations of students has now been torn down, and Krazy's is now at a more remote location. But this starting point means the author has established credibility as an Ann Arbor expert, I guess.

Later, after Kincaid eats his unfortunately cheeseless burger, he reflects:

"He was thinking about the woman with the spatula back at Krazy Jim's and the look on her face when he screwed up his order, like she knew he didn't belong there.
"How did she know?
"In his four years as a student here, he had never once set foot in Krazy Jim's, had never gone to any of the student hangouts. No fried eggs at Angelo's after pulling an all-nighter, no sangria at Dominick's with a Sigma Kappa beauty, no winter-refuge pizza at the Cottage Inn, no postgame brews at the Brown Jug.
"He had never felt comfortable in those places. The only place he could remember going to more than once was the old Fleetwood Diner. There he could sit in silence with his books, watching the bums and cops just coming off shift as he sipped dark chocolate milk made to order with Hershey's syrup. No one bothered him there. He never felt out of place there." (p. 30)

Kincaid, as you might guess from this passage, has always felt himself to be an outsider, which evidently is because he is black. He had been accepted to Michigan Law school, but had decided to become a policeman, though he had lost his job and eventually in the book it's clear that he can never come back to work in Michigan. The details of his prior experiences are in books 1-8 of the series, of which this is book 9.

To make sure that no famous Ann Arbor food joint is missed, eventually Kincaid eats at the Old Town bar, and on another occasion, has a hot dog and french fries at Zingerman's deli. I think the author was in error about the fries, which I don't recall ever seeing at Zingerman's -- and which aren't on their current menu of potato-sides: they only offer knishes, latkes, and several types of potato salad. It makes me wonder if the authors just read some memoir of Ann Arbor student life, and never really experienced all these locally well-loved places.

Besides the characters' experiences and memories of all the most popular Ann Arbor diners, delis, flashbacks to the farmer's market, and a few bars and hotel dives complete with Big 10 paraphernalia, Hell also offers a brief description of the commercial establishments of Hell, MI. including the Brimstone Cafe and Devil's Lair. Readers also get quite a lot of description of the campus and the countryside, which are a welcome distraction from the gratuitous violence and repetitive personal relationships -- something like four cases of unknown fathers in one book? Puhleeze!

The Louis Kincaid books by P.J.Parrish (a pseudonym for two collaborating Detroit-born authors) are not particularly well-known as far as I can tell from googling. I wasn't very impressed by anything in Hell except the extensive research on peak dining experiences in Ann Arbor. If I explained my distaste for the novel, I'd be giving away too much of the plot, and though my opinion of it is quite low, I won't spoil it for anyone else. I definitely won't be reading the eight previous novels in the series, nor any of the subsequent ones either.

I've definitely driven from Ann Arbor to Hell and back, and I can warn you that if you want to go there, be sure to use a map because the road signs are sure as hell stolen as soon as they are replaced. For more of my posts, including this one, see:

Google Map screen shot: from Ann Arbor to Hell, MI.

posted by Mae Sander at 7:00 p.m. | 0 comments

Thursday, September 17, 2015

So much good coffee, too little time!

Freshly roasted coffee is a luxury! Happily, it's a luxury that's available in many forms from many roasters here in the Ann Arbor area. Quite close to where I live is Roos Roast, which is where I have been buying most of my coffee for the last couple of years. Also, I've tried locally roasted coffee from Zingerman's and Whole Foods, and I plan to try Hyperion Coffee from Ypsilanti and maybe some of the others. On my recent trip to Kona, I purchased some coffee directly from a farmer at their farmers' market -- I wish there was Michigan-grown coffee!

The Roos Roast coffee roasting machine: The Loring Smart Roaster™--
for details check their websiteHERE.

Choices of coffee to be roasted are fascinating. The differing flavor of a medium roast and a dark roast both appeal to me a great deal. I finally looked up the range of coffee varieties, and learned that most coffee is of the type Arabica, which is most widely grown, including in Kona. The differences in coffee from different places is due to differing growing conditions -- a warm tropical climate is basic, but there are a lot of possibilities. A few locales, like Honduras, according to the man who showed me the Loring, do grow slightly different varietals. Robusta, the second-most grown coffee varietal, is considered inferior, and is not used for premium roasts like the ones I'm talking about.

The Roos Roast coffee bar where you can try their many choices:
different roasts and several single-origin coffees, all organic, and
all produced with fair conditions for workers.

I wish I had the nerves/stamina to go around to different roasters and different coffee specialists in town and try a cup of every type of roast, and of all the different single-origin coffees, like the Honduran or Ethiopian coffee at Roos Roast, and the various light, medium, and dark roasts of each roaster. Alas, I just can't drink that much, so I guess I'll be continuing with my French Press at breakfast, making whichever one I've bought for the week.

In my kitchen, September 17, 2015.
The Roos Roast's Loring again: it's very efficient,
and produces a minimum of smoke..

This post comes from my food blog here:

posted by Mae Sander at 8:42 a.m. | 0 comments

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Arbana, 1944

Ross MacDonald's early spy-mystery The Dark Tunnel (alternate title: I Die Slowly) is set at Midwestern University in Arbana, Michigan, near Detroit, in 1944.


"Although it bears a certain physical resemblance to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Midwestern University is, like all the characters in this story, a figment of the author's imagination," reads the disclaimer right after the copyright page.
Yeah, right.
You can still follow the path of the brave narrator as he flees from both an evil cross-dressing Nazi spy and the local police who believe the frame-up job that's been done to him. Despite decades of growth and development in my town, Ann Arbor, I recognize the campus buildings, the museum just to the north, the steam tunnels, the power plant, the hospital on a hill, and the rural area to the east (no longer rural now) where the narrator tries to hide in a seedy roadhouse full of drunks.
I reread this obscure tale a few years ago because I had forgotten most of it. (This post is an update of one I did in 2010.) I found it very readable and suspenseful. I had always thought the seedy roadhouse in the story was identifiable as a still-existing restaurant east of Ann Arbor. I'm not so sure any more. I don't think the distance the narrator runs after going past the hospital is necessarily far enough to get to Dixboro Road. Anyway, I was hoping the narrator would describe a little more about the place and what he ate there -- all he orders is a fried-egg sandwich for thirty-five cents, served on a cracked plate along with some whiskey. And then he goes on fleeing and trying to solve the mystery of who is spying and who killed his friend and made it look like suicide.
The narrator eats one other egg while being held prisoner in the University hospital, and then is let go by an FBI agent who believes his story. He continues to help the FBI agent chase down the spy ring. Later he ends up in another hospital in Northern Ontario where he eats "a good dinner, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and mashed potatoes and gravy and a quarter of a lemon pie" while waiting to finally do in the villain. Interesting menu. There are all kinds of interesting historical attitudes and details in the book, as well as the descriptions of "Arbana" which are so recognizable.
This book doesn't have a lot a lot about food compared to some mystery stories, especially some very recent ones that could almost double as cookbooks. When I read, I usually look for food details and how the author uses them, along with whatever else is interesting. To see all my blog posts about food in detective fiction, including this one, click HERE.
The Dark Tunnelwas originally published under MacDonald's real name, Kenneth Millar, under the title I Die Slowly --I located the image of an early paperback edition (right/above), as well as of two more current editions (top). Subsequently the author moved to California, writing a large number of successful books under the Ross MacDonald pseudonym. This is the only mystery I've read that takes place in Ann Arbor, and I might try to find more.

posted by Mae Sander at 3:14 p.m. | 0 comments

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Ann Arbor Pastry Chef

A dessert-tasting menu where you eat 5 or more pastries and no entree at all ... a culinary school dedicated to sweets ... a "naked" wedding cake decorated with berries but not a bit of frosting ... and many more experiences and ideas that were entirely new to me were topics of a conversation I had with Marybeth King, head pastry chef at Weber's Restaurant and catering in Ann Arbor.

Marybeth makes sure to find out what people want, sometimes by long conversations, sometimes when they bring in a picture. One popular trend this summer and fall, she told me, is to have a wedding cake that's traditional on one side, but when you check the other side, it has a surprise theme. The Batman cake in the photo above is a recent example of this type of cake. I don't know much about cakes and cake decorating, so I was totally fascinated to learn about all the different cakes made by Marybeth and her assistants in Weber's pastry kitchen.
"Chalkboard" cakes, iced black with white "chalk" writing on them, are also currently popular. The cake above is one of several demo cakes she baked during the summer to help customers at Weber's figure out just what type of cake they'd like to order. She gets ideas from visiting pastry shops in various cities, looking at ads, and exploring Pinterest, as well as from the photos and descriptions that her customers bring in. And when she can, she learns by ordering the dessert-and-pastry tasting menus I mentioned earlier, which she has found at restaurants in Chicago, Las Vegas, and elsewhere.

Marybeth has a life-long dedication to her profession. Before working at Weber's she worked briefly at the Gandy Dancer, worked at Moveable Feast, and other restaurant jobs. Even in high school she managed to get jobs in the school cafeteria and at a local pastry shop. She constantly improves her skills -- at a class at a specialized culinary school in Chicago this spring, she made the cake in the photo above. These were her first figurines made from fondant and gum paste, two ingredients in the tool box of professional cake bakers.

A couple planning a wedding recently asked her for a "naked cake" -- another current trend. "I had never heard the term," says Marybeth, "but I knew what they meant immediately, and the cake in the picture turned out to be exactly what they wanted."
Marybeth's cakes come in a wide variety of flavors, as well as being decorated to satisfy her customers. She has a huge number of recipes, many of which she knows by heart, she says. She makes her own fondant from marshmallows, which makes it taste better than ready-made fondant.
Customers can order Marybeth's cakes for events at Weber's, for events that Weber's caters, or just for their own event independent of Weber's. She's proud of Weber's anniversary program, which offers a six-inch "top layer" to any couple having dinner to celebrate the anniversary of their Weber's wedding. She usually bakes a duplicate of their original wedding-cake top for their first anniversary, but says that some couples who come back year after year sample many of her newer creations too. In addition, she's happy that the cakes she bakes are available at a wide price range, offering good choices to the customers, whatever their celebration is about.

Owls are very popular currently, says Marybeth. The cake on the left was for a baby shower, and the cake on the right was the product of a professional class she took in Chicago. The interior structure of this cake is particularly intricate, and the class included instructions on how to do it right. For simpler cakes, like the "naked" cake, layers are held together with straws, Marybeth explained to me. "Black straws," she says, "so they aren't accidentally served in a piece of cake."

"Retro Barbie" -- a wedding shower cake.
"Alice" for a customer who asked for red-white-and-black.
"My pride and joy" says Marybeth -- another cake from a Chicago class, taught byMarina Sousa,
a pastry chef who has been on TV. "I don't watch much food TV,"
says Mary Beth. "Too much of a busman's holiday."

Baking and cooking are Marybeth's lifelong passions, but recently she discovered an activity she loves almost as much: writing fiction. Participating in NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month) she's written six novels, and also completed some children's stories and short stories. I met Marybeth in a writers' Meetup Group, and loved finding out about her delicious profession! And I'm grateful to her for sharing all these cake photos!
This post originally appeared on my food blog --here:

posted by Mae Sander at 8:04 p.m. | 0 comments

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

Previous Posts

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Ann Arbor Observer 2015 media guide
Washtenaw county Educational Consortium
A Visitors Guide to Ann Arbor