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Restaurant reviews and food news.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Give Cash, Large Bills, by Sally Mitani

Sally Mitani in mask, holding up large bill, Ann Arbor, MI April 2020

Stipulated: It is presumptuous to tell people how to spend their money. Lots of people, of course, have no money right now. Others are working overtime under dangerous conditions, and while they may have money, it seems doubly presumptuous to tell them how to spend it. And those who don't appear to be either working undertime or overtime may have kids or parents or friends in dire situations, and are doing all they can for them; or digging themselves out of some financial crisis from the past; or scared shitless about the future.

If you're not in one of those categories, though, here is what you can do. Think of the money you would have spent in the last couple of weeks on haircuts, concert tickets, those beautiful earrings you would have seen in some store had it not been closed, the birthday party you were going to throw for your spouse, the weekend getaway, the tune-up your car would have needed if you were driving it. Add it up, put it in the form of cash, stick it in an envelope. Take the envelope to a local business that you're familiar with—some place you like, miss, know the owner, or at least know who the owner is. Lurk around until you see the owner. Put on your mask and maybe some gloves. Knock on the door. Carefully hand the owner the envelope and say: "I know it is hard to keep a business going right now and I hope this helps. Good luck." You could also spread this money over several businesses, but I have decided to give more serious help to one business.

I did this with a restaurant and am doing it every couple of weeks until this nightmare is over. Here is why I chose a restaurant, and why I chose to do it in this particular way.

Restaurants have been hit extra hard by Covid. On the face of it, it might seem that restaurants are on the luckier end of the spectrum, in that they can choose to stay open, even if only for takeout and delivery, and are eligible for PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) grants.

But PPP only lasts for ten weeks, if a restaurant is lucky enough to get it, and stops being a gift the minute a restaurant has to fire its employees—the details have been widely discussed and are easily Googled, so I won't go into it, but let's just say it isn't easy to color within the lines. As for the ability to stay open: some sit-down restaurants converted quickly and almost seamlessly to this new way of doing business. They leveraged all their social media skills, began giving away free meals, which kept their pantries full and their staff well-positioned to handle takeout orders, and advertised gift cards. They streamlined their menus. They're still hemorrhaging money, but are at least functioning.(How do I know? The master mobilizer of this Covid response is Phillis Engelbert owner of the Lunch Room and Detroit Filling Station, and you can read how she’s doing here:https://docs.google.com/document/d/1LKPQ7ytOMLZT1Urm45r3oYPDQWPXeXIJwpcOlKjUEDM/edit)

But many other restaurants, like the one I will just call "my" restaurant, because I don't see any reason to name it, is not that savvy with social media. My restaurant has a clientele which is now largely out of work and can't afford takeout meals. My restaurant has a sign in the window that says it is open for takeout and delivery but if you look inside, not a lot is going on in there. I fear that if I ordered some takeout food from the place, it could force the owner to run out to GFS to buy $100 worth of groceries and fire up the fryer, all for a $25 takeout order. He'd do it, because he would be afraid that not doing it might cause even more damage in bad publicity.

I don't know much about my restaurant's finances, but the second time I made a cash drop, the owner told me his landlord had just dropped his rent to $800 a week and he was trying to give all his employees ten hours a week, but it was hard. He said he had applied for a loan, which I took to mean a PPP loan, but because of a language barrier, the conversation got a little confused here. Language barrier? Oh yeah, he's an immigrant, and had been doing really well—he and his wife welcomed a third child last November.

And why cash? If you feel you need a paper trail, write a check, but cash is legal tender and a nice touch.


Posted by John Hilton at 5:25 p.m. | 0 comments Bookmark and Share


Sunday, September 15, 2019

Hands on the Harvest

berries at Slow Farm

Fall is the time of year I can't help thinking of Makielski Berry Farm on Platt Road--and with no small amount of bittersweet nostalgia. It was where my sons, friends, and I would go picking every fall, in beautiful wide-open fields. Alas, it closed a couple years ago, and I've been exploring replacements since.

So it's with great enthusiasm I report I've found a pleasant new place to pick fall berries, close to Ann Arbor but with a wide-open feel. It's Slow Farm at 4700 Whitmore Lake Rd. just past Warren when you are driving north from Ann Arbor. It is a certified organic U-pick farm, and they expect their plump red berries to last through the end of October. They also will have many varieties of squash and pumpkins through fall, and in season you can pick much more: basil, other herbs, tomatoes, corn, beans, flowers... the list goes on and on.

Get daily updates from the farm at their Facebook page:https://www.facebook.com/slowfarmandfriends/


Posted by Mary Beth Lewis at 11:22 a.m. | 0 comments Bookmark and Share


Saturday, January 5, 2019

A fun [and furry] new year

Kathy Sample with Argus toys, new and old.

You only have to have a slight familiarity with Ann Arbor's Argus Farm Stop policy about local sourcing to know they take this cornerstone of their business model seriously. Both the Packard Street and original Liberty Street locations stock their shelves exclusively with the products of local Michigan farmers, bakers, coffee roasters, craftspeople--and the list goes on....

As a regular customer, I knew this. But still I could be surprised by the details.... That's what happened in the first week of January. I happened to stop in at the Farm Stop on Liberty when co-founder Kathy Sample was making a late-afternoon dropoff of all the plush children's toys she had just washed at home for a new year of toddler fun.

"It took me two loads, "she said while hoisting the laundry basket through the door. "And it looks like we've picked up a few that aren't local."

What? I asked if she meant locally manufactured toys? No, she was referring to local animals: little beanbag cows and chickens representing the source of the milk and eggs in in their coolers, and familiar Michigan critters like squirrels deer, blue jays, pink piggies and more. And she was noting that a few distinctly non-local penguins, jungle lions, and the like had joined the mix, probably left behind by toddlers and parents when playtime and coffee-sipping in the Argus greenhouse cafe stretched into hurried time for a quick departure.

In this picture, Kathy shows one of her favorite original Argus toys, the big owl at left, and an example at right of one of the distinctly "foreign" invaders in the toybox. Both are now freshly washed for play in the new year.


Posted by Mary Beth Lewis at 9:47 a.m. | 0 comments Bookmark and Share


Thursday, September 6, 2018

Autumn: the food season you almost can't go wrong

I got to the Ann Arbor Farmers late one day in the first week of September. A vendor I didn't know well still had peaches, but only a few quart baskets. They looked okay--nice color, if a little small.

As I made my purchase, they told me these were the last of their peaches this year. I felt lucky to have gotten them, until a few days later I when I saw the little globes still had barely ripened. I cut into the least hard one, and found it had good fruit flavor if not a lot sweetness. But when sliced up over ice cream, the marvelous peach essence came through loud and clear.

That's the kind of thing that happens often at this time of year. A tomato might look ugly but you find yoursell eating half of it while you're cutting it. Our dry July and hot August seems to have made corn ears smaller but sweeter. You want to save all the fragrant juice from roasted red peppers. Beans may seem tough down the stretch now, but give them a good sear in a hot oiled skillet with garlic and a little and soy sauce and you'll hardly care.

And then there's herbs: while they're still fresh in the chef's garden, I want to put them in everything. I like a sprig of rosemary with tonic water, ice and lime. Snips of mint on fruit salad. Tied-up stems of thyme and oregano in simmering tomato sauce. Snips of chives in scrambled eggs. I'm even trying to freeze some herbs this year, because I know winter will be here soon.

Here's hoping you're enjoying Michigan's fall bounty as much as I am--maybe even gettting creative and trying a new twist. And meanwhile, crisp apples are just starting to appear!


Posted by Mary Beth Lewis at 11:00 p.m. | 0 comments Bookmark and Share


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Garlic, Goose Eggs, Greens, and More

Argus Farm Stop, Ann Arbor, 2015.

Late fall produce at Argus Farm Stop.

More varieties of garlic exist than I ever dreamed of -- and Dick and Diana Dyer grow over 40 of them at theDyer Family Organic Farm outside Ann Arbor.

We heard a great many facts about this wonderful flavor-rich vegetable last Sunday at the Dyers' lecture to the Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor. Some things we learned about:

  • The genealogy of the garlic family.It's an allium like leeks and onions. I had never realized that garlic was originally native to China, and that members of the garlic family have been cultivated for 10,000 years. Most fascinating: an ancient garlic variety native to the Pacific Northwest suggests that early humans crossing the land bridge to North America brought garlic with them!
  • The annual cycle of garlic products.The year starts with green garlic and garlic scapes in spring, continues with a succession of summer garlic types, and ends with the last heads and the dried braids of garlic available now in late fall.
  • The propagation of garlic.The bulbs planted in farmers' fields are clones from previous crops. The scapes are the garlic plant's effort to make seeds, but few viable seeds are ever produced.
  • The sensory experience of garlic cooking.Uncut garlic should have no aroma, because the chemicals that provide the smell and flavor are locked inside the cells until your knife releases an enzyme and a chemical reaction triggers aroma and flavors. Shorter or longer cooking times produce different results: flavor disperses as time increases.
  • And above all, the best thing about garlic:it tastes so good!

The Dyers' fascination with everything about garlic is infectious, so I was quite interested to try some. So I went toArgus Farm Stop in downtown Ann Arbor, which sells Dyer garlic and many other local foods from local farmers, bakers, dairies, coffee roasters, and other producers. I bought leeks, cranberries, lettuce, duck eggs and -- obviously -- garlic. Some images:

Dyer Farms Garlic at Argus Farm Stop.
Garlic braids from Dyer Farms.
Goose Eggs, $3 each from a local egg producer.
A variety of green salad vegetables, still growing at several farms despite the frosts.
Winter squash from various farms.

As is normal for me, and unlike my exceptional recent post, I did not receive any free gifts or samples from any of the vendors mentioned here. I'm writing about what interests me, which is fresh, local produce!

For all my food blog posts including this one see:


Posted by Mae Sander at 6:20 a.m. | 0 comments Bookmark and Share


Monday, November 16, 2015

White Lotus Farms

Basket of sample bread, cheese, and produce from White Lotus Farms.
A few days ago, Miriam Rahl, the Office Manager & Events Coordinator from White Lotus Farmsasked if I would like to try some holiday preview samples of their products, including bread from their bakery and cheese from their dairy. I was very pleased to accept her offer, as I'm very interested in trying new local products from the Ann Arbor area.


Bread from the sample basket
The bread we sampled was very fresh and delicious. The whole-grain loaf was slightly sour and had a good crumb. The fruit-nut loaf was dense with cranberries and walnuts, and tasted really good with the goat cheese and cream cheeses included in the sample. Both breads were clearly the result of a long rising time, which of course is a key feature of artisan-made breads. The cheeses are mild and very pleasant tasting. The price list informed me that their prices are quite competitive with comparable artisanal products available locally.


Above: delicata squash ready to roast with onions.
Below: roasted vegetables with rosemary.

I was delighted with the delicata squash and the bunch of rosemary that were included in the sample basket as well, and used them in a dish of roasted vegetables we had that evening. According to the website, there are many other products to try, and I plan to buy and sample more next spring, when good things are in season at the Farmers' Market.

I asked about the bread-baking process, and Miriam wrote:

"A loaf of White Lotus Farms bread takes about 30 hours from mix to bake. Our dough ferments overnight in a clean, moist, temperature-controlled environment so that it can rise naturally. This slower fermentation breaks down starches and proteins in the flour, making the final product much more easily digestible. It also allows airborne micro flora and wild yeast to enrich the bread. ... With the exception of added ingredients like olives or walnuts, all of our breads are made with just flour, water, salt, and starter. Our ingredient list does not require any parenthesis after the word flour to tell you what all is in it. Our breads get their wonderful texture and taste as a result of natural processes rather than additives."

White Lotus goat cheese is made with milk from their own goats, while the cows' milk for their cheese comes from a nearby dairy farm. The cheeses are all made with fresh milk. White Lotus goats, I learned, give milk 10 months a year. Miriam wrote: "Since it is seasonal, we won't have fresh goat cheese for sale from New Years until early Spring. This is precisely why we have begun making cow's milk cheeses -- so we can continue cheese production, and sales, year round."

From late spring through the fall, White Lotus sells their produce, cheese, and bread at their farm. They sell year-round at the Ann Arbor Farmers' Market -- including fresh produce from green house and hoop houses. For this Thanksgiving and Christmas, they are offering bread, cheese, and other products for order on their website, which can be picked up at two open-house days, November 24 and December 22; they also will be at the last Farmers' Market before Thanksgiving and Christmas (Wednesday, November 25 and Wednesday December 23). For details and pre-ordering, see this page of their website.


Posted by Mae Sander at 11:57 a.m. | 1 comment Bookmark and Share


Friday, November 13, 2015

Delivering food to those in Need

Mary Schlitt, Food Gatherers' Chief Development Officer,
showing the graph of protein and produce
delivered in Washtenaw County this year.

Food Gatherers, the Ann Arbor area food bank, has a goal of delivering nutritious food including produce and protein. As I have beenwriting this week, Food Gatherers collects surplus food and also buys food to supply its 150 partners. These partner organizations distribute the food through a variety of end-user programs for people in need. Most of the distribution is done through an ordering system; orders are collected from partner organizations, assembled and boxed at the warehouse, loaded onto the FG trucks, and delivered to the partners. Or partners pick up the orders.

A food pantry is also onsite at the Food Gatherers(FG)headquarters. Customers at this pantry are not end-recipients but are employees or volunteers at the partner organizations. With lists of foods that their recipients need and want, they visit the FG pantry, select the needed products, and take them back to their organization for use in hot-meal programs or distribution. Besides food, FG distributes personal care items and baby diapers to these organizations.
The food pantry at FG headquarters.
Selecting foods: an employee of Avalon Housing.
Low sodium soups and canned goods are among the most-wanted items for food drives. Other much-wanted foods include
beans, rice, cereal, nut butter, and other low-sodium items such as canned fish, meat, and vegetables.

For a list of Food Gatherers' most wanted items:

SEE THIS PAGE.

I hope you will donate generously to Food Gatherers or to your local food bank, whether you give food or money!


Posted by Mae Sander at 7:02 a.m. | 0 comments Bookmark and Share


Friday, November 13, 2015

Gathering Food for People in Need

  • "We fight hunger efficiently. We regard the gifts of food, money and time that we receive as a sacred trust to be administered for the most effective hunger relief possible." -- One of Food Gatherers' Values.
Produce in the warehouse at Food Gatherers' headquarters comes from several sources.
Food Gatherers puts the emphasis on fresh produce for distribution to hungry people in Washtenaw County.
In the FG Warehouse.
A semi truck with produce or packaged foodspulls up around once a week at the dock at 1 Carrot Way, headquarters ofFood Gatherers(FG), the Washtenaw County food bank. After the food is unloaded and stored on the warehouse shelves, it becomes available to 150 local FG partners for distribution to people in need.

On my recent visit to FG headquarters and warehouse, Mary Schlitt, FG Chief Development Officer, and John Reed, FG Chief Compliance Officer, provided me with answers to my numerous questions about where the food in the warehouse comes from. The main source of food for FG is donations of rescued food; in addition FG purchases approximately $1 million of food per year.

Feeding America,a privately-funded national food bank, is one source of food and personal care items coming to the warehouse on the weekly semi trucks. Feeding America offers several programs to its 200 partner agencies. FG relies on two of them: the "Produce Match Maker" and the "Choice System." Through these programs, FG can order various products that have been donated by a variety of national manufacturers or other businesses. Feeding America works out the logistics of trucks that may deliver partial truckloads to more than one partner agency. (Another side of the FG-Feeding America partnership is that Feeding America audits the food-handling practices and other aspects of the FG program.)

Ruhlig Farms is an important source of produce purchased
purchased through the MASS system.
Fresh produce from Michigan farms may alternatively be the payload of various trucks arriving at FG. Such orders may be placed through the Michigan Agricultural Surplus System (MASS) and the Food Council of Michigan. These publicly funded organizations share the cost of wholesale first-quality Michigan-grown products 50-50 with FG. Fruit, vegetables, milk, eggs, dried beans, meat and other Michigan foods thus become available to FG clients.

Other trucks may deliver a variety of products from other sources. Around 9% of Food Gatherers budget is donated by the USDA, and can be used for purchase of USDA foods and surplus foods, such as canned or packaged juices, fruit, vegetables, beef stew, soup, salmon, raisins, dairy products, and more. A very small amount of aid for high-demand items is also supplied by certain FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) programs. Occasionally, a surprise donation arrives on an unexpected truck from a private donor.

USDA foods in the FG warehouse.
A Food Gatherers' truck at the dock -- the trucks bring in donated food and
distribute food needed by partners: hot meal providers and food pantries.
Most importantly: FG has its own trucks, which arrive at the docks several times a day. They bring donations from local businesses such as supermarkets, bakeries, drug stores, big-box stores, and food drives. A total of 60 to 70% of the food from FG consists of this rescued food from more than 300 different donor sources.

In addition, FG collects and distributes produce grown specially for their customer base. At gardens near the warehouse the Food Gatherers Gathering Farm grows vegetables for their clients. This year, according to the FG website,the farm produced "cucumbers, green beans, tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, kale, collard greens, melons, leeks, beets, carrots, radishes, turnips and peas!"

The Faith and Food campaign has encouraged local congregations to start communal gardens and donate a portion of their harvest. Individual gardeners in the area often grow extra produce for FG in a program called Plant a Row for the Hungry. In addition, the Huron Valley Women's Correctional Facility horticulture program and the Michigan Farm to Food Bank give substantial donations to FG.

In a future post, I'll talk about how FG partners distribute food from the warehouse to their partner organizations and onward to the final consumers. I've already written about one partner: SOS Community Services and their food pantry which is stocked with items from FG (as well as items from their own food drives) -- see mypost "Fighting Hunger."

A volunteer with donated bread.

Posted by Mae Sander at 6:26 a.m. | 0 comments Bookmark and Share


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