Restaurant reviews and food news from Ann Arbor Observer reviewers and blogger Mae Sander.
Saturday, January 5, 2019
A fun [and furry] new year
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.
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.
Wednesday, November 18, 2015
Garlic, Goose Eggs, Greens, and More
|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.
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 Farms
asked 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.
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.
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.
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
A Visit to Food Gatherers' Headquarters
Food Gatherers is "The Food Rescue & Food Bank Program Serving Washtenaw County."
Their trucks, which one sees all over town, pick up food from donors and deliver to food pantries and other programs.
A tour of the headquarters of Food Gatherers, the food bank for Ann Arbor and the surrounding county, taught me a large number of things -- enough for more than one blog post. So I'm going to start with the amusing Exotic Food Museum, which is in a single bookshelf in their lobby. Their theme, carrots, also inspires clever items donated to decorate their offices and reception area. I was delighted to see that besides their incredible social conscience and effective work feeding hungry people, they have such a sense of humor.
|Is this Mona Lisa the iguana? Or just ordinary iguana soup?|
Of course the first thing I noticed when I came into the lobby was the Doña Lisa Garrobo Soup can. Does the iguana (Spanish garrobo) on the label have an enigmatic smile? Or am I too obsessed with finding Mona Lisa everywhere?
A large cardboard box labeled CIVIL DEFENSE CARBOHYDRATE SUPPLEMENT... 1963 is one of the most dramatic items in the Exotic Food Museum.
Many of the items in the collection are novelty cans, but others are normal foods from the past or from other cultures. Most of them came to Food Gatherers along with normal donated foods, but couldn't be distributed because they were past any reasonable use-by date or because they were not legally labeled for consumption in the US.
Food drives where people donate canned goods and packaged goods of course are an important source for Food Gatherers. They go to food pantries, hot-meal programs, and other organizations that distribute food to people in need. I'll write about the details of these programs in my next post.
There are carrot images (and actual carrots too) everywhere at Food Gatherers. Carrots symbolize their commitment to supplying fresh produce along with packaged and canned foods, meat, and many other important nutritional sources to the food pantries and other distributors.
The headquarters offices and warehouse function to manage the operations, collect and sort food, and prepare it for distribution. No end users (families and individuals in need) are served at Food Gatherers headquarters. Rather, representatives of partner organizations come there to select foods from a pantry on site to take back to the many end-user distribution points, and truckloads of food are prepared for delivery to these points.
|Carrots are the Food Gatherers' theme. This sign in the lobby|
gages the total of food collected this fiscal year.
|Giant carrots on the lawn...|
|Carrot door handles...|
|And actual carrots donated by a local supermarket, a sign of the Food Gatherers|
commitment to distributing fresh produce ...
|All at Food Gatherers' headquarters at 1 Carrot Way, Ann Arbor.|
I'll be posting more about this important community organization and how it serves those in need. If you live in Washtenaw County, I encourage you to consider donating food, money, or volunteer time!
Posted by Mae Sander at 10:29 a.m.
Thursday, October 29, 2015
Mable, Mable, Sweet and Able...
"Keep your elbows off the table!"
How many times have we heard this chant as we sat in a summer camp dining hall or junior high cafeteria? According to my middle-school sources, it's still considered a terrible faux-pas to put your elbows on a dining table, and kids, I guess, still chant about able Mable.
I've been wondering if this is really still seen to be a defining characteristic of a boor: resting one or more elbows on the table while eating or while waiting between courses. Last night, we ate at West End Grill, a pleasant, pretty fancy restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor. It's a fairly popular place, despite rather high prices, and was reasonably full even on a rainy Wednesday. We enjoyed our food, and enjoyed the leisurely service.
It was definitely NOT A HORSE'S STABLE, but a first-class dining table.
|"The last heirloom tomatoes" with basil|
|Encrusted halibut on a bed of spinach.|
|Sable fish with oriental vegetables -- only Len's hand was|
on the table. He is faithful to the elbow rule.
In fact, our table was in the center of the restaurant, which has one large dining area and a bar where they also serve food. From my seat, I could see about half the other tables, and I realized that I could unobtrusively observe quite a few diners: men in suits, women in reasonably nice clothes, dressed up by local Ann Arbor standards. I would guess that around half the tables were filled with professors entertaining speakers from other institutions, and the rest with couples like us, treating themselves to a good meal.
When we were waiting for our various courses, I realized that I could check up on the other diners, and see who was obeying or violating the elbow rule.
At almost every table I observed, at least one person had elbows on the table. Yes, men in sport jackets (didn't see any ties) rested their elbows on the table between courses. A woman in quite a nice outfit was eating with her elbows on the table. A man at the bar had the elbow of his drinking arm on the bar surface. Adults of all ages were included in my little sample. I'm not sure a single diner was innocent of this questionable act, though I think most did so only between courses.
If people who have dressed up to dine at such a formal place don't keep their elbows off the table, then when in the course of life in our admittedly permissive society does anyone actually observe the rule?
I spent a few minutes checking etiquette advice online. Most experts (whether self-appointed or professionals) suggest avoidance of elbows on the table, for the sake of tradition. Some point out what we found out many years ago: the rule is different in other countries, notably in France, where it's absolutely polite and standard to rest elbows on the table because your hands are supposed to be in sight at all times while dining. A few say that the rule has changed, and that American and British etiquette only requires elbow-absence during, not between, courses. I think my fellow diners last night illustrate that times have changed, though formal rules may persevere. I also think the no-elbow rule will survive because it's just too much fun to chant about Mable.
For all my food posts, including this and also my non-Ann Arbor food posts for this month, see October.
Posted by Mae Sander at 3:23 p.m.