Tag Archives: Mani

Arbor Daze

Bird chirps create a wall of sound behind my eyes.  The drone of the hospital helicopter in the background breaks through momentarily.  I hope it’s a new pilot being trained, because if it’s a true emergency, it’s been in the air for what feels like an awfully long time.  The whirring dies down and the birds are back full force.  It sounds like hundreds of birds – all the same, peeping in the same constant monotone; why haven’t they flown south for the winter?  They start early and wake me up; I testily inch open one eyelid and look up to the skylight: white sky (if I can even see the sky at all, or just the snow piled on the glass).  I easily roll over and push back to sleep, waking up in a few hours, bird free.  If the sky is bright blue (a rare occurrence these days), a wave of sleeping-in guilt washes over me and my mind ticks off the tasks I’ve set for myself for the day.  Do I need to get up and get cracking?  I’ll just shut my eyes for another 30 minutes.

Yeah right.  When they groggily open one, then the other, two hours later, the sky has clouded over and I no longer feel the pull to be productive.

Taking advantage of all that Ann Arbor has to offer has been more difficult than expected.  Not physically or logistically difficult.  More like, the excuses are endless and it’s difficult to overcome the mental barriers I’ve thrown up for myself: It’s too cold to go outside; Mark’s tired when he gets home from work, but I don’t want to go places alone during the day; I am too busy with more mundane pursuits and activities such as reading and drinking coffee.  To be fair (to myself), I did try to leave to go to the gym last week, made it a block and had to turn back for all the skidding in the snow.  The plowing here is not the best, and I don’t see how people still seem to function like there aren’t six inches of snow on the roads at all times.

When I moved to Paris in January of 2006, it was the same story.  For the first few weeks before classes started, I mainly stayed in my apartment (especially after it got dark at 4pm), eating bread and cheese, drinking tea to try to stay warm, and watching France’s version of The Amazing Race on the TV/computer (somehow TV came in over the computer).  It was cut-to-the-bone cold in Paris in January – the damp cold that you can’t shake no matter how many layers you wear.  I didn’t know my neighborhood well.  I didn’t know a lot of people with whom to explore.  So I stayed in and told myself that I would be more adventurous and relaxed when it warmed up, not yet realizing that it wouldn’t “warm up” for another three and half months.

One morning in the second or third week of my stay, standing in line to register for classes at the maze-like, government-style Sorbonne building, I noticed a calendar hanging on the inside of one woman’s cube.  I quickly calculated that as of that moment I had 14 or 15 weeks left in my Paris adventure.  That seemed like forever, overwhelming, I couldn’t get through it, I was homesick.  And what did I have to show for the time that had already been spent?  Not much.  I hadn’t really seen anything or found any hidden gems.

What a rotten story this would make:  Friends: Hey Hannah, what did you do in Paris?  Me:  Welllllll, I ate a lot of cheese!

At that moment I decided to put on my big girl pants and venture out into the cold, even if just to walk the streets and get my bearings.

I started with my favorite: Musee d’Orsay where the Impressionists are in charge and press up against those who came before and after.  Then I started ticking off the smaller museums, because, really the museums are endless (and a good way to stay warm): Musee Picasso, l’Orangerie, Musee Rodin, Le Petit Palais, Victor Hugo’s home.  Along the way, I picked up friends, and friends of friends, who hadn’t yet been to these places, and so we visited together: Marche aux puces (huge flea market on the outskirts of town), Place d’Italie (for pho), La Defense (business center of Paris).  And when visitors from home arrived, we also made the rounds, and luckily most were game to go to places I hadn’t been yet, rather than the obvious Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe (although there had to be some of that too of course).  Each week I read the Periscope magazine (which detailed all the arts and cultural activities for the week for 50 centimes) cover to cover, circling the various temporary exhibits I wanted to see or should see because they were so unique or housed in a unique location.  I saw an exhibit of Rembrandt drawings at the Dutch embassy and one of erotic drawings by Picasso at the Musee de l’erotisme.  We scooted through that one pretty quickly and came out the other side red and shrieking with laughter.  Very mature, 23 Year Old Self.

So back to the point.  Here in Ann Arbor, I’ve done similar research with the monthly Ann Arbor Observer that literally has a day-by-day account of everything going on in town, from music, to sports, to museum exhibits and lectures, even though I never see 90% of what I’ve circled.  But here are few things I have done:

I attended a fascinating lecture in the graduate library about the history of Jewish food and Jewish cookbooks in America, given by one of the preeminent American culinary traditions curators in the country.  I not only learned that the first Jewish settlers in America (in New Amsterdam) were immigrants from Brazil, but we also saw Ashkenazic and Sephardic cookbooks from various the centuries, and even menus from Barney Greengrass and the like.

We went to a free rock-bluegrass concert with some friends at The Ark, an intimate-feeling music venue on Main Street that’s also North America’s oldest continuing not-for-profit music club.  The Ark has a show nearly every night of the year, which is pretty incredible.  We also saw a movie in the historic State Theatre, which was a must-do experience, although as you can imagine, the seats in a historic movie theater are super small and Mark is pretty tall.  state theatre

We’ve tried many restaurants (of which there seem to be an endless supply), including Zingerman’s (famous deli with exhorbitant prices and super excited staff), Mani (sleek Italian restaurant with some of the country’s best pizza according to Eater.com, but you can read my review here), Grizzly Peak and Blue Tractor, two bars that brew their own beers, and Cafe Zola that has an extensive menu on which I have yet to find anything that isn’t amazingly good (including really good crepes).

We’ve gone for walks on the many trails around our home and even kayaked down the Huron River on Labor Day Weekend.  We’ve been to a University of Michigan football game, a Detroits Lions football game, and plan on checking out some college basketball, hockey and even gymnastics (I hear they have a world-class team here).

photo-46(Our resident heron we keep spotting along our Island Park walks.  This was taken during the snowstorm Sunday Jan 5th.  He was standing perfectly upright with just his shoulders hunched up and neck pulled down, like a tall old man waiting at a bus stop with his overcoat pulled high over his stooped shoulders.)

A few weekends ago, Mark and I went to the town of Plymouth, about 35 minutes from Ann Arbor to walk around.  Surprisingly, not many places were open for Saturday lunch, so we just wandered around the small town square that was lined with uniquely-styled Christmas trees.  We drove from the “downtown” to the old village, where I thought maybe there’d be more restaurants.  It was more residential in fact with bungalows and Victorian homes, but we did find Liberty Street Brewing Company, which was a fantastic little bar that brews their own beer and serves a few bar snacks, such as popcorn.  There were a fair number of people in the homey bar for a Saturday afternoon, the bartender was genuinely friendly, and the “Punkin’ Pie” beer was delish (made with zero pumpkin).

Last week, I went with a friend to the University of Michigan Museum of Art for the first time.  I really loved the modern galleries that allowed for natural sunlight to stream in.  They were having a temporary exhibit of color-blocked sculpture by Adolph Gottlieb, one of the founders of the Abstract Expressionist movement, who is best known for his paintings.  They were fun and reminded me a bit of 3D versions of Matisse’s later works.  The museum also has an impressive permanent collection, boasting a snowy Monet oil painting (appropriate for the local climate), multiple Picassos, and rooms of African and Asian art.  It’s small enough to be manageable but large enough that you will want to return to explore the work in more depth.

So, as you can see, in the last few weeks I’ve been trying to push myself to discover all there is to do here.  I’ve driven all over the place, and know my way around fairly well.  But there’s still a lot to explore.  I haven’t yet been to the University’s Museum of Archaeology, the botanical gardens, the Gerald R. Ford Library, or (I’m highly embarrassed to say) the Kerrytown Farmers’ Market (I have been to the Sunday artists market however).  It comes back to the cold and not wanting to do some of these things alone.  But like in Paris, winter lasts a long time here, so I’d better get cracking.

I’ve started a list of places to go and things to do, so I can start checking them off and holding myself accountable.  Maybe chronicling my activities in this blog will help do that.  Otherwise I’m sure to end up snuggled in bed with a book and some tea.  Although that sounds pretty good right about now 🙂

The Pursuit of Pizza Perfection Continues

I still have yet to find my go-to pizza spot in Ann Arbor.  In fact, I’m getting fairly frustrated by the lack of thin, crispy-crust or wood-fired oven pizza that doesn’t make me feel totally bloated and sleepy after eating it.

Let’s recap:

1. Jet’s Pizza: I’m revising my so-so review down to “you may as well eat the cardboard box it came in.”

2. Mani: Mani was rated as one of the top 38 places to eat pizza in the US by eater.com.  The pizza was good if you are eating in and having it to share, but certainly not crave-worthy for our-weekly-pizza-night-at-home-on-the-couch routine and I’m pretty sure there are 38 better places to get pizza in NYC alone.

3. NeoPapalis: I would definitely recommend eating in over taking out and the margherita pizza over the traditional cheese for a lighter take.  I would also get one of their huge, fresh salads to fill you up with something healthy in addition to the pizza.

4. Grizzly Peak: Pretty cheesy and would try it again if eating at the restaurant but not going to be a go-to for carry out.

5. Hello Faz: What an odd name for a pizza place….or any place.  We decided to look for a restaurant that would deliver pizza to us, and this was very highly rated on Yelp.  We got a half cheese-half banana pepper pizza and pepperoni cheesy bread.  With the first bite of cheesy bread, I got the overwhelming taste of pretzel – yum!  It wasn’t until the next piece that I realized the pretzel taste came from the copious amounts of butter spread underneath the cheese.  It was reminiscent of Auntie Anne’s pretzels.  The pizza was super bready – almost more so than a Papa John’s, which is really saying something.  The banana pepper side was decent because the sourness of the peppers broke up the salty, extra-chewy crust/bread, but the cheese side was fairly overwhelming to try to chew.  It could have been the pizza, or the week-old-opened white wine I had with it, but either way I felt so sick the rest of the night, and the next morning was even worse.  I think it was really all that butter.  We had about half a pizza left over, and I didn’t even want to look at it the next day, let alone have it for lunch.  Needless to say, I will not be getting Hello Faz pizza again.

So the quest continues for Ann Arbor pizza.

On the flip side, I had a fairly standard, comfort-food style mushroom pizza at Kooper’s North near my parents’ condo in Lutherville last weekend when I was home.  I love regular white mushrooms on pizza.  They get a warm, earthy taste when heated and softened.  Portobellos are okay too because they are meaty and stand up to the cheese, but I can’t get behind a lot of other mushrooms on pizza when they are too delicate and get lost in the other pizza flavors.  And I definitely can’t do shiitakes – but mostly because they make my tummy hurt. 😦

Okay, so there are tons of pizza places in Ann Arbor (although someone did warn me that there weren’t actually any good ones) – somebody please tell me where I can find a yummy, gourmet, wood oven pizza in this place!

Michigan Second Impressions, an Official Engagement, and More Pizza!

Last Thursday, I went to visit Mark in Ann Arbor for the second time ever.  The weather was nice, if not fall-like, which is making me concerned for how cold it’s going to be when fall actually gets here.  Maybe we’ll be going to fewer UMich football games and more Detroit Lions football games (since they have a dome).

For some reason I thought it might be a good idea to take a 6am flight out of BWI that landed at DTW at 7:30.  I must’ve still been in work mode when I booked it, since I did a lot of 6am flying over the past two years.  I also must’ve forgotten how miserable it is to set your alarm for 3:30am, and how even a few cups of coffee can’t keep you from falling asleep on the plane with your mouth open, head jerking side to side every few minutes like a possessed marionette.

Upon landing ridiculously early, I took a cab to the Residence Inn and had plenty of time to work out, check emails, Yelp some good Ann Arbor hair places and book an appointment for Friday, before meeting Mark for lunch at 11:30.

We ate at Biercamp, a BBQ and artisan jerky restaurant/deli counter in a small house on the southern part of State Street near the hotel.  The pulled pork sandwich was melt-in-your-mouth delicious, if slightly buttery for my taste.  Mark liked how they actually seemed to have cooked the meat in the BBQ sauce so that each piece was coated, rather than making you put your own sauce on top of dry pork, where you really can’t get the sauce distributed evenly.  The small things in life.  We wanted to try some of the homemade dill pickles, but they were currently out.

After lunch, I went to the local mall to find a cover for my new iPhone.  I was thinking I wanted a cutesy artsy case, but my sister reminded me that those probably aren’t the best damage control if you actually drop the phone (which I’m definitely prone to do). So I got a hearty case at the Apple store (ugh I’m not into the Apple store Kool-Aid – it tastes like conformity) and will go about my klutzy life hopefully a bit better prepared.  The mall there is pretty nifty.  It’s sort of smallish – all on one level – with not the best anchor stores (Penny’s, Macy’s and Sears) but all the rest of the stores are great!  There’s the usual Banana, J. Crew, etc., but then there’s also Michael Kors, Vera Bradley, L’Occitane and Lush.  Alright!  Mom would love it, as those last two are some of her faves!

I then decided I needed a “wedding vision book.”  Actually I had no idea it was called a vision book until someone else called it that….I just wanted an old school photo album with the peel back sticky pages so I could conglomerate all the scraps of magazines that are currently lying on the coffee table, and the bedside table, and the dining room table, and stuffed in corners of my purse.  I tear scraps out of all magazines – it’s really getting to be a problem – recipes, yoga poses, inspiring color combos, etc.  I have a shoebox full of yoga-related magazine bits that I’ve NEVER looked at again.  Maybe I should make an album for those too, so at least they are arranged in some semblance of order.

Well back to the photo album quest: it’s really hard to find photo albums these days since everyone keeps their photos online.  And when you do find an album, it’s of the newer, slip the photo into this perfectly sized slot, kind.  I tried to find a Wal-Mart near Ann Arbor on the car GPS but it kept telling me that the closest one was about 450 miles away.  That GPS is terrible for that kind of search.  I reluctantly went for the iPhone.  I know that’s what it’s there for – to look up every last bit of information that you could ever want – but it sort of feels like cheating, like I should just be able to find these things without it, and I don’t want to waste the data! LOL

Well, as far as I could tell, there isn’t a Wal-Mart close by to Ann Arbor, so I looked for a KMart.  See, my thinking was that Target might be too classy to carry such things as tacky photo albums with sticky paper, which is why I was sticking to the lower end big box stores.  Just in luck – a KMart not too far away that did indeed carry TWO fly paper photo albums!  Perf!

I got Mark from work and we went up to the new apartment to do the owner’s punch list before dinner.  And that’s when IT happened!!  I was taking an initial walk-through when Mark got down on one knee and did the “official” proposal!!  Here is a glamor-shot of the bling.

Image

And then we cracked a bottle of wine and did the punch list.

For a celebratory dinner we went to Mani, a modern Italian restaurant downtown.  I may have been laughing a little too loudly and was certainly very animated.  The people at the table next to us kept giving us the eye.  Ooops.  Just happy.

We each got appetizers and split a margherita pizza.  The pizza wasn’t amazing.  A bit too dry and cheese that fell off in clumps when you bit into it.  BUT the burrata appetizer I had was SO GOOD!!  Fresh, cool and creamy burrata cheese with macerated sour cherries, mint, fennel, micro greens and salty olive oil crostini.  I could’ve eaten two of these and skipped the pizza altogether.  It was perfectly sweet, salty, sour, crunchy and creamy all together.  Best burrata of the season (and I’ve had at least 3 others at various restaurants).

Friday I got my hair cut (not bad and reasonably priced) and started piecing together the photo album.  It took a lot longer than anticipated given I didn’t have any scissors!  That evening, we drove out to Grand Haven, about 2.5 hours west of Ann Arbor on Lake Michigan to visit a former co-worker at her summer home there.  Grand Haven is also called Coast Guard City, USA, as dubbed first by the locals, then officially by President Clinton.  There didn’t seem to be a great story behind the name that I could glean, other than there is a coast guard station there.  We stayed at the Holiday Inn in Spring Lake about 2 miles from downtown Grand Haven because the city was packed with 250,000 people for Coast Guard Week which culminated Saturday with a 2 hour parade.  Friday night we walked around and ate a yummy dinner of steak and salads at Kirby House.  There were lots of teeny boppers out at the street fair dressed in their summer cutoffs (I was feeling old and cold in full-length jeans) and lots of campers lining the parking lots with their grills going.  Different tents held various bands – everything from Beatles to 80s hair band covers.  There was definitely that beach town vibe going on.  Also, we noticed that people had already staked out patches of grass with blankets or bits of string to rope off seating for the fireworks display – Saturday night.  We were told later that you weren’t allowed to start saving spots until Thursday night….2 days in advance!  These must be some good fireworks we thought!

Saturday, we walked the 2 miles into town to set up at our friend’s house for the parade.  She has an awesome house on an elevated corner lot right along the parade route.  There were marching bands, old and new cars and various floats in the street.  And out back there were great summer drinks, including Bloody Mary’s made with dill juice and a pickle (yum!) and amazingly juicy pork tenderloin and half chickens grilled up by her husband’s high school friend who’s a butcher.  You know it had to be good since the man deals with meat all day everyday.

After taking an afternoon siesta, we went downstairs to watch the fireworks across the river from the hotel lawn, where the mosquitos were buzzing and humming all over.  We didn’t stay too long out there for fear of giant bites, so we only saw a bit of the show.  It was odd because about 10 fireworks went off and then it stopped.  We thought, hm I’m sure that can’t be the end of it.  And then a woman behind us said, “Was there another fire?”  We said, “Huh? Was there a fire earlier?”  And she said, “Oh a few years ago the fireworks caused a fire and they had to put it out before they could resume.  Ya know, it’s Grand Haven,” shrugging.  And we said, “Oh hm.”  And she said, “I guess you’re not from around here.”  Nope.  So we went back upstairs and heard the fireworks resume a bit later.  Oh well, I’ve seen ’em before.  I subsequently found a YouTube video of the 2005 fireworks fire – it looked pretty massive, like the whole hillside was on fire.  I’m not sure they could’ve resumed the show after that!

All in all we had an excellent time visiting Grand Haven and thank you to our wonderful hosts for having us!  I’m liking our Michigan explorations, from Traverse City to Grand Haven.  We still need to see downtown Detroit, Mackinac Island and perhaps some other small towns along the way.

Sunday we grabbed some fresh salad, local Michigan cherries and a Michigan hard cider at Produce Station – a boutique grocery, garden center and cafe near the hotel.  I loved this place – it has a lot of gourmet-y type food products that you wouldn’t find at the regular grocery store, as well as very fresh produce (as the name suggests) and locally-made products, like the cider, ice cream, bread and desserts.

Monday I flew back to Baltimore at the more reasonable hour of 2pm.  This week I’ve really got to buckle down and sort through things I want to take with me or give away.  I’ve also got to create an area for items that we will move ourselves, since once the movers take our stuff next week, it will be 2-9 days before we get it in Michigan.  I can’t believe the move is almost here.  I can’t believe I’ve been out of work for almost 2 months.  I’m done volunteering, which was a great experience, and now I’m on the farewell tour of lunch dates with various friends.  My friend Graham and I are going to hit the pool and work on our blogs.  Graham is leaving Bmore to travel the world for a year or two and has started cataloguing his planning and future travel at exploringsevencontinents.com – check it out to see where he’s going – I’m jealous of that adventure!

Next time I’m in Ann Arbor it will be for real, and that’s going to be an adventure all its own!