Tag Archives: Michigan

ricewood Ann Arbor Food Truck

I just got back from a lovely al fresco lunch at ricewood. The Pacific-Island-inspired BBQ food truck (really, maybe the only one anywhere) was recently launched by Frank Fejeran  – the former chef at The Ravens Club, about which you can read here: http://detroit.eater.com/2014/11/18/7243493/chef-frank-fejeran-helps-the-ravens-club-realize-its-potential and which I am a fan of, for both the whiskey cocktails and the homage to my beloved Baltimore Ravens.

Oh, what’s that? The Ravens Club was not an homage to the Baltimore Ravens NFL team? Uhhhhh….well the cocktails are still delicious and I’ll just pretend I didn’t hear that part about the name. [Aside: Jeff from TRC, if you are reading this, if you put a TV in the bar that plays Ravens football in the fall, I will be there on the regular.]

Okay, back to the point. Ricewood. So good. So much food.

For $12, you can get your choice of a BBQ pork shoulder rice bowl, ribs, or a brisket rice bowl. All are served with a side of marinated cucumbers. You can get it gringo style or spicy. (http://www.ricewoodbbq.com/uploads/4/8/1/3/48139611/ricewood_-_final_menu.pdf) Obviously, I got spicy.

photo 2

The bbq pork was indeed pleasantly spicy. Beware if you are expecting what we’ll call “MidWest spicy,” which is to say, not at all spicy. This may be too hot for you. Fortunately for you, on the cutlery table, there is also a bottle of AH-mazing pineapple bbq sauce which is sweet-ish and really pineapple-y. Like a pureed pineapple chutney with a hint of smoky bbq flavor.

The meat was also really tender, with awesome salty burnt end bits, and the rice was perfectly sticky – like sushi rice – with an Asian-flair pico of diced tomatoes and green onion.

Also it was a TON of food. I pretty much ate the whole thing but only because it was so good and not because I was still hungry. Apparently I glazed over the part on the menu where it said “half pound” of meat.

And, because I’m a VIP (jk Frank just recognized me), he gave me a small chunk of brisket too, which had a great flavor and was not dry at all.

After receiving my large bowl of treats, I sat at one of the covered picnic tables. Each table had a cup of Sharpies that people used to sign their names or decorate the table. I think I spotted a child’s rendering of the Voldemort-Harry Potter wand duel. It was very elaborate – or at least as much as a stick-figure scribble can be elaborate. (See top left of picture below to catch a glimpse of the Voldemort figure in black. Harry was in green fyi.)

photo 3

All in all, a super filling and delicious meal and a perfect day to be outside enjoying it. photo 4

Ann Arbor Summer Fest and Highland BBQ Competition

Now that summer is really and truly here (and I’ve become such a Michigander that 85 and humid is feeling SUPER hot…words that would have never left my mouth in any other Baltimore year), Ann Arbor is seriously busy.  Knowing that there is a limited amount of time when being outdoors will be physically comfortable (I had a dream the other night that it started snowing and summer was over and I started crying…just kidding…but I was sad), Ann Arborites (and all Michiganians – also acceptable nomenclature) jam as many activities as possible into that time.  The Huron River is literally PACKED with kayakers and tubers…I don’t know how a river can be packed, but it is.  You can’t even get the oar in the water without hitting someone in the face.

The number of potential activities one can partake in is kind of overwhelming, but don’t even think about trying to sit outside for dinner because all those seats are already taken.

There are tons of festivals and fairs – at least one a weekend – and some, like the Summer Festival, last almost a month.  The Summer Festival comprises outdoor movies, concerts, workshops, beer-gardens and more, mostly concentrated on UMich Central Campus, but with certain events taking place elsewhere around town.  Mark and I had wandered around one morning before anything got going.

A2SF stage beer gardenLight installationThis was an inflatable light installation that you walk around inside of, but when we tried to go last weekend, the wait was about an hour and a half, so we gave up.  But we heard it was cool.

Mark and I went with some friends Friday night to the Summer Fest with a picnic to listen to a folk band and take in the scene.  And the scene was kids.  Granted we went at 7pm and didn’t stay for the late-night DJ that started after 11, but it was like strollers-on-parade.

band bell tower The sun hitting the bell tower made the lines look so sharp and like the clock was floating off of the wall.

The evening started amicably enough…we sat on the lawn and chatted…watched the costumed French drum-line as they marched around after the band’s set.  And then as the sun was starting to set, things started to get a bit more tense.  An overabundance of excitement, missed bedtimes and ice cream came back around, and everywhere we looked, kids were crying, screaming, kicking and furiously straining on their stroller belts.  Parents realized they had pushed the limit and started packing up, while toddlers ran off in the other direction, tried to pour water on one another, or clawed at the sugary dregs of that purple sno-cone.

While I’m sure things would have calmed down again after the familial set retreated and the adults-only groups took their spots, we had sat on the ground long enough and so also took our leave to the comforts of faux-leather chairs and adult beverages at Knight’s, a new branch of an old steakhouse downtown.

The next day, Mark and I set out north to Highland, Michigan, where one of his co-workers, James, was competing in a bar-b-que contest.  This was James’ first competitive cooking challenge, which he entered because he just wanted to cook out and no one took him up on his offer to come chez lui for a backyard bbq.  Whatever works.

highland garden Cute community gardenjamesJames

James, originally from Georgia, now of Ypsilanti, is building his own grill in his backyard, but since that wasn’t transportable, he purchased a new grill for the occasion.  When we arrived, he had it fired up, and was just prepping the beer-can chickens to go on.  He made three kinds: jerk chicken, Creole butter, and Hawaiian (which we didn’t get to taste since it didn’t cook all the way through by the time it started raining and we had to pack up).  He entered the jerk in the competition, along with pork ribs and his vinegar-based BBQ sauce (which tasted like a delicious BBQ-Bloody Mary mix).

stuffing chickens Prepping the chickens with beer cans (apparently the beer steams on the grill and flavors/moistens the inside of the chicken…my college roommate used to do this with Coke or Dr Pepper I think).shoveling coal Shoveling coals in the grillour grill chickens coals chickens on the grill

Although he didn’t win in any of the three categories, everything turned out really well, and one of the judges brought his whole family over to taste “the best chicken.”  The judge said he was disappointed James didn’t have a restaurant or anywhere he could place an order!!  So that’s a great vote of confidence!

chicken and ribs on grillCooking the ribs and chicken

chickens cooking Chicken’s almost done!

cut ribs Sliced ribsCreole butter chickenCreole butter chicken

There were 18 entrants along “BBQ Row” many of whom had campers or trailers with full kitchens.  People had smokers, rotisseries, charcoal or wood-fired grills.  I don’t think I saw anyone else doing whole chickens like James; a lot of people chose just to do thighs or drums; so lots of credit to him.  It definitely came down to the wire in terms of cooking time!

smoker2 smoker The guys across from us had this big BBQ/smoker and a mobile home

ribs close up ribs peppers in rotisserieSome competitor’s ribs that had a nice kick to them (no one was allowed to sell their food due to health code, but if you were friendly, you’d get some tastes).  Some peppers cooking in a rotisserie (aka one of those raffle spinners) over wood.

horseshoe This lucky horseshoe/grill door handle must’ve work because these folks placed in a category or two.

grill1 Gas-fired

gingerbread churchHard to see the architectural detail on this gingerbread church

copa di vino If anyone watches Shark Tank, remember Copa di Vino (single serving peel-the-lid wine glasses)?  Well here it is.  Didn’t try it though.

A huge storm rolled in which forced everyone to pack up a little faster and make their way over to the beer tent to await the winners announcement on the main stage, where bands had been playing all afternoon.  Fireworks were set for after 10pm, but there was no way we could hang around for another 5 hours to wait for that.  Apparently this was the first year of Highland’s “Red, White & Blues” festival and BBQ competition, and while the weather definitely kept some people away, I think it will get bigger year over year given the number of BBQ entrants already.

It was nice weekend to get outside and take advantage of some local festivities.  Since we’ll be in town for 4th of July weekend, anyone have any suggestions of local activities taking place that we should check out?

Ann Arbor Pizza Review: Pizza Pino

It’s finally warming up a bit here in MI.  I didn’t wear a scarf and sweatshirt under my full-length down-comforter-slash-sleeping-bag-slash-coat today.  But two weeks ago, this was hardly the case.  I know it’s cold elsewhere, but really I’d never experienced temperatures like this.  I woke up one morning to a bright blue, cloudless sky.  It was so sunny and beautiful, I thought maybe I’d go for a walk!  I checked the temp: -6.  NEGATIVE SIX.  Hm.  Two hours later it had gotten up to 0.  Zero degrees.  It had gotten up to zero.  No.

So when Mark asked me if I wanted to come downtown for dinner out (yay a chance to try a new restaurant) or stay in with pizza, it was a tough call, but not that tough: stay in please!

It was tempting to fall back on a pizza place we had already tried and knew we would be satisfied with, but we decided to branch out.  The place we chose was called Pizza Pino….Pizza Pino, Pizza Pino, why is this name sticking in my head?  I can just hear my dad enthusiastically shouting, “Pizza-Pino!” over and over again.  Is there a Pizza Pino we used to go to?  Long Island?  New Mexico?  I will do some research.  With that memory in mind, I had a good feeling about Ann Arbor’s Pizza Pino.

pizza pino 2

I got a thin crust (I don’t know whether it’s a good or bad sign that a lot of places here have a range of crust choices from extra thin to Chicago and deep dish – which apparently are two distinct crust types….maybe I will make a Linnaeus System of Crust Classification.  You know: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species.  Although mine will be the Lowe System and have many fewer levels.  The choice is good if you don’t like a particular crust-type, but can they really do all those crust-types well?  TBD.)  ANYWAY…..I got a thin crust pesto chicken pizza (you know I love a good chicken pesto), which involved pesto (obviously), tomatoes, chicken, spinach, mushrooms (that was a new and welcome twist), and mozzarella.

pizza pino 1

My gold standard for chicken pesto pizza is obviously Bagby in Baltimore as I have discussed many times over.  I have also discovered that Pizza House here in Ann Arbor makes a good version, however I later uncovered that their extra thin crust is made on a tortilla, not an actual crust.  I don’t know how I feel about this.  On the one hand, I couldn’t tell when I first got the pizza.  On the other hand, now that I know….I guess it doesn’t matter.  Fine.

The pizza was delicious – just a little bit salty, with a stiff crust that held up the plethora of toppings.  I’m a big fan.  Whereas other “specialty” pizzas sometimes are more like flatbreads with just a sprinkle of cheese, this was a traditional pizza in the sense that it started with a good cheese pizza and added the toppings to that (although remember no tomato sauce, as this is replaced by slices of tomatoes).  I also enjoyed the fact that the tomatoes were sliced and not diced since sometimes diced tomatoes feels more like salsa in your mouth.  The sliced tomato is a more expected texture I guess.

I would definitely get this pizza again or try one of their other kinds.  Oh, and by the way, I looked up Pizza Pino, and I found one in Paris, which is where I think my Pizza Pino memory developed on vacation as a kid when all my sister and I would eat was pizza and ice cream.  Yum!

Ann Arbor Bucket List

Since I’m trying to get out and take better advantage of all that Ann Arbor and Michigan have to offer, I figured the best way to organize my adventures was to make a list.  Looooove lists.  And schedules.  And maps.  Okay, digressing.

In this post, I’m going to offer up the Michigan bucket list.  Restaurants, museums, cultural activities, outdoor adventures, etc.  I’m going to link back to any posts I may have written about these items, and check off anything that’s already been accomplished with an asterisk (*).  Please note that sometimes more than one of these items are discussed in the same post.  Going forward, as I write posts, I will reference back to the list and hopefully link accordingly and appropriately.  I see lots of linking and circular references in my future.

PLEASE OFFER SUGGESTIONS of things to do/see/eat that I can add!

Okay, here it goes, in hopefully some particular order:

Places to Visit in the State of Michigan:

1. Upper Peninsula

*2. Sleeping Bear Dunes

3. Mackinac Island

4. Frankenmuth

*5. Grand Haven

Cultural Activities in and around Ann Arbor/Detroit:

6. Belle Isle Conservancy and Aquarium

*7. North American International Auto Show – Detroit

*8. Dexter Cider Mill

*9. University of Michigan Museum of Art

*10. Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

11. University of Michigan Museum of Natural History

*12. Concert at The Ark

*13. Movie at State Theatre

14. Movie at Michigan Theater

15. Concert at Hill Auditorium

16. Broad Art Museum (at Michigan State)

17. The Toledo (Ohio) Museum of Art

*18. Ford Presidential Library

*19. The Henry Ford (Museum)

20. Greenfield Village

Sporting Events:

*21. Detroit Lions Football

22. Detroit Tigers Baseball

23. Detroit Red Wings Hockey

*24. UMich Football

*25. UMich Wrestling

26. UMich Hockey

*27. UMich Basketball

*28. UMich Gymnastics

Outdoor Activities:

*29. Kayaking

30. Botanical Gardens

*31. Kerrytown Farmers’ Market/Artisan Market

*32. Nature Walks

Food & Drink Related:

*33. Zingerman’s (deli)

34. Zingerman’s Roadhouse (bbq)

*35. Lab (coffee and pastries)

*36. (Espresso) Bar

*37. Sweetwater’s (coffee)

*38. Sava’s

*39. Isalita

*40. Aventura

*41. Bigalora

*42. Logan

*43. Lena

*44. Vinology

45. Cafe Felix

46. Gratzi

*47. Jolly Pumpkin Cafe & Brewery

*48. Slows Bar-B-Q (Detroit)

49. Traffic Jam & Snug (Detroit)

50. Mexicantown (area of Detroit)

*51. Liberty Street Brewing (Plymouth)

*52. Cliff Bell’s (Detroit)

53. Guns and Butter (Detroit)

54. Two James Distillery (Detroit) – Can someone please weigh in on this?  This is the first Detroit distillery since prohibition (and I think currently the only) and they have a club called the Corktown 500 for which you apply (capped at 50 people), get exclusive tours and discounts, and if you are a member you can go to a weekend WHISKEY MAKING CAMP!!!!  This sounds totally up my alley of learning new skills and interesting experiences.  Problem: to join the club it is $2,000!!! Ahhhh so expensive!  Worth it?!?!?!  Anyone think yes?  Anyone want to subsidize me?  🙂

55. Eastern Market (Detroit)

*56. The Lunch Room

*57. Vellum

*58. Pacific Rim

59. Try “Detroit-style” pizza – I had no idea Detroit had its own pizza style, which is square, and according to Wikipedia: “The square shaped pizza is the result of being baked in a square pan, which is often not a pizza pan.  Rather, industrial parts trays are often used, which were originally made to hold small parts in factories.”  Crazy!  It sounds like the anti-health food, as Wiki goes on to say: “The crust of a Detroit-style pizza is noteworthy because in addition to occasionally being twice-baked, it is usually baked in a well-oiled pan to a chewy medium-well-done state that gives the bottom and edges of the crust a fried/crunchy texture.”

60. Try a Coney Island hot dog (aka Coney Dog)

Other Areas of Southeastern Michigan:

61. Corktown (Detroit)

62. Heidelberg Project (Detroit)

*63. Royal Oak – Got a “butterbeer latte” at a local coffee shop that I found on Yelp called Bean and Leaf.  It was super sweet and delicious with some toffee/butterscotch flavor, however I was confused and dismayed by the coffee sleeve that read Zingerman’s Coffee…it’s everywhere…I don’t actually feel like I’m trying something new when they have such a monopoly on the coffee/bread/sweet treat market all across Southeastern MI.

*64. Troy – To be honest, when I wrote Troy, I meant the mall.  LOL.  The Somerset Collection mall in Troy is akin to Tysons Corner in VA.  There are actually 2 malls connected by a sky bridge: one with Saks, Neiman, Burberry and other posh stores (only one salesperson even approached me in Saks because I clearly was looking more bum-like than the regular ladies who lunch set and I was even wearing jeans and not yoga pants – in other words, stepping it up!); the other mall has Nordstrom (yay for a Nordy fix) and all the other regular stores you would expect in a mall.


65. Take a ride on the Detroit People Mover

*66. Literati Book Store

Okay, I think that’s a pretty exhaustive list at this point.  Ann Arbor friends: what am I missing?!??!

Come to Ann Arbor, Get a Wedding Dress

As I discussed in my wedding dress post, I purchased my previously-worn wedding dress from a not-for-profit, volunteer-run shop called The Brides Project in Ann Arbor.  Dresses are donated second-hand by brides or donated new by boutiques or designers that have overstock.  (To manage inventory and make sure that the dresses have some market value, they typically only accept styles from the past 5 years.)  All proceeds from the dress sales (which are priced at least 50% off the true retail price or more depending on the condition) benefit the Cancer Support Community of Greater Ann Arbor.


(Photo from thebridesproject.org)

A) I had so much fun working with my two bridal consultants at the shop (open by appointment only for now), B) I was impressed by the selection and range of sizes and styles available, C) I was touched that so many people had donated their dresses, and D) I loved the idea of benefiting a good cause in buying this dress, that I just had to sign up to become a bridal consultant myself!

I had my training a few weeks ago: half at the Cancer Support Community (CSC) itself and half at The Brides Project (TBP).  I went in initially interested in being a bridal consultant at The Brides Project wedding boutique, which would mean helping brides try on and pick out dresses (yesssss, so fun!!!), and I did sign up to do that.  But being the volunteering overachiever that I am (I just get really excited about projects, okay?) I may have checked the boxes for all sorts of other volunteer opportunities too: yoga teacher at the CSC, photographer/blogger/social media correspondent for The Brides Project, dress intake/inventory/processing assistant, special events volunteer (the CSC holds a number of annual events such as an Ann Arbor version of Amazing Race, so you know I had to sign up for that!!).

I hadn’t realized that the CSC is a national organization and this is the local chapter, which is great because it means they have national resources but local autonomy to create programming that meets their members’ needs.  They offer so much, all for free, to those in all stages of cancer/remission, as well as to loved ones and care givers who are either dealing currently with the effects of cancer or have lost someone from cancer.  Not only do they have support and grief groups, they also hold weekly yoga and meditation classes, kids karate, nutrition and cooking demonstrations, knitting circles and “walks with docs” where a different volunteer doctor will host a nature walk through one of Ann Arbor’s parks, where members can informally ask questions or chat with him or her.  Here is a seriously touching video on the Kids Kicking Cancer karate class, which was started at Children’s Hospital of Michigan; I was trying not to cry watching this during the training!  There are lots of other videos out there if you google “Kids Kicking Cancer youtube”.

At first, I will be a bridal consultant trainee, which means that I will shadow a more experienced consultant on appointments.  I will do this until I feel comfortable dropping the trainee designation to become a full-fledged bridal consultant able to run appointments myself.  Every bride is given a two-hour appointment, and they try to only schedule one bride at a time so that she can have the run of the store.  They also typically schedule two consultants for every appointment so that one can help with the trying on and one can run/return dresses to and from the racks.  They are very good about creating a true bridal boutique experience with great customer service and selection.  You don’t feel like you are shopping in a second-hand store by any means.

Since the shop is run out of donated space, The Brides Project has had to move locations a fair amount since its inception, as landlords tend to want to lease out space to a paying tenant if possible.  The current location isn’t quite large enough to house all the dress inventory that they’ve collected, so they decided to experiment with a weekend trunk show held at the main offices of CSC.

The trunk show was my first hands-on training experience, and it was fantastic.  They opened up the CSC (a larger space than TBP) from 10-4 on Saturday and Sunday.  Even given the crazy snowstorm going on all weekend, 42 brides came through the door.  We helped them pick dresses that suited their styles and try on the gowns, advised them on how they could be tailored, and closed the sales.  The mood was upbeat and fun, with music pumping and families swooning and clicking away with their cameras.  They raised $8400 for the CSC over a goal of $5000, and sold 21 dresses, which is typically what they sell in a month!  Most of the brides came to the show because they had heard about it through social media and word of mouth, and I hope that the event will have a ripple effect on TBP’s brand recognition in the community.

Already the show has created a demand for weekend appointments at the shop through February.  Two other consultants and I helped a bride, who had lost her mom to cancer when she was young, find a great dress last Saturday (you know someone loves the dress when she cries seeing herself in it! So touching!), and I’m scheduled to meet with brides both days this weekend and the following weekend.  I can’t say enough about how much fun it is combing through dresses, swooning at new arrivals and fancy designers, and seeing the look on brides faces when they know it’s the one (or definitely NOT the one).

I’m excited to continue helping brides and have even offered to staff some afternoon hours to keep the shop open for walk-ins…there goes that volunteer-overdrive again.  So come visit me in Ann Arbor and together we’ll find the perfect dress!

Pizza Night in Ann Arbor Part II: Bella Italia

After our pizza bust at Tony Sacco’s (which you can read about here), we ventured across the street to another strip mall, which houses Bella Italia Pizza and Pasta.  Mark had heard about Bella Italia from his coworkers, who recommended the New York style pizza joint that also sells pizza by the slice (always a good sign).

We got two slices of pepperoni that looked like good NY-style za, however it also looked like it had been sitting out for quite a while.  I don’t know for sure, but perhaps this place is more of a lunch establishment – they did look like they were cleaning up and shutting down shortly when we arrived around 8:30.

I, being full from dinner #1, didn’t partake in the Bella Italia slices, but Mark seemed to enjoy them.  I’ll have to pop over one day while running errands to try it for myself.

Narrowly tucked into the strip mall, Bella Italia reminded me of a old-school cozy pizza parlor.  Long counter to one side with pies lined up in the case to be reheated in the giant steel pizza oven for sale at the register.  The other side lined with sticky-plastic booths with framed pictures of Italy on the walls.  The front windows were fogged up from the pizza steam.

Bella Italia is known for its pizza challenge: 30 inch pizza, 3 people, 30 minutes.  If the eaters succeed, the pizza is free.  They keep a tally on the chalkboard behind the register.  So far only one team has completed the challenge in 2014 (as of a few weeks ago).  I believe there were three or four teams in the loser column.  You have to call ahead to arrange the challenge, so they can make the pizza specially.  Assuming the pizza is delicious, let me know if you want to form a team.  I’m definitely good for at least a third.

Unfortunately I didn’t take any pics of those pepperoni slices, so you’ll have to take my word for it that they looked like normal New York slices.

Somehow between Tony Sacco’s and Bella Italia our pizza craving was unsatisfied.  Coming next: NYPD (New York Pizza Depot)

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 🙂

Festive Finds

Since I’m sure lots of people are traveling, hanging out with family, not working and not reading my blog (tear) this week, I thought I’d keep it short and sweet with some fun festive (and inexpensive) attire and home decor I found recently!

Trying to break out of a grey-day slump a few weeks ago, I went to Kohl’s to wander around.  I needed a butt-covering sweater to go with leggings and skinny jeans because it’s just so darn cold here, one layer of material on the tush is not enough.  I haven’t been to Kohl’s in probably six months because it’s usually crowded as all get out, and that day was no different, but the mark downs can be pretty significant if you find the right items, and there can be some hidden gems amongst the racks of what can only be described as half “frumpy mom jeans” and half “club chick trashy”.  (Which isn’t to say those categories don’t have their merits…I have been known to wear the latter back in the day, and I’m sure I’ll find myself in the former at some point in life.)  Right now, I’m pretty smitten with a lot of what Lauren Conrad puts out.  It’s kinda embarrassing to say that I’m taken with designs by an ex-reality star from MTV no less, but I do admire how she’s created quite an empire of books and fashion, and frankly I would go work for The Little Market, an online marketplace she founded that sources and sells wares made by women in foreign countries that don’t have access to sell their goods otherwise.  I would love to travel, finding interesting crafts and goods, meeting new people and promoting women’s enterprises.  Okay, but on to what I found at Kohl’s:

IMG_1492 Sweet Lauren Conrad bow sweater.  What you can’t tell from this picture is that the cream knit also has flecks of gold yarn woven in to give it a little sheen/sparkle.

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These Lauren Conrad patent leather pumps are perfectly festive for the holidays and beyond.  I love how the bows are metal and not fabric – something unexpected that I haven’t seen before.  Also, they have a lower heel than my current plain black patent leather pumps, so they are more versatile and can be worn for longer chunks of time before my feet start hurting (hopefully…theory yet to be tested).

As I may or may not have mentioned before, I am newly obsessed with Home Goods.  We didn’t have one in Baltimore (that I knew of), so I was quite excited upon learning that there is one so close by here in Ann Arbor.  They have so many cool home decor, kitchen, bath and furniture items.  I can’t really go in there unless I’m looking for something in particular, or else I will walk out with all sorts of stuff.  I recently exercised some self control and only purchased two candles….

IMG_1500 Shiny silver tray with opalescent shell inlay border (that I bought over the summer at Home Goods).  I also found this “winter spice” (read gingerbread-ish) smelling candle at Home Goods.  I’m a sucker for those three-wicked candles.  They somehow seem schmancier (as in fancy schmancy) to me.

image_3 I also picked up this unscented sparkly gold pillar candle at Home Goods.  The outer layer is like a crust of sequins.  I put it in this rustic branch lantern that I bought at Home Goods a while back.  It creates a warm and cozy ambiance for our living room against this red abstract painting that my aunt and uncle gave me for my college graduation.

My next festive find came unexpectedly when I was picking up some cotton balls at CVS.  These mini-nail polishes were on sale for 3 for $10.50, so I couldn’t pass it up when one nice full size bottle could easily be $8 on its own.

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They each have a very fine sparkle to them.  No big chunks of glitter, but subtly glinting on my fingers.

My last find was at the supermarket, Kroger.  Not super exotic, but fairly well stocked.  A) I still cannot get over that they sell alcohol at the supermarket or pharmacy here;  B) Our Kroger has an Asian foods section which is pretty awesome for finding all the sauces and marinades you could ever need.  I picked up some frozen dumplings that I’m excited to try to make, even though the directions are not in English.  TBD on how those turn out 🙂

image_2 Michigan definitely seems like a beer state to me.  There are some wineries, but I haven’t come across any bottles that I’ve been willing to try yet.  On the other hand, there are a ton of breweries, including a fair number with their own brew pubs in downtown Ann Arbor.  Out in the middle of the state by Kalamazoo is Bell’s Brewery.  I’ve tried their Octoberfest Beer, Christmas Ale, and my newest find is their Winter White Ale.  It’s pretty smooth and light without a lot of aftertaste.  Looking at their website, it looks like you can find Bell’s along the East Coast, although not in Maryland.

So there you have it, some wintery treats I’ve discovered recently.  And yes, I did find a simple black knit turtleneck sweater that hits mid-thigh so as to keep cozy in skinny jeans.  Next up: winter cooking and crafting including some wedding DIY projects.  Keep warm!

First Impression: Ann Arbor, Michigan

ImageArrived at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport Thursday evening on a thankfully uneventful Delta flight out of Baltimore.  Mark picked me up and we headed off to the Residence Inn where he is staying in corporate housing to drop off the bag, before driving into downtown Ann Arbor for dinner.  I’m typically a weirdo and LOVE a good Residence Inn…pool, hot tub, microwave popcorn, breakfast and afternoon snack/dinner – what’s not to love?  This Residence Inn, however, was a bit sadder than the ones I’ve stayed in before.  Same amenities (although Mark didn’t even realize there was a hot tub until I literally pointed it out to him), but perhaps a bit smaller room and less inviting building layout (i.e. parking lots running between the buildings).  Oh well, I’m not going to have to stay there many nights, and Mark is on a work-run-dinner-sleep routine.

Downtown, we walked along Main Street, looking at the various menus of all the bars/restaurants.  All the outdoor seating (of which there was plenty) seemed to be filled to capacity and beyond.  The streets were bustling with diners, pedestrians, window shoppers and soloists, duets and trios playing guitars and singing on every street corner.  I may have made an allusion to the sidewalks being crowded like NYC, which was clearly hyperbolic; but it was crowded!

We chose the Jolly Pumpkin Cafe & Brewery, which looked to have a delicious and healthy menu and craft beers.  We each had great salads that were very fresh and filling.  I was impressed by most of the menus we perused along Main Street.  Even typical-type bars seemed to have farm-to-table vibes.  Lots of good places that we’re going to have to try!

After dinner we strolled around downtown, through the more college-kid-filled State Street and got frozen yogurt with toppings 🙂  Not TCBY, but just as tasty and refreshing!

Heading back to the hotel, I started to get my bearings.  I’ve been studying the map (obviously) for weeks, but it’s not until you’re really there and moving around that you figure out which way is up.  I mean North.

Friday morning I drove Mark to work (early) and took a different route back to the hotel past the gigantic football stadium with the huge yellow M that can be seen from downtown.  I’m very excited to experience “The Big House” this fall, which, according to Wikipedia, is the largest stadium in the US and the third largest in the world: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michigan_Stadium.  I’m sure we’ll be up in the nose bleeders since games are an uber popular ticket, and I’ll oft be overheard saying, “What is this: A center for ants?” (Thank you Will Ferrell, “Zoolander”), given the players will look teeny tiny.  Like ants.  Time to break out those distance glasses.

Back at the hotel, I went for a quick run and breakfast.  Upon leaving the room for the day at 10am, wearing shorts and a t-shirt, I turned right around once I got outside and changed into leggings and a sweater.  I won’t say it was cold, but the lack of humidity meant that I was a bit chilly until I really started doing a lot of walking during the heat of the day.

I drove up to check out our new apartment (as of August 1).  I couldn’t go in, but I drove through the neighborhood, and it seemed very convenient – right near the Medical Center and a park along a river that would be great to ride bikes….now I need to get a bike.  I then drove back into downtown and walked around a bit, grabbed a Starbucks, and met Mark for lunch.  That’s when I had my first Michigan pizza experience!!  He took me to a locally-owned (the owner may have been taking orders and flipping dough) lunch spot with reasonably priced design-your-own pizza, salads and sandwiches.  We split a delicious margherita pizza and a salad.  I will expand on my love of pizza one of these days, but overall I thought this was a great start to my Michigan pizza explorations.

After lunch, Mark went back to work and I walked around.  Literally, all around.  Besides the actual UM campus itself, I’m pretty sure I saw all of Ann Arbor by foot.  I was up in the Kerrytown neighborhood where there is a farmer’s market every Saturday, cute shops and restaurants, including an amazing spice and tea store that has every variety of scoopable loose teas and ground spices that you could imagine.  I feel like I may end up spending a lot of money in this store.  This is also where the famous Zingerman’s deli is.  Everyone I’ve  ever spoken to about Ann Arbor has said I HAVE to go to Zingerman’s.  Well apparently they were correct because the place was PACKED.  Every seat was taken and waiters and waitresses were running around bringing people sandwiches of every kind.  Apparently they make their own pickles (which I have yet to try), along with everything else.  They have a whole separate bakery/sweets shop right next door, where I bought about 6 homemade chocolates in all sorts of weird flavors like balsamic, peperoncini and kalamata olive…for $15!!!  They let you sample everything, including the chocolates and gelato, which is great….until you realize that’s because everything is so expensive, the mark-up must be insane.  But they clearly do well nonetheless.  And the chocolates were delish.

Zingerman’s was also where I believe Jason Segel’s character is meant to be working in the movie “The Five Year Engagement”.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s sort of long and sad and drawn out, but it’s a good education in what might be in store for me in Michigan (hopefully not though): fiancee, Emily Blunt, gets job at UM, so the couple moves from San Francisco, where he was a chef, to Ann Arbor, where he has trouble finding a job, grows a mountain-man beard, hunts, drinks, keeps bees to make mead, wears large homemade sweaters and keeps a cross-bow at the ready.  Also, most of the plot, which spans five years, takes place in the winter.  They just skip the summer parts.  That might be the most telling part of the whole plot.  Hm.

I picked Mark up later that afternoon and we headed up to Traverse City, Michigan, about 4 hours from Ann Arbor in the Northwest portion of the Lower Peninsula (the part that looks like a mitten) for my friend Alli’s wedding.  Traverse City is a cute little beach town that actually seemed hotter than Ann Arbor (I have no idea why).  We had a great dinner at a Asian-fusion Japanese restaurant and then joined Alli and her now husband Greg at a bar where their families were celebrating.

Saturday we hiked Sleeping Bear Dunes.  Not the insane 4 hour trek up and down 6 or 7 humongous dunes in the beating sun that makes you feel like you are in the Sahara and want to die, but the more reasonable, one dune hike: up and over, down to the edge of Lake Michigan, which was so clear and not even as cold as the Atlantic at the Jersey Shore over 4th of July this year.  Tiny waves lapped onto the rocky shore, and all up and down the beach was empty, quiet and calm.  We also hiked a wooded trail that pops you out on a cliff overlooking an expanse of the Lake Michigan coastline – breathtaking to see cliffsides dropping sharply down to long and winding white sand beaches abutting the great lake.  The air was cool and refreshing, and the sun was warm on the skin.  The perfect conditions for a sunburn – good thing we grabbed the 50 SPF.  GMA Votes Sleeping Bear Dunes #1

Alli and Greg’s wedding was beautiful that evening.  Held at a rustic farm, it was clear that every detail was considered and executed perfectly.  She obviously looked stunning and they both were overwhelmingly happy – their joy just sprung forth and filled the barn, decked in fairy lights and paper lanterns.  A gorgeous evening with perfect weather for an outdoor celebration.

Sunday, I had my second taste of Michigan pizza, this time in Traverse City on the drive out of town.  Just a hot bite which was tasty, although a bit on the deep crust side for my personal preference.

I gotta say, with the long, flat, straight roads, 4 hours seemed to take forever, and I’m starting to think that Michiganders aren’t very good at driving.  It is my ultimate pet peeve when you are walking in the mall or on the sidewalk and someone cuts in front of you and starts walking reeeeeallllllyyy slowly or stops altogether and looks around confused.  Well I feel like this was the driving equivalent of that.  Cars were pulling out in front of us left, right and center, and then would go so slowly that we’d have to hit the brakes.  And there was no one coming behind us!  Just wait 3 seconds and pull out after we pass!  What’s the rush?  Clearly nothing if you’re going that slowly!  And then the in city, cars were trying to dart out at lights to make left turns in front of oncoming traffic.  Again, just wait a minute and the coast would be clear!  I’m so confused.  According to my cab driver to the airport on Monday, car insurance is very expensive in Michigan, and perhaps the most expensive in the county: Michigan Car Insurance is Expensive  Hmmm, I’m not saying there’s a cause and effect relationship here, I’m just pointing this out for consideration.

Okay, so this post has gone on long enough.  Suffice it to say that I was pleasantly surprised with my first Michigan expedition that was capped off with a friendly chat with my cab driver on the ride to the airport, who not only told me about the woes of the expensive car insurance, but also alerted me to the fact that Chase is hiring in and around Ann Arbor.  Good intel!

I will leave you with a few random things I noticed on this first foray into the Midwest:

1. Not only are the drivers questionable, but the roads are not in great condition.  I guess all that cold and snow will do a number on the asphalt, but the shock-absorbers were getting a work out.

2. While I was on the treadmill watching TV, there were gun commercials.  Not like, “Hey, come to the gun show this Saturday,” but a full on “this-is-how-we-craft-our-handmade-rifles” commercial.  I get it, there is lots of hunting here, it just caught me off guard because I don’t think I’ve ever seen a gun commercial at 8:30am on a Friday before.

3. The Detroit airport is SO NICE.  It’s huge with a tram system running inside between the outer ends of the terminal.  There are lots of upscale stores that I would expect to find at Heathrow or Gatwick, not Detroit.  And the lines weren’t bad at all either.

4. For some reason they seem to be obsessed with Macklemore.  Mark noted that he hears at least one Macklemore song every morning and every evening on his 7 minute commute to and from work.  And then I started noticing it too.  And then another out-of-town guest at the wedding independently mentioned it.  Macklemore’s not even from Michigan.  I don’t understand.

5. A lot of the roads are named for a measurement of length.  I knew of 8 Mile from Eminem, but it seemed like there were tons of roads called “6 Mile Road” or “3 Mile Road”.  Do these roads dead-end in 6 or 3 miles?  And they were all over the place, so I guess that means there are multiple “6 Mile” roads in Michigan?  What if the road is 6 and a half miles long?

I look forward to going back in August to explore more.  If anyone has any good yoga studio suggestions there I would really appreciate it!  The number of studios seems overwhelming so I would love to find a place to start.