Tag Archives: snow

Gymnastics, Jazz, Infinite Winter

What do these have in common?  Nothing except enumerating my weekend’s activities.Gymnastics, Jazz, Infinite Winter

Friday, we went with some friends to the Men’s NCAA Gymnastic Team Finals.  Not because we’re huge gymnastics buffs or anything but because we figured it would be something fun to do, and how often do you get to attend the NCAA finals in any sport?  Michigan was defending their 2013 team championship title, and they didn’t disappoint, winning again this year.

gym1

The whole thing was an interesting event held at the Crisler Center, where they also hold men’s basketball.  They had draped off the upper deck so it wasn’t sold out, but it was still pretty packed, and those fans are LOUD!!!  We were sitting near the Stanford cheering section who were deafening, as well as the almost equally rowdy Cal section, even though Cal wasn’t competing for a team championship; they just had a handful of gymnasts competing individually.  Shockingly, when we got home, our ears were ringing as if we’d just been to a rock concert.  Ugh.

Also, note to self, perhaps bring one of those dust/hygiene masks next time – the chalk dust floating through the air was intense.  It almost looked cloudy from afar, and everything was covered with fine white powder by the time we left.

gym2These dudes had orange shower slippers..Illinois I think.

gym3gym4Penn State on the Horizontal Bar.  They came in last, and by the end, I felt like they were hanging their heads and not really even trying…awkward.  Surprisingly the Big 10 Conference had the most schools represented between University of Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State, Illinois, Iowa, and a few individual participants from Minnesota and Nebraska.  I’m not sure why the Big 10 takes their gymnastics so seriously, but I guess once one school does, they all do, and clearly they are quite good.  I gotta say though, I felt like Michigan made it look pretty easy as compared to some of the other schools.

gym10There was even a Michigan storm trooper cheering. gym9 This guy from Iowa has the biggest back muscles I’ve ever seen in person.  It looks like he has pillows stuffed in there.  Even though it’s more grainy, can we just zoom in on this a second?

gym9  C’mon, that looks fake…

gym8 Getting set mentally.

gym7Parallel bars look really painful.  When they land on the undersides of their upper arms…ouch!

gym6 gym5 Michigan dominated on the pummel horse.

UMich’s Sam Mikulak came in first all around.  Way to go UMich – two in a row!

Saturday, we went with our new friends, fellow Ann Arbor blogger, The Winegetter, and his wife, to downtown Detroit to check out Cliff Bell’s and find some Thai food.cb1 Cliff Bell’s is a dark and cozy jazz bar which opened in 1935.cb2 A nice little jazz trio to warm up the evening, and I love this art deco backsplash lit up in pinks and purples.

The club was one of John Clifford Bell’s many bars/clubs that he opened during and after Prohibition.  It was closed from 1985 until 2005 when it was renovated and reopened.  Some interesting features include little cocktail tables attached and jutting out at intervals from the bar itself and the fact that the building was designed by Albert Kahn.  Albert Kahn was a renowned architect of the late 19th and early-mid 20th centuries, who is credited with designing many many buildings in Detroit and the environs, including University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and according to Wikipedia, is sometimes called “the architect of Detroit.”  Fun fact: his dad was a rabbi.

cb3The dark gilded interior.  The ceiling is domed and painted a deep copper color that almost looks like mahogany and softly reflects the light. cb4The exterior marquee.

After cocktail hour we exited, blinded by the fact that it was still light out, and headed to Bai Mai Thai, located barely two miles from Cliff Bell’s, still technically in downtown Detroit, but really in a seedy Dollar Store strip mall.  No matter that it smelled a bit funny and none of the empty tables had been bused since the last diners, our food was actually really tasty.  We’d been hard pressed to find good thai food in Ann Arbor, since the fast-casual chain No Thai seems to dominate the Yelp ratings, so it was a pleasant surprise to find that this was a pretty good version of drunken noodles and peanut curry (I may have even been convinced to try making curry whereas I have always shunned its coconut creaminess in the past).  We did, however, discover that those two were the better of the four dishes ordered that evening.  Good to note for later.

What with the weather being nice, it was good to get out and do some fun Ann Arbor and Detroit activities this weekend.

Monday, I made my first solo-attempt at cooking Passover Seder for Mark and me.  I made (way too much) roasted sweet potatoes, roasted asparagus and charoset (apples, walnuts, wine, dates) and gathered the ingredients for the Seder Plate (I even roasted the hard boiled egg, which was impressive since I never make eggs of any kind).  I also made a yellow Passover cake from a box with chocolate frosting which tasted a little weird (as many Passover desserts do) but good nonetheless.  The only thing I fudged was the roasted chicken which I bought pre-made at the supermarket.  Somehow it was actually cheaper than buying a raw chicken and roasting it myself, so why wouldn’t I?

passover I even broke out the good china, which I believe was my great grandmother Hannah’s.  Mark and I did the Seder readings ourselves, but we skipped the actual singing of songs since that would entail a solo on my part and chose instead just to read the lyrics.  Overall it was pretty successful if I do say so myself!!  Imagine my horror to wake up on April 15th to this wintry mess:

snow

Ugh.  Even if I’m assured that this is “the last snow of the year” it’s way too late for that; the “last snow of the year” should’ve been a month ago. 😦  Can we all agree that it’s time for spring now?  Thanks.

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 🙂

Semi Staycation: Chicago

Mark and I took a mini vacation to Chicago this weekend, and I know what you’re thinking: Why would you trade in the freezing cold and snow of Michigan for the freezing cold and even more snow of Chicago?  While it would be fabulous to head to the tropics at this time of year, Chicago is a fairly quick and easy trip for a relaxing weekend get-a-way.

The four hour Friday afternoon drive across the state of Michigan, through Indiana and up to Chicago was easy enough and uneventful.  As we started approaching the Chicago suburbs around 2:45pm traffic became heavy and the skies, which had already been quite grey, turned even darker.  It looked like dusk.  At 2:45!  In fairness, a snow storm was rolling in (typical), but I’m not sure the sun doesn’t actually set at 3 in Chicago.  It is on the eastern edge of the Central Time Zone.  (Okay, I just looked it up.  Today’s sunset is at 4:21pm, which means by 3, it’s definitely starting to get dark.)

We made our way to the Dana Hotel on North State Street, just a block off of Michigan Avenue, or The Magnificent Mile, a main street full of world-class shopping.  We chose the Dana because it is centrally located, has a spa, and they were running a really cheap winter special (apparently Chicago hotels are quite reasonable in the snowy months which is great for us being so close and yet so far that we wouldn’t go for just the day).

IMG_1539 The Dana is a chic modern hotel with “the only” outdoor winter rooftop bar (which was really like a club whose music we could hear 5 floors below).  Everything was as you would expect in a avant-garde boutique hotel: exposed cement ceilings, low lighting, large doorless shower with a glass wall looking into the bedroom and a big rainshower shower-head, floor to ceiling windows with sleek blackout shades, high-end iPod speaker docking station, and fully stocked mini bar with full-sized champagne and gourmet treats neatly packaged in designer tins.

IMG_1540 Two story lobby bar

IMG_1568 The outdoor rooftop bar featured a bar made entirely of ice!  It was actually quite comfortable by these strategically placed fire towers or the fire pit.

Before the trip, I had done some research on where we should eat while in the Windy City.  There are SO many good restaurants, so I combed through Food and Wine magazine for ideas, and Mark and I asked for friends’ suggestions.  Unfortunately even three weeks out a lot of places were booked up for dinner either Friday or Saturday night.  Food and Wine listed the bar at Pump Room in Public (high end hotel) as a must-go-to spot, so I decided to look at the menu to see if we might be interested in eating at the attached restaurant.  It looked good and they had open reservations, so I booked a table for Friday night.

As I was reading Taste by Anthony Terlato about his life building an international wine empire based in Chicago, I noted that he mentioned working with Pump Room in the 1950s to be a leader in putting fine wines on their menu.  Previously, restaurants would just offer a red or a white, as most people were not accustomed to drinking wine with dinner.  He described Pump Room as an establishment restaurant (opened in the late 1930s), where many noteworthy people ate and drank, including members of the Rat Pack.  Apparently it was the place to see and be seen.

Not having gone to the Pump Room website ahead of time, I told Mark as we were walking there, “Look, this place is supposed to be good, but it could be old and stuffy, no idea.”  Upon arriving, it was apparent that the whole place had been renovated in the past few years into a sleek and chic bar/restaurant within the elegantly modern, clean-lined-but-not-in-a-sterile-way Public hotel.  It was clearly still the place to see and be seen.  Our reservation was at 9pm, but due to the obvious popularity of restaurant, we ended up having drinks and an appetizer in the loungy part of the bar until our table was ready at 9:30.  The bar itself was wall to wall with beautiful people: men in tailored suits and horn-rimmed glasses, women with perfectly blown out locks, impeccable make-up and not a skinny going-out jean in sight.

IMG_1518 Looking into the dining room. IMG_1521 Vaulted gold walls and ceiling of the Pump Room bar.

I’ve decided that people in Chicago are generally really good looking.  Everyone I saw, and not just at Pump Room, which I’m sure draws an upscale crowd comparatively, was well groomed, well put together and all around attractive.  Chicago would be a great place to live – always a lot going on socially, extensive cultural, shopping and food offerings, but I would have to step up my wardrobe, hair and make-up game.  Sounds tiring 😉

IMG_1520

IMG_1524 Berry lychee champagne cocktail and garlic shrimp with chili peppers.  I gotta remember that I don’t like lychee….I think it tastes like soap.  The shrimp with crusty bread were delicious, however.

IMG_1523

What I also had not realized about Pump Room prior to arrival is that it is a concept restaurant by Jean-Georges Vongerichten, a James Beard Award-winning chef who is potentially one of the most famous chefs in the world with restaurants everywhere.  I just got more excited than I already was to be on vacation, dressed up and eating in such a swanky-feeling place.

We ordered (and ate) a lot.

IMG_1528 Perfectly charred scallops with roasted pumpkin and sesame seeds and spaghetti squash.

IMG_1529 Super crispy yet not dry fried chicken with spinach, basil jus and buttery habanero sauce.  Our waiter was amazing and gave us detailed descriptions of everything on the menu.  He was a skilled salesman because he a) was genuinely excited about the food, b) gave us straightforward answers about what were the best dishes (#1 fried chicken, #2 short ribs, #3 scallops) without trying up-sell us, and c) was successful in having us order every single thing he recommended.

We were there with one of Mark’s friends from grad school, so the extra person made it easier for us to justify ordering lots of things to try.  We obviously had to get the three most recommended entrees, so the three of us split the scallops and fried chicken to start, and then we each ordered our own short rib entree….We probably could have split that too because it was starting to be a lot of food.

IMG_1531 The short ribs were actually lightly fried to make them crispy on the outside and fork-tender on the inside, which was a different twist.  They were served with super creamy mashed potatoes, hot pepper rings, friend onions, and then to really make them pop: macerated sour cherries and somehow fried? crispy? baked? mint and basil leaves.  THESE WERE THE BEST THING EVER.  I have no idea how they made those leaves into dried flaky crunchies, but I could just eat them from a large bag like chips if given the opportunity.

Everything was fairly straight-forward and not “frou-frou” in terms of random, over the top ingredients, but the preparation was unique, unexpected, and made the meal special.

Our waiter was spot on again in his dessert recommendations.  There were a few we wanted to try, so we ordered the doughnuts with chocolate espresso glaze, the pecan tort with ice cream (salted caramel? I can’t remember), and the chocolate chip cookie with malt ice cream.

IMG_1534 Hot doughnuts with whipped cream covered warm espresso chocolate dipping sauce, served in an espresso cup.

IMG_1535 (You can see the espresso cup for the doughnuts in the background.)  When he said “deep dish”chocolate chip cookie he wasn’t kidding.  It was also like a molten chocolate lava cake in that it had a hot melted chocolate center that oozed out when you broke into the cookie.  Our waiter was like “You must order this.”  And he was completely right.  I could have forgone the other two desserts and eaten one of these myself without sharing.  Good thing we didn’t do that though, as I already had a hard enough time sleeping stuffed to the brim with the amount of food I did consume.

IMG_1537 Pecan tart…it was fine.  Nothing spesh.

This was definitely the best meal we had of the weekend, and when I woke up Saturday morning planning on meeting two good high school friends, their husbands, and one new baby for brunch, I wasn’t hungry one bit.  But vacation is not about eating only when you are hungry 🙂

IMG_1542

We met them at Siena Tavern, an Italian restaurant from Executive Chef Fabio Viviani from Top Chef (Season 5).  My sister used to work with Fabio when she was on the PR team for the olive oil brand of which he was the face, and she said he does come to the restaurant fairly often.  We were on the look out, but given the super snowy coldness of the weekend, I would have stayed in California too if I were him.

IMG_1547 IMG_1546 IMG_1549 IMG_1552

Mark and I waited at the empty bar with some breakfast cocktails and rose champagne until the rest of our party arrived and we ordered appetizers to share: monkey bread (warm nubbins of chewy bread topped with caramel, hazelnut cream, and chopped hazelnuts) and bomboloni, large light doughnuts that you fill yourself from squeeze bottles of caramel, jam, or pumpkin vanilla cream.

IMG_1554 Me squeezing the pumpkin vanilla cream into the doughnut from the pointed tip of this bottle.  Note the caramel already inserted on the right-hand side.

I ordered the short rib ravioli with porcini mushrooms because, even though I was kinda short ribbed out from the night before, it’s what I had been eyeing on the menu for a few weeks.  They were pretty good; the sauce was delish but the inside of the ravioli was a little dry.  It didn’t matter though because these doughnuts were really the star of the whole breakfast.  That and the wonderful company…I loved meeting my friend’s new baby who was super tiny and cute, and hearing about my other friend’s new job (even though this means I can no longer commiserate with her in the unemployed high school friends club).

After brunch, Mark and I popped into Nordstrom (yay, first Nordstrom visit in months) to buy him a scarf because he can no longer get away with an exposed neck up in these parts.  I would have loved to stay longer but what with the Christmas crowds, it was overwhelming and claustrophobic.  We did make a plan to go (spend the day if I have my way) to the Nordstrom about an hour away in Troy, MI after the holidays though 🙂

We then headed back to the hotel for our afternoon massages.  Conde Nast Traveler has ranked the Spa at the Dana Hotel #34 of the top 75 US Hotel Spas for 2013.  I’m not sure why.  The spa was quiet, clean and the massage itself was good and reasonably priced, but I wasn’t blown away by the ambiance.  There was no sauna, hot/cold plunge pools or other amenities that I would expect in a high end spa, and the waiting/relaxation room was quite small such that multiple people didn’t have seats.  I’ve definitely been to more impressive establishments at The Four Seasons in Baltimore or at the Aria in Vegas (massages in both those places are probably at least 50% more expensive however).  In doing further research, I have now discovered that this was a readers’ poll, and there’s also a Top 100 Resort Spas in the US that is somehow different than hotel spas.  Either way, this was a lovely way to spend the afternoon, and I’m not going to look a gift massage in the mouth.

For dinner, Mark and I had a date night at David Burke’s Primehouse in the James Hotel.  A typical steakhouse known for their dry-aged hefty steaks, I chose the filet instead because I didn’t need that much more red meat in my weekend.  I liked the tan pebble leather tablecloths and the stylized mural on the room’s transom depicting fashionable businessmen and ladies.  I thought it may have been the same artist who did the paintings we saw at Chimney Rock winery in Napa, but in doing some Googling I think it was just an artist with a very similar style of portraiture.

IMG_1566

We headed home early Sunday, and good thing we did, because we hit some lake-effect snow around Kalamazoo and while it wasn’t a white out, the roads were slick and skiddy.

IMG_1574 Chicago burbsIMG_1586 Bridge outta ChicagoIMG_1595 Dramatic electric linesIMG_1617Getting closer to home

To round out our mini-staycation we were so fortunate to get to go to the Ravens-Lions football game on Monday night.  Thanks goodness Ford Field is in a dome because it was faaa-reeezing in Detroit (my first foray to Detroit by the way).  It was a good game (because the Ravens won) that seemed to  be relatively fast-moving even though we only scored field goals the whole time.  Only two things put a damper on a fun evening: 1. Driving home was a snowy mess with barely one lane of semi-visible pavement and 2. Mark wore a BLUE shirt!  OMG that’s the Lions color…so annoying…how could he do this to me? (Just kidding…sort of)

IMG_1640 IMG_1642

What a great weekend full of fun activities and catching up with old friends.  Now it’s time to hunker down at home for the holidays.  Go Ravens!!!