Monday, July 30, 2012

Totchos, Michigans, and Coneys ... A Rambling Shpiel

Totchos??? What in the world is/are "totchos"?!?

I'll tell you: they're nachos made with tater tots! They have no redeeming nutritional value whatsoever - well, there were fresh tomatoes and jalapenos - but boy are they fun to eat!

My BFF Wendy and I went down to the Anchor Bar in Detroit awhile back, for a meeting of the Detroit Drunken Historical Society; they were planning to discuss the War of 1812 and Detroit's critical role in it.  Well, I like history - when presented properly, it offers stories of real people, decisions they face, defining moments in their lives. Sitting and chatting about a 200-year-old war and its logistics, though, wasn't my idea of a good time ... but it was an adventure, so why not try?

Well, it was even more tedious, truth be told, than I'd anticipated. The sweet but scattered woman who introduced the evening was confused about some key dates and locations. The first presenter was a very nice man who'd greeted Wendy and me when we walked in, but he reminded me of an 8th Grade history teacher droning through a lecture. There were a couple of questions and comments from folks who engage in war re-enactments. My mind wandered. These were clearly people more concerned with where to find the beer than with any intellectual pursuits ... emphasis on the "drunken" rather than the "historical."

But then - as always, with me - we come back 'round to the food to liven things up. There were totchos! Who doesn't love tater tots? Who doesn't love nachos? It was inspired to combine them into a crispy, crunchy, cheesy, gooey mess that was utterly irresistible. Perhaps because they were so good, in a trashy kinda way, or perhaps because I was so bored - could be either or both - I couldn't stop eating them. It took a great deal of will power to save enough to make an excellent breakfast for the next morning. I love my savory breakfasts, after all, and leftovers are just about a perfect thing to start my day.

We thankfully got to the last presenter of the evening, a Canadian man who'd been invited to share a different perspective on the war. He had a good sense of humor and a sharp wit; and he spoke with the cute "-oot" accent that my mother and her relatives haven't had for decades, having been in the U.S. for 60 years or so now ... think of the McKenzie Brothers from SCTV!

Somehow - I'm serious, the evening was so excruciating that my mind was off on a nomadic trek, so I really can't tell you how the tangent arose - this man found a way to mention that in Canada a hot dog with tomato sauce is called a "Michigan." What on Earth this had to do with the War of 1812, I can't imagine. But I've never heard of this name for a hot dog despite having lived in this state for more than 30 years, despite living only an hour away from Ontario, despite having distant relatives in Canada ... pique my curiosity, finally, at the end of the show!

So, of course, I immediately came home and started doing some research.

I could find nothing about hot dogs with a tomato sauce, but there was information about those topped with tomato-based sauces that are essentially a loose chili.  These specific chili dogs are eaten in New York City, though they're not as popular as the "dirty water dogs" you buy from street vendors (so named because they sit in the water all day ... possibly more than one day?); those are topped with a schmear of mustard and a pile of sauerkraut, maybe some onions.

But in upstate New York - in the Ontario vicinity, of course - the chili dogs are apparently called "Michigans;" and the sauce was created by a man from Jackson, Michigan. In the Detroit area, we top the hot dogs with chili, mustard, and lots of fresh strong onions. But we don't call them "Michigans" - they're "Coneys." Here's the story that helps to explain some of the history and the permutations:

"Although there are many different varieties of Michigan sauce available today, the original Michigan sauce was created by Mr. George Todoroff in Jackson, Michigan. The sauce was originally created to be used as chile sauce. In 1914, Mr. Todoroff took his recipe to Coney Island in Brooklyn New York and opened his first restaurant.  However, the hot dog hadn’t arrived on the scene when he first opened his restaurant, so he had to wait until 1916 to make his first famous 'Jackson Coney Island' hot dog.

In 1867, Charles Feltman, a German born immigrant, was selling pastry items from a small food cart at Coney Island. To make any money, he needed to sell a lot of food from a small space. His idea was to take a hard roll, steam it and wrap it around a German sausage. At that time, sports cartoonist Tad Dorgan caricatured German figures as Dachshund dogs and eventually coined Feltman’s sandwich a 'Hot Dog'! The hot dog was a big hit and it didn’t take Todoroff long to capitalize on combining the hot dog and his chili sauce.

The name of the Michigan hotdog originally came from Plattsburgh, New York. However, how and when the Michigan Sauce arrived there is somewhat of a mystery."

So, I still don't have all the answers. But at least I ultimately received a history lesson, even if it had nothing to do with the War of 1812!

Anchor Bar
450 West Fort Street
Detroit, MI 48226

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Friday, July 27, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday - Bona Sera Cafe

There are some bad women cookin' in downtown Ypsilanti [ip-sih-LAN-tee], and they're making some really good food.

Bona Sera Cafe - formerly an underground secret supper club, now an above-ground restaurant - has just opened on Michigan Avenue, and you simply must go visit and find out what all the buzz has been about.

Wonder Woman and Bad Fairy, our mischievous but marvelous chefs and hostesses, offer sophisticated and delicious sandwiches, salads, and desserts for lunch and dinner; each is layered with flavors and textures, all working in perfect harmony. They also serve their very own coffee - Bad Ass Woman Brew - blended just for them by Ann Arbor's own Roos Roast. And much of this menu qualifies for our mandatory $5 or less per person budget, so it's a perfect Frugal Floozie Friday feature!

If you look over the menu, you'll see only a small selection of the offerings; chalkboards give daily specials, as well. But in perusing the menu, you will notice that some excellent ingredients - cheeses from Chelsea's Greystone Creamery, porchetta, pistachios, and my beloved fennel - are all featured prominently.

I ordered a small serving of the Crunch Time salad, pictured above, for $4.95 - a tremendous deal for an excellent dish as large as a half-cantaloupe. It features "Shaved fresh fennel, apple and mixed greens, lemon vinaigrette," and was crisp, fresh, and perfectly portioned so that the licorice-y fennel and sweet-tart apple didn't overwhelm the tender greens. The dressing was so ideally coating the vegetables that they shone with its bright flavor but did not drip or get soggy. (Of course, the salad was so fabulous that I hardly gave them much opportunity to soak, either.) And Wonder Woman very graciously offered me a taste of the creamy, salty Sesame Peanut Noodle Salad that Bad Fairy had been making as I chatted at the counter while ordering.

My dinner companions ordered sandwiches: the Porchetta Banh Mi, with Italian pork roast and a fennel-apple slaw, and a Chicken Banh Mi showcasing not just the poultry but also a zesty but not too hot sriracha mayonnaise.  (The latter is pictured here, though they look remarkably alike in my photos; thus, no need to show both.)  The traditional buns were so tender and flavorful, even with all those other ingredients attempting to show them up.

The banh mi were both served with a delicate, finely shredded cole slaw in a very light - not creamy, not vinegary - dressing.  And they were quickly devoured - I wasn't even given a taste of the former!  The latter was great, with tender strips of chicken and a wonderful mix of greens, carrots and cilantro, rather than merely some shreds of iceberg lettuce and a slice of tomato.

The Banh Mi cost $6.95, putting them over our budget for one person; but they're large enough to split, and then you'll have a spare $1.50 in your budget for tea or lemonade.

But, truth be told, you'll actually want to allow room both in your stomach and in your budget for dessert.

Because your half-sandwich will cost $3.50-ish, that will leave $1.50 for a scoop of gelato - we tried both the raspberry, which was lovely, and the salted caramel. As I posted on Facebook after my dinner at Bona Sera, if the salted caramel gelato was my last dessert on this Earth, I could die "blissfully happy in a giddy reverie." It was buttery, salty, and like liquid gold as it melted on my tongue. I've been craving it since I left, and promised Wonder Woman I'd be back for more. Even a 2-scoop serving is within our frugal limits!

Bona Sera is not just dedicated to serving good food, but also to doing good work. In April the Ann Arbor Awesome Foundation, a local micro-philanthropic group, gave Wonder Woman and Bad Fairy a grant of $1000 to help get the new cafe established. In presenting the prize, trustees noted that the secret supper club has "raised over $20,000 for area nonprofits" - including one of my personal favorites, SOS Community Services which serves the homeless - "by hosting clandestine dinner parties in secret locations across Southeast Michigan."

The new restaurant "will not only create jobs in Ypsilanti, and draw more people downtown, but allow the organization to continue its charitable work as well." And Bad Fairy says that their new kitchen "will also be available to other local food industry start-ups for affordable rates as a way of encouraging and supporting other entrepreneurs.”

Rather than being a standard restaurant with just a sea of tables or a stereotypical coffee shop with overstuffed chairs, Bona Sera ofers a mix of seating with a uniquely quirky decor that is spacious and welcoming. My friend Ruth Kraut noted "how beautiful the space is.  So peaceful!"  And I will admit to coveting the sofas, too, in addition to another serving of the salted caramel gelato.

So head on down to Bona Sera, and see what Bad Fairy and Wonder Woman are making. There's even a mannequin in the window who carries a sign advertising new dishes. Go for the food, go for the whimsy ... whatever your reason, just go!

Bona Sera Cafe
200 W. Michigan Ave.
Ypsilanti, MI 48197
Tuesdays - Saturdays: 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Thai-Style Peanut Cole Slaw

Each Friday evening, I try to stop by and visit with my friends at the Dixboro Farmers' Market. I schmooze, I shop ... it's a good way to end the week.

I bought some baked cinnamon honey almonds from Nana's Nuts, which donates some of the profits from sales to the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital at the University of Michigan to help provide some fun and diversion for sick kids. I bought a beautiful loaf of sourdough rye bread - complete with caraway, which makes it an authentic rye (to my mind, and to that of Jeremiah, the baker) - from The Mother Loaf, which specializes in "naturally leavened breads made with locally sourced, organic ingredients." And I bought some healthy fruit-based snack bars from Motor City Munchies, which are "organic, local, gluten free, raw, vegan" ... and delicious.

I'd been craving cole slaw, so I made sure to buy a cabbage from Ferris Farms, which always has such lovely vegetables (kale, potatoes, carrots, lettuces). But I wasn't in the mood for either a creamy cole slaw or a tart, vinegar-based one; I specifically wanted one with a peanutty Thai influence.

So, that's what I made. And it was so, so good! This was just an inspired concoction, and it turned out perfectly on the first try ... what serendipity ... :)

Thai-Style Peanut Cole Slaw

1 small head cabbage, cored, quartered, sliced
1/2 small red onion, sliced thin
1/8 cup chopped fresh basil
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
generous pinch of kosher salt
generous pinch of freshly ground black pepper
generous pinch of red pepper flakes
1/3 cup dry roasted peanuts, chopped

2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon teriyaki sauce
3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter

Combine all of the salad ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

Combine the vinegar, oils, and teriyaki sauce in a small bowl; whisk in the peanut butter until the dressing is smooth, then pour over the vegetables. Stir to combine, then let cole slaw rest for 30 minutes before serving.

Serves 4.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Trivet of Truth

Well, it's almost Wordless Wednesday!

My schedule was changed up a bit (now posting there on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays); but if I just switched Wednesdays and Thursdays between and Food Floozie there'd be too big a gap between posts here, with a huge hole between Monday and Thursday ... can't have that!

So, now I'll post here on Mondays, Wordless Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Frugal Floozie Fridays.  And if you get confused, we'll all be confused together ... :)  As always, click on the box to the right of this post to find recipes from my friends and me ....

Monday, July 23, 2012

The "Beautiful Day" Brownies

I baked a batch of brownies that my BFF Wendy and I will bring with us today when we go to visit her daughter, Julia. We always buy a present for her, too, when we go to the Ann Arbor Art Fair each July, usually a sparkling blue gizmo of some sort; the color matches Julia's eyes, and what child (of any age!) wouldn't love a new toy or trinket? We'll bring that with us, along with the treats.

After work, Wendy and I will meet up and then spend the evening with Julia. We ask her questions, we tell her stories, we give her updates on how things have been. There is always some laughter, there are some serious moments, occasional tears ... the full range, as it should be among loved ones when they get together.

Wendy had told me she'd be "most honored" if I wrote about Julia, so let me tell you a bit about this very special girl.

Julia was born on December 27, 1997, a perfect 10-pound baby. Soon she started doing an unusual thing with her thumbs: she would fold them in, as though she were holding up four fingers, and if you tried to pry her thumb up it would snap right back into the preferred position. It seemed like a cute quirk.

Then Julia would cry seemingly endlessly, inconsolably. She was stiff, and she had difficulty eating. The pediatrician dismissed it as colic, as perhaps food intolerances, as something benign and insignificant, but Wendy knew better ... mothers always do. She searched and searched, until she found the answer to what might be happening to her child. She wanted an answer, even a frightening one; at least then she'd know what enemy she was fighting and could chart a plan of attack.

It turns out that Julia had Krabbe's [krah-BAYZ] Disease, a genetic disorder that destroys myelin - the protective covering of the nervous system - because of insufficient quantities of a simple enzyme. Krabbe's steals the ability to swallow, to see, to regulate internal temperature, to move; and it is excruciating. Julia's folding in of her thumbs was actually the very first notable, visible symptom.

That summer, Wendy took Julia down to Duke University for a cord blood transplant - the only known treatment for Krabbe's, and a terribly dangerous and risky one; it was still fairly experimental in 1998, and is most effective before a child develops symptoms. They spent months in isolation, away from Julia's father and Wendy's two older children, Alison and Cam, who all stayed here in Michigan. There was chemotherapy. There was a seemingly anticlimactic i.v. hooked up to provide potentially life-saving stem cells, which dripped into Julia's blood stream with such anticipation and so many prayers. There were complications, truly near-death emergencies. Julia spent her first Christmas and her first birthday in the hospital, unable to come home because her health was too precarious.

But then Julia and Wendy came home, sort of. They spent more months at The University of Michigan Health System, but at least they were back in Ann Arbor with family and friends for support. Julia started to stabilize, Wendy practically earned a medical degree as she learned how to care for her daughter, and then finally they were able to really go home ... with a ventilator, with tubes and wires and meds, with nursing care, and with hope.

There continued to be crises and problems, but the transplant seemed to have arrested the disease's damage. Julia was able to go on adventures to Alison's and to Cam's soccer games. She would go to school with Wendy, who was teaching in a Montessori program at the time. She went on road trips to visit family in New York. Sure, 100 pounds of medical gear and a specially-designed stroller came along too. But Julia was not denied any experience if there was a way for her to be a part of it.

Julia may have lost many of her abilities, but her hearing was still very keen. Wendy played music for her constantly, all varieties. And if a familiar person came in, Julia would immediately turn her head and say "hello" by moving her lips a bit and blowing kisses. Spiritual people, those who seem to have a far greater sense of other realms than Wendy and I do (we joke about being obtuse and clueless!), inevitably told of Julia's radiance, saying that she had progressed far beyond many other souls. She had both learned and taught lessons, and she had nearly completed her journey.

At the park with Wendy on a beautiful day - and while listening to U2's "Beautiful Day" - suddenly, unexpectedly, Julia died. At the funeral, Wendy noted that Julia had never uttered a word, never held a crayon, never taken one step; but she had survived when so many others with that hideous disease hadn't. She had fought for every moment. She had lived.

But it was time to move on.

Julia was 7-and-a-half ... please don't forget the half. Those halves are very important to children, and to mothers who no longer get to count years.

So Wendy and I will go to visit Julia tonight, as we do so often in the course of our lives, because today is the anniversary of her death - her yahrzeit [YAHRT-zite], in Hebrew. Other girlfriends drink Cosmos at happy hour, Wendy and I go to the cemetery to commune with Julia. She's our guardian angel, our intercessor, a source of comfort and wisdom even when we're too mired in the concerns of this world or consumed with our own daily needs to fully understand what she's trying to teach us, where she's trying to lead us. We visit because Julia is still with us, even if Wendy can't hold her or kiss her anymore.

I can't fix the errant DNA that causes the destruction of the nervous system in children with Krabbe's Disease. I can't take away the memories of Julia's treatments, life-sustaining machines, or pain. I can't bring back the smile that was lost when Julia was still a baby ... who could have known, when seeing it one day, that it would be the last one? I can't take away the sight, seared into my cherished friend's soul, of her little girl in a blue dress lying in a casket.

But when Julia died, I asked what I could do ... what could anyone possibly do??? Wendy asked me to bake brownies; she intended to eat the entire batch herself, knowing full well that it wouldn't bring comfort but still seeking comfort where she could. I obliged. It was all I could do.

And so, I do it every year now.  The brownies are an integral part of our tradition.

Whatever shiny, sparkly toy that Wendy and I have found at the art fair will be hung on the shepherd's hook that stands over Julia's grave, which holds a wide variety of mementos. Others might think it's a tad morbid to seek solace at a child's resting place and to decorate it festively, but this is a place of peace and beauty and, surprisingly, of comfort.

Julia never tasted a brownie, as it would have posed a choking hazard or been aspirated. So when we visit her today, Wendy and I will eat her share for her ... we're helpful that way. And we will inevitably go home inspired - an odd reaction to contemplate if you haven't experienced it, I know.

But Wendy and I always benefit from visiting with Julia. Her "heart is a bloom" which "shoots up through the stony ground" ... the perfect description, which U2 sang to Julia on her last beautiful day.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday - The Village Pub

Today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature - The Village Pub - is a boon to a hearty eater on a tight budget. Not only does it already offer very reasonable prices for generous portions of food; but my family and I found out completely serendipitously that on Sundays all appetizers - precisely what we'd ordered, without realizing there were any special circumstances - are half-price for the entire day.

So when Jeremy ordered the Loaded Fries at $4.99 for an entire plateful, we thought he was just squeaking in under our mandatory budget of $5 per person or less. Little did we know that this large serving (which he couldn't even finish, thus providing me with leftovers for an excellent breakfast the next morning) would ultimately cost only $2.50.

The chili had just the right amount of spice to it - not bland, not hot - and the fries that weren't buried were perfectly crisp on the outside and tender in the center. The potatoes weren't just an afterthought, a mere vehicle for the topping; they were excellent on their own.

Stuart and I split the Pile High Nachos, pictured above, which were laden with cheese sauce, spiced beef, onions and tomatoes; the dish is served with sour cream and a fresh salsa. These normally cost $7.99 ($4 on Sundays) and were a lot of food even for two good eaters. Both the nachos and the fries can be ordered either with shredded cheese or with the meltingly gooey sauce.

We received great friendly service, even though the bartender was manning the fort by himself and handling both bar and dining patrons. The space is sophisticated, featuring some lovely art work; it's not just a standard sports-watching venue, even though a multitude of televisions lines the walls so that junkies can get their fix of baseball, soccer, NASCAR, dodgeball, or anything else that's being played.

Cottage Inn pizza is available, and there are substantial sandwiches to halve - steak or chicken Philly, New York Reuben, grilled salmon, or chicken bruschetta - ranging in price from $7.99-$8.99. There are a number of appetizers to choose from, and they're perfect for sharing with family and friends. For $7.99, you can split Village Wings, a chicken and vegetable quesadilla, or chicken tenders; for $8.99, you can share Big Bang Shrimp or calamari. And remember, on Sundays these starters are all half-price.

Perfectly located along Washtenaw, the Pub is across the street from Arborland Mall, ready to feed hungry shoppers.  It's convenient for those travelling between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, those exiting off US-23 ... really, it's all about location, location, location.  And great food at that location!

The Village Pub
3452 Washtenaw Ave.
Ann Arbor, MI 48104

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Chicago, Chicago

I took a mini vacation recently to Chicago, and had the most wonderful time!  Food, fun, friends ... it was fabulous!

Initially, my plan was to attend the exceptional and extraordinary exhibit of Roy Lichtenstein's work at The Art Institute of Chicago.  However, that morphed into a plan to finally meet my blogging buddy (so woefully inadequate a term!) Leanne, of From Chaos Comes Happiness, so that we could tour the retrospective together.  Leanne is both an artist and a beautiful, kind soul; she was the perfect person to attend this event with.

Sometimes you just know that you've found a cherished friend, even if you've never met her.  Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett fell in love via letters, after all.  Words have meaning, and Leanne's sincerity, empathy, and heart pour through in hers.  Her sister-in-law noted that our cyber-"relationship" and long-sought meeting reminded her of finding a new boyfriend on a dating site!  But we knew that we were already friends, rather than merely hopeful that we'd like each other.  Sometimes you just know ....

Leanne came running down the stairs of the Art Institute as I ran up them  - we had agreed, in a fashion similar to meeting at the Empire State Building in "An Affair to Remember," to meet at the south lion out front - and we squealed and hugged and smiled and laughed ... oh, it was so wonderful to finally really see her smile, the shine in her eyes, her joy!  We wandered in to the museum and were off on our adventure.

I have to truly say that the Lichtenstein retrospective is amazing!  Oh, the breadth and depth of it, from the earliest work to ones completed shortly before his death; from sculptures to the well-known comic strip paintings; and from homages to predecessors like Monet and Picasso to Asian-inspired landscapes.  Leanne and I kept leaning in to the pictures, studying and analyzing the color schemes, the famous screened dots ... until we were chastised a couple of times by the security guards for getting too close and for - gasp! - pointing.  We weren't just admiring, but really wanted to understand the process and the technique, as well.  We must have been cute, though, 'cause the guards let us off with just lighthearted warnings.

There were readily accessible pictures, like one of a hot dog and another of those ubiquitous black-and-white composition books we all had in school.  Part of the philosophy of Pop Art, of course, is to represent and transform everyday objects, as well as to elevate the graphic arts that we simply take for granted because they surround us in commercial venues and on marketable products.

But then there were more serious pieces, like my new favorite picture, "Ohhh ... Alright ...".  Which of us hasn't uttered those two words with deflation ... with resignation ... with frustration ... with sadness ... with exasperation ... with disappointment?  I took this fellow redhead into my heart, and Leanne and I called her "our girl" - someone we both could so easily relate to, a friend we wanted to console - for the rest of the afternoon.  It is a hallmark of the power of the artist that his image - distilled and deconstructed - could elicit such a response despite its seeming simplicity and deceptively cartoonish style.

We then toured the gift shop seeking presents and souvenirs, mementos of our afternoon immersed in art and in heartfelt conversation about dreams, loves both current and lost, dancing, hopes, fears, and family.  A magnet for my refrigerator - which I now look at each day, prompting memories and a smile - a postcard to frame.  And then there was not only a room devoted to books, but two of those books were calling my name loudly: Midwest Sweet Baking History: Delectable Classics Around Lake Michigan and Food Lovers' Guide to Chicago: Best Local Specialties, Markets, Recipes, Restaurants & Events ... sigh.  Temptation as I read, longing to cook and bake and eat!

Leanne's husband, Phil, had very sweetly made a dinner reservation for us all at the Park Grill, right near the Art Institute; he was going to bring their daughters, Katie and Ella, into the city for the afternoon and then we'd all meet up for our evening meal.  I'd hoped to be able to meet those dearest to Leanne, but I was only going to be in town until Sunday at noon; so this was a perfect plan!

Phil is a sweetheart, happily wound 'round the pinky fingers of all three of his "girls;" some men are just born to be the daddys of daughters, and Phil is absolutely one of those true gems.  Katie and Ella are gorgeous and sweet, polite and kind.  But still, even though you have faith that they'll behave beautifully in such a grown-up setting, be sweet to each other rather than bickering as siblings can often do (particularly after a long day in the heat), and be gracious hostesses to an out-of-town visitor, it was still so charming and wonderful to see them actually be those fabulous girls.

Dinner ... oh, my word, dinner was extraordinary!  And not just because of the very fine company, but also because it was sublime and succulent.

I am the least decisive person on Earth when it comes to food, as Leanne can now attest to herself having seen me in (in)action!  For starters - a salad? calamari? soup?  As an entree - Alaskan salmon? A Kobe beef burger?  And sides - sides!  Oh, too many choices!  It would be so easy if I were a picky eater and might only like one very simple, benign item.  But everything sounded wonderful!  Too much temptation!

Because I have that combined Catholic-Jewish guilt complex - a powerful entity if ever there were one - I finally forced myself to pick the melon salad and avoid making the waiter come back yet again.  This selection was light and bright and crunchy and sweet and salty ... every taste and texture working in perfect unison in each bite.  There were three types of melon, lightly toasted pine nuts, crumbled feta cheese, and a creamy cilantro dressing that added a lovely zest in contrast to the delicate fruit.

Leanne and Phil both ordered the roasted beet salad with goat cheese and pistachios, which Leanne generously let me taste in all its tender, sweet, gorgeous glory.  Leanne also let me try a bit of her creamy risotto, which featured springtime vegetables and was perfectly cooked; it had just the tiniest hint of an "al dente" firmness in the center of each grain of rice, a testament to great skill and patience in the kitchen.

Then I chose the bone-in pork chop, which the waiter had recommended with great praise.  It was tender and juicy and utter perfection, enhanced by fingerling potatoes and by a kale-bacon-mustard saute that offered both color and an ideal complement to the chop - a variation on the theme of "pork" that seconded the motion rather than competing with it.  (And I want to thank Leanne and Phil again for their very sweet gesture of taking me out to dinner, including me in their family and not letting me contribute anything to this cause.)

We didn't order dessert at the restaurant, as we were on a mission afterwards: Intelligentsia, an immersion in all that is perfect in a cup of coffee.

They take their coffee very seriously at Intelligentsia, offering classes and instruction, French presses, pour overs, finely-honed equipment, extraordinarily well-selected beans ... everything you could need for a perfect cup of coffee whether it's enjoyed at the shop, taken to go, or brewed at home.

Ella ordered an apple juice, though she tasted others' drinks; Katie was in her glory sampling decaf and a vanilla latte.  I chose a simple decaf, as I am a chronic insomniac and hardly needed anything more stimulating - or, rather, more stimulating than the excitement of visiting happily with friends! - to further impede my already limited ability to sleep.

But alas, young girls need to find their way home after an adventure in the city.  And old ones, like me, needed to get back to real life.  My new family - truly, they all made me feel so loved and welcomed and included! - walked me to my hotel, where there were hugs and kisses, smiles and teary eyes, lots of love and many promises to visit Ann Arbor and to come back again to Chicago.  It's my kind of town, after all!  With people who welcome you to their city, and also into their hearts ....

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Scaling Back a Bit

The busy season looms.

Working in the Jewish community means preparing for four major holidays within a 3-week period: Rosh Hashanah on September 16, Yom Kippur on September 25, Sukkot on September 30, and Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah from October 7-9.  New terms for the Religious School and Adult Hebrew classes begin after Labor Day.  There will be long hours filling soon-to-be 6-day work weeks.  Other people go on summer vacation, I work more.

In addition to this, I have an important project - writing an article about Jewish radio/t.v. character Molly Goldberg and "her" cookbook - to finish by August 1 for Repast, the newsletter of The Culinary Historians of Ann Arbor.

On August 8, my article about holiday foods for Rosh Hashanah and breaking the fast at Yom Kippur will be due to the Washtenaw Jewish News. I'm going to write about Southern food - all the rage right now - and how its sweet traditions can help to usher in a happy new year. It makes me hungry just to think about it.

I've begun working as the "Culinary Concierge" with entre-SLAM, the group sponsoring storytelling and networking events for entrepreneurs who want to go schmoozing, noshing, and kibbitzing.  My role entails inviting local food establishments to help sponsor the slams and provide tasty tidbits for guests to sample.  I meet wonderful people, I hear great stories, I eat ... it's all good, but it takes time.  (And if you know of a shop, cook, restaurant, market, someone who might like to sponsor a table on July 25, please let me know!)

And all of this is in addition to maybe spending some time with Jeremy ... those moments when band practice isn't more enticing than Mom, anyway.  This is in addition to cooking, baking, and writing to keep both my column at and my blog happy and well fed.  This is in addition to interviewing interesting people in the food industry, so I can introduce you to folks who have gourmet food shops or who rent commercial kitchen space to small-scale food producers, folks who do kosher catering or who work at a farmer's market.

So I'm changing up my schedule a bit: I'll be posting here on Food Floozie on Mondays, Wednesdays and, of course, on Frugal Floozie Fridays.  I'll be posting on's Food and Grocery page on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays; it's easy to get to - just click on the box to the right of this post.  This should ideally help to free up a bit of my time, rather than posting on each site 5 days-per-week, while still allowing me to stay in touch with all my readers, followers, friends, and extended family in the cyberworld.  And each site is different, so this gives everyone a reason to check out both of them.

If I get a bit behind on reading your blogs, I'll apologize right now for my neglect; it doesn't mean I love you any less, it just means I'm trying to grab some dinner or take a nap.  Maybe I'm stirring some cookie dough or typing out just the key phrase to complete a post.  I will do my very best to keep up - that's part of why I'm scaling back a bit, after all: precisely so I don't lose a grasp on everything and everyone that matters to me by drowning in stress and deadlines and chaos.  Trying to meet too many responsibilities and commitments, and caring for others whose needs seemed greater than mine, nearly took me down last year ... I can't have a repeat performance of that.  Yes, circumstances were different (as long-time followers know).  But I can't take a chance.

The new schedule is starting this week; I just wanted to stop by today, even though it violates the new terms, rather than making yesterday's post way too long by explaining everything.  Go to when you're done reading this to find a really lovely recipe for Blueberry Ricotta Pancakes that are moist and light and just fabulous.

I'm hoping to go back to my regular Monday-through-Friday schedule in October, after the Jewish holiday season has ended and the secular/Christian holiday season is about to begin.  There will be Hallowe'en treats, Thanksgiving pies, and the annual holiday cookie baking fest to write about, after all!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Minette's Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat

Let the countdown begin!

No, we're not counting down 'til the Ann Arbor Art Fair.  Nope, not 'til the students return in the fall, and not even 'til the end of the Mayan calendar.  Uh uh.  But a festive occasion deserving of celebration is coming in 30 days, on August 15, 2012:

Julia Child's 100th birthday!

Julia Child was devoted to an appreciation of good food in an age when convenience items were all the rage.  She taught that cooking could be fun and even easy - yes, easy, although she was noted for complicated and lengthy recipes - because she provided such explicit instructions and sincere encouragement both in her cookbooks and in her visual demonstrations on television shows.  (And remember, this was decades before Emeril Lagasse said that cooking is "not rocket science" on a network that would not exist without Julia's having blazed the food t.v. trail).

Despite not having taken cooking seriously until she attended culinary school in her mid-30s, Julia became an exceptionally accomplished cook and instructor.  She showed us that we, too, could grow up to be anyone we chose to be, at whatever age we decided what that might be.

And so, the festivities in honor of this amazing and beloved woman - she who made such an impact upon us all - have been, and will be, numerous and varied.  But one tribute is particularly lovely.

A charming new children's book Minette's Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat, by award-winning author Susanna Reich - has recently been published, telling the story of Julia, her husband Paul, and "perhaps the luckiest cat in all of Paris" who lived with the couple. The book has been beautifully illustrated by Amy Bates, and shows clearly the love shared by Julia and Paul (a famous romance!), the beauty of Paris and the quaintness of its cafes and shops, and especially the grace and uniquely fluid movements of cats.

Minette Mimosa McWilliams Child was "a mischievous, energetic poussiequette with a lovely speckled coat" who enjoyed chasing birds and mice while "Julia spent mornings at the marketplace, buying meat from le boucher, bread from le boulanger, milk and cheese from la cremiere, and cake from le patissier."  As Julia develops a love for French food and begins to take cooking classes at Le Cordon Bleu, Minette still seems to prefer her own catches to the exceptional cuisine offered in the household.  The books asks: "Will Julia ever be able to whip up a meal that will entice Minette?"

It is great fun to follow along as Julia cooks and Minette hunts.  And the book even includes quotes taken directly from some of Julia's own letters, making her that much more real and human rather than the icon that we're all so familiar with.

Julia Child invited all of us into her kitchen, and we subsequently invited her into our hearts.  Please join me in celebrating her ... and Minette!  Truly, you will love this very sweet story.

(Note: I was sent a review copy of the book.  And as a fan of Julia's, of cats, of France, and of food, I couldn't help but smile as I read it.)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday - Cafe Ambrosia

On one of our recent wretchedly hot days, I stopped by Cafe Ambrosia for an iced tea to take with me as I continued on my afternoon of appointments and errands.  Just as I was walking up to the door, a very nice gentleman passed by and told me, "They make great coffee there."  He smiled as he walked away.  Unfortunately, the temperature was hovering 'round 100 and I don't like iced coffee, so I'll have to take this suggestion some time when it's merely summery rather than sweltering.  But it was sweet of him to make the recommendation.

Once I found myself in the blissfully cool shop, I found that not only was the iced tea properly brewed (rather than the instant "tea" that is often served in restaurants), but I was also able to stay within my mandatory $5 budget and buy an utterly decadent chocolate-almond croissant to go with my drink. Sugar and chocolate are good, even when it's hot out. Thus, Cafe Ambrosia meets all the criteria to be today's Frugal Floozie Friday feature!

When I do go back for that cup of great coffee, I'll happily be able to splurge on another treat to go with it  and still not have to spend a fortune; coffees - from a basic house cup to specialty drinks - range in price from $1.25 to $4.50.  Chai and cocoa are also available within the same price range.

Baked goods are provided by the Pastry Peddler Bakery and are lovingly made by Kathryn Loy, a graduate of the French Pastry School in Chicago. My flaky, crumbly, perfect croissant - authentically made in the French manner with sticks of chocolate rather than chips - cost a mere $3.25, an extraordinary price for such an exceptional item.  Palmiers and oatmeal raisin cookies cost only a $1 each; and other sweet treats - from pecan sticky buns to almond croissants - are less than $4.

So whether you're looking for a hot drink or a cold one, be sure to stop by Cafe Ambrosia to find what you need.  And don't pass up the pastries ... they are utterly sublime!

Cafe Ambrosia
326 Maynard
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
Monday - Thursday: 7:30 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Friday: 7:30 p.m. - 9 p.m.
Saturday: 8 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Sunday: 11 a.m. - 8 p.m.

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Cafe Ambrosia on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Hungarian Pepper Stew

In anticipation of the class I'll be attending at Zingerman's Bakehouse on Saturday - "A Taste of Hungary with Amy and Frank" - in which I'll be learning all about the country's little-known cuisine (and tasting lots of treats!), I prepared a dish that Zingerman's co-founder Ari Weinzweig described enticingly in the May-June issue of Zing-Dish, the company newsletter.

Lecsó [LEH-tchoh] is a pepper and onion stew that showcases vegetables, which are integral to Hungarian cooking.  As Ari writes, famed restaurateur, cookbook author, and expert on Hungarian cuisine, George Lang, stated that "In Hungary, vegetables are not just 'cooked,' they are 'prepared' ....  (And lecsó is) one of the most ingeniously used vegetable dishes in the Hungarian kitchen."

Ari discusses different versions of this classic that he tasted while travelling in Hungary, stating that there are variations in the degree of spice and heat used, and that some people stir an egg into the stew once it's finished.  He continues by telling that the dish doesn't necessarily require bacon, "but of course ... then it won't have any bacon in it."  And as a girl who giddily swooned over swine at Baconfest Michigan, I would clearly vote in favor of bacon!

A description of the procedure for making lecsó is given, but no specific recipe; so I concocted my own version while following the general directions.  The dish turned out to be fragrant, colorful, easy to make, and fabulously flavorful; prepare it with gorgeous summer vegetables, and make it your own.  With or without the bacon, with or without egg or sour cream, with or without spicy heat, you should definitely give it a try.

Hungarian Pepper Stew)

4 strips bacon, cut into 1" pieces
1 medium onion, halved, cut into medium slices, slices separated
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
2 red peppers, seeded, halved vertically, cut into 1/2" strips
1 yellow pepper, seeded, halved vertically, cut into 1/2" strips
1 long yellow Hungarian pepper, seeded, quartered, cut into 1/2" strips
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
sour cream, for serving

In a large saucepan, cook the bacon over medium-low heat for 5 minutes until browning but not crisp.  Add onion and half of the salt; cook on low for 5 minutes, until the onion is softened.

Add the peppers and the rest of the salt; cover and cook for 15 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, red pepper flakes, and both varieties of paprika; cover and cook for 15 more minutes.

Add a splash of water if the vegetables have no liquid; this dish should "have the texture of a vegetable stew," according to Ari.

Serves 2 generously as a stew.  Serves 4 as an entree over rice, noodles, or polenta.  Serves 6-8 as a side dish.

Serve with sour cream, which can be stirred into the lecsó if desired.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Sunshine Award

After a drought in which I'd truly forgotten that blog awards were handed out - which lets people walk the red carpet and wear their Harry Winston jewels in cyberspace - here I've been given a second award in a two-week span!  This is the Sunshine Award, and comes from my dear friend Judee of the Gluten Free A-Z Blog, who offers great recipes and fabulously creative ideas I would never think of.  Go say "hi!"

The way the award works is this:

Thank the person who gave you the award and link back to them.

Thanks so much, Judee!  I'm so flattered that you shared this with me ... :)

Answer questions about yourself.

1. Favorite color: Oh, I think everyone already knows the answer to this one - pink!

2. Favorite animal: I love anything cute and fluffy and funny-faced, so this is hard.  Jeremy is convinced that one day I will be a crazy cat lady (as opposed to my current status of simply crazy lady!), so maybe I'll go with that.

3. Favorite number: 3 - Three chances.  Three strikes.  Three ghosts offering redemption in the story of Scrooge.  Third time's the charm.

4. Favorite drink: Coffee. Milkshakes. Cocoa with lots of whipped cream and maybe a drizzle of caramel on top. Rum and Cherry Coke. Grasshoppers. Truth be told, I drink water almost exclusively - an occasional iced tea or soda or juice, but mostly water. It's boring, and it's not my favorite. The others would vie for the #1 spot, depending upon time of day and weather and whatnot.

5. Facebook or Twitter: Facebook.  Most of the time, I forget I even have a Twitter account. When I do think to check it, I find there's too much information, too abbreviated, too fast, too much.  Twitter has surged ahead, though, recently because  Pizzeria Biga retweeted my post about it: "A special THANK YOU to 'Yenta Mary' for a super cool Pizzeria Biga eview-review in her super cool blog."  And then I swooned when the head chef, creative force, and Beard Award-semifinalist himself -  Luciano Del Signore - sent this: "Thanks for the review.  Hope you enjoyed your Biga experience.  Grazie mille!"

6. Good book or a good movie: I don't have much time to read for pleasure any more, but I'd rather read than sit and stare at a screen.  (I do enough of that with my computer, though that's at least productive time!)  I used to love movies, but have somehow evolved away from them.  I see maybe two movies in a year, and often don't even bother with that.  It's got to be highly enticing to lure me.

7. My passion: Anything Italian - the food (of course!), the language, the art, the shoes (yeah, like I can afford 'em).  You thought I was going to say "cooking and eating," right???  Well, those are pretty far up the totem pole, I admit.  As is Jewish food.  But if I can only pick one, at this moment it would have to be my Italian fixation.

8. Giving or getting presents: I love finding the right gift for someone - something that's perfect for them, but clearly indicative of having come from me.  Like giving a native Detroiter a t-shirt with an outline of the skyline and pictures of cars, but with the word "Detroit" spelled out in Hebrew letters ... who else could that be for?  Who else would that have come from???

9. Favorite day of the year: Erev Rosh Hashanah [EH-rehv RAHSH hah-SHAH-nah], the first night of the Jewish new year.  (And remember, Jewish days begin at sunset; so this is the very beginning moment of the very beginning of the new year.)  I work in the Jewish community, so summer is our busiest, most hectic season as we prepare for the fall holidays (4 major ones within 3 weeks) and a new school year; longer hours, 6-day weeks, lots of stress.  I always take a few moments before leaving work that day to look at the sanctuary in its last seconds of peace before the crowds come, and contemplate the past year and my hopes for the new one.  Then I go home and put on a new dress (this past year, it was one made of beautiful royal blue lace), put on sparkly jewelry, and join with loved ones for a service welcoming another year, another chance.  And it's followed by a reception serving apples and honey, rum balls, cakes, and other goodies to help usher in a sweet year.  I always go home happy.

Select 10 of your favorite bloggers, link their blogs to your post and let them know they have been awarded the Sunshine Award!

1. Alisa at The Meat and Potatoes Foodie

2. Andrea at Andrea the Kitchen Witch

3. Candace at Mi Chiamo Candace

4. Carla at The River

5. Jean  at Delightful Repast

6. Karen at I Made It Through the Rain

7. Leanne at From Chaos Comes Happiness

8. Lisa at Sweet as Sugar Cookies

9. Mrs. B at Go Ahead ... Take a Bite!

10. Robin at Your Daily Dose

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Bowtie Pasta with Olives

Pasta is one of the great foods in the universe, because it can be served in so many, many ways.  Some dishes are very complicated, but others are blissfully simple.

I had bought some olives to serve with salami and cheese as an antipasto, and thought they might be a nice addition to an easy dinner one evening.  The mixed olives - Kalamatas as well as herb-marinated green ones - offered both flavor and color.  A little garlic, a pinch of red pepper flakes for zest, and the meal was served.

How perfect for a delicious dinner on a gorgeous summer evening!

Bowtie Pasta with Olives

1 12-ounce box bowtie pasta
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large garlic clove, minced
generous pinch of red pepper flakes
6 ounces mixed pitted olives, chopped
parmesan, for serving

Prepare pasta according to directions.

In a small saucepan, heat oil over medium heat.  Add garlic and red pepper flakes; cook for 1 minute.  Add olives, and cook for 2 minutes.

Drain pasta and toss with olives and oil.  Sprinkle with parmesan (or leave the cheese off to make it vegan).

Serves 4.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Pizzeria Biga

Pizzeria Biga opened its second location in April, in Royal Oak (a suburb of Detroit, for my non-Michigan friends); so my BFF Wendy and I made a point of stopping by while we were in the area recently, as this was on the extended Fairy Mary's Food Fantasies "to do" list.

Now, I know you're asking, "Why is a pizza place 40 minutes away from Ann Arbor so important ...?"  Well, let me tell you: because Pizzeria Biga is not just any ol' pizza joint.  Chef and owner Luciano Del Signore was a 2012 semi-finalist for the coveted James Beard Foundation's award for Best Chef: Great Lakes due to the exceptional cuisine he offers at Bacco Ristorante.  Needless to say, then, that if he is the creative force behind even a seemingly simple pizzeria, it's gotta be one fantastic pizzeria!

The restaurant is chic and sophisticated, yet simultaneously warm and unpretentious; it's the sort of place that is at once trendy and hip while being welcoming and comfortable.  You could feel free to loiter over pizza, dessert, coffee, and drinks for an entire evening without feeling as though you were imposing.  Although the dining room was bright and airy, we asked to sit outside because the weather was absolutely stellar on the evening we visited; this let us watch the sun set over the patio as the city lit up and its night owls started to come to life in a flurry of activity.

"Biga," as the menu explains, "is the natural fermentation in our pizza dough" which offers the "distinctive tang of a sourdough."  All of the other ingredients used by Pizzeria Biga are as well chosen and integral to the final product, whether locally sourced or imported from Italy.

Because Wendy has been eating a vegan diet in order to remedy some screwy bloodwork results, we were tickled to see that we would not need to place any special orders and she would not need to compromise (as she's willing to do for special events) her dietary needs.  The Aglio e Olio [AHL-yoh eh OHL-yoh] pizza - featuring garlic and oil, respectively, in the pizza's title, as well as roasted tomato, asparagus, olives, and artichoke hearts - was vegan.

And it was fabulous!

I'm sorry that the picture doesn't do the pizza justice, but there were no candles on the tables and no festive hanging lights where Wendy and I sat; therefore, I could show a photo that's nearly black or a photo with artificial light.  'Tis better to see with a flash than not to see at all.

But the pizza ... back to the pizza!

The crust was crisp and chewy, and also slightly charred - this is not the result of its being burnt by inattentive staff, but is the result of being baked in a 900-degree wood-burning oven.  Rather than this being a mistake, it is indicative of the pizza being authentically "Neapolitano" [nay-ah-pohl-ee-TAH-noh].

Although a simple mix of vegetables topped our pizza and there was no cheese, there was truly an astounding array of flavors.  Each item had been portioned into 1" pieces, rather than huge slices of tomato or chunks of artichoke.  Thus, each bite brought several tastes, as different ingredients shone through and complemented and enhanced each other.  And remarkably, given the pedigree of both the chef and the ingredients, our 12" pizza cost only $8.50 - had we been eating in Ann Arbor, it would have been a Frugal Floozie Friday feature!

Pizzeria Biga's menu offers a variety of choices, from small plate appetizers and pastas to pizzas featuring anything from baby clams to smoked salmon, tuna and capers, even duck prosciutto.  Toppings available for those who want to create their own masterpiece range from the usual suspects to mushroom ragu and roasted zucchini to fried hot peppers and walnuts.

Before our road trip back home, we found our way to the restrooms - one single-person room for each gender.  Rather than waiting in line, since no men were to be found (as per usual!), I used the men's room.  And because it was so entertaining to see the wall decorated with a collage of Farrah Fawcett's famous swimsuit photo from the 70s, I simply had to take a picture. (Wendy told me that Burt Reynolds was showcased in the ladies' room.)

Having already come from an event, Wendy and I couldn't even finish our pizza (which made a fantastic breakfast the next morning), so we weren't hungry for the luscious gelato, cannoli, or tiramisu.  Gee, I guess we'll just have to go back sometime, huh?

Pizzeria Biga
711 S. Main Street
Royal Oak, MI 48067
248-544-BIGA (2442)

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Friday, July 6, 2012

Frugal Floozie Friday - Biercamp

Biercamp Artisan Sausage and Jerky offers an excellent 16-hour pulled pork sandwich for $4.99. Since this falls within our mandatory $5 or less per person Frugal Floozie Friday budget, that makes the shop a perfect place to feature today!

As soon as you walk in the door of Biercamp, you are immersed in the fragrance of the barbecue. The pork is spicy and tender, the onions are a perfect sweet and crunchy complement to the sauce, and the pickles are crisp and bright.  Whether you enjoy your sandwich on the picnic benches out front or take some home with you, you must try this!

There is also a wide variety of jerkies and sausage sticks to choose from; prices vary per pound, so you can choose as much or as little as you want to stay within our budget when buying a snack. One each of several varieties would be a great way to sample items.

All of these items are made in-house by the wonderfully friendly owners Walter Hansen and Hannah Cheadle, who told me that they use some family recipes but often just create foods that they, themselves, want to eat.  (And as you listen to them talk about their vocation, Walter's eyes light up with a passion for his work and his products.)  They were offering samples of beef jerky when I was there last, and it was so flavorful and even tender!  It in no way resembled the desiccated leathery meats that we usually think of when we hear the word "jerky."

I highly recommend the rich and creamy Biercamp Jerky Pate, a cream cheese-based spread with lots of flavors shining through; beef jerky, green and red peppers, garlic, lemon, and Dijon mustard all dance in each bite.  At $9.99 per pound, I was able to buy a container of the pate for less than $5.  Thus I still had a bit of a budget to acquire crackers or vegetables to spread this on, though frankly I will admit to simply eating it off a spoon because it's so good.

There is a refrigerated case offering cheeses purchased from local artisans and smoked at Biercamp, a spread featuring corned beef jerky with my favorite Balaton cherries, baked beans and other side dishes.  Products from Ann Arbor's own The Brinery are proudly sold at the store along with other Michigan items, such as Faygo sodas and Better Made potato chips.  And another case offers an assortment of sausages, from Hillbilly breakfast sausage to Italian- and Indian-influenced varieties, that you can bring home to cook with.

So stop by Biercamp, where you can buy hand-crafted sausages and jerkies - and many other delicious items - still within a frugal budget.

Biercamp Artisan Sausage and Jerky
1643 S. State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
734-995-BIER (2437)
Monday - Saturday: 11 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Closed Sunday

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Biercamp on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Cherry Almond Cake and The Saga of the Michigan Cherry Crop

I am apparently famous for my love of tart cherries.  My friend Jean, of Delightful Repast, even wrote to me recently and said, "I had last night's dessert for breakfast ....  Actually, I thought of YOU because of what I was eating.  Cherry upside-down cake ....  I always think of Michigan when I have cherries!"

Michigan is the #1 producer of tart cherries, and their short season usually coincides with the 4th of July.  But crops throughout the state were utterly destroyed earlier this year, as detailed in this article from the Michigan Farm Bureau:

"The degree to which western Michigan orchards have been wrecked this spring has most people in and near the agriculture industry talking in extremes, but even words like 'disaster,' 'catastrophic,' 'devastated' and 'decimated' seem inadequate after witnessing the situation firsthand ....  Wet, heavy snow broke thousands of branches in late winter. Then two weeks of summerlike temperatures in March tricked everything into budding four to six weeks ahead of schedule. A brutal April inflicted more than twice as many damaging frosts and freezes than normal. Water-gorged buds were frozen dead, making the trees themselves vulnerable to bacterial canker."

The ramifications of this situation go far beyond a threat to my annual cherry pitting fest and baking spree.   "What would you do if you lost 80, 85, 90, 95 or 100 percent of your family's income for a year?" asks one cherry grower from the northwest part of the state.  Many farmers say that it's not even worth bothering to harvest the meager crop, leaving summer workers without jobs.  And then the ripples will spread to shops, to entertainment venues, and to all the other places where lost income might have been spent.  It is tragic, truly, on an unimaginable scale.

And yet, there are glimmers of brightness in the cherry world.  Because when I was at the Farmers Market on Saturday morning, Kapnick Orchards from Britton had - gasp! - tart cherries for sale!  They told me they'd lost 50% of their crop, but they were happily selling these gorgeous fruits that had survived the onslaught.

These aren't the Balatons that I usually buy along with the bright red Montmorencies.  These are an entirely new variety for me to bore my loved ones with too many details about: Meteor cherries, which have dark skins, clear juice, freestone pits, tart flavor, and strong resistance to disease.  I bought two quarts, and hauled out my late grandmother's cherry pitter.

I know that most people would simply purchase a ready-made pie, or at least buy prepared cherries for baking.  And then there's lil' ol' moi.  I walk out into the back yard with a large bowl of cherries, a smaller bowl for the pits, another large bowl to hold the pitted fruits, and my MP3 player.   Then I sit in the sun engaging in my annual meditative process of picking up a cherry, plunking the stone out of it, and then depositing it into a different bowl before repeating the process several hundred more times.  And I love it so!

There is immense satisfaction not only in baking from scratch, but in baking with fruits I've processed myself.  And this almond-topped sour cream cake is a perfect way to use some of the cherry bounty.  It's rich, moist, delicate, crispy, crumbly, sweet, tart, and ideal with a cup of coffee or a glass of milk ... or, frankly, all by itself.

Cherry Almond Cake

1 cup tart cherries, chopped
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon almond extract

1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sour cream
1 egg
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
1 cup flour

2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons melted butter

confectioners' sugar

Cook cherries: Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Cook 1-2 minutes until thickened. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

Bake cake: Preheat oven to 350F. Grease an 8"-round cake pan, line bottom of pan with foil, then grease foil.

In a large mixing bowl, combine butter, sour cream, and egg; add sugar, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Stir in flour, then pour batter into prepared pan.

Place dollops of cherries onto batter, then swirl in gently; smooth batter.

Combine brown sugar, almonds, cinnamon, and butter for topping; dollop over cake and spread a bit. Bake for 40 minutes until a tester comes out clean. Let cool in pan, then turn out into a serving platter.  Dust with confectioners' sugar.

Serves 8-12, depending upon serving size.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Herbed Redskin Potato Salad

It's the 4th of July, and many people are celebrating at barbecues or picnics.  And what better dish to offer at these events than a simple salad that goes with any- and everything?

This potato salad doesn't have mayonnaise; so not only does it keep well, without need of refrigeration, but it's also perfect for vegans who often have difficulties finding food they can eat at get-togethers.  Eggless mayonnaise is an off-tasting, poor substitute for the luscious "real thing."  So why bother approximating traditional creamy potato salad when you can make a version that is light and still delicious?

The beautiful red-pink potatoes I used for my salad were purchased at the Dixboro Farmers' Market, freshly dug just that morning.  This new venue is growing each week, with vendors offering everything from greens to baked goods of all varieties (traditional Southern treats, scones, pretzels, cupcakes, and even vegan goodies), honey, eggs, meats, and more.  You can even now buy a barbecue dinner prepared by serious enthusiasts who serve from a chuck wagon; they also prepare fruit cobbler in cast iron skillets.

Michelle Hartmann, one of the market's managers, says that the goal is to achieve a sense of community - picnic dinners, kids playing baseball, support for area farmers, a gathering place.  And ideally, a trip to the Dixboro Market could substitute for one to the grocery store, as a weekend's worth of prepared items, ingredients, and treats can be purchased locally from friends and neighbors.

Michelle and her managing partner, Jason Gold, are also looking for musical acts to perform family-friendly sets on Friday evenings at the market, to add to the festive atmosphere.  If you've got a recommendation, please send an email: or

Enjoy your holiday, as well as this potato salad!

Herbed Redskin Potato Salad

1 pound small (1"-2") redskin potatoes, halved or quartered
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/8 cup rice wine vinegar
juice of 1/4 lemon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
generous sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper
pinch of red pepper flakes
1/4 cup freshly minced mixed herbs - basil, parsley, tarragon, oregano

Fill a medium saucepan with salted water; bring to a boil, then add potatoes.  Boil for 10-12 minutes, until fork-tender; drain potatoes and place into a medium mixing bowl.

Combine oil, vinegar, lemon juice, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and herbs; pour over potatoes and stir to coat.  Serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled.

Serves 4-6 as a side dish.

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