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Archive for March, 2008

But better. Definitely better.

(leftover baby spinach and arugula from Easter dinner; some hoop house leaf lettuce from last week’s farmer’s market; leftover feta cheese and Caprese tomatoes from Easter bagel brunch; left-over Easter eggs from, well, Easter; a slice and a half of Michigan bacon discovered in the freezer, diced and crisped; a handful each of arbequina olives and roasted red peppers because they’re almost always in the fridge; mustardy vinagrette)

And definitely, definitely better. Hang on. Hope is on the way.

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Stay up well past your bedtime.

Put in a full day of work the next day, and then head straight to Cardio Karate, where you punch, jab, block, and round-kick your way into exhaustion.

Do not go home directly to shower and make dinner. Instead, go to not one, not two, not even three, but FOUR markets to pick up your food for the week. (Because tonight you really do need cream cheese from Zingerman’s, English peas from the Produce Station, pork chops from Sparrow Market, and organic raisin bran from Trader Joe’s.) Go home and put away the groceries. Rather than cooking up something from the ingredients you just brought home, notice half a head of raddichio that should have been eaten last week, feel really guilty, and decide to start experimenting.

Chop and fry some applewood smoked bacon. Put aside and wipe out that pan. Rifle through the fridge, stealing tastes here and there of said bacon. Heat up olive oil in the pan and add some chopped shallots. Then . . . uh . . . add that sad radicchio, and sautee until soft. Realize that you still have no idea what you are cooking.

Spot some open but past-drinkable Pinotage on the counter and decide to add that to the pan. Bring to a boil and simmer until nearly all liquid has evaporated.

Taste.

Get depressed.

Add salt.

Realize that you should probably put a pot of water on to boil, because dinner must just end up being buttered noodles. When the water boils, drop in some penne with a shrug. Really–what do you have to lose?

Open a can of plum tomatoes, chop a few, then several more, and throw them into the radicchio mixture. Warm through for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Toss in the crisped bacon — well, what’s left of it.

When the penne is done, drain and add it to the bacon-radicchio-tomato-shallot sauce (?) and combine. Dish some out, grate some parmesan cheese on top, open a bottle of wine, and promise yourself not to make a habit of such desultory dinners.

Go to bed a little hungry and incredibly exhausted, yet plan tomorrow night’s menu (pork chops with braised fennel) before your head hits the pillow.

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As promised, here is Part II of the interview with Jean Henry. I chose to break up the interview in two parts because I’m particularly interested in highlighting the observations here about the future of local businesses in Ann Arbor. Looking forward to seeing our readers’ thoughts in the comments; I for one feel inspired.
G3: With the impending closure of Leopold Brothers and the choice by the City Council not to give the liquor license to Everyday Wine/Cook, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the climate in Ann Arbor for small business owners, especially restuarants, bars, and other eateries. Can you comment on the climate for locally owned businesses in Ann Arbor?

Jean: I just asked a local reporter to consider exploring this subject. Todd Leopold has been very honest in interviews and online about the barriers to doing business in Ann Arbor as a small independent. His voice will be missed. That his experience in Denver . . . being greeted with open arms and enthusiasm for bringing his talents and resources to their city–is such a counterpoint to how he was treated here and is very telling. After all the renovation and work they did, I hear that Leopold’s had their rent jacked up to three times what it was. I don’t know who the new landlord thinks he’ll get in there at that price.

The truth is that Ann Arbor’s local culture is draining away because of over-strict interpretations of building codes, property manager greed and landlord short-sightedness. The liquor license going to the public golf course seemed like back-pocket politics to me . . . who benefited . . . ? It was a clear choice of the establishment over new innovators. That doesn’t move culture forward or create economic drive.

Some of my employees moved to Ashland, North Carolina which does a great job of attracting the creative class we’re losing. There is a downtown business incubator store-front, staffed with people encouraging and assisting in the development of small businesses . . . not just tech businesses, but everyday mom and pop stores too. The city of Ann Arbor frankly acts a bit entitled to have a diverse and interesting town culture, but does little to assist it and, through their agencies, quite a bit to inhibit it. I could safely say that the building department unnecessarily doubled the time and money that should have been required to open my business. It was a burden from which we never really could surface. It was clear from the get-go that they didn’t value what we had to offer. After we were established, they were quite easy to deal with. They should treat every small business entrepreneur with open (and assisting) arms.

Many of the small downtown businesses that have survived own their buildings. More and more local identity and innovation downtown is provided by non-profits and, ironically, University-supported initiatives . . . (Michigan Theatre, Gallery Project, WORK gallery, 826 Michigan, Neutral Zone, SPARK, the Ark). Meanwhile the landlords are being incredibly short-sighted in thinking of rents before longterm real estate values. By all rights, a central, historically significant location like Nichols Arcade should be bustling with compelling, independent businesses. The anchor tenants there of long-standing deserve comparable new businesses next door. It just seems like poor planning and lack of initiative to me.

In no way, shape or form can a start-up local business with integrity afford to pay rents in excess of $30 a square foot. The market just isn’t that big or that devoted to downtown. At those prices, you get high-margin bars, sub shops and t-shirt stores geared to students and tourists. These kinds of businesses ghettoize a neighborhood. South University is deserted in the summer these days even though it is within easy walking distance from some of the most established and wealthy neighborhoods in Ann Arbor. There’s no there there anymore. When I came here in 1984, it was still a vital neighborhood serving everybody.

Kerrytown is an example of how differently things can evolve with smart planning and management. It is now a thriving business district which attracts locals and tourists alike, boosting surrounding property values. Adjacent neighborhoods have become the locations of choice for creative class renters and homebuyers. This is no accident and not entirely a downstream wind effect from Zingerman’s. Karen Farmer is cherry-picking appropriate tenants for Joe O’neal. O’neal supports these tenants by keeping rents within market margins and sometimes assists with their permits and build-outs. This kind of active and realistic management has reaped great benefits for both the owners and the community.

Small businesses desperately need the support of the citizens and the city. I think this town has become complacent, pleasant enough but not nearly as interesting as the people who live here. I’d like to see the town embrace and not fear its difference . . . actively support new business as well as public displays of art, music, activism. Maybe provide art studio, performance and non-profit space downtown in the flood plain alongside the planned greenway. Anybody with a good idea gets shut down, kicked out or hampered from even getting started. The loss of 555 gallery and its surrounding studio space comes to mind. Ghostly has all but left town as I understand it. Local talent like Fred Thomas are always more appreciated and supported outside of Ann Arbor. He has left town as well. He was a one-man creative machine . . . what a loss . . . unlamented. I hope Davy Rothbart sticks around in spite of the routine disregard his efforts receive locally.

I’ve come to believe Ann Arbor is full of thinkers who like to nitpick and say ‘no’ to things or talk about what they’d like to see downtown (using large cities as a unfair point of comparison) without acting or supporting what’s there. Blogs like annarborisoverrated (by whom???) just encourage an entitled and cynical stasis. A lot of people in Ann Arbor (from hipsters to professors) seem to have one foot out the door. As a colleague says, “They’re drinking the haterade.”

I’d like to see the town harness its considerable resources to make pro-active change, to drive culture and create excitement. The active local community just seems motivated by parks, not people or progressive culture. I don’t know why they would be in opposition to one another, but it feels that way. Parks attract stable people, but culture attracts innovative ones. I think as a town, we’ve chosen stability over progress–so we get granite countertops instead of counter-culture, good education but limited experience, armchair philosophers instead of action. We get stasis.

Let me give my props to the A2 Skate Park folks for providing a model to follow for getting things done in the city. They have been really clever in using both grassroots efforts and online presence to get their message out there. They targeted their efforts not just to the existing skating community (which has always been notably strong, if disenfranchised), plus young kids interested in skating and parents, many of whom, like councilman Steve Kunselman, skated themselves in the past. They prepared well before presenting their case to government and citizens with best practices models and well-sourced stats. Then they harnessed all resources (especially youth energy) to build support to make it happen. Their approach has been fun and positive as well as organized and competent. It looks like they’ll succeed in their mission.

Of course, if they wanted to build a for-profit skate park in this city, they would likely be hamstrung by city regulation and their efforts held suspect by the citizenry . . . I doubt they could get it built. When we opened the market, I was routinely accused by locals of “clever marketing tactics.” It was as though they were suspicious because Matt and I created a place that many people wanted to go to, that suited the community’s tastes and needs. It was frankly bizarre . . . like people needed to be smarter than the businesses around them. Well, I guess that is effectively what has happened.

I hope the town is emerging from its slumber. Recession might actually be good for Ann Arbor that way. I’d like to see the clever, brilliant people who come to school and grow up here want to stick around and make a life here. For that to happen, they need to be appreciated, encouraged and supported. Locals need to put money and action behind their ideals and desires. The city government, realtors, property managers and landlords need to help make it happen, not just assume it will and that they can skim the profits.

Well that was 7 years of frustration vented. It was bound to come out sometime. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to get it off my chest.

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Our coverage of the recent sale of the Jefferson Market continues here at G3 with a two-part interview with Jean Henry, former owner of the Market. Jean kindly and thoroughly answered some questions I sent her by e-mail, about what she’s been cooking at home, her future plans, advice for Mary Rasmussen (the new owner of the Market), as well as the climate in Ann Arbor for local businesses. I want to thank Jean for taking the time to respond so thoughtfully to our questions.
Part I is below, and Part II will be posted in a few days.
[In other Jefferson-Market-sale-news, an interview with Mary Rasmussen is available over at HD's blog.]
G3: The story in the AA news quoted you as saying that you were “particular” about who you sold the business to. Why did you choose Mary Rasmussen?

Jean: I wanted to sell to someone who had the wherewithal financial and professional wherewithal to make a solid go of it and who also understood the intangible value of the market, it’s heart and character. I let some buyers go, perhaps foolishly, because I had the impression they were just buying a kitchen and didn’t understand what the market represented to people, wouldn’t be true to its spirit. Others just seemed unprepared to take it on. Others couldn’t secure financing or formed partnerships that fell apart. Mary showed up when I had other offers on the table, but she just seemed right. I feel like the neighborhood will respond to her style and product. She appreciates the character of the neighborhood and the market but has her own thing going. . . . It’s important for a small business person to have an independent identity and entrepreneurial spirit. She also makes great cake, no shortcuts or cheats, lovely to look at and to eat. I’m guessing her expanded offerings at the market will follow suit.

G3: Do you have any advice for the new owners based on your experience running the Jeff for 7 years?

Jean: To be receptive but not overwhelmed by the amount of input she’ll get from the community and customers! The engagement people feel with that place is a tremendous asset. It’s important to remember that, be responsive, but also hold your own. The truth is that it’s not workable to provide all the services and products we offered for a community this size in a space that size. Mary will no doubt have better parameters than I did; I hope the community will respect that and fully appreciate that she is there at all.
G3: In what way(s) will you be involved in the transition?
Jean: I am available to Mary for any questions and input, but I will not be in the store helping out. I’m far too busy right now to be there. But, foremost, the market is Mary’s now. My presence would hinder the business in forming its new identity . . . and a new identity is essential. I still live a few blocks away and will definitely be there regularly as a customer.
G3: What have you been up to since The Jeff closed? What are your plans for the future? What does you miss the most about the Jeff?

Jean: I am working with Paul Saginaw at Zingerman’s developing a social venture project in Ypsilanti. Everything is very much in the planning/visioning stages. If this thing flies, though, it has tremendous potential to be a positive community force, in economic, social and culinary terms. In many ways, the work at the market seems like a natural stepping stone to what I’m doing now. I’m somewhat stunned that it came my way so quickly. I loved the creative problem solving aspect of running a small business; this new job is all about that, so what I thought I’d miss has been somewhat resolved.

I’m not naturally comfortable being the public face of a business, so the restoration of some anonymity has been a great relief to me. That said, I do miss my staff and clientele . . . the everyday dialogue I had with so many compelling people. I formed very rewarding relationships in five minute snippets, daily. Standing in one place for seven years, you begin to see the shape and current of people’s lives, the ebbs and flows.
This sort of daily interchange is undervalued in our plugged-in, mobile world. One can feel socially isolated in its absence, despite close friends. All emphasis now is on a kind of instant (and disposable) intimacy between people with the same interests, social status, age, musical tastes and hairdo. People’s lives become less and less dynamic without real solid, on-the-ground, everyday community. The one thing the market revealed above all else was an intense craving for community. The goodwill created and tolerance expressed daily at the market was expansive. If nothing else, I’d like an opportunity to help re-create that phenomenon on a larger scale. There is tremendous potential in it.
G3: Are there any plans for a Jefferson Market cookbook?
Jean: I no longer own the rights to the name. I’m also not a chef. We never really re-invented the wheel at the market; all our recipes were traditional. I find it odd that people claim ownership to recipes at all. We just riffed off of an existing template. I’d be happy to share our recipes and methods with anyone that is interested. In the end, I have a firm belief that the secret to really great food is not in the recipe, but in the integrity of the ingredients and the hand of the chef. You can never learn to cook well if you follow recipes rigidly. Cooking well requires taste and touch, adapting to the changing conditions of your oven, your ingredients and your temperment.
G3: What have you been cooking at home these days? What are your favorite food spots in AA?
Jean: You’ve hit a rich vein with this question! I’ve been tinkering with my eating, cooking and shopping habits lately to better suit my principles, lifestyle and budget, so pardon the expansive answer you’re about to get.
With a toddler and a strictly vegetarian 9 year old in tow, I have been busy figuring out how to eat well at home with the least expense of energy and time possible. I tried having a set meal plan for the week, but was too variable in my tastes to stick with it. That in mind, I have adapted the kind of cooking preparation a restaurant does to my home, assembling meals from a standing larder of sorts. I cook in bits late at night and for longer stretches on Sundays, preparing food for use throughout the week . . . mostly soups and stews and what I call fixins’, pestos, mire poix and sofrito, flavored mayonnaises, roasted veggies and vinaigrettes. That way a satisfying meal is almost always easily at hand and adaptable to varied tastes. I’m a little obsessed these days with arugula pesto, marinated leeks and parsely . . . just plain Italian flat leaf parsley used fresh and abundantly on sandwiches, stews and in salads. I’m trying to get away from lettuce in those awful, ubiquitous plastic containers. Cucumbers, mint & sprouts also make nice crunchy lettuce substitutes.
I’m also trying to limit my big grocery store spending, using box stores strictly as back-up rather than primary providers of my household needs. I find that I eat better and waste less as a result. It makes me crazy to hear people bemoan the lack of grocery downtown and not utilize the resources they already have. I shop regularly at:
Kerrytown: Bob Sparrow sourced locally for his butcher shop before anyone else could figure it out. The produce market, under his ownership, is now well-priced and stocked. I especially like his eggs, pork, sausage, wild mushrooms, shallots and potatoes. Monahan’s is a no-brainer fish-wise, simply the best.
Morgan & York: Same Small World Roasters coffee as the market, perfect wine selection with an informed, down-to-earth staff, cheese, serrano ham (pay 3x cost of regular ham and use a 1/4 the amount) salami and Avalon bread.
The People’s Food Co-op: longest season and best variety of local vegetables and fruit, plus Seven stars yogurt, tofu and staples.
Cafe Japon: I recently discovered the bread at Cafe Japon on Liberty and between 4th Ave and Main St . . . the baguettes have great flavor, a traditional size and chewy texture, not the super-sized, over-plump American version everywhere else. I’ve only had opportunity to try a few things on their menu, but everything has been delicious, carefully executed with balanced flavors.
Produce Station: produce . . . all kinds and great old school packaged cookies!
By the Pound: dried fruit that will change your thinking about raisins and prunes, nuts, beans, fresh well-priced spices, baking supplies and now milk. Their saffron is an especially good deal.
Garden Works, Frog Holler and Tantre at the Farmer’s Market
That said, I buy an herb-crusted Busch’s rotisserie chicken once every few weeks for 6 bucks for use in sandwiches, mole, spring rolls and stock— I’m not sure I’ll ever roast a chicken again. For the most part, I avoid any processed and preserved food and a lot of meat which creates room in the budget for some more expensive choices, good coffee and cheese, local eggs, Calder milk, etc.
As for restaurants, you’ll find that many of the places I eat also provide me with daily staples for at-home-meals . . . one way to incorporate levels of efficiency and convenience into shopping local. I’m a single mom now. The high-end places just do not fit the budget or the available timeframe, and so are not well-represented in my list. I hear good things about Everyday Cook, but am still waiting to eat there. I eat somewhat regularly at:
Morgan and York: great soup and grilled sandwiches, plus the best cappuccino in town for real.
Kosmo: I also buy the chili sauce there for use at home. Don’s mom prepares it with chilis she grows . . . the other Korean spots buy bottled sauce.
Totoro: Ada’s favorite for simple sushi rolls but also agadashi tofu, tempura, sansai udon and great gyoza; the owner was a pastry chef and shows a careful hand with breading, wraps, and batters.
The People’s Food Co-op: when I need a bite, some groceries, and a little social whirl, . . . more former Jefferson Market customers and employees there at lunch than can be believed.
Jerusalem Garden: Good people, healthy eats and the kid’s love it; their grape leaves are exceptional. Baba ganoush is a larder staple at my house.
Blimpy Burger: A true classic, very old school. Fresh meat not frozen, ground daily. My dad just about cried when he ate there . . . flooded him with memories of hamburger joints circa 1940’s. Did you know they got a full page write up in Saveur and never displayed it? I guess it might ruin their street food cred.
Monahan’s: Best lunch in town without a doubt. Fish & chips to warm the edges off a frozen winter day.
Rosa’s Tamales at the farmer’s market. There should be lots more food at the market with this integrity (and music, too!!!).
Silvio’s pizza: what a great addition to the local food scene. The farther afield you go with the pizza the better. I just get whatever’s fresh out of the oven, but arugula pizza and mushroom with truffle oil are favorites.
Zingerman’s Roadshow and Roadhouse: I hate to pimp the boss, but the drive-through Roadshow has a $5.95 pulled pork sandwich on onion roll that’s the best deal in town, and you never get out of the car. I take it home and add Lizano tamarind-based salsa from Costa Rica for more punch. I also eat occasionally from the bottom of the barrel at the Roadhouse— apps and burgers. They don’t usually know who I am and no one’s making big bucks off of me. Still, I consistently get very balanced service, gracious, composed and generous, but not over-solicitous. This kind of across-the-board, everyone-gets-it, good service is not at all common in the upper echelons of the food business.
My life improves exponentially the more time and money I spend in local businesses. I just don’t get the convenience or thrift of a long drive, a giant parking lot, and acres of mediocrity and marketing to wade through. I’d much rather take a few quick, efficient friendly trips downtown and so would my kids. Ok, I’ll admit to riding the high horse on this–I just honestly don’t get the reasoning I hear for primarily shopping box stores. It all seems penny-wise, pound-foolish.

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February was hard for Shana, but March has kicked my butt. I thought I had beaten the winter, really. It’s been a long, snowy couple of months, but in January I coasted on a wave of New Year energy and pleasure in the dark, rich tastes of braises and stews, and in February I traveled, and went out to dinner and made chili and looked forward to heading south. The last week in February saw my nuclear plus one (Mom) unit in South Beach, where we did not go to the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, although we ogled the crowd and looked for famous chefs, crashed the Enrique Iglesias concert on the beach and enjoyed random scenes like two grizzled hippies on scooters zipping by us while they chatted about Rachel Ray.

The young ones in the family got red, then brown, frolicked in the waves (well, the youngest one dabbled in the waves, but by the last day he was happy playing “motorboat” and being towed around in the ocean), and dragged about seventy pounds of sand back to the apartment every afternoon. The older ones did approximately nothing for six days except spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about where our next meal was coming from.

Those meals came from several good places (including the tiny studio kitchen). There were stone crab claws, fried green tomatoes and key lime pie from an old style crab house. There was classic Cuban cuisine from David’s Cafe — food like black beans and rice and plantain chips that made the whole family happy, as did the cheerful servers who took especially good care of those under twelve. A La Folie, steps from our door, kept us well-caffeinated and on a night where John and I got to go out to play fed us a fine Nicoise salad with tuna that was still jumping around on the plate, along with a nice bottle of Cote Du Rhone. On our other night out, at Talula, we sat in a breezy garden under palm trees and warm stars and ate dishes like wahoo ceviche and black grouper with preserved lemon and thyme that blew open our palates with their fresh brightness. Some of the simplest food moments stick with me the most though. At La Sandwicherie, a tiny open-until-5 AM- counter facing out onto a parking lot, cute French guys turned out baguette sandwiches, loaded with olives, salad vegetables and cornichons. At the little supermarket around the corner from our apartment, it was possible to buy fresh barbecued chickens and homemade tamales. The opportunity to stumble into a simple but still interesting and tasty meal made Miami feel very gastronomically different than Ann Arbor

I liked Miami Beach. I liked its sunshine and heat, and I liked its mix of monied glamor and honky tonk seediness, and I liked watching the turquoise waters and my kids running around the beach. I liked looking out to sea at 10 pm and seeing both a full moon rising and a lightning storm. So I was already a bit of a Midwest malcontent the moment the plane touched down at DTW and a week of stomach flu (technically a gastrointestinal virus) ravaging my family and several more inches of snow has done nothing to get me to rejoin the Ann Arbor team. Did I mention March has kicked my butt? I’m gloomy and crabby and my shopping cart overflows with conventionally grown Chilean blueberries and hunks of cheddar cheese from god-knows-what-kind-of-cows. I seem to be at the point of giving up. Local, schmocal. Organic? That’s for dippy hippies, right? Who has time to cook? Throw some Stoeffer’s frozen lasagna in the oven.

But the light lingered longer tonight. Daylight savings time has come along and perhaps it will save me too. Spring just might be possible. Time to get out of bed, get outside, get back on the wagon, clean out the cupboards, tie on the running shoes, peak around for emerging bulbs, believe in possibility again. We cooked with some care tonight, a simple pizza intended to soothe both our souls and our stomachs. It reminded me that if you give a little bit of attention to what you put on your plate and in your mouth you’re feeding your spirit as much as your belly. I’ve been down, but I’m not out. March better start cooperating, or it’s going to get a lickin’.

Simple Potato Pizza for a night when spring hasn’t arrive yet

This is really more of a concept than a recipe. Make a crust (get some help here). Brush it with olive oil. Spread a thin layer of very thinly sliced potatoes (here, Yukon Gold) over the entire pizza. Sprinkle with fresh chopped rosemary (you might want to embed some in the crust itself). Layer with fontina cheese, a generous handful of Parmesan, a good grinding of pepper and some coarse salt. Cook at high heat.

A few variations, none necessary, all pleasant: Pre-roast the potatoes for a few minutes on a cookie sheet brushed with olive oil; add some crushed red pepper; go lighter on the olive oil and supplement with some black olive paste; mix in some blue cheese with the fontina (maybe not on a night when three of the four people at the table are recovering from a stomach virus) . For a much fancier version, caramelize some onions and layer olive paste, potato, onions and stilton.

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Well, things are looking up around here. Via G3 scout Eric, via Arbor Update, who was tipped off by Homeless Dave, it looks like the Jefferson Market was purchased by a couple from Saline and is set to reopen in April 2008. I’m particularly excited that they will have some of the old Jeff items on offer. Not much new to report at the moment, but this is a post I’ve been hoping to write for a long time.

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