Posts Tagged ‘Ann Arbor’

poster for sweetwaters reading nov 09I will be reading at Sweetwaters as a part of the Writers Reading at Sweetwaters series tonight (Tuesday, November 17th) at 7 pm. The room is a bit small, so please arrive early for a seat. Don’t forget to bring work to share at the open mike.

The reading is hosted by the lovely Chris Lord and Esther Hurwitz. Thank you again for the invite!

You are welcome to RSVP on the Facebook Event page (or just check it out to see the other cool people who are coming.)

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Sparrow Meat Market Dinner fifth courseSparrow Meat Market Dinner fourth courseSparrow Meat Market Dinner third courseSparrow Meat Market Dinner second courseSparrow Meat Market Dinner first courseSparrow Meat Market in Kerrytown (Ann Arbor) hosts a semi-secret monthly feast. They take over the supermarket and Sweetwaters Café area with long tables covered in white tablecloths. They serve multi-course meals and guests share their BYOB wine with each other. The entire complex is closed except to those who made a phone reservation and know to enter through the only open door (closest to the parking lot.)

I’d seen flyers for it when I looked for it on meat counter after browsing the Saturday Farmer’s Market outside. There are no ads and no mention of it on the Sparrow website. Friends have raved about it, but mostly because they heard great things, not because they’d ever gone. 

After eating in the packed rooms filled with the aromas from the five dishes and the live music by Douglas and Andrew Brown, I understand why they don’t advertise. They don’t need to. Through word of mouth, this dinner is “legendary,” as one friend described it to me in an email.

Here was the menu:

1st course

Baby spinach with dried Traverse City cherries, toasted pecans, crumbled blue cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette. 

2nd course

Marinated tomatoes and zucchini served alongside a selection of Italian salamis.

3rd course

Seared scallops with cream sauce over roasted garlic and pumpkin polenta. 

4th course

Pork loin stuffed with fresh herbs, garlic, and grated pecorino cheese slow cooked in marinara served over braised escarole greens.

5th course

Fresh prepared Amaretto cannolis.

My favorite part of the meal was the pumpkin risotto. I don’t care much for scallops in general, but this polenta was perfectly seasoned. It wasn’t sweet or spicy. The pumpkin flavor was appropriately slight and complemented by the creamy sauce. This is something I want to try to recreate at home. Minus the cream sauce, this Epicurious recipe sounds about right.

The fresh basil on the zucchini in the second course helped to bring out the fresh flavor of the vegetable. The salamis were room temperature and their fattiness (a positive!) was offset by the light vegetables.

The salad dressing on the first course was a bit heavy for the light baby spinach leaves and the pork loin would have benefited from just a bit more spice (salt and even hot pepper), but considering the large numbers of people being served, I don’t think it should be held against them.

This dinner was something we’d like to repeat. And repeat.

If you need more convincing, you might enjoy this review on AnnArbor.com by Jennifer Shikes Haines. 

The menu changes according to the seasons. Be in “the know” and check out the flyers on the meat counter. The cost for the five course dinner is $45.00 and you can call for reservations/information at 734-761-8175.



Thanks to the Ann Arbor Chronicle for linking to this article.

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Theresa's cake

My fiancé and I were surprised yesterday by a cake celebrating our upcoming marriage at a potluck dinner for his program. Theresa Ramirez, a pastry chef whose wedding cakes you might remember reading about here, made this beautiful and delicious cake. Thank you so much, Theresa!

Even though I’m on the inevitable pre-wedding diet that I tried to avoid, I enjoyed a nice, big piece.

So, I tried to swear off a pre-wedding diet. I’ve been inundated with information (otherwise known as “ads”) about how to lose weight quickly before your wedding. They are in wedding magazines, Facebook ads, Google ads, etc. They are disheartening and could make anyone sad for the unrealistic expectations on women’s bodies.

It is important to lead a healthy life, which includes healthy food and exercise. Trying to focus on that instead of the wedding clothes, my fiancé and I joined a gym. It is the Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center, a reasonably priced county gym. It hasn’t been too hard to go regularly.

Unlike some gyms I tried in NJ where many of the patrons looked like Soprano’s extras, this gym isn’t daunting. There are a wide-range of folks there, from kids who look like they might be on a team to senior citizens who park their walkers in the corner. 

So, we go to the gym regularly and eat good cake when we can. That’s a well-balanced life, if I’ve ever heard of one.

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Heather and her lovely cakeCake artist Heather Anne Leavitt is trained in sculpture at the University of Michigan and her cakes show it. She adds gesture to cakes where most bakers simply add more decoration.

For one wedding, Heather made table centerpieces that looked like the bridesmaid dresses. These centerpieces each had their own individual gesture and personality. Better yet, the guests thought they were delicious! 






Wedding cake centerpieceWedding cake centerpiece 2

Wedding cake centerpiece 3











The insides of Heather’s cakes are just as beautiful as the outside. She works with local vendors. In fact, she even has a relationship with most of her vendors (Calder milk, John Harnois, etc.) In fact, she even made a number of cakes to honor the vendors she loves so much, such as Zingermans, Anatolian Bakery, Roos Coffee Roast. See images of them here.

She became particularly attentive to food when she studied in Florence, Italy at the Lorenzo di Medicii program. There, dinner is an event. You eat what is in season. When she went to the Central Market, she discovered how little she ever knew about taste. She writes on her website: I learned that food was not a subject to be taken lightly, and unless it was fresh, in season, and from a reliable source, it wasn’t worth my while.  When I struggled to maneuver my two overstuffed suitcases through the cobblestones to catch my train to the airport, I took one last fleeting glance at the market and thought, “I’ll always have Florence.” 

She personalizes each cake to the individual customer. She sketches designs, like she did in art school. She believes that you should decorate your cake with as much attention as you would decorate your own home. 

Heather has even been on TV. Recently, she assisted pastry chef Courtney Clark of Cake Nouveau on the Food Network’s Last Cake Standing. They made it through an entire month of challenges (phew!)

Look for Heather at Eve, where she works.

Heather only graduated from the University of Michigan in 2007. I can’t wait to see what she continues to do.


In Michigan and interested in reading more about local Ann Arbor food? Check out this blog (with a fabulous list of related blogs on the left)

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My fiancé works in an office with a wonderful pastry chef: Theresa Ramirez. He often comes home from meetings raving about what treat she brought in for the group. When I heard that she also makes wedding cakes, I knew I had to learn more.

I hope you enjoy this interview and the pictures (mmmm!) as much I as I did. I was particularly interested in Theresa’s advice about how to save wedding cake for your first (or second!) anniversary.

Theresa's cake (1)Theresa's cake (2)Theresa's cake (3)Theresa's cake (4)Theresa's cake (5) 





How did you get started?

I got started in 1982 My eldest niece (Missy) was living with me at the time, [her mom remarried and they moved out to the country (pigs and horses for neighbors)] so she moved in with me so she could continue to work and be close to her friends, including her fiancé.  I have always enjoyed baking and she asked me to make her wedding cake.  So I enrolled in a cake decorating class to learn how to make flowers and such.  I had lots of fun and learned a lot.  Although having the bride in the house, and all the hormones that goes with planning a shower and wedding, baking the cake, planning the lunch between the church wedding and the reception was very hectic.  I was actually late for her wedding – I missed her walking down the aisle.  It was one of those things where the reception hall wouldn’t let you in until a designated time and I had to decorate it and then drive back to the church and there just wasn’t enough time. 

How long does it take you to make a wedding cake?

Time depends on the size of the cake and how much decorating there will be.  I would say the average cake (serves approximately100) takes about 6-8 hours to bake and at least 12 to decorate.  The average time to set up the cake and add the finishing touches at the hall is about 1-1/2 hours.

What is the hardest part?

Definitely delivering the cake – there are always so many variables – weather, road conditions, construction, steps, timing at the hall or reception area, etc. 

What is the secret behind the high layered cakes (how do they stand up?)

Each layer has to be supported – back when I began it was always that you used wooden dowels, strategically placed in each layer.  Now there are newer and better pillars to use to separate the cakes or they have floating cake stands where each layer is just placed on a ring that is soldered to a base.

If a couple goes to a cake tasting, what questions should they ask of the baker?

They should ask how far in advance is the cake baked? No one wants to eat stale cake.  I always bake mine the week of the wedding and store them in the fridge.  They can be frozen, but then sometimes you get water condensation when the cake defrosts. 

Another question would be to taste the frosting  – if the frosting is too sweet or doesn’t taste good (too much Crisco – too grainy, etc) the cake will be a disappointment for sure.

If a couple wants to save the top layer (or a part) of the wedding cake, how long will it last in the freezer before the taste/texture changes?

The average is a year, but I know from experience that it can last 2 if it is stored correctly.  For my sister’s wedding she was delivering her son on their 1st anniversary so they waited until their 2nd anniversary to take it out and eat it and it was fine.  Years ago (because I hate smoke and frosting seems to absorb odors) I started baking an extra layer that actually did not go on the cake, but I decorated it just like it would and gave it to the couple.  Then this layer (which would already be in a box) needs to be carefully wrapped in foil, sealed with tape and then rewrapped in plastic – I suggest a new, clean garbage bag that could be wrapped tightly around the box and sealed with tape and then placed in the back of the freezer. 

What was the most interesting cake you ever made?

I think the most interesting one was for a “beach” themed wedding.  The couple actually went off to some island to get married and then had a reception in their home town.  The person that was supposed to bake their wedding cake cancelled 6 days before the wedding reception.  Someone gave the bride my name/number – she called me on a Monday evening and I delivered the cake that Saturday.  She gave me “poetic justice” to just design what I wanted.  It was a simple – 3-tiered cake, decorated with sea shells.  I went on online and found out how to make and color the sea shells – it was interesting.

If you could design the perfect wedding cake, what would you design?

I’m a sucker for heart shaped cakes – just goes with the wedding theme. 

When I started making cakes I found one in a Wilton Cake book that I just feel in love with and I told myself that if I ever got remarried that would be my cake.  A few years back one of my best friends finally decided to marry the guy she was with (they are a wonderful couple) so I made this cake for them as my wedding present to them – it turned out beautiful and I have made it a couple of times since.

My next preference would be to have different shaped layers – say the bottom square (good base to start with) – then a round layer topped off with a heart on top.  I prefer to have a separation between the top and next layer – either for flowers or a figurine of some type. 

I prefer simplicity to cakes with tons of stuff on them.

How can couples contact you?

Email is best: tramir(at)umich(dot)edu.

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It is Memorial Day weekend and we are all inevitably thinking about cooking and eating. I’d like to share some recent cooking adventures with you.

I know my way around the kitchen (from finding the fridge to following a recipe) and have a repertoire of dishes that I like to cook, mostly Italian. Looking to expand dinner options (something without mozzarella, perhaps?), I recently exchanged cooking lessons with friends. I taught them a few Italian dishes and in turn, I learned some Thai and Russian dishes.

My friend Paula took a traditional Thai cooking class in Thailand while she was visiting her son who was studying there. We made beef satay, lemongrass mushroom soup, papaya salad and curry over fish.  The unforgettable, even if perhaps less-than-Thai, basil ice cream that followed the meal cooled our tongues after the spicy dinner.

I had no idea that Thai food was so labor intensive (especially the lemongrass that had to be cut amazingly thin. Hans, who joined in on the lesson, was very patient with the knife.) Paula introduced us to new flavors, from what she jokingly calling “Thai chocolate,” that is shrimp paste, to the savory and sweet combo of the papaya salad.  

Thai curryThai papaya salad










Galina, who you might remember from a recent blog post about Russian weddings, has been living in Ann Arbor for the last year while her husband is a scholar at the University of Michigan. She and her husband were going to a political science conference in Chicago and we mentioned a Russian restaurant there. When her husband said that they didn’t need to eat Russian food out since his wife cooks it so well at home, I nudged them in the direction of an informal cooking lesson.

We made Olivie (mixed potatoes, carrots, eggs, peas, pickles, onion and sausage mixed with mayo) and “herring under the coat” (Seledka pod shuboi/ Shuba). This was a mix of pickled herring, potatoes, eggs and beats. It was delicious. We ended with a great apple pie that was almost like a meringue. Now when we go apple picking this fall, we’ll have something new to make besides American pie and apple sauce.

While we ate, I thought of my ethnically Russian grandfather. I don’t remember him cooking and I don’t remember my grandmother, who grew up in a traditionally Polish household, cooking anything Russian. I wish I had known enough to ask him about his childhood, family history and mother’s recipes. Instead, I can only imagine that perhaps these were dishes that he might have eaten.

Russian dishesRussian apple pie










I showed Paula how to make bucatini all’amatriciana (read an article I wrote about the dish in a recent local Edible Communities publication) and chicken saltimbocca. “Saltimbocca,” traditionally made with veal, has a name that means “jump in the mouth” because of the delicious combination of veal, sage, prosciutto, butter and vermouth. (We also prepared a dessert, but since it failed, I’ll gloss over right here.)

With Galina, we made a selection of pizzette and lasagna. Florentines make lasagna with bechamel sauce, instead of ricotta, but my time-saving secret is to add a bit of heavy cream instead. The sauce immediately lightens and thickens and you’re done in moments. If you are making pizza at home, I can’t emphasize the importance of buying a pizza stone (you can usually find one under $20.00 at a store like Bed Bath and Beyond.) It heats the pizza from below and helps to perfect your crust.

No matter what Italian dishes we ate, we ended the meal with limoncello. (Perchè no?)

Bucatini all'amatricianaLasagna










Thank you so much to Paula and Galina for kindly sharing their expertise and kitchens with me. Please raise your glass to these wonderful women and the next cooking adventure!

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Simas Undergarments For Women by Ilana Stranger-Ross

Update: Lauren Turner’s funny bra-inspired poem won her the book. (Read it below.) Congratulations!



I look forward to seeing you in Brighton, MI on Thursday, April 30th for my Hush bra store poetry reading. For more details, please click here.


In the spirit of literature and bras, I will be offering a copy of Ilana Stranger-Ross’ wonderful novel Sima’s Undergarments for Women to the reader who posts the funniest bra-related joke in the comments section below.


Readers are welcome to chime in and vote for their favorite. You are encouraged to post more than one joke. The deadline has been extended to Friday, May 1st at noon.


Visit the author’s website .


You can read more about the book on Overlook Publisher’s website and buy the book on Amazon.


Ready? Set? Go!




Here are some great comments I received via Facebook:


The funbags themselves are the joke. (KC)


Poem by Lauren Turner:

Boobies bouncing in the breeze;
Moist, maternal mammaries.
A source of life that fills with awe.
We get it—now, put on a bra!


In response to my FB and my fiance’s FB announcement that I’ll be reading a new bra poem and an underwear poem:  


– The bra poem isn’t a limerick, is it? 😉 (Debbie)

– I hope you’ll share. Ode to a brassiere. The older you get, the more you like a good one. except of course when you don’t! (Ann)
– “Ode to a Jock Strap”? (Lauren)
– “just another love thong….’ (Celia)
– The German word for bra: “keepzimtitzfromfloppin” (Not sure the spelling is quite right, as my German is weak, but this should be close) (Jim)
– Over the shoulder boulder holder? (Seth)

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Word Arrangement
Papyrus, the wonderful paper store, is hosting a Spring Bridal Event and WordArrangement, my personalized wedding poem business, will be one of the vendors in the store from 11 – 1. Hope to see you there on Sunday, April 26 in the Briarwood Mall, Ann Arbor, MI. I look forward to sharing sample poems with you and answering any questions you might have about ordering your Personalized Wedding Poem. Discounts will be offered for poems ordered in the store.
I invite you to RSVP on my Facebook Event Page.
Papyrus Spring Bridal Event
Briarwood Mall
Sunday, April 26
11 am – 1 pm
Have you posted your favorite bra joke yet? Don’t miss the chance to win a free copy of Sima’s Undergarments For Women. Looking forward to seeing you on April 30th at the Hush bra store in Brighton, MI. I will be reading poems there in the evening.

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I am now a Zingerman’s convert. I resisted for a while (if you’ve been reading this blog, you know I generally avoid agreeing with crowds), but after eating bacon-enhanced food for two hours at today’s Bacon & Brunch with Ari Weinzweig, I’m in with Zingerman’s.


The brunch and Ari’s talk on bacon, was co-sponsored by the Ann Arbor Book Festival. In May, Ari will be on a panel with other foodie authors discussing his book, Guide to Better Bacon: Stories of pork bellies, hush puppies, rock’n’roll music and bacon fat mayonnaise.


The meal started out with Zingerman’s Bakehouse Bacon-Cheddar Scones and American Fried Bread. The bread was fried in, you guessed it, bacon fat. I have never eaten a more luscious piece of fried bread in my life. (My fiancé noticed a few people at the end looking in the baskets for more bread and snatching an extra piece or two.)


We were then treated to South Carolina Gold Rice Grits and Bits Waffle and Hangtown Fry (eggs with bacon and oysters mixed in) with Bacon Hash. The hash was particularly smooth and bursting with flavor. The waffles had crispy bacon bits on top. The bacon fat, which was the base for most of what we ate this morning, absorbs the flavors of the other ingredients and allows them to blossom.




Don’t fret, vegetarians. There was a tofu bacon option for you. The kind man sitting next to me let me take a picture of his dish:




Then we had a bacon tasting. Now, I might not have found a physician in Ann Arbor yet, but I’m sure she wouldn’t have approved of a plate of bacon. Still, this morning was like a bacon holiday, so who was I to resist? Here is the plate that Ari talked us through eating:





I had no idea that there were so many different kinds of bacon. I know that my father likes thicker slices of bacon and I tend to buy the less smoky organic bacon at Trader Joe’s. Ari talked about customers who know about different kinds of cheeses and wines, but have a hard time describing their favorite bacon. He suggested buying a variety of types of bacon and serving them at home to guests. (Is it too late to change our wedding menu to include more bacon?)


My favorite was Benton’s. It is the second to the last one on the plate. It originates in eastern Tennessee and is dry cured and smoked over hickory.


We ended with Buttermilk Biscuits with Chocolate-Bacon Gravy. My goodness, these were delicious. While I tried to hold back and not finish each plate offered, I wanted to lick this plate clean. The sweet-savory flavors shut off all my other senses so I could focus on the striking taste. It reminded me of the sweet-sour combination of a sea salt caramel, only chocolate was involved.




Throughout the meal, Ari shared his expertise with bacon. He shared some personal stories along the way. Ari grew up in a Kosher household and remembers eating fairly unremarkable beef bacon as a child. Most of the food that he sells at Zingerman’s is something he discovered, rather than something he grew up with.


About bacon’s importance, Ari stressed, “bacon is to North American cooking what olive oil is to Mediterranean food.” According to his research, bacon has been big since the beginning in America. It crosses almost all ethnic and cultural (although not religious) lines. The Europeans brought bacon with them and even influenced the Native American cooking. In the South, he said, you will almost always find a jar of bacon fat by the stove (not refrigerated) and it would be eaten in all seasons.


Zingerman’s kindly shared recipes from the upcoming book. I know I can’t wait until the book comes out to read more.


Hope to see you at the Ann Arbor Book Festival in May! I’ll be presenting at the Writer’s Conference (Writing Your Family History)  And let me know if you need a brunch date at Zingerman’s. After my fiancé and I fast for a few days, we’ll be ready for more.  


Ari and Kathy Robenalt, Executive Director of the Ann Arbor Book Festival

Thanks to the Ann Arbor Chronicle for sharing this article.

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If you are looking to take classes this spring, I hope you’ll consider the classes I’m offering through Rec & Ed this April and May:


Intensive Italian for Travelers

Writing for Special Occasions

Preserve Family History



I think you’ll be *particularly* interested in Writing for Special Occasions. I’ll be sharing some secrets I’ve learned as a Personalized Wedding Poet.


For more information, here is the link to the catalogue.

You can register here.


Here are the details:


Writing For Special Occasions

Have you ever been asked to write a speech or poem for a special occasion? Do you enjoy expressing your own thoughts in a blank card presented to someone special? Get your creative juices flowing. Explore different forms of poetry and brainstorm ideas. The instructor will guide you in a workshop session to edit and perfect your work. 2 classes.

4/21 – 4/28

6:30 – 8:30 pm

(Page 12, Spring 2009 catalogue)


Preserve Family History

Don’t let the intimate stories of your unique family history pass on with loved ones. Learn how to collect these special stories from your family. Discover how to get started and complete an interview. Develop a better understanding of how to craft the questions, answer questions and what to do with the final product. 1 class.


6:30 – 8:30 pm

(Page 12, Spring 2009 catalogue)


Intensive Italian for Travelers (Level 1)

4/20 – 5/13 (Monday/Wednesday)

10:00 – 11:30 am

(Page 21, Spring 2009 catalogue)

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