Thursday, June 24, 2010

Restaurant Week: Summer 2010

Once in the winter and once in the summer great food in Ann Arbor becomes a little bit more accessible. We have places that are cheap and delicious all year round, but down town also has its fair share of more upscale establishments. I rarely make it in to any of them, in part because of the cost and in part because it seems that as the restaurant gets fancier the vegetarian offerings dwindle. There are obvious exceptions, but for the most part I know that if I’m going out for a really nice meal, I can plan to order one of 1-3 fish-based items on the menu, or some kind of cheesy pasta. As a result, I have to know there is something I really want before I’m willing to head in and ask for a table. Enter Restaurant Week: lots of restaurants offer $12/lunch and $25/dinner for fixed price menus, and some even offer 2 for 1 lunches ($12/lunch for two!). Not only are the prices impressive for many of these restaurants (with lunch being the real bargain, but at a time of day I can rarely swing), but the menus are put together to highlight the chef’s specialties and to offer enough variety that everyone can find at least one thing for each course that looks delicious.

Alicia and I had been eyeing Logan, and eclectic looking American restaurant with a bright interior and a simple but delicious looking menu, for quite some time. Their restaurant week menu looked tasty, so we made a reservation. (NB: If you want to eat dinner at one of the smaller restaurants during restaurant week, and there is one day left, you need a reservation. It gets crowded, and then it gets ugly, so call ahead!) We were not disappointed. Between the two of us, we ordered just about everything on the menu. I had the asparagus tempura (but forgot to photograph it), and Alicia had the Logan salad to start, and I had the gruyere salad (not worth a photo, but delicious) and she had the asparagus penne for part two. Finally, Alicia got the pork tenderloin (pictured below) and I had the trout (pictured at the top) for the final course. Everything was delicious, but the jerk sauce with cilantro that surrounded my fish was my favorite part. I like spicy food, but usually jerk spice is used on meats I don't eat. This was so exciting!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

New York, New York

As promised, a post about the exciting things I did on my trip to New York City last week:

Since I was working (and getting paid!), I didn’t have nearly as much free time as I’d hoped. What I’d anticipated would be a light teaching schedule turned into all-consuming days that, although rewarding and even fun, were exhausting. By the time I left around 6:15pm or 6:30pm, I was a little drained. By the time I’d attended a networking or dinner event, or found dinner on my own, it was 9:30pm or 10:00pm, and I was ready for bed (or at least to head back to the hotel to go to bed shortly). As a result, I didn’t take many pictures. Here are a few of the lovely Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia’s medical campus in Washington Heights, which is quite lovely:

The one really exciting and touristy thing I did while I was there was rent a bike and ride around Central Park. It was shockingly similar to riding in traffic in Ann Arbor, which I found a little disappointing. It’s not that I wanted it to be terrible, I just wanted to come home feeling like the drivers here were so much more aware of cyclists on the roads, etc… After navigating my way down 57th St. to 8th Ave and through Columbus Circle to the entrance of the park, I had a lovely ride. It took me a little bit to find the road (where bikes are supposed to ride) rather than the walking paths (where bikes are not supposed to ride), but once I did, it was great. There is a huge bike lane as well as a walking path beside the road. I assume that on a normal day these are used more or less as marked, but I happened to be there on a day when there was “an event.” I’m still not sure what was going on, other than that it appeared to be some kind of corporate fitness challenge, but I am sure that part of the loop road was closed, shunting me out of the park and on to real streets. I turned around and did another U-shape around the park, turned around again, and then went out on the real streets to see if I could find another part of the loop. I should have paid more attention to the map before I left (or brought one with me!), but I didn’t, and when I reentered the park (and what I think was the southeast corner) I was hopelessly lost. I thought I was at the north end, and so went down to where the road was closed (which I thought was southeast of where I needed to be, but was actually northeast of where I needed to be) and asked the nice park guides how to get back. They rightly pointed me toward the opposite side of the park, but I was so turned around that nothing would have helped. After completing the U-shape again and asking another park guide (who pointed me back south, which I thought was north), I was starting to panic. I had rented my bike at 7pm for only an hour, as the bike shop closed at 8pm. It was dangerously close to 8pm and I didn’t feel like I had time to be lost in the park. Instead of trying to navigate the loop, I stopped another park guide and looked at his map. I headed out on the 72nd St exit and made a quick left onto Central Park West and headed south. At that point I realized how turned around I had been, but knew where I needed to go. I made it back to the bike shop by 8:10pm, and thankfully they were still open! (They didn’t even seem to notice I was late…)

Out of breath and sweaty in my lovely bike gear, I headed back to the hotel. I called Alicia to tell her of my escapades, and didn’t want to get into the elevator and lose my signal, so I sat in the hotel lobby in my padded shorts and jersey, which seemed hilarious to me. After I got off the phone, I tried to capture the hilarity, and largely failed, but here is my bike gear in the hotel lobby photo:

Overall I had a good time, though I came back tired and feeling behind on my work. Back to it…

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Beer intervals…

Apologies for the delay – I was in NYC teaching last week and hardly had time to take a breath, much less post… Will post more about my trip soon, but wanted to get this out since I started writing it before I left…

I’ve really been enjoying training on my bike, though the distances I’m going at this point are starting to feel long. For my short rides during the week I shoot for 15-20 miles and my long rides on the weekends are somewhere between 25-50 miles. The rides actually don’t feel long in terms of the biking, but I get hungry and have to go to the bathroom during the 1.5-3 hours I’m spending on the bike. Enter beer intervals, the clear answer to all of these problems. Though none of the training manuals or calendars I’ve looked at recommend beer in the middle of a ride, I think it’s a lovely way to break up a longer ride. Pick a bar that’s about half the intended distance from home, pick a beer that’s not too alcoholic and pair it with a salty snack (to replenish electrolytes, of course), and then bike home!

Alicia and I biked to Sidetrack in Ypsilanti’s Depot Town on Thursday evening (a week and a half ago now). We both had the Dark Horse Raspberry Ale, which was delicious, and shared some chips and salsa before biking home.

The following day we headed down to the Ann Arbor Green Fair/Bike Fest. After we’d browsed the bikes (including running into some friends from Common Cycle, an amazing new non-profit bike coop in Ann Arbor), we headed over to ABC, where I tried their take on Raspberry Wheat, which was delicious.

After coming back from New York, I was a little rusty on the bike, but not so out of shape that the promise of ice cream couldn’t motivate me. A variation on the beer interval, the ice cream interval, is also a favorite training technique of mine, and today we drove out to Chelsea and did a nice loop through the rolling hills around there. We stopped in Waterloo (not to be confused with the one in Belgium, or the one in Iowa) and had some delicious ice cream before heading home. I must say, the placement of this stop just about 18 miles in to a 26 mile ride was great; riding more than halfway before you stop and have a snack is a lovely arrangement.

**Photos courtesy of my phone... Apologies for the slight graininess/odd color balance.**

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Just fix your problems with solutions…

This has been Ash’s Google chat status off an on for quite some time, and it always amuses me. So rarely are the solutions easily identified and implemented that it makes it seem silly to even suggest this as an answer. Unless, apparently, your computer is still under warranty and something seems to be technically malfunctioning. The oh-so-sleekly-designed-yet-vaguely-less-functional media button panel on my laptop started to malfunction a while back. It would stubbornly try to eject a CD when the drive was empty, or eject a DVD in the middle of watching. It would also turn up the volume to the maximum, entirely of it’s own accord. I called Dell and had a lovely tech support person update the drivers/firmware/BIOS on my computer, all to no avail. Finally, since none of these had worked and the buttons continued to act like pieces in a haunted house, they said they would replace the parts – the CD/DVD drive and the buttons. I believed that it would be worth the $40 to have a technician come to the house and replace these rather than to mail my computer away for 7-10 valuable working days, and Dell proved me correct. The kind technician arrived on time, disassembled and reassembled my computer with the new parts in about 20 minutes, and all is well. Yay for fixing problems with solutions!

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

A day for gratuitous Walter photos…

I took some cute pictures of the dog the other day and wanted to share. I do not think it is a coincidence that he looks progressively less pleased that I am taking his picture (and not taking him out) as they progress.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Longest bike ride of my life thus far!

Today Alicia and I biked from the apartment out to Dexter and back, going through downtown Ann Arbor and along Huron River Drive. For good reason, this road is widely known as the most scenic bike route around, and there were tons of bikes on the road today. (I learned that there are many ways to acknowledge fellow cyclists on the road: the head nod, the low left-hand wave, the left- or right-hand finger raise, or some combination of the above. I think I prefer the head nod and left-hand finger raise – it’s hard to miss and doesn’t throw off your balance.)

I had planned to do a 25-30 mile ride today, in keeping with my training schedule for One Helluva Ride. I’ve been slowly increasing my weekly mileage, and trying to increase my long rides by 5-10 miles each week. Last week we biked ~22 miles round trip, and prior to this weekend, my longest bike ride ever was 26.2 miles. (It is notable that I biked a marathon in the same time it took the women’s Olympic marathon team to run theirs. Tried not to feel demoralized… Failed…) I’d never ridden on Huron River Drive, mostly because it’s a few miles from the apartment just to get there, and I was never game for a longer ride. Until today…

The key to making this ride a success was the Dexter Bakery. A convenient and delicious destination (and having some kind of destination makes biking so much more fun), it marked the halfway point of our ride. We got some really delicious raspberry-and-cream-cheese filled muffins (which were sort of like cornbread meets cake), the perfect fuel to get us home (except for the cream cheese part, which neither of us ate).

When all was said and done, we’d ridden 28.8 miles, and happily made it home (I was only concerned for a brief stretch that I wouldn’t make it up a hill)! I stretched a bunch, and am planning to do so again later this afternoon to avoid the pain and suffering of hip flexors and quads less than 1/4 their usual length…

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Led astray…

Mark Bittman is one of the few people outside my close friends and family that I trust almost unquestioningly. His How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian are my go to cookbooks, and his column in the New York Times inspires me on a pretty regular basis. (The 101 Simple Salads article was a particularly notable hit!) When I got an invitation to a barbecue earlier this week, I immediately thought of baked beans, and remembered a recipe I’d tried a while back from the aforementioned How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. The recipe is vegan, and includes kombu, the seaweed used to make dashi, the delicious broth in lots of Japanese soups. What I did not recall about the recipe, however, is that the cooking time is not correct.

Last night I put the beans (a mix of small kidneys and cranberry beans, both slightly larger than the called for navy beans, which should have been a red flag) into the crock pot. I left them for a bit, until they got as big as the crock pot and wouldn’t fit anymore. At that point I sautéed the onion and tomatoes, added the mustard and molasses, and combined everything with some water in a larger baking dish. I baked the beans for an hour, and then put them in the fridge for the night. I got up this morning (just before 6am; thank you, Walter) and put the beans back in the oven for another hour and a little bit. When it was time to leave I put them back in the fridge for the day and headed to school. At this point they had cooked for several hours in the crock pot and two hours in the oven. I anticipated 1-1.5 hours left to soft, creamy baked beans. I came home after my seminar and put them back in the oven. Two and a half hours later it was time for my barbecue and the beans were still vaguely crunchy! They cooked for a total of 4 hours in the oven (compared to the 3 hours described in the recipe) as well as in the crock pot and still weren’t done! I put them in the fridge, went to the barbecue (after picking up some ready-made salads at the grocery store), and had a great time. After I came home, I turned the oven back on, put the beans in, and went on a bike ride. (Don’t worry, Alicia was home with the oven on.) When I got back, they were just about done – they only cooked for 5+ hours and were finally ready. Without further ado:

Baked Beans
adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

1/4 cup neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn
2 medium onions, chopped
1 large can diced tomatoes, mostly drained
1 5-inch piece kombu
1 pound dried beans
1/2 cup molasses
2 tablespoons prepared mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Soak the beans overnight or get them started in a slow cooker for a few hours.

Preheat the oven to 300F. Heat the oil over medium-high heat and add the onions. Stir until the onions are soft and golden. Add the tomatoes and stir until they smell good – another few minutes.

Add the kombu, molasses, and mustard, mixing well. Combine with the beans in an ovenproof pot or casserole or a cake pan, and add enough water to cover. Cover with a lid or foil and bake for 2 hours. Stir and add water if necessary to cover the beans, and put them back in the oven until the beans are completely cooked, another 1-2 hours (this will vary a lot with the size of the beans).

Sprinkle with salt and pepper, stir well to help break up the kombu, then taste and add more molasses or mustard as necessary. Turn the oven up to 400F, and bake uncovered for 30 minutes so that the beans are creamy and the liquid has thickened. If they still taste crunchy, simply add a little more water, cover, and bake at 350F until they are done.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

120 miles!

I’ve biked just over 120 miles as part of my training for One Helluva Ride in July. Today, I biked a 10 mile interval workout with the end point at the Farmer’s Market. This was lovely, and the morning ride was much cooler than later in the day. I picked up green onions, asparagus, spinach, and some greenhouse tomatoes, and saw the woman who runs my winter CSA picking up strawberries to freeze – yum!

I’d checked the weather report before I left, and while it said 100% change of thunderstorms around 11am, it was only 30% at 8am (when I left the house). This seemed like good odds to me. Lesson here: do not gamble. As I left the market the thunder began, and by the time I was at the bridge over the river, large droplets began dampening by jersey (and shorts, and helmet, and bike, and bag)… I made it home before the downpour began (see below), but just barely. Drying off now…