Recently I took a tri-state tour around the midwest – to Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin – to see first hand all the neat towns and interesting agricultural efforts I’d heard about in the last few years. I loved it all and can’t wait to go back for more!
Here are a few discoveries I hope will inspire travels and/or efforts in your local area:
1) Underground Breakfasts That Directly Benefit Farmers @ Selma Cafe
Homemade spam anyone?
Jeff McCabe and Lisa Gottlieb run Selma Cafe in Ann Arbor out of their own home. Throngs of hungry locals flock to FridayMornings@Selma – “a local-foods breakfast salon, offering a gathering place for friends and community to imagine and create a new vital and sustainable regional food economy.”
Volunteers build hoop-houses from Selma Cafe breakfast proceeds for area farmers.
2) New Michigan Home Food Processor Law
In July of this year, Michigan passed a new law to allow “cottage food processors” to make food in their cottages (nowadays houses) for direct sale to consumers. The new rules include plenty of precautions to ensure consumer protection and that only very small food makers – who may have trouble finding or affording commercial kitchens – are able to benefit.
I learned about this law from Julie Rabinovitz, whose Tasty Bakery makes gluten-free desserts. She is typical of other home processors I’ve spoken with who say their kitchen is even cleaner than most commercial kitchens, largely because they take the responsibility and privilege of working from their home kitchens so seriously.
3) Middle Eastern Food in Dearborn, MI
This is not a new surprise. In fact most of the restaurants and bakeries in Dearborn are decades old. Yet to a Californian who grew up with just a smattering of restaurants and bakeries in Los Angeles and who enjoys visiting Atlantic Ave in Brooklyn for Sahadi’s and other middle eastern treats – Dearborn delights both in food and interestingness.
Years ago friends from Ann Arbor had shared a box of baklava, cashew fingers, and other sweets from Shatila, whose website I love for its dancing pastry animations. Completely fresh, crunchy, buttery, chock full of nuts, and very very well priced. In fact I’ve known restaurants in California to order pastries from Shatila.
The entire Warren Rd street is lined with shops and restaurants with signs in Arabic as well as English. A recommendation to visit El Ameer for lunch, both from people who’d worked in the area at Ford as well as other customers at Shatila – all I can say is “yum.” It was hard to choose where to eat (some options on a Yelp list and Chow) Even if you are flying through Detroit, if you love this type of food it could very well be worth taking a taxi over for a meal and some pastries to go.
4) Capitol Vegetable Garden in Madison
To demonstrate how easy it is to grow vegetables at home, smack dab in front of the elaborate state capitol sits a vibrant, large vegetable plot, run by Community GroundWorks.
The Dane County Farmer’s Market wraps around this block, exposing thousands of people to the garden.
5) Cheap All Day Transit Pass in Chicago
OK I cheated: This is not exactly food related except that I discovered lots of food by accident thanks to this pass after visiting Chocolate Gourmet – such as a sub from Bari, where I was told all the fire fighters eat. (Some were also seen getting sugared up across the street at Terry’s Toffee.)
For around $6 the Unlimited-Ride Pass let me explore to my heart’s content on buses and trains. As I hopped on and off (being especially thrilled to ride the elevated trains I’d only seen in movies), I realized how great this pass is for tourism. And it’s easy to buy, at any drug store.
In the bay area, I’ve seen 1-day passes on San Francisco’s MUNI for $13 as well as a cable car pass, but the fact that a casual traveler without a pass needs to pay every time you leave a BART station adds up quickly.
A BART Plus ticket is the next best option, with unlimited bus rides and the actual BART ride price being subtracted from the ticket price.
A cross-transportation system (MUNI, Ferries, A/C Transit, BART, CalTrain) one day pass could be huge for bay area tourism and use of public transportation. Pipe dream? Probably.