Two Recent Conversations Over Breakfast

A couple of weeks ago:
Shane, eating breakfast: “Where did this bread come from?”
E, making coffee: “It’s just the normal baguette.”
Shane: “Oh! It’s really good! I thought maybe it was still some of the Roadhouse bread that Gemma had bought.”
E: “That’s maybe the best compliment you’ve ever made about my cooking!”

And then this morning:
Shane, eating breakfast: “Why does your food taste better than my food?”
E: “My food has a greater degree of chaos”

Half a half

I am writing this post from the warmth and coziness of my own bed, which is where one should be on a Sunday afternoon when it is below freezing. Shane is napping next to me, Basil is asleep on my feet, and Mina is nestled into a comfy spot atop Shane. I think I’ve finally taken the edge off of the cold from this:

Dexter Ann Arbor Road

Dexter Ann Arbor Road

6.5 miles today – half a mile further than my longest run ever, much less this year, much less in the winter. The weather this week was less punishing – it was sunny! and 26! – but the run was more difficult, with more hills, more residual soreness from the week’s workouts, and no magic cinnamon rolls for fuel.

I walked a little at the apex of the hills on the way home. I neglected to bring water or gel, and so broke off an icicle to suck on for part of the run. I paused my Garmin at the 6 mile mark to buy a Powerade, the weight of which compounded my arms’ tiredness on the last half mile. I saw a snow dog:

Snow Dog

Last weekend he was wearing a cheesehead. Today he just looked pleased to see me. I came home, took a hot hot shower, and was back out in the cold within half an hour, waiting to catch the bus downtown so that I could fill my protein window* with a sandwich from Zingerman’s. I had ham, asparagus, and mozzarella on grilled sourdough, and got a little work done until the small room where I was drinking my coffee and working on my laptop became so overrun with people** that I had to leave.

I took the bus home and took a nap. These are the things I did with my day instead of course prep. These are things I did with my day because I ran 6.5 miles.

*Just kidding about the protein window. I actually have no idea about such things, but have enjoyed jokingly using the phrase since reading Microserfs more than a decade ago.
**The room had seating enough for 14: 3 4-tops, 1 2-top. I was seated at the 2-top, and the 4-top directly behind me was occupied by 3 women. When I left, there were 15 people seated at the remaining 2 4-tops, none of whom had ordered food. I think they may have thought it was a full-service restaurant, rather than a deli where you order at the counter. They brought in a birthday cake from Whole Foods. I know Zing is all about customer service, but on a busy Sunday, that’s pretty ridiculous.

1201 Thoughts on Zingerman’s

Our feelings about Zingerman’s have undergone several shifts since we made our first visit while apartment hunting in the summer of 2009.

At first, we were smitten.  We had breakfast at the Deli two days in a row, and brought back Zing treats for our friends in DC.  My coworkers at GW gave me a gift card for Zing as a going-away present.  When Jenn and Bill came to visit, we did the whirlwind Tour de Food and got wildly oversized Zing shirts.

At some point, our opinions started to change.  I mean, the sandwiches are great, but who really needs to spend $15 on a single sandwich?  I worked at the mail order operation over the holidays and was astounded that people would pay $80-125 plus shipping to send  a couple of reubens across the country.  Even though I knew exactly how good the coffeecake was, I had a hard time justifying the $25-50 price tag.  It’s a coffeecake, people.  A really good coffeecake, but a coffeecake nonetheless.  When people would ask us about Zingerman’s, we’d agree that yeah, it was great, but also pretty overrated.

On the other hand, there’s absolutely nothing overrated about their service.  Everything sold by the mail order is guaranteed period – which I can vouch for first-hand, as when a birthday package of cheese and bread went astray en route to Brooklyn, it was replaced without question, even though the original (soggy) package turned up a few days later.  At the Deli, they practically stumble over each other while trying to offer you samples of anything you’d like.  Want to try $200 ham? Sure, here’s a slice.  Do you like pistachio? Eat this. Now.  You don’t like salmon? Try just a tiny bite of this and chase it with this cornichon if you really hate it.  As far as I know, the only thing that is off limits for tasting is the $750 balsamic vinegar.

I mention this because tonight I didn’t feel like cooking, and instead suggested that we grab a sandwich at Zingerman’s.  The “fish guy” – we don’t know his real name, so that’s what we call him – came over to say hi and gave us recommendations on his favorite sandwich – the Cuban Conundrum – which we ended up ordering.  He also begged us to try a celery soda, which we split three ways and enjoyed a great deal more than expected.

I’ll be honest: I didn’t love the sandwich.  It was a fine sandwich, accompanied by a pair of fine pickles – old and garlicky for me, new and cucumbery for Shane.  When I pay top dollar  for a sandwich, I expect a damned fine sandwich.  But when you factor in the friendly greetings and conversation, the quality of ingredients, the generous samples, and the enthusiasm for sharing good things, I don’t feel like we spent too much at all.

1022 Happy mouths, happy friends.

@ Jolly Pumpkin
Photo by ryanbmolloy

I’m really having a hard time figuring out the best part of tonight. Was it the red chile tofu sandwich at Jolly Pumpkin? The trio of dips split by a trio of friends? The fact that I successfully ate something other than oatmeal or soup? Perhaps it was Shane’s walleye, which he later said he wished he could just eat forever without stopping. If walleye become an endangered species, you can blame him.

zingerman's
Photo by surlygirl

Or was it Laurie’s first visit to Zingerman’s? We were plied with anchovies, cheese, and four or five kinds of ham, culminating with jamón ibérico. Jamón ibérico! $200 per pound! Cue the sounds of angelic delight. And then we went Next Door and tried chocolate studded with cacao nibs, and were told that we were basically making more chocolate in our mouths as we ate.

Chocolates at Zingerman's

Happy mouths, happy friends.

0205 Ode to a Curry Bagel

Zingerman’s bagels came up in conversation the other weekend, with strong opinions being expressed both for and against.  Personally, I’m bagel agnostic.  There are times for the large pillowy “sandwich” bagel made popular by chains like Bruegger’s or Panera.  There are times for the traditional New York-style bagel.  Occasionally I will even enjoy a squagel.  I’m not one that can generally be drawn into the defense of one style over another, unless we’re talking about Bagels Forever, who have my undying affection, or Rockford’s Bagel Place, home of my beloved seedy sticks.

That said, I’m a fan of Zing bagels, especially when they are free, so my curiosity was piqued when someone mentioned that curry bagels were once on the menu.  In perusing the menu yesterday, I noticed that the curry bagels are BACK as a special bake, so we made a point to pick a couple up last night.  Shane was suspicious of the intense yellow and the raisins, and comments from the internet ranged from curiosity to disgust.  I, however, was delighted.  We had the bagels for breakfast this morning with a bit of cream cheese, and they proved to be both sweet and savory, with a bit of spice from the garam masala.  They’re only available through March, though, so some stocking up may be in order.

Curry bagel!

0204 Randolph’s Grand Début

I’m going to Chicago for the weekend, so, as is our custom when one of us is going away for a few days, we went on a mini-date tonight.  I had a gift certificate for Zingerman’s left from my year-end work gift stash, so a sandwich from their ridiculous menu was in order.

While we’ve been to the Deli a number of times, the sandwich menu never fails to intimidate.  After much debate, we settled on the #99, Randolph’s Grand Début – the Deli’s version of the classic croque monsieur – with a citrus slaw with Marcona almonds on the side.  We immediately tucked in to crusty bread, Swiss cheese both inside and out, piles of peppered ham, and layers of eye-watering Dijon mustard.  To think that a few years ago, Shane refused to eat mustard – look at what he was missing!  I’m not sure if the sandwich really needed the Swiss cheese melted outside the sandwich, but Zingerman’s doesn’t do anything halfway – one of the reasons we usually split our sandwiches.  The citrus slaw was crisp and fresh, but probably not something we’d order again.  For dessert, tiny bites of sample brownies and cookies – then home to pack and listen to records.  A really nice evening!

A2 Update!

We’ve been here a month, and some folks are wondering what sorts of shenanigans we’ve been up to. I’ll summarize in brief, and maybe be more vigilant about posting in the future.

Work: Shane started his job on Aug. 31 and seems to like it so far.  He’s going to a lot of meetings, taking a couple of fitness classes through UM, and getting burgers on Thursday with a regular crew from the office.  UM seems to be treating him well, which is a very good thing!  Shortly after starting, we discovered that I can be covered on his insurance as his Other Qualifying Adult, which is pretty awesome indeed – especially because I’m in my 6th week of being unemployed.

Job Hunt: I have applied for what feels like a bajillion jobs since leaving GW, interviewed for two, and been turned down for one (minimum wage = wah).  I am persevering, though, and am hopeful that something will come up soon.  Having just one income has meant a lot of conversations about money, long-term plans, etc – big and sometimes scary stuff to deal with.  I am incredibly thankful for Shane’s good job and for his support.  Being unemployed has also meant a lot of time to spend on things like sewing, running, and volunteering, all of which I’ll write more about later.

Wedding: we were due to get married on Oct. 10, but as previously mentioned, those plans were suspended when we decided to move here.  Now we’re talking about a spring wedding, maybe in Cleveland, maybe involving a lot of mimosas.  Stay tuned for more info!

Cats: Basil has been barfing up a storm for the last couple of days, but after a trip to the very affordable vet (no seriously – 59 bones covered the office visit and two kinds of meds), I think it might be under control.  The cats seem to be digging the new place and spend a lot of time stalking the squirrel that torments them by hanging out in the tree by our front window.

Domesticity: We’ve been homebodies a lot this month because we’re trying to save money – but eating well because I’m a good little housewife.  Lots of roast chicken, homemade bread, soups, stuff like that.  The sudden turn in the weather means that there will be more of the same to stick to our bones in the coming months.

Adventures: When we do get out and about, though, it’s to do inexpensive and tasty things like:

  • splitting sandwiches at Zingerman’s – tonight we had the Rocco’s Revenge, the sandwich of the month for September
  • blueberry picking in Dexter – we picked a couple of pounds for a grand total of $4 (including a soda)
  • beers at Arbor Brewing Company – not the best brewpub or beer by any means, but it does the trick
  • breakfast at FM@SELMA – I’ve been volunteering here since we first landed in town, but last week was the first week we made it to breakfast – amazing pork shoulder with pepper sauce, cornbread, and fried eggs.  Mmmm.
  • volunteer at the Homegrown Festival – we helped with set up, then poured for Arcadia, drinking a lot of free beer and eating excellent food along the way

Shane also went on a pretty epic beer tour spanning four states with Mike and Bill, but I’ll let him tell you about that later.  He’s off to San Francisco on Saturday – I’ll be holding down the fort with Mina and barfcat and enjoying a visit from my sister and her husband for a few days.  What have YOU been up to?

Midwest Tour, part 4

Day 6: Rockford, IL > Ann Arbor, MI
States: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan

We had to get on the road first thing in the morning in order to get to Ann Arbor in time for a 4:30pm apartment showing, which meant limited lingering over brunch with the extended family, much to my disappointment.  It was nice to get to see everyone – hopefully next time we won’t be so rushed.  After a quick stop for hugs at Jenn and Bill’s, we were on the road a little after 11 and motored on around Chicago, dipping down into Indiana before hitting Michigan’s glorious 70 mph highways, rolling into Ann Arbor just in time.

Apartment #1 was a 2 bedroom with a basement located in a tree-filled neighborhood about 1.5 miles from Kerrytown and the U of M campus.  The landlord’s dad gave us a tour, mentioning along the way that the current tenant worked at the library.  On our way out, we noticed a stack of articles about institutional repositories on his coffee table.  What are the chances, right?  We had some time to kill before apartment #2, so we made our first trip to Zingerman’s.

Zingerman’s!  Sigh.  The stuff of dreams.  Walking around Kerrytown felt like going home to Champaign – neighborhood-scale streets, friendly people, good food.  We immediately found a co-op and I literally leapt for joy – or would have, if I hadn’t felt totally brain-dead from the driving and the hangover.  With two days ahead of us, though, we decided to save some exploring for later, and went to check out apartment #2, which was closer to the fun stuff but also much smaller and weirdly laid out.  Satisfied with our house-hunting, we checked into our hotel, signed the lease, and headed off for dinner.

I really can’t describe to you how happy we were that evening.  The weather was perfect.  We had a new apartment, and along with it a huge weight off.  We wandered around the downtown area, settling on Blue Tractor for a totally adequate dinner, then heading back to our hotel to pass the hell on out.

Day 7: Ann Arbor, MI
States: Michigan

We’d expected to have to do a bit more househunting, so with a lease signed and sealed, we found ourselves with a full day free in Ann Arbor.  We started off with breakfast at Zingerman’s – polenta for me, and the Kentucky King Platter for Shane.  The rest of the morning was dedicated to lazy walking around, exploring little shops in Kerrytown, and sitting in a park and feeling sleepy.  We had a late lunch at Red Hawk on campus, then went back to the hotel for a nap.  I ❤ vacation naps.

After a bit of driving around, we decided to park ourselves at a coffeeshop in order to enjoy the beautiful weather and our books – then ended up at Ashley’s for dinner and, as it happened, trivia.  Shane went to Ashley’s for dinner when he was in Ann Arbor for his job interview, and was so enamored with their drafts list that he insisted we go back.  This turned out to be a fortuitous choice!  We had our books sitting on the table, and a girl came up to ask Shane if he was, in fact, reading Infinite Jest.  She said that she was part of a book club participating in Infinite Summer, and invited him to join them for their discussion in the future.  Fun and random, right?  Well, as the evening progressed, we inadvertently eavesdropped on her conversation and learned that not only is she a nice person who invites strangers to a book club – she also works at the U of M library in a department that Shane will be working with!  Upon discovering that, we exchanged contact information and exclaimed about the coincidence!  That made two totally random encounters with library people – or library people’s stuff – in two days, which to me feels like a pretty good sign that we’re moving to the right place.  In addition, thanks to my otherwise totally useless knowledge of The Doors, we came in 2nd in trivia, winning a $10 gift certificate to Ashley’s that we look forward to using once we arrive.

Back at the hotel, we were in for an interesting night.  We turned in around 11, hoping for a good night’s sleep before a long day of travel.  We were definitely not in luck.  From 11-1, we were treated to unending noise from our upstairs and other nearby neighbors.  It wasn’t a lot of noise – just enough to keep us both awake.  Shane tried to call the front desk – no answer.  I finally got dressed and went to talk to the management, only to discover that they closed up shop at 11.  Perfect timing!  I guess that’s what you get when you’re paying $50 or less for a hotel.  I went upstairs to knock on the hotel room door, and instead ran into three cops dusting for fingerprints on a busted vending machine.  I have no idea what they were really doing there – but whatever it was, it quieted down our neighbors, and we finally got some sleep out of the evening.

Day 8: Ann Arbor, MI > Alexandria, VA
States: Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia

The final day of our trip was also the longest day of travel – for Shane at least.  Having used up all of my earned vacation time for this trip, I had made arrangements to work the late shift on the day of our return.  Not knowing how much time we’d need in Ann Arbor, though, we’d talked it over and I’d booked a one-way flight home from Detroit.  After breakfast at Zingerman’s (trip #4, including a stop for a beverage and Caroline’s coffee), we drove to the Detroit airport.  I wheedled my way onto an earlier flight, putting me back in sweaty-sweaty DC at 3pm – just enough time to cab home, take a shower, feed the cats, and turn around and head back into DC for work at 6pm.  If anything noteworthy happened on Shane’s long looong loooooong drive home, I’m not aware of it, as by the time I got home at 9:30pm, he had been home with enough time to unload the car and bottle his beer.  I owe him one – a big one – for that trip.

So, all told, we logged 1837 miles in 8 days, acquired several cases of beer, saw a lot of family and friends, found a new home, and made it back in one piece.  We were patient and kind to each other, despite forgetting both camera and iPod chargers.  There were no major incidents of any kind.  A successful trip!