Monday, January 31, 2011

Laugh at Winter with Snow-Motor

Who needs a snow day when you have one of these? Worth another look before the storm:

Armstead Snow Motors from Seeking Michigan on Vimeo.
This is a 16mm demo film of the Armstead Snow Motors Company concept snow vehicle.  It was filmed in 1924.  The concept is applied to a Fordson tractor and a Chevrolet automobile.  The original film is part of the collections of the Archives of Michigan.  The text of the original patent is at:

Friday, January 28, 2011

Vodka Vodka Viggo Viggo

Vodka Vodka returns tonight for its second year as Detroit’s “premier vodka-tasting party.” The Soviet-inspired event features vodka tastings, vodka-infused cuisine from local restaurants, and a performance by DJ Jenny La Femme.

I’m not typically a fan of vodka, and everything I know about Russia I learned from “Eastern Promises” and “Crime and Punishment,” so I’m attending purely as a study in culture. Plus, with snow and cold in the forecast, vodka and furry hats feel just about right. Local vodkas include Hard Luck Vodka, Traverse City Vodka, Ugly Dog Vodka, and Valentine Vodka.

Vodka Vodka begins at 8:00pm at the Royal Oak Farmer’s Market. Read more at Metro Times, and purchase your tickets here. A portion of the proceeds benefit Forgotten Harvest to fight hunger in Detroit. If you see me at the event, stop and say "привет" – I’ll look like this.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Happy Birthday Michigan

The 26th and best state turns 174-years old today. What to get a state that already has everything? I suppose a blog post with a few links will have to do. For Michigan’s birthday I recommend “The Rough and Rocky Road to Statehood” at Seeking Michigan, and “173 Years of Michigan Statehood” (from last year) at the Night Train. If you’re interested in reading something more in-depth, I suggest Michigan’s Columbus: the Life of Douglas Houghton by Steve Lehto, and the classic, Michigan: a History of the Wolverine State by Willis F. Dunbar. Finally, one of my favorite videos off all time, and oldie but a goodie, Roaming Through Michigan (never gets old):

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Don't Mess with Michigan

Two interesting responses addressing the national media’s coverage of Michigan: Tom Griffioen of Sweet Juniper! wrote an article at Urbanophile, “Yes There Are Grocery Stores in Detroit,” in response to the perception that Detroit is a “food desert.” And Grand Rapids Mayor George K. Heartwell wrote a letter to Tina Brown in response to Newsweek’sAmerica’s Dying Cities” article, which listed Grand Rapids amongst the dying. Two good reads today in defense of the great state of Michigan - take that national media.

Snow Days (Part 1 of 2)

In Michigan we are truly blessed. We live in a state with all four seasons and we are surrounded by some of the world’s greatest natural wonders. Given the choice between sitting in a cubicle or wandering winter trails, most every adult I know would choose a hike over staring at a computer. Sadly, grown-ups don’t get snow days; that’s a pleasure only a child can know. Now, these sacred snow days might be at risk.

An article today in the Grand Rapids Press, “Should Michigan schools replace snow days with ‘e-days’?,” offers a troubling alternative to snow days, an indoctrination into the mind-numbing life of your average desk jockey, where days of sledding and snowball fights are replaced by hours staring at a screen; where days when kids once learned to entertain themselves with the wonders of the natural world are replaced with rote school work.

I understand the desire to get students online and to keep them competitive in a global marketplace, and I’m fully aware of the political posturing that comes along with our public education system. But as a teacher myself, I also understand that students are fed up with technology. We, the “older” generation, assume that this new tech generation is obsessed with computers. On the contrary, having spent their lives surrounded by computers, they’re bored with them. What students want and need is freedom - freedom from overbearing parents, from scheduled, mandated lives, and from the constant barrage of media. What these students need is to get outside.

If a school absolutely must mandate that students work on snow days to meet state requirements, why should e-learning be the only option? As an alternative, why not a day of poetry, or of nature learning? Hand out a list of poems about winter at the beginning of the school year and have the students set them aside. During a snow day, require students to spend the day outside, and then spend the evening reading poetry. The next day at school, have the students write about their adventure, perhaps a poem of their own that reflects on sledding and the meaning of nature. Have them write it on a computer, if you must.

Wouldn’t this provide a better education? With such highly specialized and claustrophobic curriculum, students need a break; they need some poetry in their lives. I submit that a hike in the woods with sled in tow provides a much better education that any e-learning course ever could. We should all be so lucky.

Snow Days (Part 2 of 2)

This is how you do it - a hike at Hartwick Pines:

Remains of the Monarch

Learn about the Monarch

Big tree... big, big tree

Stump with snow

The Chapel

Nature's Prayer

Lesson complete

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Marie Catrib’s Grilled Cheese Sandwich

The following is a guest post by Abbey Adams. A version of this post originally appeared on Abbey’s sandwich review and rating blog, Grilled Cheese Tour.

Restaurant: Marie Catrib’s, 1001 Lake Drive Southeast, Grand Rapids, MI 49506

Name: The Adult Grilled Cheese

Sandwich and Bowl 'o' Potato
Ingredients: "A sinful combination of feta, goat, and cream cheeses with a drizzle of olive oil and cracked red pepper grilled with fresh tomatoes and basil on your favorite bread."  You can pick from a variety of breads: challah, white, wheat, rye, whole-wheat herb, branny-oat (?), and a bunch of gluten-free options.

Sides: You get a pickle and are offered potatoes. The potatoes are grilled and come in a bowl - a BOWL of potatoes. A woman asked from afar what I was eating when I dug into my bowl of potatoes.

Price: $8.69

Score: ◥◥◥ ½

The Kitchen, the Entertainment
Thoughts:  First thought: I'm not sure if I can get that in my mouth. It's absolutely huge (snicker, snicker). Second thought: Could have been great if they’d just left the bread on the grill a little longer. It was a bit under-grilled. I'm sure it would have been a hot mess if they'd fully cooked all that creamy cheese, so I understand why the insides weren't warmer, but a little browner and a tad hotter and it would've been heavenly. Upon first bite this sandwich was creamy and herby (ah basil!); definitely not your average grilled cheese, with a nice mix of cool (like sour cream), and spicy from the cracked red pepper. You get a tang from the goat cheese but I can't recall much saltiness from the feta. Sometimes the herbs tasted like pesto and then it was almost like a strange bagel from all the cream cheese. Overall, I liked it quite a bit but couldn't finish due to the size of the sandwich and aforementioned potato intake.

Marie Catrib's had been recommended as one of the staples of Grand Rapids, friendly to all kinds of people, which was obvious because it was packed. Be prepared to stand in line if you are going at rush hour (lunch). I did see the real Marie and was too shy to talk to her, but was told she gave out goodies to those who were patiently waiting for a seat. There's cool art on the walls and even cooler (tattooed) boys working the grill. The kitchen is open to see, so you can watch them flipping potatoes and talking to each other like no one else is there. Note to self: Try not to sit directly next to door in the middle of a west Michigan winter. Brrr!

Bonus: So I know all of maybe three people in this city, and somehow I managed to run into a certain old flame eating with his mom. Awkwardness aside, it was good to have company and familiar faces to share in my first Grilled Cheese Tour stop back in Michigan. I've been told for being a big city, Grand Rapids has a very small feel. Everybody knows everybody in some way. If you're into locally-grown and -raised food then you'd be very happy here – also, If you have special dietary needs.

Abbey Adams is an artist, barista, and a life-long student in the midst of trying to grow up, and trying not to take herself too seriously in the process. Her interests range from pop culture to art history, from dogs to insects, from 90's music to grilled cheese sandwiches. Though she’s a picky eater, Abbey can consume her weight in white cheddar cheese popcorn.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Bronco Fight Song, New Packers Fan

WMU alumnus and Green Bay Packer Greg Jennings sings the Bronco fight song:

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Wolverines, you know I love you, but...

Now we have to hire Brady fucking Hoke!
(via @si_vault)

Corned Beef in Plymouth (Rock), Michigan

Forget everything you might have imagined about Bode’s Corned Beef House. From the curb, the view of Bode's is both confusing and appealing, and all but dares you to guess what’s inside. The misplaced building on Plymouth’s Main St. simultaneously conjures images of an old Bavarian brothel and an abandoned soup kitchen. This confounding appearance lead me to conclude that Bode’s was either the best deli in southeast Michigan or an eat-at-your-own-risk health hazard. My assumptions could not have been more wrong. Bode’s is not your typical greasy spoon, it’s not a New York-style Jewish deli. No, Bode’s is beautiful in its simplicity; Bode’s serves corned beef, and they do it well.

Definitely a good sign

You’ll find no pickle tray on the menu, no matzah ball soup. Don’t try to be fancy; order a sandwich. I can’t speak to the entire menu. I can speak to the hot corned beef on rye - delicious, melt-in-your-mouth corned beef. Skip the toppings, skip the condiments, toast the rye and pile on the buttery cow flesh. Since Bode’s serves breakfast all day, I took the liberty of ordering the homemade corned beef hash, just to check. Good stuff, but the sandwich is the thing.

Corned beef on rye with corned beef hash

Bode’s history is palpable - from a railroad hotel, to a relocation to the “more elegant Mayflower” building (does Plymouth have a thing for Pilgrims?), to corned beef house starting in 1959. The front room has one long counter with bar stools. The back room is filled with tiny booths - booths filled with tiny septuagenarians - and the faded pinkish-peach color is a throwback to grandma’s kitchen. Thankfully, it seems the service is also a throwback. My Coke was never empty, my waitress was eager and pleasant. Best of all, with prices cheaper than fast food, Bode’s provides bang for the buck. Consider this my endorsement.

Bavarian brothel, Pilgrim soup kitchen?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

West Side, Best Side, Odd Side Ales

Quirky brews and a warm atmosphere make Odd Side Ales a perfect fit for west Michigan’s eccentric, hometown beer scene. Varieties include Candy Cane Red, Kentucky Jackalope, and Morning Wood -- fun for craft beer novices and interesting enough for geeks and experts. The odd brews are reminiscent of fellow west side envelope-pushers Right Brain and Short’s, and hold their own next to any Michigan beer. Perhaps as interesting as the beer, the brewing operation is housed in Grand Haven’s old Story & Clark piano factory, providing a unique industrial backdrop of large wood beams and pillars, and a sense of Grand Haven history.

Roll out the barrels

Owners Chris and Alyson Michner have been going strong for nearly a year. Chris, a former accountant, brews the beer, and his wife Alyson is manager and beer-slinger, that is, when she’s not busy at her other full-time job as an assistant dean at Hope College. The Odd Side couple has enjoyed success in their first year. The Michners now employ five people and, as Alyson says, “a brother and sister-in-law who work for beer.” Their business model seems relatively simple compared to their complex beers: no business loans, 80 hour work weeks, and over 50 different varieties of beer (though not all at once).

Chris, Alyson, Mugs

Local Grand Haven business Ceramic Cafe helps mug club members make their own unique mug artwork. Alyson proudly points out that mug club members can “bring a growler to drink while they paint.” An upright piano pays homage to the building’s original factory and is perfect for open-mic night or an impromptu tickling of the ivories. Fun lamps and artwork line the walls, along with a mounted jackalope that watches over the bar.

Mood lighting

Here are a few of the beers I sampled, all tasty: 

1. Blueberry Coffee (Nitro): Creamy and smooth with understated berry flavors.

2. Candy Cane Red: Odd, indeed. Starts like a normal beer but ends with a mint aftertaste. A good choice for a casual beer drinker on an adventure.

3. Fat Bottom IPA: Light on hops, heavy on citrus and sweet, almost fruity. My wife, who normally doesn’t like IPA’s, was a big fan.

4. Fudge Brown Coffee Stout: Heavy stout, with a hint of fudge and a lot of coffee flavor. Good for fighting a cold wind blowing off Lake Michigan.

5. Kentucky Jackalope: Barrel-aged amber. Fantastic, one-of-a-kind flavor. My amateur palate can’t do this beer justice. I liked it, but I can’t pinpoint exactly why.

6. Morning Wood: Barrel-aged breakfast stout. Medium-bodied, tangy, and whiskey-y.

7. White Grape: Made with Paw Paw wine grapes. Easy - too easy - to drink.

8. Rabid Jackalope: An 8% imperial version of the Kentucky Jackalope, as evil as it sounds. I bought a growler, which I lost or gave away sometime on New Year’s Eve. Oops.

Left to right, top to bottom: Beers 1-6

Incidentally, I worked on the third floor of Odd Side’s Harbourfront Building during my post-undergrad days at, and surely would have squandered my rent had they been brewing downstairs. I also happen to own a Story & Clark upright, so I’m pretty well sold on the entire experience. And having spent a winter living in Grand Haven, I know just how slow things can get downtown -- I’ve definitely been one of two people sitting in the Kirby during a Saturday snowstorm. That Odd Side was full on a Wednesday night is a positive sign for these strange brews.

Jackalope, always watching