Tea and monks: my visit to St. Sabbas Orthodox Monastery

One of my favorite things I’ve ever written was a review of a restaurant. Yes, maybe it has something to do with food. Yes, I could talk about food forever. But I think there’s something wonderful about capturing an experience. A snapshot that’s more than a photo. The taste and smells and events all build a scene… I’d like to think my food reviews make me a better fiction writer, too. They’re helping me visualize better.

This review, dear reader, is a place you may recall. I talked about this place last year: the restaurant inside St. Sabbas Orthodox Monastery.

Yelp made it one of their reviews of the day in May. It makes me happy to have tickled people with a more involved review. It’s definitely more elaborate than “service was terrible, we’ll never come back”.

Enjoy. Maybe you can come visit yourself!

Nestled in the quaint neighborhood streets of Harper Woods, among the homes and schools, is a luncheon experience you wouldn’t expect. When at the gates before The Royal Eagle Restaurant, you’re greeted by a sign requesting no cell phones, no shorts, skirts, or sleeveless tops, and no gum chewing. Upon entering, you will quickly realize you have left the line of small mid century homes behind you and stepped into the tranquil and ornate surroundings of St. Sabbas Orthodox Monastery. This is where The Royal Eagle restaurant calls home. Twice a week, the parishioners open their doors for a midday Russian tea luncheon. The luncheon is one of only two limited weekly offerings the monastery has; the other being a dinner on Thursday nights, currently with a six week wait. The tea service does not have quite the waitlist, but is only served Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 11 p.m. to 2 p.m. with reservations required. I was intrigued by the whole concept and the juxtaposition of this restaurant inside a monastery inside a neighborhood, so I ventured in.

I was greeted by friendly waitstaff in traditional garb. Seated quickly, I was given a brief introduction to the restaurant, the menu of teas, and the set luncheon menu. The atmosphere is initially peaceful, though the conversation of the other patrons was lively; a cacophony of chitchat and sipped tea. The decor might be a turnoff for some, as it is reminiscent of the nicest room in someone’s Russian grandmother’s house. The tea selection is diverse, served quickly, and at the perfect temperature. I enjoyed a lavender earl grey tea while I waited for the first course, which was borscht. Borscht, for the uninitiated, is a soup featuring beets. It was delicious with delicate flavors. The beets were not overwhelming, and the fresh dill complimented the earthy tones in the dish.

The next round was several small tea sandwiches, featuring brie cheese, smoked salmon, black forest ham, and cucumber, of course. The brie was to be topped with a cranberry walnut sauce, but after a conversation with the waitress, she quickly accommodated me with those sandwiches sans nuts. Next, the main dish of the lunch, a green salad with a raspberry vinaigrette on the side of baked chicken on a stick in cream sauce. While the name lacked some flair, the chicken was moist and flavorful. The portions were modest, so some coming with an appetite would perhaps expect more.

Initially my server explained that dessert was a surprise, but considering my nut allergy, the surprise was quickly revealed: a peanut butter brownie and blueberry scone. Since my allergy wasn’t to peanuts, I proceeded. The scone wasn’t too dry or crumbly and was a perfect companion for tea. The brownie was likely the best brownie I have consumed to date. If you enjoy a fudgy brownie, with peanut butter frosting that actually tastes of peanut, you are in for a treat.

I definitely went into The Royal Eagle with some silly misconceptions in mind. They accept credit cards, which surprised me for some reason. They proudly display their, “People love us on Yelp!” sticker. And an overturned teaspoon revealed the answer to an age old question: yes, monks do shop at Ikea. While the decor may be more traditional, there is nothing dated or out of touch with the restaurant’s offerings. It delivers on making the lunch tea service a really special and high quality dining experience. I would recommend to give them a try, if this fine luncheon sounds like it would be your cup of tea.

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Woman Returns To Fantasy Football League, Is Still Pretty Sure It’s Run By Magic

Detroit, MI – After finishing out last season with a solid 5th place finish, Lauren Church, Detroit’s only semi-professional donutologist, is returning again to take part in her workplace’s fantasy football league. When Church received notification about the invite, she was “shocked and surprised” she was being asked back.

Church looks forward to the draft, sticking with her previous strategy of looking for people with funny names. “I was looking at the names of some of these defensive players I could pick and was really amazed. Like what kind of name is ‘Cleveland Browns’? I know parents get pretty creative these days, but come on.”

Holding her own in third place for most of last season, most of her opponents chalked up her initial success to beginners luck. But not Church. She always knew she was destined for victory.

“My secret to success was never setting my lineup. I just let the whole thing play out. I mean, those guys were all pretty good. I just let them ride. It’s all magic behind the scenes anyway. Like how those state lotto machines with the balls work and how a gas pump knows your tank is full. Magic.”

Her team, Team Chalupa Batman, has one of the more unique logos we’ve seen: clipart of a cat, in a bowtie, sitting in a chair, drinking alcohol. When asked about her inspiration, Church could only say, “Look how smug that cat is!”

teamchalupabatman

When asked for her dream team for the draft, she said that she’d love to have the whole team from the movie Little Giants as well as Buddy the Dog from Air Bud: Golden Receiver. “I mean, this is fantasy football, right?”

All our best to Lauren as the new “footballing” season begins!

Hockey: Of Octopi and Men

The Stanley Cup Finals are next week, but hockey is dead to Detroit until at least the fall when the new season starts. The Red Wings were knocked out of the running for this year’s Stanley Cup and “Thank you!” billboards went up around the major freeways. The city seems a bit bummed, but a lot of people have moved on to watching the Tigers because that’s just what you do.

Of all the sports I don’t really care about, hockey is probably the sport I don’t care about the least. The idea of brutal feats of strength makes me pretty uncomfortable. You’d think that basketball would be my (jock) jam in that case, but I fell into hockey. My mother was into hockey when I was growing up, so I knew the teams and the basics of how the sport worked. In adulthood it came up again because I married a lifelong Detroiter and hockey is just a part of that.

While the sport is a fair amount of men with Scandinavian backgrounds beating each other up on ice, there is a mythology around the sport that just delights me.

I went to my first hockey game as an adult in Houston. While not typically associated with ice, Houston had a really good minor league hockey team. The last year I lived in Houston they went to the finals. They lost, but it was a hell of a game. (In writing this post, I found out that shortly after I left town, so did they. Which bums me out a bit. It was a nice part of living in Houston.)

Sitting with a friend at this first game, the clock for the period ran down to two minutes. The announcer clicked on, “Two minute warning, two minute warning.” The entirety of the crowd said, in unison, “Thank you!” I had no idea what to make of it. What just happened?

“We said thank you to the announcer.”

“Why?!”

“Because he let us know there were two minutes left in the period.”

“Yes but… that’s his job. So why?”

“Because that’s just what you do.”

With a sport rooted in Canada, I should have known. This gesture was just charming.

Then there’s the stuff you see at any game: the fan who gets seats next to the penalty box on the away side so he can put up little signs taunting the player trapped inside. Something like, “I’ve been told to go to my room. :(“ with an arrow pointing to the dude waiting out the seconds til he can burst forth on the ice again. There’s the ringing of the cow bells, which might be more of a ‘sports in general’ thing, but there’s a lot of cow bell ringing which is odd to an outsider.

There’s the teddy bear toss, which is a hockey tradition around Christmas. Fans are asked to bring stuffed animals to donate to charity. When the home team scores its first goal, fans are suppose to fling their stuffed animals to the ice. It’s crazy to see. Here’s a video from Buzz Bishop of a particularly crazy one, with a nice little primer:

Isn’t that crazy? The text on that youtube video says it was around 25,000 stuffed animals.

Detroit has a… similar tradition. But weirder. When home games happen in the playoffs, people bring octopi to the game and will throw them on the ice.

Yeah. That’s a thing. Again we ask ourselves: why?

Back in 1952, the league was a little different. You needed 8 wins to secure Lord Stanley’s Cup and the championship. The Wings had seven. Two guys working in a fish market put together that an octopus has 8 legs, 8 legs is like 8 wins, and oh my god let’s bring an octopus to the game and throw it on the ice!

They did. They won. A tradition was born. A tradition that continues today and even gave birth to the Wings’ mascot, Al the Octopus.

This is crazy, right? I mean, baseball has rally caps, which is just wearing a hat wrong. Football has the act of ruining a grown man’s winning day with a Gatorade shower. But hockey has the chanting, the cowbells, the people hurling dead cephalopods onto the playing area of a sporting event… There’s so much. What makes this so different? Why are these traditions just as much a part of the game as the ice and the puck?

Ah, forget it, Jake. It’s Hockeytown.

The 2015 North American International Auto Show

Last week marked the conclusion of 2015’s North American International Auto Show. This annual event invites the world to Detroit in January, a really wonderful, WONDERFUL time to visit the Motor City – the dead of winter. My husband loves to go. When we first had moved in together, he didn’t come to the apartment with a lot of ‘personal effects’. But there were pictures of a past visit to the auto show shuffled in with shots of beloved family members and celebrations.

For the uninitiated, the auto show is all the major automotive brands doing one of three things.

Thing the first: ogling a pretty car none of us can touch. Exhibit A is the new GT from Ford.

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Thing the second is sitting in cars you can touch. It’s like a car lot with none of the pressures of sales people. We sat in cars we could never afford. We sat in cars we would never pay a cent for. But we could sit in them and for a brief moment imagine that they were ours.

The third thing is the reason I tag along with my husband while he gets excited and judgey about cars. The third thing is the Parade of Marketing Opulence. In these displays, the lengths that the manufacturers go to with this ‘ooo ahh, wizz bang’ design to distract and delight you is just incredible. Originally I was taking pictures of car butts so I could do stuff like this:

alfadog

aforestBut instead I’ll share with you all the wizzbangery I found the most distracting. Let’s start with Ford. Behind that mob of people gawking at the GT, there was a goddamn forest. They planted a mini living forest inside their display. Inside of the forest was a park with cell phone chargers attached to benches, seats you could spin around in, and a giant camera that took picture of the park and displayed that picture on the ceiling.

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Here’s a picture of the picture that was taken of me and projected on the ceiling. Why can we do this and we don’t have flying cars? Don’t ask me.

Part of what makes the auto show unique is that you’re able to view cars in ways they’re not normally displayed. On their side, see-through, lifted up.

tiltmustang seethroughlifththerc

That last photo is a Lexus that’s on lifts, to draw attention to the “Rear Bumper Exhaust Diffuser”. I pointed out that my husband had one of those, too. Hashtag fart joke, hashtag LifttheRC.

But for everything that allowed uncommon visual access to the cars, there was a really weird thing happening for NO apparent reason. Take for example THIS abomination:

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That is a talking iPad type thing strapped on to a rolling Segway, brought to you by Volkswagen. I say talking because there was a human person interacting people via a camera and asking them if they were enjoying the auto show, via the display on the non-iPad. It was weird. I have covered up the child’s face in this photo, ‘cause I didn’t know her, but let me assure you the expression is accurate.

There were people 3D printing a car BECAUSE THEY COULD. Car with a fish tank in it? SURE. You could high five a Michelin Man who was walking around or a dude dressed exactly as Abraham Lincoln (obviously a tie-in for the Lincoln MKC). My husband tried out the new virtual reality goggles called Oculus Rift and drove a virtual Lexus on a virtual race track. The experience felt very real but left him disoriented and feeling a bit drunk, which honestly I could use THAT to make a great analogy about the whole auto show experience but I have one more weird thing to show you.

Scion had a free swag vending machine that was triggered by an Instagram photo tagged with your GPS location. While this might feel creepy and like a violation of some kind of civil liberty of mine HEY COOL FREE STUFF. I, of course, used it as an opportunity to troll them.

niceshot

If you can’t tell, that is a picture of my husband’s butt and the butt of some Scion with the text, “I like the rear end on this one.” The Swag Machine has declared, “NICE SHOT”. I was rewarded with free earbuds.

So there you have it. The North American International Auto Show. I’d like to end this post with just one more photo. It’s actually the first photo I snapped when I was there. It was at the GT. There was this huge crowd and everyone was facing this tremendous blue bullet made of steel and carbon fiber and wonder. And there was this baby, on someone’s shoulders.

camerababy

While everyone is facing towards the shiny car, the baby is looking at the camera (which nearly bonked him in the head). Keep your head turned, baby. Keep looking where no one else is. Perspective is everything.

A monastery in the middle of a neighborhood.

I think a brief review of this blog might reveal that I have a thing about monks. I don’t, really. Just have come across some interesting stories lately. This most recent brush was for a class assignment – to review a restaurant and write about it. My review of The Royal Eagle can be read on yelp here, but in the interest in not being redundant and talking about what makes this restaurant unique, lets review the facts.

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Fact 1: This restaurant is on the grounds of the St. Sabbas Orthodox Monastery. St. Sabbas is a Russian Orthodox church (see above). Monasteries are typically tasked with doing something to support themselves. This ranges from making beer or jellies to selling ink on the internet, as we previously talked about. St. Sabbas has a restaurant. They’re really popular. This is because the food is tasty but also due to limited availability. Tea is twice a week and dinner is just once, so the wait can be lengthy (right now it’s 6 weeks). There are rules to visiting The Royal Eagle Restaurant, due to their management. No cell phones, though I was told it was OK to take photos. Modest clothing options are enforced. The bathroom had a bag with a long skirt in it – not a forgotten garment, but something available if a guest came wearing something a touch too scandalous. At least one review I read noted that the reviewer was asked to wear the skirt (a bit of a feather in her cap). I wasn’t asked to rein it in when I came. I guess I’m not tempting to monks!

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Fact 2: The monastery is just on a street in an ordinary neighborhood. I found it driving around one day. In the photo you can see homes on the left and the monastery on the right. It was the craziest thing. And the building are all bright and colorful and the whole thing just stands out like Dr. Seuss set up a church in town. I mean no disrespect; it’s just kind of ornate and fantastical in a way that really is in great contrast to the mid century homes around it. Apparently they’ve been buying up the land for years.

Fact 3: It was great. I would have a picture of food here, but I was being respectful of the whole ‘no phones’ rule. It was good! Seriously, I ate what was the best brownie I’ve ever eaten. That not hyperbolic. It’s factual. I just love that this simply exists in my neighborhood. They have a little gift shop and the counter clerk was the chef. Another little surprise for my day. “Oh, that is a nice white coat you’re – wait. Wait a minute here.” Churches are littered all over the Detroit area, but I feel like stumbling on this monastery was really pretty special. The grounds are apparently beautiful in the summer and the inside of the church? Breathtaking.

There’s just something to be said for getting outside and exploring.

826Michigan and aliens with indigestion: this non-profit turns kids into authors.

826 Book: Where Is It Coming From?

I have a new book written by kids for kids. Well, it’s cute and charming, and I bought it… so it’s clearly for adults too. The book “Where Is It Coming From?” is the most recent release from 826Michigan, one chapter of a large network of 826 shops all over the country. The shops are actually creative writing and tutoring centers for kids, but you wouldn’t know it from the outside. Each shop is a little quirky storefront and the tutoring center is in the back offices. Michigan’s quirky store? Liberty Street Robot Supply & Repair.

Why is a robot store publishing books? The roots of this comes from the first shop, 826 Valencia, in San Francisco. The non-profit’s founder, Dave Eggers, had set-up the first tutoring center in an area in San Francisco that was zoned for retail. The city informed them they had to sell something. So what did the creative sorts come up with? Supplies for the everyday pirate. Oh yeah, I’m not kidding. Friends bought me a fake mustache, a wooden spoon, and a pirate t-shirt when they visited the store. Business BOOMED and the proceeds supported the non-profit. They said the store quickly paid the rent on the whole space.

The shop was so successful they replicated it in other places. A superhero supply in New York, where they have a cape test area, with a fan built in so you can see it waving in the breeze. A yeti research shop in Boston that was so unusual that the cops cased it for sometime before entering inside to ask what was going on. The Boring Store in Chicago is a front for a spy store… they were deep undercover. LA has a time travel convenience store. Seattle has a space travel supply. Washington DC has the Museum of Unnatural History, which gave me this gem:

The Missing Link

The text on the jar says, “Missing Link. Generations of scientists spent their lives searching for it. Now it can be yours.”

All these wonderful stores are just kitschy and enjoyable to me. I’ve worked in and volunteered for non-profits for a long time, so their unique blend of personality and commitment to their mission really strikes a chord with me. I’ve been a long time supporter, visiting half of the shops personally, but also buying the books they publish. They publish books regularly, like the book above, so these kids are PUBLISHED AUTHORS. BEFORE THE AGE OF 18. Isn’t that awesome?! I wish we had something like this when I was a kid.

Some recent and good news is that they’re starting a new store/center in Detroit. The one in Ann Arbor is nice and has done a lot of good, but it’s really pretty far from the Metro Detroit area, so it makes it hard for them to connect with some of the schools in this area that would really benefit from the field trips and one-on-one tutoring opportunities.

They’re working on building the new shop as I type. I hope to be a volunteer. I feel like writing is such an important skill. It gives importance to self expression, builds self esteem, and is a crucial skill for one’s adult life. I love how these shops have focused on that, while having a little fun while they’re at it. It’s just a wonderful thing and I’m very excited that they exist.

 

To learn more about the 826 stores, visit 826national.org. Maybe consider making a donation or buying one of their books!