Saturday, October 10, 2020

safety nets and emergency response

 In the Fall of 2018, Hurricane Florence struck, followed by Hurricane Michael. These were the most massive and destructive storms I've witnessed firsthand. In the storms' wake, the Bakery was involved in sending relief to poorer parts of the state, through both food and cash donations (see For me, it was eye-opening how a community could rally and support its poorest, most needy citizens. Where FEMA, the State, and county response should have been able to have the resources to handle crises like these, it was instead a ragtag group of ordinary folks who chipped in. I will always remember the working class guy (I never caught his name) who, when we put out a call for food donations, went to Food Lion and bought what looked like $150 of essentials (pastas and canned goods and such), bringing in bag after bag, just an individual guy. When I applauded his generosity and thanked him, he was modest, and just shrugged it off. Apart from the heroic acts that make headlines, community responses are the sum total of thousands of small actions like these.

What I took away from the experience was both the goodness of everyday people, and also the ineptitude and mismanagement of our government institutions. It does not take much money to feed people every day. It doesn't take much organization to provide support to those who are suffering, or have lost their homes. But without flexible budgets, organizational leadership, and saddled with a minefield of bureaucracy, a pass-the-buck mentality where shrugs are more common than "Yes"es, and where liability is ever present threat, it is no wonder that the government is not trusted. We could be doing this for pennies. Of the CARES act, a minority of the money went directly to everyday people.

Because a community response is not a robust structure, not as robust as a governmental one, there should be governmental help. Communities eventually become exhausted and can no longer self-organize and help. When communities drop off, along with their donated funds, we need government to step up and fill the gap. Right now, we are serving twenty lunches per day for homeless and otherwise food insecure folks. Why do we and Urban Ministries need to fill this gap, when the city needs to be mitigating and eliminating homelessness.

Monday, September 21, 2020

The world of bread

The world of bread is the world of the future because Bread will be here long after millennials no longer have cell phones, after the end of coal, natural gas, bicycles, scooters, personal vehicles, TVs, computers, couches. Bread will sustain throughout time, I have no doubt of it.

Smoke Signals Baking (Tara Jensen)

Thursday, July 2, 2020


If it is bread that you seek, you will have bread.
If it is the soul you seek, you will find the soul.
If you understand this secret, you know you are that which you seek.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Happy Levain

Most modern American artisan bakers use a Chad Robertson-like formula to arrive at their dough, with young levain at 12-15% of total dough weight and a cold retard of the dough either in bulk or proofing in baskets prior to baking. The results, when done well, like our Country Loaf, are tremendous. Yet upon reading this article in the New Yorker, I realized that for the sake of space and economy of production, French bakeries of old probably didn't use this method, as it requires holding a significant amount of levain for extended periods of time. Instead, they likely used ~0.5% levain or yesterday's dough by total dough weight, rose the dough slowly at room temp (8-10 hrs), and proofed the shaped forms at room temp. This method would also explain Poilaine's methods, as well as that of old school pizza, bagel, and bialy makers in the old world and new (bagels and bialys were likely shaped after an hour rest of the dough and then left to proof slow in a shaped form prior to boiling/baking). If you use too much levain or old dough using this method, the dough becomes too sour, but at a tiny amount as indicated above, the fresh and sour flavors of fermentation are both present without overwhelming the palate. The levain must be mixed completely in the water, else it will not distribute sufficiently throughout the dough for the rise. Today, I made a delicious 30% rye artisan dough using this method, including some bialys with onion.  The dough was slightly over-hydrated, but the results were great nonetheless.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Demolition Man

A Demolition Man Taco Bell Experience Took Comic-Con by Storm /Film

In his pod with Ben Leventhal, Dave Chang speaks of a gastronomical future due to Covid akin to the movie Demolition Man, where every restaurant is Taco Bell. Earnest as he is, what he misses, in his insular bubble, is that for 95% of the country, this future has already arrived. His perception that good, scratch-made food was at all readily available pre-Covid is false. And it certainly wasn't affordable. If you travel throughout North Carolina, from Beaufort to Fayetteville to Statesville to Greensboro to Goldsboro, there are a sprinkling of restaurants that are not fast food, Wendy's, Bojangles, McDonald's, Taco Bell, and the like. The predominant food landscape of America is chain fast food. Chang talks about Domino's being a guilty pleasure that he indulges in every three months. For so much of America, Domino's or something like it in a branded takeout bag is dinner many nights. So when Chang and others talk about "saving restaurants", it is really this tiny independent subgenre that, like Wholefoods, represents only 2% of the purchases but the majority of the bandwidth. Chang has gotten into QSR before, but I think to actually get people interested in fresh foods rather than salty fatty highly processed foods like Taco Bell, one would have to lift median incomes via social welfare so they could afford to buy them (e.g. France).

Restaurants as we currently conceive of them did not arise until the 1800s, and when they did, they were for the wealthy. And to this day, restaurants, especially high-end restaurants, only exist because of ample disposable income of the bourgeois class. If people are broke or unemployed, they prefer to cook breakfast at home instead of a twelve-dollar omelette at brunch. There will simply be fewer dollars for this kind of food, and many restaurants will either close or downsize their operations as a result.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Bill Buford

Bob had emerged with a refrain: Everyone deserves good bread. It was like a calling or a social imperative. A boulanger can be counted on by the people he feeds.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Notes and things from the Covid crisis and George Floyd protests, March 12 to June 11


The Bakery begins offering free food to anyone who is food insecure.

We will be smart, we will be vigilant, but we will not be cowed by this.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Boarded Up

I had a lot of feelings last week about Downtown being boarded up. Once one owner did it, it seemed everyone did except for us for fear of the vandalism that destroyed Downtown Raleigh. I tried to write several things to hash it out. Writing is how I process. Many thanks to my friends HD, AS, MG, EL, and GG that offered input.

My first hot take:

It burns my heart to say this, but it strikes me as hypocritical that the companies that are sending out #blacklivesmatter spam to their listservs and grams are the same ones that are boarding up their businesses. Poverty in Durham didn't start with George Floyd. If we cared more about solving endemic poverty, especially child poverty in Durham, we would not have built all those shitty condos. Perhaps before an axe-throwing bar, we would have invested more in our schools, or in bi-lingual education or all-access health care. The forces of capitalism run deep, and corrupt even the most diligent progressives. As fucked up as it is, I hope this time can change some people to begin to listen, to learn that silence is a deadly weapon, and that community investment shouldn't be about dollars, it should be about humans.

Then I read this (sent by GG):


I think it's kind of hypocritical to say on one hand that you stand as one with black people and on the other believe that they are potentially dangerous vandals. It makes sense to board up from an economic standpoint, but there is a cognitive dissonance there that speaks volumes of fear. I admire Self-Help for consciously deciding to not board up [they boarded up 1 day later]. If it comes to it, and there is an imminent threat, we might do that, but not before.

i think the other thing is that these fancy restaurants really have nothing to do with black people. they are not in the dining room, they're not at the bar, and they are not in the kitchen. it would make sense to build a wall much as duke created a symbolic wall around east campus because for all intents and purposes, black people largely don't exist to ______ or ________ or ________ [prominent Durham restaurateurs].

From GG:

There's your link. I can't speak to whether black people exist to those three owners. But if that's your position, then that's the missing piece. And that is an important point: that black people are invisible until it's socially rewarded to acknowledge their presence and plight. The tokenism of the acknowledgment is revealed by the plywood boards, which themselves reveal the true underlying perspectives.

My next thought:

Instead of putting up walls and and putting up boards why don’t we transform these spaces into 24-hr coffeeshops and and encourage socially distanced ppl to congregate outside on sidewalks and streets Downtown? We show solidarity with presence, not absence. 

To HD:

_____ from _______ [a Downtown business] told me when he was boarding up he planned to get a black durham artist to paint a mural over it (ostensibly to protect it from BLM graffiti). that stinks to me of tokenism from a guy who is building condos for rich white folks.

all of durham was literally vacant yesterday, from wholefoods to durham east campus to downtown. and the reason? fear of violence / violent black folks. you should take a walk downtown. it's crazy.

and i appreciate you trying to untangle the knots with me.  it's a complicated thing.  on one hand, owners should be able to protect their businesses. on the other, there is the assessment of risk and all the underlying racism that is built into that. we'll see how things develop. it appears that a brick was thrown through a window at DPD last night but otherwise things were peaceful. it's just real complicated for me right now being open with literally every other storefront boarded at 5-points. a weird loneliness. i don't want to save anyone. i want to understand my feelings and other's feelings.

A place like _______ putting up names on their plywood just stinks of allyship and "don't vandalize me, i'm woke!"  i don't forget hattie mae, and neither should the rest of durham:

i definitely don't want to make ppl feel bad for staying home. but i do want to explore their fear. what does it say about them, and us as a society?

This was the final version that went out to the listserv and on FB:

No Walls, No Fences, No Boards

First and foremost, we are aligned with social movements whose goal is to reform the criminal justice system and end systemic racism and police brutality.  

Second, we are luckier than almost all Downtown businesses as we’ve been able to keep bakery operations rolling along, while many have shuttered or severely limited their hours. Someone is working at the Bakery nearly 99% of the time. It's sad to see Downtown boarded up but I understand business owners’ decisions. We have not boarded up and have no plans to. I hope that this passes soon, that reforms are made, and that complicit silence and rah-rah capitalist development takes a back seat to real dialogue and systemic change. Let's all hope together for a day without walls, without fences, and without boards.

Thought bubble: If we had 24-hr businesses Downtown, would people be drawn to peacefully congregate on sidewalks, in the streets, and in greenspaces? There’s nothing to do and everyone’s sleeping poorly anyway?

What's in a Hashtag? Long Read on Performative Allyship:

Subsequently, the community and the businesses have flipped the narrative entirely and now the downtown space is a canvas for black art and expression, which is great, and which I support. It remains to be seen how long the boards will stay up and whether people will be more attracted to coming Downtown, or less so as we've seen last week.

But there has also been critique and pushback:


Friday, May 29, 2020

All of the Cookies

[We receive a lot of praise and positive feedback about our products and customer service. This may be the most thoughtful and kind love letter we've ever received. Republished here with the author's permission. - Ari]

by Elliot Inman   

May 24, 2020:  74 Days since the WHO Declaration of the Global Covid-19 Pandemic

Back in the 1990s when downtown Durham was a hollow shell of empty tobacco warehouses waiting to become something new, you could walk down the one-way streets and pass one abandoned building after the next.  There were a couple of bars and the occasional temporary storefront church that consisted of little more than a Sunday service sign and some folding chairs.  But there was almost nothing open during the day except Ninth Street Bakery.

Ninth Street Bakery was there at the tip of an isosceles triangle where two one-way streets met, its parking lot hidden behind an old brick wall.  You could walk around the wall, into the parking lot, and up the stairs to the bakery.  I don’t know how I knew it was there or how I knew you could just walk inside, but it seemed as if it had always been there.  

Not on Ninth Street, of course.  That was part of the mystery.  Not on Ninth Street at all, but there.