Tuesday, November 2, 2021

In Memoriam: Mary Beth Bishop

Mary Beth Bishop, January 30, 1942 - March 12, 2021

Mary Beth was one of my original customers when I ran Berenbaum's, and continued her devout patronage through the years I've owned NSB. It's hard for me to describe her smile even now, her laugh, her generosity. At the time in 2011 when I met her, she was married to Alan, who though a tall man, was quite stooped and walked with a cane. They made quite the pair. She was a foodie's foodie, enthusiastic and giving, a great lover of our gingersnaps and biscotti and mandelbrot and kombucha and sandwiches. She survived breast cancer and chemo, only to have it come back. She survived her son, Steve, who also passed away from cancer two years before. She went through the breakup with Alan post-cancer with the utmost strength and dignity. She was like a surrogate mom or grandmom to me here in Durham (my family lives in Boston). She had a beauty and spirit and a liveliness all her own. I don't think I can put into words what it felt like to give her a hug, or what it was like to carry her bakery packages to her Subaru (with her dog Lisi in the back) that last time I saw her, to say goodbye without knowing it's goodbye. I heard two or three weeks later she passed very suddenly in the hospital. She had been getting weaker, and had a stubborn cough and laryngitis that went unexplained for months. The cancer had returned, this time in her throat and her lungs. I bake for people like Mary Beth, and I hope to carry a piece of her wherever I go, and in whatever I do.

A short prose poem:

And if you should take a grain of sand from Shackleford Banks home with you in your shoe, you will remember the name of her on her birthday, and on the grave that is scattered through the ashes of time in the hills of her birthplace of Casper, Wyoming.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Covid Diary December 16 to September 30


Poverty and shooting mar Durham during Covid: https://indyweek.com/news/durham/shootings-drugs-hayti-district/



Moving forward: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/19/opinion/sunday/trump-presidency-accountability.html

The death of independent restaurants: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/19/opinion/sunday/restaurants-closing-covid.html


Homeschooling exacerbates stratification, putting families on different playing fields: https://indyweek.com/news/orange/neighborhood-support-circles-refugee-community-partnership/


“If you can come up with a vaccine in a year, why are we sitting in a community where there is no grocery store with fresh fruits and vegetables.” 




My year-end wrap: https://indyweek.com/news/durham/opinion-berenbaum-year-we-learned-hate/



The reality of nursing homes: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/31/opinion/sunday/covid-nursing-homes.html

My dad, a medical center physician, in his corny dad way, has renamed Operation Warp Speed Operation Dead Speed, attesting to its dysfunction and slowness.


The social fabric of America is unraveling: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/02/us/crime-poverty-pandemic-cleveland.html


Trump rioters invade the Capitol: https://www.instagram.com/p/CJt7l5AFrZ6vUjJGbsDhwfwTcYbOD6rxEfI6zw0

We've come undone.




Where I ask over email our DDI and downtown business leaders not to reopen too fast and the reaction I got:

Sorry to use this thread for something off topic, but has there been any interest in pushing on City Council to do another shutdown? I'm getting many more anecdotal case reports from supermarket workers, baristas, grocery owners, etc. Our staff is coming to work every day anxious now. I know a shutdown similar to April is not business-friendly, but I think we need to put public health first here. We posted the attached to IG, FB, and Twitter and got positive responses/views.

In case you didn't see it, the legendary Titina Vuotto of CarpriFlavors passed mid-Dec of Covid: https://www.facebook.com/145338505483579/posts/4178182505532472/?extid=0&d=n



Hi Ari—


This is a very difficult decision and one where the arguments on both sides are compelling.  My personal opinion is that while a complete shutdown of businesses may cause numbers to trend down, it will also put a number of individuals in an even more precarious position—restaurant and retail and other small business employees not having steady or reliable incomes (and in some cases medical insurance).  I believe that the restaurants in downtown are doing everything they absolutely must (and in many cases going beyond the bare minimum) to ensure that they remain open and their employees (and customers) remain safe and healthy.  The added resources and assistance from Greenlight Durham provides additional assistance in tracking of cases, listing of testing sites, and other COVID-related resources.


I won’t argue as to why the numbers are increase (eating out vs small family/intimate gatherings indoors).  However, by allowing small businesses to stay open, the owners can decide what the appropriate response/answer is for their given situation and in downtown we are seeing each business owner decide what makes the most sense for not just the business operations but, in many cases, what is the most responsible thing to do to protect employees.  Due to a lack of any significant and comprehensive federal, state, and/or local small business assistance, it is difficult to advocate for a complete shutdown as this would place an intense financial stress (on top of the stress many businesses are already carrying). 


These are my personal thoughts. It is a difficult situation we are in and I think many thought we’d be a little further along in combating this virus.  Regardless, as we continue to move forward, no matter how slowly, it remains difficult to plan when there’s so much uncertainty.  I rely on the one-on-one conversations I have with multiple business owners in downtown to try and advocate what makes the most sense and provides the most benefit to the overall downtown business community.  The wants and needs of a restaurant owner vs a salon owner vs a retail shop vs a live venue space are so varied and each must be considered.  I continue to believe that the business owners in downtown will operate in a safe and responsible manner.


Nicole Thompson

President & CEO

Downtown Durham, Inc.

Hi Nicole, 

Thanks for sending.  I appreciate your thoughts.  Just to be clear, I would still encourage restaurants to do takeout and outdoor dining. I think that is the best path until most of the vaccines are distributed. I think the fact that the mayor and city council have not enforced any type of stay-at-home order with the exception of going out for food/supplies/etc. (as we did in April) is foolhardy and leading to needless disease and death. Evidently we've become numb to the numbers of the sick and dying and have accepted it as a byproduct of our need to keep things open through this surge in cases. The fact that most of the disease burden falls on lower income folks just reinforces my distaste for how this has been handled.



I was just looking at the stats tonite.  13 Durhamites dead in the last week due to Covid (probably an undercount):

County Total CasesTotal DeathsDateRate Per 10,000% of all cases by dateNew CasesNew Deaths7 Day New Cases AvgCases per 10,000 last 7 daysCases per 10,000 last 14 days
Durham17,826158Jan, 19554.52.6120011783979
Durham17,626157Jan, 17548.32.5826471803976
Durham17,362150Jan, 15540.12.5520131864179
Durham17,161147Jan, 14533.82.5217511984378
Durham16,986146Jan, 13528.42.4913611954379
Durham16,850145Jan, 12524.12.4713001954277



We know that the new variant of Covid is out there and may be 50% more transmissible and we are still not locking down.






The UK struggles: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/21/world/europe/uk-hospitals-covid-variant.html


This American Life on the Capitol Riots: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/this-american-life/id201671138?i=1000506432552


15 Durhamites died last week of Covid.  How many more need to die before the city takes steps to keep people from gathering and mixing? 

This is exactly the case where a gradualist, incrementalist practice of progressive politics runs headlong into the life or death situation which is Covid.







After it's over: The mood now seems to be one of preparation for what comes after our society's lockdown. Will business-as-usual reign?

The only problem is in double mask hell, is no one can hear you speak.

Some reflections on the five hundred thousand (and counting):

The problem with this is that people are like wood, and so long as there is dry wood, there will be fire so long as the virus still exists. I have no doubt this will lead to greater infections statewide.

A year into the pandemic, full-on burnout has taken hold.

Durham kiddos return to school amid controversy: https://indyweek.com/news/durham/durham-public-school-board-threats/

Voting rights are under attack across the country. Can we push back? https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/19/opinion/raphael-warnock-voting-rights-resonstruction.html

It's the Coronaversary.  (One year since things really shut down around here.) The year that nothing happened and everything happened, when no one changed and everyone changed.

All of the bakery employees have now received at least their first shot. Most have received both. Thank you to Greenlight Durham for facilitating many of the shots.

As predicted, there are vast vaccine inequities and access to information around vaccines: https://indyweek.com/news/durham/durham-racial-gap-covid-19-vaccine/

Downtown Durham is busy with people, people out at bars (Glass Jug), and scooters ripping and running all down Main Street. It appears the fine weather together with vaccines for most (?) have given people new confidence to get out. We've certainly seen an uptick in sales at the Bakery, and especially at Farmer's Market. The news cycle appears less terrifying now that Biden is president. It (and Trump) no longer hangs over the community like an evil scepter. People are worried about variants, and there are still lots of infections in the U.S., but somehow this seems more manageable. We continue to distribute funds via the Durham Neighbors program, and free lunches every day to the needy.

In poorer parts of the world, the virus rages on. The possibility for a vaccine-resistant variant rises with every day we fail on this. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/22/world/india-coronavirus-record.html

The world needs more vaccines, and the 1st world has them: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/24/opinion/covid-vaccines-poor-countries.html

The prospects and volume of Durham businesses have really picked up the last month. With vaccines and lower infection rates, people are getting out more. Business owners seem to be in a better and more optimistic mood as well. As my grandmother would say, "Money's like honey."



The shifting CDC mask guidance has caused real problems for us. Now some customers (and vendors!) feel they can walk into the bakery sans mask and will fight us verbally for their right to be served inside without a mask.  It’s deplorable and confusing for everyone involved.



The masks have come off.  Covid must be over.  Bars, restaurants are filled with cooks, servers, and patrons without masks. Is it too early? I guess we’ll see if there is a fourth (?) wave. Only half the population in NC is vaccinated and yet the Covid rates are plummeting. So I guess things are working? It still feels too early for us to call it, so we are still requiring masks on all employees and also all customers inside the Bakery.

The Bakery turns 40 years old!


Wow. Ain’t nobody wearing masks anymore.  I went to Phillips Farm in Cary and literally 5 out of 400 ppl were wearing masks.   

I was the only person inside the bar wearing a mask and everyone looked at me like in was the weirdo.  And I thought, maybe I was.

After much deliberation, we were one of the last Durham businesses to require masks indoors, and today, we went mask-free for the vaccinated.

just as soon as we were in the clear and went maskless at the bakery, the delta variant reared its ugly head. #thefourthwave?


The mask mandate returns in Durham due to a spike in cases from Delta. Just one month later, masks return to the Bakery.


I lost my best friend and I lost my rabbi due to Covid.  The weird thing is, they are still alive.   


Food service providers are finding it hard to stay staffed up. I can't get deliveries from US Foods because so many workers at the their warehouse are at home with Covid (delta): https://www.instagram.com/p/CTFRnoYnYnR/; https://www.instagram.com/p/CTDPZVALCkd


It appears that we have crested the hump of the delta infection wave and reports indicate that mu (the next strain) is in fact not vaccine-resistant. Does this mean we're in the clear or will mask mandates (and regular vigilance) lessen only for delta to return again for another (lesser?) wave of infection? Vaccine boosters are in rollout mode. Feels like an inflection point.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Vernon Mitchell

 It is here that we recognize and pay tribute to the memory of baker Vernon Mitchell who passed away this past Monday from a pancreatic cancer that took him all too soon. Vernon was a gentle giant, over 6'4'', long and lanky with a warm smile, great sense of humor, and an easygoing way about him. He was with the bakery only four months, but we with miss him dearly. He is survived by a loving family and friends.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

The next level now in getting past the superficiality of culture is knowledge, literature

"Literature must be the antidote to unrepentant capitalism."

(How do you balance this against the physicality of making things (like brewing, baking)?)



Monday, August 2, 2021

Henry Miller

Bread: prime symbol. Try and find a good loaf. You can travel fifty thousand miles in America without tasting a good piece of bread. Americans don’t care about good bread. They are dying of inanition but they go on eating bread without substance, bread without flavor, bread without vitamins, bread without life. Why? Because the very core of life is contaminated.

Sunday, July 18, 2021


 I've been on an internship at Hill Farmstead Brewery in Vermont and thought I would collect some thoughts on what makes good beer great, hopefully with some connections to bread and gastronomy more generally:

Unpasteurized beer is alive. By manipulating yeast cell counts, fermentable sugars, and temperature, brewers try to capture lightning in a bottle.

How should one talk about vitality? One might talk about beer quality from any number of angles. Just as a poorly roasted coffee bean will yield a coffee that is flat in the cup, the same would be true for beer (bad process usually equals bad flavor).

Great beer achieves balance and depth from a number of different factors:

Yeast strain




Hop aroma /aromatics





The balance and specificity of execution necessary to deliver great beer oddly reminds me of this article on the commercial production of ketchup by Malcolm Gladwell:


Literature and bread might be all we have in this postmodern world

tomato cheese bread trifecta

There’s something about pizza that is so essential, quintessential even, such that I think I will never go a month without eating it. What else can we say that we will not touch all the rest of the days of your life except pizza?

Friday, June 4, 2021

Beat the Old Lady Out

 Another woman told of growing up in Finland and of a particular cold winter day when a cow was slaughtered for meat. The mother in the kitchen stirred a vat of sliced onions in butter, and the girls one at a time rushed into the field with deep metal pans to catch blood gushing from the cow’s slit throat. The blood was poured over the onions, and then that mixture was transferred into their largest mixing bowl, along with flour and salt and homegrown yeast. Now the girls took turns kneading, palpating the ingredients with their chapped hands as if restarting a stopped heart, their shoulders bent with the effort, their mother reminding them that this blood bread would be all they’d have to sustain them in the cold days ahead, while the meat cured. “Beat the old lady out,” the mother called to her daughters. Beat out the cranky lumps until the dough in your hands is elastic, forgiving. Leave nothing behind, not a speck of flour nor smear of blood in the shiny bottom of the bowl.


Monday, May 17, 2021

 Coronavirus gave us the opportunity to be the best society we could be. Let’s not lose it.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Madame Bovary

"And what should I do here gentlemen, pointing out to you the uses of agriculture? Who supplies our wants? Who provides our means of subsistence? Is it not the agriculturist? The agriculturist, gentlemen, who, sowing with laborious hand the fertile furrows of the country, brings forth the corn, which, being ground, is made into a powder by means of ingenious machinery, comes out thence under the name of flour, and from there, transported to our cities, is soon delivered at the baker’s, who makes it into food for poor and rich alike. Again, is it not the agriculturist who fattens, for our clothes, his abundant flocks in the pastures? For how should we clothe ourselves, how nourish ourselves, without the agriculturist? And, gentlemen, is it even necessary to go so far for examples? Who has not frequently reflected on all the momentous things that we get out of that modest animal, the ornament of poultry-yards, that provides us at once with a soft pillow for our bed, with succulent flesh for our tables, and eggs? But I should never end if I were to enumerate one after the other all the different products which the earth, well cultivated, like a generous mother, lavishes upon her children. Here it is the vine, elsewhere the apple tree for cider, there colza, farther on cheeses and flax. Gentlemen, let us not forget flax, which has made such great strides of late years, and to which I will more particularly call your attention."