Friday, April 7, 2023

Sights and sounds

Anywhere are you go in Durham you can hear the pop of a nail gun hitting timber for a new four-on-one development.

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Isaac’s Bagels: An Appreciation

I got to know Isaac Henrion his second week distributing bagels at the Burch Ave community garden. I introduced myself, him in his trademark leather jacket, bandana, and occasionally incomprehensible UK accent. Thinking I was out to compete with him, he was suspicious of my interest in his business, and his bagels. What he later learned was that it was actually an obsessive interest in bagels and baking that made the connection.

From that time on, we would periodically meet to discuss his business prospects and his strategy leading to his hoped-for bricks and mortar.  As a more seasoned baker and entrepreneur, I gave him what advice I had, and counseled him to keep his head up in the short down period between the end of the Queeny’s residency and his entry to the Durham Farmer’s market. I also got to bake with him one morning at the commissary, which was good fun (he lost his van keys in walk-in right before market lol). Now, with a storefront being built, I think it would only be fitting to this blog to run through the things I think his bagels do very well. Controlling the variables of any bake process is very hard, and especially bagels, since the boil creates a multi-step cook/bake where many things can go wrong for a novice. It is expensive and more time-consuming the way he does it, but I think it’s completely worth it. These bagels are better than your typical New York bagel, which I find to be satisfying, but generally too squishy, over-sweetened, and underfermented.

1. He uses a special method to pre-hydrate part of the flour, leading to moist, supple, dense crumb.  
2. He uses copious liquid sweetener in the boil to give the crust the requisite sheen and caramelization.  
3. He doesn’t skimp on seeding, seeding both sides of the bagel completely.  
4. He uses a long fermentation process to yield maximum flavor.  
5. He uses a proprietary flour containing whole wheat that gives the bagels more depth of flavor than your typical all hi-gluten white-flour variety.
6. He has an excellent everything bagel mix, and uses high quality rock salt.
7. All bagels are rolled by hand.

Friday, December 16, 2022

Best of 2022

Tacos: Tacqueria Allende NL, Green Flea Market, Durham

Place to Delete Hinge: In the middle of Whole Foods 

Date Spot (food):  Dashi

Date Spot (drink): Arcana

Twitter: Mom_had

Vintage: Gibson Girl

Food Pilgrimage: Pizzeria Ida

Crystal: Himalayan Quartz

New Game: Wordle

Nail Color: Caramel Budino

Feminist Anthem: Plan B 

Parking Garage City: Durham

Bathrooms: Accordion 

Cake: NSB Chocolate Blackout Cake  

NSB Bake: Artisan Baguette  

Holistic Healer: Julianne Trell, Bodywisdom

Soup: Posole, Guanajuato

Bike Group: Ride Around Durham

Croissant Dough: Cedric Grolet

Anticipated Opening (food): Nana's by Matt Kelly

Anticipated Opening (drink): Daily Beer Bar

New Opening: Perfect Lovers

New Product: Garlic Chili Crisp

Feared Hole in the Ground: The Novus

In Memoriam: Dom Demarco

In Memoriam: Old North Meats

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Brewing and Baking

I don’t know why it should be a crack thing to be a brewer; but it is indisputable that while you cannot possibly be genteel and bake, you may be as genteel as never was and brew. You see it every day.

- Great Expectations, Charles Dickens

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Inflation / NYT

We have been feeling cost inflation since January, and it seems the Fed may likely overshoot its interest rate cooldown in an effort to tame it. When staples like bread and eggs go up in price, a market cooldown of assets like housing or the stock market is not likely to bring down the price of these essentials due to their demand inelasticity. I expect we will see 6-10% inflation year-over-year for at least another nine months.

Here in the New York Times, there is a great description of the bread inflation costs and prices happening globally.

Here at the Ezra Klein pod, we hear about the devastating international effects of US interest rate increases due to a dollar-denominated global economy.

Monday, October 17, 2022

Pledge of Allegiance


One Must Ask

"There’s nothing holy about Babka to me, but if it’s like a salami and cheese Babka why bother? “What is the integrity of the food?” One must ask." - MFK Fisher

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Covid Diary 10-1-21 to 9-30-22


Sociology to the rescue (Zeynep Tufekci):

Research on the unvaccinated by KFF from this September showed the most powerful predictor of who remained unvaccinated was not age, politics, race, income or location, but the lack of health insurance.


It's been a slog, but it's going to get better.


Our downtown fate has been sealed:


The bakery can no longer get cake boxes due to: Supply Chain Woes:


The Great Resignation:


Everything is Conditional


Workers are scare and empowered:

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Guaranteed Income

 On August 20th, we had a social to celebrate Excel and Durham Neighbors, two organizations dedicated to the idea of guaranteed income. The following piece of visual art was created by Jaclyn Gilstrap as the event went off. Click to enlarge.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Wild'n Out

Niceties Averted

Much has been make of the seeming breakdown of the fabric of society during Covid. Shootings, robberies, homicides, domestic violence, road rage, flight rage, etc. If morality is more like a language, and less like an inherent biological code, we seem to building a Tower of Babel. I have had numerous testy exchanges with customers, vendors, and staff over the years, but nothing quite prepared me for this deranged coffeeshop owner from Raleigh who ceased doing business with us and then refused to pay his remaining bills.

Go into your average food service establishment today, and you see chaos and dysfunction. Hiring, retaining, training, and supervising workers has all become exponentially harder. Is it because of the Great Resignation? Is it because workers are now paid more and have more power? Is it because our cell phones and social media have made us both productive and distracted to the point of schizophrenia? I'm not exactly sure. But a brief look into this conversation will convince you that we live in a scary society that is capitalism on hyperdrive. The toughest moments for me are when we have a wholesale customer that has clearly lost touch. I tried to reason with them, but this one really hurt and stuck out in my mind as emblematic of this period in time. I was really shook. I post here for future researchers and historians of the 20's. A is the owner of the Raleigh cafe, and R is his wife and co-owner.

On March 20, 2022 at 9:36:22 PM EDT, Ninth Street Bakery <> wrote:

Good evening,

We've attempted to run your card on file, but it was declined. Please call us with updated payment information at your earliest convenience. Thank you for your business! 

- S

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Everybody cries

In March 2020, the world tipped upside down, and no one knew if Covid was going to kill us all, and quickly. One employee, K, decided to take it upon herself to stop Bakery production and shut things down to save us all. She felt like unless we closed immediately, people would die. I tried to reason with her, but her heart was steadfast. At 2pm on Monday, March 16th, she began banging together pots and pans and collecting staff around her. Her voice would not be stopped, and I couldn't get a word in edgewise. She continued to rant about the dangers of Covid while I pleaded with her that we should try to discuss this in a more civil, reasonable manner. Our head artisan baker walked out. Customers watching from the cafe were scared. Eventually, we locked the door. Finally, we had to call 911 to have her removed from the premises, fired, and given a trespass. Having a background in social action, I suppose she was prepared for this, or maybe this was the statement she wished to make. We carried on with our day, but I was shaken up. The possibility of hurting our staff or customers was indeed great. We had little information on how the virus was transmitted (this was pre-masking), or how prevalent it was at the time in Durham (very low). It was when my head of artisan came back and we debriefed in the office that I broke down and cried from the stress of it. Not great big gobs of tears, but little ones, a muffled sob. "Everyone cries in this office," I said, "And now I suppose it's my turn."

Bon Appetit

Bon Appetit ran a story by a hip 24-year-old Durham grad student potter and waitress who shops at the Co-op making $18K/yr. In many ways, this story is as aspirational as the rest of the magazine's glossy food photos, but does it say something about our collective future as broke gourmands? Do we have to scrimp and save and wait for Daddy Warbucks to take us out to Dashi for a nice weekend meal?

Service surchages

With inflation hitting owner's budget waistlines, hard, it appears many restaurants and cafes are trying to find ways to make a buck / save a buck. Not surprisingly, it is on the backs of laborers, their front line staff.

In place of tipping, they have installed service surcharges to bring effective wages in line with expectations of workers. This is the new service charge economy. They do it saying that this provides a more steady source of income for their previously tipped (and sometimes untipped) workers, but in reality, it is just an angle to subsidize wages without paying more. To my mind, wages should be increased by the employer, and tips should be taken. Employers often do this because they fear raising prices, but that is what they effectively do via the surcharges, only under the guise that it is so the employees can make a more livable wage. With tips, our front line workers make approximately $21/hr currently, sometimes more depending on the day.

Another way owners pass off the labor costs is by paying low, sometimes as low as minimum wage, and "guaranteeing" a base wage paid via tips, again effectively shifting the labor cost to the consumer as in a traditional waiter/waitress model.