Friday, June 14, 2024

Baker's Dozen and The "Schmear"

 There are a few theories as to why a baker’s dozen became 13, but the most widely accepted one has to do with avoiding a beating. In medieval England there were laws that related the price of bread to the price of the wheat used to make it. Bakers who were found to be “cheating” their customers by overpricing undersized loaves were subject to strict punishment, including fines or flogging.  -

Schmear (n.) - also schmeer, 1961, "bribery," from Yiddish shmir "spread," from shmirn "to grease, smear," from Middle High German smiren, from Old High German smirwen "to smear" (see smear (v.); compare slang grease (someone's) palm "to bribe"). -

In Brooklynese, the "schmear" is both cream cheese and a bribe. As you place the money in the hand, the two hands slide schmearing as on a bagel.

Walkable Durham

With Beyu and Copa closing recently, the wake-up call that remote work has hit the businesses serving non-residential city centers has become more real. Jack Tar closed last year. Pompieri closed as well. While new businesses will likely grow into these spaces, one has to wonder whether we will see more closings in 2024.

Meanwhile, the Novus rises 27 stories above, casting an ominous shadow over the bakery. While I'm not a fan of much of the new construction architecturally, I have been supporting population-dense building ever since I was a member of Carrboro's Peak Oil Meetup in the aughts. Ultimately, we need cities that are more population-dense, walkable, and bikeable. We need cities that preserve green space and can control congestion and reduce or eliminate cars. The building needs to be affordable to middle class folks and we need new and better public housing for low-income folks. Will cities like Durham begin to look more like New York, and less like Raleigh?

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

New Breweries in Durham

With four new breweries either opening or recently opened (I count DSSOLVR, Flying Bull, Atomic Clock, and Proximity, am I missing one?), one might think that the booze market here in Durham is getting oversaturated.

I distinctly remember Fullsteam opening in 2010 and its packed taproom was the default event venue for baby showers and birthdays, complete with links from the Farmhand Foods (now Firsthand Foods) truck. 

Soon thereafter (2015), Ponysaurus took the reins as the go-to brewery location for local hangs. With  the crowds now in abeyance from both those locations (are we just going out less?), I ask have we passed Peak Beer, or is this just a build-out for a more populous future in the Downtown district? Or are these breweries the pet projects of well-funded amateurs investing in a declining business model?

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Best of 2023

Styles: Yussef Dayes

Israel reporting: Ezra Klein

Live Cut: Tioga Pass

Holiday Gift: Queen George's Ginger, Lil' Farm

Anticipated Opening: Missy Lane Assembly Room 

Cocktails: Arcana

Album: Black Classical Music, Yussef Dayes

Concept Bar: Night School

Restaurant: Little Bull

Bar to Dodge a Cell Signal: Accordion Club 

Boutique: Parker & Otis

Burger: Alley 26

Bagels: Isaac's

Chef in America: Corey Lee (Benu)

New Opening: Cheeni Durham

Coffeeshop Vibe: Cocoa Cinnamon Hillsborough Rd.  

Espresso Drinks: Joe van Gogh 

Words: Brittle; Cringe; Gentleness
Uglification of Durham: Atlas Durham; The Vega

Thursday, November 2, 2023

Artisan Baker Raven Norris


My name is Raven Norris and I'm the Artisan Bread Baker here at Ninth Street Bakery. I grew up
on the small island of Ocracoke, NC where I spent most of my time on a surfboard or waiting
tables to save up for a new one. 

As I watched my home get all but washed away during Hurricane Dorian in 2019, something was telling me I probably needed a change and moved to Durham on a whim shortly thereafter. 

Flash-forward to April of 2023 -- a desire to pursue a career in baking led me to Ninth Street. Coming in with very little experience, the plethora of knowledge that has been gifted to me from everyone here is priceless. My passion for the craft has become so immense and I feel so lucky to come to work and do what I love surrounded by lovely people. The only feeling that rivals taking a beautifully risen batard out of the oven, is the one I get when I look across the bakery and see a customer like you taking one home to share with friends or family.

If there are fresh baguettes in the basket, I'm around so don't be a stranger. I'm always happy to
answer any questions you may have about the bread or just say hello :)

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Murders in Durham

The recent spate of violence in Durham is nothing like what is happening now in Portland, but for anyone who works Downtown, the increased violence and schizophrenia of the panhandling and unhoused community is well known. In a terrible quote from the Times article above,

He estimated that based on the body’s temperature, this victim had been dead for more than an hour, which meant dozens of commuters had walked by his body during rush hour before one stopped to check his breathing and call 911.

Monday, a Duke grad student was murdered, and the man held in custody is someone known to the bar and restaurant industry of Durham as a regular.

Last night at 11pm, my own neighbor in Northgate Park was shot at in his car as he pulled in. In the morning, I found the car window punctured with a bullet hole, and four spent casings littered the curb next to my eucalyptus tree. Thirty people have been shot and killed this year in Durham, and 115 non-fatally. Growing up, the only pops I heard where from a tennis court nearby my home. Now I have to tell my son not to be scared when he hears gunshots.

Implicit in the Times article is that we are all complicit in the stepping around of a dead body laying out in the street. Two months ago, arriving at work, a Durham ambassador told me as I stepped out of my car, "You got a body in your bathroom". There was a man sprawled out on the bakery customer bathroom floor, a dirty knee twisted as if to draw a perfect chalk outline. He could have been sleeping, so I spoke to him. No reply. Not even a flickering of the eyelids. His skin color was between olive and gray. I yelled louder. No response. Should I check to see if he's breathing? Five minutes later, I put 911 on speakerphone. After a couple minutes, the sound of the dispatcher must have roused him. He got up and scampered away, leaving his phone charging in the wall outlet.

We depend on our City officials to provide safety and security for the residents. We depend on first responders to handle crisis situations. We depend upon the health care system to tend to mental illness and addiction. We depend on the legal and penal system to provide pathways to rehabilitation for offenders. Right now, none of these systems are working, either independently or together. It's enough to give you a panic attack.

That is exactly what happened to me. In the second year of Covid (2022), I began getting panic attacks from the overwhelm of everything that was going wrong. I eventually began seeing a holistic chiropractor/therapist and went down the path of becoming a trained breathwork guide and ice therapy coach. It's helped. And I've been able to train others. For every systemic malfunction, there are people like Michael Bock who are like Jedi, like angels literally trying to "hold back the ocean". The ocean is coming, and the question remains what we're going to do about it.

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.