Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Baker's Way

I have a friend who recently told me he is feeling a lack in his life. He is a successful person by any standard measure (college educated, employed, partnered), yet his life and work leaves him unsatisfied.

For those like him that are searching, I offer this: find that which brings you to a state of immanence, or total immersion in the act.  For someone like Mark Zuckerberg, it might be the act of writing program code.  For Ed Espe Brown and others like myself, it is bread baking.  Aside from the zenlike motions of kneading dough by hand, baking is an infinitesimal art of degrees, where small changes in a recipe can influence the end product dramatically.  Bread baking feels like endlessly opening a Chinese box, a nested structure where there are no dead ends, only endless doors to open, giving one the sensation of always being on the cusp of something, like the crest of a wave.

So to my friend the searcher, I say to him find your Chinese box and endlessly open it.  It may not be something that you ever master, because you will be continuously mastering it.  To achieve mastery is to steadily decrease the residual, the remainder that is beyond reach.  But in that remainder is the aleph, the kernel of the idea that brought you to the problematic in the first place, that attracted you and compelled you to open the first page.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Beekeeping, Honey and the Plight of the Honeybee in 2014

At Ninth Street Bakery, we primarily use natural wildflower local honey as a sweetener instead of sugar for our breads (and have been since the 1980's).  As the North American bee population has experienced severe dieoff, the price of honey has skyrocketed by nearly 30%.  I hear all the time from Heidi Pirtle Moore, our honey purveyor, how difficult it is becoming to source good honey, and wanted to share with you her trials and tribulations, hopes and fears for the bees and the future of honey, the newest luxury good.  From Heidi:

Hi Ninth Street Bakery Fans!
June marks my 20th year of selling local honey to Ninth Street Bakery.  I am a broker that buys mostly from local beekeepers and sells to local bakeries and natural food stores.  I’ve seen a lot of changes since 1994.  First of all back in the early years, my beekeepers (I had 5 back then) seemed pretty confident about treating the two different mites (the tracheal and the varroa) that plague the honeybee.  Second, my beekeepers always had a surplus of honey every year.  And third, the price of honey could either go up OR down.  In 2014, speaking now to my one and only beekeeper, he is not at all confident about controlling the mites; they have become resistant to most of the treatments available.   Also, we have not had a surplus of honey in at least 6 years.  During the past 5 years, we have contended with severe weather that has made it hard for the honeybees to gather nectar and make honey.  As a result, there have been years we have not made it through with enough local honey to serve all of my existing customers.  And finally, prices have risen so dramatically that honey is now becoming out of reach for many people to buy.  (I have not seen a price decrease in at least 12 years.)   Being a beekeeper is an expensive, labor-intensive job to have.  And despite his hard work to keep his bees healthy, my beekeeper loses a substantial amount of bees every year and more this year than in previous years.  Because the mites are resistant to the treatments and the losses of bees each year is substantial, beekeepers have a hard time making a living off of making honey.  

So why such changes over the last 20 years?  I’m not an expert on honeybees, but I have been following the research.  No one knows the exact cause of why bees are dying at such an alarming rate.  But the research suggests a complex set of factors that together create an overwhelming burden on the honeybee (and other pollinators).  Those reasons include:  the increased use of pesticides, changes in weather patterns that may be related to global warming, and the loss of natural habitat for enough good food for bees to eat.
Here are some sites if you are interested in more information on  Colony Collapse Disorder and the plight of the honeybee:

What can be done?
First, I think it’s important to see yourself as part of the natural world.  Everything that happens to our planet, we as humans will be affected by as well.  Considering that honeybees pollinate one-third of the food we eat (blueberries, watermelons, almonds, broccoli, beets, cabbages, peppers, papaya, oranges, lemons, coffee beans, cantaloupe, cucumbers, squash, carrots, sunflowers, apples, avocados…), we are highly indebted to them.  

With that in mind here are some things I have been doing to help honeybees and other pollinators:
-Support local beekeepers by buying their honey and local businesses that use local honey in their products!  Ninth Street Bakery has been doing this for over 30 years!
-Support organic farmers by buying organic produce.  They keep their plants pesticide free for honeybees and other pollinators to stay healthy!
-Plant honeybee and other pollinator foraging plants: 
-Encourage your community to keep un-mowed, wild spaces available for bees to forage!
-Take a beekeeping class with your local Ag-Extension office and keep bees!

Below is a picture of my beekeeper with his son Christopher:

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Weekend Update

Thanks to everyone who came out Saturday Night for Berenbaum Grills Out.  We had a fun time sparking the grill all day and as one customer said, the al pastor tacos were "effing amazing."  We probably won't do an all-day grill out like that again anytime soon, but it was a fun one-off.  Special big ups to Marybeth, KB, and the Scotts for coming through.  Next week, I think we are going to bring it all back home with everybody's favorite, Pizza.

Track of the Weekend:

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

NSB in Transition

I never thought I would find a work colleague who would like Kendrick Lamar, Earth Wind and Fire, and Hall and Oates, not to mention UGK and Galt MacDermot.  Chef Matt Props and I first met the Summer of 2012, and collaborated for over a year doing Saturday Night Pop-up dinners as well as other events.  Together, we helped to transform Ninth Street's cafe, adding more daily vegan options.  So it is with a sizable dose of sadness and nostalgia that I say that Matt is going to reduce his time at Ninth Street to focus on another job.  Here he is in his own words:

When we started our Pop-Up concept with an ode to the humble Ramen noodle, we had no idea how far it would take us. Over the past 14 months we have crafted menus based around every cuisine that intrigued us… some personal to us, some new and exotic, all intended to nourish and delight. Our customers have become our friends in that time and we've routinely solidified those bonds over many a plate of food. Durham has supported us in a way that leaves us feeling blessed and amazed and we will be forever grateful for the love we've received from y’all.

As bittersweet as it is to say, this Sat (6/14) will be the final installment of our Vegan Pop-Up series. I've accepted a position as the Healthy Eating Specialist with Whole Foods in Cary and while I'll still work with the Bakery in a production role, I'll no longer have the time or energy to continue the Sat dinners. Our café will still feature many of the (Vegan) foods you've grown to enjoy (if not more than we currently offer) and future (periodic) events are definitely a possibility.

All in all, the collective ‘we’ would just like to thank everyone who ever attended a dinner. Your patronage and friendship allowed us to push ourselves creatively and gave us a platform to showcase our nerdy Foodie interests. You helped us create a truly unique experience that we will always cherish.    -- Matt

Though Matt will no longer be at the helm on Saturday nights, he will always be family at Ninth Street, and we wish him the best.  With his help we will continue to produce his signature items, the Falafel, the Thai Curry, the soups, etc. We thank all the customers, vegan and otherwise, who have supported our crazy culinary ideas, who have come and tasted food inspired by the farthest reaches of international cuisine.

So please come out to your last two special meals prepared by Matt, Chef's Choice on Saturday Night and Vegan Brunch on Sunday.

For Matt:

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Weekend Update

As we move into Summer, changes are afoot at Ninth Street: Our floors and walls have been painted, and we are now selling tee shirts from Runaway (better known as DURM brand).  We are now exclusively selling Bean Traders Coffee, and are looking forward to selling pound-size bags as well in-store Downtown.  At our local Harris Teeter supermarkets, shoppers can now find our Chocolate Babka, Brioche Loaves, and Brioche Hamburger Buns.  In our cafe, we just sold out entirely of a great Thai Noodle Salad - we need to make more of that!  Matt has been coming correct with great menus - look out for his Native American theme this Saturday.  We just added on a new wholesale cafe customer - Honeysuckle Tea House out by Mapleview Farm in Chapel Hill.  In sad news, Katya, our sous-chef, will be leaving us for the summer for a teaching gig in Italy! 

Tracks of the Weekend: