Friday, March 22, 2019

Rather Unique

We just had a customer come in, and this happens all the time, that they say, "Look at all those old machines back there, I love it, and everybody hustling and working.  It's rather unique. What a great space."

Rather Unique, AZ

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Consumer Exhaustion

Consumer exhaustion is real.  In the 1980s, television advertising seemed to aggressively interrupt programming and become a true annoyance, but now everything we do appears programmed and marketed.  The emails I get, the banners, the images in my feed, down to how everything is merchandised at the supermarket.  Consumption is an everyday desire now in a way that feels pushed upon us and insidious.  When sending out social media (we have a listserv, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook), I'm thinking consciously about contributing to this psychic clutter.  You have to play to get people interested in your products, but it is a fine balance of information with sensitivity to overloading.  There are times I really want to spend no money because I feel so overwhelmed by all the marketing, but then I also feel times where I am drawn to consumption as if it is part of a circadian rhythm.  My whole existence within consumer capitalist culture leaves me with an overall feeling of exhaustion while at the same time I'm decrying the poor to mediocre quality of the goods and services that I often have to choose from.

Uniformity and Process

Consistency is a main virtue of a baker.  Same temp, same size, same shape, same recipe, same result, day in, day out.  I was struck when visiting Biscuitville (my favorite fast food biscuit) that they put in tools or cheats to make their biscuit-making "like homemade" yet as close to idiot-proof and uniform as possible.  First, they have in big numbers "2 12" written on their flour scale, I assume to indicate that the desired weight per batch is two pounds, twelve ounces.  Secondly, they have little nubs on the end of the rolling pin (see below) so that each biscuit is rolled to the correct height (not too squashed, not too tall).  Through training, they actually get pretty good results for a fast food biscuit.  I assume there are other cheats involved, but I haven't signed up to become a biscuit-making employee there as yet.

The bakery is a hubris machine

The bakery is a hubris machine.  If you are feeling prideful, a batch burned or turned or spurned will catch you pants down and expose you.  Mistakes are made, racks are bumped, trays are dropped, and fingers are burned and cut.  If you are careful careful careful maybe you make it through one whole day only to hear that your employee suffered a bad bake or someone forgot the salt.  As a baker, you are never flying too high to the sun.  Those baker celebrities who seem hip and even their mistakes look blessed?  They're imaginary.  They don't bake every day.  Because if they did, they would show you all their fails, trials, and uglies.

What is it about pie

What is it about pie that makes it perfect? My theory is the contrast of textures.  Buttery flaky crust gives way to an oozy sugary sweet filling with chunks of fruit or a velvety custard or eggy chess.  It is that complementarity (or contradiction) that sets up the feeling of expectation and desire that brings us back to pie, whether hot, cold, stale, fresh, or in between.  Essentially, stratification makes for the tension of the pie plot, a textural contrast that bits of crust will clean away the food particles of filling as it washes around your mouth and in between your teeth.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Article on Artisan Baking and Philosophy

Adam Sobsey wrote a nice article in the Indyweek on Alex and Ari (we made a stencil, "Dish", as that is the name of their food issue).  Check it out!
photos by Bob Karp

Rosenfeld's Bagels

Benchwarmer's Bagels has recently opened in Raleigh.  This is an audacious thing.  Bagelries are more likely to be closing rather than opening these days.  Like Melissa Weller of Sadelle's, you need to have a perverse love for bread and a background in the highest echelons of baking, plus significant capitalist backing to open a bagelry in 2019.  They are just too hard to make, too hard to get consistently right, and people expect that they should be cheap despite being labor intensive (Benchwarmer's sells a dozen for $19, and they are bready).  Each bagel at a place like Benchwarmer's is hand rolled, itself a skill that takes months or years to master.  Beyond that, if any of the following criteria are not in a defined range, a "real New Yorker" will insult you (trust me, it's happened to me):

Flavor: Reasonably plain, slightly sweet, with a hint (but no more) of sour.
Texture: Tight crumb, never fluffy, overproofed, or bready.
Crust: Shiny, caramelized, some discernable "crack" upon tearing.
Size: Medium-small
Chew: Toothsome

The archetype for me for an old-school bagel will always be Rosenfeld's Bagels of Newton Center, Mass. It's not the best bagel, and not the flashiest, but as far as they come, it's pretty darn good.  Walking up to the counter, you can see the aged bagel man still using the wood boards in the oven, kettle steaming.  Like Dom DeMarco of DiFara's, he continues to bake bagels for no good reason other than that it breathes life into him through his work.  I told him I was a baker and he told me the secrets to his success:

1. Use All-Trumps Hi-Gluten Flour
2. Include 3% malt syrup by weight of the water in the boil kettle.
3. Develop the gluten (it's going to be a stiff dough, of 48-52% hydration), but don't overmix it.



Oaxaca and Tradition

I visited Oaxaca in November.  I was very nervous.  I had never been to Mexico before.  I don't speak Spanish. I was meeting a lady.

What I found there is hard to put into words; it has taken me some time to come up with the right words.

I found mole, of course, but more than that, I found families. I found businesses centered around families, and especially around grandmothers. Those were the distinctive ones, the ones the other businesses seemed to use as a model.

Capitalist intensity has broken the back of the family in America.  Cell phones exist in Oaxaca, but cell phone culture doesn't dominate.  Most transactions are in cash.  Families tend to live together.  The rush of daily city life somehow seems more humane and vehicle speeds are restricted by numerous speed bumps.  The people are poorer than the US, yet they seem richer and retain more of their dignity.  Zapotec and Mixtec indigenous culture still lives there through the language, music, cuisine, crafts, and spirituality of the people (e.g. Day of the Dead).

If I was to put it into words, it was as I imagined a throwback would be to US American society in the 60s.

I've been to poor American cities before, but most of them are post-industrial.  Oaxaca never had a true industrial period - their treasured artisan crafts (mostly made by women) have more vibrancy and international appeal than ever.  As such, the post-industrial, post-global phenomenon of the hollowed out city doesn't exist there.  And there is no reason that it would develop into an international city with its decrepit ghettos as the rural areas surrounding Oaxaca City are just too poor and cut off by mountains with no great natural resources to exploit.  And so, it remains kind of a jewel in its own right.  Walkable, affable, with delicious eats everywhere.

I left Oaxaca thinking another way is possible. How do we get back to the family, to slowing down the pace?  Is community possible, and do you have to be poor to do it? What traditions can we build today to battle against the tide of urbanization and capitalist intensity?

the comal is at the center of oaxacan culinary life

quesedilla with freshly made tortilla from masa corn nimatalized on site, with squash blossom and queso


mountain vistas

monte alban, one of the earliest city-states

fresh squeezed morning juice

insane agave