Archive for February, 2010

The first rule of book club is that you have to read a book

February 24, 2010

When we were first imagining Charmington’s, Team Charm wanted space.  We wanted plenty of room for live music and tango lessons and I don’t even know what all else.  Roller derby.  Steeplechases.  We were dreaming big.

In reality, Charmington’s is going to be on the cozy side, although outdoor seating will be available in warm weather.  So, the activities that fit into the space will have to be a bit cozier, too.

What kind of groups and activities would you like to see in Charmington’s? Book clubs?  Poetry readings?  The construction of small, tidy craft projects?  NASCAR night?  Arm wrestling contests?

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Real baristas have day jobs

February 22, 2010

Some of Team Charm plan to work full-time at the cafe once we open our doors, but many of us do not.  We have other jobs, careers, even.  Some of us are in school as well.  It’s going to be a challenge to fit cafe duties into our schedules.

I kind of marvel at it sometimes.  Why are we doing this?  Even In These Times, there are easier ways to work in food service than opening one’s own cafe.

On the other hand, why do anything?  Why play sports or make art or decorate your living room?  Because you want to.  Because it’s fulfilling even when it’s stressful and irritating.  Because some of us see an empty room in an old factory and just feel an overpowering urge to fill it with espresso machines and a wi-fi signals.

In truth, it’s because we all want a decent cup of a coffee, a bite to eat, and a nice place to sit, and we want you to have it, too.  I mean, not to say that individual team members don’t have other reasons.  Some of us are way into coffee.  Like, waaaay into.  Others have always dreamed of owning a business.   Mainly, though, we want to be the cafe we want to see in the world.  We want to make a place we’d like, where we’d want to hang out.

If that means some of us have to work early morning prep shifts in before a 9-5, or to juggle book keeping and exams,  so be it.

Designer Impostors

February 18, 2010

I was poking around on the King Arthur Flour website the other day, and I found their recipe for “Baltimore’s Finest.”  It turns out it’s for fakey Berger cookies!

I should explain: I didn’t grow up in Baltimore.  I came here the summer of the cicadas a few years back, and have been hanging around ever since.  I don’t eat crabs or pit beef or lake trout, and I think the water ice of Philadelphia is far superior to the snowballs of Baltimore.   Sorry. I tell it like it is.  So, Berger cookies are one of the few regional food things I get excited about, and I just had to try this recipe.

I chose method two, since that was supposed to produce something closer to the genuine article.  I didn’t have any corn syrup in the house (go figure, right?), so I substituted blue agave nectar.  It’s cool, guys.  These cookies are health food, now.

This  dough looks like frosting when you mix it up, and it burns fairly easily.  I tried the first batch after cooking something else in the oven, and that brought the actual oven temperature too high, so I got hard little circles that were white on top and black on the bottom.

When I got a couple dozen non-burned cookies done, it was time to apply the frosting I’d made earlier. The dipping method recommended by King Arthur did not work for a second, but slathering it on with a butter knife produced acceptable frosting slabs.

The final results were OK.  Right after the frosting set, they weren’t fooling anybody.  The frosting was grainy and overly sweet, even for the cookie I was trying to copy.  After sitting for 24 hours, though, the frosting has mellowed a bit.  It’s creamier and less grainy, for sure, and even the sweetness seems less overpowering.

These designer impostors aren’t going to fool the true aficionado.  However, the recipe was fairly straightforward, and if you’re a sugar daredevil, it’s worth a shot.

The name game

February 15, 2010

Charmington’s has been in the works since early Spring of 2009, but we didn’t know then that it would be called Charmington’s.   It turns out that a group of eight people who are basically like-minded about having a local cafe that has great food, fair trade coffee, and serves as a small community hub can have wildly divergent ideas about cafe naming.

So, for your infotainment, I present some name options we didn’t end up using (and a little bit more about the one we did):

Black Aggie’s

This was our front-runner for a long time.  Some of our crew are super into all things haunted, and so were drawn to the local legend of Black Aggie, a cemetery monument in the shape of what was supposed to be a grieving woman, but is actually a terrifying blob.  Local students named her Black Aggie, and she was supposed to kill you if you went through some kind of spend-the-night-on-the-grave fol-de-rol to encourage her to do so.

As a group, we liked the local connection, and the many fun ways we could play around with the Black Aggie character. Plus, one space we  were looking at pretty seriously had a very gothic feel to it, and Black Aggie would’ve fit in just fine.

When we realized that space was unfeasible for us, we decided that the name was really contingent on the cafe space we chose.  Black Aggie wouldn’t tolerate her name being used just anywhere.

Also, there’s another (Color) (Woman’s Name) coffee shop in town, with similar (though not identical) goals to our own.

Soylent Bean

This was the clear winner in the fool-proof polling method of posting it to Facebook and seeing who lol’d.   Get it?  Soylent Bean!  Like Soylent Green!  We were even going to play off that and and make postcards that said, “Soylent Bean is…People!” with pictures of all of our smiling faces below the text.

However, one of our number is deathly allergic to puns, and to phrases manufactured on equipment that also manufactures puns.  There have been very few ultimatums in our planning process, but Soylent Bean provoked one of the few.

Finally, we concluded that, in the words of the Simpsons, “It’s a funny joke that becomes less funny every time you hear it,” and moved on.

The Bells

We came to this one by some pretty convoluted associations.  Miller’s Court, the building where the cafe is currently being built out, used to have something to do with tin.  It was a can company, maybe?  Somebody knows this.  Anyway, we tried all these names playing off “Tin,” and didn’t like any of them.

Somebody got to joking about “Tintinnabulation,” and from there we got to Poe’s poem The Bells.  As a group, we liked that the Poe reference was a subtle one, but still had that sort of dark and brackish Baltimore connection we’d been after with Black Aggie’s.

What we didn’t like was the sort of generic nature of the name.  Would people immediately assume that a place called “The Bells” served coffee?  Would non-fans of Poe get it or care?  We liked it, but didn’t want to marry it.

The moment of decision

I’ll spare you the rest of our rejected names and our process.  We went through dozens casually, and a respectable handful seriously.

Finally, a few months back, we’d found the Miller’s Court space and decided that it had to be our new home. (One day we’ll tell you about Miller’s Court and what’s so cool about it.)  It was decision time.  We were competing with other potential lessees, and couldn’t stay unnamed forever.

We all met up, with snacks and wine, and ruthlessly ranked the names on our collected lists–plus one late addition.  A friend had called one of our crew breathlessly, minutes before the meeting, to   tell her, “I just have to let you know. I’ve lived in that area for years, and I’ve always called it Charmington, because it’s between Charles Village and Remington.”

Maybe because it we hadn’t been looking at it and trying to think of ways that disgruntled customers would parody it on Yelp for months, but Charmington’s slowly, effortless floated into everyone’s top ten names.   We discussed, we debated, we killed the wine, and Charmington’s it was and ever since has been.

Please do not tell us if you have any other helpful naming suggestions.

Snow day baking adventures

February 12, 2010

When I went snow panic shopping last Friday night, I skipped the bread and milk and bought brown sugar, and lots of it.  Lately, I’ve been going through it at an alarming rate.

It’s true that I’ve got a sweet tooth, but all this sugar buying isn’t just for me.  It is for a higher pupose: recipe testing for Charmington’s.

One thing that Team Charm (I haven’t told them that I call them that) agreed on from our earliest cafe planning stages was that we wanted to make as much of our own food as possible.  We’d all worked in places that sourced food from other bakeries and restaurants, and while that will still be the best solution for getting some of our stuff (bagels, sandwich bread, a few other things), it has definite downsides:

1) Waste.   Most bakeries have a minimum ordering amount, so even if you know you’re going through 30 muffins a day, you may have to either get 36 and end up throwing them out, or getting 24 and disappointing customers.

2) Cost.  We know that by buying unprocessed or minimally processed ingredients, we can save money.   When you buy your muffins (or whatever) from somebody else, you’re paying their markup, and then you have to mark them up yourself.

3) Quality.  We can provide fresher food if we don’t have it shipped in from elsewhere.  Moreover, we can experiment with serving more delicate products, since people will be eating them on the spot or carrying them over fairly short distances.  Food sourced from elsewhere has to be hardy enough to get knocked around a little bit in transit and still look presentable to serve.

So, that’s why my household is so fixed for brown sugar.  I’ve been making muffins by the dozens, scones by the score.  Malicious elves have been tightening my pants, but it’s not stopping me.   I’ve got some brownies that will make the baby angels weep.  It is basically awesome being me right now.

But what about you?  What baked item is your special cafe treat?  If you’re not a fiend for sweets like I am, what savory baked stuff tempts you the most?