Slice of heaven

March 24, 2010 by

Team Charm, lead by Jen,  found a restaurant auction in Northern Virginia a few weeks ago, and yesterday the bidding closed.  It was online only, so no one got to hear an auctioneer, but we were also protected from accidentally bidding on any Ming vases by scratching our noses.  (Something that I am pretty sure happened at least once on every sitcom I watched growing up.)

Anyway, we got a lot of necessary equipment for the space at a much lower price than we would have buying it new.  A sandwich table, a couple of prep tables, some big mixing bowls, a nice food processor, and the crown jewel, a slicer.

The funny thing is, no one actually like, wants the slicer.  It’s big and heavy and scary, and some of us (me) don’t really relish touching big hunks of meat.  And yet, after talking it over, we realized that we wanted the slicer badly, because of what it will allow us to do.

Getting unsliced meat from local(ish, we hope) farmers that follow sustainable practices is going to be much, much more cost effective and less wasteful than trying to get pre-sliced good meat.  Also, no one really wanted to go with the pre-sliced hormone-treated “conventional” meat we could get, even though that would be cheapest of all.

So, we’re psyched about this dangerous albatross of a slicer, even though it means a certain amount of hassle and a whole lot of vigilance.


Torch! Torch! Torch!

March 23, 2010 by

Amanda posted about this in a facebook status, but I’m so into the torch that I have to elaborate.  One of our fans recently gave Team Charm a kitchen torch, and man, are we excited.  Like, I literally squealed when the package arrived, and I’m not real squealy.

Amanda, Jen, and I have been the first to play with it, and so far, it’s been a lot of fun.  We’ll have pictures and video for you soon.  Watching sugar crystals turn into beads of molten, caramelized liquid sugar is intensely satisfying, as is eating all kinds of foods with burnt sugar on top.  So far, we’ve stuck pretty closely to the custard family when we’ve engaged in burnination, but really, we can burn any old thing.

I think we’re going to be able to toast cheese on bagels and other sandwiches, for example.  I’m hoping.  To quote Robert Louis Stevenson’s marooned pirate, Ben Gunn, “Many’s the long night I’ve dreamed of cheese.  Toasted, mostly.”   I’m with you, guy.

The really cool thing about the torch, though, is that it’s going to take up a tiny amount of space (very important in quarters as cozy as ours) and allow us to use our oven far less.  Our space is already planned out in a way that makes packing sound equipment into a station wagon* look like child’s play, and the smaller and more versatile every gadget we get, the better.

*I’m talking about a lot of sound equipment here.  If you’ve ever been in a band or been friends with those who have been in bands, you know exactly what I’m talking about here.

Little things

March 17, 2010 by

As we get closer to opening, Team Charm is working on the stuff-gathering process.  A few weeks ago, Kris and some hero friends of his cleared out our entire storage space, and moved the contents into our new storage room in Miller’s Court.  They got everything, even the massive refrigerator.  (Unless there is a happy change, you will see this refrigerator right down in the cafe, because it seems to be too large to fit through a few key doors…whoopsie.)

We were able to purchase most of the cafe at bluehouse’s old equipment, so Charmington’s has a head start there, but we have more ambitious food goals at Charmington’s, and so we’re getting more equipment as well, like an oven of our own.  While we’ve been scouring restaurant auctions and similar sources for the big stuff, we’re trying something else for the little things: We’re asking around.

The more specialized a kitchen gadget is, the more likely it’s going to sit around unused for years, jamming up your drawers and cabinets.   So, we’re asking our friends and neighbors and anyone who wants to see our ragtag little cafe to succeed to look inside their drawers and cabinets and to see if anything looks lonesome.

We have a loose list of things we could use here at Alternative Gift Registry, but what the heck, challenge us, right?  We’ll take more obscure items, and more practical ones as well.  (Sadly, we can’t take a lot of mechanical things like toasters, unless they are listed for commercial use.)

We promise to give you visitation rights if you need them!

We know it’s uncommon for a cafe to ask for things like this, but we’ve been touched by the outpouring of support and well-wishes we’ve received already.  Many people have asked how they can help, and while purchasing our stock is always an option, not everyone is in a place to do that.

As always, we appreciate everyone’s support, and look forward to serving you coffee and food in the very near future.

Guest post: The neighborhood coffee shop

March 11, 2010 by

The other day I saw my friend Jen Plants (not Charmington’s Jen, but another Jen altogether) had posted in her blog about neighborhoods, feeling at home, and being happy.  Her post touched on so many of the things we’re trying to do with Charmington’s that I asked her if I could steal it, and she graciously agreed.

She writes, as part of a longer post:

So what are the things that I would need (ideally within walking distance) to make me happy? I want a real list that reflects places I really use that really matter to me. So although, it would be nice to have a dentist I can walk to, since I only go twice a year, I can live with getting in the car or getting on the subway to get there. So, I now present the first item on this list (which is in no particular order!). . .

#1 Thing Every Town Needs:

A Locally Owned, Independent Coffee Shop

It may sound cliche, but I’m happier in neighborhoods where I can walk to get a good cup of coffee from people who live in my community and get to know their customers. I need a place where I can grade papers on a Monday afternoon, grab some caffeine before rehearsals, take Miss Hazel for a snack after a morning at the playground, have a light lunch and a business meeting with a collaborator. . . You get the idea. I just feel like communities without one feel soulless, and Starbucks with their trucked in desserts and generic wall art (rather than the rotating work or local artists) is NOT the same. In fact, Starbucks sucks and its presence often signals the kind of neighborhood I’m trying to avoid.


Wasn’t that nice? (This is Cara again.)   I know she said that her list was in no particular order, but still, #1, right?  We know that opening a for-profit cafe in a neighborhood isn’t any kind of holy mission, but we do feel that being of the neighborhood is preferable to just happening to be located in a neighborhood.

What’s a neighborhood to you?  Is your neighborhood the one where you happen to live, or is their a neighborhood that you consider “yours” even though you sleep or work elsewhere?

Testing recipes part 2

March 8, 2010 by

Last week I posted about the cooking party in which several members of Team Charm tried out some recipes.  Today I have some more photos from Amanda, and a little bit more about what we were making.

Lavender Chocolate Chip Cookies

Seriously, how cute is Amanda's kitchen?

Jen mixed up a batch of cookie dough that incorporated oatmeal, lavendar, and chocolate chips.

I was skeptical about lavender chocolate chip cookies.  I felt like chocolate chip cookies have survived for many years without any floral elements, and remain pretty much perfect.   Still, I’ve had lavender chocolate bars and enjoyed them, so I was willing to give the cookies a try.

We failed to truly test the recipe by letting the cookies cool and harden, and snatched them right off the cooling sheets.  They were less sweet than I expect a cookie to be, and the lavender flavors and chocolate flavors went well with the heartier texture of the oatmeal.


The final product: golden brown, with luscious chocolate chips still warm and melty from the oven, and a subtle odor of lavender.

Cream Scones

I bought a pint of heavy cream when I was making the imitation Berger cookies, and I only used half a pint, so I decided to use the rest in the recipe for cream scones given in Crust and Crumb.

I dutifully mixed the dry ingredients, and was getting ready to pour in the 8 oz. of cream that should’ve been left in the container, when I realized that it had turned, and was too far gone to pour–which is probably for the best.  as it kept me from ruining the batter.

After a quick walk to the store to get more cream–heavy whipping cream this time, and just the half pint needed for the recipe–I mixed it in. Though I had to add water to get the mixture wet enough to form dough, I must say, the scones were a success.  I added cranberries to the batter, and an egg wash topped with sugar to the top.  They came out golden brown and delicious!

Everybody must get scones.

Next time, I may press some cranberries onto the tops after the egg wash, just to make them prettier.

Testing recipes part 1

March 4, 2010 by

While all of us on Team Charm have our own favorite recipes, we need to make sure that they’ll work in the cafe setting.  Last week, we had our first cooking party, to test recipes and techniques.  Amanda volunteered her kitchen, which is the most spacious and photogenic one available, and she and I and Jen and Kris got together to make some good food.  All photos by Amanda.

Baked falafel

Kris: I like your hat!

Kris prepping some baked falafel.

Fact: Amanda had never had falafel in her life until a few weeks ago–on a trip to Korea!  Jen, Kris, and I have had much longer falafel eating careers.  We liked this recipe, but next time Kris plans to use a longer baking time, and to add a little more spice to the falafel mix.

He served these with pita bread, spinach, cucumbers, and homemade tahini dressing.

Muffins: variations on a theme

"My muffin top is all that..." There. Now it's in your head, too.

One of the muffin variations we tried. This one contained cranberries, and walnuts and were topped with candied ginger and/or white chocolate.

This muffin recipe is one of my personal favorites, the “Muffins of a Thousand Faces” from a wonderful book called Crust and Crumb.  A generous amount of vanilla extract and a carefully formulated creaming method set these apart from your everyday muffins, and the results are delicious.

This recipe is meant to be varied.  We tried frozen wild blueberries in half a batch, as well as the cranberry-walnut-ginger-and-sometimes-white-chocolate pictured above.  Jen mixed this batch, and her results were consistent with the times I’ve tried it in the past.

Next post: lavender chocolate cookies, and cream scones.

Coffee, coffee, coffee

March 2, 2010 by

When Team Charm discusses Charmington’s within our own meetings, we say over and over that we want people to think of us as more than a coffee shop.  That’s well and good, of course, as we intend to have a great food menu and some catering options, especially for our Millers Court neighbors.  But, man, coffee is good.

As I type this, I’m sipping a brew that is helping me stay awake, but does my soul no good, and I’m dreaming of the day Charmington’s brews its first cup.

If all goes according to plan, we’ll be using Counter Culture.  Many of us have worked in other local shops and fielded questions about why we weren’t using a local roaster.  We have nothing against any of the local roasters, but we have so much FOR Counter Culture.


Counter Culture is what we’ve preferred across the board in taste tests.  Dark roast, medium roast, espresso: Counter Culture’s offerings have been consistently richer, mellower, and more delicious than the competition.


Counter Culture practices Direct Trade with their supplier farmers.  Their minimum per-pound price exceeds the Fair Trade price floor by 19%, and they practice open and direct communication with the farmers who grow the coffee.


Counter Culture offers some great training and education programs for baristas, and since, as I’ve mentioned, we’re mostly baristas with day jobs, a lot of us are chomping at the bit to get better at our craft.

We’ve had great experiences working with Counter Culture at other shops, and we’re definitely looking forward to working with them again.

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

February 24, 2010 by

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?

Real baristas have day jobs

February 22, 2010 by

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 by

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.