Sunday, January 27, 2013

Baltimore, Where Do You Get Your Brew?

It takes a lot to persuade me to spend over $2 on a cup of coffee that I just as easily could have brewed at home.  No, I don’t have an espresso machine.  Yes, I use the wrong grounds for my French press, and no I do not care.   I’m just not overly particular about my coffee, so spending large amounts of money on a cup of joe is hard to justify. 

Instagram makes my book and tea looks less like I'm procrastinating and more like I'm being artsy.

There are days, though, where I go stir crazy in my apartment.  Where if I sit on the sofa with the dog for one moment longer, I fear I’ll either lose my sanity.  At times like this, it’s helpful to have somewhere to go.  Sometimes, the best medicine for productivity is to be surrounded by other productive people.  The motivation and inspiration do wonders.

I live within decent proximity to a Starbucks, but that’s not what I look for in a coffee shop.  I want Macs littering the tabletops and fair trade coffee poured into mugs.  Most importantly, I want my coffee size options to be “Small,” “Medium,” and “Large.”

At this moment, I am in the corner at Charmingtons (Remington - N. Howard and 26th) , willing myself to catch up on blogging and some other work that I’ve been putting off for far too long.  The Wi Fi here is turned off each day from 11a-2p to accommodate for the lunch rush, which irritates some folks and warms the hearts of others.  I find it refreshing, being able to be surrounded by the efficiency of others without the temptation of Facebook or Wikipedia.  I’ve always been pleased with the coffee I’ve ordered here, and I hear wonders about their baked goods.  Charmington’s is a hop away from Sweet 27, the gluten-free bakery, so I sometimes allow myself the decadence of a rarely-had cupcake on my way over.

Other area favorites for me include Milk and Honey and Artifact.  Milk and Honey (Mount Vernon - Cathedral and W. Read St) is one of the few coffee shops in the heart of Mount Vernon, and I’m a big fan that they have a gluten-free baked good in house (yes, brownie, I’m talking about you).  I sampled some of their sandwiches before going gluten-free, and they were delicious.  The coffee isn’t much to write home about, but it provides the needed boost of caffeine in the right location.  Word on the street is that Mount Vernon will be gaining a new coffee shop in the spring.  Dooby’s Coffee is coming to 800 N. Charles St, referred to as a “coffee shop and then some” in this Baltimore Sun piece.  I don’t know much beyond that, but it does peak my interest each time I walk by.

I was actually introduced to Artifact by my brother who works in the coffee business.  We stopped in on our drive up to Philly while I was suffering from the Ultra-Flu, Part I.  I didn’t fully appreciate the atmosphere, as it was 8:00am and I was already delirious from a fever/DayQuil/cough drops.  I couldn’t speak to their coffee at the time, because I drank a very strong Earl Grey to stay awake for the drive.  I decided to give Artifact a second chance for the New Year, free of germs and meds.  Now, I live under a rock and unknowingly decided to go the night of the Ravens/Broncos game.  I was curious as to why the coffee shop was near empty, but the divey local corner bar across the street was bursting with yelling patrons in decked in purple.  Context clues are glorious.    As a result of the game being on, I had Artifact nearly to myself.  The staff was incredibly pleasant and the coffee blew me away.  I worked, distraction free, for hours, and was even allowed to choose which LPs would play for the rest of the evening, in order to cease bickering over Fleetwood Mac.  

There are other coffee shops in this city, to be sure.  There’s Spro on the Avenue in Hampden, LAMILL in Harbor East, of course Zeke’s, Peace & a Cup of Joe in Ridgley’s Delight, Red Emma’s in Mount Vernon (that I have shockingly yet to try) who will be moving to Station North soon, Carma’s in Charles Village, Patterson Perk by the park, and so many more.  The thing is, at the rate it takes me to try coffee shops, I’ll be 80 and have just finished the above-mentioned list.  Baltimore definitely has an array of coffee shops available; it’s just a matter of finding the right vibe in the right neighborhood for your liking.  

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Who You Gonna Call [in a non-emergency situation]? - The Many Uses of 3-1-1

There comes a moment in every Baltimorean's life when you think, "I should probably inform the cops of what I just saw, but I don't think it's an emergency."  You sit and ponder for a few minutes, potentially aghast depending on what you just saw, and either dial 911 or shrug and walk away, ignoring all civic obligation.

This past summer when my sister came to visit, some lovely citizen decided to baptize me in the waters of Baltimore and broke into my car.  Or, they broke my window, shuffled around my old receipts and broken FM adapter, only to decide there was nothing worth taking.  I almost want to write a letter and tape it to my car:

Dearest Potential Thief;
Some things of note in my car:
-Jumper cables.  They're in the trunk.  
-Resuable bags.  Enjoy the fun ones for wine - there should be two, allowing you to carry up to 12 bottles of your choosing!  The other bags are great for grabbing produce from the market, or just saving some plastic trees at Safeway.
-Expired insurance cards in the glove compartment.
-My mother always taught me to save my gas receipts and write the mileage on the top of them, so you'll find those in the glove compartment, too.  While you're there, please tell me what my MPG looks like.  Highway vs city, if it's not too much of a pain.
-Gum wrappers and some bobby pins are in that little plastic thing next to the steering wheel.  I recommend using the empty gum wrappers for blotting lipstick, in a pinch!
-The center console is where the good stuff is.  There's a broken FM adapter, a finicky iPhone charger, and some epic cds from days past.  Enjoy such gems as Hootie and the Blowfish, the soundtrack to Friends (each song ends in an audio snippet from the show!), some early 2000 salsa mix cds, and angsty high school mixes with The Smiths, Velvet Underground and Elliot Smith.  You can't handle this level of emo, Potential Thief.  If my Sopranos soundtrack cd is in there, please leave it.  It's wonderful.

I have no GPS and make a point of leaving nothing truly valuable in here.  If you enjoy collecting dog fur, I point you in the direction of the backseat.  If none of these things appeal to you, I implore you to move elsewhere and leave my windows intact.
Yours in legality,

So I'm standing on the sidewalk, half shocked that my window is broken, half irritated that my morning market adventure is being delayed by this incredibly inconsiderate person.  I call my friends to tell them my sister and I going to be late.
"Did you call the cops?" they ask.
"It's not an emergency.  I can't justify calling 9-1-1 for them to come out to look at a ghetto Toyota with a broken window."
"No, call 3-1-1.  It's the nonemergency line."

I had no idea this was even a thing, so I call it.  They ask me for my name, address, location of whatever it is I'm calling in, and tell me to sit tight until a cop arrives.  He comes, looks bored out of his mind because documenting a broken window in Mount Vernon on a Sunday morning just isn't what he had in mind when he walked across the stage at the Police Academy, and hands me the necessary paperwork.

My window got replaced at no cost because my insurance is magical.  I've changed none of my habits in terms of what I leave in my car, and I just acknowledge that when you park on the street, eventually someone will get bored and smash in your windows.  It's how you learn to love those Baltimore diamonds.

3-1-1 is so much more versatile than a broken window, though.  A coworker of mine was telling me about the time she was walking her dog one morning, and found a dead body in the park.  Ah, Baltimore.  Nothing says, "Good morning, Baltimore!" like a corpse. My coworker went through the same thought process as I had.  He was already dead, so it wasn't an emergency per say. The solution? 3-1-1!  They told her they would send some cops over to investigate, and could determine the severity from there.  Other times if you call 3-1-1, they'll make the executive decision that you are in fact in an emergency and transfer you over.

3-1-1 is magical.  You never know when you'll need to report something suspicious, stolen, etc.  Hopefully you never will, but for those "just-in-case" moments, 3-1-1 is there for you.

Note: For all emergencies, please dial 9-1-1.  If safety and lives are on the line, it is definitely an emergency.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Gather Baltimore

I'm a plant killer.  The above is just one example of the tragedies plants endure under my care.  When I was in college, Planty also survived a hurricane in a flooded garage, and I once left him outside in a snowstorm. He miraculously made it through the ledge-jumping tragedy, only to later reach a tragic end due to a lack of sunlight in my old apartment.  My mother attempted to revive him, to no avail, and so he ended his four years on this planet.  She graciously gave me one of her geranium's offspring, and thus Planty Jr was born.  Planty Jr does best here in Baltimore when I forget to water him, which I do often.  He keeps company with Unnamed Bushy Green Thing on my bookshelf, who also doesn't seem to mind that I ignore him quite often.  They entertain one another.

I kill plants, but I love plants.  It really is quite unfortunate.  More than looking at plants, I love to eat plants.  I have no yard, and the closest thing I have to outdoor space is half a fire escape I share with my neighbors.  Except, my neighbors have a proper door out onto the fire escape and I have to climb over my bed and through my window onto mine.  No plants live out there - they'd die (I already inadvertently killed a friend's plant out there).  I wish that I not only were better with plants, but that I could sow seeds properly and grow myself some grub.  Cultivating produce ensures a wonderful combination of food with the outdoors - two of my favorite things.  Imagine my excitement at recieving the following message on Facebook last week: "wanna go pick some veggies for charity?"

And so I spent my Saturday gleaning vegetables with two of my favorite people in this city, and some complete strangers that included the hula hoop guy from the market. We were picking with the great folks of Gather Baltimore, one of the newest fellowships of the Open Society Institute - Baltimore.  Gather Baltimore came into being around 2008, when Arthur Morgan began noticing how much food went to waste at the end of the day at the market downtown.  He now makes the rounds to collect unsold produce that may not be in pristine condition, but is still wholly edible, and makes it available to those in financial distress in the community.

Now that the market is in it's off-season (I blinked back tears and have found temporary solace at the Waverly market on Saturdays), Gather Baltimore gleans veggies from local farms and sends them out.  This week, I helped out Gather Baltimore at Zahradka Farm in Essex, and had a lovely time.  I was able to get my dose of vitamin D, chat with other volunteers about their favorite thing to do with an excess of turnips (Consensus says: stretch your mashed potatoes), and get down and dirty cutting some kale, mustard greens, and unearthing a plethora of turnips.  I was able to get outdoor exposure, something I crave on the weekends, pretend like I grew all these things on my own, and spend time with awesome people for an even better cause.

So you're new to Bmore.  Why not stick around a little later after the market and help pack up some excess produce, or lend a hand on a day of veggie gleaning?  Fill some empty stomachs, prevent waste, and meet incredible, selfless people all in one fell swoop!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Electronic Dumping Grounds

At some point in most people's lives, there's inevitable realization of, "Where on earth did this come from?" or, "Why do I own six broken vegetable peelers?"  In my case, it seems to be that, along with historically having crappy vegetable peelers, I am regularly gifted unwanted televisions from friends.  I'm not huge into TV, so I just can't justify spending money on a nice one.  To me, a screen is a screen is a screen.  I realize that's not true.  I have spent time in front of nice TVs and I acknowledge there is a very real difference.  It's just not a difference that I care that much about, and so I am gifted TVs by those who upgrade with more regularity.

My initial Baltimore TV was a hand-me-down from my AmeriCorps roommate.  He had upgraded to a sexy flatscreen, and thus I inherited the 27-inch, junk-in-the-trunk beast that he had.  It had temperamental input plugs that had to be secured with masking tape, and they often came undone mid-movie so you had to scramble to pause and retape.  It was a bit of nuisance (friends would probably argue that it was more than a "bit"), but again, I just couldn't be bothered.  One friend in particular could take it no more, and I was gifted yet another Badonkalicious television.  It had a bigger, better screen, and most importantly, it had functioning inputs.

I rightfully retired the AmeriCorps hand-me-down, and found myself in the pesky predicament of having a TV I couldn't donate.  Goodwill, Village Thrift, and essentially all thrift stores/donation locations, no longer accept old school TVs.  The TV lived in a corner of my room for a few months, collecting dust and acting as an ad hoc corner table, until a friend asked me why I didn't take it to the dump.  Aghast, I exclaimed, "You can't throw out old TVs just like that!  Something something nature save the planet use reusable grocery bags and compost!" Lo and behold, Baltimore City has sanitation yards to help with this very predicament.  I recommend the one in Remington at 2840 Sisson Street.  With help, I loaded the voluptuous screen etc into my car, and left it in a nice heap of other discarded TVs to be recycled.

Now I find myself in this same situation all over again.  My cousin upgraded his television and graciously has given me his old one.  But I have this perfectly functional, curvy television, and no or need for two.  If anyone needs a television, let me know.  Otherwise, look for me at the Remington Sanitation Yard next Saturday!  If you're new to the city and find yourself with an excess of stuff you can't get rid of any other way, I recommend you also make your way there.