Dining in Durham, Pt. 1

After three days of chipmunk cheeks followed by a Sunday spent pampering my mom, I’m ready to get back into the swing of things. The dreary weather has finally receded and with any luck, we’ll enjoy a spring respite before things heat up too much.

The temp job I have is in Durham near Duke’s east campus. As a bleeding-blue Tar Heel, I rarely explored this nearby city during my undergrad years in Chapel Hill. Known historically for industry tobacco and more recently as the home of an iconic baseball flick, the Bull City was strapped with an unsavory reputation until recently. Urban revitalization is in full swing downtown, including the converted American Tobacco Campus, which borders the new performing arts center and the Bulls baseball park. Even the office where I work was once a mill.

I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of all that Durham has to offer, but here’s the first installation of my eating and drinking recommendations:

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The lovely American Tobacco Campus houses many restaurants including my favorite location of Tyler’s Taproom— perfect for a pint and a burger

Geer Street Garden offers a healthy(ish) take on Southern staples, including gluten-free options and a bright bar

Geer Street Garden offers a healthy(ish) take on Southern staples including gluten-free options, plus al fresco dining and a sunny bar [photo courtesy of Durham Magazine]

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Across the street from Geer Street, you’ll find connoisseur-quality coffee at Cocoa Cinnamon

Besides java, this garage-hipster-hangout has the most luscious hot chocolate -- made with almond milk no less

Besides java, this garage-turned-hipster-hangout has the most luscious hot chocolate — made with almond milk no less

Located a little south of downtown, Nantaco is worth the trek for fresh, inventive Mexican fare -- not to mention $5 margaritas

Nantaco is worth the trek for fresh, inventive Mexican fare — not to mention the expansive salsa bar and $5 margaritas [photo courtesy of Nanataco]

Adventures in gluten-free baking

I’ve now completed two weeks on a g-free diet. The jury is still out as to whether I’m feeling the benefits, but I do know this one thing: Gluten-free baking is hard.

Like sleeping babies, these muffins look dreamy in their beds but become divas once removed

Like babies, these muffins look dreamy in their beds but are temperamental once removed

Four and a half years ago, I was not a baker. My greatest culinary accolade was microwave-made Ghiradelli fudge. I once tried to broil chocolate-chip cookies. In hindsight, it’s no wonder that my attempt at gluten-free banana bread was a sad, crumbly hovel at an office bake-off.

Since then, I’ve made my share of successful bundts, cupcakes, muffins, cakes, and cookies. I even took third-place at another workplace bake-off.

It was with this slightly inflated ego that I approached g-free blueberry and poppy seed buckwheat muffin recipe. Hubris, it turns out, is not barred from the baking world.

Although I used the same all-purpose mix as the author (brown rice flour and cornstarch), the muffins were structurally unsound– most lost their bottoms before popping out of the pan. I’m not sure whether to blame this kerfuffle on my lack of a kitchen scale, substitution of Greek yogurt for buttermilk, or general g-free ineptitude.

Despite the crumbliness, I ate a few of the muffins, which had the signature nutty undertone of buckwheat. They could have used a bit more flavor (orange zest? cardamon?) or sweetener (just a smidge of brown sugar?). I miss the easy muffins of yore, but now I’m doubly determined to create a successful baked good sans gluten.