It’s a slow time of year.
The shop is slow because the weather has been unbearable, and mail order is slow because there’s no chocolate-holiday happening right now.
It’s been wonderful.
Without the pressure of a looming holiday I have time to work on long-term projects, train new employees more thoroughly, have days off, make food that takes more than five minutes to prepare. Heaven.
Easter is gently winking at us, still a bit down the line, with the promise of busy hands making endless bunnies and peanut butter eggs and cream eggs and all that, which means bills being paid without even looking at the available balance and setting aside a little extra to pay off debt and maybe a nice treat night out in NYC, too. It’s a balanced life, in its unbalanced way, this one. Weeks of nonstop work followed by breathing. I’ve come to crave each cycle: the crush and the release.
We’re just going for it these days, saying yes to most things.
I used to think a lot about saying no.
I created this job to have a nice life, not to make a ton of money. I’m sure the former would lead somewhat to the latter, in some ways, but I don’t trust myself to find out. Better not to tempt it. I have a nice life now.
I can pay my student loans, my car’s paid off, my cats have food, so do Jacob & I, our mortgages for the house & the building the shop’s in will get paid down in time. Got a little credit card debt & some loans from some business expansion, but I’m paying it off fast.
If iI were the only person working at the shop, I’d keep things just where they’re at with the business forever. The capitalist decree to endlessly expand is sickening to me, seeing as It’s precisely what’s got our planet and so many of its inhabitants into such a pickle right now: ecosystem counting down the seconds until collapse, so many of us trapped by debt or obligation into unfulfilling jobs, leaning on developing nations to provide us with cheap commodities and services with built-in hidden costs that would break your heart fifty times over if we could see the realities of their production.
Endgame capitalism, nihilism writ large: not my thing.
Because I started the business in order to live a good life, a life in line with these beliefs, it’s been tricky, at times, to decide when to say no to things. Making money is a game, and I can’t deny I like playing it. It’s about being smart: minimizing risk, working efficiently. Efficiency gives me deep pleasure. Finding ways to coax a profit out of a raw material that costs more than gold and takes endless hours of labor to create is a riddle I always enjoy solving. It’s hard not to jump at every opportunity we can to do so.
But, so far at least (who knows, maybe we’ll massively and spectacularly sell out tomorrow) my little anarchist ecofeminist ethics keep me in check most of the time. I’m thankful I have this little set of beliefs to fall back on, because otherwise we could have gone down all kinds of weird roads, and right now I like the road we’re on a lot.
But! Ah, there’s a but. But it’s slow. It’s March, it’s the month after our busiest month of the year, of course it’s slow. I’m fine with it, but what about the other eight people who work at Lagusta’s Luscious? They don’t have the insulating layer of February-cash to fall back on during these quiet periods. We expanded their hours a bit during Valentine’s, but not a ton, and when you’re in your twenties, as most of them are, you always always always need cash. Student loans are a killer, rents in New Paltz are ridiculous, always something. Pretty much everyone at the shop would be happy with more hours right now.
And in the middle of all this, I went and hired two more people.
There were rumblings, yup.
They were right to rumble. It seemed unfair, because it was.
I tried to explain it: we can’t do what we did last December, which was to literally beg any friends walking by the shop to wash dishes or wrap boxes for us. Holidays will keep getting bigger whether or not we want them to (with luck), and we have to be more prepared. Pre-Valentine’s we were in this spot where literally no one could take a day off because no one could cover for them because everyone was already working every day. It was insane. So in order to be more prepared for the wild times that take over three times a year (December holidays, Valentine’s, Easter), we need to train new people now. What that means is more people working less hours—for now. And in the future: more people working more hours.
It sucks for them right now. But I don’t want to hire seasonal workers and then lay people off, that seems patently stupid for a business that needs such highly trained employees. We started the exhausting process of finding someone, and a weird thing happened: we interviewed some great candidates, and couldn’t decide between two people. So we hired both of them. And in the end everyone’s been super warm and welcoming to them and understanding of what I needed to do, which warms my heart and makes me love my team even more.
I feel so loyal to them, my little crew. I’m a loner. Solitude’s my thing. To have found people with which you can do meaningful work feels like winning some weird lottery you never wanted to enter. Strange, and really really nice.
As I said, if it were up to me, I’d stop this ride. I’d keep doing what we’re doing, but no more. I’d say no to the huge wholesale orders that come in around the holidays when we’re already so pinched. I’d decline orders even from the celebrities! I’d go home at 7 when we close the shop every night and put up my feet and pet my cats and…well, it’s such a foreign concept to me I don’t even know what I’d do with my feet up. I’d regret it, probably, regret not playing the game a little more, seeing what I could do if I pushed myself more.
So, I’m thankful that I decided not to say no. Last fall we made a decision to expand the business a bit, and it feels good to have made the choice. One big reason I wanted to go for it, to take opportunities we’ve always seen on the horizon, was because of the people working at the shop.
We pay everyone hourly, and it just seems stupid. We’re selling a luxury product, and we talk such a big talk about paying the farmers who grow our cacao and whatnot a fair wage, and I’d like to be paying salaries to the women (and sweet Brendan!) who actually make our confections. We pay much better than most food businesses, particularly in this town, but why can’t we afford to have salaried workers, who have paid vacations and health care?
And this is how the goalposts shift on you: you just want a business that fulfills you, and you work ten years to get it. Then you want a business that’s sustainable for the people who work with you, too. And that will be the focus of our next five or ten years: expanding the business enough to allow for salaried employees.
With this in mind, I’m in the mode of saying yes to things. It’s not hard: it’s nice to say yes. I like the big jobs, even when they’re tiring.
With all this swirling around me, I opened my email this afternoon to this:
Hi! I hope this email finds you well. I work for Free People, a women’s retailer based in Philadelphia and part of Urbn Inc. We had a lot of success selling vegan sweets on our website over the past Valentine’s day and Christmas holidays and I was looking for a way to develop a small concept for our website & a few stores for Easter. I love your chocolate bunny and would be super interested in buying them wholesale and/or private label. Hope to discuss this opportunity with you! Thanks so much, xxxx
And I just can’t say yes to this.
Free People is owned by Urban Outfitters, which is a store I don’t shop at for about a million reasons (#1 being that I am slowly converting my wardrobe to consisting solely of vintage 1940s denim coveralls, but still.).
The argument could be made that one should sell one’s ethically-produced goods in unsavory stores because people in those stores will then at least purchase one thing made in a responsible manner. This argument smacks of using the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house, which is to say: it gives me a stomachache to think about our lil floppy-eared bun-buns sitting next to, say Navajo Hipster Panties. Which is to say: a new world isn’t built of bricks made in sweatshops bought at the mall.
On the other hand: on their website and in some stores? That’s some money right there, son. Money is nice! Money advances goals! Vintage coveralls are not cheap, people!
So I wrote this:
Thank you so much for thinking of our products. I’m honored, but we can’t bear to work with a company owned by Urban Outfitters.
All of our chocolates are organic, fair-trade, and handmade, and we pride ourselves on our high ethical standards. I don’t personally shop at any stores owned by Urban Outfitters (though I have a great Free People dress I got at a thrift store I adore, sigh), so it wouldn’t feel right to have my chocolates sold there.
I’d love more information about the conditions under which the workers making your clothes work, because the consensus on the internet seems to be that they’re pretty much your typical sweatshop-made clothes.
Even more saddening is that so many of the clothes sold at Urban Outfitters further a troubling and problematic vision: from seeming to advance eating disorders and insensitive stereotypes to cultural appropriation (“Hipster Navajo Panties” etc.) to making clothing that only fits one type of body, it’s not a chain we want to align ourselves with.
Not to mention that over and over you have been shown to copy designs from smaller independent artisans, and that your founder has given large donations to right-wing politicians like Rick Santorum, whose politics we’re not fans of.
I’d love to work with you on a bunny project, but sadly I just don’t think I could sleep at night.
All the best,
Saying yes—except when we need to say no. That’s where we’re at today.
When Jacob and I were on vacation in Hawaii in January, we got a big bag of organic quinoa and made some for breakfast every morning. Coconut milk, maple syrup, some local fruit, some nuts, and hot quinoa. It was great, and I felt great. But I knew I wouldn’t be up for quinoa breakfasts when we got back home, because when I’m in work mode (11 months out of the year), I wake up and want to get to work and start working, not making food since making food (well, candy) is my job all day long.
Also I got really tired of quinoa.
In an attempt to get me to continue the quinoa thing, or some kind of breakfast thing, since its effects (calm clearheadedness, minimal food-rage outbursts) were obvious, Jacob turned to me one day and said dramatically, “I would like to invite you to join me in a club. A secret club.
A breakfast club.”
And how do you say no to that?
So I’m trying.
We talk a lot at work about Ways To Not Become Crazed With Hunger, for two reasons.
First, most of us at the shop are women and women are taught by a patriarchal society that martyrdom is an exalted and appropriate lifestyle choice and therefore putting aside one’s own desires (i.e. eating when hungry) in favor of serving a wider society (i.e. getting more done) is OK. Second, because the nature of working at the shop is to just bump along from one thing to another thing then to get interrupted from those things by another thing, so that soon five hours passes and you’re not only working on five things at once but also you suddenly and with a huge flash of rage-hunger realize you passed a few hours ago the calm and sane equilibrium that rational and regular meal consumption provides.
We are all working hard to not do this.
Kate is our breakfast inspiration, really. Last fall, Kate, who is better at eating meals than anyone I know, gave us a Snack Seminar which attempted to get us to eat more regularly. Her other big campaign is for everyone at the shop to eat breakfast. She’s probably the only one who eats a true breakfast every morning: a serious meal, complete with pour over coffee and multiple home-cooked components (tacos! avocados! sautéed greens! pancakes! wraps! sometimes all on the same plate!). The rest of us traditionally either grab whatever’s hanging around, or eat nothing at all. I wake up with lots of morning energy that I’m desperate to harness, so I get to work as quick as possible in order to have a little quiet time before the rest of the crew arrives. This habit is not conducive to a morning meal, and I usually feel the effects around 1 PM, when I suddenly want to kill everyone in the immediate vicinity and desperately eat a Turtle because I tell myself that at least it contains protein (five pecans!).
Most of us at the shop are giving a really good go of The Breakfast Club 2014. Maresa’s doing something involving soy yogurt and a special kind of muesli, Jacob transitioned straight from quinoa into oatmeal then grits then steel-cut oatmeal then back to quinoa again, Erin has minions of girls willing to bring her a bagel with tofu cream cheese with a quick dispatch of the shortest of texts. We’re trying. Brendan is still living on cigarettes, Marena on ketchup packets from The Bistro, but we’ll all get there, eventually.
My thing is Breakfast Soup. I’ve been doing it around a month now, and maybe it’s too early to say it’s utterly and completely transformed my life, but I’m going to say it anyway.
I love it so much that I’ll even eat it on Saturday mornings right next to freshly fried delicious doughnuts and not even bat an eye. (Then I’ll eat two doughnuts for lunch—I’ll tackle eating a balanced lunch maybe in 2015 or something.)
Breakfast Soup fits me like a fair isle sweater with a floral Lanz dress, mismatched leggings and hair that’s wild from being contained into Heidi braids all day: it’s weird, and I freaking love it.
I love it much that I want everyone to be eating it. So here goes, my attempt to indoctrinate you into the cult of breakfast and specifically into the ways of Breakfast Soup.
Salient points first, then a loose recipe:
- Breakfast Soup is an almost-instant meal. I make mine once a week or so, and once it’s made it’s ready in the time it takes to boil water for tea (if you have a wild fancy induction stove like we do at the shop, this is 1 minute and 30 seconds). The making of the soup itself is quick too. In truth I’m sort of always making soup, and because of that it takes almost no time at all. I just sort of set aside scraps for it from meals throughout the week, and it makes itself. More about this below.
- I prefer not to do this, because I love BS so much I never want to get tired of it, but on ultra-rushed days BS can easily become LS: Lunch Soup. Add some noodles, fry up some vegetables and toss it in, and you have more of a hearty meal.
- Breakfast Soup is a perfect and elegant way to efficiently use leftover scraps of food, which makes it mighty cheap.
- Breakfast Soup is protein-heavy and sugar-free, which are important components of a meal if, say, the rest your day involves mandatory sugar consumption. Though I joke about eating two doughnuts, in reality I heavily monitor my sugar intake, and don’t want to waste it on a gross sweet breakfast when I have to make RSSCs or something later in the day and need to taste appropriately.
- I want to describe to you how good Breakfast Soup makes you feel. You feel good on two levels: you’ve eaten a healthier breakfast than anyone you know and therefore have bragging rights all day (and I know not what makes one feel better than bragging rights) but you also literally feel amazing because you’ve eaten the healthiest breakfast of all time. It truly is a magical meal.
- Everything good in life should include miso, and BS does too. If it wasn’t already midnight and I had more time to put into this manifesto I’d Google around to find you stories about Japanese citizens who ate miso soup every day (for breakfast!) & got radiation sickness when we dropped horrifying bombs on them at much lower rates of other Japanese who had abandoned this traditional practice. So not only does Breakfast Soup make you feel good in the moment, who knows what the future may hold and maybe it will prevent against horrors yet to come as well.
- Man oh man that got dark. Let’s move on to the recipe and stop thinking about World War Three.
BREAKFAST SOUP RECIPE!
There are three components to a great Breakfast Soup:
- Stuff that goes into the broth.
- Things you add in at the end.
The broth has to be made from kombu or kelp.
There are very few rules to Breakfast Soup.
There is actually only one rule to Breakfast Soup, and this is it: make a dashi (the Japanese term for a broth made from kombu). Without dashi your soup will be bland.
Let’s talk here for a minute about breakfast flavors.
In my previous life as a savory chef, I prided myself on how much I pushed my flavors. Because people think of vegan cooking as bland, I made sure my dishes were balanced and flavor-forward like crazy. More acid! More umami! More richness! Those three are still my trifecta. Rarely can a dish not be improved by lemon zest, shoyu, and olive oil. Or vinegar, porcini mushrooms, and ground cashews. Or yuzu juice, tomato paste, and coconut milk. Acid/umami/fat—my babies.
But breakfast is different, obviously. My BS is savory, but not bursting with flavor. It still has a breakfast vibe, and it’s important to preserve that. I don’t want something super acidic, or very rich. My BS has almost no fat in it at all, which differentiates it from 99% of the other dishes I make, which are pretty fatty. I feel best when I eat a lot of high-quality fats: olive oil, tons of nuts, lots of avocados. But not at breakfast.
So I hold myself back when making Breakfast Soup, but I also don’t want a plain, flavorless, watery breakfast. There is a fine line between purity and elegance of flavor and blandness. Classical Japanese cuisine, particularly the naturally vegan shojin ryori style I’m obsessed with, walks this line with elegance and style, and I want my Breakfast Soup to do the same.
All this is to impress on you how essential kombu is to the dang dish. Kombu is this huge thick seaweed. You don’t need to eat the kombu, is the thing. If you don’t like sea vegetables, just tell yourself you’ll only use it to make the dashi. Within a few weeks I bet you’ll be doing what I do: using it to make the dashi, then using scissors to cut it into bite-sized pieces you then add back into the soup because actually the taste is pretty lovely.
I get my kombu and kelp from Ironbound Island sea vegetables, in Maine. I started buying from them because Sandor Katz recommended them and I love Sandy so much. I kept buying from them because they have the best, and most local, sea vegetables I’ve ever tasted. If I have a headache from eating too much sugar, their dulse brings me right back into balance. I nibble on it plain, it’s briny and amazing and I’m alive again. Then, when some nuclear reactors melted down in Japan and the fallout can still be measured as far away as California, I decided to be more circumspect with the Japanese foodstuffs I buy. So now I use Maine sea vegetables out of love for their flavors and also fear of more far-flung seaweeds.
What a tragic world we live in.
Back to soup!
If you want to make Breakfast Soup but you don’t like seaweed, I suggest two things:
- Learn to like seaweed. Or:
- Don’t make Breakfast Soup.
Seriously! I promise that if you eat Breakfast Soup for two weeks straight you’ll crave that seaweed, and all its trace minerals, its natural iodine and anti-carcinogenic properties, like crazy. Promise. I’ll give you a caramel if I’m wrong, OK? Call me on it!
So kombu is the thing that saves Breakfast Soup from being bland. You could use some dried mushrooms in addition. Just bring some cold filtered water to a boil, toss in 6″ or 12″ of kombu or so, and simmer it for a while. A half hour, fifteen minutes—whatever. It’s good to do this at night, then let the kombu sit in the broth overnight. There. You’ve made dashi. Take out the kombu and throw it out or chop it up and put it right back in. Broth: done.
But there’s an easier way to make the broth, too. Yep, easier than adding one thing to some water and bringing it to a boil.
Every time you cook something tasty and not in the cabbage family (cabbage, bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, etc), save the cooking water. Pasta, potatoes, the water under your vegetable steamer, etc. Put that water in the fridge with some kombu in it. No need to heat it, especially if the water is still hot. Instant dashi.
In time, when you get into the flow of Breakfast Soup, you’ll find that while you’re cooking throughout the week you’re sort of unconsciously thinking about ways to steal parts of your dinner you ordinarily would have thrown out for BS. Mushroom stems, onion and carrot and potato peelings, even scraps of lemon rind: put them in the same container with your kombu stick. When you run out of BS and need to make a new batch, you’re mostly done already.
Stuff that goes into the broth.
You really need very very little stuff that goes into the broth.
It depends on how hungry you are and what you like to eat in the morning. Also on what’s in season, and how much money you can spend.
Sometimes I feel really unhungry in the morning. On those days I basically make Breakfast Soup Tea: just broth and miso soup and maybe some spinach leaves. Most mornings I add wakame to the soup (two seaweeds, I know I know what a hippie) and something green. Right now, much to my locavore heart’s horror, that something green is either pre-cut pre-washed baby kale you get in plastic boxes at the health food store, or asparagus, because for some reason my health food store has had a good price on California organic asparagus for two weeks now. New Paltz asparagus won’t be up for like three months, but I am enjoying fragrant asparagus pee now! Decadent. If you’re a better locavore than me, you can use local homegrown greens you’ve frozen or fermented in your soup.
I put some kimchi in sometimes, if I feel like I’m getting sick. (I always want spicy, fermented foods when I feel like I’m getting sick. I’m probably jinxing myself here, but I haven’t had a full-blown cold or flu in years, and I truly think it’s because of going crazy on spicy foods—and the neti pot—at the first sign of stuffiness.)
I shy away from noodles or root vegetables in my soup, unless, as I said, I’m making it into a rare Lunch Soup. Lightness and freshness is my whole thing, again. Herbs are nice, leafy ones like cilantro and parsley, or chervil and tarragon if you’re getting fancy. The tops of celery, those tender, celadon leaves, are nice. Fennel tops, too. Anything gently green. beet greens wouldn’t be my thing here, nor swiss chard. But baby spinach, sure. You can put in whatever you want. I tend to put greens and herbs and other fresh things into each little morning batch instead of reheating the entire soup every day with them in it, so they are still green and fresh-tasting.
Usually when I’m making soup I want to pump up that savory umami richness so I sauté most everything that goes in it in olive oil for another layer of flavor, but for Breakfast Soup I just drop it in the broth (which you want to strain first if it has things like onion peels and stuff in it, naturally).
I’ve been getting little bags of maitake mushrooms and adding them too, thinly sliced. If I don’t have any sometimes I add some dried porcini mushrooms or thinly sliced cremini or shiitake mushrooms. A friend gave me a Woodland Jewel DIY oyster mushroom kit for Hanukkah and it’s still pumping out little oysters I’ve been adding, too. Basically, add any kind of mushroom you like. Mushrooms are a gentle way to add deep flavor.
At this point I also add either shoyu (good-quality soy sauce) or tamari (for gf buddies). Sometimes if I want the soup to be extra comforting and warming I add either some spicy sesame oil or toasted sesame oil, too.
When/if we ever get out from under four feet of snow, Breakfast Soup will make an ideal use for the little bits of foraged foods that you can easily collect in the springtime. The first dandelion shoots, tender and sweet, field garlic, garlic mustard, wood sorrel, chickweed, wild lettuce, maybe a morel here and there, even—Breakfast Soup can be almost free with a little effort and a little bit of help from a springy earth.
I also finely dice tofu and add it to the soup, or I often add misozuke, which is just tofu fermented in miso. I started making it for the Shanghai dinner we did last year and never stopped. Speaking of miso…
Things you add in at the end.
As you can see, the stuff you put into your broth is absolutely a matter of personal preference, but I have strong ideas about what you should make your broth from. Similarly, I want to really really press for you to add miso to your soup. Otherwise it’ll be bland and sort of not useful, really.
Miso is a very powerful food, and I’m convinced it starts your day with magical powers. You need to treat it with some care however: add a little broth to your bowl, then mix in a spoonful of miso and the rest of the broth. This way you won’t boil the miso and kill all the fermented loveliness of it. You can just get plain old Miso Master miso from the health food store, or any brand from an Asian market (just make sure it’s made from organic soybeans, so you’re not eating a bunch of GMOs for breakfast), but if you want to treat yourself right, make your own miso (Wild Fementation, the Art of Fermentation, and The Book of Miso all have instructions) or buy South River Miso’s luxuriously handcrafted misos. They sometimes release seasonal misos (ramp miso! dandelion miso!) that are worth waiting for.
I finish my soup off with two more elements: scallions, if I have them, sliced super thinly, and a lot of shichimi togarashi. When I tell you that shichimi togarashi is a spicy Japanese condiment you’ll immediately think, “cool, I’ll use sriracha,” and you so totally can use sriracha. I love sriracha too! But shichimi togarashi is more than just acidic and spicy, like your roostery BFF: it’s a blend of seven spices and they all add up to the finishing touch for a soup that’s well-rounded and deep without being heavy or unbreakfasty. Yuzu peel, sesame seeds, a lil bit of ginger, chilies, a tiny bit of nori (third seaweed of the day and you’re only at breakfast!!!)—it’s a whole world of a meal in of itself, but it’s never overwhelming (though it does get crazy spicy if you add too much, so go slow).
For a meal which takes 10 minutes to make enough to last a week, I sure managed to ramble a lot. I hope it’s been useful for you.
Go make some soup!! And let me know how it goes.
Our 2012 round-up seems almost laughably quaint compared to the wildness that was 2013. I guess that’s good, right?
We did a lot of amazing work this year. Here’s my rundown of highlights, and below are even better, more poetic, more personal ones from our crew:
- Constant technical improvements. in 2013 we really committed ourselves to upping our game, technique-wise. We invested in new equipment and braved the many learning curves associated with it in order to make our products better for everyone. It was tough at times but I’m proud that we did it. Always improving! Or, meliora, as they say in Latin which may or may not have been my college’s motto which may or may not be the only reason I know it.
- Packaging improvements! In 2013 we got custom thick cushiony pads to protect the chocolates snugly in their boxes, as well as custom shipping boxes. We’re working on transitioning all our packaging to earth-friendly chic kraft boxes, instead of standard white bakery boxes, bleached with dioxin and who knows what else. For a while our friendly local-ish box printing company didn’t offer a kraft box, and we basically pressured them until they did. Now we order thousands of them a year!
- Selmi and Enrobi: by far the biggest change in our work life came from buying a new tempering machine and an enrober. More about that in February!
- Those Hazelnut bars. They’ll be back, don’t worry.
- Donations. I’m so proud that as our business has grown we have been able to support even more amazing groups and causes through chocolate. Here’s a partial list:
- We donated to the animal shelter my mom volunteers for, CARE.
- Friends of Animals.
- We continue to give (huge! 15% on all purchases!) shop-discounts to members of Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary and Catskill Animal Sanctuary. We also do chocolate and cash donations to them whenever we can, and we donated to Woodstock’s wonderful ThanksLiving event.
- Family of New Paltz, our local food pantry.
- Ulster County SPCA
- 10% for Sanctuaries
- The NYC Coalition to Ban Horse Drawn Carriages (which, by the way, TOTALLY WORKED!)
- ATD Fourth World, to alleviate poverty around the globe.
- Cheetah Conservation Fund
- Bakesale for Baby Felix
- Fishkill Cares for Cats
- MARR, Mice and Rats Rights
- & more!
- Our October Month of Specials. A special a day for 31 days, definitely a tradition we’ll be continuing.
- Another new tradition, our November Chocolate of the Month, a box of chocolates picked by everyone on our staff.
- Our Brooklyn field trip to Stumptown and Cacao Prieto, with Ethiopian food and vegan milkshakes thrown in, too.
- I’m so proud of the Sour Sorrel Caramels.
- Lots of really sweet press, from a giant (& insanely personal) profile of yours truly to mentions in everywhere from Rachael Ray magazine to fox news.com (really!).
- I spent about 80% of the month of March working on the Pig Out Bars. I’m so proud of them, too. I can only make them in the summertime when I can use the smoker outside, so they’ll be back soon.
- Josh & Isaiah, two of our most loyal custies.
- Eggplant Bacon, originally made for these babies but now eaten regularly in my house all summer long.
- Francesco Mastalia taking my photo with his wet-plate old-timey setup, for his forthcoming book on chefs and farmers of the Hudson Valley.
- The Savory Dinner Series, which used up literally my entire summer, really literally every minute of it, but it was worth it.
- When we sent Wendy Davis chocolates and she sent us back the nicest thank you note!
- Our two-year anniversary party.
- Meeting Vandana Shiva.
- Maresa’s macarons becoming the darling of the vegan food world.
- When we learned that Lucy is a human thermometer, as described (twice) below.
- When Brendan wowed us with tales of blown sugar, poured sugar, and sugar work flowers he’d made in pastry school.
- When Samantha’s friends came in to visit her & she got all nervous (it was cute!).
- When Marena took over shipping & organized our days so well.
- When after nine years of helping me with logistics & not touching chocolates except to taste them, Jacob’s love for Selmi (read = reluctance to let anyone else use Selmi) turned him into the best mold-filler this shop has ever seen overnight (Selmi deserves a lot of that credit, though).
- Kate’s Snack Seminar.
- When Erin made all those candy cigarettes, which took over her life for a week since she was the only one who could make them so good.
- And of course, CHOCOLATE CALISTHENICS!
My favorite moments at the shop aren’t ones I can pick out or describe well. They aren’t the biggest moments, or even the most inspiring. I have those—being let into the creative crazy world of our monthly dinners and the sleepless exhilarating accomplishment of every course; our staff trip to Bloodroot; the time I smelt the caramel cooking and knew it was the right temperature even though the thermometer was broken. Those moments are special to me, and I have cut them out of my heart to look at when I feel lost. But they aren’t my favorites.
My favorites are a string of background moments, of elbows touching at the sink and quiet tappings of truffle dippers on tempering machines. Conversations held in between putting away turtles and grinding almonds, goofy voices and hands on shoulders. Times when I felt simple and purposeful. The laughing looks that reminded me to be grateful of the women around me, of Jacob’s coffee obsession/concentration and Brendan’s binder of recipes. This was a year of being around people who wanted to create perfect beautiful things, and of realizing that I was truly one of them. I wouldn’t know how to explain the little flashes of joy and satisfaction threaded through every day, or the wonder of being so exhausted, frustrated and hollowed out at the end of the night. Those moments between tempering cycles and caramel batches that found us all sitting together on the couch eating a hodge podge of leftovers, singing along to a certain song, laughing at some silly joke for too long…I hope these are cemented in my brain forever.
I have felt the kind of love that I think you can only feel for the people that work alongside you–the kind of pushing support of knowing you are all committed to something larger than yourself. Those passing winks, gentle teases, Monster Mash dance parties, little victories and group struggles held me strong while I learned who I wanted to become and what I wanted to feel towards the world. So I guess what I really want to say is Thank You. Thank you Lagusta, Jacob, Maresa, Kate, Erin, Marena, Brendan, Jayme, and Dawn for all the little kindnesses you have shown me while doing this work next to me. Thank you for giving me a place to soften into my own skin.
SAMANTHA, our lovely high-school intern-turned-actual part-timer!
Making drinking chocolates
Making millions of caramel assortment boxes
Here we go!
Some relevant information as you plan your holiday shopping:
We will be open regular hours* until December 31, PLUS we’ll be open until 9 PM on Thursdays in December, along with many other downtown small businesses (I think there’s no other kind, right? Wow, how nice is that. Well…there’s the Mobil.).
We will be closed for our annual sabbatical January 1-January 21. We’ll have some great specials happening the week of December 25-31 in order to use up all our inventory, so keep an eye peeled for that.
We have plenty of nice treats for the festive season. Our Winter Wonderland Box is specially made for sharing during the holiday season, and our Solid Chocolate Reindeer are hand-painted with eco-friendly white puffy tails and red noses. Peppermint Bark is back for the season, too!
In the shop we have lots of solid chocolate hand-painted fir trees and will have hand-pulled candy canes and other special hard candy treats made with organic ingredients, molten hot sugar, and lots of care and affection. We’ll also have some of these peeps:
We’re also doing a LOT of events this holiday season. Here’s the rundown:
THIS WEEKEND!!! Is Crafted, which is pretty much the least-gross holiday craft fair in existence (so many are gross, am I wrong?) and we’re so honored to be a part of it again. We won’t be there ourselves (Which stinks, because it truly is a really nice time) but our chocolates will be enjoying the beautiful atmosphere.
Then it’s onward (December 7 & 8 and 14 & 15) to a brand new fair which looks also not-gross (OK I’m going to stop rating events by their non-grossness now): The Hudson River Exchange Market, where we’ll have a full table packed with holiday treats. It’s in beautiful arty Hudson (home to all the midcentury modern furniture I so lustily covet), so if you live across the river from us it’s a good chance to say hello and stock up.
We’ll also have chocolates at a brand new Vegan Pop-Up Shop-Up in San Francisco on December 7th and 8th which looks really lovely. I wish I could go, sigh. Looks like some amazing stuff!
We’ll also have chocolates at the Indie Narrowsburg Holiday Mart December 7 and 8 in Narrowsburg, NY.
And finally, we’ll be at TWO Vegan Shop-Ups in December in good old Brooklyn, on December 14 and 21st.
If you want to order chocolates over our website to pick up at any of these events, you totally can, and you’ll save yourself the cost of shipping. Except that we ourselves will only be there to bring you your order at the Hudson Market and the Brooklyn Shop-Up. If you want to meet us at either of those, just order on the website, select “shop pickup” and let us know which day and which market to bring your order to in the “special instructions” box.
As always and ever, Facebook remains the best way to keep in touch with all these happenings, as we are chained to that beast like you would not believe. Instagram remains the prettiest way to keep in touch if you don’t mind a lot of photos of my cats and useless ranting thrown in. Twitter is a rather sporadic place for us, but we’ve got one of those, too.
PHEW THAT WAS A LOT OF WORDS.
Back to chocolate!
*Closed Mondays (though we might be open for three Mondays in December–we’ll see how we’re holding up & let you know!)
Open 12-7 Tuesday-Friday
Open 10-7 Saturday-Sunday
Hello chocolatey pals!
Just a quick note to say that we’re doing something really neat in October: I have 31 days of specials all planned out, one for every beautiful fall day to come, all to thank the bestest customers ever (that’s you!) for your wonderful patronage all year.
Some will be announced on our Facebook page, some on Twitter (@lagustabonbon), some on Instagram (Lagusta‘s my name, don’t wear it out), and some will be only for mailing list subscribers (which you can get on by entering your email address at the bottom of this page).
Let the fun begin!
Update! I posted this yesterday, and today the NYT totally backed me up!
I AM FREAKING OVER JUICE.
Truthfully, I’ve been over juice for a long time. It’s just that right now seems like the right time to publicly declare my over-juiceness. I will not be silenced on the topic of juice any longer! Ain’t I a woman?
(It’s not that gender politics has anything to do with juice whatsoever—though I’m sure I could work it in, actually: juice diets/juice cleanses/juice enemas—juice is a gendered food!
Mostly though, I just like working Sojourner Truth quotes into my everyday speech whenever possible.)
Here is the kind of juice I’m not talking about: citrus juice you have once in a while when you go to a diner late at night. Boxed orange juice you get in airports when you are searching wildly for something even vaguely fresh-tasting. The first apple juice of the season when you live in apple country. Those, to me, are incidental juices. Once-in-a-while juices. Those citrus juices are months- or years-old and made with artificial chemicals—yuck. Those are desperation juices (well, except for the first apple juice of the season. That’s just nice.).
The kind of juice I’m talking about is Fancy Juice. Cold-pressed juice you watch being made in front of you from organic ingredients from a wicker basket on the corner. $9 a glass juice. That kind of juice. Kale-cucumber-ginger-apple juice.
First of all: if you like juice, please keep drinking juice. Go forth with your juice! I like eating caramels, so I will continue eating caramels.
But let us not pretend that juice is the path of health, OK? Because that is just patently crap.
Now, I like me a good carrot juice now and then, make no mistake. Sweet and invigorating. Karma Road, the lovely vegan café in my town, makes wonderful juices, and I love them. But I try not to lie to myself about how healthy my occasional juices are.
First let’s get into the science. Not to get all paleo on you, but there is absolutely no reason that drinking juice is better for you than just eating the foods juice is made from, and there are reasons it is worse.
Juice is not a whole food, unless you have a Breville juicer or some super fancy machine like that, whereupon you can cold-juice the whole thing. Otherwise, with a centrifugal machine you’re throwing away (or, horror of horrors, making into god-awful muffins and things that everyone in your life pretends are tasty) the pulp, which is where mostly all the nutrients in fruits are.
So what you’re left with is sugar water. Concentrated, vegetal, kaley sugar water. Because it lacks fiber, which makes you feel full, you can drink tons of juice without your body sending you signals to stop—thus filling up on sugar water.
There is nothing wrong with drinking sugar water, except that it’s terrible for you. I wouldn’t own a chocolate shop if I didn’t believe in eating things that are terrible for you at least once a day, but I don’t get why people waste their terrible-for-you food allowance on juice when they could be wasting it on, say, almond toffee. Yes, almond toffee is worse for you than juice. But how much worse? I wonder, because our almond toffee pieces come in 14 gram pieces and I see people drinking these insane 20-ounce (600 grams or so) juices all the time.
Yes, your sugar water is made from fruits and vegetables, which makes it seem healthier, I get that. It is not though. Seriously. I guess if you never eat fruits and vegetables, a glass of cold-pressed juice will help your diet. If you’ve just left a steakhouse and need to round out your meal, sure, have a juice as dessert. But if you’re a sane eater and don’t usually leave steakhouses, if you’re someone with tries to live healthily, why get into juice? Or, more precisely, why treat juice like a meal, when it’s a treat? If you make juice yourself, it takes so much time and effort and cleanup. Why? Just eat food! Snack on some cucumber sticks, instead of downing a giant cup of cucumber juice.
There’s something else too, something more personal.
I’ve tried, with the juiceheads, I really have.
But it seems to me that those who love juice usually don’t love food. This is fine, I guess, or whatever, but it sure bums me the hell out. To each their own and whatnot. But juice offends me. Juice is sort of—and I fully recognize that this sounds idiotic—an affront to fruit. And an affront to fruit is an affront to my soul.
I’ve spoken before in this space about my fruit fetishism. For someone who lives for fruit—for the totality of fruit, the soul of fruit, the fruit-ness of fruit—there is something straight-up sad about juice.
Fruit is a sensual experience, and for the aesthete, all the specialness of fruit is missing when it’s mashed up into a thick, warm cup of juice. The pop of a cherry skin, the onrushing heat of a mango eaten over the sink, homegrown watermelon with sweet flaky salt sprinkled on top. These experiences do not translate to juice.
Every Sunday when I make a special trip to the Rhinebeck Farmer’s Market for Aba’s Falafel, I wash it down with freshly picked and pressed black currant juice. Am I a hypocrite? Maybe. But black currants are not a fruit I desire to eat alone, and the juice is highly sweetened, which makes it a treat. Sunday mornings are my treat-time. And I fully, wholeheartedly, absolutely believe in treats. (Bet you couldn’t have guessed that.)
Juice is fine, but let’s not kid ourselves: it’ll never be more than that. Fruit, on the other hand, is life itself.
Sometimes my Facebook feed is full of amazing events put on by nonprofits I love, and the sweets and other treats donated for those events by other companies. We get a ton of requests for donations—of chocolates, gift certificates, and money. The only thing that seriously bums me out (our second shop anniversary today has me thinking closely about this little business I’ve devoted my life to) is how little of these we’re able to contribute to.
There are two reasons for this:
1) I started this business 10 years ago with no capital, and that made me tough. I’m still in a little debt from renovating the building and opening the shop, and there are more fix-ups the 100+ year-old building needs, and we always need better equipment and printing projects, blah blah. In order to have a *sustainable* business, one that can keep growing and employing people in our community and can (eventually) give back (more) to our community and world, I need to keep a watchful eye on costs. We never waste—anything. Everyone at the shop makes fun of me because I’m meticulous about saving and reusing the pasta water from the lunches I cook. This is partially about being thrifty and partially it’s about…
2) We’re *sustainable* in another way too: our ingredients are all top of the line, without exception. When you use really expensive raw materials, and when you have environmentalist core beliefs, you can’t afford to waste anything because 1) you love the earth, who brought forth the raw materials, too much, and 2) your ingredients are so insanely pricey. With the possible exception of a goldsmith, I can’t imagine an artisan who works with more expensive ingredients than us.
So when I see these photos of dozens and dozens of beautiful desserts I know are made with insanely cheap and harmful ingredients at fundraisers, I think about how other businesses have chosen other paths, and how, on balance, I can’t say if their path is better or worse. We routinely get requests to donate hundreds of truffles to large-scale events—these events would bring us good publicity and warm our hearts. But hundreds of truffles made from fair-trade organic chocolate and almost nothing else, each one rolled and dipped and cupped and packaged by hand, would throw our entire week off.
It’s a tightrope. As time goes on, we’ll be able to walk it better. For now, we choose our donations carefully, and are so proud of each one.